The Different Parts Of Antisocial Psychology And What They Mean
You’ve probably heard someone referred to as “antisocial” before, and you may have associated that with someone who doesn’t like talking to people and who keeps to themselves. However, antisocial psychology is quite different than someone who doesn’t prefer to speak much. In this post, we’ll explain the various aspects of antisocial personality disorder – including the biological, environment, and social factors that can contribute its development – as well as the treatments that can help mitigate symptoms for people living with this disorder.
What Is Antisocial Personality Disorder?
ASPD is a mental health condition identified within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-V). When someone has ASPD, they generally are not concerned with others’ rights; in fact, they may blatantly violate or disregard them. Someone with ASPD may lack morals and go against social norms, show aggression, or even engage in a life of crime by lying, stealing, or being violent.
Sometimes, the person with ASPD may not partake in delinquency, but instead manipulate others for personal gain. They may have a manufactured personality that is charming to some, but their view of others involves no attachment. Eventually, they cannot sustain their relationships.
What Causes ASPD?
How does one become antisocial? Were they born that way, or were they a product of their environment? The answer entails a little bit of both.
If your family member has ASPD, there is a good chance that you or someone close to you may inherit it, as well. While the exact cause is still unknown, one gene that may contribute is a gene that encodes an enzyme known as MAO-A (monoamine oxidase A). This gene helps break down certain feel-good chemicals in the brain; it is associated with aggression, and children who have low levels of MAO-A may develop antisocial causes.
A traumatic event is one significant environmental factor that can contribute to the development of ASPD. Trauma can change the way your brain functions and how hormones are released. Traumatic events, in general, can change a person. Sometimes, depression can result, but other times, it can lead someone to foster a disregard for humanity.
Someone who has experienced head trauma, for example, may develop ASPD. If there is less gray matter in certain parts of the brain, antisocial behavior may develop. There are certain parts of the brain where less activity may lead to an antisocial personality disorder, such as the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex involves planning, consequences, and morality. As you can imagine, damage to this part of the brain could make someone act antisocial.
Someone who is raised in an environment that is not suitable may develop ASPD. If the parents of the child are antisocial, the child may learn those behaviors from them. Childhood experiences like neglect, instability, or exposure to violence and abuse have also been linked to development of ASPD in adulthood.
Sometimes, it is apparent that a child is more at risk for developing ASPD. Conduct disorders – which can manifest into ASPD – involve child behavioral issues before the age of 15 years old. Aggression, manipulation, stealing, vandalism, and fighting may point to conduct disorder in a child; often, punishment and/or consequences will not seem to have an impact on the child’s behavior. Approximately 40% of those with conduct disorder will develop into ASPD as they grow into adults.
What Are The Symptoms Of ASPD?
The symptoms of ASPD can vary in intensity and lead to significant impairment in social, occupational, or interpersonal functioning. ASPD symptoms include, but are not limited to the following:
- Telling lies
- Taking advantage of others for personal gain
- Disrespecting people regardless of status
- Acting with an unwarranted sense of arrogance
- Engage in petty or dangerous crime
- Intimidating others through making threats or violence
- Lacking empathy or remorse
- Behaving in a hostile or aggressive manner
- Lacking impulse control or planning skills
- Taking unnecessary, often dangerous risks
- Engaging in brief, often abusive relationships
There are many similarities between the symptoms of antisocial personality disorder and conduct disorder. In diagnosing conduct disorder, clinicians are assessing for four primary symptoms:
- Hurting animals (i.e., torturing or maiming them)
- Destroying property (i.e., setting fire, spraying graffiti, or breaking things)
- Disobeying rules (i.e., at home, at school, or in other social settings)
- Lying to evade consequences or attain privileges
How Do Doctors Diagnose ASPD?
Diagnosing ASPD can be difficult for a few reasons. First, it is hard for someone who has ASPD to get a diagnosis because of their ego. Many people living with ASPD, and personality disorders in general, believe that there is nothing wrong with them, so they avoid the doctor. As ASPD is an adult disorder, they have the choice to do nothing. Often, they may visit the doctor for an irrelevant reason. They may feel depressed or want to calm down their anxiety and then discover they have ASPD.
Even if they visit a doctor, they may not paint an accurate picture of themselves, glossing over any negative behaviors they exhibit. One way to know if someone has ASPD is to talk to the person’s friends and family. Relationships are an important indicator.
