Of the antisocial personality disorder symptoms, the two most significant are the lack of conscience and the sense of superiority. All the others can be thought of as the expression of these two things.
So what does it mean not to have a conscience? People with antisocial personality disorder do not have emotions like ordinary people. They don't experience guilt, remorse, regret, empathy, compassion, love or fear. If there are emotions, they are very shallow and short-lived. They may claim to experience emotions but they are unable to describe the subtleties of their experiences. They may even mix up emotions. They do express anger and I will look at that a bit later.
This lack of affect, or poverty of emotions means that the person never feels bad for anything they do. They don't get upset or distressed. This is almost impossible to grasp for a normal, feeling human being. In fact, it takes a while to get your head around the fact that there are people who don't have emotions.
(People with antisocial personality disorder are often known as psychopaths or sociopaths so I will use those terms interchangeably from now on. Some people do differentiate between these two terms but for the purposes of this article I will not be going into that.)
So if they never feel bad, what can they do? Well, they can do anything they like because there is no 'inner policeman' controlling them. They can emotionally, physically or sexually abuse another person, they can kill, they can destroy a person's reputation or their life. They can rob, steal, lie, con, defraud and generally take advantage of others any way they want to, and they don't feel the least bit guilty or remorseful about it.
A question often asked is whether they know the difference between right and wrong and the answer is yes. They do know the difference, they just don't care! They don't care about their victim and they don't care about the consequences. When this antisocial personality disorder symptom was first noticed, it was thought that the person didn't actually learn from their 'mistakes'. This explained how the person would continually abuse others even if they got into trouble for it, or they continued to lie even when they were caught out in lies. But it turns out that they literally don't care about the consequences. They are more interested in the instant gratification than anything else.
Now, having said that, many psychopaths or sociopaths say that they don't kill because they don't want to lose their freedom by being sent to jail. They admit that they have thought about it but they restrain themselves. In this case they are obviously considering the consequences but it also shows that they do know the difference between right and wrong and they understand what it is to break the law. This doesn't mean that they don't want to break any laws because many people with antisocial personality disorder often work just on the very edge of 'legal'.
In most countries psychopaths and sociopaths are held responsible for their actions unlike, for example, a schizophrenic who may have broken the law because of a voice in their head telling them to do it. Antisocial personality disorder is not considered a mental illness.
The other of the antisocial personality disorder symptoms that is significant is the sense of superiority, the sense of entitlement that the psychopaths have. They believe that they are superior to others, one of the reasons being that they are not limited by emotions! They see the people around them going through various emotions and experiences that they themselves do not have. The psychopaths often consider that emotions are a weakness that other people suffer from and they use this weakness for their own advantage. Even though they don't have emotions themselves they can be very good at manipulating the emotions of the people around them.
The sense of entitlement means that the psychopath thinks that he or she deserves to be treated as special and he or she should have whatever they want, whether it's privileges, money, sex, material goods or respect. And they don't care what it costs others to give it to them. Nor do they ever have enough, they always want more. So it doesn't matter how much they get or how hard you try and please them, it's never quite enough.
So let's look at the other antisocial personality disorder symptoms that occur as a combination of the above two...
Obviously the above antisocial personality disorder symptoms have profound effects on how a psychopath lives their life. No shame or embarrassment means that when they try things out for the first time, they can be very good at them. This allows them to put on a very good act, a show, for those around them. They will pretend to be friendly, clever, helpful, charming and even though it might be too perfect, or there may be something slightly off about it, they fool many people.
They talk about lots of subjects as if they are experts, throwing in the occasional jargon here and there. But if you listen closely the use of the jargon is often not quite right and if you ask detailed questions, they deflect and don't answer because they don't actually know. They may give a response that seems sensible but it won't be an answer to the question asked.
When meeting a potential romantic partner for the first time they quickly size up the target and present themselves as the perfect partner, offering just what the victim needs in that moment. They seem not to be attached to a particular identity so they can assume a particular identity whenever they want to. They use this ability to capture the attention and the hearts of potential victims in romantic situations and literally sweep people off their feet very quickly. They use tactics to manipulate the emotions of their victims and they can make a very strong first impression on people. This is important because it's difficult to change such things later, even when the psychopath is abusive.
