There are many misconceptions about what asocial and antisocial mean. Asocial simply refers to a preference for feeling or being secluded from others and is not a personality disorder. On the other hand, antisocial behaviors are associated with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) and typically involve intentional harm to others and a disregard for societal expectations.
What Does It Mean to Be Asocial?
Asocial behaviors relate to a person’s general anxiety or lack of confidence in social situations. A person who is asocial may avoid such settings as a result, which often points toward social anxiety. However, they have no problem socializing with those they already know. Additionally, asocial people prefer to do things alone, but this choice is not to be confused with introversion. Due to fears of being rejected, they may also limit who they include in their social circle, which can be exacerbated by a depressive episode and a lack of interest in hobbies they once enjoyed.1
Common asocial behaviors include:
- Withdrawal from society
- Nervousness in a group or social setting
- Missing social cues
- Fearing the judgment of others
- Having no motivation to socialize
- Preference for solitary activities
- Having trouble holding conversations
- Having a diagnosis of depression, social anxiety, or traumatic brain injury
What Does It Mean to Be Antisocial?
Antisocial behaviors are generally inappropriate for the setting in which they occur and typically emerge from poor life experiences and depression. Antisocial people can be harmful to themselves and others due to a lack of understanding between “right and wrong” or malicious intent. These individuals’ conduct may sometimes be linked to antisocial personality disorder (ASPD).2
Common antisocial behaviors include:
- Disregard for the law
- Deceiving others
- Violent behaviors such as sexual assault and murder
- Cruelty to animals
- Theft and other crimes
- Violating boundaries
- Impulsive behaviors
- Lack of remorse
Antisocial Vs. Asocial Behavior: Key Differences
While commonly confused, there is a big difference between asocial and antisocial behaviors. Three notable distinctions include the presence of a personality disorder, a person’s motivation, and their treatment of others.
Personality Trait Vs. Personality Disorder
A major difference between asocial and antisocial traits is that one relates to a serious personality disorder and one does not. There are a wide variety of personality traits that may resemble those associated with a personality disorder. However, displaying these characteristics doesn’t necessarily imply someone has a disorder. A personality disorder is diagnosed when patterns of deviant behaviors impact one’s ability to complete normal daily activities.3
Traits, such as asociality, are building blocks that help to shape someone’s identity and vary depending on the social context individuals are placed. As humans, we have the capacity to manage many emotions, thoughts, and behaviors– all of which contribute to personality.
Motivation for Actions
The motivation behind asocial behavior includes a general indifference to or personal preference to limit engaging with society. Having asocial behaviors is a personality trait, meaning these individuals simply tend to lack interest in socializing. Conversely, those with antisocial behaviors are commonly linked to antisocial personality disorder. Antisocial individuals are driven by acting against social norms, contributing to the harm of others, and enjoying the aftermath of their misbehaviors.4
Treatment of Others
Asocial people tend to treat others well or just try to avoid them. Due to their desire to avoid and limited exposure to social settings, they are unlikely to cause others any harm. On the other hand, those with antisocial behaviors deliberately hurt others without remorse.
Can Therapy Help With Antisocial & Asocial Behaviors?
Any type of mental health clinician is able to facilitate therapy for asocial or antisocial behaviors. If your behaviors impact you, your life, and/or relationships in negative ways, it’s time to work with a therapist. Therapy helps asocial or antisocial individuals work to understand the personal drive for their behaviors and how these may benefit them. If you are in a romantic relationship, consider reaching out for professional support if a problem is identified. It can be challenging to talk with your partner, so it’s important to seek individual or couples therapy, depending on your issues.
Given the emotionally volatile and potentially abusive nature of antisocial behaviors, seek help immediately if you feel like you or a loved one are in danger. However, starting therapy can be more challenging for those with antisocial behaviors because of their motivation to not abide by what is “right.” Through treatment, those with asocial behaviors may be able to develop ways to communicate and manage their anxiety in social situations.
A great way to find the right therapist is by searching an online therapist directory. Be sure to read reviews and look at clinician bios to understand the scope of their practice and get an idea about whether their experience suits your situation. Many therapists offer a free phone consultation to help you determine if they’ll be a good fit. Another way to locate a specialist is by referral, which can come from a trusted loved one or physician. Going through your physician is a great way to keep them in the loop about any trauma experienced or treatment for ASPD you may be engaged in.
It’s important to know the difference between asocial and antisocial behaviors. Asocial behaviors are personality traits that might be related to general anxiety or a lack of confidence in social settings. Antisocial behaviors can develop into ASPD, which is a serious condition. If you or someone you love is struggling with these behaviors, a therapist may be able to help.