Given the standard definition (DSM, ICD), as well as the breadth of character info in canon, is there any solid basis in classifying Severus Snape as having Antisocial Personality Disorder (aka highly-functioning sociopath)?
TL;DR: Being a Slytherin, of course Severus Snape has Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD)!
BUT SERIOUSLY: Snape may possibly meet the criteria for ASPD. He does exhibit some diagnostic criteria for ASPD. But it's certainly not clear cut.
CAVEAT: The answer, I believe, to this question is that it is clinically impossible to conduct an accurate forensic evaluation on a fictional character. The character's full mind is inside his/her author's head, and, in this case, we do not have access to J.K. Rowling to assist us with a comprehensive forensic deconstruction of Severus Snape.
Conversely, it is possible for a writer to construct a fictional character using certain psychological elements, criteria that becomes discernible to the reader (Hannibal, anyone?). Further, it is more challenging to evaluate a character when the character in question is written in the third person, rather than first person singular. In the former's case, we glean only the nuances of the author's choosing, rather than be allowed to fully view the character's personality from the character's own thoughts and point of view. Furthermore, no one has full insight into their psychology; to expect a fictional character to be a psychological open book is unrealistic at best. So, for me, answering this question should be considered an exercise in entertainment, and entertainment alone, although I will give it my best effort¹ ².
Okay, so all that said, we at least know Snape is no Voldemort, the latter who was indeed a psychopath.
Darchey: Did Voldemort ever love a girl?
J.K. Rowling: No, he loved only power, and himself. He valued people whom he could use to advance his own objectives.
The Leaky Cauldron - Webchat with J.K. Rowling - 07.30.07
That would be a description of classic psychopathy.
Lechicaneuronline: Do you think Snape is a hero?
J.K. Rowling: Yes, I do; though a very flawed hero. An anti-hero, perhaps. He is not a particularly likeable man in many ways. He remains rather cruel, a bully, riddled with bitterness and insecurity – and yet he loved, and showed loyalty to that love and, ultimately, laid down his life because of it. That’s pretty heroic!
The Leaky Cauldron - Webchat with J.K. Rowling - 07.30.07
It occurs to me -- while Snape may be quick on the draw verbally and is able to slice someone to the quick with his verbal abuse and bullying, and has an inability to work through emotions, choosing instead to remain bitter over real or perceived slights (And not just a tad bit histrionic about James Potter!) -- is that J.K. Rowling indicates he is insecure, yes, but also has qualities he values in himself. His self-loathing is not whole.
As a reader, I certainly see Snape wearing his insecurities on his sleeve, yet, more so, I see Snape's bravery. Those with ASPD do not often harbor a great deal of insecurities -- indeed, quite the opposite: Grandiose, always-in-charge, toxic know-it-alls are typically more ASPD than someone who is just angry, hurt, or emotionally insecure. In my estimation, Snape lacks the genuinely calculated quality of ASPD, for how would his particular outbursts benefit him? Dumbledore, and once Lily, were the only two persons who understood Snape; to everyone else, his outbursts make him look a bit unhinged and out of control (See Prisoner of Azkaban where Fudge witnesses Snape have a meltdown; Fudge sure raised an eyebrow!). ASPD meltdowns are calculated and purposeful in the hopes of personal gain.
Hannah: Why was Snape so badly groomed?
J.K. Rowling: Hmm. Good question. Poor eyesight? Did he look in the mirror and believe he was gorgeous as he was? I think it more likely that he valued other qualities in himself!
The Leaky Cauldron - Webchat with J.K. Rowling - 07.30.07
CRITERIA: ASPD can be diagnosed by identifying significant impairments in personality functioning in self functioning (identity and self-direction) and interpersonal functioning (empathy and intimacy) and, as well, pathological personality traits in the domains of antagonism (manipulativeness, deceitfulness, callousness, and hostility) and disinhibition (irresponsibility, impulsivity, and risk taking).
- SELF FUNCTIONING: I don't see ego-centricism as a source of identity in Snape; personally, I see self-loathing. That said, he certainly derived self-esteem from personal gain, power, and pleasure (joining the Death Eaters; his deep love for the Dark Arts). He did prioritize personal gratification; he did lack many, but not all, prosocial internal standards; these were associated with a failure on Snape's part to conform to lawful and culturally normative ethical behavior, as Snape prioritized the Dark Arts and the Death Eaters, neither of which were routinely encouraged or engaged.
