Antisocial Personality Disorder: Born to be bad?

Antisocial Personality Disorder

What is Antisocial Personality Disorder?

Antisocial Personality Disorder (or ASPD, to use the common abbreviation) is a recognised condition characterised by a number of symptoms, such as an inability to feel empathy for others, a complete disregard for social norms and habitually acting rashly with little thought for the consequences of their actions. Often people suffering from Antisocial Personality Disorder may well have criminal and/or violent tendencies, displaying little or no regard for the feelings or needs of others – sometimes lacking these emotions even when dealing with close family members, such as children, siblings or parents.

The reasons behind someone developing this condition are numerous but often revolve around the fact that an individual did not learn to perceive others as worthy or valuable human beings. This is due to the fact that they were not treated with respect, care or empathy themselves – hence they did not learn to treat others in a more positive way. In such circumstances (often in a situation of neglect or abuse) the sufferer had to harden themselves in order to survive. Very often, sufferers of ASPD, take little care of themselves so they fail to see why they should treat others with care either.

  Sometimes this form of personality disorder can be associated with terms such as ‘psychopath’ or ‘sociopath’. However, it should be noted that there are fundamental differences. People with Antisocial Personality Disorder usually have a history of neglect or even abuse and hence will be more amenable to change if a better environment is provided. Psychopathy, on the other hand, tends to have a stronger biological basis.

Typically, ASPD sufferers will start to display symptoms and forms of behaviour in their teens or early twenties – although it is not unheard of for younger children to display early indicators of this condition.

Although this is an extremely challenging condition, with the correct psychological treatment, suffers can make progress in improving their worst symptoms and moving toward living a normal life.

Symptoms of Antisocial Personality Disorder

Often the symptoms of Antisocial Personality Disorder are very obvious with sufferers demonstrating a consistent disregard for social norms and the rules of society, completely ignoring the rights or values of other people, as well as lacking in any remorse or regret for the way that they have treated others. People suffering from ASPD may well display little or no guilt about the consequences of their actions, as well as blaming their problems on others. Sometimes sufferers can be described as impulsive, even irresponsible – taking risks with their own safety and others when it is totally inappropriate to do so. Sadly, people with ASPD may well display a propensity toward anger and even violent behaviours, becoming aggressive and lashing out through frustration or impatience. Their behaviour often invites attention, just not the attention they really need. In some instances, especially in the case of neglect, any attention is better than none. Drug and alcohol misuse is also likely.

ASPD sufferers are also prone to using deceit or lies to manipulate those around them. This is often due to them having little or no meaningful experience with other people, or knowing how to relate in a healthy way. Lying is often a defence against showing true self and possibly getting hurt- It allows sufferers to have control over a situation and others.

  However, for all the above it should be clearly understood that Antisocial Personality Disorder, like many psychological conditions, exists in a spectrum of symptoms and behaviours. For example, a person at the lower end of the spectrum may display milder and/or fewer symptoms than someone at the other extreme. In all cases, psychological treatments can make a real difference in helping individuals move toward a more balanced state.

Symptoms of Antisocial Personality Disorder include:

  • Frequently acts ‘on impulse’, taking risks which puts themselves and others in harm’s way without any regard for the consequences
  • May have a history of violent and/or criminal behaviour (Often misbehaviour of this sort of is due to an unconscious need for the boundaries that were lacking in the sufferer’s early experience.)
  • May struggle to conform to normal social and behavioural patterns – For example, they may not be able to hold down a job or a relationship for very long
  • May lack any form of empathy or positive feelings for others, acting in their own self-interest with no thought of how it will affect others
  • Can be manipulative, controlling, selfish and/or put their own needs above others
  • Have little or no guilt or remorse regarding past actions
  • May lie or display other deceitful behaviours – even going so far as to mask their true character and beliefs with a superficially charming mask
  • Hold the belief that only the strong survive, making them willing to take any chance or opportunity regardless of how it negatively impacts others
  • Have been diagnosed with a conduct disorder (or at least displayed the symptoms of such) before the age of 15

Strangely Antisocial Personality Disorder is actually more common in men than it is women, with roughly 70% of all those diagnosed being male. Women, on the other hand, tend to be more prone to self-harm. In terms of what percentage of the population suffers from ASPD, there are many differing opinions ranging from as low as just 0.2% to as high as 3%. In addition, as with many personality disorders, the symptoms of ASPD reduce over the lifetime of an individual with many people seeing a significant reduction in both their symptoms and their severity as they reach their 40’s and 50’s. 

