Sadistic Personality Disorder, 10 Tips to Deal With and Treatment

Sadistic Personality Disorder (SPD) is not officially recognized as a distinct personality disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

What Is a Sadistic Person?

Sadist individuals take pleasure in other people’s pain and hurt. Sadistic people enjoy witnessing others suffering. Although Sadistic Personality Disorder is no longer officially included in the DSM-5 as a separate disorder, many mental health professionals still recognize its presence as a condition.

Sadistic personality disorder is a proposed personality disorder defined by a pervasive pattern of sadistic and cruel behavior [1]. People with this disorder were thought to have desired to control others. It was believed they accomplished this through the use of physical or emotional violence.

Sadistic Personality

Originally, the term Sadistic Personality Disorder (SPD) was coined to describe individuals who derived sexual pleasure from causing pain to others. However, the definition was later broadened to encompass those who find overall satisfaction and pleasure in the suffering of others. Sadists take delight in causing physical, emotional, and psychological pain intentionally, seeking personal gratification through the harm they inflict.

While SPD may seem similar to Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) in terms of disrupting social norms, the key distinction lies in the motivation behind the behavior.

Sadistic individuals harm others for their own emotional satisfaction and pleasure, whereas antisocial individuals engage in disruptive behaviors for material gain or to be manipulative and deceitful and cause harm to society or others.

Sadism joins with subclinical psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism to form the so-called “dark tetrad” of personality.

Causes of Sadistic Personality Disorder

  • Difficult Childhood: When children are abused by the ones on whom they rely for care, it can create a confusing situation for them, and some may begin to equate abuse and humiliation as a bond.
  • Physical abuse: Usually abuse victims as they grow older, they may inflict violence on others as a means of taking back the power that had been taken from them by others.
  • Exposure to violence: Children who are exposed to violence may be conditioned to take pleasure in another’s pain. Social learning can be a powerful tool and when children are learning that pain leads to someone else’s pleasure, they may model their own behavior on that.
  • Neurochemical disruption in the brain: The brain chemistry may be impaired in the way it responds to sadistic behaviors in that the “feel good” neurotransmitters when witnessing others suffering.
  • Extreme poverty: When a child has experienced extreme scarcities in adequate food or other resources, this may contribute to internalized humiliation. As a way to cope with this inequity, they may choose to exert power and take pleasure in others’ suffering as they felt others did with them [2].
  • Frequent personal failures: When children and young adolescents are unable to feel a sense of personal adequacy and self-efficacy, they may begin to fill the void through making others suffer humiliation or physical pain. It gives them a sense of power to cause others harm.
  • Being bullied: If a child is continually bullied by others, both physically and psychologically, they may begin building up a desperate desire to cause others the pain that they have experienced at the hands of uncaring, by tormenting others. By inflicting hurt on others, they feel that this will give them the power that they lacked when they were younger [3].

10 Tips to How to Deal With Sadistic Personality?

Dealing with someone who exhibits traits of a sadistic personality can be challenging; it’s hard to share your life with someone who struggles with sadistic personality traits, and it is crucial to approach the situation with care. Here are some general suggestions:

  1. Ensure Personal Safety:
  • Prioritize your safety and the safety of others if you suspect someone may have a sadistic personality.
  • If you feel threatened or are in immediate danger, seek help from law enforcement or emergency services.
  1. Set Boundaries:
  • Establish clear boundaries to protect yourself from potential harm.
  • Communicate your limits and what behavior is unacceptable.
  1. Seek Professional Help:
  • If you are dealing with a person who has a diagnosed sadistic personality disorder or exhibits harmful behavior, encourage them to seek professional help.
  • If you cannot influence them to seek help, consider involving mental health professionals or authorities for guidance.
  1. Limit Contact:
  • If possible, minimize contact with the individual to reduce exposure to potential harm.
  • Consider distancing yourself from the person if their behavior is consistently harmful or threatening.
  1. Document Incidents:
  • Keep a record of any incidents or concerning behavior.
  • Document dates, times, and descriptions of specific actions that make you uncomfortable or that you consider harmful.
  1. Build Support Networks:
  • Contact friends, family, or support groups to share your experiences and seek advice.
  • Having a support network can provide emotional assistance and guidance.
  1. Self-Care:
  • Prioritize self-care to manage stress and emotional impact.
  • Engage in activities that bring you comfort and relaxation.
  1. Educate Yourself:
  • Learn more about sadistic personality traits and disorders to understand the person’s behavior better.
  • This knowledge can help you make informed decisions and respond appropriately.
  1. Legal Recourse:
  • Consult with legal professionals if you believe the person’s actions may warrant legal intervention.
  • Understand your rights and seek appropriate legal advice.
  1. Keep Emotional Distance:
  • While it’s essential to address concerns and set boundaries, try to maintain emotional distance.
  • Avoid getting drawn into power struggles or confrontations that may escalate the situation.
  • Protect yourself and seek support from others to help navigate the challenges posed by someone with a sadistic personality.

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Millon’s Subtypes of SPD

Just as there are variations in other personality disorders, Theodore Millon, a psychologist who specializes in personality disorders, determined that there were four unique subtypes of sadism that exist.2 Each of these types reflects the temperament of the sadist [6][9].

