Antisocial Personality Disorder – A Psychodynamic Explanation


Antisocial Personality Disorder And The Early Life Of Sufferers :

According to Meroy (1988), those who go on to develop antisocial personality disorder as adults have frequently experienced a dysfunctional relationship with their mothers during infancy, including a failure to form a healthy emotional bond with her – this could be for a variety of reasons that include maternal mental illness, emotional deprivation, rejection, abuse and/or neglect.

Stranger Self-Object :

Meroy also suggests that the person suffering from antisocial personality disorder has a self-based upon an ‘aggressive introject’, referred to as a ‘stranger self-object.’

An introject can be defined as an unconscious defence mechanism in which an individual (especially a child) absorbs, and replicates in himself, the personality traits of another person into his/her own psyche.

The aggressive introject is referred to as the stranger self-object because it reflects the child’s experience of the parent as a kind of ‘stranger’ who cannot be trusted and who harbours nefarious intent towards him/her (i.e. the child).

As a child, the future antisocial personality disorder sufferer perceives his/her primary caregiver (usually the mother) as being unloving, cruel, emotionally distant and cold, unempathetic, uncaring and a threat / aggressive/prone to hurting him/her; s/he then introjects (see above) these characteristics.

Failure To Develop Meaningful Empathy Or Internalize Rules  :

Furthermore, s/he generalizes the negative characteristics s/he perceives to exist in the harmful primary- caregiver onto others so that his/her basic template for relating to other people, in general, excludes trust, empathy and healthy emotional bonding.

This, in turn, leads him/her to be unable to develop meaningful empathy with others, making it possible for him/her to hurt these others without experiencing feelings of remorse.

Failure to identify with parents due to early life dysfunctional relationships with them can also frequently lead to non-internalization of rule-based systems which, in turn, makes it far more likely that the child will grow up without respect for the rules of society in general (which is, of course, a hallmark of the antisocial personality).

‘Sadistic’ Attempts To Bond :

Because of the failure of emotional bonding in early life with his/her mother, the antisocial personality disorder sufferer, as an adult, becomes essentially emotionally detached from his/her relationships and any attempts s/he does make to bond with others are frequently sadistic (based upon control and other destructive behaviours).

‘Superego Lacunae’ :

Because those suffering from antisocial personality disorder do not experience remorse when they hurt others, some psychodynamic theorists speculate that they are also unable to experience true depression (in relation to this idea, you may wish to read my article entitled: Do Only Good’ People Get Depressed?). Kernberg (1984) suggests that such individuals usually have severely underdeveloped superegos and that even high functioning antisocial individuals, who do, in fact, have some nascent and perfunctory development of their conscience, still have very substantial deficits in relation to it which Kernberg referred to as superego lucanae.

Kernberg also put forward the notion that those who suffer from antisocial personality disorder :

  • do not tend to be interested in rationalizing their behaviour
  • do not tend to be interested in morally justifying their behaviour


David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE). is reader-supported. When you buy through links on this site, I may earn an affiliate commission.