Riddle this: What is the meaning of sociopath and psychopath? Before you say anything, all psychopaths are not serial killers, and all sociopaths do not lack conscience. So, are you wondering what they mean?
Both conditions include traits that are incorporated into the official diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder. Sometimes, both terms are used interchangeably as insults. Thanks to book authors and screenwriters, these terms have been linked to folks with irritation, temperament issues, and coldhearted people who will harm you. But that’s not always true, and one should not generalize the entire population based on a few observations.
While sociopathy and psychopathy can overlap as they share common traits like aggression and lack of remorse, they are different medical conditions. To help us understand this better, we also spoke to a specialist, Ms. Khushboo Wasan, M.sc, Counselling Psychologist, practicing in India. Here are some common differences between them:
- “Both illnesses are related to a personality disorder and are usually seen in people with conduct disorder or antisocial personality disorder,'” says Ms. Khushboo Wasan. She adds, “Psychopathy is related to psychosis, whereas sociopathy is related to neurosis.” Psychosis is a condition causing a person to lose touch with reality. In individuals with psychopathy, it could be seen as eccentric or mysterious behavior and latent intentions. On the other hand, neurosis is a relatively mild mental health condition. Affected individuals suffer from emotional problems, outbursts, rages, emotionally driven behaviors, impulsivity, compulsivity, etc.
- People with sociopathy have a relatively lower IQ than those with psychopathy. It is also why psychopaths are much more dangerous than sociopathic people, as they are good at hiding their intentions and pretending. You cannot spot any abnormality in their behavior. As per Ms. Khushboo, “Only people with high emotional intelligence can see their hidden motives.”
- Another difference between these two personality disorders is who they choose as their victim. Psychotic people have an odd sense of finding emotionally weak, underconfident, and submissive people. These kinds of people are their victims. They do not show their power to dominant people. However, sociopaths do not care about anyone. They will torment anyone who stands against them or disagrees with them.
- People with sociopathy are proud rule-breakers and will do what they are told not to do. They want to show the world that they are a threat to society and should be feared. Because they have low self-esteem, they will pretend and behave aggressively to scare you. They do this to feel more content and powerful without caring if you are young or older. Sociopaths do not have the social intelligence to control their emotions either.
- While psychotic people are clever, sociopathic people are not. They are simply emotional reactants. A sociopath is easier to identify than a psychopathic. You will be able to tell if they are going to do anything wrong or if they are problematic. Psychotic people are more dangerous than sociopathic people since they are not expressive. Hence, they cannot be identified. They are skilled at concealment and deflecting blame and will go to any length to avoid taking responsibility. Many serial killers also exhibit psychopathic traits.
- Psychopathic people are narcissists and unable to form deep emotional connections. But they can pretend to be in one. They can, to some extent, be emotionally involved with someone, but they don’t think twice before hurting them. Ms. Khushboo adds, “Honestly, they do not care about hurting anyone, but they cover that cold-hearted behavior very well. They will pretend to like you, love you, and make you feel secure. But in reality, they are just the opposite.”
- Similarly, people with sociopathy do not usually form relationships but tend to be close to people like them. They are likely to hang out with people with similar thoughts or behavior, like those who indulge in crime. If they find someone who does not agree with them or is defensive, they may be hurt or use violence to get their way.
- Unlike sociopathy, psychopathy is a congenital disorder, meaning people are born with it. Ms. Khusboo says, “If a child suffers trauma, environmental issue, parental issue, and if they develop a conduct disorder…then they are more likely to fall under this category. Sociopathic people are not born this way, but genetic factors can come into play.”
- Some psychopaths know they are different. There are different degrees of severity in psychopathy. Some are unaware of their mental state and are more harmful, while others have some insights that they tend to hurt someone or are doing something wrong. They might bring in someone to stop them. But because it is a psychotic disorder, you can never be sure if they are being honest or just trying to clean their image. Sociopaths usually are not aware of their condition.
Traits of Psychopathy
Here are a few traits observed in psychopaths:
- Reduced emotional reaction and a lack of empathy for others.
- Charming on the outside, but on the inside, they can be manipulative and impulsive.
- Disregard others’ rights and feelings.
- Pretend to care.
- Are pathological liars.
- Not afraid of anything.
- They do not stray away from taking risks.
- Unable to form or maintain relationships.
- Can love people, though, in a different way.
- Have poor judgment and do not possess any life goals.
- They are sadists, people who gain pleasure from causing pain to others.
- Lack of loyalty to persons, groups, or social values.
Traits of Sociopathy
Sociopathic people can be:
- Blunt and make it clear that they do not care how others feel.
- Hot-headed and impulsive with their actions.
- Prone to fits of anger and rage.
- They recognize their actions yet try to rationalize their behavior.
- Unable to maintain a regular work and family life.
- Able to form emotional attachments but with great difficulty.
- Irresponsible and exploit other people.
