Antisocial Personality Disorder: What Is It and Why the Name Is Misleading?

Antisocial Personality Disorder: What Is It and Why the Name Is Misleading?

Sometimes the terminology used by the scientific community disagrees with the terminology of the rest of society. If you think you might have a mental health condition, researching it can be confusing if you aren’t familiar with the terminology. Unclear wording can make this information even more confusing. An example of this is the mental health condition known as antisocial personality disorder. 

What do you think of when you hear that someone is antisocial? Most people think of someone who avoids interacting with others, usually due to anxiety. This anxiety might stem from being in a social situation, having low self-esteem, or other similar reasons. Although this is a common application of the term in casual conversation, this is not what being antisocial means. 

Why the Term Is Misleading

Referring to someone as being social implies they are outgoing and comfortable interacting with other people. “Anti” means being against or the opposite of this. Therefore, it’s easy to see how any reasonable person could look at a mental health condition called antisocial personality disorder and deduce that someone with this condition avoids being around others out of discomfort.

However, the scientific community does not use the term antisocial to refer to people who avoid social interaction with others due to social anxiety. Instead, they refer to this type of person as avoidant, while antisocial has a significantly different meaning. The difference between being avoidant and antisocial is illustrated in their respective personality disorders.

Avoidant Personality Disorder

With avoidant personality disorder, you struggle with feelings of inadequacy and fear of negative judgment by others to the point that you avoid interactions with others. While many people can have avoidant behaviors, it requires meeting a specific set of criteria to be diagnosed with this personality disorder. The critical difference is that personality disorders are inflexible and pervasive patterns of behavior that cause clinically significant distress or impairment. 

Not everyone who avoids interacting with others has an avoidant personality disorder. Some people are just introverted or prefer spending time alone. Conversely, those with avoidant personality disorder genuinely want to be around others. However, they can’t bring themselves to do it because of the fear and anxiety of being judged or rejected. 

To be diagnosed with avoidant personality disorder, you must have four or more of the following symptoms. These symptoms must have been present since early adulthood and in various social contexts:

  • Avoids occupational activities that involve significant contact with others out of fear of criticism or rejection
  • Unwilling to get involved with others unless sure of being liked
  • Withholds during intimate relationships due to fear of being shamed or ridiculed
  • Preoccupied with being criticized or rejected in social situations
  • Inhibited in new interactions with others due to feelings of inadequacy
  • Views themselves as socially inept, unappealing, or inferior to others
  • Reluctant to take personal risks out of fear of embarrassment

Antisocial Personality Disorder

What does it truly mean to be antisocial? Rather than avoiding society out of fear of rejection, someone who is antisocial firmly dislikes or is hostile towards society. It’s not necessarily abnormal to strongly dislike society at times, for example, when stuck in grid-lock traffic during rush hour. However, it can become a problem when it persists and becomes a consistent thought pattern. 

With antisocial personality disorder, this strong dislike for society is a pervasive thought pattern in which you exhibit a disregard for and violation of the rights of others. This behavior must include three or more of the following to meet the criteria for diagnosis:

  • Failure to heed social norms concerning lawful behaviors (indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest)
  • Deceitfulness (repeated lying or conning others)
  • Impulsivity
  • Irritability or aggressiveness
  • Reckless disregard for the safety of self or others
  • Consistent irresponsibility
  • Lack of remorse (indifference or rationalization of having hurt or stolen from others)

You can’t be diagnosed with an antisocial personality disorder until at least 18 years of age. However, the above behaviors must have been present by age 15. There must also be evidence that you had a conduct disorder before age 15. 

Why It Matters

Unfortunately, society has a tendency to label people. The same can happen when it comes to having a mental health condition. Being labeled with a mental disorder could be harmful in the case of these two personality disorders that have significant differences. 

Mixing up these two conditions could also cause misdiagnosis and treatment issues. Suppose you were diagnosed with one of these conditions but accidentally told a new healthcare provider that you had the other one. In that case, the wrong diagnosis could propagate through your medical record. This could lead to receiving the wrong treatment and not getting the help you need. 

Knowledge Is Power

In short, there are essential differences between being avoidant and being antisocial. These fundamental differences are especially evident in the diagnostic criteria for their respective personality disorders. Though you may understand what someone means when they casually refer to someone as being antisocial, it could be a source of confusion in a medical setting. Knowing this difference can help you avoid this confusion and seek the appropriate help for your mental health condition. 

Medical terminology can often be confusing. This is especially true when a term has one meaning in society and a different meaning in the scientific community. Antisocial is a common example of this and is often confused with being avoidant. The comparison of antisocial personality disorder and avoidant personality disorder illustrates the difference between these two terms. At Southern California Sunrise Recovery Center, we understand how the nuances of medical terminology can be confusing. We aim to educate you about your mental health conditions and guide you through potential pitfalls and points of confusion. To learn more about antisocial personality disorder and treatment options, call us at (714) 942-4143 to speak with a staff member.