Understanding Sadistic Personality Disorder and Sadistic Personality Disorder Symptoms

Understanding Sadistic Personality Disorder and Sadistic Personality Disorder Symptoms
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What is Sadistic Personality Disorder?

Sadistic personality disorder, though no longer considered a valid diagnostic category in the current revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 4th Edition (DSM-IV), is still researched heavily as a personality disorder.

Sadistic behavior is more than just being mean or inflicting pain on a person or animal; to be truly sadistic it must give the perpetrator emotional or sexual pleasure. Sadistic behavior in and of itself does not necessarily mean the person has a personality disorder. While the person may exhibit sadistic personality disorder symptoms, the behavior must be a long-standing, daily infliction of physical or psychological pain to be considered a sadistic personality disorder.


To date, no singular cause of sadistic personality disorder has been identified, though theories abound. Research fails to show a clear and common factor among people diagnosed with the disorder; some have suffered abuse as children, some have brain abnormalities and chemical imbalances. Others have nothing in their personal or medical histories that would cause alarm or point to future personality disorders.


Sadistic personality disorder symptoms mirror and overlap symptoms of other personality disorders, often making it difficult to obtain a single diagnosis. While this list is not exhaustive, people with sadistic personality disorder commonly have at least four of the following symptoms:

  • Cruelty to animals, children and other people
  • Chronic anxiety, irritability, and anger
  • Poor impulse control, including obsessive compulsive behavior
  • Frequent displays of inappropriate self-disclosure
  • Reckless endangerment of self and others
  • Preoccupation with daydreaming and fantasy
  • Paranoia
  • Chronic dishonesty about self and others
  • Rigid self-discipline
  • Hypochondria
  • Overly dramatic or unwarranted emotional reactions in social situations
  • Eccentric thinking or beliefs


Behaviors typically appear during adolescence and escalate over time, and according to a study published in the March 2006 issue of “Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law” researchers determined that males are much more likely than females to be affected by the disorder. Males are also more likely to manifest their sadism in a sexual manner.


The most common behavioral characteristic of a person with sadistic personality disorder is cruelty used to intimidate and dominate a person or animal. Sadists lack empathy and derive pleasure from witnessing and causing pain and suffering.

Cruelty inflicted by a sadist may be physical or emotional, and is typically harsh and extremely aggressive. Physically, he may go to great lengths to cause pain that cannot be seen by outsiders, e.g. bruising on the feet or areas covered by clothing, but that will remind his victim he is in control. Emotionally, the sadist can arguably do even more damage by berating and humiliating his victim in social settings and restricting freedom of thought or movement. He may use intimidation and terroristic threats of violence to keep family members or friends in line, and display violent outbursts in private to use as leverage against disobedience.

Individuals with sadistic personality disorder frequently have other personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder. Clinical depression and oppositional defiant disorder are common, as well.

Despite its removal from the DSM IV, research on sadistic personality disorder symptoms and behaviors continues in an effort to better understand both sadistic personality disorder and those it affects.


Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders: Sexual Sadism- https://www.minddisorders.com/Py-Z/Sexual-sadism.html

Healthy Place: Sadistic Personality Disorder- https://www.healthyplace.com/personality-disorders/malignant-self-love/sadistic-personality-disorder/menu-id-1469/

“Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law:; Sadistic Personality Disorder and Comorbid Mental Illness in Adolescent Inpatients; Wade C. Myers, et al.; March 2006

Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba: Sadistic Personality Disorder- https://www.depression.mb.ca/documents/infoshts/Personality_Disorders/SADISTIC%20PERSONALITY%20DISORDER.pdf

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