- Feel no guilt for their actions.
- Habitual lawbreakers.
What to Know About Antisocial Personality Disorders
An antisocial personality disorder is a mental health disorder causing people to have little or no regard for right or wrong. They may act impulsively and violently and even participate in criminal activity. They do not follow socially accepted norms or rules and often disregard the consequences of their actions.
To clear you from the confusion, while psychopathy is associated with ASPD, not every person with ASPD will be a psychopath. Also, sociopathy is usually mistaken for ASPD. While their traits overlap, healthcare providers do not use this term as a clinical diagnosis.
Individuals usually show symptoms of ASPD in their late teens. The symptoms could begin in childhood but are either missed or confused with other mental health conditions such as depression or ADHD.
There is no single cause for this personality disorder. However, the following factors may increase the risk of developing the disease:
- Altered Neurochemistry: Affected individuals have unusually high serotonin levels, a chemical that regulates our mood and provides happiness.
- Environment: Severe trauma or abuse early in childhood increases the risk of developing ASPD later in life.
- Genetics: Some hereditary factors may predispose some people to ASPD. However, no single genetic element is known to blame for the illness.
- Lifestyle: Approximately half of those with ASPD struggle with drug or alcohol abuse.
- Gender: Men are more prone to developing ASPD than women.
- Brain Difference: People with this condition have differences in the brain’s frontal lobe. This part of the brain plays a role in planning and judgment.
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ASPD is quite difficult to treat as the patient rarely seeks treatment. While there is no cure for ASPD, there are therapeutic strategies that can provide some relief from the symptoms.
- Therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can assist individuals in gaining insight into their behavior and changing maladaptive thought patterns. It can assist the person with ASPD in better understanding how their actions influence others. Ms. Khushboo emphasizes the importance of addressing issues early. Therapy can help with some cases of antisocial personality disorder, but not all; it becomes less successful as the disease worsens. It may also help with anger management and substance abuse if the patient needs it.
- Medication: Several drugs are used to treat ASPD; they are most effective at reducing aggression or erratic mood swings rather than addressing the underlying reasons that drive behavior. To treat antisocial personality disorder, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers such as lithium may be administered.
- MBT (mentalism-based treatment): This is a sort of long-term psychotherapy. The ability to think about thinking is referred to as mentalization. It aids in making meaning of our thoughts, beliefs, desires, and feelings and connecting them to our actions and behaviors. It focuses on the ability to recognize and understand our own and others’ mental states, something people with ASPD have trouble doing.
Coping with Antisocial Personality Disorder
Antisocial personality disorder often severely impacts a person’s ability to function and maintain relationships. They can harm their family members, friends, and loved ones. Ms. Khushboo adds, “Most people with ASPD do not seek help on their own. Usually, intervention likely only happens due to legal problems”. However, affected individuals could lead better lives if they had stronger social support and better family ties.
If you have a loved one who has ASPD, you may find it helpful to talk to a mental health professional. But it is necessary to speak to one, as they can help you learn coping skills that will help you set boundaries to protect yourself from harm. Group therapy and support groups may also be helpful resources for support and information.
How to Tell if Someone Has This Condition
For a healthcare professional to diagnose ASPD, a person must display at least three of the following criteria:
- Acquiring self-esteem by the use of power, personal gain, or pleasure.
- Egocentricity is also known as self-centeredness.
- Setting aims for selfish gain with little regard for the law or ethics.
- A lack of empathy for the suffering or fury of others or when confronted with the hurt or wrath of those they have deceived.
- Because of the impulse to control (through dominance or intimidation), force, or deception, it is impossible to have a mutually emotionally intimate relationship.
- Disregard obligations, promises, and agreements, notably financial ones.
- Difficulty forming plans, preferring to believe you can handle problems as they arise.
- It is not unusual for someone with APD to be involved in multiple fights or assaults.
- Lying to acquire social status or advantage, such as claiming to be a decorated war hero when you have never served.
- Making decisions on the spur of the moment with minimal consideration for consequences just to achieve current goals.
- Persistent rage or impatience, especially over little issues, as well as cruel or spiteful behavior.
- React with callousness, aggressiveness, remorselessness, or even sadism, when confronted.
- Risk-taking, boredom, and the ability to disregard personal boundaries and justify even the most extreme actions
- They emotionally manipulate others.
Seek Help From a Trusted Therapist With DocVita Today
Whether it’s sociopathy, psychopathy, or antisocial personality disorder, they are all incurable. People usually manage the disease for the rest of their lives. However, medicine and treatment can help you deal with some parts of the disease. According to Ms. Khusboo, “the correct treatment may assist you in changing your behavior and causing less harm to those around you.” So, it is essential to seek help at the earliest. And at DocVita, we can help you connect with various specialists. Choose from Docvita’s network of therapists for your ASPD symptoms and get help by phone, video, or live chat. Book your first appointment today!