Sadistic personality disorder

Sadistic personality disorder is a personality disorder involving sadomasochism which appeared in an appendix of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III-R).[1] The later versions of the DSM (DSM-IV, DSM-IV-TR and DSM-5) do not include it.

Sadistic personality disorder
A sadistic tooth-drawer using a cord to extract a tooth from Wellcome V0012039.jpg
Illustration showing the pleasure that sadistic people often have from hurting someone
SpecialtyPsychiatry, clinical psychology
Symptomscruelty, manipulation using fear, preoccupation with violence
Usual onsetAdolescence
Risk factorsChildhood abuse
Differential diagnosisPsychopathy, Antisocial personality disorder, other cluster B personality disorders

The words sadism and sadist are derived from Marquis de Sade.[2]


Sadism involves deriving pleasure through others undergoing discomfort or pain. The opponent-process theory is one way to help explain how an individual may come to not only display, but also enjoy committing sadistic acts.[3] Individuals possessing sadistic personalities tend to display recurrent aggression and cruel behavior.[4][5] Sadism can also include the use of emotional cruelty, purposefully manipulating others through the use of fear, and a preoccupation with violence.[6]

Theodore Millon claimed there were four subtypes of sadism, which he termed enforcing sadism, explosive sadism, spineless sadism, and tyrannical sadism.[7][8][9][10][11]

Subtype Description Personality traits
Spineless sadism Including avoidant features Insecure, bogus, and cowardly; venomous dominance and cruelty is counterphobic; weakness counteracted by group support; public swaggering; selects powerless scapegoats.
Tyrannical sadism Including negativistic features Relishes menacing and brutalizing others, forcing them to cower and submit; verbally cutting and scathing, accusatory and destructive; intentionally surly, abusive, inhumane, unmerciful.
Enforcing sadism Including compulsive features Hostility sublimated in the "public interest," cops, "bossy" supervisors, deans, judges; possesses the "right" to be pitiless, merciless, coarse, and barbarous; task is to control and punish, to search out rule breakers.
Explosive sadism Including borderline features Unpredictably precipitous outbursts and fury; uncontrollable rage and fearsome attacks; feelings of humiliation are pent-up and discharged; subsequently contrite.

Comorbidity with other personality disordersEdit

Sadistic personality disorder has been found to occur frequently in unison with other personality disorders. Studies have also found that sadistic personality disorder is the personality disorder with the highest level of comorbidity to other types of psychopathological disorders.[6] In contrast, sadism has also been found in patients who do not display any or other forms of psychopathic disorders.[12] One personality disorder that is often found to occur alongside sadistic personality disorder is conduct disorder, not an adult disorder but one of childhood and adolescence.[6] Studies have found other types of illnesses, such as alcoholism, to have a high rate of comorbidity with sadistic personality disorder.[13]

Researchers have had some level of difficulty distinguishing sadistic personality disorder from other forms of personality disorders due to its high level of comorbidity with other disorders.[6]

Removal from the DSMEdit

Numerous theorists and clinicians introduced sadistic personality disorder to the DSM in 1987 and it was placed in the DSM-III-R as a way to facilitate further systematic clinical study and research. It was proposed to be included because of adults who possessed sadistic personality traits but were not being labeled, even though their victims were being labeled with a self-defeating personality disorder.[14] Theorists like Theodore Millon wanted to generate further study on SPD, and so proposed it to the DSM-IV Personality Disorder Work Group, who rejected it.[7] Millon writes that "Physically abusive, sadistic personalities are most often male, and it was felt that any such diagnosis might have the paradoxical effect of legally excusing cruel behavior."[15]

Sub-clinical sadism in personality psychologyEdit

There is renewed interest in studying sadism as a personality trait.[5][16] Sadism joins with subclinical psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism to form the so-called "dark tetrad" of personality.[5][17]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Hucker, Stephen J. Sadistic Personality Disorder
  2. ^ "Origin and meaning of sadism". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 28 October 2019.
  3. ^ Reidy D.E.; Zeichner A.; Seibert L.A. (2011). "Unprovoked aggression: Effects of psychopathic traits and sadism". Journal of Personality. 79 (1): 75–100. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2010.00691.x. PMID 21223265.
  4. ^ Chabrol, Henri; Van Leeuwen, Nikki; Rodgers, Rachel; Séjourné, Natalène (2009). "Contributions of psychopathic, narcissistic, Machiavellian, and sadistic personality traits to juvenile delinquency". Personality and Individual Differences. 47 (7): 734–739. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2009.06.020.
  5. ^ a b c Buckels, E. E.; Jones, D. N.; Paulhus, D. L. (2013). "Behavioral confirmation of everyday sadism". Psychological Science. 24 (11): 2201–9. doi:10.1177/0956797613490749. PMID 24022650. S2CID 30675346.
  6. ^ a b c d "Sadistic Personality Disorder and Comorbid Mental Illness in Adolescent Psychiatric Inpatients". 2006-01-01. Archived from the original on 2013-04-15. Retrieved 2012-12-30.
  7. ^ a b Disorders of Personality: DSM-IV and Beyond, p. 482
  8. ^ Theodore Millon; Carrie M. Millon; Sarah Meagher (June 12, 2012). Personality Disorders in Modern Life. Seth Grossman, Rowena Ramnath. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 512–515. ISBN 978-1-118-42881-8.
  9. ^ Million, Theodore, D.Sc. "Personality Subtypes: Sadistic Personality Subtypes". Institute for Advanced Studies in Personology and Psychopathology. Archived from the original on 2017-06-21. Retrieved 2015-05-17.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  10. ^ "The Sadistic Personality, Variations of the Sadistic Personality". Archived from the original on 2018-06-17. Retrieved 2018-09-22. ALPF Medical Research
  11. ^ Theodore Millon; et al. (8 November 2004). Personality Disorders in Modern Life (2nd ed.). Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley. ISBN 978-0-471-66850-3.
  12. ^ Reidy; Zeichner; Seibert (2011). "Unprovoked Aggression: Effects of Psychopathic Traits and Sadism". Journal of Personality. 79 (1): 75–100. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2010.00691.x. PMID 21223265.
  13. ^ Reich, James (1993). "Prevalence and characteristics of sadistic personality disorder in an outpatient veterans population". Psychiatry Research. 48 (3): 267–276. doi:10.1016/0165-1781(93)90077-T. PMID 8272448. S2CID 24066628.
  14. ^ Oxford Textbook of Psychopathology, p. 744
  15. ^ Personality Disorders in Modern Life 2nd Ed. p.512.
  16. ^ O'Meara, A; Davies, J; Hammond, S. (2011). "The psychometric properties and utility of the Short Sadistic Impulse Scale (SSIS)". Psychological Assessment. 23 (2): 523–531. doi:10.1037/a0022400. PMID 21319907.
  17. ^ Chabrol H.; Van Leeuwen, N.; Rodgers, R. & Sejourne, N. (2009). "Contributions of psychopathic, narcissistic, Machiavellian, and sadistic personality traits to juvenile delinquency". Personality and Individual Differences. 47 (7): 734–739. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2009.06.020. Archived from the original on 2019-01-10. Retrieved 2016-08-14.

External linksEdit