Traits of a High-Functioning Sociopath


When you hear the term “sociopath,” thoughts of serial killers, assassins and criminals come to mind – thanks to pop culture and the media. The actual definition of a sociopath, however, is a person with anti-social personality disorder

Although some sociopaths do have murderous and violent tendencies, 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 strong family backgrounds, careers, relationships, and children. It is only during stress, transitions, or pressure-filled situations that a sociopath’s true colors become visible.


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

Likeable. A high-functioning sociopath will primarily present as delightful and charismatic and will have a likeable quality about them. They have flawless social skills and are adept at adapting themselves to people’s expectations of them. However, when people get to know them better, they often cannot tolerate them and tend to distance themselves. Such a person is secretive and covert, rarely giving anybody the opportunity to get to know the true them. A sociopath is not trustworthy or dependable and because of their deception and disloyalty, has few friends and only hollow relationships.

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No conscience. A high-functioning sociopath lacks a conscience, does not have empathy for others, and will always act in their own best interest. They 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.

Highly sensitive. Despite their lack of sympathy and compassion, a high-functioning sociopath can be vulnerable to criticism. They intensely desire and crave 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 sociopath fails to accept responsibility and is calculating and scheming, often turning things around on others. If something does not go according to plan, they will relish in playing the victim role.

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

Impulsive. A high-functioning sociopath often displays a high level of impulsivity and acts without thinking. They live in the present and will focus solely on their immediate objective. A sociopath fails to consider 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.

The sociopaths commonly depicted as villains in movies would typically be categorized as high-functioning sociopaths. But being a sociopath, i.e. being diagnosed with anti-social personality disorder, does not predestine one to a life of crime. Despite some potentially scary traits and habits, they can be productive members of society.

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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.
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