This is one that I found difficult to try and explain, as it is the area I know least about. The typical media portrayal of ASPD is, simply, a psychopath- a criminal with little-to-no empathy or regard for others; someone who will break things and break people “just because they can”. And while elements of that can be true for people with ASPD- the majority of people will have some form of criminal record, for example- I don’t think that anyone can be purely summed up by that description.
As normal, here are the DSM criteria to have a look at:
A pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since age 15 years, as indicated by three or more of the following:
- failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest
- deception, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure
- impulsiveness or failure to plan ahead
- irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults
- reckless disregard for safety of self or others
- consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations
- lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another
Something that I’ve picked up from reading about ASPD online is that people with it often don’t understand how people function, why the majority of people are run by their feelings about a situation, or why people take part in behaviours such as people-pleasing and saying things they don’t mean in order to smooth something over.
For someone with ASPD, these social conventions are inefficient and mostly meaningless, so an ASPD person’s “rules” for functioning will often ignore “typical” social facilitation behaviours like these.However, a trait of ASPD is the ability to be superficially incredibly charming and apparently loving- this ability is not used as a display of affection, more as a method of blending in with others, or creating a mask that means people will be unlikely to suspect them of anything.
ASPD can in some ways be characterised by ruthlessness, and task-focused logic over people-focused logic. For example, a typical person is likely to see “good” as something that helps people, and “bad” as something that hurts people, while someone with ASPD will see “good” as something that helps them achieve their goal, and “bad” as something that hinders it- hurting or helping people would just be collateral damage.
Something often linked to understanding ASPD is boredom and stimulation- people with ASPD can describe themselves as permanently bored, and finding nothing fun unless it is an extreme. This need for extreme stimulation can be pushed into one of two channels; one is impulsive, reckless behaviour such as taking unnecessary risks- fast driving, extreme sports, drugs etc. Or, it can be planned, premeditated manipulation- they can very quickly work out exactly how to “push someone’s buttons”, and how to manipulate people into different behaviours.
Due to the difficulty of explaining how ASPD works, I’m going to include two media figures. An example of the typical negative “psychopath” portrayal is Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. He has no feelings or attachment to anyone else; is superficially very charming towards people, but only to distract them; and focuses entirely on the goal of showing others his exterior image, then using them as tools for sex, drugs, or (possibly) murder.
My next example is Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother. While his character is not intended to portray any disorder, his behaviour can be used to illustrate many ASPD traits. For example, he does not follow typical moral rulings, instead resolutely sticking to his own designed rules, known as the “Bro Code”.
He is the wealthiest of the group, and spends that wealth impulsively, despite no-one knowing what he actually does. He is shown behaving impulsively and recklessly during the series, including a focus on making everything “legendary” (a need for greater stimulation), and having a gambling problem (a common ASPD trait). He can also be superficially charming, having the ability to talk his way out of getting speeding tickets. While loyal and caring to his friends, he began the show as a serial womaniser, able to manipulate situations to his favour so he can pick up women, but then not caring about them afterwards. However, he can also use his knowledge of human behaviour for good, manipulating situations to his friends’ advantage.
So, the character of Barney can be seen as a display of someone having ASPD traits, but developing a moral code that allows him to express them despite being a “good” guy.
Psychological Criticisms of ASPD
Similar to the criticisms of Schizotypal PD, people with ASPD generally will not be distressed by their “symptoms”- while they will see themselves as different to others, many will consider themselves as having the more logical view on reality and other people being weak and over-emotional. It will only be others (and eventually in many cases, legal authorities) who will consider them to have a problem.
In fact, ASPD traits can be seen as an advantage in some situations – Jon Ronson’s book, The Psychopath Test explains how traits of ASPD can be found in many CEOs, who have used a similar kind of ruthless goal-focus in order to rise through the ranks of their business.
Finally, philosophically speaking, the character of someone with ASPD would not always be seen as a negative one. Some proposed ethical ideals, such as Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea of the Ubermensch, or Soren Keirkegaards Knight of Faith, have parallels with ASPD . In a world with a different ruling philosophy, such as Nietzschean world, those with ASPD would rule, and everyone else would be the disordered ones.