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Signs of a Sociopath

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 20, 2020

What is a Sociopath?

People often confuse the terms sociopath and psychopath and use them interchangeably. They aren’t different in the clinical sense. Both terms refer to people who have antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). Those with ASPD have no regard for others’ rights or feelings, lack empathy and remorse for wrongdoings, and have the need to exploit and manipulate others for personal gain. 

Nature and nurture play a role in ASPD. The reasons behind the disorder are not fully understood. The current belief is that psychopathy generally comes from genetic factors, such as parts of the brain not developing fully, while sociopathy results from an interruption in personality development by abuse or trauma in childhood. People often think that those with antisocial personality disorders are always criminals and are easy to spot, but many are unaware of the disorder and may never be diagnosed. 

Sociopaths have less consistent behavior than psychopaths. Psychopaths are more controlled and charming. Their manipulation is more detached, and they plan ahead. Sociopaths experience anxiety and find rage far harder to control. They may act without thought and, as a result, they may have a harder time blending in. Inconsistencies between their words and their lives may be easier to see.  

Signs of a Sociopath

It is important to realize that people have many personality traits. Someone may exhibit selfishness or act aggressively, but that doesn't mean they are a sociopath. Since many people who have ASPD don't recognize these traits as a problem, watching for consistent behavior patterns might be necessary.

Consistent behavior patterns in sociopaths include:

  • Lack of empathy for others
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Attempting to control others with threats or aggression 
  • Using intelligence, charm, or charisma to manipulate others
  • Not learning from mistakes or punishment
  • Lying for personal gain
  • Showing a tendency to physical violence and fights
  • Generally superficial relationships
  • Sometimes, stealing or committing other crimes
  • Threatening suicide to manipulate without intention to act 
  • Sometimes, abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Trouble with responsibilities such as a job, paying bills, etc.

Dealing With a Sociopath

Someone with sociopathy is unlikely to seek professional help or even realize they have ASPD. As a result, an important part of dealing and living with someone with ASPD is to know the process of getting them a diagnosis.

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Who Needs a Diagnosis?

Children are usually not diagnosed with antisocial personality disorders because childhood development stages mimic some of these behaviors, and their personalities are continuously changing. If early warning signs are noticed in childhood, a conduct disorder may be diagnosed, and intervention may help.

If a teenager exhibits uncontrolled symptoms, such as stealing, harming animals, constantly lying, destroying property for no reason, and breaking rules without thinking of consequences, they may be diagnosable.

People who have a family history of personality disorders or those who have experienced abuse or neglect as children are more likely to develop sociopathy. Men are more likely than women to have sociopathy. 

Sociopaths are more likely to abuse their partners, spouses, and children. Since they may engage in criminal behavior, they are also more likely to spend time in prison, and their aggressive behavior can put them at risk of harm. They may have other mental health disorders, like depression and anxiety.

Steps to a Diagnosis

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If there is a behavior pattern to suggest sociopathy, a doctor would begin with an assessment of behaviors and a complete physical exam, including blood tests, to rule out any physical illness. If there are no health concerns, the next step would be a referral to a psychiatrist or psychologist, who can diagnose antisocial personality disorders with assessment tools and an interview. 

Treatment for a Sociopath

It is hard to treat those with ASPD, including sociopaths. Long-term therapy is needed, which can be especially hard as the sociopath may not recognize the problem. If a sociopath is willing to enter therapy, family involvement may help.

Sometimes, a psychiatrist will prescribe medicine, such as antipsychotic drugs or mood stabilizers, which may prevent impulsive or aggressive behavior. But medication is not considered a cure for antisocial personality disorders. 

Therapy sessions to learn about harmful behaviors and their impact on the sociopath and those around them can be useful. Therapy can teach ways to cope and manage behavior to improve relationships and behavior patterns. This can help improve social skills and coping mechanisms, making the person with ASPD happier and productive. Seeking help is the most important step.

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Living With a Sociopath

If someone you love has ASPD, it can be very isolating. You can get help from a therapist or find a support group. You won't be able to change your loved one's behavior, but you can learn ways to understand and cope, or ways to set boundaries and protect yourself.

If you have experienced anxiety and depression as a result, support groups or therapy can help you. Having someone to talk to can make things easier. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic: "Personality Disorders: Diagnosis and Tests."

Cleveland Clinic: "Personality Disorders: Management and Treatment."

National Domestic Violence Hotline: “Narcissism and Abuse.”

Mayo Clinic: "Antisocial personality disorder."

Mental Health America of Eastern Missouri: “Psychopathy vs Sociopathy.”

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