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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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Sadistic Personality Disorder: The Cleveland Tragedy

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: May 17th 2013

Sadistic Personality Disorder, The Cleveland TragedyHow is it possible that one human being can perpetrate such pain and suffering on other human beings as happened in Cleveland with the three women who were kidnapped as teenagers and held in captivity for ten years? Not only were they held captive but were beaten, raped and dehumanized in every way possible. Why would someone do such a terrible thing? For most of us it is difficult to grasp, explain or understand how such a thing can happen. Unhappily, it happens all too often. The Holocaust is one example of mankind dehumanizing others. Similar types of things have happened in prisoner of war camps where prisoners are beaten and killed even after they are no longer in combat. Then, too, there have been many and recent examples of others being kidnapped and held captive for many years. What makes this possible? One theory is that that these people have a Sadistic Personality Disorder for which there is no known cause and for which there is no listing in the DSM four or five.

However, one explanation is that the perpertrators of these horrors were harshly and constantly emotionally, physically and sexually abused during childhood. Unfavorable experiences during childhood or in early stages of sexual development are believed to be one of the major contributing factors in the development of a sadistic personality. It has also been observed that sadism or a sadistic personality can also get developed in an individual through learning. For instance, continually being exposed to situations in which sexual enjoyment or of excitement with the anguish of others can cause sadism or sadomasochism. In other words, the suffering of others gives pleasure and observing that suffering feels good.

What is a personality disorder?

According to the Mayo Clinic, "a personality disorder is a type of mental illness in which you have trouble perceiving and relating to situations and to people — including yourself. There are many specific types of personality disorders. In general, having a personality disorder means you have a rigid and unhealthy pattern of thinking and behaving no matter what the situation. This leads to significant problems and limitations in relationships, social encounters, work and school."

What is sadism?

According to Wikipedia, Sadism involves gaining pleasure from seeing others undergo pain or discomfort. It's the way in which individuals not only display, but also take enjoyment in committing sadistic acts. Individuals possessing sadistic personality display recurrent cruel behavior and aggression. Sadism can also include the use of emotional cruelty, purposefully manipulating others through the use of fear, and a preoccupation with violence.

Sexual Sadism:

The essential feature of sexual sadism is a feeling of sexual excitement resulting from administering pain, suffering, or humiliation to another person. The pain, suffering, or humiliation inflicted on the other is real; it is not imagined and may be either physical or psychological in nature. A person with a diagnosis of sexual sadism is sometimes called a sadist. The name of the disorder is derived from the proper name of the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), a French aristocrat who became notorious for writing novels around the theme of inflicting pain as a source of sexual pleasure.

All of this information helps provide an explanation for why accused kidnapper and rapist, Ariel Castro committed those awful and sadistic acts. In fact, he did not do these things out of "thin air" but had a history of abuse. For example:

Castro had an order of protection filed against him by his common law wife for brutalizing her and kidnapping their children on several occasions in order to keep them from their mother. She reported to police that Castro had broken her nose(twice), her ribs, given her lacerations, knocked out her tooth, caused her to form a blood clot on her brain, dislocated her shoulder, (twice, one on each side,) and threatened to kill her and their daughters. This happened 3 to 4 times in the past year.

Besides having a sadistic personality disorder, it is clear that this man is psychopathic. In other words, he experiences no guilt or remorse for the people he has brutalized. That is how he was able to imprison them for ten long years. The psychopath has no empathy or sympathy for others. How else does one inflict such pain and suffering on others. In addition, the captivity of these three women provided him with the opportunity to take full sexual control over them. He got them pregnant and beat and starved them to make them abort. In one case, a pregnancy was allowed to go full term. He exerted full control over them by keeping them in a dark world where they were kept bound and chained.

Most human beings are guided by a sense of morality, conscience, empathy and warmth towards others. That is why someone like Castro is so incomprehensible. Yet, he is not alone in committing these types of heinous acts. By the way, it is said that men constitute 90% of these cases.

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.

Sadistic People are just Bullies - Catherine Blair - May 22nd 2013

Sadistic people are just school yard bullies that never outgrew it because it was part of their nature.

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