How To Spot Sociopathy: Warning Signs And Characteristics

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
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.
Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.
A sociopath can be defined as an individual living with a severe form of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). (The term sociopath is not considered clinically or socially appropriate. Clinicians may use the phrase "a person with ASPD or sociopathy.") People with ASPD typically display a lack of empathy and a disregard for the individuality and rights of others.

A person with sociopathy may often engage in manipulative, deceptive, and violent behavior patterns and may also be prone to criminal activity. While it can be difficult to recognize a person with sociopathy without professional evaluation, some warning signs can potentially help you spot one. Knowing the characteristics associated with this disorder can help you set boundaries and potentially protect yourself from mental abuse.* An online or in-person therapist can further aid you in this process.

Getty/Inside Creative House
Is someone you love living with ASPD?

Characteristics of people with ASPD

People living with ASPD can be more prone than others to engage in criminal or impulsive behavior without remorse. Studies have shown that individuals with sociopathic tendencies may be more likely to experience other mental health conditions and be diagnosed with psychopathy. These other conditions may include the following: 

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

These conditions can develop due to the individual’s inability to effectively manage stressors or emotions, which may build up over time and lead to unhealthy mental patterns. People with ASPD may also experience feelings of isolation and loneliness due to difficulty forming meaningful connections with others.

People living with ASPD are also typically at risk of developing other personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder, paranoid personality disorder, and schizotypal personality disorder. These conditions are often characterized by traits similar to ASPD, like impulsivity and interpersonal difficulties, but they usually differ in certain symptoms, such as suspiciousness or paranoia.

Identifying the warning signs of sociopathy can be crucial to helping you protect yourself and set boundaries accordingly. Those with this disorder can be likely to cause disruption and mental distress in the lives of those around them, making it important to protect oneself and avoid harm.

Signs of a person with ASPD

Those with antisocial personality disorder may often appear charismatic and friendly at first glance. Still, their actions may reveal them to be self-centered and reckless over time. 

They may also avoid engaging in meaningful relationships or connections with others. In addition to disregarding social norms, they may express contempt for authority figures, such as parents or police officers. They are typically prone to lying or manipulating others to achieve their desired outcome, often without regard for the consequences these actions may have on those closest to them.

The most common signs that a person may have ASPD include the following:

  • A lack of remorse, shame, or guilt
  • Superficial charm and a grandiose sense of self
  • Pathological lying and deceitfulness
  • Manipulating others for personal gain 
  • Physical violence
  • Poor behavioral controls
  • Impulsive tendencies
  • Antisocial behavior 
  • Disregard for societal norms 
  • Chronic boredom and unexplained restlessness 
  • Risk-taking behaviors without regard for consequences 
  • Callousness

Recognizing these warning signs early can make it easier to set clear boundaries and ensure you are not taken advantage of or drawn into potentially damaging situations. You can stay vigilant against potential manipulation tactics and possibly protect your mental well-being while interacting with others.

Getty/AnnaStills

Approaches to therapy for personality disorders

Therapeutic approaches to treat antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) can be complex and may require a multifaceted approach. In a comprehensive review of the treatment options for ASPD, researchers found that there may be no singular accepted treatment method for this condition

The study concluded that treating ASPD should likely involve addressing the co-occurring mental health disorders that therapists may identify during therapy. Treatment can often focus on developing coping skills, such as problem-solving strategies, impulse control, anger management, assertiveness, and communication skills. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one strategy that may be useful to help individuals with ASPD better manage their thoughts and behaviors and improve their relationships with the outside world. 

CBT typically focuses on changing maladaptive thinking patterns, which may underlie the symptoms of ASPD. In particular, CBT can help people become aware of how they react to certain situations or triggers and which thoughts and behaviors may be causing them distress so that they can learn better strategies for managing difficult emotions or coping with challenging situations.

CBT can also help people develop more positive thought patterns and behaviors, potentially leading to more socially acceptable behaviors. For example, developing healthy assertiveness skills and learning how to manage conflicts healthily are ways that CBT can support those living with ASPD. 

Additionally, CBT can teach behavioral techniques, such as problem-solving skills, which can help individuals effectively address their problems and reduce the temptation of resorting to aggression.

Interpersonal therapy

Interpersonal therapy, or IPT, can also help individuals with ASPD make positive modifications in their social relationships, increase their understanding of others, and potentially build meaningful personal relationships.

In IPT, interpersonal relationships tend to be central to mental health and well-being. This type of therapy typically focuses on three core aspects: communication, problem-solving, and emotional regulation. 

Through these techniques, individuals with ASPD can improve their social skills, learn how to identify and express emotions appropriately, develop healthy coping strategies for managing stress, and find better ways to interact with those around them.

In addition to improving social functioning, IPT can help individuals with ASPD better understand themselves by exploring topics related to identity formation. This can include making sense of past experiences and looking at possible future goals and roles within society. 

By discussing such topics in a safe environment where they can receive feedback from a licensed therapist, individuals with ASPD may gain insight into how their personality traits affect their interactions with others and begin taking steps toward a more positive role in society.

In one study, which looked at the ability of IPT to help individuals with severe personality disorders reduce symptoms and regain normal social functioning, researchers found that through modifying self-image, removing the view of others as threats, and becoming mindful of paranoid attitudes, participants were often able to make significant progress in their symptoms. 

Finally, it may be important to ensure any treatment plan is tailored to the individual's specific needs since each person will likely respond differently depending on their unique circumstances. A combination of treatments may be necessary to achieve optimal results. With the right therapeutic approach, individuals with ASPD may be able to live more meaningful lives free from feelings of alienation and manipulation.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Is someone you love living with ASPD?

Benefits of online therapy

Online therapy may offer individuals who experience sociopathic tendencies a more accessible means of receiving mental health care. For these individuals, paranoia, anxiety, and mistrust of others may make them less likely to participate in in-person therapy sessions. Online therapy can provide an option that enables them to receive treatment from the comfort of their own homes, increasing the likelihood of seeking treatment and opening up about their true feelings. 

Effectiveness of online therapy

Studies generally suggest that online cognitive behavioral therapy can be just as effective as in-person CBT. Both types of therapy can be valid options for those seeking professional help.

Takeaway

People living with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) may manipulate and harm those around them. While it can often be difficult to spot a person with ASPD, understanding their behavior may help you better protect yourself from manipulation and abuse. If someone in your life is exhibiting traits similar to those discussed above, consider seeking professional help through in-person or online therapy or distancing yourself from the situation.
Explore antisocial personality disorder in therapy
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started