Sociopathy, Antisocial Behaviours & Breaking Social Norms

Amounting to about 2% of the population, it’s not that unlikely to be friends with a sociopath. They may be your colleague, flatmate, or a relative. How to spot sociopathic behaviours and what should you do about it? What is the difference between psychopathy and sociopathy? Is there any silver lining to sociopathy and antisocial behaviours?

Many people toss around words such a “psycho” as a petty insult, yet a plethora of them have no understanding of the psychological aspect of sociopathy. Two in a hundred people are sociopaths, often being unaware of it. You pass them by on the street and shake hands with them (or at least fistbomb, giving the novel, post-pandemic greeting etiquette). [1]

Sociopaths Versus Psychopaths

The distinction between sociopaths and psychopaths is a technical one, although the debate on clear-cut definitions is still unsettled and some use these terms as synonyms. Nevertheless, there are a few major distinctions that psychologists agree upon. [2]

First of all, the causes of these two conditions are different. Psychopathy is said to be genetic, while the development of Antisocial Personality Disorder or ASPD – sociopathy – is caused by environmental factors. Hence, one can become a sociopath due to a trauma or other variables from one’s immediate environment. Sociopathy develops roughly in the time frame between childhood and early adulthood, so between 8 and 18 years of age. [3]

Though both conditions aren’t considered desirable, psychopathy is, in a way, an extreme case of sociopathy. Psychopaths lack empathy, so the ability to recognize other people’s emotions. As a result, it’s highly unlikely for them to establish any long-lasting relationships, both platonic friendships and amorous relations. Through their behaviour, they often engage in IPV – intimate partner violence – on physical or mental levels. [4]

Aggression is another yardstick. People with psychopathy tend to turn to crime and other aggressive behaviours more often than sociopaths. There are twice as many sociopaths as there are psychopaths, the latter accounting for approximately 1% of the general population. [5, 6]

When it comes to other typical psychopathic behaviors, they overlap with the condition of sociopaths, which is why the terms are occasionally used interchangeably in common speech. [7]

Sociopathic Behaviours

Reading the following paragraphs, the discussed behaviours and tendencies may ring a bell in your head, reminding you of a person you know. No surprise, since sociopathy has grown to become, to some extent, normalized in nowadays’ society, certain attitudes even being favoured in the capitalistic work space of the West.

Megalomania and a grandiose image of the self is a common thing among sociopaths. Their self-esteem is outstandingly high, often regardless of their wealth, social status, or reputation. In one way or another, they see themselves as better than most people, which makes ASPD similar in a variety of symptoms with NPD, or Narcissistic Personality Disorder. There are, however, certain differences that keep the two conditions separate. [8]

Antisocial behaviour is commonly associated with unfriendliness. Technically speaking, however, being antisocial doesn’t mean standing aloof during parties and staying quiet at a night out. Quite contrarily, sociopaths may even be the soul of a social gathering, hiding their utter lack of conscience behind a charming face.

The lack of understanding of social constructs and morality is the core of being antisocial. Sociopaths fail to comprehend social implications in all forms. They reject authority, break the law, and refuse to “wear masks” in various situations. Whether they chat with a tramp on the street or with Queen Elisabeth II, sociopaths would speak, clothe, and behave in the same way, treating every person likewise irrespective of their status whatsoever. [9]

Coming back to sociopaths’ relationships and interactions with people, they lean towards manipulative behaviour and deceit. Using people for their own purpose can be pure fun to them. Another characteristic is that they don’t feel remorse after such woeful deeds as tricking people or stealing a bike. It’s not uncommon for sociopaths to find explanations and excuses for their actions in their egoistic desires and needs, which they clearly see as superior.

Manipulation leads to further trickster behaviours. Though not always, sociopaths find telling the truth quite troublesome, especially when it doesn’t align with their goals. Compulsive lying is hence another trait that could be associated with antisocial tendencies of sociopaths.

Regretfully or not, people with this condition feel comfortable not only with themselves, but also in their natural habitat – parliament chambers, courtrooms, or business offices.

