Sociopathy or Symptoms of Borderline Personality?

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Reader’s Question

I have a couple of questions. My sister-in-law is seriously immature. She causes chaos with her lies and manipulation. She is an habitual liar, and she hurts many people. She tries to turn people against her spouse for no apparent reason. She appears to have no guilt or remorse. She is cold and cruel to animals (without causing them serious harm). When she was a teen she was locked up in a mental institution (although I don’t know the reason for this). She has been going to the doctor, and I think she is making up her symptoms for attention. Now that she is pregnant (probably on purpose), she is no longer sick.

I am worried about this woman raising a child; I think she will be very neglectful and possibly abusive. I have read a lot online, and it seems as though she might be a sociopath. But I also read that doctors will not label a female a sociopath. Instead they go with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). I am a little confused here. Isn’t a sociopath someone without a conscience? Is BPD the same thing? There is nothing I can do about the situation of her raising a baby, but I am hoping to find some way to make things better. Any suggestions would be great.

Psychologist’s Reply

Sociopathy or Psychopathy is seen by some professionals as a distinct disorder and by others as a dimension (i.e., distinct variation and severe form) of Antisocial Personality Disorder. I have written about the disorder in my book In Sheep’s Clothing [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK] and write more extensively about it in my upcoming book Character Disturbance [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]. The most distinguishing characteristic of the disorder is a lack of empathic connection to others that leads to a callous, senseless, and remorseless use and abuse of them. As most modern researchers on the topic agree, people with the disorder have virtually no conscience. “Pathological” lying, conning, abuse and exploitation of others are common. Some psychopaths have surface-level charm and glibness. Others lead a very parasitic lifestyle.

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There is research indicating that professionals might be overly reluctant both to detect and to diagnose antisocial as well as sociopathic or psychopathic traits in their clients. There is even research indicating that having taken notice of the very same signs and symptoms, different diagnoses will be given to females as opposed to males. However, it should be noted that many professionals regard the borderline personality syndrome as a failure of personality integration. Therefore, borderline personalities often show traits common to other disorders such as Antisocial Personality Disorder, Dependent Personality Disorder, Histrionic Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, etc. And there are some characteristics of Borderline Personality Disorder that are similar to those seen in some of the other personality disorders.

It’s important that whatever doctor or doctors who are providing care take into consideration the full range of problem behaviors before arriving at a diagnosis and plan for intervention.

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