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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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Anti Social Personality Disorder and Bernard Madoff

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 15th 2009

 Bernard L. Madoff is the multi billionaire who pleaded guilty to stealing vast sums of dollars from individuals and organizations, some of them charitable, by taking their money and placing it in a "ponzi scheme." A ponzi scheme is one in which someone, such as Madoff, pretends the money given him for investment in the stock market is actually used for his own selfish purposes. People are willing to invest because they are promised huge profits. The predicted profits are paid from additional investment monies taken from more people and new organizations who are also promised huge profits.

In the case of Madoff as well as other ponzi schemers, When the profits are paid, people become convinced that they were wise to make the investment and continue to make further investments, thereby adding to the pool of cash available to pay phony profits.

Everyone who invested with Madoff were deluded into believing that their money was safe, continued profits assured and that Mr. Madoff was an honest man and a stock market genius.

All ponzi schemes eventually collapse. Because there are no real investments, when the scheme collapses, everyone discovers that they have been robbed of everything they possessed.

The single most important factor that caused Mr. Madoff's scheme to collapse was the crash of the stock market. People became fearful of making further investments in the stock market, withheld their money and began asking for refunds. Unable to comply with everyone's requests for withdrawals, Mr. Madoff's scheme crashed with a very loud thud.

On March 12, 2009, Mr. Madoff pleaded guilty to all the federal charges filed against him: 11 felony counts, including securities fraud, money laundering and perjury, a list that yielded a prison sentence of life in prison.
The problem is that imprisonment does nothing to help people recover their life savings from this manipulative and dishonest man. Many of the charitable organizations that came to rely upon Mr. Madoff and his alleged investments lie in ruins. The result is a huge disaster for everyone involved. It is estimated that Mr. Madoff stole a staggering 65 billion dollars over four decades.

Among the people defrauded by Mr. Madoff were personal friends and family members who completely trusted him and never suspected that he was a liar and cheat. In addition, there were charitable organizations run by people who personally knew Mr. Madoff and invested with him on behalf of their charity because of the trust they had in him. After, he looked them in the eye and assured them that the money was safe.

How can any individual, such as Madoff, put so many people at risk and never seem to think about the consequences? How can any individual behave in such a heartless way, sleep at night, and never worry about the effects of his behavior on others?

The answers to these questions lie in what I believe is his psychiatric diagnosis. This diagnosis has absolutely nothing to do with insanity. To the contrary, people like Madoff are perfectly sane. Their diagnosis has to do with what is called Axis II in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used by psychiatrists, psychologists and licensed clinical social workers. Mr. Madoff and others like him fall into the category of Personality Disorders: Anti Social Personality Disorder.

Anti Social Personality Disorder:

DSM-IV Definition

Antisocial personality disorder is characterized by a lack of regard for the moral or legal standards. There is a marked inability to get along with others or abide by societal rules. Individuals with this disorder are sometimes called psychopaths or sociopaths.

There are ten general symptoms:

1. Not learning from experience
2. No sense of responsibility
3. Inability to form meaningful relationships
4. Inability to control impulses
5. Lack of moral sense
6. Not learning from experience
7. Chronically antisocial behavior (from age 18 and onwards)
8. No change in behavior after punishment
9. Emotional immaturity
10. Lack of guilt self-centeredness

Next is a partial profile of the Anti Social Personality Disorder.

1. If you find this list to be chilling, it should be. Read this profile and attempt to grasp the nature of someone who possesses zero ability to feel guilt or remorse.

2. Glibness and Superficial Charm

3. Manipulative
4. They never recognize the rights of others.

5. They appear to be charming, yet are covertly hostile and domineering.

6. Grandiose Sense of Self

7. Feels entitled to certain things as "their right."

8. Pathological Lying
9. Has no problem lying coolly and easily and it is almost impossible for them to be truthful on a consistent basis. 
10. A deep seated rage. 

11. The end always justifies the means and they let nothing stand in their way.

12. Shallow Emotions
13. When they show what seems to be warmth, joy, love and compassion it is more feigned than experienced and serves an ulterior motive.

14. Callousness and Lack of Empathy

People invested with Mr. Madoff because he won their trust. They came to believe that he had their best interests at heart and that he would do nothing to hurt them. Their trust came to be totally misguided. He has left in his wake, ruined lives. Countless numbers of people who planned to live off of their investments during their retirement are left with nothing, including those who are presently elderly and are suddenly unable to pay their medical bills and are even left homeless. 

This is a partial profile of the anti social personality disordered person. However, it provides a fairly clear idea of who they are. One of the most striking aspects of these persons is their ability to charm others. People like Madoff are able to win friends and advocates because they seem to be so warm and sincere in their behaviors and attitudes. However, this is all facade and, in reality, they are able to cause huge amounts of harm without the least bit of regret.

It is also true that it is nearly impossible to treat such a person with psychotherapy because of their lack of conscience and need to lie and deceive.

Did Mr. Madoff fit all the characteristics listed here? Probably not but he does fit enough of them so that he comes into clear focus.

A friend of mine, discussing the case of Mr. Madoff, asked me if I thought he felt the least bit of sorrow now that he is in prison? I thought about this for a moment or two and concluded that the answer is "No," he feels no remorse. You see, the temptation is to want to believe that he is sorry for all the pain he caused but, I do not believe that is true. For the rest of us, the answer would be yes but not for Mr. Madoff. This friend of mine, also a mental health professional, pointed out that there is something missing in people like Madoff. He is quite correct about this. 

