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Could the manipulative, egocentric, cruel and unemphatic jerk in your life have Antisocial Personality Disorder? Find out by learning more about the diagnostic criteria.

Nasty As The Norm

The traits and behaviors characteristic of Antisocial Personality Disorder don't just pop up occasionally, when the person is having a bad day or facing a stressful situation. To qualify for this diagnosis, the person has to display these symptoms consistently over time, across a wide variety of situations. Being a dangerous, toxic jerk is the norm for these people. They've been at it since at least early adulthood and probably displayed symptoms even before that.

One more thing — the symptoms cannot be the result of substance abuse, medication, or physical or mental trauma. If they are, other diagnoses need to be explored.

What Causes Antisocial Personality Disorder?

Antisocial Personality Disorder is probably a unfortunate combination of nature and nurture, like other personality disorders. Numerous factors contribute to the making of someone with this disorder. Though people younger than 18 can't be diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder, they do often already show signs and they may be diagnosed with Childhood Conduct Disorder. 

Being abused (mentally, physically, sexually or a combination) in childhood is one risk factor. Other traumatic childhood events and a family history of substance abuse and mental illness are other risk factors. That does not mean you should suspect everyone who has lived a hard and unpleasant life — rather, limit that suspicion to people who actually display symptoms.

Can It Be Treated?

Antisocial Personality Disorder can be diagnosed after a thorough psychological evaluation, often in combination with a physical examination and blood tests to rule out other causes of the symptoms being displayed. Psychotherapy can be useful, as can certain medications to control specific symptoms of the disorder, like aggression. 

Is it likely that someone with Antisocial Personality Disorder will be "cured" of their condition? No, of course not. Taking another look at the diagnostic criteria explains why.

These people don't think there's anything wrong with them, and are likely to get rather stroppy if you suggest they need treatment. When people with Antisocial Personality Disorder are forced to find themselves face-to-face with a psychologist or psychiatrist — because they're in prison, for example — they will try to manipulate their healthcare provider into idolizing them, or else just get angry.

What If (You Suspect) Someone You Know Has Antisocial Personality Disorder?

If they're a vague acquaintance or brand new to your life — run! If they're a fairly distant relative you're not in a close relationship with, try to avoid them. If that's not possible, get therapy for yourself to learn coping strategies. If they're a co-worker, try to avoid them. If they're your boss, look for another job.

Now, if you think your spouse or intimate partner has Antisocial Personality Disorder, that's a different story entirely.

The same goes for people who think their parents, siblings or other close relatives could have this disorder. Exiting a relationship with someone with Antisocial Personality Disorder is complex, because it can be dangerous. This article can't deal with the complexities of that situation. You will benefit from the help of a mental health professional with a lot of experience in dealing with Antisocial Personality Disorder, as well as the help of a safety expert. (Look up Gavin de Becker, who has very sane things to say about dealing with dangerous people.)