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The relationship between sociopathy/psychopathy and bipolar disorder

The subject of the overlap between bipolar disorder and sociopathy is important to me personally and professionally. One of the reasons I did not understand my husband was that I saw him as a “bit on the manic side.” In some of the letters he sent me from prison, he declared himself to be “bipolar” rather than psychopathic/sociopathic. My experience is not unique, in our survey of Women Who Love Psychopaths, Sandra L. Brown, M.A. and I asked about manic symptoms in male partners. Over half of the women attested to the presence of these symptoms in their men.

I first wrote about the connection between bipolar disorder and sociopathy in March, 2007. For more background please read ASK Dr. LEEDOM: What is the difference between bipolar disorder and sociopathy?

There is a link between bipolar disorder and sociopathy that has been explored in a very important recent study. Two researchers from the University of Toronto, Dr. Benjamin Goldstein and Dr. Anthony Levitt looked at data from more than 1000 patients with bipolar disorder ((Am J Psychiatry 2006; 163:1633–1636). They divided them into three groups, childhood onset (prior to 13), adolescent onset and adult onset. They then looked at the prevalence of sociopathy in the three groups. Bipolar disorder was associated with sociopathy in 37 percent of childhood onset cases, 30 percent of adolescent onset cases and 16 percent of adult onset cases. It should be noted that these percentages are all much higher than the estimated prevalence of sociopathy in the general population (4%). I did find research from another group in Britain essentially verifying these results.

The above results suggest that the manic mood problems that are associated with bipolar disorder interfere with personality development. The earlier the manic mood problems start, the more personality is affected. I have had the privilege of teaching child adolescent and adult development many times now. It is well established that our personalities do not stop developing at 18 that is why mood problems at any age can affect personality.

Why would a manic mood be associated with the development of sociopathy? Next week I will explore this notion further reporting on a study of fearless temperament in children. This week though I would like to point out that when many people are manic, they become preoccupied with power and dominance. It is very common for manic patients to believe they are some powerful political or religious leader. One group of animal researchers has put together some convincing arguments that dominance in rats can be used as an animal model to test medications for mania. So mania and dominance motivation have the same biologic correlates.

Although a sense of wanting to accomplish tasks and become independent are important for adults and children, excessive dominance can impair a person’s ability to love. Since children are in the process of learning to love, a preoccupation with dominance can poison all their social interactions. A dominant child that frequently misbehaves becomes a target for discipline by all the adults in his/her life. Although discipline may be necessary, excessive discipline prevents the child from enjoying loving interactions with his parents and teachers. If a child does not learn to enjoy love, he/she will likely not incorporate loving behaviors into his/her personality. Without loving behaviors there is nothing to prevent exploitation of others.

All of this leads me to say that temperamentally and genetically at risk children need specialized focused, loving parenting. At risk children include the offspring of parents with bipolar disorder, sociopathy/psychopathy, addiction, alcoholism and ADHD. If you are a parent of an at risk child, I encourage you to visit Parenting the at-risk child and consider joining the new Forum. This Forum is operated by the Aftermath group, which is a joint collaboration between victims and researchers. I would like to see parents supporting each other through the very difficult task of preventing sociopathy in at risk kids. Although many children will develop disordered in spite of the best parenting and professional help available, there is much indirect evidence that parenting can make a difference for some. More on genetics and temperament next week.

ADDENDUM: The afternoon after I wrote this news organizations broke the story of Peter Dawson who was sentensed to prison for a scheme that defrauded seniors out of their life savings. Dawson is quoted as to saying he has “bipolar disorder.” District Attorney Kathleen Rice stated “Mr. Dawson preyed on his clients, many of them elderly, in order to line his own pockets, and he abused his position of trust to satisfy his own lifestyle,” -Mr. Dawson may have bipolar disorder but he is also described as a predator by Ms. Rice.

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48 Comments on "The relationship between sociopathy/psychopathy and bipolar disorder"

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  1. henry says:

    Oxy, You are a good coach, you give advice and understand what we are feeling. Thanks, Someone mentioned (boredom) in the (P). My x had to constantly keep his mind occupied with crossword puzzle, jigsaw puzzles, crochet, computer games etc. He was a sports fanatic and could remember every game ever played and the scores. He could never set alone with his thought’s, unless I was listening to him tell me how he had worked at this palce and that place and how he had been the best employee they ever had. He would go on and on about if he was in charge things at work would run smoothly. And anything that ever went wrong at work was someone else’s fault and he said a women employee was sabatoging his work to make him look bad. He would ask how my day went, but I got were I would just say (fine) because I knew he really didn’t care. And he was such a slob, I would suggest he do laundry while I mowed 2 acres of grass, he would continuesly dry the same load over and over so it would appear he was doing laundry. If I was building the deck he was on the computer. If I asked him to hold a board while I hammered it he would, but then go right back to what ever he was doing. He was irritable unless we were doing what he wanted to do. I am realizing that I may have to forgive him for being worthess, and some of the loss I feel is for the (few) endearing thing’s I liked about him, but they are getting harder and harder to remember. This is not the end of the world for me, he was just a page in history……..I am tired of history lesson’s…

  2. henry says:

    p.s. I will never forgive him for being an evil predator

  3. OxDrover says:

    Henry, “them that can do, do; them that can’t, teach” Ha ha

    Thanks Henry, I do hope I’ve given you some good advice. I’m glad that you are starting to feel better too. Thinking about the things they did do that were hateful, and the things they didn’t do that they should have, keeps your mind focused on the reasons that we should be GLAD they are out of our lives.

    It was hot today but I got outside and sweated and worked hard physically. One of the things I have found is that when you are stressed mentally, that hard physical work will lower your emotional stress. Exercise I guess of any sort will do the same thing. It burns up the “stress hormones” that the emotional upsets release into our systems, tires the muscles out so that we can rest at night and our heads not keep “running” to keep us awake.

    I’m back to a point physically now (after last summer’s tick fever bout) that I can finally do 8 hours work in a day–it takes me 12 hours to do the 8, with rest periods in between work times, but that MAY be because I am 60+ years old, who knows! ha ha

    When I am doing physical work that doesn’t require much in the way of concentration, today was PAINTING an outbuilding—I muse about this and that, or just look at what I am doing and pat myself on the back that this is one more job that is DONE and I won’t have to do again. I’m making ‘progress’ on all the things that need doing that I have neglected doing since my husband died,my step dad’s death, and all the psychopathic chaos of the last four years, but it is “coming along” and that gives me some satisfaction.

    I think that finding SOMETHING to do that does give us SATISFACTION with ourselves is important. Something that you can do that you can “measure”–at least for me–so that you can see how much “progress” you have made. Whether it is fixing up your house, yard, or paying off your debts that the P incured, or making a quilt, or painting a painting, or whatever rings your chimes, but something that you can have satisfaction in that you can physically SEE or measure.

    Mine is looking around the farm and seeing thing things I ahve accomplisihed since I got home. Sorting bolts and putting them away neatly might not be everyone’s “satisfaction” but for me it is when I need one and I know where to go get it.

    Totally focusing on the losses, and not seeing any gains, would depress anyone. At first the pain is so bad just doing the dishes is a monumental chore to accomplish, but as you move further along in the healing process, look for more goals.

    Hang on Henry, things are already getting better, I can read it in your posts! And, they will get better and better, I promise!

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