Sadistic personality disorder is a mental illness characterized by experiencing pleasure, typically sexual arousal, by inflicting pain upon someone or humiliating them in some way. This mental illness is somewhat controversial as it was last seen in the DSM-III-R, but was removed from the more recent DSM-IV, DSM-IV-TR, and DSM-5.

A pertinent part of this occurrence is that there is such a high comorbidity among other personality disorders. Some of the comorbidities include avoidant personality disroder, passive-aggressive personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder. Sadistic personality disorder shares many of the symptoms of these disorders insofar as they relate to sadism. This may be part of why it was removed from the DSM as a medically recognized mental illness.

Sadism itself may actually be a personality trait according to some research. Other disorders that may have sadistic symptoms are antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder, among others. Those suffering from the forgoing disorders mentioned, including sadistic personality disorder will likely find it very difficult to form and maintain healthy relationships with others due to their intense desire to harm or embarrass others for their own pleasure.

People who suffer from sadistic personality disorder are typically unlikely to go out and seek treatment on their own as they probably will not have a desire to change their behavior as they experience pleasure from their actions. So, they may get treated for this condition indirectly. For example, someone with this disorder may seek out treatment for anxiety and then uncover some sadistic tendencies they may have.

Symptoms of Sadistic Personality Disorder

Someone suffering from this disorder will intentionally hurt people verbally or physically so they can experience some sort of pleasure out of it. Someone with sadistic personality disorder may torment someone or harshly abuse them. Oftentimes, people with this condition abuse others for the sexual thrill of it. To them, inflicting harm or suffering on someone gives them sexual pleasure. Being that sexual arousal is one of the strongest forms of pleasure experienced in the human condition, this can make someone with sadistic personality disorder very dangerous.

This is not to say that everyone who suffers from this mental illness or who has sadistic tendencies is therefore a rapist or a murderer, but it is to say that there may be a large possibility for sexual assault or violence to ensue among such individuals. Someone with this disorder may find it very challenging to maintain healthy relationships with others due to their intense desire to inflict physical or emotional pain on them.

Traits of sadistic personality disorder can clearly be seen in individuals experiencing pedophilia. Some of these sexual predators will actually be aroused more by the cries of the child they are molesting. Such sadistic behavior is a huge problem among those who are mentally ill.

Below, you will see some more common symptoms of sadistic personality disorder:

  • Inflicting pain or suffering upon someone
  • Cruel behavior for personal gain
  • Sexually aroused when harming someone
  • Unable to fully empathize
  • Violent or aggressive toward others
  • Sexually sadistic (BDSM)

Causes of Sadistic Personality Disorder

There is no known cause of sadistic personality disorder. Be that as it may, genetics and one’s environment may both play very significant roles in the development of this condition. So, if someone were to have a family history of mental illness, especially with personality disorders, then they may also have a higher chance of developing sadistic personality disorder themselves. This will likely be due to them also having a higher chance of having a genetic predisposition to developing mental illness.

Besides someone having the proper genetic makeup to develop this disorder, they may also develop this illness as a result of them experiencing some sort of traumatic event. They may have been abused as a child or perhaps they grew up in a very stressful environment. Everyone’s perception of pain and discomfort is different, meaning that the degree of calamity they experienced is subjective.

Though sadistic personality disorder is no longer in the DSM (2018), various people have been diagnosed with this mental illness in the past and to this day some people may be diagnosed as having “sadistic tendencies”. Be that as it may, there is an overwhelming consensus among most mental health professionals that both genetics and environment play crucial roles in the development of any given mental disorder.

To get a better idea of whether you yourself may or may not be at risk for developing sadistic personality disorder, you can start by looking closely at your family’s medical history and any past traumatizing events you may have experienced.

Sadistic Personality Disorder Treatment

There is no treatment specifically designed for this disorder. However, psychotherapy may be able to help. Unfortunately, people with this disorder or those who have some of the symptoms of it are typically unlikely to seek out treatment as they derive pleasure from their actions. The pain and suffering they cause others brings them great joy and often sexual arousal.

Nevertheless, talk therapy may be able to help minimize some of the symptoms of sadistic personality disorder. Medication is likely to not be very helpful with treating this condition unless they are also experiencing symptoms of intense anxiety or depression, for example. If that were to be the case then they may be able to benefit by taking an anti-anxiety medication or anti-depressant, but this would be something that they would need to first discuss with their doctor.

If you think you may have this condition or if you are experiencing some of the symptoms associated with this illness, then you should talk to your doctor as soon as you can so that you can be properly diagnosed and treated. Upon seeing your doctor, she may refer you to see a specialist such as a psychologist or a psychiatrist to better treat your symptoms.

It is very important to always get professional medical advice before you start any sort of therapy or medication. This is not only to ensure that it is effective for you, but it is also to ensure the safety of the particular treatment.