According to Millon, the four subtypes of SPD include

ExplosiveDisplays sudden, intense acts of aggressionImpulsivity, unpredictability, prone to sudden outbursts
TyrannicalSeeks dominance and controlAuthoritarian, manipulative, enjoys exercising power
EnforcingEnjoys enforcing rules and orderRigid adherence to rules, punitive, values authority
SpinelessTakes pleasure in the suffering of selfSelf-harming tendencies, masochistic, derives joy from own pain
Ryan Zofay forming a circle and hugging friends.

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Sadistic Personality Traits

Sadistic personality disorder symptoms reflect a person’s enjoyment of causing suffering or harm to others. While specific criteria may vary, common symptoms associated with Sadistic Personality Disorder include [4]:

  1. Pleasure from Inflicting Pain: Individuals with Sadistic personality disorder find satisfaction and enjoyment in causing physical, emotional, or psychological pain to others.
  2. Intentional Harm: There is a deliberate and intentional desire to cause harm, reflecting a need for personal gratification through the suffering of others.
  3. Lack of Empathy: People with SPD often exhibit a notable absence of empathy, showing little concern for the feelings or well-being of those they harm.
  4. Cruelty towards Others: The individual may display a pattern of cruelty, both in behavior and attitude, demonstrating a consistent willingness to mistreat or exploit others.
  5. Manipulative Behavior: SPD may involve manipulative tendencies, using tactics to control and dominate others to fulfill sadistic desires [5].
  6. Enjoyment of Control: A marked enjoyment in exerting control and dominance over others, often manifesting in situations where power dynamics come into play.
  7. Recurring Patterns: The sadistic behaviors will likely persist over time, forming a consistent pattern rather than isolated incidents.
  8. Lack of Remorse: Individuals with SPD may show a lack of remorse or guilt for the harm they cause, remaining indifferent to the consequences of their actions.


The most recent inclusion of Sadistic Personality Disorder (SPD) in the DSM was in the DSM-III-R. The characteristics used to identify this disorder distinguish it from other similar personality disorders characterized by cruelty and aggression. Clinically significant manifestations of sadistic behavior typically emerge during early adulthood [7].

For an SPD diagnosis, there must be a consistent pattern involving at least four of the following behaviors:

  1. Utilizes physical cruelty and violence to assert dominance.
  2. Deliberately humiliates or publicly demeans others.
  3. Imposes extreme discipline on those under their control.
  4. Derives pleasure from witnessing the pain of both humans and animals.
  5. Utilizes falsehoods to inflict pain on others.

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Sadistic Personality Disorder (SPD) is not officially recognized as a distinct personality disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
Sadistic Personality Disorder (SPD) is not officially recognized as a distinct personality disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Sadistic Personality Disorder Treatment

Sadistic Personality Disorder (SPD) is not officially recognized as a distinct personality disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The DSM-5, published by the American Psychiatric Association, is a widely used classification system for mental health disorders. Due to its similarities with Antisocial personality disorder, it is recommended to seek help with a therapist and specialist to manage the most remarkable symptoms:

  • Anger Management Programs: As anger and aggression are common features of Sadistic Personality Disorder, specialized anger management programs can be beneficial. These programs help individuals identify triggers, manage anger and frustration, and develop healthier ways of expressing and dealing with intense emotions.
  • Group Therapy: Group therapy provides a supportive environment where individuals can interact with others facing similar challenges. It offers opportunities for feedback, perspective-sharing, and learning prosocial skills and behaviors through interactions and group activities.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) identifies and challenges negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with Sadistic Personality. It aims to develop healthier coping strategies, improve problem-solving skills, and enhance empathy and perspective-taking abilities.
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): DBT combines elements of CBT with mindfulness practices. It helps individuals to regulate their emotions, improve interpersonal skills, and develop coping mechanisms to manage impulsive and self-destructive behaviors.

Overcoming Sadistic Personality Disorder. Find the Support You Need.

Overcoming mental health issues is often a challenging process to go through alone. However, you can manage Sadistic personality disorder symptoms and successfully recover with therapy and a robust support system at the We Level Up treatment centers network. If you require assistance with your recovery journey, contact a We Level Up treatment professional now. Your call is free and confidential.

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Learn More About Personality Disorders

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Search We Level Up Texas Sadistic Personality Disorder, Mental Health Topics & Resources
  1. Davis, R., Millon, T. (2000). Personality Disorders in Modern Life. Canada: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  2. Psychologic Today; The Personality Disorder We Don’t Hear Enough About (2021)
  3.; Sadism and Personality Disorders
  4. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2023; 25(11): 569–576. Sadism.
  5. Disorders of Personality: DSM-IV and Beyond, p. 482
  6. Theodore Millon; Carrie M. Millon; Sarah Meagher (June 12, 2012). Personality Disorders in Modern Life.
  7. Myers W.C.; Burket R.C.; Husted D.S. (2006). “Sadistic personality disorder and comorbid mental illness in adolescent psychiatric inpatients”
  8. Hucker, Stephen J. Sadistic Personality Disorder
  9. Theodore Millon: Overcome Resistant Personality Disorders (2007)
  10. Mary Helen Bosco · 1993; Sadistic Personality Disorder