Sociopathic tendencies are much more common in people than you might think. In fact, one in every 26 adults in the United States displays sociopathic tendencies or patterns of behavior. This means that, in your normal life, you’ve most probably come across a couple of sociopaths. You might have even suspected some sociopathic behaviors from yourself at some point. If that’s the case, then this article is a great resource for you!
This article looks at the links between sociopathic behaviors and antisocial personality disorder, how to find out if you are exhibiting the signs of being a sociopath, and how to tell antisocial personality disorder apart from other mental health issues.
Sociopaths and Antisocial Personality Disorder
You might be surprised to learn that – at least medically speaking – there’s no such thing as a “sociopath.” Instead, people who show prolonged patterns of sociopathic behavior are diagnosed with an antisocial personality disorder. The criteria for diagnosing antisocial personality disorder are clearly defined in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, also known as DSM-5. DSM-5 contains the official lists of criteria and symptoms for the diagnosis of mental health issues, including antisocial personality disorder.
According to DSM-5, the official guide that mental health professionals must stick to while they are diagnosing patients, the elements for the diagnosis of a person with antisocial personality disorder include the following:
- Disregard for and violation of others’ rights since age 15, as indicated by one of the seven sub-features:
- Failure to obey laws and norms by engaging in behavior which results in a criminal arrest, or would warrant criminal arrest
- Lying, deception, and manipulation, for profit or self-amusement,
- Impulsive behavior
- Irritability and aggression, manifested as frequently assaults others, or engages in fighting
- Blatantly disregards the safety of self and others,
- A pattern of irresponsibility and
- Lack of remorse for actions (American Psychiatric Association, 2013)
The other diagnostic criteria are:
- The person is at least age 18,
- Conduct disorder was present by history before age 15
- and the antisocial behavior does not occur in the context of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2013)
For signs of more specifically sociopathic behavior, psychologists and psychiatrists also consider behavior patterns that developed in the patient before they turned fifteen years old. The specific conduct they use to assess this comes from a list of behaviors; the patient should show at least four of these traits:
- Unable to keep a consistent job (or to maintain consistency in school).
- Refuses to conform to social norms, including the laws of the land.
- Ignores the truth when it is inconvenient; lies, cons, uses false identities.
- Doesn’t plan ahead; is hesitant to or refuses to set goals.
- Exhibits irritable and/or aggressive actions; starts fights; assaults others.
- Acts without regard for the safety of themselves and/or others.
- Behaves irresponsibly; shows inconsistent progress or repeated failure when it comes to meeting work and financial obligations.
- Doesn’t show remorse when harming or mistreating others.
- Does not or cannot sustain a committed romantic or sexual relationship for more than one year.
As can be seen with these detailed diagnosis criteria, in order for a person to be diagnosed with an antisocial personality disorder, their sociopathic behavior has to have started in their youth and then continued into adulthood. So, a child can never be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, and short or circumstantial patterns of behavior would also fail to qualify as antisocial personality disorder.
Am I a Sociopath?
While reading about these signs and symptoms of a sociopath, you might be finding yourself asking, “Am I a sociopath?” If you’d like a clearer picture of where you fall in terms of sociopathic tendencies, you should consider taking this sociopath quiz. This quiz will help you to identify possible actions and patterns of behavior that could point to your being a sociopath.
But what exactly does the quiz cover? The quiz takes you through a series of statements, and you indicate whether or not you agree with the statement on a scale of “completely disagree” to “completely agree.” Then, based on your answers, you’ll be able to see how many of the common sociopathic traits you might exhibit.
Now, this quiz will not give you a straight yes or no answer as to whether you’re a sociopath or not. Instead, it will compare your answers to the social norm and give you information about how much you might be deviating from that norm. If you’re looking for a clear diagnosis, this quiz is a great place to start. However, you should follow it up with input from a psychologist or psychiatrist who is trained and certified to make these kinds of official diagnoses.
