Sadistic Personality Disorder: Symptoms And Characteristics

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Personality is a construct that refers to the pattern of thoughts, beliefs, ways of seeing the world and behaviors largely acquired throughout the life cycle that are maintained across situations and time.

Some of these patterns are dysfunctional and do not allow a correct adaptation to the environment by the subject, causing them to suffer severe difficulties or causing harm to third parties. This last assumption is what occurs with disorders such as antisocial or the one we are going to talk about in this article: sadistic personality disorder a phenomenon that produces a lot of interest, to the point that there are countless films that talk about this type of people.

sadistic personality disorder

Sadistic personality disorder is considered a pathological pattern of cruel, humiliating and aggressive behavior that manifests itself continuously throughout life in a consistent manner across situations. As with sexual sadism, the subject feels enjoyment and satisfaction from observing suffering and humiliation of others. To do this, they can use everything from physical violence to humiliation, lies and rumors to cause harm, without a specific objective beyond the pleasure of doing it.

Violence and humiliation are frequently used with the aim of dominating others for mere pleasure, without the cruelty used being a means to achieve other objectives. Likewise, it is common for them to manage to impose their will through fear and coercion. They tend to be controlling people and they tend to limit the freedom of those around them, especially those closest to them, as well as manifest a fascination with death and violence in general.

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It must be taken into account that this disorder is not limited to a specific person or situation nor does it refer to the mere use of the pain of others as an object of sexual satisfaction (that is, people who manifest sexual sadism do not have to have a sadistic personality). but we are talking about a generalized pattern of behavior

Link with crime

It may be easy to attribute criminality to mental and personality disorders, but as a general rule the majority of subjects who commit crimes (including blood crimes) are people without any type of psychopathological alteration. It is necessary to keep in mind that although we are talking about people who enjoy the humiliation and pain of others, This does not imply that they will commit any type of crime

However, there is a greater prevalence of this disorder and psychopathy in certain types of crimes: this is what happens with a large part of serial killers. In other cases the prevalence is much lower, but sometimes in some studies carried out with the prison population it can be found that some of the subjects who commit sexual abuse/assault or mistreatment have typical features of this disorder.

Despite this, it must be insisted that suffering from this disorder does not necessarily lead to criminality, in fact the majority of criminals are individuals without a mental or personality pathology, contrary to what is usually believed.


Although the possible causes of this disorder are still unknown, as a personality disorder the origin of sadistic personality disorder is found in the interaction of biological temperament with experience and environment.

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In this sense, it is proposed that in many cases may arise in part from biochemical and cerebral elements (brain areas such as the limbic system and the brain reward system may be involved) and learning, such as in situations of domestic violence or sexual or physical abuse continued throughout the life of the subject who has learned by modeling and associating to power and/or pleasure.

Lack of information and current situation

However, there are doubts about its existence as a personality disorder: although it is evident that there are people with sadistic attitudes, as occurs with some psychopaths, there is not enough evidence to fully characterize this type of disorder and even determine if we are really dealing with a disorder. of personality that is distinct and separable from others that already exist.

Diagnostic classifications focus especially on the behavioral aspects without delving into the emotional and cognitive aspects. More research is required in this regard in order to obtain more data. Although included in the DSM-III and by Millon as a personality disorder, sadistic personality disorder is currently included as a diagnostic category proposed for research and included in the appendices of the largest American diagnostic manual for the classification of mental disorders. , the DSM.

Link with psychopathy and antisocial disorder

Although at first glance it can be seen that Psychopathy antisocial disorder and sadistic personality disorder are closely related (in fact, in many cases they coincide in the same subject), these are classifications that are not synonymous.

In all three cases, a dominant attitude is shared and in which they usually commit deception and violation of rights to obtain their objectives, often with the absence or difficulty of empathy and remorse.

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However, obtaining pleasure and gratification from suffering and domination, which are the core of this disorder, are not absolutely defining either of the psychopath (not all psychopaths are sadists) or of the subject with antisocial disorder. In the same way, a subject can be sadistic without flouting or violating social norms or laws, something strange in antisocial personality disorder.