Tell-Tale Signs Someone Is a Sociopath (And Famous Examples From Pop Culture)

A compulsive liar or toxic coworker can make life hell. But is something more going on? Without an official diagnosis, it’s hard to tell. The following signs indicate that someone may be a sociopath — plus we included extreme, real-life examples from popular culture. One common red flag is visible in nearly all sociopaths (page 10).

1. Explodes with anger

The Ice Man, Richard Kuklinski
Hitman Richard Kuklinski was known for his extreme rage. | Bettmann/Getty Images
  • Extreme example: Richard Kuklinski, aka the “Ice Man”

When things don’t go how the sociopath planned, it results in sudden anger. Ever see someone fly off the handle over a minor slight? This anger stems from the fact that the inner narcissist can’t control their surroundings. was New York hitman Richard Kuklinski was known for his quick temper and rage-induced murders. The mafia loved his ability to kill with no remorse.

Next: Can you ever get the story straight?

2. Blatantly lies

Dexter Morgan
Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan | Christian Weber/CBS via Getty Images
  • Extreme example: Dexter Morgan from Dexter

Pathological liars clearly signal some issues. We’ve outlined the signs of a compulsive liar before, so watch out for them when dealing with a potential sociopath. The hit CBS series Dexter portrayed a killer who constantly lies to cover up his killings, living a double life as a result.

Next: Does everyone love the sociopath?

3. Can win over anyone

Serial killer Ted Bundy
Ted Bundy during his trial in 1979 | Bettmann/Getty Images
  • Extreme example: Ted Bundy

A sign of sociopathy is extreme charisma. They may display intense eye contact and communication skills. A sociopath can win over a room of strangers with their outgoing personality. The most famous example of this intense charisma may be Ted Bundy. Described as articulate and charming, the serial killer flirted with young women, then raped and killed them.

Next: Does your relationship lack a vital component?

4. Emotionally detached

Javier Bardem plays Anton in No Country for Old Men
Actor Javier Bardem plays Anton in No Country for Old Men. | BadWolf via Youtube
  • Extreme example: Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men

Total emotional detachment causes sociopaths to do things others cannot. Essentially, they don’t feel anything when they are wrong or hurt someone. The film No Country for Old Men portrays killer Anton Chigurh, who has no emotional attachment to his deadly deeds. In the 2007 crime thriller, the cold-hearted assassin — played by Javier Bardem — uses a bolt pistol to murder people.

Next: Breaking rules comes second nature to sociopaths.

5. Disregard for social norms

The famous Joey Buttafuoco in front of his family's auto body shop
Joey Buttafuoco in front of his auto body shop | Dick Yarwood/Newsday via Getty Images
  • Extreme example: Joey Buttafuoco

If someone doesn’t understand or care about social norms, it could be a sign of other issues. They’re likely comfortable with breaking laws and disobeying rules. You may recall the notorious case of Joey Buttafuoco, whose affair with teen Amy Fisher gained national attention after Fisher tried to murder his wife, Mary Jo. In 2009, 17 years later, Mary Jo called Joey a “sociopath and a liar.”

Next: Is there a drama queen or king in your life?

6. Loves to create drama

Patrick Bateman in American Psycho
Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho | Eric Robert/Sygma via Getty Images
  • Extreme example: Patrick Bateman from American Pyscho

A sociopath may not form emotional attachments, but they have no problem tapping into the emotions of others if it serves them. They may create drama for no reason or relish the chance to capitalize on others’ drama. Patrick Bateman in 1991’s American Psycho shows this quality via his frequent outbursts toward his fiance, coworkers, and others.

Next: Are job changes, relocations, and new relationships common?

7. Gets bored easily

Deidre Hunt
Convicted murderer Deidre Hunt is interviewed in 1990. | Jack Beasley via Youtube
  • Extreme example: Deidre Hunt

Change is healthy, but not all the time. If he or she is always changing jobs, homes, relationships, and more, this is a sure sign of boring easily. Seeking thrills, a sociopath will act impulsively when bored. An extreme example of this trait is convicted murderer Deidre Hunt. Along with an accomplice, she tortured and killed a young man for her own entertainment.

Next: The way they communicate says a lot.