This is one of the most 'influential' of the antisocial personality disorder symptoms. The psychopaths lie a lot, they lie when it may even be better for them to tell the truth and they lie even more when they are caught out in lies! One psychopath remarked that he lies as often as he breathes...
This is significant because many people, not knowing what the antisocial personality disorder symptoms are, don't suspect that there are people who lie like this and who are very, very good at lying. The psychopath doesn’t have the usual 'tells' when lying such as a change in volume or tone of voice, the looking away, flushing of cheeks and so on. They may have other signs but unless a person is specifically looking for a tell, it may not be obvious.
So what happens is that at the start of a relationship with a sociopath, the victim believes what they are told and the relationship is based on this communication. The result is that the relationship is based on lies and deceit into which the victim is drawn deeper and deeper over time. The victim may not be aware of the lies for a long time and some of the lies are so big that it's very difficult for the victim to come to terms with the idea that what they believe is actually a lie. For example, the victim may have been led to believe that the psychopath loved them. The psychopath is incapable of love as the term 'love' is normally used but the victim's whole life has been organized around this lie and, later, it's very difficult for the victim to accept this and reorganize their thinking.
The lies can be unverifiable, such as lies about the psychopath's past where there is no way to check up on anything the psychopath claims. Sometimes the psychopath is caught out because of a store receipt, or messages on a phone or because he or she flat out contradicts themselves.
Something very significant to watch out for is the lie when the psychopath or sociopath says one thing and does another. This may seem like it should be very clear, but if you are in a relationship with a psychopath, it can be very difficult to recognize. For example the psychopathic husband says to his wife that they can go and visit her parents soon. But when the time comes, he has to work, so the trip is put off. At the next arranged time for the trip, there is no money for travel. The trip is canceled again. The wife may believe that the husband really wants to go and visit because he keeps saying so. However the trip never actually materializes. The wife, under his influence, believes his excuses are valid and so can continue to think that he wants to see her parents. She does not recognize that he is saying one thing and doing another.
The psychopath may mix lies, exaggerations and truths so that it is often extremely difficult or even impossible to distinguish which is which.
The victims of a psychopath have been tricked and deceived into thinking that the psychopath is a wonderful person. One psychopath pointed out that a bully gets power by making enemies, a psychopath gets power through making friends. (This doesn't mean that a psychopath cannot be a bully, too! Remember it's the thought of a psychopath!)
The victims don't see (initially, at least) that the psychopath is influencing their emotions, their thinking, their decision making and their behaviors. All these changes add up to a new personality for the victim. In the same way that when someone joins a cult they have a cult personality imposed on them, with new ways of thinking and acting, a person in an intimate relationship with a psychopath also has a new, but false, personality imposed on them. This false personality, or pseudopersonality, is programmed to put the manipulator first, to believe the manipulator and to take care of the needs and wants of the psychopath. You can read more about how this happens in this article on the signs of verbal abuse.
This pseudopersonality is dependent on the psychopath and is very heavily controlled by the psychopath. The perception of reality is distorted, the information available is distorted and the thinking is distorted. These things mean that it is very difficult for the victim to recognize what is going on and the see that the psychopath is taking advantage of them. This is why it's so difficult for the victim to grasp that there is a difference between what the manipulator says and what they do. It may be glaringly obvious to people outside the situation but the victim is, for all intents and purposes, blind to it.
But it's not just in intimate relationships that this occurs. I have mentioned cults already and it also happens in families, in work situations and in social situations.
Another of the antisocial personality disorder symptoms is the desire to control and dominate. This goes some way to understanding another of the antisocial personality disorder symptoms, that of paranoia. The psychopath knows what it is to control and influence others but doesn't want anyone doing it to them. That would be a sign of weakness! So they are constantly on the lookout for anyone that may try to influence them and they have to dominate anyone around them first in case someone tries to get the upper hand. This will make them suspicious and often very competitive. They have to be the best. They have the best stories, the best things, the best abilities, the best acquaintances and on and on...
Anger is one of the interesting antisocial personality disorder symptoms for several reasons. Firstly, it is one of the few emotions that they do express that does not seem like it is feigned (Many people, who are not manipulated by the psychopath, say that the psychopath's expression of emotions seems like a performance and that it is quite superficial. Those who are manipulated, whose with a pseudopersonality, typically do believe that the psychopath expresses real emotions).
