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What is Sadistic Personality Disorder?

By G. Wiesen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Sadistic personality disorder is a type of personality disorder that refers to actions, attitudes, and behaviors exhibited by a person that are ultimately intended to cause suffering in others for the amusement of the sadist. There are a number of key features to someone with this type of personality disorder, including the violent establishment of dominance in relationships, enjoyment at the sight of people and animals that are suffering, the elimination of autonomy of those in a relationship with the person, and a fascination with violence and weapons. This disorder was removed from the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) after the third edition.

There are a number of potential indicators of sadistic personality disorder, and many of them must be present for a person to potentially be diagnosed with the disorder. In general, this disorder is marked by an ongoing pattern of aggressive or cruel behavior by a person toward others around him or her. There are many different potential indicators of this type of behavioral pattern, though at least four of these indicators must repeatedly be present for a legitimate diagnosis of sadism.

According to the DSM-III, or third edition, this disorder is marked by the use of physical violence or cruelty to establish dominance in a relationship, such as in a marriage or with a child. The person will also often humiliate or demean people in public or around others, and the person derives pleasure from such public humiliation. This type of person will typically use unnecessarily harsh punishments to control those he or she has authority over, such as those in a relationship with him or children in his or her care. Someone with sadistic personality disorder will also demonstrate amusement or pleasure in the suffering of others, both people and animals.

Sadistic personality disorder is typically marked by a person who lies, repeatedly or occasionally, for the purpose of causing suffering in others. Someone with this disorder will also usually use violence or intimidation to terrify others into doing what he or she wants. Anyone in a relationship with this type of person will often be restricted in autonomous behavior, such as a spouse who is not allowed to leave the house or a child who cannot play with other children. This type of personality disorder also often manifests through an undue fascination with weapons, violence, and graphic depictions of torture or suffering.

It is also important to note that someone with sadistic personality disorder does not only display such behavior with a single person, but in multiple relationships, and does not use this type of sadism purely for sexual gratification. This disorder was removed from the DSM following the third edition in part to ensure it could not be used as a legal defense for anyone who inflicts suffering on others. Following the removal of this disorder, the diagnosis can still be utilized, but it would fall under the heading of a “personality disorder not otherwise specified” (PDNOS).

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon1003464 — On Jun 30, 2020

Women who stay in these abusive relationships have their own serious mental health issues. Get out of these relationships, and start taking care of yourself. There are plenty of nice men who are not abusive and who are lonely. However, for some reason a lot of women don't want a nice man.

Ironically, I am a man who has been falsely accused of being abusive to women. Most of the women that I have been in relationships with were verbally and psychologically abusive to me and also sometimes to my mother, who is a kind and caring person.

According to my family elders and my mother, my father suffered a serious head injury when my mother was pregnant with me. He was in a coma for about a week. According to the family, he was delusional for several months after he came out of the coma. After he got over being outright delusional, he became very anti-social, physically abusive, and a serious alcoholic for 15 years. He refused to work at all much of the time. After 15 years, he quit drinking and became more manageable, but he was never gainfully employed at a significant level. For reasons that I do not fully understand, my mother chose to stay with him and take care of him.

Although I myself am not abusive, I try to keep the past about my father largely confidential. However, eventually women who I was seriously involved with all learned about my father's history. This history seems to set off most women and they turn on me and my mother. They begin to construct this alternate reality where my mother is to blame for how I turned out.

I am an educated, hardworking, and modestly successful man. I avoid drugs, crime, gambling, chemical addictions, and the other types of vices that often plague men like me who grew up in rough environments and in poverty because of the dereliction of their fathers. However, growing up the way I did, I was in constant proximity to criminal oriented youths who attempted to bully me. So I trained myself to become an accomplished street fighter in order to not be bullied. However, I chose to pursue academics rather than a fighting sport.

Eventually, I got to the point where no one was willing to bully me, but by that time I had been involved in 198 violent fist fights on the street. My record was 186 "wins" against 11 times where I was beaten up fairly badly. But I always came back after I was beaten up and eventually I administered appropriate physical beatings to those who had previously beaten me.

All of this is behind me now. I lead a quiet life as a professional in a safe upper-middle-class neighborhood. I have invested well. Despite all of this, my two ex-wives were eager to use this against me in attempts to falsely paint me as a sadistic abuser. They have falsely claimed that I am a Jekyll and Hyde character and that my public persona is that of a helpful professional, but in private I am a violent man who is highly vindictive. They do so despite the fact that I make no efforts to control them or restrict their communications and activities in any way. It seems to me that all they want is money and that they are willing to blackmail me to get it. Both of my ex-wives were raised in good homes and were free of any vices. They seemed to be good people, but one day a switch seemed to flip and they were out to destroy me.

My experience with me ex-wives has caused me to believe that most people are instinctively motivated to drive out out those whom they consider to be unfit. Children pick on the weak and the deformed, and most eventually come to see this as bullying which they should not engage in. However, not very many people seem to have much empathy for someone like me -- an imposing man who was exposed to a lot of abuse as a youngster and who physically got the upper hand on his abusers. My ex-wives had no prior history of engaging in bullying. However, when they came to fully know and understand me and also became disappointed in the marriage, they became ruthless in their efforts to paint me as a man who was dangerously violent and always would be. And as previously noted, they blamed my mother as much if not more than they blamed my father.

