What is a Sociopath?
Sociopathy is a mental disorder that involves antisocial thoughts and behaviors. The clinical term that describes sociopathy is antisocial personality disorder, or ASPD. Sociopathy denotes a disregard for others’ rights and feelings. Sociopaths don’t have a conscience and tend to violate legal and social boundaries. Additionally, sociopaths don’t exhibit remorse or guilt for actions that are widely considered to be “wrong”.
Many people confuse sociopathy with psychopathy. While these terms are similar and are both clinically referred to as ASPD, they have some subtle differences. Sociopaths tend to be erratic and volatile, while psychopaths are more likely to be predatory and manipulative. Psychopaths may have a charming or charismatic front, despite having an inability to connect emotionally with others. Sociopaths are capable of forming emotional connections with others, although it’s difficult for them to do so.
Sociopathy is mainly caused by environmental influences, such as childhood trauma. Given that personality is developed in childhood, an unstable or destructive home environment can put a child at risk for sociopathy. Those who have a family history of personality or mental health disorders can also be more likely to develop sociopathy. In contrast, psychopathy is an innate - people are born with it. For this reason, sociopathy is more common than psychopathy.
Signs of Sociopathy
People can’t be diagnosed for antisocial personality disorder until they’re over the age of 18. At this point, an individual with ASPD/sociopathy will exhibit some or all of the following characteristics:
- Disregard for laws, social boundaries, and the rights of others
- Impulsiveness and an inability to make long-term plans
- Aggression, hostility, violence, and/or poor anger management
- Arrogance, a feeling of superiority, and single-minded opinions
- Lack of guilt, remorse, and/or empathy
- Tendency to blame others for their problems
- Poor or toxic relationships
- Inability to maintain long-term relationships
- Irresponsibility and a failure to manage obligations
- Tendency to use charm and/or intimidation to manipulate others
- Cynicism or contempt for others
- Substance abuse
Most of the symptoms of sociopathy last for a person’s entire life. However, some symptoms reduce over time in certain individuals. This decrease in symptoms could be simply due to aging or a greater understanding of the consequences for sociopathic behavior.
Signs of sociopathy can start to emerge in people as young as 15. At this age, symptoms of sociopathy may manifest as:
- Rule-breaking without heed for consequences
- Lying and attempting to mislead others
- Destroying their own or others’ belongings
- Aggression or violence towards people or animals
How is Sociopathy Treated?
Since sociopaths rarely believe that they’re in need of treatment, it can be difficult for them to receive an official diagnosis. The intervention of loved ones is often needed for a sociopath to receive professional help. Additionally, the willingness of a sociopath to receive treatment makes a significant impact on the treatment itself. Long-term treatment with follow-up visits to a doctor are required to successfully treat sociopathy.
Generally, therapy and/or medications are the best strategies to reduce the symptoms of ASPD.
Psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy can both be helpful in managing symptoms of ASPD. In psychotherapy, one can discuss the feelings and thoughts that lead to problematic behaviors. Additionally, psychotherapy can provide management tactics for violence, anger, and substance abuse.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, can prompt sociopaths to reflect on their behavior and interactions towards others. While cognitive behavioral therapy can’t make the symptoms of sociopathy disappear, it can help sociopaths address harmful behaviors and replace them with positive behaviors.
While there is no medication that’s solely used in the treatment of ASPD, medications for other mental disorders can help improve the patient’s overall wellbeing. Depression, aggression, and anxiety commonly accompany ASPD and can be directly treated with medication. Medications must be administered carefully to sociopaths, given that the risk for misuse is often high.
WHEN TO SEE A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
Mental health issues are real, common, and treatable. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 20% of those are considered serious. 17% of 6-17 year olds experience a mental health disorder. So the first thing to remember is this: You are not alone.
If you feel that you are suffering from a mental illness, and particularly if those issues are preventing you from living life to the full or feeling yourself, you may want to consider professional help which can make an enormous difference.
And to be clear, you don't need to be going through a crisis in order to justify getting help. In fact, it can be advantageous from a treatment perspective to identify and deal with issues early and before they have a major impact on your life. Either way you should feel encouraged and able to seek help however you are feeling.
Mental health professionals such as licensed therapist can help in a range of ways including:
- Help you identify where, when, and how issues arise
- Develop coping strategies for specific symptoms and issues
- Encourage resilience and self-management
- Identify and change negative behaviors
- Identify and encourage positive behaviors
- Heal pain from past trauma
- Figure out goals and waypoints
- Build self-confidence
Treatment for mental health issues, and psychotherapy (sometimes known as 'talk therapy') in particular, frequently helps people to feel better, manage, and even get rid of their symptoms. For example, did you know that over 80% of people treated for depression materially improve? Or that treatment for panic disorder has a 90% success rate?
Other treatment options include medication which, in some cases, can be highly effective when administered in combination with psychotherapy.
So what is psychotherapy? It involves talking about your problems and concerns with a mental health professional. It can take lots of forms, including individual, group, couples and family sessions. Often, people see their therapists once a week for 50 minutes to start with and then reducing frequency as time goes on and issues subside. Treatment can be as short as a few weeks or as long as a few years depending on your particular situation and response.
Never think that getting help is a sign of weakness. It isn't. In fact, it can be a sign of strength and maturity to take the steps necessary to becoming you again and getting your life back on track.
WHEN TO GET EMERGENCY HELP
Are you in distress? If so, or if you think that you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Also consider these options if you're having suicidal thoughts:
- Call your mental health specialist.
- Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
- Seek help from your primary doctor or other health care provider.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.
If a loved one or friend is in danger of attempting suicide or has made an attempt:
- Make sure someone stays with that person.
- Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
- Or, if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.