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Sociopathy (aka Antisocial Personality Disorder)

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About one percent of adults are affected by antisocial personality disorder, also known as sociopathy (Source:  National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)/ U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). 

Antisocial personality disorder is a cluster B personality disorder where a person demonstrates a pattern of disregard for the feelings and rights of other people. People diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder are commonly called sociopaths. At times, most people have told a lie, hurt someone’s feelings, or acted less empathetic. A sociopath is differentiated by the persistent and pervasive manner in which callous acts of deceit, manipulation, and even violence characterize their life.

Sociopaths are truly different from the people around them. When most people lie, they have trouble maintaining eye contact or display subtle outward signs of discomfort while being dishonest. A sociopath may lie easily, having no trouble maintaining steady eye contact. Depression, empathy, anxiety, fear, guilt, love, and remorse are common feelings for most. Feelings, even when they are unpleasant, keep us internally accountable to our moral code and place us in society by giving us consideration for the inner lives of other people. A sociopath is unhindered by these emotions.

What defines a sociopath?

According to the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV-TR), a sociopath is defined by a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others, occurring since age 15 years, as indicated by three or more of the following:

  1. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;
  2. Deception, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;
  3. Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead;
  4. Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;
  5. Reckless disregard for safety of self or others;
  6. Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;
  7. Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.

What is the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath?

In colloquial speech, the terms sociopath and psychopath are often used interchangeably. Mental health professionals, however, do make a distinction between psychopathic and sociopathic individuals. In vastly simplified terms, psychopathy is a more extreme form of sociopathy. All psychopaths are sociopaths, but not all sociopaths are extreme as psychopaths. Psychopaths have an even greater degree of detachment and disregard for others. They are more likely to be violent than a sociopath. Many psychopaths will end up incarcerated or have other interactions with the criminal justice system.

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