I have come to believe that many women are sadistic but that their sadism emerges in a social and emotional manner rather than in a physical manner. Male sadists primarily inflict physical pain. There are some women who are also physically sadistic. However, a far greater number of women are socially and psychologically sadistic. They lie and fabricate in order to gain social condemnation of their male victims, and they do so while standing firm on their life history of having never committed a physically violent act, which they think gives them the right to condemn others who have been involved in physical violence even if it was on a defensive basis.

I am an agnostic but I believe that the Christian concept of "Original Sin" is correct from a practical perspective. With in the DNA of every human being is the potential for horrifying cruelty. If we go back far enough every human beings DNA history includes rapists, murders, abusers, cannibals and possibly even worse. People who appear to be devoid of sadism can suddenly become sadistic in a flash and often that sadism is not physically violent but it is "socially violent" in the worst way. As for me and the times that I have been victimized – e.g., the 11 times I was seriously physically beaten and the two ex-wives who tried to destroy me (but failed in completely achieving their goals), the 11 physical beatings were far less traumatic. I often have nightmares, but the subject is seldom the beatings that I took or administered in my youth, and almost always involves the efforts of my ex-wives to misuse social connections and the legal system to abuse me.

By anon992302 — On Aug 29, 2015

I'm a sadist for sure. I love weapons and martial arts. I love violent movies and war and I have this weird fascination with Guantanamo Bay and atomic bombings.

I'm very possessive in my relationships, and if I have an enemy, I want to torture him in the most painful and humiliating way imaginable.

By Tersa — On Dec 29, 2014

I feel bad because I am older, single and have been involved with a man for some time now, off and on. He used to "break up" with me every time we got back together, just after we made love. So we would get back together, go out and I would hope that it would last. But that night, he'd want to have sex. Then there would be an argument, that day or the next, and it would escalate to him yelling, and basically having a temper tantrum. It's still going on today. Last night, he left my apartment after yelling at me. We just got back together the day before last.

If I say anything significant, he will repeat it back to me in a slant to make me look bad, or feel bad, like he's tearing me down. Last night, I had bad dreams, very violent, and painful. I have a good job that I really like, and I don't want to lose it because I'm under stress.

It's like he won't let me break up with him. He keeps prying into my life, especially since I lost a lot of weight. I was reading up on narcissistic behavior and he fits that to a tee. The fight we had before this happened in a restaurant. He got so loud, and was asking me what exercising I was doing to keep my “organs” all tight. I know some of the heat in his voice was due to the drinks he had. Then, when I said we wouldn't be having sex that night, he blew even more of a gasket. He yelled and screamed at me all the way home. I just sat there silently, knowing anything I said would just add fuel to the fire. I couldn't believe it when he went shopping three days later, and bought me a jacket for Christmas.

It's a roller coaster ride.

I come home from work and I have a little over a half hour before he shows up. The funny thing is, I'm not scheduled for regular hours. I come home when I've finished my work.

He thinks he is the only stable thing in my life. But he's not even stable. He thinks I am ungrateful, nasty, and unpleasant. I'm a mess because I can't get rid of him, unless I tick him off, which doesn't take much. I am 54.

By anon951977 — On May 19, 2014

@anon161948: The only person you can change is yourself.

By anon321581 — On Feb 23, 2013

Please know that because they all have a narcissistic component to their personality, most are incapable of change because they don't have the ability to see they ever do anything wrong and that you are nothing but an object for their own gratification. They only pretend to love to keep you "hooked" into them but, don't allow yourself to be deceived into thinking that have the capacity to change.

Look up Melanie Tonia Evans and her work with helping people get free of narcissistic/sadistic people and to heal from the deep trauma that comes from having a person like this in your life. You can forgive them and care about them, but from a safe distance. Good luck and best wishes for a safe, healing recovery process.

By anon255632 — On Mar 18, 2012

This is a reply to anon161948. The abuser you're involved with is the same exact cookie cutter version of every other abusive man out there. These men are sadists.

I learned this after speaking to many, many other abused women. When we shared our stories with each other about the hell we had gone through, it seemed we were speaking about the same person. Strangely, all abusers are the same. Meaning, that if you don't run for your life when you can, you won't ever escape, and the abuse will get worse.

Most women who don't escape end up being tortured, disfigured, and killed by abusers, even after many years of marriage. And know this: abusers/sadists are incapable of loving. They're masters of manipulation who can mimic loving behavior, and once they're done with one victim, they quickly go looking for the next. Abusers/sadists don't love their victims, they love the pleasure they get from causing suffering and humiliation.

Contact the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence for anonymous and confidential help 24/7: 800-799-7233 or 800-787-3224 (TTY).

By anon161948 — On Mar 21, 2011

My BF has a sadistic personality disorder which I found out a month after moving in with him. He started to get verbally abusive first, saying hurtful and insulting words at the slightest argument. Then he slowly restricted my freedom by forcing me to quit my job, destroying my mobile phones and ensuring that I do not go out of the house without his knowledge. He started beating me up not long after.

He is very dominant and controlling. He even hurts and humiliates me in front of other people. I tried so many times to break up with him but he will start to threaten to hurt me more. I still love him though and hope that he will eventually change his ways.

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