Sociopath vs. Psychopath
If you’re wondering about your own propensity towards sociopathic behavior, then you’ve probably also wondered about psychopathy. Actually, both sociopaths and psychopaths are both considered to be suffering from antisocial personality disorder, so there are a lot of similarities between the two.
For example, both sociopaths and psychopaths are willing to break the rules or even harm others in their pursuit of getting what they want. They display a lot of the same behaviors, but their motivations and ability to hide or justify their actions is where they really differ.
For example, where a psychopath is usually said to have no conscience at all, a sociopath might have some input from a moral compass. However, a sociopath will often justify their actions, especially when their actions harm those around them. They do things that are morally wrong, and they know that their actions are morally wrong. However, their ability, willingness, or need to explain away the unethical behaviors set sociopaths apart from psychopaths. Psychopaths won’t bother justifying or explaining any of their behavior: they do what they want to get what they want, and it ends there.
Then, there’s the matter of concealing their motives and manipulations. Psychopaths are usually extremely intelligent and glib, which means that they can easily manipulate others into getting their way. In fact, many people might not even recognize them to be a psychopath, since they’re so good at hiding it. Sociopaths, on the other hand, are more prone to angry or violent outbursts; they’re not as good at concealing their machinations. Where psychopaths are seen to be cool, calm, and collected, sociopaths might be labeled rash or reckless in their actions.
These are the most common differences between psychopaths and sociopaths, even though they both technically fall under antisocial personality disorder. The biggest differences can be seen in a person’s intentions and conscience as well as in their actions and their ability to keep calm.
Antisocial Personality Disorder vs. Other Issues
As in many cases, antisocial personality disorder has several symptoms that overlap with other mental health issues. For example, anger management issues, substance abuse, and other mental health issues such as anxiety or depression have some similar signs and symptoms to antisocial personality disorder. This is why it is so important to get input from a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist when it comes to diagnosing antisocial personality disorder. Their expertise and ability to see through the details will help you get the most accurate diagnosis and description so that you or your loved one can proceed with the correct course of treatment.
Treating Antisocial Personality Disorder
Treatment for antisocial personality disorder usually involves long term and intense therapy. In some cases, a psychiatrist might also prescribe some medication. The term and course of the therapy are intensive because antisocial personality disorder is actually quite difficult to treat. The biggest difficulty when it comes to treating antisocial personality disorder is buy-in and participation from the patient. Many people with this disorder don’t want to participate in treatment, because they believe that there is nothing wrong with them and the therapy is just a waste of time, effort, and resources. This makes the process extremely hard for the patient, their friends and family, and the psychologist or psychiatrist who is working with them.
In addition to the rigorous therapy meant to tackle antisocial personality disorder specifically, other treatments and programs can also be beneficial in terms of treating antisocial personality disorder. Anger management course or alcohol and/or substance abuse recovery programs can help to treat the symptoms of antisocial personality disorder, even if they’re not designed to treat antisocial personality disorder outright. This is because the methods and practices taught in such programs help to curb the sociopathic or psychopathic behaviors that are a byproduct of antisocial personality disorder.
Another way to treat antisocial personality disorder is by treating other mental health issues that might be affecting a patient, such as depression or anxiety. These issues are often seen in tandem with antisocial personality disorder, and they have several overlapping symptoms. Plus, patients are more likely to agree to get treatment for a more widely accepted issue – such as anxiety or depression – rather than agreeing to therapy for antisocial personality disorder. Basically, when the focus of the therapy sessions isn’t explicitly antisocial personality disorder, patients are more likely to continue with the course of treatment.
Being able to identify a sociopath in your life is a handy skill, especially since you’re bound to come across a few during the course of your life. Knowing the signs and symptoms of antisocial personality disorder can help you pinpoint sociopathic or psychopathic behaviors in others. Taking a sociopath quiz online can help you get started in identifying sociopathic tendencies in your own actions as compared to others around you. Finally, the best step moving forward if you think you have antisocial personality disorder or if you think you show higher than normal sociopathic tendencies is to talk to a mental health professional. With their help and guidance, you’ll be able to work through the underlying issues that are causing these patterns of behavior.