The Psychopath, Sociopath, and Antisocial


Personality Disorders Revisited" (450 pages e-book) - click HERE to purchase!

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

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Roots of the Disorder

Are the psychopath, sociopath, and someone with Antisocial Personality Disorder one and the same? The DSM says "yes". Scholars such as Robert Hare and Theodore Millon beg to differ. The psychopath has antisocial traits for sure but they are coupled with and enhanced by callousness, ruthlessness, extreme lack of empathy, deficient impulse control, deceitfulness, and sadism.

Like other personality disorders, psychopathy becomes evident in early adolescence and is considered to be chronic. But unlike most other personality disorders, it is frequently ameliorated with age and tends to disappear altogether in by the fourth or fifth decade of life. This is because criminal behavior and substance abuse are both determinants of the disorders and behaviors more typical of young adults.

Psychopathy may be hereditary. The psychopath's immediate family usually suffer from a variety of personality disorders.

Cultural and Social Considerations

Antisocial Personality Disorder is a controversial mental health diagnosis. The psychopath refuses to conform to social norms and obey the law. He often inflicts pain and damage on his victims. But does that make this pattern of conduct a mental illness? The psychopath has no conscience or empathy. But is this necessarily pathological? Culture-bound diagnoses are often abused as tools of social control. They allow the establishment, ruling elites, and groups with vested interests to label and restrain dissidents and troublemakers. Such diagnoses are frequently employed by totalitarian states to harness or even eliminate eccentrics, criminals, and deviants.

Moreover, certain social contexts or activities and even some technologies foster and engender antisocial behaviors. Consider the common practice of abstraction: abstract, intangible money, represented as computer bits, seems to encourage criminal financial malfeasance. The culprits act as though the money were not “real”. Similarly, aggressive behavior is far easier and more common online, where people are reduced to mere avatars and handles, than it is offline.

(continued below)

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Characteristics and Traits

Like narcissists, psychopaths lack empathy and regard other people as mere instruments of gratification and utility or as objects to be manipulated. Psychopaths and narcissists have no problem to grasp ideas and to formulate choices, needs, preferences, courses of action, and priorities. But they are shocked when other people do the very same.

Most people accept that others have rights and obligations. The psychopath rejects this quid pro quo. As far as he is concerned, only might is right. People have no rights and he, the psychopath, has no obligations that derive from the "social contract". The psychopath holds himself to be above conventional morality and the law. The psychopath cannot delay gratification. He wants everything and wants it now. His whims, urges, catering to his needs, and the satisfaction of his drives take precedence over the needs, preferences, and emotions of even his nearest and dearest.

Consequently, psychopaths feel no remorse when they hurt or defraud others. They don't possess even the most rudimentary conscience. They rationalize their (often criminal) behavior and intellectualize it. Psychopaths fall prey to their own primitive defense mechanisms (such as narcissism, splitting, and projection). The psychopath firmly believes that the world is a hostile, merciless place, prone to the survival of the fittest and that people are either "all good" or "all evil". The psychopath projects his own vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and shortcomings unto others and forces them to behave the way he expects them to (this defense mechanism is known as "projective identification"). Like narcissists, psychopaths are abusively exploitative and incapable of true love or intimacy.

(continued below)

This article appears in my book "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"

Click HERE to buy the print edition from Amazon (click HERE to buy a copy dedicated by the author)

Click HERE to buy the print edition from Barnes and Noble

Click HERE to buy the print edition from the publisher and receive a BONUS PACK

Click HERE to buy electronic books (e-books) and video lectures (DVDs) about narcissists, psychopaths, and abuse in relationships

Click HERE to buy the ENTIRE SERIES of sixteen electronic books (e-books) about narcissists, psychopaths, and abuse in relationships




Follow me on Twitter, Facebook (my personal page or the book’s), YouTube



Narcissistic psychopath are particularly ill-suited to participate in the give and take of civilized society. Many of them are misfits or criminals. White collar psychopaths are likely to be deceitful and engage in rampant identity theft, the use of aliases, constant lying, fraud, and con-artistry for gain or pleasure.

Psychopaths are irresponsible and unreliable. They do not honor contracts, undertakings, and obligations. They are unstable and unpredictable and rarely hold a job for long, repay their debts, or maintain long-term intimate relationships.

Psychopaths are vindictive and hold grudges. They never regret or forget a thing. They are driven, and dangerous.