However, the psychopaths often admit that they can turn the anger on when they need to. Therefore it seems that they use it to control and dominate by creating fear in those around them. Not just fear while they are angry, but they also make the victims afraid that the psychopath may get angry and in this way the victims modify their behavior to avoid upsetting the psychopath.
The anger is often explosive, very intense and seemingly occurs for no logical reason, according to the victims. But if you examine the situations, the psychopath often erupts when he or she perceives a threat to their dominance. Notice it is that the psychopath or sociopath 'perceives' a threat. The speaker may have been talking with no consideration of power or control, but if the psychopath hears something that they consider a threat to their position of power, they may 'lose it' just to let the other person know who is in charge.
The other thing about their angry raging is that the anger disappears as quickly as it occurred. When normal, feeling people get angry, the surge of hormones and chemicals means that they are typically angry for some time after the event and it takes a bit for their systems to settle down. Not so with the sociopaths. They can be raging one moment and pick up their mobile phone or answer the door and speak and act as if absolutely nothing out of the ordinary was going on just the moment before. This can be very disconcerting and baffling for the victims, leaving them wondering how someone can be so vicious one moment and so calm and collected the next.
The victim is in emotional turmoil for some time after being on the receiving end of the onslaught and the sociopath can act almost instantaneously as if everything was normal. Then, of course, the sociopath criticizes the victim for being emotionally over-sensitive or ruled by their emotions. This is one of the signs of emotional abuse.
Lack of responsibility is another of the prevalent antisocial personality disorder symptoms and it also shows up in multiple ways. The psychopath is never responsible for anything that goes wrong. First of all, they consider themselves so superior that whatever they do or whatever decision they make (their decisions are not made emotionally so they are perfect) must be right. If it doesn't work out, then it is obviously the fault of some inferior fool who doesn't understand how the world works. This is where their ability to distort information and lie come in handy for them because it allows them to generate an infinite number of excuses, no matter how implausible, for why it's not their fault. They put the blame squarely on others.
They do this so often and so forcefully that often the victim ends up believing that it really is their fault that the psychopath is not successful. This pattern of thinking is very deeply ingrained and it takes some time to undo when a person is recovering from a psychopathic relationship.
The lack of responsibility also shows up in their not keeping their word. They have no sense of obligation in keeping their promises, sometimes they will, sometimes they won't. It doesn't matter if the promise is something big or something small, they may or may keep it. Hervey Cleckley says they are inconsistent in their inconsistency in this regard.
The psychopaths also don’t accept that the normal rules of society apply to them (that's why it's antisocial personality disorder). Remember that superiority thing? Nobody is going to tell them what to do! They typically live by their own rules. They may not even give much importance to court orders. Even with a restraining order against them they will try and get back into the house, even if it's just to prove to themselves that they can do it! Or they pay child support but they delay payments, or pay it in 2 or 3 installments to upset their ex-partner and such things. Many a psychopath has been court ordered to pay their victims back and somehow manage to not do it. And, of course, there are lots of stories of a psychopath being released from jail and going straight back to doing the illegal behavior all over again and ending up in jail once more.
Do psychopaths know the difference between right and wrong?
The psychopath may be very quiet about his or her past. They will have a variety of ways of redirecting attention away from their previous history and basically they don't want people knowing what went on, especially if it involves cruelty to animals or siblings, periods in jail or accusations of spousal abuse.
Alternatively they can be very vocal about their past, about how they have suffered at the hands of abusive parents and abusive partners afterwards. This is called the 'pity play'. They know that if they can elicit pity from another human, a social creature, they can more easily influence them. Another angle they may use is that they have had a very difficult life until discovering some 'secret' that transformed their lives and that now they are willing to share with others, for a price, of course!
Remember that the person with an antisocial personality disorder is a practiced liar and you cannot trust a word out of their mouths unless you have third party evidence that what they say is true. For example, a history of being bullied by a brother may have a grain of truth in it. There was bullying but it's the not the brother who was doing the bullying but the person you are listening to. They can be very convincing when they tell such tales.