- INTERPERSONAL FUNCTIONING: Snape often demonstrated a lack of empathy for others, his biggest blunder being when he asked Dumbledore to save Lily -- and only Lily -- from Voldemort, causing Dumbledore to tell Snape, "You disgust me." In time, though, he gained some maturity in empathy and grudgingly protected Harry over the years. He was even disturbed when he learned Dumbledore had known all along that they were raising Harry to his death. Snape was very poor at intimate relationships; as far as we know, Lily was Snape's only friend ever, and he destroyed their friendship and potential romance through his alliance with the Death Eaters. But Snape did love Lily, a feat that most individuals with ASPD are unable to do in a truly meaningful way. He did not show an incapacity for intimacy, nor did he demonstrate continued coercion, deceit, or exploitation toward Lily.
- ANTAGONISM: Surprisingly, Snape does not demonstrate outright manipulation very frequently in the series (He is what he is, he knows it, and he proceeds outright with impunity.). He does try, unsuccessfully, to manipulate Lily into accepting his penchant for the Dark Arts and his yearning to become a Death Eater. Later, as an adult double agent, deceitfulness became par for the course. Snape played his part and played it well, "dangling on the arm of Voldemort" for years while his true loyalty lay with the Order. He was callous -- a Death Eater had to be. I think it was part of his nature as well, though. Was he hostile? Incredibly. Whether his hostility rose from his upbringing, the bullying he endured, losing the girl he loved, or was just plain innate is for the reader to decide. The hostility was ingrained, though.
- DISINHIBITION: It may surprise you when I say I don't believe Snape demonstrated irresponsibility per se, all the time. The scene with Snape taking his O.W.L.s in Order of the Phoenix shows us a conscientious boy who valued his studies and grades. Attention to studies and school is not always consistent with ASPD. On the other hand, I think it's fair to call Snape impulsive. His pernicious curiosity leads him close to a near fatal encounter with Remus Lupin when he is in werewolf form, in the tunnel leading from the Whomping Willow to the Shrieking Shack. It leads him to lash out at James Potter with what many believe to be Sectumsempra when James verbally taunts him following their O.W.L.s. He calls Lily, the love of his life, a "Mudblood" when embarrassed. He impetuously ends Harry's Occlumency lessons without Dumbledore's permission, leading Dumbledore to have to admit he was wrong in thinking Snape could put his feelings for James Potter and Harry aside in order to do the right thing. He runs to tell Voldemort the prophecy before he has heard it all. He can't control his tongue around Harry. He steals letters that don't belong to him and destroys photographs so that the object of his affection remains only for him to claim. Becoming a Death Eater was risky, dangerous, and potentially self-damaging (see Regulus Black and his demise). Did he think through the consequences of becoming a Death Eater? Probably not. He was too enamoured of the "dark glamour" that came with being with the group of pre-Death Eaters, and of the Dark Arts. Snape did not seem prone to boredom, nor is there evidence he engaged in thoughtless activities to relieve boredom (We do not know the circumstances under which he created spells such as Sectumsempra or perfected his potions-making abilities.). However, while canon doesn't show us at what exact point Snape knew he would have to die, when or how it would be that he would expend that personal limitation, he certainly was not in denial when it came to the reality of his personal danger. He begged Dumbledore not to kill him when he first left Voldemort; he pledged "anything" to protect Lily, which would presumably include his own life. At the end of his life, he walked into the arms of death, eyes wide open.
- OTHER: Snape's personality traits were relatively stable across time and situations.
- OTHER: Snape's personality impairments may have been better understood as normative for his developmental stage or socio-cultural environment, although clearly Snape's personality arrested before he could learn different coping skills. It is important to point out that Snape grew up in an abusive, neglectful home, with unengaged parents, domestic violence, and alcoholism. These factors would certainly influence the development of his personality, but not necessarily ASPD.
- OTHER: Snape's personality traits were not due to either a general medical condition or substance abuse or addiction.
- OTHER: Snape demonstrated concerning personality traits both prior to the age of 15 and after the age of 18, which is a criteria of ASPD.
Here's the rub: Many of the criteria used to diagnose ASPD are co-morbid with other personality disorders. Many of the traits I've listed above can be found in other personality disorders, such as Avoidant Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Schizotypal Personality Disorder, General Personality Disorder, Personality Disorder NOS, and, yes, even Obsessive Compulsive Disorder! Also, it's possible to have co-morbid personality disorders, meaning more than one personality disorder at a given time. Some personality disorders can "mellow" as the subject ages, such as ASPD and Borderline Personality Disorder. Some tend to be pervasive, such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Personality disorders, in general, are notoriously difficult to treat and often do not respond to therapeutic or pharmacological (or potions!) intervention. Snape did show an arc of change, albeit imperfect.
