Do sociopaths have a need to brag

Origin and typical course

Personality traits as a disruptive burden (page 2/16)

A typical characteristic of personality disorders is that they start in childhood or adolescence and then persist. Therefore, as with many other mental disorders, there are no phases in which the disorder is more pronounced, less pronounced or disappears completely. However, it often happens that a personality disorder becomes less severe with age.

The vulnerability-stress model

A so-called vulnerability-stress model is usually used to explain the development of personality disorders. It assumes that the disorder is caused by the interplay of biological or genetic factors, psychological properties and unfavorable environmental conditions.

For example, some people could have an increased biological vulnerability (vulnerability) to develop a personality disorder. It is assumed that genetic characteristics make them more vulnerable than others to reacting particularly sensitively, to be impulsive, to experience strong emotional fluctuations or to develop strongly pronounced, inflexible behavioral patterns. Unfavorable influences before, during or shortly after the birth could also contribute to the development of noticeable personality traits.

If there is also strong psychological stress in childhood and adolescence, this can promote the development of a personality disorder. These include, for example, poor parenting behavior, traumatic experiences such as sexual abuse or mistreatment, or a mental illness in the father or mother. These negative experiences can lead to certain behaviors that develop into a typical personality pattern over time. This pattern can be strengthened in phases if interpersonal conflicts persist over a long period of time. On the other hand, positive conditions, such as understanding and support from others, can counteract the development of unfavorable behavior patterns.

In this model, the typical personality patterns can also be understood as psychological competencies that those affected use to protect themselves from psychological stress - which, however, have unfavorable effects in the long term. The emotionally changeable, impulsive behavior of a borderline personality disorder can be understood as an attempt to get attention and support from others.

From the perspective of learning psychology, the conspicuous behavior patterns occur more frequently when they are “rewarded” in the short term - when someone actually receives attention and care. In the long term, however, this leads to a vicious circle: Typical behavior - for example abrupt outbursts of emotion, less empathic behavior or aggressive reactions - meets with rejection, criticism or even hostility in other people. As a result, interpersonal tensions and misunderstandings increase over time.

The model of double action regulation (after Sachse)

The psychotherapist Rainer Sachse has developed a model that should explain how personality disorders arise and how they are perpetuated. From this “model of double action regulation”, Sachse derives therapeutic strategies for the individual personality disorders (clarification-oriented psychotherapy).

The model assumes that every person has certain motives - for example a motive for recognition and appreciation, a motive for reliable relationships and a motive for autonomy. In addition, every person has certain schemes: assumptions about themselves, the world and interpersonal relationships that arise through experiences in the course of life.

According to Sachse, people with a personality disorder have repeatedly experienced that important relationship motives have been disappointed - for example, the motive for appreciation. This makes this motif very important to them. On the other hand, over time they have developed negative schemas about themselves and about relationships - such as the assumption that it is too worthless to be valued by others.

According to Sachse, this dilemma is now being solved by so-called "interaction games". This means that those affected behave in a manipulative and opaque manner. For example, they have made the experience that they receive brief appreciation for certain behaviors - for example, when they are particularly entertaining or brag about their achievements. Therefore, very often they behave this way. In addition, they try to create a certain image of themselves in other people and thus induce them to behave in a certain way. For example, someone with narcissistic personality disorder tries to constantly portray themselves as "a successful, well-respected businessman" in order to gain attention and admiration.

The actual motive to experience appreciation is only satisfied indirectly and for a short time in this way - because others cannot recognize the need and cannot respond to it directly. Instead, they perceive the behavior as opaque, fake or manipulative and react with annoyance, anger or boredom. This in turn leads to massive problems in interpersonal relationships.

Excursus: How does a personality disorder affect the course of other mental illnesses?

Research shows that treating mental illnesses - such as depression or anxiety - is more difficult when you have a personality disorder. However, certain personality patterns can also have a positive effect on the success of psychotherapy. This is often the case with an addictive personality disorder - presumably because those affected are particularly loyal to the therapy and work well together.

Conversely, a personality disorder improves in some cases more if another mental illness is present at the same time. This has been seen, for example, in patients with borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder who also suffered from depression. The reason could be that the patients were burdened by the depression and were therefore more motivated to change something.

Some experts criticize the fact that personality disorders are often not recognized in psychotherapy or psychiatric treatment - and are therefore not treated with suitable methods. They assume that the prognosis could be significantly more favorable if the personality disorder is recognized in good time and the therapy is designed accordingly.