Sociopath: Definition, Causes, Symptoms and How To Cope?


What is a sociopath?

The term “Sociopath” is used to describe someone who suffers from antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) – as is the term psychopath.

Mental health professionals use DSM-5 to diagnose mental health disorders. It describes ASPD as violating other people’s rights on a regular basis and disregarding rules and social norms.

It is generally difficult for people with the condition to comprehend the feelings of others, even if they seem charming and charismatic at first. People with the condition often:

  • Break the law or rules
  • Act impulsively or aggressively
  • Do not feel guilty about harming others
  • Manipulate, deceive and control others

Read: Signs of a Materialistic Person

Language matters

Mental health professionals have become familiar with the terms sociopathy and psychopathy, but neither is an official diagnosis. Furthermore, they are often stigmatized, particularly among people with personality disorders, so it’s best not to use the terms “sociopath” or “psychopath” when someone displays violent or manipulative behavior.

Consider their specific behavior instead. Rather than referring to your controlling ex as a sociopath, you may instead say something like, “He regularly reminded me that he monitored my social media activity.”

The term sociopathy was first used in the 1930s. The prefix was uncommonly confused with “psychopathy.” The prefix reflected the belief that sociopathy is a social or environmental phenomenon.

Asperger syndrome, or ASPD, was added to the DSM in 1980, which allowed researchers to use sociopathy and psychopathy interchangeably.

What’s the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath?

Psychopathy and sociopathy are the same things in a clinical setting. Medical professionals cannot distinguish between them.

Researchers and psychologists sometimes differentiate between sociopathy and psychopathy. Both terms describe the diagnosis of ASPD; however, they offer slightly different perspectives.

Psychopathy may be interpreted as more rational behavior in these interpretations. Whether the act is violent or not, it’s usually premeditated.

Research does support some of these differences – to an extent.

Psychopaths are defined as those who lack the perception of right and wrong, or morality, according to Robert Hare, the psychologist who developed the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R). But cultural and social norms don’t align with that sense of morality. In contrast, people with sociopathy frequently justify what they acknowledge as wrongful actions.

Sociopathic people tend to lack empathy and rationalize their actions. Although they know what is right and wrong, they don’t respect others.
Psychopathy is the absence of morality and empathy, according to Hare.

Psychopathy and sociopathy are thought to be related via differences in gray matter volume and amygdala development in the brain. According to a 2013 study, this difference may be due to differences in the brain. Some people with sociopathy may develop morality as a result of increased neuron function in the brain.

Read: 15 Signs of an Egoistic Person

What are the signs of sociopath?

A persistent pattern of disregard for others is a sign of ASPD, but there is no standard list of signs of sociopathy. Examples include:

  • Social norms and laws are ignored, rules are broken at work or school, social boundaries are stepped over, stealing, stalking, and harassment are engaged in, as well as property damage
  • Fraud, lying, and using false identities to get what you want
  • Impulsiveness or the inability to plan for the future, as well as acting without thinking through the consequences
  • An aggravated or aggressive way of acting, such as fighting often or physically attacking others
  • Ignorance of the safety of the self or others
  • A lack of ability to manage duties, such as showing up for work and managing tasks
  • Lack of remorse or guilt, or a tendency to justify bad behavior

ASPD people are generally not emotionally or socially engaged. You might see them:

  • Having firmly held opinions; being arrogant
  • Make people think you’re smart
  • Charm them at first, and then you see their self-interest

The ASPD community usually finds it difficult to maintain fulfilling friendships, relationships and other bonds. There are several reasons for this difficulty, including:

  • Inability to empathize and poor emotional intelligence
  • Inability to learn from mistakes
  • Unconcern about others’ safety
  • Use of threats and intimidation to keep control

Read: What is a Toxic Relationship

What causes sociopaths?

Sociopathy is considered predominantly an environmental construct rather than a genetic one by many experts.

Then again, brain chemistry and inherited genes play a big role, but upbringing and parenting styles play a bigger role, too. On the other hand, psychopathology seems to be the result of more inborn biological factors.

When caregivers fail to provide nurturing attention to their children, they tend to grow up learning that they must look after themselves because nobody else will. Kids who grow up in a violent, manipulative, and abusive environment are more likely to mimic those traits when navigating their own conflicts.

Researchers have also shown that sociopathy can be acquired. When the frontal lobe of the brain is damaged, which can occur as a result of a head injury or progressive diseases, like dementia, some antisocial behaviors may become evident.

What is the diagnosis of sociopathy?

Remember that the DSM-5 does not distinguish between sociopathy and psychopathy or distinguish between subtypes of ASPD.

ASPD is diagnosed according to the criteria laid out in the DSM. Individuals whose behavior matches either the sociopath or the psychopath definition of this diagnosis can be diagnosed.

ASPD can be diagnosed with at least three of the seven symptoms outlined above, in addition to a few additional criteria.

  • It manifests in more than one area
  • You should be 18 years old or older
  • You showed signs of conduct disorder when you were young. ASPD can be distinguished from adult-onset criminal behavior
  • Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder do not cause antisocial behavior

Typical signs of schizophrenia include:

  • Identify an individual’s feelings, thoughts and behavior
  • Ask family members and romantic partners for information about their behavior
  • Identify if they have any medical conditions from their medical history

APSD involves characteristics that are out of a person’s control. These character traits tend to persist with time, which causes distress when they go beyond personal gain.

