What It Really Means When You Have Antisocial Personality Disorder

Most people learn how to ace social interactions to leave a good impression and, to some extent, get what they want. Hasn't almost everyone worked their charm on a first date or fudged a minor detail in a job interview? But for people with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), there are no limits when it comes to manipulating and misleading others.

Antisociality might be confused with introversion or simply wanting some alone time occasionally (as in, "I'm feeling so antisocial today"). However, ASPD is much more complex than wanting to be by yourself. For the 2% to 4% of the population that has ASPD (per WebMD), being antisocial is less about not wanting to socialize and more about disregarding social norms, according to Cleveland Clinic. Without following social rules, people with ASPD tend to exhibit behaviors that are considered to be haphazard and even harmful — both to others and to themselves.

Here's what it really means to have ASPD and what can be done to manage this personality disorder.

People with ASPD struggle with social norms and ethics

As social creatures, people must figure out how to get along with others and differentiate between "right" and "wrong" in order to thrive in society. In the case of antisocial personality disorder, though, these skills don't come as easily.

According to WebMD, under the umbrella of ASPD are psychopathy –  being hurtful toward others in a way that's calculated and manipulative — and sociopathy –- struggling to conform to social norms and react to social situations in appropriate ways. These differ from narcissism, which focuses on arrogance and delusions of grandeur. For those who have ASPD, they might feel that it's normal to lie, steal, act impulsively, or use aggression, according to Mayo Clinic. They also don't experience guilt after hurting others, believing that the other person had it coming or that they're to blame for allowing themselves to be deceived.

Healthline notes that many of these signs first appear in childhood, sometimes as early as age 3 or 4. Children with ASPD may bully other children and rebel against authority figures. They may also turn to violence, physically harming family members, peers, and animals.

ASPD symptoms can be treated

GoodTherapy points out that there's immense stigma attached to ASPD, and those living with the disorder may experience low-quality relationships, issues with employment, and arrest or imprisonment for committing crimes. Per American Addiction Centers, another risk — especially in men — is substance abuse. More than two-thirds of men with severe alcoholism have been diagnosed with ASPD. 

Despite these issues, many people with ASPD may not realize that there's anything wrong with their behavior. ASPD can be caused by biological factors (including developmental defects), genetics, and past trauma, according to WebMD. Therefore, people with ASPD often live with their symptoms for most of their lives and may not think to pursue treatment.

For those who do seek help, there are several options available, including medications to regulate mood and control aggression (per Cleveland Clinic). Counseling can also help manage antisocial behaviors and improve personal relationships.

Studies have also suggested that ASPD symptoms naturally decrease with age, though some research has challenged this notion. For those who believe they may have the disorder, regardless of age, getting a proper diagnosis from a trusted doctor is often the first step to treating and managing antisocial tendencies.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.