High-functioning sociopaths can often hold down jobs and maintain relationships or marriages. However, these behaviors often hide a tendency to manipulate and exploit people for their benefit.

People who have been diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) are sometimes called sociopaths. They engage in behaviors that typically harm others for the benefit of themselves.

A “sociopath” has little regard for another person’s emotions, rights, or experiences. They lack remorse for their actions, and they act in ways that show no regard for others, including lying, cheating, and manipulating.

Some people with this condition aren’t very sly about their conduct. Others are quite deceptive.

The people who have an easier time engaging in these dishonest behaviors may be called high-functioning sociopaths. Indeed, someone who’s high functioning often comes off as charming and warm, while hiding behaviors and conduct that’s often anything but.

People with high-functioning ASPD can often do typical ‘everyday’ things like hold down a job and maintain a marriage with kids. However, these otherwise typical behaviors often hide a tendency to manipulate and exploit people and situations for their benefit.

ASPD isn’t common. Between 1 to 4 percent of the population is estimated to have this disorder, with males 3 to 5 times more likely to be diagnosed than females.

But the behaviors of someone with high-functioning ASPD can be all-consuming for people who live with or work around them.

Read on to find out why this condition develops and what treatments are available — whether you’re seeking help for yourself or a loved one.

Some individuals with antisocial personality disorder don’t exhibit polished and polite behaviors as a mask for their manipulations. Some may call these people ‘low-functioning’ sociopaths, though the DSM-5 doesn’t use the terms high or low functioning to describe behaviors associated with ASPD.

People considered ‘low-functioning sociopaths’ may lack the education or interpersonal skills to control and deceive. Instead, they might use threats, coercion, or intimidation to achieve their desired outcome.

Not all high-functioning ASPD symptoms are evident. Many can become more apparent after true intentions or agendas are revealed.

Symptoms and characteristics include:

  • Superior intelligence. Those who are high functioning are often incredibly smart, with very high IQs which can help them read, manipulate, and control scenarios.
  • Lack of empathy. People with ASPD don’t comprehend other people’s emotions. Therefore, they don’t appreciate or anticipate the consequences of their actions.
  • Calculating behaviors. People with this type of sociopathy are driven and determined. A strong self-love (narcissism) and sense of grandiosity may be their catalyst.
  • Secretive tendencies. High-functioning individuals may keep everything close to the vest. They rarely reveal private information or thoughts unless it’s to manipulate another person.
  • Charm. Despite generally not enjoying being around people, a high-functioning person displays impeccable social skills.
  • Sensitivity. People with high-functioning ASPD can be defensive. They may be quick to anger when they perceive they don’t have someone’s approval. That’s because they often feed off admiration from others.
  • Addictive behaviors. It’s not uncommon for a person with a high-functioning personality disorder to experience addiction. Compulsive behaviors and reactions can lead to issues with gambling, sex, alcohol, and drugs.

Maintaining a relationship with someone who has high-functioning antisocial personality disorder can be difficult, but it is possible. The key may be to care for yourself, rather than pushing them to find help.

These strategies may be useful:

Come to an honest realization

You can’t fix a person with this condition — there is no cure.

But you can arm yourself with the resources you need to properly defend yourself and shepherd them away from scenarios that hurt you.

Don’t make deals

You can’t make agreements or arrangements with someone with high-functioning ASPD.

Only you feel the compulsion to uphold the bargain. They don’t. This could lead to additional harm.

Listen to your gut

Someone with this type of ASPD may be adept at manipulating a person’s emotions in order to achieve their goals. Once the charm wears off, you’re left with the reality.

If you have a gut feeling about them or their motivations, listen to that little voice.

End the relationship

The ultimate way to protect yourself from the potential harm of a person with this type of antisocial behavior is to eliminate them from your life. However, this isn’t always easy.

Get help

If you’ve been hurt by a person with ASPD, you can find help.

Trained mental health professionals can help you understand what you experienced and learn from it. They can then teach you to set protective boundaries to hopefully prevent future abuse.

It’s not clear exactly why some people develop higher functioning ASPD. There’s no known cause.

What is known, however, is that some people are more likely to develop this type of ASPD than others.

factors that may cause high-functioning sociopathy
  • Sex. Males are more likely to develop ASPD than females.
  • Genes. A family history of any type of ASPD may increase your risk for it or another type of mental illness.
  • Conduct disorder. High-functioning ASPD is unlikely to be diagnosed before age 18, but childhood conduct issues may be a sign of a personality disorder like sociopathy.
  • Trauma. Childhood abuse or neglect increases the risk for this type of disorder.
  • Unstable childhood. Children raised in environments that are turbulent, even violent, are also at a greater risk.

There’s no single test to diagnose high-functioning ASPD. Mental health professionals often don’t rely on a person’s self-reported symptoms either. That’s because people with this disorder that are high functioning are proficient in lying and covering up their true motives and thoughts.

Instead, mental health experts use a list of persistent negative behaviors to establish high-functioning sociopathy.

If a person has at least three of these antisocial behaviors, they’ll likely be diagnosed with the condition:

  • a disregard for rules, norms, or boundaries
  • repeatedly lying or deceiving to accomplish personal gain
  • an inability to act with long-term plans; constantly engaging in impulsive behaviors
  • lacking remorse for the hurt or pain they’ve caused
  • failing to maintain responsibilities, such as work or financial commitments
  • aggressive behavior, especially when challenged or upset
  • acting recklessly, even when responsible for another’s well-being

There’s currently no cure for high-functioning sociopathy and treatments are limited, too. This may be because most individuals with this type of ASPD won’t seek treatment because they don’t recognize their behaviors as problematic or harmful.

However, if you believe you have high-functioning ASPD or know someone who may, there are some treatments that can help you maintain healthy relationships while working to impede the worst symptoms.

These include:

  • Psychotherapy: This form of therapy can teach you ways to cope with anger, addictive behaviors, and other symptoms.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): This type of therapy may help you discover where your behaviors began. You may work to change harmful thought patterns, too.
  • Medicine: One study found that men with ASPD who took clozapine showed reduced aggression and violence. However, it’s not currently approved for this purpose. The FDA hasn’t approved any drugs for the treatment of this condition, though some medicines may be used to treat co-occurring conditions, such as anxiety or aggression.

Online therapy options

Read our review of the best online therapy options to find the right fit for you.

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If you suspect a friend or family member has high-functioning antisocial personality disorder, you may not be able to convince them to seek treatment. Many don’t recognize the harm their condition does to others around them.

What you can do, however, is find help for yourself.

You can learn techniques that will protect you against the possible abuse and manipulation that’s common from people with this type of sociopathy. While not always possible, these measures may help you maintain a loving, stable relationship with them.

If you believe you may be someone with high-functioning ASPD, you can find help, too. Mental health experts can talk with you and your friends or family members to understand the behaviors you exhibit.

You can then discuss possible treatments and ways to properly care for yourself.