Understanding The Difference Between Psychopaths And Sociopaths
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) does not recognize the terms psychopath or sociopath as their own unique disorder within the text of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Instead, the terms psychopathy and sociopathy are grouped together within a cluster B personality disorder called Antisocial Personality Disorder. The key pattern of an Antisocial Personality Disorder that is used to classify someone as a psychopath or sociopath is the disregard for and violation of another individual’s rights or safety. Those who have an Antisocial Personality Disorder are prone to being manipulative, arrogant, verbally facile, and completely lacking empathy or remorse. It is also not uncommon for these individuals to experience dysphoria, depression, restlessness or the inability to tolerate suffering from boredom, and they are more likely to exhibit symptoms of borderline or narcissistic personality disorders.
Typically, when people think about psychopaths and sociopaths, the first images that come to mind are those of vicious murderers, rapists, stalkers, and other real-life boogeymen, but not all psychopaths and sociopaths are violent or dangerous. According to an interview given by psychologist Kevin Dutton to Smithsonian.Com, “Psychopaths are assertive, psychopaths don’t procrastinate, they tend to focus on the positive, psychopaths don’t take things personally; they don’t beat themselves up if things go wrong, even if they’re to blame, and they’re pretty cool under pressure.”
As long as psychopaths possess intelligence and the ability to make good life choices, the probability of them being successful is quite high. On the other hand, if the psychopath is prone to making poor life choices, the probability of them becoming incarcerated is far higher. Psychopaths hold many jobs that most people wouldn’t suspect which allow them to make positive contributions to society, such as: ministers, lawyers, police officers, soldiers, media figures, politicians, and teachers. During the previously mentioned interview, Kevin Dutton stated that, “Any situation where you’ve got a power structure, a hierarchy, the ability to manipulate or wield control over people, you get psychopaths doing very well.”
To profile someone as a sociopath, there are several behaviors that they must frequently exhibit. These behaviors include, but are not limited to: superficial charm, pathological lying, lack of remorse, lack of shame, lack of feelings of guilt, incapacity to experience love, near constant need for both physical and mental stimulation, grandiose sense of self, inflated sense of self-worth, and being extremely manipulative. It is extremely important to understand that the behaviors listed to categorize a person as a sociopath are the exact same behaviors needed to profile an individual as a psychopath, an important factor as to why people tend to use the terms psychopath and sociopath interchangeably.
Although it is not as common, psychopathy can present itself during childhood or early adolescence. According to The Clinical and Forensic Assessment of Psychopathy: A Practitioner’s Guide, children with a childhood-onset conduct disorder (CD) display callous unemotional traits that are very similar to adult psychopathy such as: impetuous behavior, lack of regard for the safety and rights of other people, alienation, and lack of empathy. Children who exhibit these characteristics may be known to hurt their younger siblings, to harm small animals and they may be unable to maintain eye contact. Lectures and admonitions may be ineffective in correcting their behavior, and they may be unable to express remorse for these bad behaviors.
In an article titled Extending the Construct of Psychopathy to Youth: Implications for Understanding, Diagnosing, and Treating Antisocial Children and Adolescents, Dr. Paul J. Frick states that, “The research on callous unemotional traits has important implications for understanding the different casual pathways through which children develop severe antisocial and aggressive behavior, as well as implications for diagnosing and intervening with antisocial youth.” This gives me the hope that at some point in the future, we will be able to offer an effective treatment plan to help individuals manage traits and characteristics related to psychopathy.