ANSWER: Snape may possibly meet the criteria for ASPD. He does exhibit some diagnostic criteria for ASPD. But it's certainly not clear cut.
¹I'm looking at the DSM-V (PDF); for those who are unsure what the DSM-V is, "DSM" is the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, and the "V" indicates it is version five. It is the book of guidelines and symptoms trained diagnosticians use to diagnose personality disorders and mental and behavioral illnesses.
²For an Abnormal Psychology class back in university, my lab partner and I were given the task of administering the MMPI to a fictional character of our choosing. We chose Spock, thinking Yes! Surely Spock'll be WAY effed up! He came out as totally normal, aside from a slight tendency toward paranoia.
NO. I only say this because, although Snape does show many of the classic signs, he has at least three or 4 qualities that would rule out this diagnosis:
His unwavering loyalty to Dumbledore. In my (admittedly somewhat limited) educational and practical experience, sociopaths are incapable of that sort of devotion to another person.
Near the end of the his life, he demonstrates remorse and a concern for how he is viewed by Harry. What others think of them is of little to no concern to sociopaths.
I also cite his concern for Draco after Harry hit him with the Sectumsempra curse. Sociopaths haven't the ability to care for others' well-being. (Although that could have been faked, he still very easily could have let Draco die and Harry take the blame.)
Snape holds down a long-term job which places him in close contact with others. Even high-functioning sociopaths would find that nearly if not completely impossible.
The Wikipedia article for antisocial personality disorder has a quote from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is the standard criteria for classifying mental disorders. Here’s the relevant passage:
A) There is a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since age 15 years, as indicated by three or more of the following:
- failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;
- deception, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;
- impulsivity or failure to plan ahead;
- irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;
- reckless disregard for safety of self or others;
- consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;
- lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another;
B) The individual is at least age 18 years.
C) There is evidence of conduct disorder with onset before age 15 years.
D) The occurrence of antisocial behavior is not exclusively during the course of schizophrenia or a manic episode.
Snape clearly ticks quite a few of these boxes; certainly enough to be given a positive diagnosis.
To run through them briefly: B) is trivial, C) comes from his actions as a child with Lily (more on that shortly), D) seems to follow also.
We get a lot of information about Snape's childhood from Deathly Hallows chapter 33 The Prince’s Tale. With that in mind, let's go through A) in a bit more detail:
Plenty of examples here:
- Repeated violations of privacy (reading Petunia’s letters, sneaking around after the Marauders).
- As a child, using and developing Dark Magic.
- Insulting Lily and Petunia for their Muggle parentage, despite clear awareness of what those insults mean.
Again, we have examples from both childhood and as an adult:
- Lying to Lily about dropping a branch on Petunia’s head.
- Trying to convince the barman at the Hog’s Head that he had a legitimate reason for eavesdropping.
Joining Voldemort might fall into this category. Beyond that, I can’t think of any obvious examples.
Several minor instances:
- He seems irritated with Lily at Hogwarts, especially when she doesn’t seem to understand or appreciate his skill in Dark Magic.
- He seems to get into fights with the Marauders, but we’ve never seen a balanced picture of these: was he always being picked on, or did he fight back?
Big tick for this one:
- He develops dangerous spells like Sectumsempra, whose only purpose is to harm other people. The experimentation in his textbook margins suggest that this was a systemic practice, and not just a one-off.
- Death Eaters probably don’t have the best life or job security, but he signed up anyway.
- He followed Lupin into the Whomping Willow, despite knowing that Lupin was probably a werewolf.
No clear evidence here. But we only need three, so it doesn’t matter.
Another big tick:
- He tries to dismiss Mulciber’s attempts to use Dark Magic on another student as “nothing” and “a laugh, that’s all”. To be fair, we don’t know what Mulciber actually did, but we meet a Death Eater of the same name in the Department of Mysteries, so this was probably some form of Dark Magic.
- He doesn’t seem to understand why Lily would be upset when he attacks or insults Petunia.
We only needed three of these to stick for Snape to have a positive classification, and we definitely have those.
Thus, I think we can safely say that there is canon evidence that Snape has ASPD.
*but I am not a psychiatrist, don’t trust medical advice from the Internet, etc.
