Doctors and mental health professionals previously referred to people with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) as sociopaths. However, this term is usually no longer used in clinical settings, although many still use it to describe someone with ASPD or co-occurring conditions.
ASPD, or antisocial personality disorder, is a personality disorder characterized by showing little or no regard for socially acceptable behavior, a lack of empathy, and frequent engagement in risky behavior. Individuals with ASPD may also exhibit symptoms of sociopathic personality disorder. In addition, the symptoms of ASDP include having a low sense of morals and conscience, disrupting personal and professional relationships, displaying aggressive or impulsive behaviors, and showing a lack of respect for authority and rules, which sometimes leads to criminal behavior.
Prevalence And Characteristics of ASPD And Related Personality Disorders
ASPD affects approximately 3.5% of the population. Men tend to be more at risk for ASPD than women, which may explain the common trope of “sociopathic or psychopathic men” that we often see depicted in the media. Symptoms of ASPD must be present by the age of 15, although mental health professionals don’t provide an official diagnosis until a patient reaches the age of 18. ASPD has symptoms in common with several other personality disorders, although it also is distinct from these in meaningful ways. These similar personality disorders and their distinctions from ASDP are:
- Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD): A person with NPD typically has an overblown sense of self-importance, often believing they have superior intelligence to those around them. Those with NPD tend to lack the same degree of aggressiveness as a person with ASPD.
- Borderline personality disorder (BPD): Someone with BPT typically has a similar degree of manipulative behavior as someone with ASPD but tends to be motivated by a need for reassurance rather than seeking gain.
- Histrionic personality disorder (HPD): People with this disorder often show a high degree of seductive and attention-seeking behaviors and are easily influenced by others, a trait not usually seen in people with ASPD.
People with ASPD frequently act without regard for others, and their behavior may include lying, cheating, and manipulating to accomplish personal gain. They often have a high degree of narcissism, lacking remorse when hurting others; this trait may allow them to achieve their desires without regard for other people’s feelings. On the surface, people with ASPD may exhibit polished and polite behaviors in an effort to appear like anyone else. However, some do not function well in society and spend their time in and out of the justice system or living a nomadic lifestyle, and a high proportion of people in prison have ASPD. The term high-functioning applied to ASPD doesn’t necessarily have clinical significance, although some people use it to describe someone who is exceptionally skilled at giving the illusion of not having ASPD. People with high-functioning ASPD might even rise in the ranks of the professional world.
How To Spot Traits Of A Person With Antisocial Personality Disorder
Spotting high-functioning antisocial personality disorder traits (or in the correct clinical nomenclature, the traits of people with high-functioning ASPD may help you recognize if you are being affected by their behavior and know when to seek help.
Many people with ASPD get high scores on IQ tests. They can have excellent interpersonal skills, and their magnetic personality traits often naturally draw others to them. People with high-functioning ASPD can be calculating and may show extreme patience when trying to lay the foundation necessary to work a situation for their benefit.
A person with ASPD may hold a job, be married, and have children. They may also be actively engaged in cognitive behavioral therapy, possibly to help with their ASPD or to treat co-occurring conditions. CBT has been shown to be an effective treatment for some personality disorders, though research is still being conducted on its effectiveness with ASPD. People experiencing ASPD can be successful in life, and their lack of conscience might give them an advantage in some business situations.
A diagnosis requires that an individual must exhibit at least three of these antisocial behaviors:
- Disregard for social norms and lawful behaviors, such as repeatedly performing actions that are grounds for arrest
- Repeated lying, conning, or deceiving for personal profit or gain
- Impulsiveness or failure to plan
- Irritable or aggressive behavior, including physical fights or assaults
- Reckless disregard for other people’s emotions, as well as the safety of their self or others
- Consistent irresponsibility and failure to maintain regular work or financial obligations
- Lack of remorse or rationalization of actions that hurt, mistreat, or take from others
To meet the criteria for a clinical diagnosis of ASPD, an individual must be at least 18 years old with evidence of conduct disorder before 15 years of age. In addition, their antisocial behavior cannot exclusively occur during schizophrenic or manic episodes or as a result of substance use.
By understanding the characteristics of a high-functioning person with antisocial personality disorder, you may see how an individual with this disorder can manipulate and exploit you. Other common traits and compulsive behaviors may include the following:
Lacking In Empathy
A person with antisocial personality disorder may find it difficult to empathize with other people’s emotions or understand the emotional consequences of their actions.
They often have a grandiose self-image and sense of entitlement.
Although most people with antisocial personality disorder lack empathy, they can mimic and manipulate emotions to mimic polite behaviors in an effort to appear charming and normal.
A person with ASPD usually doesn’t feel the need to impart information with others unless they are using them to manipulate others.
Since a person with ASPD often lacks guilt, remorse, and emotional attachments, they often have affairs and cheat on their partners.
Sensitive To Criticism
Despite their lack of empathy, people with high-functioning ASPD often desire the approval of others. They can feel entitled to admiration and be quick to anger when criticized.
