The word sociopath is a familiar one, yet it can be difficult to define sociopath. A simple definition of sociopath is someone who possesses the sociopathic characteristics of having no conscience and is tremendously antisocial. While indeed accurate, that definition falls a bit short. Perhaps that's because sociopath is a word that touches people on not just an intellectual level but an emotional one too, often evoking dark feelings and making people shudder. To define a sociopath, a complex human being who doesn't fit the norms of society - of humanity - it's necessary to consider that the true sociopath definition is actually a cluster of behaviors and personality traits.
Not only is the definition of sociopath complex, but the very word itself is complicated. Scientists and lay people alike use different words for this disorder. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is the authority on mental illnesses published by the American PsychiatricAssociation. The DSM-5's diagnostic term for sociopathy is antisocial personality disorder. Other terms used for this condition are psychopathy (psychopath) and dyssocial personality disorder. The definition of sociopath applies to these other terms as well.
The DSM-5 defines antisocial personality disorder as "[a] pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others, occurring since age 15 years, as indicated by three (or more) of the following:
- Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors, as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest.
- Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure.
- Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead.
- Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults.
- Reckless disregard for safety of self or others.
- Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations.
- Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another."
It's important to note that sociopathic children do not exist as a person cannot be diagnosed as a socipath until age 18. While the patterns of behavior and personality traits exist prior to adulthood, until then, a child may be diagnosed with conduct disorder, but he can't be defined as a sociopath.
The above definition of sociopath is easiest to grasp when it's organized to fit people rather than paper. In The Psychopath Inside, James Fallon breaks down the definition of a sociopath into four categories.
- Interpersonal: This category involves interaction with other people. In this area, someone who is a sociopath is superficial and incapable of deep, meaningful relationships and connections. It might seem at first that this person is very attached and caring, but that's just an act. A sociopath is antisocial; he (or sometimes she) is capable of lies and deception in order to get his or her way, but he cares nothing about forming real friendships and partnerships.
- Affective: This area deals with emotions and feelings. When it comes to the affective part of being human, the definition of a sociopath is someone who completely lacks empathy. He simply can't take the perspective of others or understand (or care) how someone else feels. When a sociopath is hurtful, he feels no remorse. If it's good for him, he doesn't care who's hurt in the process. A sociopath has no conscience.
- Behavioral: Someone who is a sociopath is impulsive and unreliable. As a result of these traits, the sociopath also lacks the ability to set long-term goals. Further, he can't, or won't, accept responsibility for his actions.
- Antisocial: The definition of a sociopath centers on this concept. This person stands apart from the rest of society; he exists for himself and only for himself. He cares nothing for the norms, rules, and laws of society. Accordingly, a sociopath has a history of juvenile delinquency and likely has a criminal record in adulthood.
If you recognize some of these traits in a family member or coworker, you may be tempted to think you’re living or working with a sociopath. But just because a person is mean or selfish, it doesn’t necessarily mean he has a disorder. One thing is for sure: there are many other good things in them and they shouldn’t be judged in any way because of their disease.