How Do Sociopaths Typically Treat Their Families?

Published June 8, 2020
Man yelling at his family

Sociopathy, clinically known as antisocial personality disorder, can range in symptom severity which is influenced by both genetic factors and environmental factors. Therefore, the treatment of family members will vary depending on the severity of the symptoms exhibited.

Do Socipaths Care About Family?

Those with antisocial personality disorder traits typically have a difficult time relating to other individuals on a genuine interpersonal level and maintain their fragile self-esteem by seeking out pleasure and power. Because healthy relationships are built on honesty, trust, and genuinely caring about another person without the notion of self gain or power dynamics, individuals with antisocial personality disorder traits may not be able to fully empathize, understand, and relate to members of their family, which can lead to poor, deceptive, and dangerous treatment of their kin.

How Diagnostic Traits Impact Familial Treatment

Reading a diagnosis or information about a clinical disorder can feel confusing without understanding some contextual examples. Those with antisocial personality disorder may experience the following symptoms:

  • An example of fragile self esteem bolstered by seeking power and pleasure: Suing family members without valid evidence or legitimate cause.
  • An example of goals based solely on personal gain: Not showing up to an important family event because of something that is more relevant to their personal gain.
  • An example of lack of empathy: Saying something hurtful to a young niece or nephew without understanding why it's wrong.
  • An example of difficulty with interpersonal relationships: Not being able to maintain a healthy, consistent relationship with anyone in the family.
  • An example of manipulation: Using private information to get something tangible or the upper hand in a familial relationship.
  • An example of deceit and callousness: Lying to a parent to create a wedge between parent and other children with inheritance as a final goal.
  • An example of hostility: Seeking revenge for something that happened years ago.
  • An example of impulsivity: Having a rage outburst that seems confusing to others at a family event.
  • An example of lack of responsibility: failing to pay a bill for a family expenditure when they said they would.
  • An example of risky behavior: Engaging in risky drug and alcohol use without thinking about dire consequences.

What Emotion Do Socipaths Have?

Those with antisocial personality disorder commonly exhibit similar emotional behaviors to toddlers. While many toddlers can feel a range of basic emotions, they are still learning how to have empathy. They may say sorry, or give a hug because they know they are supposed to do it, not necessarily because they feel badly about a situation and can empathize with the individual they hurt. But, unlike most little ones, those with antisocial personality disorder may not feel attachment to their family, and may not feel the need to prioritize maintaining family ties for survival purposes.

Can Sociopathic Individuals Love Their Family?

Love is a complex emotion that is based on mutual respect, empathy, genuine care, and a dedication to maintaining a deep interpersonal relationship. While love may feel differently to each individual, those with antisocial personality disordered traits will definitely have a difficult time experiencing genuine, no-strings-attached love, because their relational blueprint is based on personal gain and maintaining their own pleasure regardless of the impact it may have on those around them.

What Role Does Trauma Play?

Often times those with trauma based diagnoses are emotionally and developmentally frozen at the time of their initial memory of trauma. While not everyone who has a personality disorder notes experiencing previous childhood trauma, it is very difficult to find an individual who exhibits personality disordered traits who hasn't experienced some form of trauma (unhealthy parent-child attachment, abuse, neglect, mistreatment, assault, abandonment, unstable childhood, parental rejection).

Worried thoughtful man

If you are an immediate family member of an individual with this diagnosis, it's important to take a look at shared memories and shared childhood environments so you can better understand how they developed these traits in order to survive. You may find that you have a few traits in common as well. Know that this is completely normal and everyone has traits of some disorder. There is no perfect, fully healthy individual anywhere- we are all human. Even if you do notice you have some traits, it does not mean you have a full diagnosis.

How Do You Deal With a Sociopathic Family Member?

It's important to consider the severity of your family member's symptoms before making a plan in terms of healthy contact with them. Some individuals with this diagnosis have very severe symptoms that can make interaction potentially dangerous physically, emotionally, and/or financially. If you have a family member with this diagnosis consider:

  • Speaking with a therapist or counselor who can help you more fully understand this diagnosis and your family member's particular severity. They can then help you come up with a plan that helps keep you as safe as possible.
  • Think about past interactions with this individual and note if anything felt off or manipulative. Try to keep track of your interactions with them so you can begin to identify healthy boundaries that you'd like to set. For some, this may mean limited or zero contact. This will depend on your specific situation.
  • Identify patterns in their behavior and note how it has impacted your life. Are you being manipulated in a certain way? Are you scared or worried about one of their behaviors? Is there a way to extricate yourself from this particular set of interactions?
  • Take note of interactions that didn't feel right to you and prepare for future ones. What can you do differently to better protect yourself (meet in public, bring a friend, avoid bringing your kids) or more quickly remove yourself from the situation?
  • Prioritize protecting yourself and your children if you have any. This may mean setting strict boundaries, not allowing solo child visits, and limiting the disclosure of any information that they could use against you.

Is Sociopathy Genetic?

Like any disorder, genes and environment come into play. One individual who may have predispositions for this disorder can end up without any symptoms based on their upbringing, while for others, environment can propel these symptoms to the surface. The complex interaction between nature and nurture almost always plays a role in clinical diagnoses. It is important to note that those with this diagnosis who experienced more socialization growing up versus those who did not, are more likely to have partial remission in some of their unhealthy or dangerous behaviors. While this doesn't mean they may express love or feel love in the same way you might, it does mean that they may be less likely to cause intense levels harm to their families. In fact, having a supporting family and/or partner is a protective factor in terms of behavioral improvement.

How Is Sociopathic Behavior Diagnosed?

Sociopathic traits and behavior can only be diagnosed by a trained clinician or doctor after the individual turns 18, although they may have a previous diagnosis of conduct disorder, as well as other comorbid disorders (depression, drug and alcohol abuse, anxiety). Because this is such a complex disorder, it's best to seek out an individual who specializes in antisocial personality disorder if seeking a diagnosis or treatment information.

What's the Difference Between a Sociopath and Psychopath?

Clinicians tend to debate as to whether these two are slightly nuanced, yet similar diagnoses, or if they are totally the same. The most updated diagnostic criteria, the Diagnostic and Statists Manual V, does not list sociopathy or psychopathy, but instead lists antisocial personality disorder. Antisocial personality disorder covers all the traits and symptoms that both sociopathy and psychopathy entail. So, in terms of difference, it depends on who you are speaking with, but clinically, the only diagnosis that encompasses the traits of both of these is antisocial personalty disorder.

Potential Treatments

Keep in mind that personality disorders are difficult to treat because the unhealthy symptoms and traits are rooted in the individual's core personality and have developed to be adaptable to fulfill their needs. Despite this difficulty, there are helpful treatment options available that may help. Some treatment options include Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, as well as family therapy if all parties are willing to participate and expectations are managed.

Understanding How Those With Sociopathic Behavior Treat Their Families

Antisocial personality disorder is a complex cluster of symptoms that vary in severity. Because of the wide range of symptom severity, familial treatment will vary from person to person; although it's important to note that maintaining a healthy relationship with someone who meets the full diagnostic criteria can feel impossible.

How Do Sociopaths Typically Treat Their Families?