Is he a sociopath?
November 19, 2008 8:03 PM   Subscribe

I think my roommate has dissocial personality disorder...what can me and my roommates do to minimize the implications this has on us?

I'm not really qualified in any way to make this diagnosis other than psych 101 and a passion for neuroscience, but after going through the list of symptoms on Wikipedia (yeah, great diagnosis tool), I'm convinced my roommate has dissocial personality disorder. I lived with him last year and he would constantly go into my room and take my things. Once, the bathroom flooded and he used all of my towels to clean it up. At the beginning of this year, he started stealing the food of me and my other roommates. I confronted him about it and he acted like he didn't know what I was talking about, and that perhaps one of his friends was doing it. I set up my webcam and managed to get photos of him coming into my room and looking through my food. I confronted him about this and he still didn't come clean, saying he was on medications that made him afraid to go outside, so he couldn't go food shopping. I didn't understand why he didn't just explain this to me and ask if he could have some of my food, but the whole story is probably a lie, since some of our mutual friends see him out and about all the time.
Anyways, he offered to compensate for the lost food items, which, after a lot of hassling and reminding, he finally did. Now, about a month later, my other roommates have been noticing food missing again. We found it in his room, and when confronted, he denied it until I pointed out the evidence on his desk. He then acted like that was no big deal, and when confronted about the other missing food item, he said he had bought it himself, when the place he mentioned doesn't sell it.
Maybe I'm just being paranoid. Maybe he's just an asshole. I live in college housing, but they can't really do anything about it. Is there anything my roommates and I can do about this?
Oh, and according to my diagnosis, he fits 5 of the 7 ICD-10 criteria listed on Wikipedia.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Rather than diagnose him, why don't you just raise hell with the college? You've got his ass on video stealing! Surely they will not make you live with a proven thief.
posted by jayder at 8:10 PM on November 19, 2008

I had no idea that "arsehole" was a psychological disorder?! Talk to your college housing admin people about what you can do.
posted by robotot at 8:17 PM on November 19, 2008 [3 favorites]

I was in a similar situation, as my previous MeFi Q's will attest. What got things resolved was raising hell at the school to get him kicked out or at least some sort of institutional punishment. Do that.

And going over that list, my ex-roommate meets six of those criteria. Yeesh.
posted by SansPoint at 8:20 PM on November 19, 2008

Stealing food and lying about it and borrowing your things without asking is a sign that your roommate is a dick, not a sociopath.

Go to residence life, or whoever is in charge of the housing, and say "My roommate steals from me, please can I live with somebody who does not do that?"

If they don't move him (or you), and you have no other options as far as housing is concerned, put a padlock on the cupboard where you store your food, lock your bedroom door, and just generally make it as difficult as possible for him to go into your room, take your stuff, or eat your food.
posted by spockette at 8:25 PM on November 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

I have eaten some of my former roommate's food without asking. Without admitting. I'm pretty sure I'm not a sociopath, I was just poor, hungry and was too ashamed to ask. I wouldn't walk into his room and take towels, for example, but the odd perogie? sure. I'm not saying it wasn't wrong, I'm just pointing out that it is probably not malicious.
posted by sunshinesky at 8:30 PM on November 19, 2008

Oh, it may be worth noting that I was also depressed during this period of time. That definitely contributed to my secretive behaviour.
posted by sunshinesky at 8:33 PM on November 19, 2008

As long as we're throwing out wild guesses, dude could be on drugs, too-- in my experience, folks who steal your food and act bizarrely are on meth, not suffering from psychopathy.

Or, y'know, he could just be a guy with no life skills adapting really badly to being in school. Your diagnosis won't help him any; what will help you is to go tell your RA that you don't want to live with the guy any more because he's a thief and his behaviors make you nervous. If that doesn't work, your next stop is the director of campus housing to forcibly arrange a room swap. Be polite and persistent, and don't mention your "diagnosis;" you are not a medical professional yet, which leaves you on the level of "dude with a housing grievance, handling it accordingly."
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:39 PM on November 19, 2008

I think your diagnosis, right or wrong, is clouding the issue for you. Your problem is how he treats you and your belongings -- you don't need to know his mental state to respond to that.
posted by winston at 8:41 PM on November 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

Having a jerk roommate who has no respect for your stuff and eats your food is pretty much par for the course in terms of college housing. Diagnoses are irrelevant.

