Take a closer look at sociopath personality, including the signs, causes, and treatments.
Sociopathy describes antisocial personality disorder (ASPD)—a mental health condition where a person doesn’t appropriately engage with social norms. In simple terms, the disorder is characterized by a significant disregard for others. In many cases, those with ASPD begin to show signs during childhood.
Many researchers use sociopathy and psychopathy interchangeably, but there’s a difference between the two conditions. Keep reading for an in-depth look at ASPD, including the causes, signs, and traits of a sociopath.
A sociopath describes an individual living with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). According to the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), ASPD describes the repeated violation of other people’s rights.1
In the earlier periods of meeting people with sociopathy, they may seem charismatic and charming; however, they find it difficult to understand the feelings of others. In most cases, such individuals break laws, act aggressively, feel little guilt for harm, and manipulate others.
It may seem like there’s no actual difference between a sociopath and a psychopath in the medical setting. It is important to note that a licensed mental health expert will not diagnose either condition under the label of “sociopath” or “psychopath.”
Nonetheless, some researchers make clear distinctions between sociopathy and psychopathy. For instance, psychopathy involves more planned or premeditated behaviors. Sociopathy, on the other hand, involves a sense of morality that doesn’t conform with societal standards. As a result, people with the condition typically justify actions classified as “wrong.”
While there’s no standard list of the different signs of a sociopath, the main trait of ASPD is a consistent pattern of disregard for other individuals.2
Note that some people with sociopathy don’t always know what they do is wrong. An example of a sociopath is someone not realizing what they did was wrong, but at the same time, they don’t care.
Here are the possible antisocial personality disorder symptoms to look out for:
Most mental health experts classify the characteristics of a sociopath as an environmental construct, not a genetic one. Even though brain chemistry and inherited genes play a role in developing different types of sociopathic personalities, other possible contributing factors exist. Some of those variables will be listed below.
There is a common notion that children are a direct product of their environment. For example, there’s a high probability of children exhibiting care, support, and love as adults if the family life portrayed such attributes. On the other hand, children have a higher chance of exhibiting environments relating to anger, fear, and hostility if they grow up in a chaotic family.
Generally, chaos in the family impacts a child’s ability to self-regulate, manage emotions, stay calm, and think before taking action. Stress from chaotic families may cause young adults to withdraw and miss vital learning opportunities. In addition, individuals from this type of family have higher tendencies to show signs of a sociopath.
Abuse, especially in young adults, can be challenging to handle. Instances of abuse may be physical, sexual, emotional, or medical. In some cases, abuse may also signify neglect. Note that neglect is when parents or care providers fail to provide adequate food, shelter, education, supervision, affection, or medical care.
Most children don’t know how to handle abuse or cope with the event. For this reason, it’s advisable to provide a safe and stable relationship with children. Over time, abuse in children may interfere with their empathy development. Some may grow up abusing others and developing sociopath tendencies due to a lack of empathy and previous experiences of abuse.
Trauma during childhood increases the risk of developing sociopathic traits later in life. For example, a child placed in multiple adoption programs, residential treatment centers, and foster homes is likely to develop signs of a sociopath. This is because when a child gets moved from one home to another, it reduces their ability to bond with any other person.3
The results of moving a child from home to home typically lead to no attachment—they learn to survive instead. Not attaching helps children protect their minds, heart, and soul. With time, these children may grow to find it difficult to attach, trust, or love, leading to sociopath tendencies.
Additionally, physical trauma can alter an individual’s ability to experience empathy and regulate their emotions. Damage to the cerebral cortex can often lead to ASPD, especially in developing adolescents.
A history of violence during childhood may result in traits of a sociopath or antisocial personality disorder. For this reason, most individuals with the condition typically handle situations violently, especially when confronted with the consequences of their actions. The violent trait in sociopaths makes them behave impulsively and show no concern about others’ feelings.
Violence isn’t always an inherent attribute of sociopathy or one of the major antisocial personality disorder symptoms.
Experiencing cases of manipulation in early life stages is a major cause of sociopathy in older adults. Most sociopaths are manipulative and typically plan; however, the manipulation of a sociopath is less controlled compared to that of a psychopath. These individuals often act without thinking, even when dealing with manipulative behavior.
Manipulative sociopaths have common tricks to make individuals feel irrational. Examples of such tricks include guilt, comparisons, denial, complaints, blame, and mind games. Sociopaths typically know an individual’s weaknesses and exploit them. Some also use people’s insecurities against them.
Most individuals with ASPD don’t admit they have the condition. For proper diagnosis of sociopathy, experts follow the DSM-5 antisocial personality disorder diagnosis standard:
Apart from the DSM-5 sociopath standards, there is no sociopath test or antisocial personality disorder test to diagnose ASPD perfectly. Hence, psychologists may ask certain questions and evaluate the individual’s overall behavior using assessment tools.
Psychologists may check for patterns relating to disregard for the rights of others and irresponsible actions. They may also check for impulsive actions with no concern for the consequences.
Therapists ensure to distinguish between characteristics of a sociopath and other mental health conditions. Similar disorders include borderline personality disorder, substance abuse disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder. Borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder symptoms are similar, especially manipulative behavior and unstable behavior.
When evaluating a patient’s medical history, mental health professionals check the family’s psychiatric background. For example, for a proper antisocial personality disorder test, experts check if the person has a possible bipolar disorder, as it’s a common condition in families. In addition, licensed mental health professionals find out about previous suicide attempts, substance use disorders, and other psychiatric disorders.
ASPD may seem difficult to treat, but a proper sociopath test and treatment with long-term follow-up help. Treatment depends on the individual’s specific condition and willingness to accept and participate in treatment. Here are the primary treatment methods:
Another term for psychotherapy is talk therapy, and it’s often used for treating antisocial personality disorder symptoms after a proper sociopath test. Different forms of therapy include:
In this long-term psychotherapy, individuals learn to make sense of thoughts, wishes, beliefs, and feelings and link those thoughts to actions.
With the DTC model, individuals benefit from group therapy that emphasizes the role of attachment in overall mental well-being. DTC makes all members take responsibility for themselves and others.
Contingency management is a form of behavioral therapy where individuals get rewarded for evidence of positive behavioral change.
Doctors may prescribe medications to treat antisocial personality disorder symptoms, including depression and anxiety. However, health experts cautiously prescribe certain medications to avoid potential misuse after a sociopath test. Some of these medications include:
These prescription medications treat certain types of mental health conditions with symptoms of psychotic experiences. Apart from antisocial personality disorder symptoms, antipsychotics may also be effective for schizophrenia.5
SSRIs are typically for treating depression combined with talking therapy like CBT. Note that most antidepressants take around four to six weeks to reach full effectiveness.
This medication functions by normalizing the way nerve impulses travel with the nerve cells, helping prevent seizures.
Sociopathic individuals can learn skills relating to setting boundaries and avoiding anger, violence, and aggression. Mental health experts can recommend the best strategies to cope. If a medical evaluation or sociopath test points to ASPD, the doctor may refer such individuals to a psychologist. Ensure to take a family member or loved one along to the appointment for support, if possible.
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