Psychopaths and sociopaths often have great plans for things they are going to do. In fact, there are lots of different things they are planning to do. And they are all going to be spectacular. And earn lots of money. And give them fame and success.
And somehow these plans never get off the ground. Or they invest a lot of money (usually other people's money) and it all goes south. There are some who make lots of money from their schemes and it often turns out that it was done by conning, defrauding, tricking and bullying people out of their hard earned cash. Remember that they are not averse to breaking laws.
Of course there are those psychopaths who set out to do things over the long term and actually do get there. However, these tend to be very much in the minority and it's very likely that they have used coercion, emotional blackmail, and underhand tactics to get where they want to be.
While we are on the topic of the psychopath having ideas about many different business projects, it's also very common that they are involved in extramarital affairs, too, especially the ones who have an interest in sex (not all of them do). And for the criminals, its typical that they are not just involved in one area but in many. For example, they are not only car thieves, or just drug dealers, they are often involved in many different illegal areas. So one psychopath may steal cars, deal drugs and also sell stolen credit cards, and they are also typically very proud of their multiple talents!
The lack of emotions shows up in abusive relationships as a coldness, a lack of consideration for the wants, feelings and desires of others and cruelty and callousness in being able to say the most hurtful things to their partner.
Victims often decide that the partner has difficulty expressing emotions as a way to explain to themselves their partner's coldness. They simply don't know that there are people who don't have normal emotions. Other justifications for the psychopath's nature include Asperger's syndrome, bipolar disorder, autism and depression. Sometimes the psychopath pretends that they are suffering from one or other of these things and it is used as an excuse, "I have this problem and you just have to accept me the way I am." This obviously allows them to get away with all sorts of abuses, sometimes for many years.
There is a huge power imbalance in the relationships with the victim often being no better than a slave, although because of the pseudopersonality the victim may not recognize the situation as such. An abusive husband or an abusive wife can control every aspect of the spouse's life including finances, diet, clothes, hair styles, how time is spent, with whom, how much sleep is allowed, what reading material or TV programs are permitted and how leisure time is spent, if there is any!
If you are reading about the antisocial personality disorder symptoms because you think you may be involved with a person of this nature, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. The first is that if you have a pseudopersonality as mentioned above, it may actually be very difficult for you to recognize what is going on. You may not even know you have a pseudopersonality!
I know this may sound strange to someone who has not experienced this situation but that's the way it is for a person who has been manipulated and mind controlled by another. With this in mind, it's often very useful to ask a trusted friend (not the possible psychopath or abuser!) to sit down with you and go through the lists because very often a friend or family member will be much more able to see what is going on, especially if they have not been fooled by the psychopath.
The second thing is that a person may investigate the antisocial personality disorder symptoms and read about the irresponsibility, the lack of conscience, the big ego and not be able to say if they are in play or not. The difficulty is that you cannot directly measure these things. There is no way to calculate conscience or ego or responsibility directly.
The only way to measure human activity is by looking at behaviors because these are not subjective, as such. Anyone can see that another person is shouting, for example, or banging doors, or asking for receipts in order to check how much was spent. This is evidence that is verifiable by third parties. These things can be recorded in audio or video and an outsider can confirm that the activities did happen. I include speech acts, or things that are actually said, as behaviors, again because it can be recorded and verified. By contrast you cannot record 'conscience' or 'responsibility'.
If you want to know if you are in an abusive situation, it's much more useful to look at a list of abusive behaviors and check if there are signs of mental abuse occurring in your particular case or not. But again, even this is not foolproof, because the pseudopersonality may not be able to recognize that some of the signs are actually present. This may occur because the manipulator often redefines what they are doing. For example, a victim may believe that it makes sense that the manipulator takes care of the finances because the manipulator has said that the victim is not good with money and, besides, the manipulator is better at mathematics. Believing these things to be true hides from the victim the fact that the psychopath is actually controlling them financially.
You can read more about antisocial personality disorder symptoms as described by Robert Hare here and his Psychopathy Checklist here.
You can read here about dealing with a sociopath, marriage to a sociopath and how to divorce a sociopath...
Return from Antisocial Personality Disorder Symptoms to Definition Of Psychopath
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