In A Better You, Health Professionals

What is Antisocial Personality Disorder?

antisocial personality disorder

Antisocial Personality Disorder is a clinical diagnosis encompassing a constellation of traits centered on the lack of respect for other people. Individuals with this disorder (also referred to as sociopaths) display an inability to consider the feelings or needs of others. Behavior may range from selfishness and thoughtlessness to violence toward others and intentional destruction of property, to extreme cruelty such as torturing animals. The ability to charm and cajole others for the purpose of manipulating them is another possible feature of antisocial personalities.

The condition is far more prevalent in men than in women, usually between the ages of 25 and 45 years old. Common traits include dishonesty, manipulativeness, indifference, irresponsibility, impulsivity and a lack of remorse. People with this disorder often have substance abuse problems and frequently break the law, not uncommonly ending up in the criminal justice system. Research has shown that anywhere between 25-50% of prison inmates exhibit the disorder.

Official criteria (psychiatric diagnoses are categorized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, known as the DSM, a mental health disorder manual published by the American Psychiatric Association) for Antisocial Personality Disorder are defined as follows:

A. There is a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since age 15, as indicated by three (or more) of the following:

1. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest.

2. Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure.

3. Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead.

4. Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults.

5. Reckless disregard for safety of self or others.

6. Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations.

7. Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.

B. The individual is at least age 18 years of age.

C. There is evidence of Conduct Disorder with onset before age 15.

D. The occurrence of antisocial behavior is not exclusively during the course of Schizophrenia or a manic episode.

Famous people with this disorder may include Adolph Hitler, Napoleon, Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, OJay Simpson and others. A classic case study of Antisocial Personality Disorder is serial killer Ted Bundy, executed in 1989 for murdering at least 36, but likely more than 140 people. He was perhaps most notorious for being attractive and charming.

Born Theodore Robert Cowell to Louise Cowell on November 24, 1946, at the Elizabeth Lund Home for Unwed Mothers in Burlington, Vermont, Ted Bundy was raised as Louise’s brother, told that his grandparents were his parents. In 1951 Louise and Ted moved from Philadelphia to Tacoma, Washington and Louise married Johnnie Bundy, a military cook.

Bundy was shy, but well-behaved and well-liked. He attended the University of Puget Sound and did well academically, but felt uncomfortable around his fellow students, who were predominantly wealthy. As a sophomore, Bundy transferred to the University of Washington for peers from a wider variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. Bundy then dropped out of school, becoming depressed over the break-up of his first serious relationship, and finally learning that his sister was actually his mother, that his parents were his grandparents. Bundy was also gaining a reputation as a petty thief. His shyness began to be replaced with false bravado and when he returned to college, he succeeded in earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Bundy became involved with Elizabeth Kendall (the pseudonym she used when she wrote “The Phantom Prince: My Life With Ted Bundy”), a divorcee with a young daughter. Despite her suspicions that Bundy was unfaithful, she stayed with him, and Bundy continued seeing her even after reuniting with his first girlfriend, who was now attracted to the newly confident Ted Bundy.

He worked on the re-election campaign of Washington’s Republican Governor Dan Evans, who appointed Bundy to the Seattle Crime Prevention Advisory Committee. In 1973 he became assistant to Ross Davis, chairman of the Washington State Republican Party, gaining a foothold in politics.

In 1974 young women began vanishing from college campuses around Washington and Oregon, including Lynda Ann Healy, a 21-year-old radio announcer. In July 1974 two women were approached at a Seattle state park by an attractive man who introduced himself as Ted, and asked them to help him with his sailboat. They declined, but later that day two other women (who subsequently disappeared) were seen accompanying him.

Bundy enrolled in law school in Salt Lake City. In November 1974, Carol DaRonch was attacked by a man dressed as a police officer at a nearby mall. She provided a description of the man, his vehicle, and a sample of blood from her clothing. Around this time, hikers discovered bones in a Washington forest, later identified as belonging to missing women from both Washington and Utah. Investigators from both states worked together to come up with a composite sketch of the man named “Ted” (often on crutches or wearing an arm cast), driving a tan VW, who approached women (white, thin, with long hair parted in the middle) during the evening, asking for help. They also had his blood type.

In August 1975, Bundy’s car was searched after he attempted escaping a driving violation by turning his car lights off and speeding through stop signs. Police found handcuffs, an ice pick, a crowbar, and pantyhose with eye holes cut out; they saw that the front passenger seat was missing, and arrested Ted Bundy. Bundy was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the attempted kidnapping of DaRonch. In October 1976 Bundy was charged for murders in Colorado.

On December 30 Bundy escaped from prison, ending up in Tallahassee, Florida where he rented an apartment under the name Chris Hagen. In January, Bundy broke into Florida State University’s Chi Omega sorority house and assaulted four women, killing two of them. On February 9, 1978, Bundy killed a 12-year-old girl, shortly after which he was arrested for driving a stolen vehicle. Bundy went on trial in June 1979 for the murders of the sorority women. The trial was televised and Bundy played up to the media acting as his own attorney. Bundy was found guilty on both murder charges and given two death sentences by means of the electric chair.

In January 1980, Bundy went on trial for killing Kimberly Leach, receiving a third death sentence. This time his behavior was belligerent and erratic, ending with the grandstanding ploy of calling Carol Boone as a character witness and then marrying her while she was on the witness stand. Boone later had a daughter with Bundy while he remained in prison. Boone eventually divorced Bundy after realizing in time that he was guilty. Prior to being put to death Bundy gave heinous details about more than fifty women he had tortured, raped and murdered. In his final interview, Bundy blamed his crimes on exposure to pornography at a young age.

Antisocial personality is by definition a diagnosis applied to individuals aged 18 and above, however it includes the appearance of Conduct Disorder before the age of 15, features of which include:

  • Bullying
  • Conflict with peers, family members and authority figures
  • Stealing
  • Cruelty, often to animals
  • Fire starting and vandalism
  • Use of weapons
  • Sexual assault
  • Repeated lying
  • Truancy, disruptive classroom behavior and poor academic performance
  • Gang involvement
  • Running away from home

The causes of Antisocial Personality Disorder remain unknown. Risk factors for developing the condition include being parented in the setting of abuse or substance dependence, or any generally dysfunctional or disordered environment during formative years. Genetic links have been postulated but not proven. Some doctors believe that psychopathic personality is the same disorder, others consider psychopathic personality to be a similar but more severe disorder.

Treating the condition can be quite challenging. A physical exam and various blood tests should be performed to rule out involvement of diseases that can manifest with behavioral symptoms (e.g. diabetes, thyroid conditions). Medications (such as antipsychotics, antidepressants or mood-stabilizers) for conditions sometimes associated with the condition may be of help in certain cases, but there are no pharmacologic treatment for Antisocial Personality Disorder per se. Psychotherapy often fails due to the patient’s lack of insight into their condition, refusal to cooperate, and habitual dishonesty. While this condition is considered to be chronic, symptoms sometimes lessen spontaneously over time, usually as the individual moves into middle age.

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