Sociopath, psychopath – Lovefraud’s proposal for naming the disorder

One reason why many of us found ourselves victimized by sociopaths is because we did not know that dangerous personality disorders existed.

We may have heard of crazy people, but we assumed that we could spot them because they looked and talked crazy. We may have heard of psychopaths, but we assumed they were serial killers or some other type of obviously hardened criminal.

We did not know that people existed who could convincingly proclaim their love, cry tears of sadness, and make glowing promises for the future, all simply to exploit us. We did not know that these people were called sociopaths and/or psychopaths.

In my opinion, a big reason for the public’s unawareness of, and confusion about, this dangerous personality disorder is the lack of agreement in the mental health profession about naming and defining it. How can you educate the public about these social predators when you can’t even decide what to call them?

Range of names

Research psychologists in major universities use the term “psychopath.” The main reason is that they run their studies using the Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R), developed by Dr. Robert Hare.

The PCL-R is recognized as the gold standard for evaluating the disorder. The instrument includes a list of 20 characteristics. An individual is rated 0, 1 or 2 on each item, and the points are added up for a total score. A person must score 30 to be diagnosed as a “psychopath.” For more on the PCL-R, read Researchers minimize the psychopathy problem.

Psychiatrists and other clinicians follow the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, now in the 4th edition. At the moment, the official term in the manual for this malady is “antisocial personality disorder.” Psychiatrists use the term “sociopath” for short.

Currently, the DSM-IV recognizes 10 personality disorders, divided into three clusters—A, B and C. Cluster B covers dramatic, emotional or erratic disorders.  It includes antisocial, borderline, histrionic and narcissistic personality disorders.

All of this, however, is in the process of change—the 5th edition of the manual is now being written. A year ago, a draft of the new manual was posted on the Internet, and the public was invited to comment. For the most part, the diagnostic criteria were much improved, but Dr. Liane Leedom and I had problems with a few of the descriptive statements. Read our views in Lovefraud’s comment about sociopaths for the DSM-5.

My biggest problem with the revision is that it creates yet another name for this condition, “antisocial/psychopathic type.” Personally, I think this term is ridiculous. I don’t even know how it would be used in a sentence. Do we say that someone is an “antisocial slash psychopathic type”?

Selecting “sociopath”

When I was first developing back in 2004, I had to decide which term to use. After some informal market research, I selected “sociopath.”

The main reason was that “psychopath” was just too scary. Hollywood and the media portray psychopaths as deranged serial killers. I worried that people would not believe they had a psychopath in their lives, because he or she had never killed anyone, and would therefore dismiss all of the information about this disorder.

My reasoning was supported by last year’s Lovefraud survey. The survey asked the following questions:

Before your involvement with this disordered individual, what did you understand the term “sociopath” to mean?

  • Criminal: 19.2%
  • Serial killer: 19.4%
  • Someone who was delusional: 6.4%
  • Person without empathy or a conscience: 19.7%
  • I didn’t know what it meant: 35.3%

Before your involvement with this disordered individual, what did you understand the term “psychopath” to mean?

  • Criminal: 15.0%
  • Serial killer: 51.2%
  • Someone who was delusional: 13.4%
  • Person without empathy or a conscience: 8.9%
  • I didn’t know what it meant: 11.5%

Fully half of the 1,378 survey respondents believed a psychopath was a serial killer. I think it’s safe to assume that this level of misinformation pervades the general public.


So the experts argue over terminology. I’ve even had two college psychology professors contact me to tell me that I’m using the wrong name. Although they didn’t seem to be aware of the disagreement in the field, I am, and I summarize the disparate views on the page, Psychopath/sociopath.

In practice, the behaviors and traits exhibited by individuals diagnosed with psychopathy, sociopathy narcissism, and even borderline personality disorders overlap, so it’s hard to tell where one ends and another begins. Many Lovefraud readers simply describe the individual they were involved with as P/S/N, for psychopath/sociopath/narcissist. Others say that the individual has a “cluster B” disorder. Of course, no one knows what that means, but it is less prejudicial and more likely to be believed.

Proposed name

I propose a solution to the name problem. I propose that “sociopath” become the general term for a social predator, someone who exploits others.

In the general category of “sociopath,” there can be subcategories that reflect the different types of exploiters. “Psychopath” can be defined as someone who scores 30 or more on the PCL-R. “Narcissist” can be someone who uses others, but doesn’t necessarily set out to cause them harm. “Antisocial personality disorder” could describe the people who are worse than a narcissist, but not as bad as a psychopath. Other subcategories can be defined as the experts see fit.

“Sociopath” has the advantage that it is already in the lexicon, but does not carry the cultural baggage of “psychopath.” People are generally aware that the word has something to do with bad behavior. But, as our survey pointed out, the largest number of respondents didn’t really know what “sociopath” meant, so they could be educated.

