When you hear the term sociopath, you probably think of the much-publicised serial killer, Ted Bundy, or even Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs. But like a lot of mental health conditions, sociopathy, also better known as Anti-Social Personality Disorder (ASPD) exists on a spectrum, and not all sociopaths are even killers, let alone serial killers. Being diagnosed is also not as infrequent as you may think, around 3 per cent of the population are considered to have ASPD. So odds are, you may be, or you probably know, someone affected.
What is a Sociopath?
A sociopath is a word used to describe someone who has Anti-Social Personality Disorder (ASPD). It is hard for people with ASPD to understand the feelings of others. They may break rules or make rash or impulsive decisions with no regret or remorse for the harm they cause whilst doing so. Mind games are a characteristic commonly associated with people who have ASPD. They may act controlling towards others, but this can be deceiving as whilst doing so they often come across as charming or charismatic so often it is hard to see if they are manipulating someone. Often, individuals with ASPD can lie or behave violently towards others. This can often turn into a violation of the law and can often lead to dependence on substances, such as alcohol or drugs. It can be quite hard for people with ASPD to obey rules or accomplish tasks associated with responsibility, such as work obligations or family duties.
The Difference Between Sociopaths and Psychopaths
Contrary to popular belief, there is no official diagnosis for patients as a psychopath or a sociopath! Doctors use the term Anti Social Personality Disorder to cover both bases. The majority of experts believe that psychopaths and sociopaths share a similar set of behavioral traits. Inherently having a poor sense of right and wrong and being unable to understand or share another person’s feelings. But there are also differences between the two and psychopaths are often very egocentric, and highly superficial. Sociopaths can be easy to spot; you might know one, or more, of them, but with psychopaths, the traits are a lot harder to recognise and you may not identify someone as a psychopath when you meet them, which could be pretty dangerous.
Traits of a Sociopath
Antisocial personality disorder signs and symptoms may include:
- Disregard for rules. A lack of understanding or care about the distinction between right and wrong. This includes a lack of empathy for others and a lack of care about the decisions they are making or who they may affect.
- Persistent lying. Deceiving or exploiting others for personal gain is a big warning sign in the behaviours of those around you. It’s very hard to tell often if someone is lying, as they may be very good at hiding the truth as they do it often
- Being charming. Wit and charm may be used to manipulate others for personal gain or personal pleasure. Watch out for someone being overly charming – they may not be what they seem!
- Arrogance. Often sociopaths are extremely opinionated, and they may believe their option is the only one that matters. They can believe they are superior to others and act in ways to prove this to those around them.
- Impulsiveness. Wanting to do something right now, is not always a bad thing, but when failing to plan, becomes almost a matter of habit, and it affects your daily life, there could be some underlying issues.
- Aggression or violence. Hostile behaviour towards others that can lead to violent behaviour should not be tolerated in any situation. If this is a frequent natural reaction of yours or someone around you, seek some medical advice or help.
- Unnecessary risk-taking. Partaking in dangerous behaviour with no regard for the safety of yourself or others can be an attribute of ASPD
- Failure to fulfill work obligations. Being consistently irresponsible and repeatedly not turning up to work, or doing a sub-par job, can lead to you losing your job or if illegal activity is taking place, end up in jail.
- Failure to fulfill financial obligations. See above.
How to Get Diagnosed as a Sociopath
ASPD is within the category of personality disorders characterized by repeated negative behaviours. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) states that someone with ASPD can constantly show a lack of regard for other people’s feelings or violate people’s rights. People with ASPD often do not realise that their personality traits show these behaviours and can often live their whole lives without an actual diagnosis. To receive a diagnosis of ASPD, it is stated that the person must be 18 years of age or older and their behaviours must contain at least three of the following seven traits:
- Lack of respect for social norms or the legal system.
- Lie and deceive others or uses people for their own personal gain.
- Shows no attempt to make any long-term plans or acts without thinking about the consequences.
- Aggressive or destructive behaviour, towards themselves or others
- Lack of consideration for their own safety or the safety of others around them.
- Cannot fulfill personal or professional responsibilities.
- No feelings of guilt or remorse after having mistreated others.
A diagnosis for ASPD can include but is not limited to; evaluating the person’s feelings and thoughts against social norms, analysis of behavioral patterns and personal relationships (this can often include asking people close to them about their behaviours), and evaluating an individual’s pre-existing medical history for other conditions related to ASPD.
Treatments For a Sociopath
Although antisocial personality disorder is considered to last for a person’s whole lifetime, in certain people, some symptoms can decrease in severity over time. It is still unclear whether this is due to aging or whether the person gains an increased awareness of the consequences of their actions towards others after repeated instances of the behaviour. If you feel that you or someone close to you has 3 or more of these symptoms, it is best to gently suggest that they seek medical advice. People with suspected ASPD often will not seek help on their own.
What is a sociopath?
A sociopath is a word used for someone who has Anti Social Personality Disorder. They find it hard to understand or empathise with the feelings of others and may often deceive others or break rules.
What's the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath?
The is no official diagnosis for either! They both share a similar set of personality traits, such as unhealthy relationships and a poor sense of right and wrong, but watch out, because psychopaths may be harder to spot!
What are the traits of a sociopath?
There are 7 main traits of a sociopath. You can read them in this article. If you identify with 3 or more, or know someone who does, please try and seek medical help.