The sadistic personality may be mistaken for antisocial personality disorder.
- Sadistic personality disorder is no longer in the DSM, but it’s still recognized by personality aficionados.
- The chief component of sadistic personality is taking pleasure in cruel, demeaning, and aggressive behaviors as a means of control.
- It is differentiated from antisocial personality disorder in that, for the sadistic personality, cruelty and aggression is an end unto itself.
The Sadistic Personality
While no longer addressed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), sadistic personality disorder (SPD), similar to the passive-agressive and masochistic personality, has continued to be recognized as a legitimate condition by many (e.g., Millon, 2011; Plouffe, Sakloske &Smith, 2017; Coolidge et al., 2018; Kowalski et al., 2019). Sadistic personality qualities have also been resurfacing as a hot topic in the realm of the dark triad/tetrad.
First written about as a psychological construct by Krafft-Ebbing in the mid-1800s (Millon, 2011), the sadistic character was then recognized as someone who enjoys instigation of pain, cruelty, and humiliation as sexual dominance. This was expounded upon by Freud, who discussed sadism and masochism as “bipolar dimensions of the aggressive component of the sexual instinct” (Millon, 2011).
Looking beyond this sexual basis, however, Eric Fromm later posited that sexual sadism was only one expression of some people’s need to humiliate. Millon (2011) quoted Fromm:
“Mental cruelty, the wish to humilate and to hurt another person’s feelings, is probably even more widespread than physical sadism. This type of sadistic attack is much safer to the sadist… the psychological pain can be as intense or even more so than the physical… the core of sadism…is the passion to have absolute and unrestricted control over a living being. To force someone to endure pain or humiliation without being able to defend oneself is one of the manifestations of absolute control…”
In other words, it seemed that some people’s interpersonal style is entirely constructed around sadistic behavior. It was just this line of thinking that led to SPD being included in the DSM-3 Revised edition (DSM 3-R ). However, this was limited to the “Proposed Diagnostic Categories Needing Further Study” appendix, and never made it further, despite over 50% of forensic psychiatrists surveyed at that time reporting having interviewed cases that would meet criteria (Levesque, 2014). According to Millon (2011), disregarding it in future editions was a political decision, but a foolish one, given it is clear there exists an aggression-loving population in society that markedly contributes to the decline of civility. more