A professional needs to have a full psychological evaluation, medical history, personal history, and the patient needs to meet the majority of criteria in the DSM-V to be diagnosed with ASPD. The doctor will look for behavioral patterns that convey a disregard for human rights through interviews and questionnaires completed by the individual, their family, and their friends. Exposure to risk factors like childhood trauma will also be taken into consideration. A doctor will also want to rule out other mental health conditions with similar symptoms, such as borderline personality disorder or narcissistic personality disorder
Can You Treat ASPD?
There is no cure for antisocial personality disorder. Due to the resistance of the patients with ASPD, treating the disorder is difficult; however, long-term treatment may be effective, and the results may depend on the severity of the disorder, the patient’s ability to listen, and other situations. With therapy and/or medication, a person with ASPD can manage their condition and adjust their behavior in order to reduce causing harm to themselves and those around them.
Therapy For ASPD
Some forms of therapy may be able to help those with ASPD. Talk therapy, where the patient talks about issues they are living with in order to develop a new perspective, can be effective. If the person has anger issues, talk therapy may be able to help them resolve their anger. If they are struggling with addiction, talk therapy can also be useful in that domain.
Talk therapy can help a person with ASPD accept the reality of their disorder and make changes to improve it. However, this all depends on the severity. Sometimes, the person with ASPD may refuse to talk, which means that the treatment will likely not progress.
A therapist who treats ASPD needs to be experienced in the relationship-building department. Therapists who have not worked with someone who has ASPD may not have the patience to carry out treatment. People with ASPD may be more likely to berate their therapist and refuse to listen to them. Even the most well-trained therapist may not have the patience to handle the verbal darts someone with ASPD may throw at them. However, a therapist who has the strongest emotional regulation skills and patience may reach the person with APD, which could in turn pave the way to managing symptoms.
Medication For ASPD
Currently, there are no FDA-approved medications to help treat ASPD as a whole. Sometimes, the patient may receive medications that can treat the symptoms, such as depression or aggression. Those who are prescribed may need to have their symptoms monitored, as substance use disorders are common among people who have ASPD.
For severe cases of ASPD, imprisonment is the only solution. One systematic cross-national review found that ASPD is present in about 47% of people who are currently incarcerated. Keeping people with ASPD away from society is needed if they are continuously breaking the law or unable to function. Other options include community-based programs or rehabilitation settings.
Support For Living With Someone Who Has ASPD
It can be very difficult to care for someone who has antisocial personality disorder. They may repetitively lash out, harm, or withdraw from friends, co-workers, and family members. Understandably, these kinds of hurtful and unpredictable behaviors can lead someone to develop anxiety or depression. If you or someone you love is being physically harmed in any way because of ASPD, it is imperative to get help immediately. You can reach out discreetly to the National Domestic Violence Hotline website or call 800-799-7233.
Online therapy can provide a safe, convenient, and affordable space for someone to process their feelings regarding a relationship with someone who has ASPD. Online counselors can use strategies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help people develop positive coping mechanisms and thought patterns. Internet-based CBT (iCBT) has been shown to be effective in treating depression, anxiety, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and chronic pain, among other mental health conditions.
If discretion is important to you in seeking counseling services, the online platform MyTherapist enables users to schedule appointments at convenient times and from any location with a secure internet connection. This means that you can meet virtually with your therapist while on lunch break at work, on vacation, or even while you’re sitting in the carpool line waiting to pick your kids up from school. If you have a quick question, you can text your therapist directly in the moment for advice.
There has been confusion when it comes to antisocial personality disorder. When many think of this disorder, they may imagine someone who isn’t talkative and keeps to themselves. They may mistake being antisocial with being shy or socially awkward, which can be symptoms of other mental disorders. This can create some stigma around those who are shy.
Instead, an antisocial personality disorder is an even more terrifying disorder to have, the more you think about it. Those who have it can have no regard for others, which they usually cannot control. They are almost relying on instincts, and treatment can be difficult.
If you or someone you know is displaying symptoms of ASPD, it’s best if you seek counseling today. A therapist can teach you different techniques to empathize with others, build patience, and communicate assertively with someone who is attempting to take advantage of you. There is never any shame in asking for help. Reach out to MyTherapist today to start cultivating a safe and comfortable environment.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Prevent Antisocial Personality Disorder?
To answer this question, it’s crucial to understand the difference between conduct disorder and antisocial personality disorder. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the first is considered an earlier stage of ASPD found among youth. Symptoms of conduct disorder include high aggression, “acting out,” and harm toward animals and peers. Many children with conduct disorder also show signs of oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). While these are precursors to ASPD, the disorder cannot be diagnosed in individuals under 18.
