How does ODD relate to sociopathy?

This week a reader asked about a disorder called ODD and its relationship to sociopathy. ODD or oppositional defiant disorder is a childhood disorder. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists:

In children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), there is an ongoing pattern of uncooperative, defiant, and hostile behavior toward authority figures that seriously interferes with the youngster’s day to day functioning. Symptoms of ODD may include:

• Frequent temper tantrums
• Excessive arguing with adults
• Often questioning rules
• Active defiance and refusal to comply with adult requests and rules
• Deliberate attempts to annoy or upset people
• Blaming others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior
• Often being touchy or easily annoyed by others
• Frequent anger and resentment
• Mean and hateful talking when upset
• Spiteful attitude and revenge seeking

I interpret these symptoms as evidence for excessive social dominance motives combined with problems with ability to love in a child/teen. Social dominance motives cause these children to dislike authority and to attempt to control others (both children and adults) by annoying and upsetting them (teasing too). Recent studies have shown that hormones connected to social dominance motives may play a role in ODD (higher androgens and lower cortisol)*.

A major developmental task for humans is to learn to love. That learning begins immediately at birth. A very elegant series of studies by Patricia Hawley Ph.D. and others has demonstrated that Social Dominance motives begin later, in the toddler years.

During childhood the social motives for love and power have to integrate and balance each other. A loving peaceful family life is central to this integration. Also the power motive must be shaped. This shaping of the power motive has two aspects to it. First children learn the best prosocial ways to enjoy power. They learn to restrain their aggressive and sadistic impulses. In children with ODD and CD (the precursors to antisocial personality in adulthood) this learning doesn’t happen.

Children also learn to channel some of their power motives in to achievement motivation. Disinterest for achievement and disinterest in school are linked to antisocial behavior in children and teens because absent achievement dominance motives lack appropriate channels for expression.

ODD is often connected to CD (conduct disorder) and ADHD, but may also occur without these other disorders. Many studies have examined the extent to which ODD is genetic and environmentally determined. Both genes and environment interact to cause ODD.

In a paper that is now 11 years old Distinct Contributions of Conduct and Oppositional Defiant Symptoms to Adult Antisocial Behavior : Evidence From an Adoption Study Douglas R. Langbehn, MD, PhD and colleagues presented their study of 197 adopted children a quarter of whom had a biologic parent with sociopathy. They concluded:

It seems plausible that a genetically transmitted liability to sociopathy might manifest earlier in life as the personality-like symptoms of ODD rather than the behaviorally oriented criteria for conduct disorder. After all, it is difficult to conceive of a gene for stealing cars. On the other hand, genetic influences on temperament leading to typical ODD features do not seem so far-fetched.

They also stated that independent of the antisocial behavior seen in CD, the behavior that manifests as ODD is an independent risk factor for adult sociopathy:

STUDIES SUCH as that by Loeber et al, which found that severe childhood conduct disorder is often preceded by ODD, suggest the hypothesis that ODD may only be a risk factor for sociopathy if it is a predecessor to a conduct syndrome. This idea is not supported by our data, because the ODD component was found to be an independent risk factor. Furthermore, examination of the joint distribution of estimated component scores in males (not shown) demonstrated that many adoptees had elevations in the ODD component only.

It is important for parents to realize that not every child with ODD or even CD becomes an adult sociopath. Parenting can make a difference for a substantial percentage of children. Even the most loving and devoted parents should get professional help with their ODD/CD kids.

Professional help is needed because these kids are so hard on parents and the development of parental resentment and negativity is linked to a bad prognosis for these kids (though the chicken and egg here have not been determined). Parents should be realistic, protect themselves and yet try to stay hopeful and positive. They should be loving and yet set firm limits. They should also spend lots of quality time with their kids and supervise them closely. These are exceedingly difficult tasks to accomplish!

You might be wondering why I haven’t commented on the proposed DSM V revision of antisocial personality. Since we want everyone to give us their unbiased, independent reactions, I am not going to comment until we close the survey. Please complete the survey so we can send the strongest possible message to the DSM committee. These criteria will be very important in legal procedings and in public education.

Link to survey

* I have posted the summaries of articles about Antisocial Disorders, ASPD, ODD and CD on a new web site My Psychology Professor*. This web site is intended to help students of psychology find articles and write term papers. I hope it will also be a source for people who want detailed information about topics in psychology. There is also a complete collection of papers about social dominance on this site.

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99 Comments on "How does ODD relate to sociopathy?"

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I love you guys. I wish I could have a big party and hang out with all of you. So much maturity, common sense, and good old fashioned wisdom here!

Thanks to everyone who replied…and I’m sorry about the mugging, One Step.

Mike, Autisticsouls, we need to talk. My kids are on the autism spectrum, too.

I love my crazy Aspies. We have a wonderful life. You never saw a more obvious group of clumsy, can’t dance, quirky, stay on the computer forever, brilliant, creative, loving people.

The only problem is their creepy dad, who is Aspie and then personality-disordered on top of it. I think the new description fits better — antisocial/psychopathic. It includes the narcissism and the cruelty…as well as the total disregard for the consequences of his actions on other people, especially my two sensitive kids.

My son was at risk of ODD, almost got diagnosed with it — but thank goodness, that seems over. And thanks for the thoughts, Oxdrover.

Let’s have a party! I need a break for sure.


