Traits Of A High-Functioning Sociopath

Updated March 6, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

What Is A High-Functioning Sociopath?

Doctors and mental health professionals previously referred to people with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) as sociopaths. However, this term no longer has any clinical meaning, although many still use it to describe someone with ASPD or related mental health conditions. 

ASPD 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. In addition, the symptoms of ASDP include a low sense of morals and conscience, disrupted personal and professional relationships, impulsive or aggressive behavior, and a lack of respect for authority and rules, which sometimes leads to criminal behavior. In everyday language, a person with high-functioning sociopathy is clinically someone with ASPD who has a well-developed ability to fit into society much of the time. 

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Prevalence And Characteristics of ASPD And Related Personality Disorders

ASDP affects between 1 to 4% of the population. Men are 3 to 5 times more at risk for ASPD than women. Symptoms can appear in early childhood, and 80% of cases are evident by age 11. 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): The person has an over-blown sense of self-importance similar to ASPD but often lacks the same degree of aggressiveness as ASPD

  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD): The person has a similar degree of manipulative behavior as ASPD, but it is motivated by a need for reassurance rather than seeking gain in ASPD. 

  • 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.

  • Substance use disorder has the same impulsivity and irresponsible behavior as ASPD, but these traits are motivated by different needs. Substance use disorder must be ruled out before a diagnosis of ASPD can be made. 

People with ASDP frequently act without regard for others, and their behavior may include lying, cheating, and manipulating for personal gain. They often have a high degree of narcissism and a lack of remorse when hurting others, allowing them to achieve their desires without regard for other people’s feelings. On the surface, people with ASPD may 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 has no clinical significance, although 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. 

What Is The Difference Between People With ASDP And People With Psychopathy?

How to Spot Traits Of A Person With Antisocial Personality Disorder

Identifying the traits of people with high-functioning ASPD can 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 be charming, 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 can be successful in life, and their lack of conscience might give them an advantage in some business situations. 

Although psychologists cannot formally diagnose the disorder until a person is 18 years old or older, ASPD traits usually manifest when someone reaches their early teens. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V (DSM-5) includes the diagnostic criteria of Antisocial Personality Disorder. A diagnosis requires that an individual must exhibit at least three of these antisocial behaviors:

  • Disregarding social norms and lawful behaviors, such as repeatedly performing actions that are grounds for arrest

  • Repeated lying, conning, or deception for personal profit or gain

  • Impulsiveness or failure to plan

  • Irritable or aggressive behavior including physical fights or assaults

  • Reckless disregard for the safety of self or others

  • Consistent irresponsibility - failing to maintain regular work or financial obligations

  • Lacking remorse or rationalizing actions that hurt, mistreat, or take from others

To meet the criteria for clinical diagnosis of ASPD, the 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 abuse.

By understanding the characteristics of a high-functioning sociopath, you can see how an individual with this disorder may be manipulating and exploiting you. Other common traits may include the following:

Lack of Empathy: They find it difficult to empathize with others or understand the emotional consequences of their actions.

Narcissism: They often have a grandiose self-image and sense of entitlement. 

Charming: Although most sociopaths lack empathy, they are can mimic and manipulate emotions to appear charming and normal.

Secretive: A person with ASPD doesn't feel the need to impart intimate details with others - unless they are using them to manipulate others.

Sexually Deviant: Since they lack guilt, remorse, and emotional attachments, people with high-functioning ASPD often have affairs and cheat on their partners.

Sensitive to Criticism: Despite their lack of empathy, people with high-functioning ASPD desire the approval of others. They can feel entitled to admiration and are quick to anger when criticized.

Impulsive Behavior: People with ASPD are often reckless. They typically live in the moment and will do what they feel is needed to reach their immediate goals.

Frequent 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.

Easily Bored: People with ASPD often get bored quickly and continually seek excitement. 

Addictive Behaviors: Their compulsive mindset may result in addiction to drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, or other addictive behaviors.

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 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 or could be serial killers. However, the vast majority of them do not commit murder. 

Do You Need Help Understanding Anti-Social Personality Disorders

Possible Causes ASPD

Personality is a combination of thoughts, emotions, experiences, and behaviors that make a person unique. Personality forms during early childhood and is influenced by interactions with caregivers, religion, culture, and society as a whole. Though the exact cause of ASPD is unknown, specific circumstances, including environmental factors, 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 devastating and frightening and can lead a person to despair or even suicidal thoughts. If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention 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 dealing with a relationship with someone with this condition by talking to an online therapist at a platform like BetterHelp.com.  Numerous studies show that online therapy can be as effective as talking to someone in person. In addition, talking to a mental health professional online can make the experience easier and more comfortable if you are in a stressful situation. 

Takeaway

Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) is also known in non-clinical settings as sociopathy. People with ASPD show little regard for others and often lie, steal, and manipulate people to gain something they want. Many people with ASPD commit crimes, but many others are high-functioning enough to succeed in life to some degree. Being connected to someone with ASPD can be scary and painful, but therapists at online platforms like BetterHelp.com can provide support and ideas for how to cope and defend yourself from someone with ASPD. 

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