Ability to Love, Impulse Control, Moral Reasoning
Genetic Connection Between ADHD, Addiction and Antisocial Behavior

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Read Dr. Leedom's weekly Blog on LoveFraud to learn all about antisocial personality disorder and psychopathy!

What is the difference between antisocial personality and narcissism? All sociopaths and psychopaths are narcissistic. But not all narcissists have the immorality and lack of impulse control that makes sociopaths and psychopaths. Click on the image below to learn about narcissism and malignant self love:

Antisocial Personality Disorder and the Inner Triangle

People with antisocial personality disorder are also called sociopaths. Three percent of the population, or about 8,100,000 individuals in the United States have antisocial personality disorder. Even more people (especially those with addiction) have antisocial personality traits (antisocial behavior) but not the full disorder.

Those with antisocial personality disorder and antisocial traits are dangerous to the rest of us. Why are those with antisocial personality disorder so dangerous? What is antisocial personality and how does it develop?

Antisocial personality disorder is the official term for a syndrome that has also been called sociopathy. "Psychopath" refers to people with an extreme form of this same disorder. A committee of experts has developed the current, most accepted definition of antisocial personality disorder.

Antisocial personality disorder is described in DSM IV as “a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since age 15 as indicated by three or more of the following:

  1. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest.

  2. Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases or conning others for personal profit or pleasure.

  3. Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead.

  4. Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults.

  5. Reckless disregard for safety of self or others.

  6. Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations.

  7. Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.

Consider how early in life this disorder is already fully formed! A person does not have to be a criminal or have an arrest record to meet criteria for antisocial personality disorder and be dangerous. There is a broad spectrum of severity of this disorder.

Regardless of severity, as a group, these individuals are NOT otherwise “normal” people who make bad moral choices. Individuals with this disorder have an abnormal emotional life. They are “glib” “superficial” and “shallow.” They have little or no capacity for empathy, and little or no conscience (criterion 7).

It is the absence of empathy and conscience that makes those with antisocial personality dangerous.

The lack of empathy and absence of conscience allows antisocial people to disregard the rights of others. Researchers have developed scales and have actually measured what they call “emotional callousness” in individuals with antisocial personality disorder. Perhaps due to the lack of emotional connection and absence of the ability to put themselves in other people’s shoes, those with antisocial personality are also grandiose and self-centered.

Because they do not feel emotions in a normal way, individuals with antisocial personality disorder respond to reward and punishment differently from the rest of us. Research shows their autonomic nervous system is actually under active at rest. Because of this low arousal, these individuals are easily bored, have an increased need for excitement and are driven by uncontrollable impulses. The increased need for excitement and poor response to punishment sets the stage for substance abuse and addiction.

Imagine a triangle with three sides representing the three qualities that serve to form character. These qualities, that form the basis of character are, ability to love, ability to control impulses, and moral reasoning ability.


What is a psychopth?
A psychopath is a person with an extreme form of antisocial personality disorder. Psychopaths have an extreme lack of Ability to Love, Impulse Control and Moral Reasoning. When psychopaths are also sadistic (they enjoy other people's pain) they become rapists and serial killers. Not all psychopaths are that sadistic. That is why there are so many that blend into the rest of society.

The childhood disorders ODD and CD can evolve into adult antisocial personality disorder. Some teans with antisocial personality disorder go undiagnosed because adults may not understand that the combination of deceitfulness, poor impulse control, irritability and recklessness is very serious.

Teens and adults with antisocial personality have a severe disorder of character. At the core of antisocial personality is a deficit in all three sides of the Inner Triangle. Think about what character means. Character is our ability to love, our ability to control impulses and moral reasoning ability. A person with good character is strong in all three qualities.

Just Like His Father? teaches you how these problems develop and gives you a strategy for preventing these problems in your at risk child.

Those with antisocial personality disorder have poor ability to love, poor impulse control, and a low moral reasoning ability. These individuals do not just wake up at age 15 and come down with the disorder as if they caught a cold. The problems with ability to love, impulse control and moral reasoning ability develop from the time of conception. I believe that there is a developmental time- frame for gaining ability to love. A child should learn to love prior to puberty, or he will likely never be able to love. Impulse control and moral reasoning ability can be improved upon at any age, provided a person is motivated to try.

Development of the ability to love sets the stage for development of impulse control and moral reasoning ability. (Please see the definition of ability to love given in this site.)

Because individuals with antisocial personality disorder are unable to love, it is easy for them to pursue a lifestyle of exploitation of others (see 5 and 7). They have little or no ability to control their impulses (1, 3 and 4). They also lack a moral code to live by ( 1, 2, 6).

More on the Inner Triangle:

The base of the Inner Triangle and the core of good character is the ability to love. Ability to love is dependent on our inner emotional life and capacity for empathy (Chapter 3 of Just Like His Father?). The sides of the triangle are formed by ability to control impulses (Chapter 4) and moral reasoning ability (Chapter 5).

Impulse control is our ability to manage urges and feelings. Moral reasoning ability is our understanding of morality and the way we use this understanding. A person with ability to love and good impulse control would function well in any society, regardless of that society’s moral values. Moral values vary, depending on culture, however all human societies have a moral code members are expected to live by.

To better understand how the Inner Triangle works, let us look at what the result would be if only one of the three sides was poorly developed. A person with little ability to love would be the most impaired. However, a person with little empathy and impoverished emotional life could partially compensate with strong impulse control and strong moral reasoning ability. His moral values and self-control would tell him to behave in a good way toward others, even if he lacked feelings to guide his behavior.

I am sure you know someone who fits this description. Often these people are somewhat cold individuals who must “play everything by the book.” Because they lack strong loving feelings to guide their behavior, they realistically fear what would happen if their impulse control and/or moral reasoning ability deteriorated.

These “play it by the book” individuals are experienced by others as constricted in the area of feelings. Nevertheless, they are generally good people who do not exploit others. Thus, some interaction between genes and upbringing can allow for the development of a character where weakness in ability to love is balanced by good impulse control and good moral reasoning ability. I say, keep playing by the book. That is a very good thing.

A person with poor impulse control but with well-developed ability to love and moral reasoning ability is a guilty, remorseful, but impulsive person. These individuals do bad things on impulse even though they do not really want to. Because this type of person is disturbed by the problem, he is likely to seek help. Those with poor impulse control benefit from training and medication to strengthen their impulse control center.

When ability to love and impulse control are relatively intact and moral reasoning ability is impaired, bad actions seem justified to the individual that does them. This is why we use the saying “there is honor among thieves.” Thieves with honor have intact ability to love. Many people who end up in the criminal justice system get there because of impaired moral reasoning and impaired impulse control.

The increase in criminal behavior found in lower socioeconomic groups is not only due to an increase in true antisocial personality disorder in these groups. Instead, differences in moral reasoning ability and parental training of impulse control are to blame.

In my opinion, we should develop reliable ways to identify criminals who have intact ability to love. These individuals would not meet criterion 7 of DSM IV. The problem is that remorse is very hard to measure, and many with antisocial personality disorder pretend to be remorseful. Moral reasoning ability can be improved through education and treatment in a person who is otherwise intact.

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Click on buttons to listen to a previously recorded radio interview discussion of Sociopathy and Psychopathy by Liane Leedom, M.D. and Donna Andersen of Lovefraud