I wrote this in the Open Site Encyclopedia:

"Always in conflict with authority and frequently on the run, psychopaths possess a limited time horizon and seldom make medium or long term plans. They are impulsive and reckless, aggressive, violent, irritable, and, sometimes, the captives of magical thinking, believing themselves to be immune to the consequences of their own actions.

Thus, psychopaths often end up in jail, having repeatedly flouted social norms and codified laws. Partly to avoid this fate and evade the law and partly to extract material benefits from unsuspecting victims, psychopaths habitually lie, steal others' identities, deceive, use aliases, and con for "personal profit or pleasure" as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual puts it."

The Anxious Psychopath

Psychopaths are said to be fearless and sang-froid. Their pain tolerance is very high. Still, contrary to popular perceptions and psychiatric orthodoxy, some psychopaths are actually anxious and fearful. Their psychopathy is a defense against an underlying and all-pervasive anxiety, either hereditary, or brought on by early childhood abuse.

Psychopaths nurture and cultivate an image of themselves as free-spirited, daring, non-conformist geniuses who are grievously misunderstood and mistreated by Lilliputian society and its mindless cohorts.

This grandiose and romantic self-narrative legitimizes three classes of antisocial behaviors:


In your face, devil may care, f*ck it all, f*ck you all, I need no one, obey no one, make my own rules, take no shit from anyone, happy go lucky, there's no tomorrow, carpe diem kind of guy (or, more rarely, gal).  

Passive-aggression (Negativism)

I am going to undermine and sabotage your hopes, expectations, and demands because you are mistreating and disrespecting me. I am going to act stupid (pseudo-stupidity), procrastinate, evade, forget, neglect, and be ornery. This is your punishment for failing to realize my innate superiority and do it justice.


“You won't tell me what to do or how to behave or what to choose or decide. You will not restrict my freedom to say what I please and act as I see fit. I will do exactly the opposite of what you tell me to do (contrarianism). By trying to control me, my space, my time, my thought processes, my opinions, choices, speech, or actions - you make me hate you and be furious at you. So, you have only yourself to blame if I abuse and traumatize you” (alloplastic defenses).  

Total reactance characterizes Psychopaths, Borderlines, trauma victims (PTSD and CPTSD), and people with mood disorders and impulse control issues. They escalate every conflict, however minor or imaginary, to the level of nuclear, apocalyptic, all-annihilating warfare and make disproportionate use of every weapon in their arsenal simultaneously. Defiance, posturing, hostility, aggression, recklessness, and abuse are part and parcel of these recurrent pitched battles with one and sundry: all bridges are burnt and relationships are shattered hurtfully and irrevocably.

In contrast, the reactions of healthy people are differential, in kind, and proportional, weighing the consequences and correcting course every step of the confrontation.

Psychopaths and narcissists rationalize their extreme misconduct in order to reduce dissonance; ameliorate anxiety; bury incipient, dimly felt stirrings of guilt; and legitimize such misbehaviours in the future. Healthy people also rationalize but usually only in order to account for an irrational or ill-conceived decision or choice.

Narcopaths create artificial moral hierarchies or exclude certain activities from the ethical or social calculus. For instance: "Kissing is not as serious as having sex; killing Jews is OK because they are evil; I cheated on my husband but I didn't climax, so it's not as sinful." This is cognitive dissonance resolved via reframing.

Reframing involves a group of defense mechanisms, the most notable of which is rationalization. People with cluster B personality disorders use these defense mechanisms to justify even the most extreme misbehavior or to render it more acceptable and "just". Examples: "I stole the money but I lost it; I fucked my husband's best friend but I did not enjoy it; I had to do it, my wife left me no choice; a blowjob is not as sinful as fucking; I cheated with him only once, I will never see him again, what's the big deal; I was drunk, I didn't know what I was doing".

As opposed to healthy people, rationalization in narcopaths is coupled with alloplastic defneses (blaming others for one's egregious violations) and an external locus of control: It just happened; I was made to do it; the circumstances were unique; I was not myself (on auto-pilot). What narcopaths call "guilt" is not what people experience typically. It is more basic - atavistic and animalistic - and less social. Their "guilt" has to do with the FEAR of getting caught, harming themselves and losing "loved" ones (read: sources of narcissistic supply and services).

Is He a Psychopath? Four Red Flags

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1.     Psychopaths are “too good to be true”. They besiege their interlocutors with a relentless charm offensive, flaunting their accomplishments, skills, talents, brilliance, acuity, and good fortune.

