Going through some article, it seems the differences between the descriptions for sadistic personality disorder and psychopathy is minimal, if at all existent. In the first article it appears the only difference is a propensity for physical violence. In the second article, the high correlation between psychopathy and physical violence is debunked as a myth.

Given the similarities between the two conditions;
What is the real difference between an individual with Sadistic Personality Disorder and Psychopathy?

What are the real facts correlating violence in psychopathy?

The excerpts are provided below:

The Sadistic Personality disorder is characterized by a pattern of gratuitous cruelty, aggression, and demeaning behaviors which indicate the existence of deep-seated contempt for other people and an utter lack of empathy. Some sadists are "utilitarian": they leverage their explosive violence to establish a position of unchallenged dominance within a relationship. Unlike psychopaths, they rarely use physical force in the commission of crimes. Rather, their aggressiveness is embedded in an interpersonal context and is expressed in social settings, such as the family or the workplace.

This narcissistic need for an audience manifests itself in other circumstances. Sadists strive to humiliate people in front of witnesses. This makes them feel omnipotent. Power plays are important to them and they are likely to treat people under their control or entrusted to their care harshly: a subordinate, a child, a student, a prisoner, a patient, or a spouse are all liable to suffer the consequences of the sadist's "control freakery" and exacting "disciplinary" measures.

Sadists like to inflict pain because they find suffering, both corporeal and psychological, amusing. They torture animals and people because, to them, the sights and sounds of a creature writhing in agony are hilarious and pleasurable. Sadists go to great lengths to hurt others: they lie, deceive, commit crimes, and even make personal sacrifices merely so as to enjoy the cathartic moment of witnessing someone else's misery.

Sadists are masters of abuse by proxy and ambient abuse. They terrorize and intimidate even their nearest and dearest into doing their bidding. They create an aura and atmosphere of unmitigated yet diffuse dread and consternation. This they achieve by promulgating complex "rules of the house" that restrict the autonomy of their dependants (spouses, children, employees, patients, clients, etc.). They have the final word and are the ultimate law. They must be obeyed, no matter how arbitrary and senseless are their rulings and decisions.

Most sadists are fascinated by gore and violence. They are vicarious serial killers: they channel their homicidal urges in socially acceptable ways by "studying" and admiring historical figures such as Hitler, for instance. They love guns and other weapons, are fascinated by death, torture, and martial arts in all their forms. 1

In another discussion the idea of a psychopath being typically violent is dispelled as a myth:

All psychopaths are violent. Research by psychologists such as Randall T. Salekin, now at the University of Alabama, indicates that psychopathy is a risk factor for future physical and sexual violence. Moreover, at least some serial killers—for example, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy and Dennis Rader, the infamous “BTK” (Bind, Torture, Kill) murderer—have manifested numerous psychopathic traits, including superficial charm and a profound absence of guilt and empathy. Nevertheless, most psychopaths are not violent, and most violent people are not psychopaths. In the days following the horrific Virginia Tech shootings of April 16, 2007, many newspaper commentators described the killer, Seung-Hui Cho, as “psychopathic.” Yet Cho exhibited few traits of psychopathy: those who knew him described him as markedly shy, withdrawn and peculiar. 2

1 Sadistic Personality Disorder "Personality Disorders Revisited" (450 pages e-book) By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

2 What "Psychopath" Means It is not quite what you may think By Scott O. Lilienfeld and Hal Arkowitz

note: I post a run of related questions, please do not be disturbed by the content.

  • $\begingroup$ I have distinct recollection that the relationship between sadism and psychopathy was once to me described as all sadists are psychopaths, but not vice-versa; with sadistic trait defined loosely as 'taking pleasure in physical pain of others', and everything else just flowing from psychopathy. $\endgroup$
    – Gleno
    Commented Feb 1, 2015 at 4:30

2 Answers 2


First of all you must understand that "psychopathy" or "sadistic personality disorder" are names given by scholars to groups of behaviors that seem to have something in common. These categories are not god-given, but human made, and what they include or exclude changes with the progress of scientific knowledge as well as political interests.

Sadistic personality disorder was a diagnosis proposed in the appendix of the DSM-III-R, but it has not been included in the DSM-IV or DSM-5. Currently it is not a diagnosis that can be given to anyone, although it is still used by some researchers, because they find it useful for research purposes.

Psychopathy has never been a distinct diagnosis in the DSM (or ICD), but the manual stated that antisocial personality disorder includes what is referred to as psychopathy.

The difference between sadistic personality disorder, as it was defined by the DSM-III-R, and psychopathy, as it is defined by different scholars using the term as well as the DSM's antisocial personality disorder, is that a sadist is cruel and aims at physically or mentally inducing pain and suffering, while the psychopath disregards norms and the rights of others. Their behavior might outwardly look the same, and they might have the same goal of dominance, but they differ in their personalities, which are perfectly described by the everyday meaning of the words sadistic and antisocial.

  • $\begingroup$ still haven't found the DSM definition of sadistic and antisocial i see. $\endgroup$
    – user3832
    Commented Feb 9, 2014 at 7:33

Anti social behaviour is the psychiatric standard for the disorders you discuss according to the DSM 5. Both psychopathy and sadistic personality disorder are subtypes of type of antisocial personality disorder. Both diagnosis have a negative outlook. Assuming the psychiatrist uses Theodore Millon's or the like subtypes when psychopathy is a diagnosis.

Your assumption that all those who suffer from ASP are violent and citations as such are incorrect as things like non-violent gambling happen in ASP as well. There are books and webpages dedicated to high functioning ASP but it is not a well researched area of study. Even the term high functioning ASP is not in the literature.

  • $\begingroup$ In your second paragraph, the source cited is simply talking about a comorbidity of ASP with (pathological) gambling. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 17, 2017 at 2:48

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