8. A convincing talker with big plans

Jim Jones of Jonestown
Leader of Jonestown, Jim Jones | Michelle Vignes/Getty Images
  • Extreme example: Jim Jones

Sociopaths are convincing talkers who use extreme statements to sway others. As Psychology Today says, “Watch out for extremes. Big promises. Big stories, about the past or the future. Big plans, with no basis for them or no experience at whatever they’re planning.”

One extreme example: cult leader Jim Jones. The talented communicator convinced 900 people to move from America to Guyana. Then, he persuaded all of them to commit mass suicide by drinking cyanide-laced Kool-Aid.

Next: This common red flag is visible in nearly all sociopaths.

9. Always puts themselves first

Actress Farrah Fawcett plays Diane Downs in TV movie Small Sacrifices.
Actress Farrah Fawcett plays Diane Downs in TV movie Small Sacrifices. | ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images
  • Extreme example: Diane Downs

A sense of inflated self-worth is a classic sign of a sociopath. These people take an overbearing interest in themselves. This can come across as selfishness and self-centeredness — two easily identifiable traits. A real-life instance is Diane Downs, an Oregon woman who was so obsessed with being with her boyfriend that she killed her children.

Next: Do you find yourself doing things you wouldn’t normally do?

10. Manipulates what you say and do

Jeffrey MacDonald in jail
Convicted murderer and doctor Jeffrey MacDonald in 1990 | Bob Riha Jr./Getty Images
  • Extreme example: Jeffrey MacDonald

A sociopath will play puppet master with the people in their lives, thinking they’ll get away with it and not caring about the consequences. This is when many people realize they’re dealing with a sociopath. In 1979, a medical doctor and Green Beret, Jeffrey MacDonald brutally killed his daughters and pregnant wife. Throughout his adult life, he’d manipulated everyone into thinking he was an honorable family man.

Next: Does sex seem like a business transaction?

11. Sex is strictly physical

Alex Delarge from A Clockwork Orange
Malcolm McDowell as Alex Delarge from A Clockwork Orange | Bettmann/Getty Images
  • Extreme example: Alex from A Clockwork Orange

Sociopaths are involved in relationships until they no longer get a reward, reports Psychology Today. They’ll do anything to fulfill needs, regardless of social norms. Viewing sex as a physical transaction, he or she will check out once things get emotionally intimate. The main character in A Clockwork Orange exhibits this behavior to the extreme. He sexually assaults women in the film, showing no remorse in the process.

Next: Do you feel safe with this person?

12. Reckless with themselves and others

Josef Mengele Nazi Germany
A young Josef Mengele | ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images
  • Extreme example: Josef Mengele

Reckless behaviors vary, but the issue is that a sociopath won’t see the connection between the behavior and consequences. They’ll try to get away with it for as long as they can, despite getting caught repeatedly.

An unusual example of this may be Josef Mengele, a Nazi physician in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Known as the “Angel of Death,” he supervised thousands of murders and experimented on prisoners in torturous ways. Also an example of emotional detachment, Mengele saw no connection between his actions and others’ pain.

Next: Relationships change, but they shouldn’t change this much.

13. Struggles to make and keep friends

Killer Ed Gein
Ed Gein (C) at county court county | Bettmann/Getty Images
  • Extreme example: Ed Gein

A sociopath’s behavior easily drives people away. They may seem to have friends until their actions drive everyone away. If someone can’t keep a friend or doesn’t have friends, there’s a reason for it.

Ed Gein is an extreme example. The serial killer grew up on an isolated farm in Wisconsin and developed antisocial behaviors. In 1957, police arrested him after getting reports of skulls inside his home. In addition to murdering women, he’d been digging up bodies at cemeteries.

Next: Another huge sign of a sociopath

14. Lack of guilt

John Wayne Gacy
Police photo of John Wayne Gacy | Bettmann/Getty Images
  • Extreme example: John Wayne Gacy

Similar to emotional detachment, a lack of guilt when a person has wronged others can signal a sociopath. A real-life example occurred in 1978 when John Wayne Gacy was arrested for murdering over 30 teen boys. During his trial, the serial killer stated “he could commit heinous crimes without any feelings of guilt or remorse,” according to Mindcology.

Additional reporting by Gina Ragusa and Ali Harrison.