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High-functioning Sociopaths and the Damage They Cause

A high-functioning sociopath can be one scary dude. See how the high-functioning sociopath operates and gets exactly what he wants.

There are sociopaths in our midst. Some of them are high-functioning sociopaths. High-functioning or not, all lack empathy. All are antisocial; they ignore the rules and laws of society so they can live by their own norms. Cold, callus, and calculating, they stop at nothing to get what they want, and they are impervious to consequences and punishment. They all have the same clinical diagnosis: antisocial personality disorder.

Despite these commonalities, not every sociopath is created equal. As with everything else in life, there are individual differences. Some sociopaths are more effective at being who they are than are others. Those exceptionally skilled are often dubbed high-functioning sociopaths.

What is a High-functioning Sociopath?

The term "high-functioning" is a descriptor rather than a diagnosis and isn't part of the diagnostic label for antisocial personality disorder (the official name for what is popularly called sociopathy). Ditto "low-functioning." These adjectives simply describe how good of a sociopath someone is.

Highly functioning sociopaths are adept at morphing themselves into what people want to see (Signs of a Sociopath Are Big Time Scary). They very quickly learn what makes people tick, and they know just how to engineer and oil the clock. This type of sociopath

  • has superior intelligence, as demonstrated by observed behavior and IQ tests;
  • possesses impeccable social skills and exudes charm;
  • often comes from a strong family background;
  • is driven—she knows what she wants, and she knows how to get it;
  • is calculating, cleverly assessing a situation and purposely planning action;
  • is patient and willing to work people and situations until the time is right for her to make her move.


These traits make a high-functioning sociopath formidable. She remains at least several moves ahead of the rest of society, and no one suspects a thing. Whatever it is she wants, she is likely to get it. The high-functioning sociopath can cause a lot of damage (Do Sociopaths Cry or Even Have Feelings?).

What is a Low-functioning Sociopath?

"Low-functioning sociopath" isn't a commonly used term, but it works here to contrast a high-functioning sociopath against the garden-variety sociopath. A low-functioning sociopath isn't as adept in social situations as is a high-functioning sociopath. No sociopath particularly likes people. They see them as mere objects to be toyed with, used, and then dismissed or disposed of. High-functioning sociopaths, though, are better opportunists. They can blend into any environment and adopt the traits needed to con. Low-functioning sociopaths aren't as smooth. They

  • lack education or skills necessary to manipulate under the radar;
  • often resort to threats, coercion, intimidation, and even violence to accomplish their goals;
  • are better at bullying than they are at charming;
  • they have wants, but they're not as focused, driven, and patient about them.

Low- and High-functioning Sociopaths Do Damage

Sociopaths are antisocial people with social skills. Sociopath traits are the same for both low and high-functioning sociopaths. It's that some (high-functioning) sociopaths happen to have more skill than others, and thus the ability to do more damage. 

A low-functioning sociopath can sometimes be quick to anger, hot-headed. He can quickly become violent, and because he's a sociopath, he doesn't hesitate to injure or kill. People mean nothing, punishment means nothing, his own wants and needs mean everything. (And don't be concerned about sociopath treatment as the sociopath can't be cured.)

A low-functioning sociopath will try to charm because doing so helps him manipulate others. He can cause physical, emotional, and financial damage to his victims. Unlike the high-functioning sociopath, he lacks long-term planning skills, patience, and drive. He can, for example, swindle people out of hundreds of dollars, but he either is caught or becomes bored before moving on.

In contrast, a high-functioning sociopath is great at what he does. He also can cause physical, emotional, and financial damage to anyone he so chooses. He's more deliberate about it, though. Whereas a low-functioning sociopath can con someone out of hundreds of dollars, the high-functioning sociopath predator can manipulate, lie, cheat, his way into a fortune.

All sociopaths are dangerous whether labled high-functioning, low-functioning or narcissistic sociopaths. A high-functioning sociopath can dream bigger and manipulate better than other sociopaths. They can cause a great deal of damage.


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next: Sociopathic Children: How Do They Become That Way?
~ all articles on Personality Disorders
~ all Sociopath Articles

Last Updated: 21 July 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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