Dear Trophy,

You’re welcome! Yea, I’d love to have a LF convention/workshop, I’ve wanted that for a couple of years! It would be nice to put some faces with the names!

You are right too, there is a lot of wisdom here! That’s why I’ve hung around so long, I know that I need to touch base with that wisdom and that strength in order to stay on my own healing path. No matter how strong we get, I think there is always the possibility of being triggered, it does get less frequent and less severe I think, but it happens and that is when we NEED the strength we get here.

The great new articles and new bloggers, it keeps the path lighted and easier to follow I think. Glad you are here, hang around a while, there is a great deal to learn here.

OxDrover, Thanks! I’ll do that.

I have so much to share but I am probably in the same boat as others — it’s too personal to say on an open forum because of the possibly identifying details.

Don’t want to find myself in Google, ya know!

I’m not sure I understand what you mean by “triggered.” Do you mean when they tick us off? Or do you mean how some people have trouble getting over their toxic relationship non-partner?

I am having a blast getting ready to kick my sociopathic ex’s behind. When people abuse you, you have to rat them out. Loudly. To everyone. With full documentation.

I used to keep it secret — I felt disloyal otherwise. Now I realize it plays into their hands, so I’m going public now. It’s fun! I love knowing he’s starting to get back some of the evil he’s sent out.

Dear Trophy,

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch, sometimes the smear campaign of the psychopaths has started long before we get the word. They have convinced others that we are “crazy”—-when I got the RAP SHEET–15 pages of felony convictions, over 20 yrs in prison total—and presented it to my egg donor, (what I refer to the woman who gave me birthh as, she didn’t earn the title mother) he had convinced her I had made it up on my computer and none of it was true! So, keep in mind that documentation doesn’t even work all the time.

Getting revenge is a happy thought sometimes, but many times it isn’t possible. One of my Ps went to prison and so did my X-DIL, and my P-son is still in prison and I am fighting to keep him there, but it isn’t about “revenge” it is about self preservation. Yes, I am RATTING him out, loudly, I hired an attorney to fight his upcoming parole hearing and am spending a lot of money I could use for other things and time I could use for other things but it is againl, self preservation.

If it is ONLY about “having fun” getting him “back” I think your time might be better spent on yourself. Believe me I wouldn’t be doing this if my entire life (literally) and my home and my other sons’ lives didn’t depend on this. Some of them are more dangerous than others.

“Triggered” means things are going along pretty well and then one day you run into him at the grocery store or someone says something and BINGO! You are back at “square one” in pain, misery, angry, sad, mad, down, etc. and you have a “melt down.” I recently got “triggered” when two stressful events (one a betrayal by someone else) and having to go through a foot locker full of my P-son’s lying letters from prison all at the same time. I melted down for a couple of weeks!

During the melt down, I went to visit my best friend in another state and that helped (I’m retired) so when you melt down, you be good to yourself, and pick yourself up again.

Once a melt down was triggered by running into my egg donor in a store unexpectedly.

NO CONTACT–don’t talk about what they are doing, don’t talk to them, don’t look at their face book, don’t take any messages from them, no text, NO COMMUNICATION DIRECT OR INDIRECT is the best punishment we can give them. As long as we play their games of tit for tat, THEY WIN cause they get attention. Unless you have a legal case that you think you can win against him, I strongly suggest NO CONTACT (NC) pretend he doesn’t exist. It will drive him crazy.

I know what you mean about keeping the “secrets” —-did it all my life. “Let’s pretend we are a nice normal family” or “let’s pretend none of those horrible things happened.” In the end my egg donor wanted me to play “let’s pretend P-son is not a thief and a murderer that tried to have his mother killed and go on pretending he’s a nice guy who has reformed” NOT IN THIS LIFE TIME.

So hang around and do some heavy reading it willhelp you get a handle on how they think and our best ways of takin care of us! (((Hugs) and welcome!

have alot to post on Trophy nice to meet you welcome aboard but i’m on lunch…

Newspaper ad blasts schools boss: Broward County Superintendent accused of redirecting funding for special needs children to travel perks, hiring friends, fueling his corvette – South Florida
$32 Million of Stimulus Money Intended for ESE Children went elsewhere.,0,1002673.story

Broward teachers, superintendent escalate hostilities

trophy this is a great article: thought about your aspies..also with a sideline on being friends with a problem kids… will post more tonite…

Parenting A Child With Asperger’s Syndrome


More stuff Trophy if you didn’t see the post i sent to witsend:


i was thinking about you and your son,

here is an article about oxytocin use in autistics. there was another about the same hormone being deficient in ASPD.

Do you think your son will take it?

Autism: Oxytocin Improves Social Behavior of Patients, French Study Finds

Brain’s ‘Trust Machinery’ Identified

Asperger Syndrome, Autism, And Empathy: Study Links 27 Genes


My grandson lives with his sociopathic mother who is smart and knows exactly how to subtly push his buttons so that he is upset and angry. He is 16 years old now. She has so many people feeling sorry for her because she is the parent of a kid with ODD! I think not. My grandson can see what she does but has had no support for it. Adults are not the only ones who can go “crazy” living with a socipopath. An only child of a sociopath (who craves the dominance and attention) is going to exhibit many of the behaviors of ODD — without the context the label is just slapped on the kid. Really frustrating for me to watch.

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