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Sadistic Personality Disorder


Personality disorder is a matter of false judgments of value. Listed below are the false value judgments that are at the root of Sadistic Personality Disorder.

False Good

False Bad

Personality Disorder

to dominate; to be in charge; to have power, authority, responsibility; control to be without power uses physical cruelty or violence to establish dominance in relationships
traditional power structure; hierarchical lines of authority humiliates or demeans people in the presence of others
self-discipline; to have those in their charge follow their rules having those in their charge not follow the rules which they have imposed treated or disciplined someone under their control unusually harshly
to be pragmatic amused or takes pleasure in the psychological or physical suffering of others
to accomplish goals things which distract them from accomplishing their goals lies for the purpose of harming or inflicting pain on others
action, adventure, competition, and being physically assertive is fascinated by violence, weapons, martial arts, injury, or torture
for people to do what they want them to do gets people to do what they want by frightening them
control of those with whom they have a close relationship restricts the autonomy of people with whom they have a close relationship

Perspectives q.v.

The Disease Perspective

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third Edition, Revised (American Psychiatric Association, 1987, pg. 371), for research purposes, described Sadistic Personality Disorder as a pervasive pattern of cruel, demeaning, and aggressive behavior, beginning by early adulthood, as indicated by the repeated occurrence of at least four of the following:
  • has used physical cruelty or violence for the purpose of establishing dominance in a relationship (not merely to achieve some noninterpersonal goal, such as striking someone in order to rob him or her);

  • humiliates or demeans people in the presence of others;

  • has treated or disciplined someone under his or her control unusually harshly, e.g., a child, student, prisoner, or patient;

  • is amused by, or takes pleasure in, the psychological or physical suffering of others (including animals);

  • has lied for the purpose of harming or inflicting pain on others (not merely to achieve some other goal);

  • gets other people to do what he or she wants by frightening them (through intimidation or even terror);

  • restricts the autonomy of people with whom he or she has a close relationship, e.g., will not let spouse leave the house unaccompanied or permit teen-age daughter to attend social functions;

  • is fascinated by violence, weapons, martial arts, injury, or torture.

The behavior has not been directed toward only one person (e.g., spouse, one child) and has not been solely for the purpose of sexual arousal (as in Sexual Sadism).

The Dimensional Perspective

Here is a hypothetical profile, in terms of the five-factor model of personality, for Sadistic Personality Disorder (speculatively constructed from McCrae, 1994, pg. 306):

High Neuroticism
Chronic negative affects, including anxiety, fearfulness, tension, irritability, anger, dejection, hopelessness, guilt, shame; difficulty in inhibiting impulses: for example, to eat, drink, or spend money; irrational beliefs: for example, unrealistic expectations, perfectionistic demands on self, unwarranted pessimism; unfounded somatic concerns; helplessness and dependence on others for emotional support and decision making.

High Extraversion
Excessive talking, leading to inappropriate self-disclosure and social friction; inability to spend time alone; attention seeking and overly dramatic expression of emotions; reckless excitement seeking; inappropriate attempts to dominate and control others.

High Openness
Preoccupation with fantasy and daydreaming; lack of practicality; eccentric thinking (e.g., belief in ghosts, reincarnation, UFOs); diffuse identity and changing goals: for example, joining religious cult; susceptibility to nightmares and states of altered consciousness; social rebelliousness and nonconformity that can interfere with social or vocational advancement.

Low Agreeableness
Cynicism and paranoid thinking; inability to trust even friends or family; quarrelsomeness; too ready to pick fights; exploitive and manipulative; lying; rude and inconsiderate manner alienates friends, limits social support; lack of respect for social conventions can lead to troubles with the law; inflated and grandiose sense of self; arrogance.

High Conscientiousness
Overachievement: workaholic absorption in job or cause to the exclusion of family, social, and personal interests; compulsiveness, including excessive cleanliness, tidiness, and attention to detail; rigid self-discipline and an inability to set tasks aside and relax; lack of spontaneity; overscrupulousness in moral behavior.

Specific Affects

Feelings of impotence, shame and doubt; bitter frustration, feelings of helplessness (Gordon, 70); impotent rage (71); fears of persecution (27).

Character Weaknesses and Vices*

  • cruel; domineering
  • humiliates others
  • harsh
  • sadistic (enjoys the suffering of others)
  • lying
  • intimidating
  • controlling
  • fascinated by violence*

* Derived from Michael Stone's (pg. 23) list of the "personality traits" of DSM-III-R Sadistic Personality Disorder. Descriptors marked with an asterisk, he says, are not true personality traits.

