You may have heard others refer to someone as a “psychopath” or a “sociopath.” But what exactly do those labels imply?
Doctors don’t make official psychopath or sociopath diagnosis. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders does not contain definitions for these terms either.
From a clinical standpoint, both terms refer to people who display characteristics of Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD).
Here’s more about ASPD, the difference between sociopathy and psychopathy, and how to get treatment. If you consider getting long-term therapy, you may benefit from online options. You can find online therapy reviews and learn more about therapy websites here.
Psychopathy, Sociopathy, and ASPD
ASPD is a type of mental health condition while sociopathy and psychopathy describe people who show a unique set of ASPD symptoms.
Sociopathy and psychopathy are not formal diagnoses in the American Psychiatric Association’s latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Furthermore, healthcare providers don’t use these terms as clinical diagnoses.
That said, these terms have been popularized by mainstream media and pop culture. Here is how to distinguish the two.
What Is Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD)?
Antisocial personality disorder is a mental health condition that makes it hard to behave in socially acceptable or pro-social ways.
People with ASPD may not understand how to behave toward others. Their behavior can be disrespectful, manipulative, and reckless. For instance, they might hurt people physically or emotionally without feeling remorseful for their actions.
The behavior of people with an antisocial personality disorder is often singled out as being distinct from other forms of misbehavior.
While someone with an antisocial personality disorder will likely do things that cause harm, they behave differently than those who have other mental health disorders or substance use problems.
They may not think that what they’re doing is wrong, or may choose to ignore a responsibility or commitment that they have.
What Causes Antisocial Personality Disorder?
The exact cause of antisocial personality disorder is not known, but scientists think it’s likely due to a combination of genetic, social, and environmental factors.
A person with a family history of attention deficit disorder (ADD) or conduct disorder is more likely to develop ASPD than someone without such a family history. In addition, traumatic life experiences seem to play a role in the development of antisocial personality disorder.
People who grow up in abusive homes are at higher risk for developing antisocial personality disorder as adults. They also tend to begin showing symptoms earlier in life compared with people who didn’t experience abuse growing up.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Antisocial Personality Disorder?
There are several signs that may indicate a person has antisocial personality disorder. Some common ones include:
- Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors
- Problems with alcohol abuse or dependence
- Reckless disregard for the safety of self or others
- Frequent verbal aggression or physical fights with other people
- Deceitfulness, manipulation, or lack of guilt when harming others
- Failure to sustain employment
- Sexual promiscuity or failure to commit to long-term relationships
- Low self-esteem and feelings of inferiority/hopelessness
Who Is a Psychopath?
A psychopath is defined as an individual who is manipulative, selfish, cunning, and lacks empathy.
A psychopath cannot form emotional attachments with other people so they use charm to quickly get close with others without having any real interaction.
Psychopaths are often highly intelligent that lack internal restraints from making moral decisions. Their intelligence helps them mask the signs of psychopathy and go about their business unnoticed.
They are egocentric people that feel a sense of entitlement and a constant need for stimulation. Because they do not have the ability to sympathize with others, they take advantage of them without feeling guilty.
They may have a highly-paid job and have a family. They are more concentrated in their actions that make them harder to spot.
Are psychopaths dangerous? Any person can be dangerous, but psychopathy causes a lot of suffering for them and other people. Assuming that all psychopaths are criminals is a bias and stigma.
What Are the Characteristics of a Psychopath?
Some of the most noticeable traits of a psychopath include:
- Superficial charm
- Grandiose sense of self-worth
- Lack of empathy
- Manipulative behavior
- Failure to establish long-term personal relationships
- Alcohol or substance abuse
- Erratic work history
- Promiscuous sexual behavior.
Who Is a Sociopath?
A sociopath has a pattern of disregard for the rights and feelings of others.
Sociopaths lack self-control and feel little or no remorse for their actions. They often take part in criminal or immoral activities without showing any guilt or anxiety about their behavior. This makes them misfits, as they go against acceptable societal behavior without trying to hide or excuse it.
Sociopaths are usually not able to form long-term plans so they tend to focus more on short-term pleasures.
Their behavior is erratic and they are prone to spur-of-the-moment actions. Although they can form emotional attachments to others, they struggle to maintain relationships and have difficulty recognizing and expressing emotions.
What Are the Characteristics of a Sociopath?
Some of the most noticeable traits of sociopath include:
- Irresponsible behavior that reflects a disregard for consequences
- Impulsive actions without considering the outcome
- Lack of remorse for their actions and other people’s feelings
- Inability to manage their own affairs, not being able to maintain employment or financial responsibilities
- Chronic boredom and proneness to risk-taking behaviour such as drug abuse or reckless driving
- Frequent irresponsibility including many short-term relationships and juvenile delinquency, starting from a young age
- Anger and violent outbursts
What’s The Difference Between a Psychopath And a Sociopath?
You can tell a psychopath from a sociopath by the following factors:
- What causes the condition
- Ability to form emotional attachments
- Ability to fit in
- Degree of aggressiveness
Ability to Form Emotional Attachments
Psychopaths are incapable of forming genuine emotional attachments, while sociopaths can. Psychopaths exploit others for their own benefit. Sociopaths care about a few people they become close to, but can’t maintain these relationships because of their condition.
Ability to Fit In
Another difference between psychopathy and sociopathy is the ability to fit in with society. Psychopaths are capable of fitting into society without raising suspicions while sociopaths stand out more easily due to impulsive behavior that does not match societal standards.
A psychopath’s criminal or dangerous acts are carefully premeditated or planned ahead whereas a sociopath’s reckless crimes are often spur-of-the-moment, fueled by rage or passion.
Degree of Aggressiveness
Psychopaths have a low level of aggressiveness while sociopaths have extremes of high aggressiveness. Psychopaths can be calculating and patient, waiting for an opportunity to present itself before acting. Sociopaths are more likely to react violently or explosively when they encounter a perceived threat or frustrating situation.
What Is The Treatment for Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD)?
ASPD can’t be cured, but it can be treated with a combination of psychotherapy and medication. If the person is willing to work on their behavior, psychotherapy may help them learn how to be more pro-social and successfully interact with others.
In addition, they might also need medications such as antipsychotics or mood stabilizers to manage other conditions that often co-occur with ASPD.
Combining cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychodynamic psychotherapy has been shown to have some benefits for people suffering from antisocial personality disorder.
These types of therapies focus on changing thought patterns and behaviors that influence a person’s moods and actions toward others. While these treatments don’t always help individuals quit their harmful behaviors, they can help them understand why they act that way and how to lead the best life they want.