Thursday, September 20, 2012

Antisocial Personality Disorder: The Role of Conscience

You were out late the night before, do you bother arriving on time to work the next day? Your female co-worker leaves her purse unattended on her desk; do you help yourself to a few dollars?

People diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder have problems with these types of scenarios, often choosing the self-serving option. They could be described as “conscience-less.” To understand the problem of the Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD), it is necessary to examine the role our conscience plays in interpersonal relationships.

What exactly is a conscience? Free Dictionary defines it as “the awareness of a moral or ethical aspect to one's conduct together with the urge to prefer right over wrong.” Various disciplines have their own answers about how the conscience is formed. Freud believed we have psychologically internalized the parental figures of our childhood to develop a “superego.” Christians say it is God’s voice or an internalized moral code that directs us. All agree, however, that it is our internal sense of right and wrong that guides our actions.

Every decision we make has a moral implication.  And, it is our conscience that shapes our actions. Martha Stout, in her book The Sociopath Next Door, writes that “the presence or absence of conscience is a deep human division, arguably more significant than intelligence, race, or even gender.” Having a conscience humanizes us. We become safe to others because we are trustworthy and predictable. When faced with a choice, we usually do the right thing. It is not surprising, then, that those with APD often behave in shocking and threatening ways, since one of the defining features of APD is the lack of conscience.

What are the common characteristics of ADP and how does it develop? We will explore those questions in the next article.

-The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, PhD (2005) Broadway Books, p. 10

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