**I’ve seen sufficiently much disagreement over the term “high-functioning sociopath” that I don’t feel confident picking a definition, or even just saying whether it is a definable term. I’ll stick to the definitions of ASPD.
The trait of a person with ASPD as listed in DSM-IV are
repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;
deception, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;
impulsivity or failure to plan ahead;
irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;
reckless disregard for safety of self or others;
consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;
lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another;
Because he did seem to show some kind of empathy or feelings, however limited, for others and he does seem to follow a moral sense of right and wrong, at least later in life.
He never used to manipulate or deceive people as is typical of functioning psychopaths. (He was deceiving Voldemort, but that doesn't count. It is not a general pattern of behaviour like with Dumbledore).
We have no real signs of hostility aggressiveness from Snape. He used spells like Sectumsempra as defence against the bullying marauders.
Snape never recklessly took risks.He acted in a very planned manner. Even with the werefolf incident, his objective was to expose Lupin werewolf and get the marauders expelled.
He was loyal to Dumbledore till the end and performed all his assigned tasks perfectly.This kind of responsibility is not to be expected from a psychopath.
Dumbledore on the other hand does qualify for the label of a psychopath in clever disguise.
I honestly think Paranoid Personality Disorder is a better fit for Severus.
- PPD is characterized by at least three of the following symptoms:
- excessive sensitivity to setbacks and rebuffs;
- tendency to bear grudges persistently (i.e. refusal to forgive insults and injuries or slights);
- suspiciousness and a pervasive tendency to distort experience by misconstruing the neutral or friendly actions of others as hostile or contemptuous;
- a combative and tenacious sense of self-righteousness out of keeping with the actual situation; recurrent suspicions, without justification, regarding sexual fidelity of spouse or sexual partner
- tendency to experience excessive self-aggrandizing, manifest in a persistent self-referential attitude;
- preoccupation with unsubstantiated "conspiratorial" explanations of events both immediate to the patient and in the world at large.
I can definitely see PPD as being Severus. He is excessively hostile and defensive - his interest in dark magic may stem from that as well as the development of dark spells. Not to mention that he bears grudges persistently, that doesn't need explaining. He seems sensitive to setbacks and rebuffs - Lily's rejection would have destroyed him emotionally - even if it isn't obvious. Think about how he reacted when Harry saw his worst memory. All of his hostility is about him defending himself (in his eyes) against his foes - other people see this behaviour as bullying (not that they are wrong in this). He feels as if his vindictive behaviour is justified. He self aggrandises by asserting authority over his students - favouritising Slytherins and degrading the others.
He does display antisocial characteristics: disorderly conduct, violent behaviour, aggression, lack of empathy (but not devoid), etc. But not enough to warrant a diagnosis of AsPD. He has consciousness, ability to love and a sense of remorse. People with AsPD don't.
I honestly also think he suffers from depression/dysthymia. He is persistently bad tempered and irritable, low mood, socially isolated, experiences little pleasure, feels excessive guilt, regret and hopelessness.
I would merely say... a severe depression, perhaps some personality disorder. Bipolar, schizoid, or "just" a depression. He was definitely not a psychopath (like Voldemort or Bellatrix, who both were classic cases), even if I see what makes you think so. But I dated a diagnosed sociopath, I know how they function and think. Snape is not one of them, even if he is a bordering case. But to be diagnosed as such, you cannot have any conscience. And boy, he does have it. He has a lot of it, otherwise he would not grieve so much after Lily´s death. He even blamed himself, even if it was not directly his fault! His behavior led to her murder by Voldemort, but Snape repented, and meant it seriously. A sociopath or a psychopath (sociopaths are MADE, psychopaths are BORN) would never be capable of any of this. They would blame Lily for being "too stupid to fall a prey to Voldemort" (that is how they think, they never blame themselves). Snape is not an ASPD case.
However, he seems extremely depressive (he even wanted to commit suicide after Lily´s death, only to be persuaded by Dumbledore into not doing so, and made into protecting Harry and thus Lily´s memory), and depression usually starts where there is a self-blame or conscience. Also, his moods are prone to change a lot (esp. when with Harry or Neville, who are his "berserk buttons"), even if most of the time his moods are pretty stable, which finally rules out bipolar depression. Therefore, it is just a depression. And a schizoid PD (or not). He is much of a loner, but it CAN be also caused by his constant low moods. But the depression? Definitely, no doubt. At least for me.