Can A Sociopath Change? What To Know About This Personality Disorder

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated May 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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“Sociopath” can be a commonly used term for people with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). The symptoms of this personality disorder can make forming healthy relationships and leading a productive life more difficult than usual. While it may be possible for individuals with ASPD to change by participating in professional treatment, many people living with this disorder may not believe they need help and may not be willing to attend therapy. It can be best to focus on your own mental health, and online therapy with a licensed mental health professional can be an excellent place to start.

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Do you know someone with ASPD? Online therapy can help

What is antisocial personality disorder?

Antisocial personality disorder can be defined as a mental health condition in which an individual often ignores right and wrong when making decisions and has no regard for the feelings of others. It is also sometimes called sociopathy. People with ASPD may intentionally anger or hurt others and tend to have no remorse for their actions.

Symptoms of this disorder may include the following: 

  • A lack of guilt about hurting others
  • Disregarding the law and the consequences of breaking it
  • Behaving violently or impulsively
  • Inability to feel empathy
  • Misusing substances and alcohol
  • Having difficulty meeting responsibilities with family, school, or work
  • Lying to take advantage of others
  • Manipulating others for personal gain using charm or wit
  • Having a sense of superiority
  • Acting with aggression, hostility, or violence toward others
  • Disregarding the safety of others
  • Being unable to meet responsibilities at home, work, or school

Many people with this personality disorder show signs of it before age 15. At a young age, some symptoms can be serious, like ongoing aggression toward people and animals, theft, and destruction of property. ASPD is usually a lifelong condition, but the symptoms can change over time; some, like criminal behavior, may decrease.

Other conditions that may occur with ASPD

People with ASPD are often likely to have other psychiatric disorders as well, which can make getting a diagnosis more difficult. Some common comorbidities of ASPD include the following:

  • Substance Use Disorders: People with ASPD tend to be much more likely to have a substance use disorder. Specifically, they can be as much as eight times more likely to be alcohol dependent, 17 times more likely to be substance dependent, and six times more likely to be nicotine dependent than people without ASPD. 
  • Mood Disorders: Some research suggests that as much as half of those with ASPD may also have some type of anxiety disorder in their lifetime, particularly social anxiety disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder. Those with ASPD and an anxiety disorder may also be at higher risk of substance use, major depression, and suicide. If you or a loved one are experiencing thoughts of suicide, please know that help is available. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline anytime, 24/7, at 988.
  • Psychopathy: Some researchers believe that ASPD and psychopathy can overlap. Nearly everyone with the trait of psychopathy also has ASPD, although the opposite is not always true. Only a small percentage of people with ASPD may also have psychopathy. However, it’s been suggested that psychopathy and ASPD could be the same disorder at varying intensities, with psychopathy typically being a more violent and severe form of ASPD.

Can a sociopath change?

One of the most challenging things about treating someone with ASPD is that people with this mental health condition are usually unlikely to seek treatment on their own. They may seek help for other concerns, like anxiety, depression, or substance use disorder, though. 

People with ASPD may have other symptoms come to the surface while in treatment for these other disorders, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be able to explore them.

Ultimately, people with this condition may be unable to describe their symptoms accurately. One of the defining traits of ASPD can be how the person interacts with others, and they may not always understand or be able to verbalize any problematic symptoms. 

Getty/Xavier Lorenzo

If your friend, family member, or partner exhibits traits of ASPD, consider confronting them about their behaviors, but only if it is safe to do so. It may help to have a list of symptoms or specific incidents ready so that you can make sure you are prepared and say everything you want to say, as there’s a chance the person may not take it well. Offer to support them in finding a therapist who can help them get a diagnosis and work through their symptoms.

It can be essential to understand that some people with ASPD will be very resistant to treatment and that even if they do agree to go, change can take time. If symptoms are severe, the individual may not be able to admit that they have any problems and refuse treatment altogether. 

Coping and support

Having any kind of relationship with someone with ASPD can be difficult, especially if they are unwilling to seek treatment. Sociopaths may act out, lie, behave impulsively, or manipulate others, all of which can drastically affect their relationships. Here are some steps you can take to help yourself cope if you have a relationship with someone with ASPD. 

  • Understand that you may not be able to help them.
  • Don’t blame yourself. You are not the reason for their behavior. 
  • People with ASPD may lie and manipulate others, so be careful not to believe everything they tell you.
  • Set and maintain healthy boundaries, no matter how strongly they react. 
  • Prioritize your own physical, mental, and emotional well-being. 

Maintaining relationships with people with ASPD who refuse to get help can be challenging and, at times, damaging to your mental health. People with ASPD may act out and try to make others suffer. If they are targeting you, it can be essential to get help so you don’t have to live in fear.

Benefits of online therapy

Coping with the emotions that come along with maintaining a relationship with someone with ASPD can be challenging. Online therapy can provide you with the support you deserve to set boundaries and protect yourself. With an online therapist, you can attend sessions from the comfort and security of your home or anywhere else you have an internet connection. Upon signing up on a platform like BetterHelp, you’ll generally be matched with an available therapist within 48 hours, so you can get started right away without being on a waiting list.

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Do you know someone with ASPD? Online therapy can help

Effectiveness of online therapy

Research shows that online therapy can be effective in addressing a range of concerns, including personality disorders, and it can also support those whose loved ones have personality disorders. Although more research may be needed regarding ASPD specifically, three of the studies in one analysis generally showed significant decreases in symptoms of borderline personality disorder. There were generally no adverse effects, and researchers noted that online therapy could assist in the expansion of effective treatment methods. 

Takeaway

Can a sociopath change? It depends. Psychotherapy can help, but people with this disorder often have difficulty accepting that they have problems or need to change. If you are in a relationship with someone with ASPD, it can be vital to make your own mental health and well-being a priority. Talking to an online therapist can help you understand how to protect yourself by setting boundaries and learning the necessary coping skills. If it’s safe, you may also be able to encourage an individual with ASPD to seek the professional support and help they deserve. However, keeping the focus on your own health and stability can be what matters most.

Explore antisocial personality disorder in therapy
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