Imagine the remorseless serial killer from our collective nightmares. He hurts and takes from people without a second thought, seeing them as objects rather than as fellow human beings that deserve the same respect he has for himself. He can be a charming liar—easily evading investigation and throwing suspicion on other people when it suits him, not caring if it means that more innocent people get hurt. He won’t stop rampaging through society until he gets caught or killed, and by the time ...
Imagine the remorseless serial killer from our collective nightmares. He hurts and takes from people without a second thought, seeing them as objects rather than as fellow human beings that deserve the same respect he has for himself. He can be a charming liar—easily evading investigation and throwing suspicion on other people when it suits him, not caring if it means that more innocent people get hurt. He won’t stop rampaging through society until he gets caught or killed, and by the time that happens, untold damage has been done to the victims and their families.
This is the extreme version of what we have in mind when we think of sociopaths—but is it accurate?
Unfortunately, blood on their hands is not the only sign of a sociopath. While all diagnosed sociopaths share common personality traits, many of them are not actually violent. But as many of us know firsthand, a person doesn’t have to be violent with us to hurt us deeply. Even worse, we often don’t realize the totality of destruction that someone is wreaking on our lives until they are deeply embedded in them.
The good news is, it’s never too late to identify signs of a sociopath in your orbit, and try to cope with living with a sociopath with knowledge rather than fear.
What is a Sociopath?
So, before we talk about a sociopath test, let’s talk about what really makes a sociopath. We already know that not all sociopaths are the type of people to go on killing sprees and walk around with knives that drip blood. But they do tend to share common characteristics because their disorder has common causes and symptoms.
The first thing we need to understand if we want to better understand sociopaths, is what exactly is going on in their brains. Recent scientific consensus is that sociopaths are more accurately classified as people with antisocial personality disorder.
So what’s a personality disorder, exactly?
Like the name implies, it’s a disorder of a person’s personality. A personality is composed of the mental and behavioral traits that endure throughout a person’s life, and a personality disorder means that a person has personality traits that are maladaptive and deviate from what is accepted in the person’s culture.
There are many types of personality disorders, including borderline, narcissistic, paranoid, and more. They are grouped into clusters—
Cluster A: odd or eccentric disorders. These include disorders with similar behavior to schizophrenia, but people with these personality disorders generally have a better grasp on reality than people with schizophrenia.
Cluster B: dramatic, emotional, or erratic disorders. These include disorders characterized by unpredictable, dramatic, and inappropriately emotional thoughts and behavior.
Cluster C: anxious or fearful disorders. These include disorders characterized by anxiety-induced behaviors meant to alleviate fear.
Antisocial Personality Disorder
Antisocial personality disorder, also known as ASPD or APD, is the Cluster B personality disorder closely associated with sociopaths. The defining personality traits and behavior all culminate in a complete disregard for others and a lack of compunction about violating them in any way.
The person with antisocial personality disorder has only one object in his mind at all times: his own pleasure and happiness. Someone with this disorder does to stop to think about how their actions affect other people, or how it fits into social and cultural norms, but only how it affects them. This is an important distinction, because many sociopaths have sufficient intelligence to appear as if they do genuinely care about and consider other people, when what they really care about is facing consequences for their own actions, like jail or being shunned from society.
Like all personality disorders, the causes of Antisocial Personality disorder are generally believed to be a combination of nature and nurture, although one could sometimes have a stronger influence over the other. Take for example Robert Stroud, the famous “Birdman of Alcatraz.” He had a chaotic childhood and an abusive father, and he grew up to be a pimp, murdered, and notorious criminal. His brother, on the other hand, had just about the same childhood and same genetics, and he grew up to become “The Greats Marcus”—a magician! That and many more examples go to show that sometimes it’s hard to pin down the exact ingredient in the “soup” of our psyches that can turn someone from normal into a sociopath.
Signs and Symptoms of Antisocial Personality Disorder
So by now, you probably know whether or not the person you’re living with seems to fit into any of these categories, but want to know for sure. Only a professional psychologist could diagnose a patient, but we can use the following signs and symptoms of antisocial personality disorder as a kind of quick “sociopath test,” to see if more study and intervention is necessary.
Not every person with antisocial personality disorder will show every sign or symptom, but if you are concerned that you may be living with a sociopath, it might be time to get more information, and seek professional help.
Diagnosis and Treatment for Sociopaths
So, if you are still wondering, “Am I living with a sociopath?” or even starting to think—“I’m living with a sociopath,” it’s time to think about what’s next.
Like we mentioned earlier, only a mental health professional can truly diagnose someone with antisocial personality disorder. The big problem is that, with the features of the disorder—especially the inflated sense of superiority and the inability to empathize with others—people with antisocial personality disorder tend to be extremely reluctant to allow themselves to be diagnosed or treated. IN addition, even in incarcerated populations, where people are diagnosed with APD and have no choice but to submit to treatment, they are often charming and manipulative enough to avoid doing the real therapy and simply mimic what “normal” people do and how they act.
However, that’s not to say that it is impossible to help a sociopath!
When someone with APD cares about someone else, they can be convinced to conform to moral and societal expectations, so they don’t have to endure the consequence of losing the thing they care about, much like an intervention in a case of substance abuse. There are therapeutic techniques that won’t necessarily teach sociopaths how to have a conscience, but will help them learn from past mistakes, and realize how and why it is better to conform to norms, rather than acting completely outside of society.
Coping With Sociopaths
Are you living with a sociopath? If you’re worried that you are, and the person refuses to seek treatment or gather more information, you may feel like you’ve come to an impasse. But the actions of that person don’t mean that your life needs to be rendered joyless or painfully shaken by being thrown around in the storms of their impulsiveness. The best thing you can do is to be honest with yourself and the person that you’re dealing with. Here are some journaling tips and tricks to help you cope with sociopaths.
How To Deal With A Sociopath
When dealing with a sociopath, especially one you’re intimate or living with, take the utmost precautions to keep yourself out of dangerous situations, and get professional help the second you think you need it. The professionals who work with APD, sociopaths, and psychopaths have made it their life’s work to mitigate the harm these people cause others, so don’t hesitate.