What is sociopathy? Symptoms, traits, and treatments
Please note:The information found in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have.
The term “sociopath” is often used to describe an individual living with an antisocial personality disorder. A person with antisocial personality disorder often shows little remorse or guilt, lacks or has diminished empathy, and may not understand the difference between right and wrong. They may lie, cheat, manipulate, and steal and simply not care about the effects or consequences. They may also use gaslighting and other manipulation techniques.
Antisocial personality disorder is a serious mental health condition that affects approximately one to four percent of the general population in America. The condition is more commonly diagnosed in men than in women.
Characteristics and traits of antisocial personality disorder
There is no medical test to diagnose an individual with antisocial personality disorder. However, the traits of an individual with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) can be identified in teens as young as 15. These traits often progress and further develop as one reaches adulthood.
Specific symptoms or traits of antisocial personality disorder may vary from individual to individual. While some might only exhibit a few symptoms, others may meet all the criteria.
Lack of empathy or remorse
Those living with antisocial personality disorder may have trouble understanding other people's feelings, and they often display a notable lack of empathy. They may be unable to connect with others on an emotional level. They might feel indifferent to people’s feelings and may likely even validate or rationalize their ill behavior towards others.
Failure to conform to social norms
An individual living with ASPD may find it difficult to conform to social norms such as following laws and rules, for example.
A person with antisocial personality disorder may consistently lie, cheat, and manipulate others. They might pretend to be someone they’re not or deceive others for their own personal benefit or pleasure.
Consistent impulsive behavior
Those living with ASDP exhibit extreme, impulsive behaviors and may have difficulty making and sticking to plans.
Irritability and aggressiveness
Individuals may become easily irritated and regularly get into physical fights or altercations.
Reckless disregard for safety
A person living with ASDP may consistently get involved in risky behavior that puts their safety or the safety of others at risk.
Consistent irresponsible behaviors
An individual living with antisocial personality disorder may find it difficult to hold down a job or honor prior obligations.
For an individual to be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, they must be at least 18 years old, exhibit three or more of the DSM-5 criteria, have evidence of conduct disorder before the age of 15, and the occurrence of their symptoms must not occur exclusively during schizophrenia or bipolar disorder episodes.
Causes and risks of antisocial personality disorder
While there is no single cause for antisocial personality disorder, there are some factors that may increase an individual’s risk of developing the disorder as an adult:
Environmental Factors - An unhealthy family dynamic or childhood experiences such as trauma or abuse* may contribute to an individual developing antisocial personality disorder as an adult.
*If you or someone you know is experiencing or has experienced abuse, it’s important to seek help right away. The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers free support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They can be reached by calling 800.799.SAFE (7233).
Genetics –Certain genes are thought to play a role in some individuals being more at risk of developing the disorder than others.
Sex –Studies show men are three to five times more likely to develop antisocial personality disorder than women.
Lifestyle –Evidence shows that many individuals living with antisocial personality disorder also have an issue with alcohol or substance misuse.
Prevention of antisocial personality disorder
While you may not be able to prevent antisocial personality disorder, early intervention in children who exhibit conduct disorder can lessen the chance of them developing ASPD as adults. Conduct disorder is an umbrella term used to describe repetitive behavioral and emotional issues in younger people. If you believe a child is experiencing conduct disorder, it’s important to seek support from a mental health professional for a diagnosis and treatment. Here are some symptoms to look for:
Aggression toward people and animals: They may bully or intimidate others, start physical fights, be cruel to animals, and show no remorse or guilt.
Destruction of property: This can include destroying others’ possessions, setting fires, or other destructive behaviors.
Deceitfulness, lying, or stealing: They may shoplift or even break into another person’s home or car to steal belongings.
Serious violations of rules and laws: The child may run away from home, object to parental rules, or face issues with law enforcement.
With early intervention, conduct disorder is treatable, and treatment may prevent the development of serious issues such as antisocial personality disorder in the future.
Treatment and support for antisocial personality disorder
Individuals typically find that some treatments work better for them than others or that a combination of specific treatments is most effective. The course of treatment will ultimately depend on the individual’s circumstances, age, history, and whether they have associated concerns such as substance misuse or other mental health conditions. Common treatments like medication and psychotherapy may be able to help control symptoms of antisocial personality disorder. Here are some common methods used to treat ASPD:
Psychotherapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), for example, focuses on behavior changes and skill-building and is used widely with antisocial personality disorder. Due to the common lack of emotional depth in those living with ASPD, psychotherapy goals are usually focused on teaching behaviors that are pro-social. Methods include a combination of behavior therapy, cognitive therapy, and personality reconstruction techniques. Psychotherapy is recommended as the primary treatment for those experiencing symptoms of antisocial personality disorder.
