The Definition of a Sociopath

By Jill Leviticus

Sociopaths have little regard for the feelings of others and manipulate others in order to get what they desire. The term “sociopath” is no longer used in psychology and psychiatry, and the disorder is now called “antisocial personality disorder.” People who have this disorder often have no sense of right or wrong and many only receive treatment when forced to by the judicial system, an employer or family member. The disorder is relatively rare, with approximately 0.6 percent of Americans affected, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Identification

People with antisocial personality disorder perceive the world differently than most people do and may not have the range of feelings that others have. Because they cannot relate to others, they have no trouble lying or violating the rights of other people in order to achieve their goals. Some of these people are very charming and adept at manipulating others, while others may use violence or intimidation to get what they want.

Behavior

People who have antisocial personality disorder may engage is such risky behavior as violence, vandalism, theft, bullying and cruelty to animals. They are skilled liars and often quite good at conning other people. They may be aggressive and violent, but show no remorse if they hurt other people. Sociopaths often react impulsively, failing to consider how their actions could harm themselves or others. Many have no respect for authority and have a history of losing jobs and being expelled from school. Drug and alcohol problems are common in people with antisocial personality disorders.

Causes

Antisocial personality disorder is thought to occur due to a combination of genetics and early relationships with parents and family. There is no specific cause for the development of the disorder, but it is thought that sexual, verbal or physical abuse can contribute to the antisocial personality disorder, as can a family history of antisocial personality disorders or other mental disorders. A diagnosis of conduct disorder during childhood, an unstable home life, death of a parent or divorce of the parents may also be contributing factors.

Diagnosis

It can take some time for a mental health professional to diagnose antisocial personality disorder. Other personality disorders must be ruled out before the disorder can be considered as a valid diagnosis. Antisocial personality disorder is usually only diagnosed in people 18 and older who have shown signs of a conduct disorder before age 15 and show several signs of the disorder.

Treatment

There is no medication known to help people suffering from antisocial personality disorder, although medication can be helpful if the person also suffers from another disorder, such as depression. Psychotherapy, which involves talking about symptoms and behaviors, is the primary form of therapy. Because many people do not enter therapy voluntarily, it can be difficult to make real progress. Treatment may focus on improving social and family relationships, learning coping skills and helping the person understand the connection between feelings and behavior. Group and family therapy can be helpful, as can teaching the person to recognize and control emotions. Learning stress and anger management skills is important in helping avoid violent outbursts and behavior.

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