When you think of an extremist cult leader or a serial killer, what images come to mind? A common image conjured up is of an evil person who craves power and domination over others, or one who is out to kill without a conscience for the victims that they murder. Antisocial Personality Disorder is a diagnosis in which people knowingly disobey the law and personal rights of others. They might steal, be unable to hold a job, or not be a competent parent (Mayo Clinic). This disorder is a psychiatric condition and is a term used by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (Reference.com, 2007). Many serial killers and cult leaders have a history of this disorder, but it is important to note that “most psychopaths are antisocial personalities, but not all antisocial personalities are psychopaths” (“Mental Health”).
Some common characteristics of those diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder are apparent when there is consistent and persistent lying and stealing, aggressive and violent behavior, knowingly not caring about the safety of themselves or other people, having no bad feelings for hurting other people, being impulsive, someone who feels that they deserve the best because they think they are the best, and an extreme difficulty or inability make or keep friends (Mayo Clinic).
“The intensity of symptoms tends to peak during the teenage years and early 20s and then may decrease over time. It’s not clear whether this is a result of aging or an increased awareness of the consequences of reckless behavior. However, though a person with antisocial personality disorder might be less likely to commit crimes later in life, that person may continue to be an inadequate spouse or parent and an unreliable employee.”
While what exactly causes this disorder is unknown, many experts believe that genetics and where one grows up (their environment) can influence the prominence and development of the condition. If one’s parents have a history of the disorder, then this increases the chance of their children developing this condition. Conditions in the home, school, and in the surrounding community can also contribute to these factors, such as those that have grown up in chaotic homes with ongoing family conflict or lack of adult supervision, abusive alcoholics and drug addicts, which does not help children develop emotional bonds. This is due to not having many healthy role models. The key point is that the child does not get a reward for actions that are okay to act out in public, and therefore may view their world as a dangerous and unpredictable place. When children do not get positive reinforcement from a role model, they may lash out (CNN Health).
Antisocial Personality Disorder is diagnosed with requiring at least three of the following signs: “a failure to conform to social norms, consistent deceitfulness, impulsiveness or a failure to plan ahead, irritability and aggressiveness, a consistent disregard for work and family obligations, a consistent disregard for the safety of self and others, a lack of regret or remorse” (Mayo Clinic).
A diagnosis for this disorder is reserved mainly for those 18 years of age and older; however, if one is under the age of 18, the disorder is considered a juvenile conduct disorder. A conduct disorder is the prominence of bullying, stealing, vandalism, and so on. If there is a prominence of the signs for diagnosis, then professionals start to look for Antisocial Personality Disorder in teenagers aged 15 and up. To find out if one has this disorder, “your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and mental well-being and take a medical, psychiatric and social history. A physical examination will help rule out other conditions. You’ll likely be referred to a mental health professional for further evaluation” (Mayo Clinic).
There is currently no treatment for Antisocial Personality Disorder, but individuals with this disorder tend to “age out” of their difficulties with crime. The only treatment that is available to these populations is to lock the individuals in a secure facility with extremely strict rules that they, in no way, can talk their way out (Antisocial Class Notes).
There are many prominent figures with this disorder, such as cult leaders. There was Charles Manson who was born on November 12, 1934. He began to lead his cult “family” in the end of 1967 when he left San Francisco and the famed Haight-Ashbury district, where he first accumulated young followers who searched for hope, guidance, and acceptance. He led his followers with his charisma and charm, as well as violence and severe intimidation (Charles Manson, 2003). The influence of Manson’s disease manifested itself with his involvement of the cult movement. His involvement with numerous murders brought him to the forefront of the media. He convinced his followers to join him in acting out his crimes.
There was also Jim Jones who was a Mormon cult leader. He began the Peoples Temple, where he twisted the community services in order to meet his own needs. In 1962 he moved his operation to Redwood Valley, California. This is where he predicted and set dates for when a nuclear war would take place, and many followers began to gather (History Channel). In the 1970s he concentrated his work in the Christian communities. He quickly gained political power, and began to show his strength. On November 18, 1978 he ordered the mass suicide of almost one thousand of his cult followers in Guyana, which he had called the Promised Land (Peoples Temple and the Jonestown Massacre, 2003).
Antisocial Personality Disorder is when a person does not have any feelings of remorse when they disregard the rights of others, which accounts for the many serial killers and cult leaders that have this personality disorder. Sadly, 65-75% of convicted criminals have been diagnosed with this disorder (Antisocial Class Notes). In 2001-2002 the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) found that 7.6 million or 3.6 percent were diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder (NESARC).
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