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Personality

7 Signs of Antisocial Personality Disorder

Sometimes bad boy (or bad girl) charm signals deeper pathology.

Key points

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) is a socially destructive Cluster B personality disorder.
  • Individuals with ASPD manipulate others to get what they want.
  • ASPD cannot be diagnosed until age 18; the symptoms may begin to lessen after age 40.

Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) affects approximately .2% to just over 3% of the population (APA, 2013). Men are six times more likely to be diagnosed with this disorder than women. While personality disorders may have their roots in childhood experiences, Antisocial Personality Disorder is more clearly linked to childhood behavior – approximately 40% of children who have childhood-onset Conduct Disorder will meet the diagnosis standards for ASPD as an adult (Widiger & Gore, 2016). Genetics are thought to play a strong role in its etiology; having a family member with this disorder increases the risks that it will show up on other family members.

Among the “tells” that indicate a person may have this clinically diagnosable disorder is a lack of concern for how their actions affect others. If they have an objective in mind, their means to reach it reflect only their desire to get what they want – with no regard for the potential fallout for anyone else. They have no hesitation in deceiving others if deception is necessary for them to reach their goals. While it's not uncommon for people to exaggerate or stretch the truth in order to be seen in a positive light, individuals with ASPD have little trouble telling outright lies to get what they want. They may also take risks with their own and others’ safety and jump into dangerous or even criminal activity. They very much live in the present and will use charm, or in some cases, force to take advantage of others. Impulsivity and hostility are other traits that are hallmarks of ASPD. It’s not that they don’t understand that there are rules in place; they just have no interest in following them.

Career Disruption

Individuals with ASPD are highly unlikely to climb the corporate ladder as they are likely to have minimal interest in meeting others’ expectations or following the rules. They may desire success, but their view of it is self-centered and myopic. They can’t be bothered to show up at work on time, complete tasks, or meet the needs of others. They can use their powers of manipulation and deceit to be given a job, but those same traits, coupled with impulsivity and tendencies towards violence and irritability, will be what loses them the job just as quickly.

Relationships Risks

An individual with ASPD can come across as an attractive “bad boy” or “bad girl” type. Their disregard for the rules can be a turn-on and the novelty they offer can be especially seductive. Unfortunately, this type of relationship isn’t designed for the long haul. It’s not uncommon for someone to imagine that love can change a beloved’s bad behavior, but that's not likely to be the case for someone with ASPD. This person may initially be appealing, but they may not maintain an intimate relationship due to their inability to truly care about the feelings of another. They tend to value relationships only as a means to reach their goals. Individuals with ASPD don’t feel guilt for their poor treatment of others; they may be frustrated if a relationship no longer gives them access to whatever it might have in the past, such as material or sexual gratification, but they don’t tolerate frustration well. When they are done with a relationship, they may just move on with no thought to what's left behind.

Kind of Narcissistic, Kind of Not

ASPD is a Cluster B personality disorder, as is Narcissistic Personality Disorder (see 13 Traits of a Narcissist), Histrionic Personality Disorder (8 Signs of HPD), and Borderline Personality Disorder (see Borderline Personality Disorder). And there are some similarities between Antisocial Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Both manifest in behaviors designed to satisfy the individual’s need to have it their way. While narcissists may not be able to see another’s perspective or understand another’s emotional state, individuals with ASPD aren’t bad at reading others’ emotional states; they just don’t care, other than the extent to which they can use their understanding of another’s feelings as a means to manipulate them.

Selfishness and manipulation are shared features of narcissists and those with ASPD. However, there is a difference in the degree to which an individual will go to get their way. Antisocial individuals have no qualms with ignoring or flaunting laws and rules Narcissists, on the other hand, may engage in manipulation of others and some level of coercion, but they are much less likely to engage in outright destructiveness. Image is everything to a narcissist and the need to be seen in a positive light keeps them from the unbridled misbehavior of someone with ASPD.

7 Symptoms of Antisocial Personality Disorder

Antisocial Personality disordered individuals consistently engage in behaviors that show a persistent disregard for the rights of others. This is the most socially destructive personality disorder in the DSM (APA, 2013). Their focus is on doing what they want, when they want, and how they want without concern for the well-being of others. According to the DSM-5, antisocial personality disorder is typically first exhibited as conduct disordered behavior prior to age 15, but the diagnosis is only made when a person is at least 18, and at least three of these seven behaviors are exhibited:

  1. Repeatedly committing acts that are grounds for arrest and showing disregard for the law.
  2. Acting deceitfully through such actions as persistent lying, use of aliases/false names, taking advantage of and conning others for their own personal profit or entertainment.
  3. Impulsively making decisions or taking impulsive action, and absence of planning future actions.
  4. Being provoked easily, and aggressive engagement through physical fights or personal assaults.
  5. Showing a reckless disregard for the safety of self or others.
  6. Exhibiting irresponsibility consistently and without regard for consequences to themselves or others. They may abruptly leave jobs with no plans for securing another one or ignore financial obligations and/or personal responsibilities
  7. Demonstrating the absence of any remorse for their actions and showing indifference when hurting others or generating spurious rationalizations for the mistreatment of others.

References

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Widiger, T. A., & Gore, W. L. (2016). Personality Disorders, in Encyclopedia of Mental Health (Second Edition).

Zimmerman, D. J., & Groves, J. E. (2010). Difficult Patients, in Massachusetts General Hospital Handbook of General Hospital Psychiatry (Sixth Edition).

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