2.     Information asymmetry: The psychopath may flood you with unwanted and unwarranted information – and disinformation - about himself while conspicuously being incurious about you. Alternatively, he keeps mum about his life while intrusively “milking” you for the most intimate details of yours.

3.     Belaboured normalcy and effortless deviance: Actions that are reflexive, or effortless with normal, healthy people require an inordinate amount of premeditation, concentration, planning, and laborious investment by the psychopath. Acts that normal folk would find abhorrent come naturally and effortlessly to the psychopath.

4.     Alloplastic Defenses: The psychopath blames others, the authorities, institutions, or the world at large for his failures, defeats, and mishaps. It is never his fault. He has an external locus of control: his life is ruled from the outside, the collected sad outcomes of injustice, discrimination, and conspiracy.

Conduct Disorder

Children and adolescents with conduct disorder are budding psychopaths. They repeatedly and deliberately (and joyfully) violate the rights of others and breach age-appropriate social norms and rules. Some of them gleefully hurt and torture people or, more frequently, animals. Others damage property. Yet others habitually deceive, lie, and steal. These behaviors inevitably render them socially, occupationally, and academically dysfunctional. They are poor performers at home, in school, and in the community. As such adolescents grow up, and beyond the age of 18, the diagnosis automatically changes from Conduct Disorder to the Antisocial Personality Disorder.

Children with Conduct Disorder are in denial. They tend to minimize their problems and blame others for their misbehavior and failures. This shifting of guilt justifies, as far as they are concerned, their invariably and pervasively aggressive, bullying, intimidating, and menacing gestures and tantrums. Adolescents with Conduct Disorder are often embroiled in fights, both verbal and physical. They frequently use weapons, purchased or improvised (e.g., broken glass) and they are cruel. Many underage muggers, extortionists, purse-snatchers, rapists, robbers, shoplifters, burglars, arsonists, vandals, and animal torturers are diagnosed with Conduct Disorder.

Conduct Disorder comes in many shapes and forms. Some adolescents are "cerebral" rather than physical. These are likely to act as con-artists, lie their way out of awkward situations, swindle everyone, their parents and teachers included, and forge documents to erase debts or obtain material benefits.

Conduct-disordered children and adolescent find it difficult to abide by any rules and to honor agreements. They regard societal norms as onerous impositions. They stay late at night, run from home, are truant from school, or absent from work without good cause. Some adolescents with Conduct Disorder have been also diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder and at least one personality disorder.

Read Notes from the therapy of a Psychopathic Patient

Read Narcissist vs. Psychopath

Psychopaths in Films

In the film "The Irishman" (and in history), Jimmy Hoffa, the powerful boss of the Teamsters Union, disrespected, rebuffed, and challenged on multiple issues and occasions, some of the most lethal figures in the mob.

He must have known it would cost him his life. Why did he make this
suicidal choice?

Well, to start with, better dead than a nobody. Just out of a humiliating stint in prison, with his erstwhile world in shambles, his misbehavior buttressed his compensatory grandiose omnipotence (I am untouchable and they are in my debt). A matter of honor and self- respect, as he would have put it.

Such defiance is one of the hallmarks of psychopathy and it subsumes the thrill inherent in life-threatening, adrenaline junkie risk-taking. The drama of it all.

But what about activists who risk their freedom and sometimes lives in authoritarian regimes? Whistleblowers like Assange and Snowden? They are rebellious. But are they in effect sublimated defiant psychopaths who despise rules, institutions, and the authorities? I believe so: they are examples of how even narcissism and anti-social tendencies can be harnessed to good use.




The Rashomon Effect is named after a Kurosawa 1950 film in which multiple witnesses to a rape provide diametrically opposed descriptions as to the sequence of events.

The Rashomon effect is the reason we get obsessed with and fixated on traumas, we ruminate ceaselessly and have intrusive thoughts, revisiting the pain and hurt time and again, with no end in sight, picking at scabs and wounds. In a desperate attempt to make sense of the traumatizing person or behavior or period, to gain emotional relief and liberating insight, the victim keeps revisiting the scene, deconstructing, reframing, and reconstructing it, rendering it in the process a kaleidoscope of mutually exclusive and conflicting narratives.

Abusers rarely provide closure and are deceitful, seeking to further the harm they had already caused by sowing uncertainty with counterfactual statements and lies. They gaslight and manipulate and drive the injured party deeper into the "what if or if only" rabbit hole of self-doubt, guilt, and shame, thereby regaining control over her and ascertaining outcomes beneficial to themselves.


