Identifying those with Antisocial Personality Disorders in the Church
By Tena DeGraaf
I write as the voice of experience. In my life, I have crossed paths with a couple of sociopaths, and I felt the call to inform and warn my brothers and sisters in Christ. My prayer is that you take these articles to heart and remember that while God is sovereign, He calls us to grow in wisdom.
What is an antisocial personality disorder? What are the characteristics of this disorder? It should be noted that the terms sociopath and psychopath are also interchangeable with antisocial personality disorder. We tend to assume that these are the people who commit the heinous crimes we hear about on the television, but those with antisocial personality disorders can hurt others in many ways that do not make it to the ten o’clock news. Dr. Robert D. Hare, in his book Without Conscience, defines psychopaths as “social predators who charm, manipulate, and ruthlessly plow their way through life, leaving a broad trail of broken hearts, shattered expectations, and empty wallets” (Bentley x). It is a person, who without a guilty conscience or remorse, suits his/her needs or wants at the expense (financial, emotional, relational, or physical) of others.
“According to the current bible of psychiatric labels, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV of the American Psychiatric Association, the clinical diagnosis of ‘antisocial personality disorder’ should be considered when an individual possesses at least three of the following seven characteristics: (1) failure to conform to social norms; (2) deceitfulness, manipulativeness; (3) impulsivity, failure to plan ahead; (4) irritability, aggressiveness; (5) reckless disregard for the safety of self or others; (6) consistent irresponsibility; (7) lack of remorse after having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another person. The presence in an individual of any three of these ‘symptoms’ taken together, is enough to make many psychiatrists suspect the disorder” (Stout 6).
With these criteria, Martha Stout, the author of The Sociopath Next Door states that sociopaths make up about 4% of the population. This means in a church of 100 people, at least FOUR of them could be people with an antisocial personality disorder. It is up to the leadership of each church to protect the remaining 96 people from the path of destruction that sociopaths leave when they encounter members. Should church leaders really be concerned about this type of person preying on their flock? Absolutely!! “Affinity groups-religious, political, or social groups in which all members share common values or beliefs-are particularly attractive to psychopaths because of the collective trust that members of these groups have in one another,” write Paul Babiak Ph.D., and Robert D. Hare, Ph.D. in their book, Snakes in Suits When Psychopaths Go to Work (90). Sociopaths prey on the trust abundantly given in church settings and Christian organizations. “They can talk a good line, and they can appear to be deeply caring. But in truth, sociopaths have no conscience and no real capacity for empathy or love. And because they’re wolves in sheep’s clothing, they can be very dangerous,” according to Eve A. Wood, M.D. in her book, The Gift of Betrayal How to Heal Your Life When Your World Explodes (30).
Although most of us do not have the training to diagnose anyone as a sociopath, there are some red flags to be aware of. If you know someone who has SEVERAL of the following destructive habits, proceed in the relationship with caution.
Beware of someone who:
• moves quickly into power and avoids normal procedures such as interviews
• uses flattery often
• pits people against each other as a “get ahead” strategy
• creates a toxic environment behind the scenes
• speaks the spiritual jargon but shows no other spiritual fruit
• can’t truly apologize for his/her mistakes
• shifts blame on the victim so that the victim walks away feeling he/she is at fault
• is incapable of displaying true, deep emotions such as feelings of empathy or sympathy
• mimics others’ emotions and emulates the learned behavior of the Christian leaders
• plants seeds of doubt about people in power
• embellishes his/her past accomplishments that sometimes can’t be traced
• has gaps in the resume that are not fully or clearly explained
• acquires power through the manipulation of those who are weaker than he/she is
• has the insatiable need to dominate others
• appears to always be busy but does not do any significant amount of work
• delegates the work to someone else and then takes the credit for it
Again, most of us do not have the psychological training to diagnose someone as a sociopath or having an antisocial personality disorder. However, that doesn’t mean that we should just stick our heads in the sand and pretend these types of people do not exist. They do exist, and they prey on the innocent and uninformed to create dissention and chaos. We have a responsibility to become informed and then use that information wisely to protect the body of Christ.
If you have come across someone you believe fits this profile, you should:
• inform the deacons, elders, leaders, or board of directors of this type of behavior
• encourage them to DOCUMENT ALL concerns and complaints
This way the leadership is tracking and connecting the dots and devastation of the sociopath or person with an antisocial personality disorder. Many sociopaths use the principle of Matthew 18 to their advantage, meaning they tells their victims that it would be gossip for the victims to discuss their issues regarding the sociopaths with others.
Jesus warns us of the persecution we will face in Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” ESV. As adults, parents, leaders, teachers, and members of His Kingdom, it is imperative that we do our best to protect the sheep.
If you are looking for more information on this topic, here is a list of recommended informative books:
A Dance with the Devil by Barbara Bentley
Snakes in Suits When Psychopaths Go to Work by Paul Babiak Ph.D. and Robert D. Hare, Ph.D.
The Gift of Betrayal How to Heal Your Life When Your World Explodes by Eve A. Wood, M.D.
The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout
Without Conscience by Dr. Robert D. Hare