People with ASPD are often reckless. They typically live in the moment and do what they believe is needed to reach their immediate goals.
Prone To Lying
Compulsive lying is a common trait of people with ASPD. They often disregard the truth to make themselves look better or get what they want.
People with ASPD often get bored quickly and continually seek excitement.
Prone To Addictive Behaviors
Their compulsive mindset may result in addiction to drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, or other addictive behaviors.
Prone To Rule Breaking And Criminal Behavior
Generally, people with ASPD are rule breakers. It is not uncommon for them to have a history of criminal activity because of their belief they are above the law and that breaking the rules is of no consequence. Illegal activity associated with this personality disorder could include fraud, theft, assault, or destruction of property. People with high-functioning ASPD may also participate in more serious crimes. However, the vast majority of them do not commit murder.
Possible Causes Of ASPD
Personality is a combination of thoughts, emotions, experiences, and behaviors that make a person unique. Personality begins to form during early childhood and is influenced by interactions with caregivers, religion, culture, and society as a whole. Although the exact known cause of ASPD hasn’t been found, specific circumstances, including environmental factors and behavioral genetics, can make one more prone to the disorder.
These risk factors include:
- A family history of antisocial personality disorder or other mental illnesses
- Diagnosis of a childhood conduct disorder
- Exposure to trauma, abuse, or neglect during childhood
- Unstable or violent family life during formative years
- Genetics factors
What To Do If You Are Involved With A Person With ASPD
If you suspect that someone you are involved with has ASPD, it can be frightening and lead a person to despair or even suicidal thoughts.* Sometimes people may also experience abuse by a person with ASPD.**
- *If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline can be reached at 988 and is available 24/7.
- **If you are experiencing domestic violence, reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1 800 799-SAFE (7233.)
You can also get help understanding ASPD or managing a relationship with someone with this condition by talking to an online therapist at a platform like BetterHelp. Numerous studies show that online therapy is just as effective as traditional in-person therapy. In addition, talking to a mental health professional online can make the experience easier and more comfortable if you are in a stressful situation.
With BetterHelp, you can talk to a therapist via audio or video chat from anywhere with an internet connection. You can also reach out to your therapist in between sessions via in-app messaging, and they’ll get back to you as soon as they can.
Can a person with antisocial personality disorder cry?
People with antisocial personality disorder, or ASPD, can indeed cry. However, because ASPD may be characterized by a lack of empathy or regard for others’ emotions, their reasons for crying may differ from those without ASPD. For instance, someone with ASPD may be more prone to crying out of frustration than out of feelings of sympathy or empathy.
Should you ever confront a person with antisocial personality disorder?
It may be important to remember that, although antisocial personality disorder may be managed, it cannot be “cured.” Furthermore, because ASPD is frequently characterized by manipulation, lying, or a reduced sense of empathy, someone with ASPD may be willing to do or say whatever they think will get them what they want. Therefore, confronting someone with ASPD in the hopes of changing their behavior, or getting them to admit wrongdoing, may not be advisable.
How is the brain of a person with antisocial personality disorder different?
Research on the relationship between the brain and antisocial personality disorder is currently ongoing. However, studies have found that there may be certain differences in the brains of those with ASPD. For instance, a 2022 study found an association between ASPD symptoms and a larger striatum, an area of the brain thought to be involved in motivation and movement. A 2013 study also found that those with ASPD showed differences in the activity of certain regions of the brain involved with empathy. (Note that mental health research is constantly evolving, so older sources may contain information or theories that have been reevaluated since their original publication date.)
Can a person with antisocial personality disorder love their child?
Given that antisocial personality disorder may be associated with challenges in feeling empathy, it may be natural to wonder whether those with ASPD are able to love their children. Those with antisocial personality disorder may form emotional attachments, depending on the situation. However, they may also experience difficulty empathizing and relating to the emotions of others, which may include their children.
Can persons with antisocial personality disorder feel guilt?
Antisocial personality disorder may be associated with having difficulty empathizing with others. Therefore, depending on the situation, emotions like guilt and remorse may also be challenging for those living with ASPD.
Can a person with antisocial personality disorder get depressed?
Although those with antisocial personality disorder may experience challenges with certain emotions, they can also experience mental illnesses such as depression.
Can a person with antisocial personality disorder get PTSD?
It may be possible for those with antisocial personality disorder to get post-traumatic stress disorder. However, certain research suggests that those with ASPD may experience PTSD less frequently or intensely than those without the disorder.
Why do persons with antisocial personality disorder lack empathy?
While a person with antisocial personality disorder may understand the difference between right and wrong and may know how to behave like a “good person,” ASPD is often characterized by difficulty feeling emotions like empathy. A 2020 literature review states that “these deficits are likely to be related to dysfunctions in a wide brain network involved in empathy, including the [ventro-medial prefrontal cortex/orbitofrontal cortex] and amygdala.”
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