“Sociopath” could be analogous to the term “cancer.” There are many types of cancer—lung cancer, skin cancer, colon cancer—but we all know that cancer is bad and we take precautions to avoid it. We don’t smoke. We use sunscreen. We eat fiber.

Here’s a key point: For many people, the harm caused by sociopaths is completely avoidable, if we take precautions.

Some of us were unlucky in that we were born to a sociopathic parent, or into a family that contained sociopaths. We were stuck in those situations until we could find a way to get out.

But the rest of us invited the sociopaths into our lives. If we knew that these predators existed, if we knew the warning signs, we never would have done it. We could have avoided the trauma that they caused.

In my view, settling on a clear name and diagnostic criteria for this disorder is a public health issue. People have learned how to protect themselves from cancer. With education, we can learn how to protect ourselves from sociopaths as well.

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180 Comments on "Sociopath, psychopath – Lovefraud’s proposal for naming the disorder"

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I’m fairly new to this site…its amazing as are you ALL! I will go in to details of my experience soon. But I did want to share my thoughts….
When you really think of it…did you really love him!?! HIM?!?
Or did you love not being alone, hearing the right words, being needed, having someone to do things with, sweet gifts, a place to play homemaker, the relief of not being know for singlehood anymore, the idea of finally growing old with someone, someone to hold, someone you liked kissing, great sex, someone you thought thought you were really something…was it filling my SOUL or just my NEEDS? It couldn’t survive because it wasn’t healthy love…only true love endures. I don’t ache for him, just the lost promise of things I thought would complete me. Things he wasn’t GIVING from his heart, just giving to GET my heart. I grieve for those things…laughing, hugging,euphoria, love, security, protection, togetherness-that I never truly got but a false taste of. I suffer the loss of those promises now gone…the loss of hope-hope I gave a thousand times more than he deserved’ to fulfill those things he let me glimpse in the beginning.
Try to see…THAT is what you loved and miss…
not him. NO ONE could miss what is the truth of HIM.

Welcome nvoelk! Thanks for your post! You are definitely right! It wasn’t real. Just smoke and mirrors!

Thx Ox,
I have really enjoyed reading all your posts! Just spent 10 minutes eating….lol!!!

Dear Nvoelk,

I hope you didn’t “over eat” during those 10 minutes! LOL I’m having to work on my “nutritional plan” and eat some more, I haven’t been working hard enough on some of my big projects—need to finish them up, I have a half skinned cow lying in my living room in the form of a paint bucket and a ladder! LOL It’s time to finish the job!

Glad you are here, but sorry you have a need to be here. This is a great club but no one wants to join! Great people though!

welcome. It’s true that the spaths were false, but I believe my love was real. I stayed with him for 25 years out of loyalty. I didn’t stay “in love” with him but I did love him. I also have a spath bro and spath sis that I loved deeply and constantly bent over backwards for them. Then I realized that they were spaths and the only reason I always had to bend over backwards was because THEY LIKE TO SEE ME DO IT.

It amused them. They had no love for me and they never will, because they are incapable.

Dear Nv

Can’t WAIT to hear your story! That’s a good post!


Just got back from my womens abuse group…it is heartbreaking to see the age, race, and social variety…no one is immune. Thanks LL and also Skylar- I don’t doubt you loved all those spaths. I wrote that more as my thoughts out loud trying to make sense of it all. Makes me feel like I don’t really know what real love is after ‘loving’ someone as bad as this guy was….


But even if you don’t think you know what real love is, you’ve learned what it is NOT. That’s progress!


Amen to that!

As Donna says, getting involved with a P/S/N is avoidable if we know what to look for. About the time I met my N, I was also dating other men…at least 2 were P/S/N’s. I’m 63…10 years ago when I was meeting men from, these fellows turned up in my life. One did have that intense look in his eyes, but I just assumed he was “intense” and very intelligent. Without telling the entire story, now that I think about him and all I know about his life and other women, he is chilling.

After having lived with an N for 7 years and being away from him for almost two years, I do think I’ve learned a tremendous lesson in being able to discern a person’s character.

Men would be easier than women for me. One of my closest friends did a huge number on me this year and I never dreamed she was one…I just knew she could be very verbally and emotionally abusive toward me. Yeah…I just let it continue until she went on avery destructive rage toward me. I’ll stop her story here.

At any rate, even though I’ve learned a lot on my own, I’ll keep reading this site because I know there is a lot more I’ll need to learn. The No Contact Rule is priceless and so simple. I think being involved with these people is an indicator that we need to proceed very slowly in relationships…it would definitely prevent a lot of hurt and destruction.

A fellow traveler, Emily

P.S. I’m having a hard time lumping these N/S/P all together…I’ll keep on reading about this so I understand it better.

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