Read: Nail Picking Disorder

Could it be a different condition?

These disorders can show similar symptoms to ASPD:

  • Intermittent explosive disorder (IED): It is characterized by frequent and severe emotional outbursts. Outbursts like these, driven by anger or impulse, can target people, property, or even animals. Adolescence is the typical time when IED begins, and it typically occurs before the age of 40. It does not involve a lack of empathy or remorse on its own.
  • Conduct disorder: Associated with antisocial behavior beginning within the teenage years. It is considered one of the major causes of ASPD. ASPD can be diagnosed in adults if they have had conduct disorders when they were children. Conduct disorder may be diagnosable even if the individual does not meet all ASPD criteria.
  • Schizophrenia: A common feature of ASPD is difficulty recognizing facial emotions. Some cases involve antisocial conduct or aggressive behavior. There is also no psychosis associated with it. ASPD cannot be diagnosed before schizophrenia has been treated.
  • Bipolar I disorder. Psychosomatic symptoms associated with mania include excessive impulsivity, irritability, aggression, and thoughts of suicide. ASPD cannot be diagnosed while a mania episode is occurring.

Treatment and support for a sociopath

Psychological disorders often cause people to ignore any symptoms of their behavior, so getting professional help is not always on their minds.

It is possible that they will turn to a therapist if they are compelled to do so by a court order or someone in their life.

A work supervisor, family member, or romantic partner may observe symptoms such as impulsiveness or an outburst tendency, for instance, and recommend professional assistance.

Additionally, a person may try therapy in order to address one or more of the following concerns:

There is little research on helpful treatment approaches for ASPD, since many people do not seek therapy. However, therapy can be helpful. However, therapy and other methods are only effective when the individual is willing to make an effort.

ASPD can be treated by using the following methods.

Read: How to Stop Trichotillomania


Therapy involves sharing thoughts and feelings with a therapist that can provoke aggressive or harmful behavior. The therapist may also prescribe anger management techniques or substance abuse treatment.

These treatments may be beneficial:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): Behavioral techniques can help people assess how they respond to people and situations, which can result in more productive behaviors. The benefits of negotiating rather than resorting to violence can be emphasized through therapy, for example. People can learn more about ASPD through CBT and psychoeducation.
  • Mentalization-based therapy (MBT): People who use this approach gain a better understanding of both their own and others’ mental and emotional mindsets. MBT was shown to help people with ASPD and borderline personality disorder reduce hostility and anger, paranoia, self-harm, and interpersonal difficulties, along with generally improving their moods.
  • Democratic therapeutic communities: In this approach, which is often used in prisons, therapists form groups of various sizes to work together on community problems and make collaborative decisions at the group level. Individuals living with ASPD may be able to boost their prosocial and community-minded thinking.
  • Contingency management: Rewards for progress can be used to motivate people. According to older research, it has been shown to help people with ASPD reduce alcohol consumption and use of other substances.


ASPD symptoms aren’t currently treated by a medication approved by the FDA.

Symptoms associated with the condition may be treated with medication by a physician or therapist, including:

  • First-line treatment of aggression with antipsychotics such as risperidone (Risperdal)
  • Aggression may be treated with SSRI antidepressants like fluoxetine (Prozac) or mood stabilizers like lithium
  • Carbamazepine (Tegretol) is an anticonvulsant that helps reduce impulsivity

One small study published in 2014 suggests that clozapine (Clozaril) may be beneficial in treating men who suffer from ASPD. Participants experiencing ASPD symptoms, including anger, impulsivity, violence, or aggression, experienced improvements after taking the medication for a few weeks.

Read: Subconscious Mind

How to deal with a sociopath?

If you want to keep in touch with someone with ASPD, here’s what you can do:

  • Acknowledge that they may never fully comprehend your feelings
  • Let them know how their behavior impacts you
  • Protect your physical and emotional space by setting boundaries
  • Help them seek professional assistance

A relationship with a person with ASPD can also be improved by marriage counseling or family counseling.

You may have to suffer emotional pain or physical harm if they don’t respect your boundaries. It’s probably safest to end this relationship, or at least create some space from it, in that case.

Counseling yourself may also be helpful:

  • Find ways to communicate effectively.
  • Develop coping mechanisms
  • Recognize abusive behaviors
  • Come up with a plan to safely end the relationship if necessary

Depending on the nature of the problem, a therapist can also provide specific guidance on how to handle manipulative or controlling behavior or anger outbursts.

Read: Internet Addiction Disorder

What’s the outlook for someone with sociopathy?

People interested in sociopathy and psychopathy continue to study their nuanced differences. ASPD remains the closest diagnosis to psychopathy that people generally think of, although neither has been identified as having unique diagnostic criteria.

ASPD cannot be cured. Although some studies indicate that antisocial behavior may decrease with time, others do not. The number of violent or aggressive acts declines as people age.

Therapies aimed at improving symptom management can also be effective for people with ASPD.

In summary, building stable and fulfilling relationships with others is absolutely possible for people suffering from ASPD, although it does require some effort.

Bottom line

It’s not people who demonstrate signs of sociopathy who want to be “evil,” as is depicted in the media. The majority of ASPD sufferers have genetic and environmental factors that contribute to the condition, including childhood abuse and neglect.

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