Do you know someone with some of these characteristics?

Your comments and questions are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD.










Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Psychopath - - Jul 18th 2014

He was huge psychopath

another diagnostc term? - cynthia jenks - Nov 18th 2012

Could Maddoff be considered a malignant narcissist? Isn't there a current increase of these, sociopaths and psycopaths polluting u.s.society as a whole? Thank you.

anti social personality disorder - sally - Nov 6th 2010

my daughter has been torturing me for severals years it began late 17 and she is now 21.  the above description it so accurate there is not one behavior on the list that does not fit her.  she is killing me emotionally, and i cant believe how much love and companionship we once had.  she is a completely different person. she feels nothing, never thinks about tomorrow or consequences and whatever is behind all of this she has turned in rage, against me.  she is frightening.  when she was a child she would have occasional tantrums, biting, kicking holes in the wall, and destroying special gifts that i had given her.  but these times were not often and i chalked it up to a bad temper.  i never thought it would turn out like this.  i feel as if i am talking to a demon. she was once a national level figure skater.  at this moment she has dropped school after a short attendance, quit her job at the school, and will not tell me where she is living. everything in her life is my fault for torturing her all her life.  this is her delusion.  her life was nothing but love, nuturing, support, encouragement and devotion.  i keep getting her mail. she applies for credit everywhere. doesnt pay her bills or car insurance and her license was suspended.  she had gained at least 30 pounds and recently went back to her skating coach to get back on track. she took one lesson and never called again.  i could go on.  i dont know where to turn.  i lay in bed awake at night wondering, where did i go wrong? what happened that i missed?  she said that she is not the person i thought she was. was she pretending all those years??? im lost and confused and damaged.

Chilling - Kathryn - Jul 6th 2009

What is chilling is a comment made by a former employee just before Madoff was sentenced - "Something about him made you want to step back from his soul."  That's not an exact quote but it was the gist of it.

Personality Disorders - Daron Larson - Apr 16th 2009

I think this is such an important topic right now. Maybe it always has been, but we seem to be living in a very superficial time when so much of common knowledge is infused with entertainment. With all these information channels to fill, we turn to peoples lives to exploit as commodities. So the most dramatic personalities get the most visibility. The list of traits could be viewed as a checklist for potential participants in a reality show. It also seems that unbridled greed has been such a common force in business leadership -- at least in what makes good news copy. I believe that the majority of people out there are not self-absorbed, but we are swimming in stories full of characters who are. How can we begin to change our tastes or drive down the demand for this skewed perspective of personality. Check these out:

  • Madoff and His Models (New Yorker, Mar. 23, 2009) Ponzi's scheme : the true story of a financial legend by Mitchell Zuckoff
  • The Match King by Frank Partnoy When Narcissism Becomes the Primary Principle of Someone’s Personality
  • Leader Emergence: The Case of the Narcissistic Leader

Daron Larson - Learning to Stay

Corrections - Alan N. Schwartz, PhD - Apr 16th 2009

Thank you for the comments so far submitted. I wish to make one correction and one clarification.

Correction: I will remove the word narcissistic disorder because it does not describe Mr. Madoff. Thank you for pointing out the error.

Clarification: While there were people who invested with Mr. Madoff who did not personally know him, there were others he knew quite well including members of his family. In fact, if I am correct about the facts, Mr. Madoff's sister, who had invested everything she had with him, is totally ruined. In addition, there were many others who called him "friend and good friend" and he ruined their futures as well. In any case, we all agree that he was not a "nice guy."

Dr. Schwartz

Face-to-face fraud. - JR - Apr 16th 2009

Madoff may have been a rather remote figure to many (indeed, to most) of the people he ruined, but other fraudsters of this stamp can be a lot more "personal".  There have been cases in my part of the world in which individuals acting as accountants and/or financial advisers operated, or have been alleged to have operated, Ponzi schemes which preyed wholly or mainly on people who regarded themselves as personal friends of the fraudster.  Two cases come particularly to mind.  One is under investigation at the moment (hence "alleged"), but it already shows all the signs of having been a classic Ponzi scheme, like Madoff's in all respects except its scale.  Like the Madoff scam, it fell foul of the crash, which caused the supply of new investment to dry up at just the time that demands for withdrawals from existing investors multiplied.  The other, a few years back, came to light following the death of the fraudster.It is indeed difficult for most of us to understand somebody who can sit down and swindle a "friend", again and again, with a smile on his or her charming face but, clearly, some can do it.  I suppose that must be, more or less, how Madoff himself started out.  And, if you can swindle a "friend", why not swindle strangers ?  It will really be all the one to a fraudster of this stamp.  Indeed - something missing.Best regards,

Related work which may be of interest. - kaudio - Apr 16th 2009

Thank you for the article.  After reading it I recalled a book of interest that I have yet to read called Snakes In Suits, by Paul Babiak. In the case of Madoff, people invested their money in the hopes of greater profits with probably little actually contact with the man.  But, Babiak explores the situation where people may find themselves working with or for people like Madoff. Certainly, such a situation would be unpleasant to say the least.

Narcissistic Personality D/O? - Catmom - Apr 15th 2009

Dr Schwartz-You named characteristics that you labeled as those of one with antisocial personality disorder but did not name the characteristics of the narcissistic personality disorder.  Can you correct this?  Thanks.

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