What is the Definition of a Sociopath?
Sociopathy is a severe personality disorder that does not qualify as a mental illness because a sociopath is fully aware of what they are doing. Sociopaths typically do not suffer from audio or visual hallucinations and are not “psychotic” in the classical sense of the word. The term “antisocial personality disorder” and “sociopathic personality disorder” essentially mean the same thing–someone who deliberately resists conforming to the norms and values of a civilized society.
Psychology research has yet to pinpoint the exact cause of antisocial personality disorder but the predominant consensus among professionals concerning the evolution of a sociopath involves the interplay of genetics, abnormal brain architecture, exposure to childhood violence and/or abandonment and extremely lax parenting styles (or total lack of parenting) that failed to provide the individual with rules to obey and boundaries with which to comply.
Similar in descriptive narrative, a narcissistic sociopath definition and the definition of sociopath DSM-V both emphasize the fact that sociopaths are incapable of feeling empathy for humans or animals and only care about one thing–satisfying their own desires and urges.
How Does a Sociopath Behave?
Sociopaths generally appear like normal, law-abiding, responsible individuals superficially. This seemingly stable persona they project allows them to get away with immoral conduct because people are not aware they are dealing with a sociopath who is a master at manipulating others to get what he or she wants.
After knowing a sociopath for awhile, you will probably begin to notice these typical traits and behaviors associated people suffering from anti-social personality disorder:
- They do not feel any guilt, embarrassment or shame after doing something immoral, mean or crooked. An example would be the sociopath who shoplifts designer clothes because they cannot afford them but wants them anyway. They justify their stealing by claiming they have the “body” to wear such clothes or need name-brand clothes to “get ahead” in social circles.
- They show no remorse for doing something that hurts another, whether physically or emotionally. A sociopathic husband who keeps having affairs but knows he is hurting his wife and children simply doesn’t care about their feelings. He only cares about satisfying his sexual urges or need to control as many women as possible.
- They have shallow emotions that are often inappropriate for the situation–smiling when they should be frowning, remaining aloof and distant during emotional confrontations or getting violently angry when something uncontrollable occurs that is not apart of their plans.
- They are irresponsible, unreliable and excellent liars. Lying is second nature to them and even FBI specialists cannot tell when a sociopath is lying because they do not exhibit behaviors typical of someone who is lying.
- Sociopaths are the most confident people you will ever meet. Their overconfidence is part of their inherent narcissism and selfishness that allows them to think they should get whatever they want because they are somehow entitled to whatever they want. In addition, their narcissism often propels them to lead a parasitic lifestyle in which they get others to pay for their living expenses, food, transportation, etc.
- Sociopaths cannot deal with the stress of having their plans interrupted or completely changed. Their nonexistent tolerance to frustration can explode aggressively when confronted with an unexpected occurrence that is contrary to what they wanted and believed would happen.
- Sociopaths usually have higher than normal IQs and may even have several college degrees. Intelligence is necessary to master the art of manipulating others, develop and implement schemes to obtain money without working for it and remain one step ahead of law enforcement who may be looking for them.
Childhood Traits of a Sociopath
Sociopathic tendencies can emerge as early as two years oldor when a future sociopath becomes mobile and can start acting out by harming other toddlers, hurting animals, throwing violent and destructive tantrums, stealing and exhibiting low frustration levels. Adolescent sociopaths are often loners, have difficult making friends, may be obsessed with sex and have fantasies that involve them controlling others. Some characteristics of a teenage sociopath are similar to traits shown by kids with Asperger’s or other pervasive developmental spectrum disorder. Consequently, they may receive treatment measures such as antidepressant medication or counseling techniques that do nothing to stop their budding sociopathic tendencies.
Sadism and Sociopathy
Sociopaths are also sadists, meaning they take great pleasure in hurting other people either physically, emotionally, or both. Sadistically harming another enhances the sensation of being completely in control of a situation while satisfying an all-consuming compulsion to be the center of attention of the one being abused. Psychologists speculate that since sociopaths cannot empathize or genuinely experience “light” emotions such as happiness, love or compassion, they need to make someone else suffer in order to feel powerful emotions concerning the sense of being in total control of a situation–in addition to someone else’s life.
Biopsychosocial Biology of Sociopathy
Abnormal myelin composition in the brain is associated with antisocial personality disorder as well as bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia. Brain regions thought to be implicated in the development of sociopathy include the anterior superior temporal gyrus, orbital frontal cortex, parahippocampal gyrus and the amygdala. All of these brain components represent the paralimbic system of the brain, which primarily deals with instinctual, self-centered urges.
Myelin is a fatty substance necessary for the smooth and rapid transmission of millions of messages to all parts of the brain. Neuroscientists have hypothesized that sociopaths have too much myelin in higher level areas of the brain (especially the neocortex) that prevents normal growth of axons. Normal people, and even people who are schizophrenic or psychotic, show only spotty levels of myelin in their neocortex.
In addition to abnormal development of the brain, some sociopaths are often found to have an undiscovered brain lesion affecting the paralimbic system. People who have suffered severe brain trauma due to an accident may being acting differently and take on traits normally associated with sociopathy.
Are Sociopaths Born or Made?
The question of nature or nurture has surrounded the subject of sociopathy for years and is still considered a contentious one today. Psychologists and neuroscientists performing literature reviews regarding sociopaths and their family upbringing have found that some sociopaths appear to have relatively normal childhoods, punctuated occasionally by events such as parents divorcing, death in the family, moving to another city, etc. Since millions of children experience these same events all over the world, the theory that certain upheavals are directly responsible for creating a sociopath is unfounded.
Of course, many sociopaths suffer horrible childhoods but likewise, many people suffer tremendous physical and emotional abuse as a child but eventually become productive adults who have learned to cope with terrible memories and trauma.
A prevailing theory among psychologists today about the roots of sociopathy involves genetics and the possibility that sociopathy is actually a genetic disorder similar in nature to Down Syndrome or hemophilia. Geneticists haven’t yet determined if a sociopathic “gene” exists but have found genetic similarities in people diagnosed with antisocial personalty disorder and/or sociopathy.
Treatment for Sociopathy
There is no standard treatment method for sociopathy and many psychologists do not think they can be helped. Medications such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, benzodiazepines and even ADHD medication has had no effect on people with ASD. Counseling a sociopath presents a complicated challenge to psychologists because sociopaths staunchly blame others for their problems and cannot view themselves or their behavior objectively. What eventually happens to sociopaths is often one of three things: they end up in prison or they keep getting away with manipulating, lying and conning others. Unfortunately, sociopaths that fail to get caught typically leave a long, sad trail of destroyed and shattered lives behind them.
To get a better idea of what defines a sociopath, here are a list of well-known sociopaths that have made headlines with their violent, narcissistic and sadistic behavior:
- Ted Bundy
- John Wayne Gacy
- Jeffrey Dahmer
- Charles Manson
- Adolph Hitler
- Aileen Wuornos
Not one of these people ever fully accepted responsibility for their actions.
Quotes From Famous Sociopaths:
John Wayne Gacy (after 28 bodies were found buried under his home): I should never have been convicted of anything more serious than running a cemetery without a license…I see myself more as a victim rather than a perpetrator… I was cheated out of my childhood.
Ted Bundy: I don’t feel guilty for anything. I feel sorry for people who feel guilt.
Jeffrey Dahmer: Its a process… when you depersonalize another person and view them as just an object. An object for pleasure and not a living breathing human being. It seems to make it easier to do things you shouldn’t do.