Sociopaths in Society

The attitude of a sociopath is doubtlessly beneficial in modern, capitalistic society, aimed at competition and profit by all means. Sociopaths seem to be tailored to be businessmen, lawyers, or politicians. Our current socio-economic systems seem to reward sociopathic behaviours instead of punishing them. [10]

And indeed, they often land on these positions and flourish. It’s not a secret that US presidents and big CEOs possess a veneer of traits associated with either ASPD and psychopathy. [11, 12]

Looking at the general population, there are three times as many male sociopaths as females with ASPD. The differences between sexes often lie in the cause of the development of this condition, women experiencing more childhood emotional neglect and sexual abuse. Sociopathic men, on the other hand, tend to be more aggressive and irritable. [13]

Naturally, we see mental problems and conditions as unwelcome anomalies that ought to be treated and avoided at all costs. Especially in professional and competitive situations, driven by envy (or, as some would prefer to put it, common sense), some of us might have a hostile attitude towards sociopaths, seeing them as nothing more than self-centred assholes.

Yet, to be honest with ourselves, “normal” people also act for their own benefit sometimes, turning to lies, selfishness, and petty crimes as means to an end. Taking a self-critical perspective, one could say that there’s a tiny bit of a sociopath in each of us. According to psychological egoism, even seemingly selfless actions are to some extent motivated by our inner ego-centred needs; helping other people or donating money to a charity makes you feel good. Sure, this point of view may be a little cruel, yet it’s crucial to grasp the multi-layeredness of all human actions.

Ipso facto, we could entertain the conundrum of why some behaviours are perceived as “unnormal,” “against human nature,” and generally “bad.” Morality is relative – killing a person is bad unless one does it for a cause, a god, a culture, a nation, etc. – and what is common or certain should be questioned too.

Against the Current

Sociopaths break the law, but what if the law in itself is unnatural and bad? Why should we respect property rights when we – humans – are but guests on this Earth? How can a person own a piece of land, a piece of nature itself? Hence, as some anarchists could argue – and do so successfully – that trespassing and stealing a bicycle has got nothing unnatural in itself, for money-based trade systems and the notion of ownership of land are but man-made inventions; illusions that remain true as long as everybody believes in them.

Similarly with breaking social norms and bending rules. We didn’t evolve to call a certain old lady “Your Majesty,” and neither are women hard-wired to wear dresses nor men physically unable to wear make-up and paint their nails.

Hierarchy seems to be an intriguing case. Communists reject hierarchical authority, possibly seeing it as a purely social construct. Yet, hierarchies have been with us since the dawn of history, and moreover they are present in many animal species. At the same time, however, all humans are equal towards nature, so “naturally” speaking, I should not respect (or disrespect) somebody just because of their social status, occupation, or age. There are other factors that ought to take precedence, like wisdom, experience, and mindset. [14, 15]

Putting labels on people is psychology’s main hobby. A similar kind of narrow thinking and prejudice on the side of the “normal” general population is harmful and unfair without a shadow of a doubt. Every person, sociopathic or not, has got a complex personality that goes beyond the Big Five or the psychopathy checklist. Looking at a sociopath as nothing more than an antisocial asshole is just as bad as a gay sitcom character, whose only personality trait is being queer. [16]

It seems to me that, like most things, sociopathy goes beyond the evaluation between “good” and “bad.” Humans are unimaginably complicated creatures, and one can never tell what’s going on exactly in the other person’s head. In fact, we often fail to understand what’s happening inside our own minds.

Giving another thought to sociopaths’ lack of understanding of social structures, it might be beneficial to change your perspective and break loose of social norms and implications. Though some will see that as immoral or against the custom or whatever bogus reason they might come up with, what it gives you is freedom – freedom for you to be who you want to be, do what you want to do, and live your life as you want to live it.

So cut your hair, tear up your clothes, kick a rubbish bin, scream madly in the middle of the street. Be weird, be you, go against the current just for the hell of it, rebel. Our society evolves and slowly but surely abandons the made-up hitherto ideas of what it means to be decent, respectable, or even human. A little bit of sociopathy might indeed do you good.

Published by Dawid Tysowski


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