These types of therapies may help an individual talk through their issues and change negative thought patterns and behaviors they may have. Talk therapy is commonly used to treat symptoms like substance misuse, anger management issues, or other related concerns. However, if symptoms are severe, talk therapy may not be as effective and other treatment methods may be needed.
While there is no medication specifically targeting antisocial personality disorder, a medical professional may prescribe certain medications to help control symptoms such as aggression, anxiety, or depression. If you’re considering medication for the treatment of antisocial personality disorder, it’s important to first seek the advice of a medical professional and get a proper diagnosis before taking any kind of medication.
Seeking treatment for antisocial disorders can be challenging, especially if you’re looking for in-person therapy. Since there’s a societal stigma surrounding this mental health condition, talking to someone about your symptoms could be intimidating. This is where online therapy may be beneficial. An online environment might help you feel more comfortable discussing your experiences. With this type of therapy, you can receive treatment from a compassionate, qualified professional without ever having to leave the house or wherever you have an internet connection and feel safe.
This type of treatment is research-backed, too. Studies show that online therapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy for a variety of mental health conditions.
Continue reading below for real reviews by individuals experiencing similar issues who have been able to seek support from the therapists at BetterHelp.
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What are the 7 symptoms of a sociopath?
“Sociopath” is an outdated term that was once used to describe a person with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). Common signs of a sociopath can now be interpreted as symptoms of this condition. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), in its section on personality disorders, lists seven symptoms of harmful behaviors and personality traits that may indicate “a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others” and meet the criteria for antisocial personality disorder:
- Criminal behavior and breaking rules/laws.
- Lying or manipulating other people for personal gain.
- Lack of impulse control.
- Willingness to act aggressively, including a history of or tendency toward physical violence.
- Lack of regard for the safety of other people or themselves.
- Indifference toward or rationalization of harmful or aggressive behavior, commonly described as a lack of remorse.
Some people may conflate the terms “sociopath” and “psychopath.” While both words have been used to refer to people with ASPD, they typically describe different aspects of the condition. Psychopathy versus sociopathy usually boils down to one key distinction: sociopathy can feature breaking the law, while this behavior may not be present with psychopathy.
Do sociopaths feel love?
People with antisocial personality disorder, sometimes pejoratively referred to as sociopaths, tend to have difficulty maintaining close relationships with other people. Romantic and sexual relationships can be particularly fraught, as this condition may result in sexual promiscuity and casual disregard for a partner’s emotional investment. Despite these relationship tensions, people with antisocial personality disorder can feel love the same way people without the disorder do.
How does a sociopath react when exposed?
People with antisocial personality disorder can react with indifference or disdain when other people point out their harmful behavior.
What are the first impressions of a sociopath?
Many people with antisocial personality disorder are perceived positively by others. They may behave in ways that may lead other people to describe them as “charming.” In contrast, some people with ASPD may have no interest in relationships with others and be aloof, distant, or even dismissive or cruel. There is no set “first impression” of a person with ASPD, as every person with the diagnosis is different.
How does a sociopath manipulate?
People with antisocial personality disorder may manipulate other people by lying or pretending to be someone they are not.
Can a sociopath genuinely cry?
People with antisocial personality disorder can cry, though it should be noted that emotional expressions of sadness are more often related to their own emotional states than to the distressing experiences of other people.
What do sociopaths struggle with?
People with antisocial personality disorder may have difficulty treating other people with basic respect, including respecting their loved one’s decision to set boundaries. If you are experiencing troubles in your relationships that you suspect may be due to ASPD, a support group may be a beneficial resource.
Will a sociopath cheat on you?
People with antisocial personality disorder may be more likely to engage in sexually promiscuous activity, including sexual behavior outside of a monogamous relationship. However, there is no guarantee that a person with an ASPD diagnosis will cheat on their partner.
Are sociopaths born or made?
Researchers have found that both genetic and environmental factors may contribute to the development of antisocial personality disorder. A family history of ASPD may increase the likelihood of a person being diagnosed with the condition in the future. Experiences of childhood trauma and abuse can also be risk factors. Early warning signs of ASPD in childhood may be diagnosed as a separate mental health condition known as conduct disorder.
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