The spectacular Russian film, "Coma", poses a fascinating dilemma. A mad medical scientist induces a vegetative state in subjects, thereby transporting them into a shared self-generated fantasy universe where they are happy (when they are not being chased by black entities engendered by the intrusion of technologies on their habitat).

As the Evil Genius points out: if you experience contentment,
does it matter if it is real? And what is reality anyhow? If our minds accept a delusion, hallucination, fantasy, or illusion as authentic and objective - does it not make it so (especially if it is shared by many)? Is it better to be a miserable, lonely, downtrodden failure in reality than a successful creative architect in a dreamworld? If we can avoid life's abundant losses and despondence, don't we have a moral obligation to do so by any and all means possible?

Moreover: do we possess the right to impose happiness on people unbeknownst to them or against their will? Is firewalling them from reality by disabling their brains one step too far? Do we need their consent to remove them from harm's way and afford them the succor and joy that they deserve? If the only outlet to one's creativity is out of this world, should one not opt out of one kind of existence and transition to another?

And in which sense is a life confined to the mind and its internal objects less real than being embedded in a physical environment? Is the good doctor good - or is he a deranged and malevolent villain?

The film leaves these questions unanswered, as it should. As we migrate deeper into cyberspace - the postmodern equivalent of medieval Heaven - these conundrums will become ubiquitous and the lines of demarcation between virtual and actual more fuzzy. Witness the fact that several TV personalities now occupy elected high offices, having played the very same roles on the small screen. History as reality TV is already here.


Joker is not a psychopath or a narcissist. He suffers from major depression coupled with a psychotic disorder (aka paranoia-schizophrenia). His psychosis is grandiose and violent in nature, a pretty common comorbidity.

Few mentally ill patients go on murder sprees, but it is not unheard of. Hence the ubiquity and overpopulation of mental health wings in prisons the world over.

How do we know his diagnoses?

1. He is on a regime of multiple medications. Personality disorders are not mental illnesses and are not treated psychopharmacologically. The standard treatment for both mood and psychotic disorders involves potent drugs.

2. Joker is confined to the psychiatric ward of a prison. In the USA, no narcissist or psychopath can claim diminished capacity under the NRGI defense (Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity) which is the only way to get yourself hospitalized rather than incarcerated.

3. Joker has inappropriate affect, one of the signs of schizophrenia: he expresses hyperbolic emotions which are utterly wrong given the circumstances.

His laughter, though, is owing to a neurological disorder (pseudobulbar affect or PBA, often the sad lifelong outcome of brain trauma in childhood of of Bipolar Disorder)

4. Joker suffers from grandiose and violent delusions, including erotomania; referential ideation; disorganized thinking, behavior, and speech; rigid or diminished emotional expression (face like a mask); hallucinations; psychomotor agitation bordering on catatonia; and an impaired reality test (as evidenced in his conversations with his psychiatrist). These are all major signs of schizophrenia or at the very least of schizoaffective and schizotypal personality structures.

5. Like most narcissists and psychopaths, Joker is tormented by persecutory delusions (paranoid ideation). But, unlike in these two personality disorders, he is highly suicidal.



Jude Law as the Young Pope in this clip at least is not a narcissist, but a psychopath. An avalanche of misinformation online by self-styled "experts" muddied the waters and the differential diagnoses between these two disorders.

Though both types are possessed only of cold empathy, the psychopath is goal-oriented: money, sex, power, social positioning, celebrity. He is relentless, scheming, calculated, ruthless, and callous in his pursuit of his agenda. In contrast, the narcissist wants only one thing: narcissistic supply to buttress the grandiose fantasies that underlie his false self. Psychopaths do not fantasize - they act.

The narcissist is pro-social: he works with others because people are the only sources of narcissistic supply. The psychopath is anti-social: his world is a Darwinian, dog eat dog, zero sum game (he wins, everyone else loses)

Psychopaths do not hesitate to break the law: many of them are career criminals. Narcissists work within social institutions and subvert them, leverage existing laws in their favor, and create networks of affiliated patronage.

Psychopaths like to inflict gratuitous pain and discomfort. They revel in other people's pain and embarrassment, even find these hilarious. Not so narcissists who cause harm off-handedly and only if they have to.

As opposed to most narcissists, psychopaths are either unable or unwilling to control their impulses or to delay gratification. They use their rage to control people and manipulate them into submission.

Psychopaths are far less able to form interpersonal relationships, even the twisted and tragic relationships that are the staple of the narcissist. They are mostly lone wolves.


Many additional Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Personality Disorders - click HERE!

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