Do you know the story of a respected neuroscientist who discovered he was a psychopath? James Fallon was studying brain scans, looking for the markers of psychopathy and other brain dysfunctions. As he went through the pile on his desk, one particular scan struck him as pathological. Unfortunately, the scan belonged to him.
How could this dedicated neuroscientist be a psychopath? Fallon insists he’s ‘never killed anybody, or raped anyone’. After further research, the diagnosis made sense. Growing up, various teachers and priests had always thought something was off with him. Luckily for us, Fallon is a perfect example of a high-functioning psychopath.
9 Signs of a High-Functioning Psychopath
Highly functioning psychopaths exhibit characteristics of a psychopath. However, they lack violent tendencies. If you view psychopathy as a spectrum, some people exhibit a couple of psychopathic traits, others tick all the boxes.
So, can you spot a high-functional psychopath using the following traits?
1. You are highly skilled in manipulation
Psychopaths are manipulative, but high-functioning psychopaths like Fallon are devious and cunning with more than a smidgen of charm. You often won’t realize what you’ve agreed to, or how a psychopath manipulated you.
You feel good about what you’re being asked to do. Perhaps you’ve been charmed into thinking you’re the only person qualified to do this job. Or maybe you’ve been emotionally blackmailed or guilt-tripped. Whatever the situation, you feel obligated, and the manipulator gets out of performing a task.
2. You are evasive and deflect responsibility
Psychopaths don’t like to be wrong, but highly functioning ones will do anything to maintain their reputation. Their narcissism is too fragile to accept criticism or blame. They can’t be wrong; it must be you. A high-functioning psychopath must be the best. They are winners, looking down on everyone else.
3. You understand empathy but don’t have emotions
It might surprise you to learn Fallon does a lot of charity work. I would imagine one reason is the admiration and kudos it brings. Being seen as charitable feeds his ego and raises his stature. But does he care about the causes he supports?
Perhaps it’s an example of how Fallon unconsciously tries to fit in with society. He knows what he should be like and about societal expectations, but he also knows he doesn’t feel what others experience.
“Do you tell people that you love them, or do you actually give them money? Since I’m wired the second way, telling people I care means nothing.” James Fallon
4. Your confidence borders on arrogance
Some might think Fallon would keep quiet after discovering his psychopathic tendencies. That’s not in his DNA. He certainly doesn’t shy away from telling anyone about his charity work, either. Fallon’s philanthropy work is admirable. He finds homeless families and funds an extravagant Christmas for them; he does shifts in soup kitchens and even donates 10% of his salary to charities.
So, why would someone with low empathy go to all this trouble? For Fallon, it’s not so much about helping people.
“I want to win…I took it as a challenge. That’s what drives me.” James Fallon
5. You must win at all costs
Speaking of winning, all psychopaths are competitive, but a high-functioning psychopath must win every time. Fallon admits he needs to win, not just in his charitable endeavors, but with his family members:
“I’m obnoxiously competitive. I won’t let my grandchildren win games. I’m kind of an asshole.” James Fallon
6. You hang onto revenge
Most of us get mad, accept an apology, and forgive and forget. Psychopaths, especially high-functioning ones, keep that anger for months, even years.
“I show no anger whatsoever… I can sit on it for a year or two or three or five. But I’ll get you. And I always do. And they don’t know where it’s coming from. They can’t tie it to the event, and it comes out of nowhere.” James Fallon
Fallon and other high-functioning psychopaths are not physically violent. They are aggressive in the way they argue. They might use devious tactics to undermine you or put you in a bad light.
7. You blame other people for your failings
In psychology, there’s a thing called the Locus of Control. This is where we attribute our successes and failures to internal or external factors. For example, if I have an internal locus, I’ll say I lost a promotion because I didn’t have the skills for the job. People with an external locus might say they lost it because their boss didn’t like them.
Highly functioning psychopaths blame others for their mishaps.
8. Power and control motivate you
Studies show that people in high-power jobs are more likely to possess psychopathic traits such as low empathy, lack of remorse, glibness, manipulation and superficial charm. Estimates range from 4% to 12% of CEOs have positive psychopathic traits.
Leaders must be inspiring and have the charisma to motivate others. They know how to get people to like them. They also have to make tough decisions without feeling bad about themselves. Typically, they’re risk-takers and are happy to lie to get what they want.
Karen Landay is a Ph.D. candidate in business management at the University of Alabama and studies psychopathy and leadership.
“They are typically very charming on the surface, they are bold and not afraid. They don’t care that they are hurting you. They will do what they have to do.” Karen Landay
9. You change your behavior to fit into society
There are certain societal rules that we all abide by. Stepping beyond boundaries is a hazardous endeavor. You risk letting people know how different you are.
For instance, showing little emotion at the things we all find upsetting, or waiting decades to exact revenge on a small misdemeanor. Showing your true self means people are going to look at you differently. You’re not one of us, you are someone to be feared and avoided. To fit in, you must subdue your character somewhat.
“I’m trying to act like a regular guy, and I have to do that every day. People tell me that it’s working, but it’s exhausting.” James Fallon
James Fallon shows that highly functioning psychopaths are not all serial killers and rapists. He accredits his happy childhood and loving parents with muting the more violent psychopathic tendencies. It suggests there are some positive traits associated with psychopathy.
Featured image by KamranAydinov on Freepik
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