The Behavior Perspective


Wants to gain power and control over the self and over outside objects (Gordon, 70).

A driving need to dominate (Oldham, 346).

Wants to have an impact on others (Baumeister, 242).

Wants to gain validation of his own being, his importance, and his power by hurting and dominating others (244).


Associated Disorders

Depression (Sutton, xii).

The Life Story Perspective


Authoritarian parenting.


Cognitive Effects

Basic Belief: I need power over others. Strategy: Dominance.

The "idealized self is made up of beliefs about how we should feel, think, or act" (Tamney, pg. 32).

John M. Oldham has defined the Aggressive Personality Style in The New Personality Self-Portrait. I have rephrased many of his ideas in terms of extreme, rigid, and imperative beliefs and attitudes. According to my view, the beliefs and attitudes rationalize and reinforce the idealized image and the compulsive attachments and aversions. They are analogous to Karen Horney's "shoulds" and "neurotic claims." These are the typical beliefs that I associate with Sadistic Personality Disorder:

  • I must dominate (Oldham, 346).
  • I must dominate in relationships, in the home, in all the groups to which I belong, and at work (346).
  • I must be in control (346).
  • I must be in charge (346).
  • I must direct all activities (346).
  • I must shape the environment.
  • Power is the most important thing in life.
  • I hate everything which is not in myself (Mailer, 164).
  • The interests and feelings of others cannot be allowed to interfere with the accomplishment of my goals (Oldham, 347).
  • I should always be the one to give the orders and establish the rules (347).
  • Everyone who is under me should always do things my way (348).
  • I have to be a strict disciplinarian (348).
  • I know the best for everyone 348).
  • If people under me don't do things my way, they are being disloyal.
  • I'm used to being chief and I can't tolerate any challenges to my authority (348).
  • If anyone challenges my authority, I must punish them for their disloyalty and reassert my control (349).
  • Parents should train their children to be tough, courageous, and ambitious (349).
  • I expect my children to obey me without question (351).
  • I am totally dedicated to my work and I won't be deterred by family life or needs for health and recreation (352).
  • I require an intensely competitive, dog-eat-dog environment in which there can be only one winner (352).
  • You can't be squeamish; you have to be ready to sacrifice others to accomplish your goals (352).
  • The end is always more important than the means (347).
  • Work (indeed, all of life) is strategic combat, a struggle to get and to keep power (353).
  • It's always the objective that counts; whatever means are expedient are justified (353).
  • I'm less concerned with following the "right" or "honorable" course as with finding a practical, efficient, effective solution (354).
  • I should be the one to create structure and organization, and plan strategy, because I'm the only one who can see the big picture (354).
  • I focus on results, not feelings (355).
  • I must function at high stimulation levels at all times, otherwise I get bored and don't know what to do with myself (355).
  • I cannot tolerate lack of power, serious competitive threats, or defeat or failure (355).
  • I must in all cases be working with and around other people (356).
  • I cannot tolerate submitting to a greater power (356).

American Psychiatric Association (1987). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third Edition, Revised. Washington: Author.

Baumeister, Roy F. (1997). Evil: Inside Human Cruelty and Violence. New York: W. H. Freeman.

Cooper, Terry D. (2003). Sin, Pride, and Self-Acceptance: The Problem of Identity in Theology and Psychology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Gordon, Andrew. (1980). An American Dreamer: A Psychoanalytic Study of the Fiction of Norman Mailer. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP.

Mailer, Norman. (1948). The Naked and the Dead. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

McCrae, Robert R. (1994). "A Reformulation of Axis II: Personality and Personality-Related Problems." Costa, Paul T., Jr., Widiger, Thomas A., editors. Personality Disorders and the Five-Factor Model of Personality. Washington, D.C.: The American Psychological Association.

Merrill, Robert. (1992). Norman Mailer Revisited. New York: Twayne.

Oldham, John M., and Lois B. Morris (1995). The New Personality Self-Portrait: Why You Think, Work, Love, and Act the Way You Do. Rev. ed. New York: Bantam.

Stone, Michael H. (1993). Abnormalities of personality: within and beyond the realm of treatment. New York: W.W. Norton.

Sutton, Nina (1996). Bettelheim: a Life and a Legacy, trans. David Sharp. New York: Basic Books.

Tamney, Joseph B. (2002). The Resilience of Conservative Religion. New York: Cambridge UP.

Sadistic Personality Disorder: links

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