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Sociopath

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Updated December 03, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Definition: A sociopath is defined as someone who is suffering from Antisocial Personality Disorder. Sociopaths show a pervasive pattern of disregard for the rights and feelings of others.

While it's common to think of sociopaths as criminals, even killers, such behavior isn't essential to the diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder. The proposed criteria for the upcoming DSM-5 include that the patient must be 18 or older and have shown cerain behaviors consistently over time and circumstances.

Here's a look at the personality traits that psychiatrists consider when diagnosing this condition:

1. Required:

    Self functioning that is:

  • Egocentric, getting self-esteem from power, personal gain or pleasure; and/or

  • Sets goals based on personal gratification, without regard to whether achieving those goals is legal or ethical.
2. Required:
    Interpersonal functioning that:

  • Lacks empathy - doesn't care about hurting others; and/or

  • Can't have true emotionally intimate relationships because relates by exploitation that may be by:

    *Deceit
    *Coercion
    *Control by dominance
    *Control by intimidation

In addition, diagnosis depends on the presence of many of these behaviors:

  • Manipulating others, such as pretending to be deeply interested in someone in order to achieve a goal;

  • Being deceitful, such as a man who says he is a decorated war hero when in fact he has never even served in the military;

  • Having a callousness that could be shown by not caring about others' feelings, having no remorse when actions harm others, being aggressive, or being sadistic;

  • Showing hostility easily. This could be shown by things like:

    *Repeated fights or assaults

    *Irresponsibility regarding commitments (e.g., financial obligations), agreements and promises.

    *Making spur-of-the-moment decisions without thinking about how they might turn out; and/or finding it hard to make or follow plans.

    *Taking risks that might result in self-damage for no particular reason, even though the consequences could be self-harming; being easily bored and doing thoughtless and risky things to fight boredom; ignoring personal limitations and denying that activities could be dangerous.

Sociopathy is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. A person may be born with a susceptibility to the disorder, and treatment and experiences during childhood and adolescence may trigger onset of antisocial personality disorder. It isn't known how often genetics are involved in the development of the condition.

Sources:
"Antisocial Personality Disorder (Dyssocial Personality Disorder)." APA DSM-5 Development. American Psychiatric Association, 4 2012. Web. 28 Nov 2012.
Mayo Clinic Staff. Antisocial Personality Disorder. Mayo Clinic, 10 October 2010. Web. 28 November 2012.

Pronunciation: Sociopath: SO-see-oh-path
Sociopathy: SO-see-AH-peh-thee
Sociopathic: So-see-oh-PATH-ick
Examples:
Glenn told Marie he was a top executive at a major company, and exercised his charm to get her to fall in love with him. During their engagement, though, he told her he had serious tax problems and couldn't marry her without obtaining more money. Marie sold off her investments to help him pay these mythical taxes. Shortly afterward, the sociopathic Glenn disappeared, taking her money with him. He went on to do the same thing to three other women before he was actually arrested for attempted murder of a woman who checked into his background and confronted him about it.

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