What is a Sociopath?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

I was talking with my boyfriend a few weeks ago and he told me that he was excited to see his friend that day. After all these years together I finally just told him that he didn’t have to pretend to feel things when he was around me, I told him that he didn’t have to pretend to care about these people because I wouldn’t judge him. He then told me that he didn’t understand, he said he really did care about these people, that he wasn’t just hanging out with them to appear normal, that when he spoke to people, he didn’t have to carefully pick out every single word to appear charming or empathetic. I don’t understand how he feels feelings, I was so confident that everyone was just so much better at pretending than I am. People that were less intelligent than I am seemed to be so much better at acting normal, I just assumed it came more naturally. I didn’t go nuts and look up every symptom for a sociopath, I don’t believe an entire class of people can be dissected in a list of attributes, I don’t want to change or talk about it, but I guess I was just wanting an honest answer, does everyone else really feel those things or is everyone like me and it’s just one of those things that no one ever talks about?

A. Sociopath is often confused with psychopath, psychopathy and antisocial personality disorder. The general public, and even some mental health professionals, use these terms interchangeably. There is no diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Health Disorders (DSM), for psychopath or sociopath. The corresponding diagnosis for what many people commonly refer to as psychopath or sociopath, is antisocial personality disorder (ASPD).

If you were to look up antisocial personality disorder, you would see a long list of characteristics that must be present to be diagnosed with this disorder. From the e-mail that you have sent me it does not appear that you possess those necessary characteristics. For a diagnosis to occur for any mental health disorder an e-mail would never be sufficient and that is why I can’t provide you with a diagnosis.

A diagnosis can only occur when an appointment is made with a mental health professional. In that setting, the therapist can ask you many questions to gather information.

Though I can’t provide a specific diagnosis, I can provide some insight into your e-mail. Generally, you are concerned that your boyfriend may feel more empathy toward his friends and may find more pleasure in interacting with his friends than you do. This raises the question whether there is something wrong with your ability to enjoy relationships. Perhaps not. Do you enjoy your relationship with your boyfriend and do you have sincere feelings toward him? Do you have real feelings toward your mother, father, siblings, etc.?

If the answers to these questions are yes, then it would seem that your ability to form relationships and function normally in them is unhindered. You simply may be more discriminating, in terms of friendship, than is your boyfriend.

There may be nothing at all wrong with you. However, if you have a pattern of difficulty in forming relationships and functioning within them then there may be an issue. Only an in-person interview with a therapist could determine if an issue exists.

One or two sessions with a therapist might answer all of your questions. If I can be of any further assistance to you please don’t hesitate to write.

Dr. Kristina Randle
Mental Health & Criminal Justice Blog

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 27 Oct 2013

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2013). What is a Sociopath?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 17, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2013/10/27/what-is-a-sociopath/