The causes of Antisocial Personality Disorder

Antisocial Personality Disorder is a complex psychological condition and its roots are not simple to categorise. There is research evidence that supports the idea that there are both genetic and environmental causes which can lead to a person developing this condition. For example, having a parent who suffered from this condition can make it more likely that a child will go on to develop ASPD. However, it should be noted that in the case of caregivers it can also be argued that being exposed to this kind of upbringing from an early age is an important environmental factor. 

Our formative childhood years are very influential in the development of any personality disorder. Hence, the child of a parent with Antisocial Personality Disorder may well adopt these types of behaviour in the mistaken belief that this is the correct way to act with others and in society. In addition to this traumatic childhood experiences, such as experiencing cruelty, neglect or another form of abuse, can increase the likelihood of an individual developing ASPD. Such patterns are also seen in the children of parents who have a problem with alcohol or drug misuse – likely due to the neglect or harsh and inconsistent parenting that often results.

Based on the above it is apparent that ASPD can become a vicious cycle in families with children developing it through the influence of their parents and then, in turn, damaging their own children’s development as parents themselves. In such instances, early intervention is key to stopping this continuous cycle of bad parenting and damaged childhoods.

Treatment of Antisocial Personality Disorder

  Due to the behaviour and beliefs of those people who suffer from Antisocial Personality Disorder, it is rare for an individual to seek treatment voluntarily. Often it is identified after someone has come to the attention of the police and the criminal justice system. If it is suspected that the individual has some form of ASPD a formal diagnosis and treatment plan may be mandated by a court or similar institution. 

In the past, it was thought that ASPD was a lifetime condition, but this is now thought not to be the case, with the condition becoming less severe as the person grows older. However, the correct treatment has a good chance of helping sufferers no matter what their age may be.

Medication can be prescribed to help the sufferer with symptom control. Often this has the effect of levelling out the effects of the condition, allowing the person some respite. The most effective option for those suffering from ASPD lies in the realm of psychotherapy.

The two main treatment options are Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Mentalisation Based Therapy (MBT). In the former, a patient learns to manage their problems and emotions by changing the way they think and behave.

Mentalising, on the other hand, is focused around the sufferer gaining a greater understanding of both their own thought processes and those of other people. In addition, they are taught to realise that while each person is unique, some are more helpful than others. Other essential components of therapy may include exploring the reasons why there was a need for them to adopt such a harsh ‘defence mechanism’ in the first place – Often this involves revisiting and coming to terms with a traumatic childhood.  By exploring the reason behind their ASPD, sufferers can better understand why they feel the need to maintain barriers and behaviours that keep other people at bay; never allowing any closeness or vulnerability to appear.  Patients learn that being vulnerable can be safe – a process which allows them to eventually lower their defences and approach relationships with a different viewpoint. In addition, some people with ASPD find it useful to learn about assertiveness – rather than aggression or duplicity – as a more positive and rewarding way to ask for their needs to be met. By actively naming their feelings, the sufferer gains a much better understanding of and control of their emotions.

Tell us your experiences with Antisocial Personality Disorder

We’d be delighted to hear about your experiences with ASPD – either as a sufferer yourself or if one of your family or friends has been diagnosed with this condition. Sharing your story, experiences, problems and successes can help others in addressing vicious cycle that Antisocial Personality Disorder can set up in family groups. Leave your comments, tips and observations below.

  Alternatively, why not get in touch with us now to arrange a friendly, no obligation chat about how talking treatments could help you or someone you love afflicted with Antisocial Personality Disorder.

Thank You!

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