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Sadistic personality disorder

Sadistic personality disorder

Description, Causes and Risk Factors:

Abbreviation: SPD.

Sadistic personality disorder is a diagnosis which appeared only in an appendix of the revised third edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III-R). The current version of the DSM (DSM-IV) does not include it, so it is no longer considered a valid diagnostic category. The diagnosis Personality disorder not otherwise specified may be used instead. However, the disorder is still studied for research purposes.

The sadistic personality disorder is characterized by a pattern of gratuitous cruelty, aggression, and demeaning behaviors which indicate the existence of deep-seated contempt for other people and an utter lack of empathy. Some sadists are "utilitarian": they leverage their explosive violence to establish a position of unchallenged dominance within a relationship. Unlike psychopaths, they rarely use physical force in the commission of crimes. Rather, their aggressiveness is embedded in an interpersonal context and is expressed in social settings, such as the family or the workplace.

There is no clear cause for sadistic personality disorder; some theories suggest that it is a function of how one is brought up, but biological factors are likely as well. This disorder is fairly uncommon and there is little information about occurrence by gender or about family pattern.

Most of the theories commonly point out the fact that sadism is mainly dependent on the upbringing of an individual. Although biological and environmental aspects are also known to contribute to the development of this behavioral disorder, less evidence is available about hereditary patterns or genetic causes.

Following are some of the reasons why a person suffering from sadism yields to the regular practice of masochism and sadism and also finds it pleasurable:

In case of some patients, assuming the role of acquiescence or defenselessness is a means of therapeutic escape from life’s accountabilities, stress, or feeling of guilt. Some sadists give in to such a behavior to take on a dominant role and get contentment outrageously by observing the masochist suffer. However, what eventually links these arousing incidents with sexual satisfaction, and how that link is established is not known clearly.

Unfavorable experiences during childhood or in early stages of sexual development are believed to be one of the major contributing factors in the development of a sadistic personality in an individual. It has also been observed that sadism or a sadistic personality can also get developed in an individual through conditioning. For instance, continual connection of a particular stimulus with sexual enjoyment or of happiness with the anguish of others can cause sadism or sadomasochism.


Clinical descriptions of SPD suggest that the disorder consists of features that span behavioral, interpersonal, cognitive, and affective domains.Sadistic individuals have poor behavioral controls, manifested by a short temper, irritability, low frustration tolerance, and a controlling nature. From an interpersonal standpoint, they are noted to be harsh, hostile, manipulative, lacking in empathy, cold-hearted, and abrasive to those they deem to be their inferiors. Their cognitive nature is considered rigid and prone to social intolerance, and they are fascinated by weapons, war, and infamous crimes or perpetrators of atrocities. Sadists classically are believed to seek social positions that enable them to exercise their need to control others and dole out harsh punishment or humiliation. For this reason, some have postulated that there is a higher prevalence of sadism among individuals who work in such settings as law enforcement, correctional facilities, the military, government, and the justice system.In addition, several studies have demonstrated a significant sex bias, with most individuals with SPD being male, consistent with the theoretical literature and clinical findings.


Diagnostic Criteria forSadistic Personality Disorder

A pervasive pattern of cruel, demeaning and aggressive behavior, beginning by earlyadulthood, as indicated by the repeated occurrence of at least four of the following:

    Has used physical cruelty or violence for the purpose of establishing dominance in a relationship (not merely to achieve so me non-interpersonal goal, such asmugging someone in order to steal).

  1. Humiliates or demeans people in front of others.

  2. Has treated or disciplined someone under his or her control unusually harshly(e.g., a child, student, prisoner or patient).

  3. Is amused by or takes pleasure in the psychological or physical suffering of others(including animals).

  4. Has lied for the purpose of harming or inflicting pain on others (not merely toachieve some other goal).

  5. Gets other people to do what he or she wants by frightening them (fromintimidation to terror).

  6. Restrict s the autonomy of people with whom he or she has a close relationship (e.g., won’t let spouse out of the house unaccompanied, won’t let teenagedaughter attend school dances).

  7. Is fascinated by violence, weapons, martial arts, injury or torture.

While the diagnostic characteristics of SPD, as defined by the DSM-III-R, share characteristics similar to the diagnostic criteria of ASPD (antisocial personality disorder), as defined by the DSM-IV, a closer examination reveals key differences. The DSM-III-R defines SPD as a pervasive pattern of cruel, demeaning, and aggressive behavior toward others, which is directed toward more than one person and does not solely serve the purpose of sexual arousal. Eight possible criteria were described, with the presence of four or more required for the diagnosis. In contrast, the DSM-IV defines ASPD as a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others. Note that while SPD and ASPD have many diagnostic criteria in common, such as breaking laws, failure to conform to social norms, deceitfulness, exploitation of others, and violence, the purpose for which these acts are perpetrated differs between the two diagnoses. Individuals with SPD commit the acts primarily to gain pleasure or achieve dominance and control, while those with ASPD perpetrate the acts primarily to gain profit or due to an aggressive nature with primitive mechanisms of coping with stressors. Likewise, sadists can be differentiated from other violent offenders (such as individuals with ASPD) by the fact that their acts of violence are characterized by a different quality of emotional expression. Most violence occurs in the setting of extreme emotional states—typically anger—or in the context of gaining financially, whereas sadists are believed to be motivated to a significant degree by the pursuit of pleasure, control, or satisfaction. Therefore, the purpose of the assaultive behavior or criminal actions performed by an individual can be a key factor in distinguishing between SPD, antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), or other Axis II disorders. However, in the DSM-III-R definition of SPD, deriving pleasure from the suffering of others was one of the criteria, but was not necessary to make the diagnosis.


Treating a sadistic personality disorder takes a long time. Personality traits such as coping mechanisms, beliefs, and behavior patterns take many years to develop, and they change slowly. Changes usually occur in a predictable sequence, and different treatment modalities are needed to facilitate them. Reducing environmental stress can quickly relieve symptoms such as anxiety or depression. Behaviors, such as recklessness, social isolation, lack of assertiveness, or temper outbursts, can be changed in months. Group therapy and behavior modification, sometimes within daycare or designed residential settings, are effective. Participation in self-help groups or family therapy can also help change socially undesirable behaviors.

NOTE: The above information is for processing purpose. The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition.

DISCLAIMER: This information should not substitute for seeking responsible, professional medical care.

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