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Wednesday, 02 Jun 2021

When is it Antisocial Personality Disorder? (And Not Simply Being Anti-Social?)

By Dr Becky Spelman
When is it Antisocial Personality Disorder? | Private Therapy Clinic

Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) is an incredibly difficult condition due to its very nature, those who suffer from it are unlikely to consider themselves as being at fault. Another commonly used term the describes this type of person is a sociopath. But being antisocial doesn’t always point to a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder. Many high-functioning people could be considered to be ‘antisocial’ simply based on their preferences for the way in which, how often and where they choose to interact with others. Introverts, for instance, are one such example. But being predisposed to a quiet life or not adhering to extroverted expectations doesn’t qualify an individual for ASPD.

What Actually Causes Antisocial Personality Disorder?

To differentiate between ASPD and antisocial behaviour, we first need to establish what causes the condition in the first place. And although there is no fixed cause that leads to the onset of the condition, there are some general factors at play relating to both genetics and environmental influences. These could potentially include:

  • Suffering abuse as a child
  • Being raised by parents who also had ASPD
  • Growing up with alcoholic or parents suffering from drug addictions

Adults who go on to display antisocial personality disorder tend to display signs before the age of fifteen in the manner of conduct disorder and the disregard for authority. Early signs and symptoms of conduct disorder include serious and persistent issues relating to:

  • Aggression and cruelty towards both people and animals
  • Destruction of property
  • Deceitfulness and manipulation
  • Theft
  • Continuing confrontations with authority figures

Risk Factors

Our personalities are a combination of our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours that make us all who we are as individuals. The main controlling influence of our personality is our brain, which is developing from our term in pregnancy all the way to around eighteen years old. In truth, it never stops developing, as we’re in a constant state of maturation through the continuing influence of our environment. But not all brains develop as expected, and certain deviations from our genetic blueprint can have significant effects on our personality. And because of this, it is thought that genes play quite a significant role on the onset of ASPD along with other changes in the way the brain functions due to other external factors such as heavy substance abuse.


Individuals with ASPD present on a sliding scale of severity. In the classic perception of the condition, you might have the image of someone who’s overtly violent, confrontational at every opportunity and generally unpleasant to be around. But on the opposite side of the spectrum, when the conditioned is framed as being more sociopathic, these people tend to be thought of as being more intelligent, manipulative and high-functioning versions of the condition. An example of this is the high powered CEO of a Fortune 500 company who may have stepped over everyone in his way to attain their position. ASPD is a very circumspect condition, which, in some environments could see an individual’s behaviours rewarded and lauded as being something to aspire to rather than being a disruptive force.

Here are some of the most common symptoms an individual with antisocial personality:

  • They might often experience legal problems or run-ins with the law due to their inability to conform to expected social norms.
  • They might often act out impulsively without considering the consequences of their actions.
  • They could display aggressiveness and irritability which can lead to physical altercations.
  • They will display little to no empathy with others or for the wrongful acts they committed against them.
  • Their relationships – if they have any – will often be characterised by dysfunctional behaviour including abuse of both their partner and their children.
  • They will frequently lie to get their needs met with a win at all costs mentality.

When is it not Antisocial Personality Disorder?

The important consideration to bear in mind regarding antisocial behaviour is a single instance of antisocial behaviour does not indicate a diagnosis of ASPD. Just as occasion low mood or jitters does not mean you suffer from depression and anxiety respectively, the same applies here. We are, by our nature fallible due to our own uniqueness, which can and often does lead to personality clashes and differences of opinion, which cause us to play by our own rule book. Some of the resulting behaviours, when looked at objectively might seem a little unsavoury. But for most people, these are often isolated missteps that we oftentimes go on to regret and wish we undo at a later date.

The main differentiator between antisocial behaviour and ASPD is this capacity for empathy and introspective soul searching. Impulsiveness may overtake our actions on occasion, but it doesn’t become our primary language of taking action. Confrontations may arise, but they come more in the way of standing up for our own beliefs and ideals that represent who we are – not from a misplaced placed sense of ego and rejecting any and all forms of authority.

An example of the potential misuse of ASPD label is the individual who was otherwise a well-functioning member of the community but falls in with a ‘bad crowd.’ This person, due to peer pressure, starts taking hard drugs and becomes an unwitting addict. Over time, their moral compass becomes more and more out of tune with their actual personality. And so, they begin to lie, steal, manipulate and have little remorse for their actions. But this isn’t a true case of ASPD. Without the influences of the drugs this person would have almost certainly remained in a state of ‘normality.’ And so too, will they likely return to this state once they detox themselves of the substances affecting their decision-making process.

ASPD is a condition that’s characterised by long-term behavioural issues, conforming to a pattern and can usually be traced back to an inciting incident(s) during childhood. The misadventures most of us find ourselves in, while sometimes dysfunctional, are easily managed by our capacity to create internal checks and balances through our sense of personal accountability.

About the author:

Dr Becky Spelman is a leading UK Psychologist who’s had great success helping her clients manage and overcome a multitude of mental illnesses.

***If you know someone struggling with antisocial personality disorder and think you might benefit from speaking to someone, we offer a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with one of our specialists to help you find the best way to move forward. You can book yours here.


Very Well Mind (23rd Sept 2020) What Is Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD)?

Retrieved on 22nd March 2021 from,

Psychology Today (4th Nov 2019) Diagnosing Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD). Retrieved on 22nd March 2021 from,

Heathline (30th May) Antisocial Personality Disorder. Retrieved on 22nd March 2021 from,

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