By the time a person reaches adulthood, it may be too late to address the disorder symptoms (or they may be misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder or several related disorders). Early intervention can help resolve conduct issues, identify personality disorder symptoms, and potentially prevent ASPD and related disorders from developing; however, with so many genetic, environmental, and cognitive factors at play, more research is needed into how personality disorders and other psychiatric disorders emerge.
What Factors Can Increase The Risk Of Developing Antisocial Personality Disorder?
Children who grow up in abusive or unstable households are more likely to develop antisocial personality disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Common risk factors include witnessing domestic violence perpetuated by one or both parents, abusive and violent parenting, and having an inconsistent home life (such as being bounced among different foster homes). If you or someone you love is being physically harmed in any way because of ASPD, it is imperative to get help immediately. You can reach out discreetly to the National Domestic Violence Hotline website or call 800-799-7233.
However, many children experience these conditions and do not show personality disorder symptoms or develop conduct disorder or antisocial behavior. Moreover, many people with antisocial personality disorder grew up with a stable, loving family.
That’s why, when diagnosing psychiatric disorders, it’s important to look at medical history as well. Severe trauma as a child (such as witnessing extreme violence) and brain injuries can also contribute to antisocial personality disorder and related disorders such as ODD, avoidant personality disorder, and bipolar disorder. These, in turn, increase the risk of eating disorders and narcissism.
What Causes Antisocial Personality Disorder?
According to the Harvard Medical School, people with ASPD and related disorders often had traumatic, conflicted, or abusive childhoods. However, that is hardly the only cause. Research shows that people with ASPD have significant brain differences, especially within the frontal lobe (which governs decision-making), the nucleus accumbent (the center of “reward” processing), and the brain's parts that govern stress.
Altogether, this means that people with antisocial personality disorder are more likely to act impulsively, perceive exaggerated rewards, and experience little response to stress and trauma. This may make them more likely to engage in violent or manipulative behavior and develop eating disorders.
What Are The Symptoms Of Antisocial Personality Disorder?
As the name suggests, people with ASPD (or children with conduct disorder) generally display antisocial behavior. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, other disorder symptoms include a general disregard for morals or social order. They also tend to have low empathy, to the point that they do not acknowledge or identify with others’ feelings. Often, their manner of social interaction seems tactless, callous, and highly negative.
The brains of people with ASPD and related disorders show an enlarged reward system. Often, higher levels of narcissism make them more likely to manipulate others for their personal gain, but they do not have the sense of guilt or concern that others would have. This is unique among personality disorder symptoms, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
People with an antisocial personality disorder also often engage in reckless, violent behaviors and may develop addictions or eating disorders. They tend to have high tempers and a generally hostile demeanor. This may seem like bipolar disorder, but people with antisocial disorder symptoms often don’t have the characteristics or negative beliefs seen in bipolar disorder. Moreover, some can be very charismatic as they learn to manipulate others for their benefit.
In short, it can be challenging to differentiate ASPD from other conditions that cause aggressive, isolating behaviors, such as ODD in children or bipolar disorder, depression, and PTSD in adults. Only a qualified professional can diagnose personality disorders.
Can You Treat Antisocial Personality Disorder?
If caught early, an antisocial personality disorder can be treated with strategic counseling that teaches the patient how to resolve conflicts, modulate their moods, develop empathy, and process their emotions. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, children can be evaluated for ODD, conduct disorder, and ADHD, all of which can be predictors of ASPD.
To treat adults, it is also important to address any comorbid psychiatric disorders, such as depression, substance use, eating disorders, ADHD, or other personality disorders. A stable, supportive environment can also help people with ASPD recover a sense of self and orient themselves within a social framework.
How Can You Cope With Having Antisocial Personality Disorder?
Despite the harmful media portrayals of personality disorder symptoms, many people with ASPD are not violent criminals. Some are not aware of their condition; others experience stigma about it. They know how they “should” feel about their lives and the people in them, and they may be frustrated that they feel so different from other people. Moreover, they may also feel bored and restless (especially if they also have ADHD), making them feel directionless and irritable about life.
People with ASPD (and related disorders such as avoidant personality disorder) often benefit from talk therapy that provides a safe place to express themselves. Highly engaging hobbies, such as sports, art, and puzzles, can also be a great way to help patients with ASPD feel more integrated and connected to the world. This can also reduce personality disorder symptoms such as aggression, manipulation, self-aggrandizement, and related conditions such as eating disorders and other psychiatric disorders.
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