People with antisocial personality disorder are better known as psychopaths or sociopaths to the general public, but the terms are not interchangeable. Many people, upon hearing the term “psychopath”, envision Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, and while he was indeed a psychopath, the majority of people with antisocial personality disorder live among us and carry on seemingly normal lives.
What is antisocial personality disorder?
Antisocial personality disorder is a mental illness which presents in long-term patterns of manipulation, lack of empathy, and disregard for the law. “Antisocial” can be considered something of a misnomer, however, since that word is more commonly associated with shyness.
According to Dr. Donald W. Black, a professor of psychiatry who has been studying antisocial personality disorder for more than 20 years, “The term arose because the disorder is anti-society. It’s [behaviour] that’s directed against society.” Studies on antisocial personality disorder are few and far between, but others like Dr. Black continue to petition for better funding for research into this still largely unknown disorder.
Sociopaths often have difficult childhoods due to poverty, abuse, or neglect. For this reason, many mental health professionals tend to consider sociopathy to have an environmental factor in its inception.
Sociopaths tend to be hot-headed and impulsive, with little or no regard for the law or the feelings of others. That being said, however, sociopaths do form attachments to people close to them and will avoid hurting them, or will feel remorse after causing them pain. They do not feel empathy toward people outside of their small group of close attachments.
Psychopathy is considered a more innate form of antisocial personality disorder. Upbringing does not seem to be as much of a factor for psychopaths as it is for sociopaths.
Unlike sociopaths, psychopaths do not feel empathy, guilt, or remorse, even when causing pain to “friends” or family members. Psychopaths are cold and calculating but present themselves as charming and witty individuals. They use their charm to manipulate people into doing what they want, and for this reason, they often end up high-powered positions in their careers.
Psychopaths and sociopaths aren’t completely different, hence the terms being used interchangeably. At their most basic, both are manipulative, tend to commit crimes without guilt or fear of consequences, and lack compassion for others. Both are likely to lie, cheat, and steal if it gets them what they want. Some describe both psychopaths and sociopaths as “lacking a conscience”.
Antisocial personality disorder is a serious mental illness that strongly affects those around the person afflicted. Oftentimes the individual will not seek out treatment since they truly do not believe anything is wrong with them nor do they have any desire to change.
When treatment is sought it is usually at the request of a court after a crime has been committed. If you know someone who may have antisocial personality disorder, it is important to get the right support in dealing with the situation.
A private therapist in London could mean the difference between being a victim and handling the situation appropriately.
Further suggested reading
While doing research for this article, I came across a very poignant piece written by a patient diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. It is a unique and insightful look into the mind of a sociopath and is well worth a read: Confessions of a Sociopath by M. E. Thomas .