What is Antisocial Personality Disorder?


It’s not really right to diagnose people if you’re a) not a psychiatrist and b) haven’t met them [and if one were and did, one shouldn’t probably put it in a blog, even a blog as sparsely read as mine].  But fictional characters are fair game, which Aaron Burr as depicted in the musical Hamilton is.  (Actual Aaron Burr was not in the room where “We Know” happened; that was James Monroe).

You hear the word antisocial and you might think it applies to loners, but the tendency to manipulate and deceive others for personal gain compels an antisocial person to seek opportunities to take advantage of others.  They often display superficial charm and are excessively opinionated and cocky.  They are irresponsible, often unable to sustain monogamous relationships and default on debts.  They are not unsocial, but antisocial, just as the opposite of matter is antimatter (versus energy, light or something else different from matter.)

Fictional Aaron Burr pursues power for its own sake, switching parties to be elected to the Senate, and not understanding why Hamilton sees this as a betrayal.  (Lack of remorse is another key feature of ASPD).  While he’s depicted as devoted to his wife, their relationship is introduced as being “unlawful” as she was married (to a British Officer no less).  In 1800, the general election pitted Jefferson against Adams.  Burr was actually Jefferson’s running mate, but in the electoral college it became possible for Burr to supersede Jefferson and except for Hamilton he would have gotten away with it.  After his duel with Hamilton ended his career in US politics, Burr attempted to establish his own dynasty in Spanish held territory and was eventually tried for treason.

When you understand this disorder, the practice of democracy can become kind of horrifying.  What else will antisocial people do besides rise through the political system?  (Those whose lack of impulse control and proclivity to violence do not end in incarceration).    Where does an ambitious tendency cross over into psychopathy?  A person who says they want to be a public servant may or may not be lying; a person who relishes trampling on the rights and feelings of others is almost certainly antisocial.

Key features of ASPD paraphrased from DSM5, APA, 2013 pp. 659-661

Image via http://www.badassoftheweek.com/index.cgi?id=804252012663

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