Is your relative a sociopath?

Difficult relationships and personality disorders

If you’ve been struggling with a difficult relationship—to say the least—you may be dealing with someone who has a personality disorder. Not fun. Seriously stressful. Scary-bad at times, actually.

Hi. I’m Frankie Ann. My husband’s name is Brandon.

Some of our relatives
My sister, Pam, has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Pam should introduce herself like this: “I’m the Queen, and you should feel honored to serve as my slave.”

Brandon’s sister, Shelly, was the poster child for Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD). Shelly’s schtick went like this: “I’m on stage, it’s all about me, and I’ll never step down” or more casually observed as “I talk; you don’t.” I say she was the HPD poster child because she’s dead, not because she changed or willingly relinquished the stage. Heck, no.

And both of my in-laws, Delia and Andrew, (yes, my mother-in-law and my father-in-law) are sociopaths. Their modus operandi goes like this: “We own you, and we’ll beat you into submission (with our non-stop harassment and oh-so-much more) as often as we want.” Sociopaths are more officially referred to as “persons with Antisocial Personality Disorder” (APD).

Yikes. Can you say drama?

Three flavors; one addiction
Here’s the bottom line. We’re talking about three different, uniquely-distasteful flavors of the same addiction.


It’s all about control—of you, not of themselves. As a matter of fact, you’d describe each one of my seriously-messed-up relatives as lacking self-control, to extreme degrees. Hmmm. Most interesting. We’ll dig into the issue of control in some future posts.

Personality disorder descriptions
If the difficult person you’re dealing with is considered a control freak (or a seriously chaotic mess) by people who really know him or her, it’s time to read the diagnostic descriptions of the different personality disorders. They’re actually pretty short. These articles provide both diagnostic and general information.

Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) or sociopaths

Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD)

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

You’ll find information on additional disorders, grouped alphabetically, in this section. (See the tabs at the top left to find what you’re looking for.)

Your journey of discovery and healing begins there. You’ve got to know what you’re dealing with.

Seeking truth (and not getting lost in the small print)
One important thing to keep in mind is that a person doesn’t have to possess every characteristic/description of a particular personality disorder to receive a definitive, no-doubt-about-it diagnosis.

1 out of 7 = yes
Sociopaths, for example, disregard and violate other people’s boundaries and rights in a variety of ways. To be diagnosed as a sociopath, a person who shows this disregard for others has to match only one of the descriptions out of a seven-point list.

5 out of 7 = poster child
My mother-in-law, Delia, matches five out of the seven descriptions (Symptoms & Criteria, list A). Uncharacteristically, where sociopaths are concerned, she wasn’t in trouble with the law or with her parents as a teenager (Symptoms & Criteria, part C). She made good grades, served on the student council, went to church regularly and was pretty. Outwardly-speaking, she looked good. But that doesn’t tell the whole story, does it?

Why didn’t Delia show evidence of a conduct disorder as a teenager (aggressiveness, criminal activity, running away, etc.)? Technically-speaking, that’s a diagnosis deal-breaker. But—obviously—she’s a card-carrying sociopath.

Re-reading Scott Peck’s book, People of the Lie, helped me find the answer. Delia isn’t just a sociopath, as if that weren’t enough. She’s also a narcissist, clearly earning a dual diagnosis of APD and NPD—a particularly dangerous combination. If there was ever a formula for evil, it’s the APD/NPD combo: A control addict with no empathy for others who (1) lies, confuses and manipulates people for sport (or personal gain), (2) experiences no remorse, and (3) is obsessed with crafting and maintaining a well-respected, enthusiastically-worshiped persona.

Looking at the truth of what they’ve done
How did we discover that my in-laws are both sociopaths? Well, I wish I could tell you that they finally broke down and wore their matching “I’m with the sociopath” T-shirts, but sociopaths aren’t known for telling it like it is. Besides, my mother-in-law wouldn’t be caught dead in a T-shirt.

Actually, our counselor, Matt, gave my husband a homework assignment to write down a list of not-so-good things from his childhood—everything he could remember. After we got home, Brandon objected to this assignment, saying there wasn’t any reason to “awfulize” or obsess on the past. My reply? “You can’t unpack a suitcase until you look at what’s in there.”

Several days went by…. Brandon’s handwriting is pretty bad, so he asked me to write down what he was going to say. He talked; I wrote. He talked some more; I wrote it down. I learned some new things about his history. It was scary-bad.

Sadistic Shelly
Here’s an example. When they were in elementary school, Brandon’s older (and much larger) sister, Shelly, used jump ropes to tie up children on the back sides of trees so no one could see them when it was time to go inside from recess. Can you say sadistic? And she remained in public school? You bet. Her dad was a vice principal, part of the club.

Brandon’s sociopathic parents told him every day to go play with this sister, Sadistic Shelly, sometimes for great lengths of time. His parents were too busy to play with their children or to supervise them the vast majority of the time. Out of sight, out of mind.

Power in the name… “Sociopath”
Brandon asked me to read his list during our next counseling session. After I read his 10-and-a-half pages and several pages of my own writing, Matt looked at him and said, pointedly: “You were raised by sociopaths. It’s time to divorce your family.”

Brandon disagreed with the label, saying “What about all the good things my dad did for other people?” Matt told us this important truth: “It’s what people do at home when no one else is watching that tells you who and what they really are. The public performance is just to make them look good and to hide who they really are.”

A match
Our counselor, Matt, also told us that reckless disregard for the safety of others is a hallmark trait of sociopaths. He reminded Brandon of the parts of his history that matched that description. Scary-bad stuff, including his dad sending him under their old pier-and-beam house to lie down in standing water while working on live wiring. Why didn’t Brandon’s dad turn off the electricity to protect his son from getting shocked or electrocuted?

A miracle
Remember… “reckless disregard for the safety of (self or) others”—one of the markers of a sociopath. Looking out for Brandon’s safety never crossed his dad’s mind. Never. One of his dad’s favorite sayings was “Get up! You ain’t hurt.” It’s a miracle from God that Brandon made it out of his childhood alive and with all 10 fingers intact. We say that all the time (the miracle part, not the “You ain’t hurt” part).

That was an eye-opening counseling session. Actually, it was more than that. It was life-changing.

We knew what had happened, but we didn’t know what it meant. We didn’t know what to make of it all. Now we had a name. We had the truth.

There’s power in a name when the name tells you the truth.


Healing through truth and music
Peaceful Readers, I’ve found great healing in my life through the beauty and truth of God’s word and through music. I hope the truths and songs that I share at the end of each post will bless you too.

Truth from The Word: “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32, World English Bible).

Song for Healing: “Voice of Truth” by Casting Crowns

Coming next: Portrait of a sociopath, part 1

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