Traits of a High-Functioning Sociopath

December 8, 2018
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A sociopath refers to a person with anti-social personality disorder. When one hears the term sociopath, visions of serial killers, assassins, and criminals immediately come to mind. This frame of reference can be linked to media portrayal and pop culture, as movies and televisions have long portrayed sociopaths as killers, thugs, and criminals.

Although some sociopaths do have the potential to be lethal, most are not destined to become convicted felons. In fact, a high-functioning sociopath may initially present like an average person and can be relatively successful in life. They tend to have a strong family background, careers, relationships, and children. They will appear to have average personality traits and an ordinary appearance. It is only during stress, transitions, or pressure-filled situations that a sociopath’s true colors become visible.

A high-functioning sociopath has above average intelligence and a more advanced IQ than lower functioning sociopaths or people without a personality disorder. Their superior intelligence and motivation allows them to scheme, control, and misuse others. They tend to have a narcissistic quality and a pretentious view of themselves. This narcissism tends to result from their delusional beliefs.

A high-functioning sociopath will primarily present as delightful and charismatic and will have a likable quality about them. They are skillful at changing themselves into what people expect and desire and have flawless social skills. However, when people get to know them better, they often cannot tolerate them and tend to distance themselves. Sociopaths are secretive and covert and rarely give anybody the opportunity to get to know the true them. A sociopath is not trustworthy or dependable and has few friends and hollow relationships. Sociopaths can be incredibly deceptive and have the tendency to be disloyal to their mates.

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Sociopaths that are high-functioning lack conscience, do not have empathy for others, and will always act in their own best interest. Sociopaths enjoy hurting, pestering, and controlling others in a self-serving fashion. A sociopath portrays great patience and will wait until they are ready to make their move. They may steal from close friends and enjoys making up stories to garner compassion from others.

Sociopaths fail to accept responsibility and are calculating and scheming, often turning things around on others. If something does not go according to plan, a they will relish in playing the victim role.

Despite their lack of sympathy and compassion, a high-functioning sociopath can be vulnerable to criticism. Sociopaths intensely desire admiration and praise from others and feel that they are entitled to it. Thus, when a sociopath is criticized, they will become outraged and infuriated. A high-functioning sociopath needs constant attention and stimulation, as they grow tired of things easily.

High-functioning sociopaths believe that they are above the rules and have no respect for authority figures. Their flippant attitude can lead them towards criminal activity and breaking the law. Sociopaths take pleasure in playing with fire and enjoy animal cruelty. A sociopath has a general understanding between right and wrong, but will often minimize its significance. Sociopaths will rarely apologize to others, but if they do, their apologies are not genuine or heartfelt.

A high-functioning sociopath often displays a high level of impulsivity and takes action without thinking. They live in the present and will focus solely on their immediate objective. A sociopath fails to take into account potential consequences or adverse reactions. If a consequence is received, a sociopath will show minimal remorse, as they infrequently feel guilt. They usually have poor boundaries and organizational skills and never seem to be able to create any short or long term goals.

A high-functioning sociopath is most likely the type that you have seen in movies and on television. Their traits are both impressive and daunting at the same time, as they always seem to be several paces ahead of everyone else without anybody even realizing it.

Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy  facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.