The terms “psychopath” and “sociopath” are used interchangeably and, at times, inappropriately. The two terms are actually part of an antisocial personality disorder and it’s not accurate to name someone with an aloof manner or a selfish streak as either a psychopath or a sociopath. Some parents are concerned that their teenagers might be afflicted with one of these disorders, however. This article will take a look at what the terms actually mean, the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath, the signs that crop up during adolescence, what adulthood could look like for those with this type of antisocial personality disorder, and what to do if you think your teen might be affected.
The Differences Between a Psychopath and a Sociopath
Although someone might use the terms interchangeably, a psychopath is not exactly the same thing as a sociopath.
A sociopath is someone who might have repeated run-ins with the law. They might lie, use physical aggression to get what they want, and have a lack of empathy and a lack of guilt. A sociopath might form emotional bonds with family and close friends, so his or her offenses often won’t be against them (but this is not always true). Instead, strangers and acquaintances will often bear the brunt of a sociopath’s anger, aggression, and deception.
A psychopath, however, has a stronger case of the antisocial personality disorder that causes sociopathic behavior. In this way, a psychopath is always a sociopath, but a sociopath is not always a psychopath. Someone who is a psychopath will often be very charming, which aids his or her deception of others. They do not form emotional bonds with family members, significant others, or close friends, so they have no problem hurting these people who are physically closest to them. Because a psychopath is very charming and does not care who he or she hurts, it’s quite difficult to identify someone as having this condition. A sociopath, however, is less organized and tends to be more outwardly antisocial than charming, so it’s easier to see that there is something not-quite-usual about them.
Signs Present During the Teenage Years
Although sociopathy and psychopathy cannot be diagnosed until someone is 18, one of the hallmarks of both conditions is that they usually begin in childhood or early adolescence. Usually, the symptoms appear before the age of 15, and sometimes they are present early in childhood. Someone who is a sociopath might display the following symptoms:
- frequent lying and deception
- a disregard for their own and others’ safety
- physical aggression
- irresponsibility when it comes to work and family obligations
- a lack of remorse
Someone who is a psychopath might display the following symptoms:
- very charming and often quite likable on the surface
- if someone tries to get close to them, they will frequently be able to see through the facade
- might not form emotional attachments with his or her parents and siblings
- dishonest and manipulative
- no sense of remorse or guilt
- take risks often that could endanger their own lives and the lives of others
What the Future Might Hold for Psychopaths and Sociopaths
Those who have antisocial personality disorders, like psychopathy and sociopathy, often have a hard time living a normal adult life. They might not be able to (or even desire to) find a romantic partner, they often do not make close friends, and holding a job is usually difficult.
A sociopath generally will not go through life committing heinous crimes over and over, simply because they tend to create bonds with others and will become deterred from harming them. A psychopath is not concerned about the suffering of others and is capable of committing terrible crimes such as torture and murder, and they might do it over and over again.
It’s important to note that psychopathy and sociopathy are sometimes seen as a spectrum. Not all psychopaths will become serial killers or commit heinous crimes. Some psychopaths become con artists but do not have violent tendencies. The common factor is a lack of remorse and empathy.
What to Do If You Think Your Teen Might Be a Psychopath or Sociopath
If you begin to suspect that your teen might have psychopathic or sociopathic tendencies, it’s important to get help. Note that an official diagnosis won’t be made until he or she is 18, but it’s important to document what’s been happening to this point and to seek treatment. One reason for this is that while there is no accepted effective treatment for adult psychopaths, children can sometimes be rehabilitated. Group therapy and decompression therapy seem to be the most effective treatments for children and adolescents.
Sociopathy can be treated at times with psychotherapy and, in some cases, medication. One way that therapy can help is to assist the sociopath in seeing how his or her behavior is separate from his or her emotions. This can, in some cases, cause a change in behavior. If your adolescent has sociopathic tendencies, early treatment could be the key to successful rehabilitation. Unfortunately, most people who are sociopaths do not voluntarily go to their therapy sessions. A court order might get your teen to therapy, but it’s not possible to force someone to participate against their will.
If you are concerned about your teen, first seek the advice of his or her primary care physician. In some cases, disorders that cause anger or impulsivity might be to blame for the symptoms that are worrying you. If your teen has ADHD or oppositional defiance disorder, for example, these could lead to aggressive behavior and risk-taking. Your pediatrician can evaluate your teen and refer you to a mental health professional if warranted.
As a parent, one of your worst fears might be that your child will not be able to function in normal society. The sooner you seek help for psychopathic or sociopathic behaviors, the more likely it is that therapy and/or medications can help your child. Keep in mind that these conditions are much more difficult to treat in adults, and do what you can to get your teen the treatment he or she needs to have the best chance at a normal life.