The terms “sociopath” and “psychopath” are both out of date and out of touch. They carry negative connotations with them throughout society from a history of stigmatization. Most people don’t even know what these terms used to mean, let alone what the updated diagnosis of “antisocial personality disorder” is.
There is no one accepted definition of psychopathy. It is generally characterized by someone who is uncaring, reckless or violent, and manipulative. However, there are many different systems that would measure or account for “psychopathic” tendencies. None of these methods were able to scientifically identify a clear cut off point to identify someone as a “psychopath” or not.
“Psychopathy” is a highly subjective term that means different things to different people. It encompasses traits that stem from a variety of underlying mental illnesses. The term does no good in helping someone better understand their behaviors and actions because there is no clear definition. In turn, it only furthers the stigmatization of mental illnesses, trauma, and neurodivergence.
The term “sociopathy” was coined in 1909 by German psychiatrist Kirk Birnbaum. It was an alternative to “psychopathy”, but with a heavier focus on the violation of social norms, as “psychopathy” is often confused with psychosis. This term is, once again, extremely subjective, as social norms change from culture to culture.
Villain and antagonists in media are often portrayed as (or even stated to be) psychopaths. This constant characterization of people who have suffered abuse in life or have struggled with mental illness as evil or inherently bad causes fear and judgement in the uninformed. In reality, those with mental illnesses are more likely to be abused than abuse others.
Antisocial Personality Disorder
Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD or APD) is a personality disorder with a set of criteria that must be met in order to obtain diagnosis. The cause of ASPD is a combination of genetic and environmental influences. Some examples of influences are neurology, hormones, family and peer relationships, abuse, and cultural values.
With positive attitudes around treatment, ASPD can be managed and individuals with ASPD can live successful lives and have meaningful relationships with others.