The Big List, Part One

Here it is, the first of three parts of the big list of psychopathy characteristics I’ve been working on putting together.

The characteristics of psychopathy are divided into three groups:

  • Cognitive (thought)
  • Affective (emotion)
  • Behavior (actions)

This post covers cognitive characteristics.

These things usually won’t be apparent at first; they are much more likely to be revealed over time, as you start to notice the incongruities between his persona and who he really seems to be. His mask will begin to crack sooner or later.


41 Cognitive Characteristics of the Psychopath


No moral values. Sees no value in moral principles; thinks they are for “sheep.”

Sees others as enemies. It’s the psychopath against the world. Everyone else exists to be used, manipulated or conquered.

The goal justifies the means. He feels justified in doing whatever it takes to get what he wants, because what he wants is the only thing that matters.

Semantic aphasia — A term used by H. Cleckley, the author of “The Mask of Sanity.” Semanitics refers to meaning, and aphasia refers to speech. But Cleckley only used this term as an analogy to explain the kind of distinction he was drawing between an ability to appear superficially normal despite a core deficit in meaning. He made an analogy to a neurological language disorder known as semantic aphasia, but the meaning is different in this context.

The psychopath can generate a façade of normalcy, but behind that facade there is no real understanding of the meaning of life. Cleckley’s use of the word ‘semantic’ went beyond words and speech — he was referring to the ability to emotionally experience or understand “the meaning of life as lived by ordinary people,” which the psychopath is unable to do. When you get to know the psychopath, you will sense this lack of understanding at his core.

Truly regards himself as superior to others.

A sense of entitlement.

Grandiosity –There are no bounds to his or her egoism. Not to be confused with “fragile” narcissism, which stems from an intense fear of rejection and criticism and causes anxiety, shame and depression. The psychopath has a “grandiose” narcissism, which is also known as malignant narcissism. It stems from a fearless and predatory mindset.

Feels status is more important than merit.

Expects perfection from others, and is intolerant to others’ mistakes.

Attacks a person rather than her behavior. If you do something he perceives is wrong, YOU are horrible, not your behavior.

Black and white thinking.

Hypocrisy — a pretense of having a virtuous character, moral or religious beliefs or principles, etc., that he or she does not really possess.

Defenses that include projection, denial, rationalization, splitting, and acting out.

Power hungry.

Believes the strong have a right to destroy the weak.

Always puts himself first.

A bad loser – can’t stand defeat. Must win at all costs. Victory has the highest priority.

Never admits guilt.

Never admits responsibility.

Understands your weaknesses, and takes advantage of them.

Believes philanthropy is a false pretension. He only gives to others to make himself look good, and thinks others do the same but they just don’t realize it.

Tyrannical righteousness.

Wants unlimited freedom. Believes freedom is a privilege of the strong.

Superficial charm.

Only goal is to get what he wants.

No integrity – dishonest and no adherence to moral principle.

Pathological lying – lies spontaneously, compulsively, and impulsively, seemingly without thinking about the consequences or realizing just how ludicrous his lies sometimes sound.

Manipulative – Influences the behavior or emotions of others for his own purposes. See the post “26 Tactics of Covert Manipulation.”

Callous – Emotionally hardened. Unfeeling. Indifferent to the suffering of others.

Believes he is always right.

Always has to be in control.

The past has no meaning. Disinterested in the future. Lives only in the present moment.

Lacks long-term plans – He’s great starting out, but will run a company or relationship into the ground. Everything is for short-term gain. He doesn’t think of or care about consequences, only about what he can get right now. Example: Wall Street.

Not delusional, unless a second mental disorder is also present. A delusion is indicative of a psychotic disorder – it’s a persistent theory or belief in something false and impossible, despite evidence to the contrary. The psychopath is not psychotic (at least not in the classic sense…but I wonder about this one. Couldn’t a psychopath’s grandiosity be seen as ‘delusions of grandeur’?)

Only shows loyalty to a person or organization when it suits his purposes.

Poor sense of humor.

Much better in concrete thinking than abstract thinking. Concrete thinking refers to thinking on the surface, whereas abstract thinking is related to thinking in depth, thinking about the meaning of things and relationship between things. For example, a person having concrete thinking looks at the Statue of Liberty and only sees it as a lady with a torch. A person with abstract thinking will see the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of freedom.

Resents authority.

Promises something for nothing. Makes promises for no reason. These promises are known as “unsolicited promises.” They are usually broken. Examples: “I promise you, I’m no gigolo.” “I promise I won’t cheat on you.” “I promise I won’t hurt you.” He is a gigolo, he will cheat on you, and he is going to hurt you.

Only keeps a promise if it serves his purposes.

Rigid and intolerant.




The superego’s criticisms, inhibitions and prohibitions form a person’s conscience. The superego reflects the internalization of cultural rules. It is our inner critic.The Superego punishes our misbehavior with feelings of guilt.

The psychopath has no conscience, no feelings of guilt and refuses to live by any rules except his own. The characteristics on this list reflect this.


Coming soon…The Big List, Part Two — Affective (emotional) Characteristics of Psychopathy


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