If I wanted to spend the time doing it, I could probably think back on my college years and make up diagnoses for every jerk I had to deal with on a daily basis who took the whole "it's college, man!" thing as an excuse to have no respect for others. But, as much as I respect the fact that psychological and other conditions are real and serious, I prefer to just leave them in the "jerks" compartment of my memory and move on. I would recommend this approach in your situation, as well. I would also recommend getting a new roommate, by whatever reasonable means are available.
posted by The World Famous at 9:04 PM on November 19, 2008

follow-up from the OP
I forgot to mention that so far college housing services have been ineffective in dealing with this situation. I will keep pushing them, but for now there doesn't seem to be any relief until next year. I'm looking for alternatives to this. What have you done in the past that helped avoid this kind of behavior or finally resolve similar situations?
Also, DPD seemed like the best way to sum up his behavior...of course I'm no professional and I've never met a person with DPD; sorry for offending anyone by not using the term appropriately. I did, however leave out a lot of things for the sake of avoiding a lengthy post, for more details or private communication, e-mail:
posted by jessamyn at 9:08 PM on November 19, 2008

I agree with fairtale of los angeles -- he could just be a socially clueless college kid.

My husband's freshman roommate chained and padlocked his closet shut, y'know, to prevent thieves (my husband) from stealing his t-shirts. However, same guy had no problem eating my husband's food when he wasn't there. After being confronted, he began to pay for the snacks after sneaking them -- in change. Exact change. Including pennies.

Eight years later, he's far, far more socially adjusted, and a very good friend of ours. But my point isn't make friends! he might grow up! It's just that college students often have no experience living with people outside their family, and if they're kind of... socially idiotic, college living situations serve as incubators for idiotic behavior. But that doesn't mean you have to deal with it. Most colleges have zero tolerance for stealing, and you have proof. Report! and good luck.
posted by changeling at 9:11 PM on November 19, 2008

If you tell someone in an authority position with student housing that you think your roommate has a mental health issue that makes him annoying to live with, they may not want or be able to help you. If you tell someone in an authority position with student housing that your roommate is stealing from you and you demand that he be removed or that you be reassigned, then you'll probably get somewhere. Annoying roommates are a fact of college life and they've probably heard every possible "my roommate is crazy" complaint; thieving roommates are another matter entirely.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:12 PM on November 19, 2008

Okay.... after reading your followup, I definitely recommend 1) locking your door, and 2) locking up your food.

A chain and padlock might work.
posted by changeling at 9:13 PM on November 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

He could have an eating disorder. Less common in men, but it happens.
posted by AwkwardPause at 9:24 PM on November 19, 2008

I live in college housing, but they can't really do anything about it. Is there anything my roommates and I can do about this?

Stop the amateur psychiatry, and focus on practical measures.

For example, lock your food away or buy things he doesn't like. For example, switch to zero-fat soymilk instead of regular milk, that sort of thing. Cultivate a taste for chilli, anchovies & coriander (cilantro?) if you don't have one already. Liverwurst is also a tasty & nutritious spread which most people would baulk at. Failing that, a well-placed Cooking With Cum cookbook might help.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:24 PM on November 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

I forgot to mention that so far college housing services have been ineffective in dealing with this situation. I will keep pushing them, but for now there doesn't seem to be any relief until next year.

I wouldn't take "no" for an answer - and I think it'd be helpful and appropriate to bring your parents into the loop - hearing from them will likely make the difference to your school (as unfair as that is).
posted by moxiedoll at 9:32 PM on November 19, 2008

FWIW, my college roommate stole my food, too. I ended up just bluntly confronting him about it, saying very matter of factly, "Can I have $5 to go buy food to replace what you took from me?"

Worked like a charm.
posted by jayder at 9:55 PM on November 19, 2008

You could threaten the college with raising hell with the local authorities - they never want to have the cops called onto campus if they can avoid it. The police probably won't take stealing food as a serious matter, but you have little leverage if your school has already said they can't do anything about it this semester.
posted by Nixie Pixel at 10:23 PM on November 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

I forgot to mention that so far college housing services have been ineffective in dealing with this situation.

That's surprising. Obviously they would prefer to come up with solutions that don't involve shuffling roommates, but they should be well acquainted with situations of utter incompatibility. Instead of trying to play amateur shrink, focus on communicating your distress to the appropriate people in an effective means such as a detailed, sober letter requesting immediate relocation. If the housing desk doesn't respond, ask to talk to their boss, perhaps a dean of some kind. Request a meeting and stress that you understand the difficulty but see no other alternative.
posted by dhartung at 12:13 AM on November 20, 2008

Do not get into the armchair psychiatry thing, especially with your housing service - you might not have been here before but they have and if you give them the slightest reason to think that helping you out might bite them in the arse later (e.g. they move unbalanced kid and he later hurts himself/someone else), they definitely will not help you.

Concentrate instead on what you have and look to frame the question. If he's stealing off your other room mates, then you should all go to the college housing services together. Tell them that you want moving or good locks putting on all of the doors. Stay in the office until you get a commitment from them to do something.

If they still seem unwilling to help you and your room mates out start asking them if it's college policy to effectively turn a blind eye to theft and suggest that you will pursue other remedies to theft (e.g. calling the police).
posted by mandal at 1:38 AM on November 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't think stealing food is indicative of some sort of psychological disorder. I occasionally take my roommate's food when she's not around because I'm missing some ingredient of something I'm cooking. Of course, I always go and buy replacement food, but I probably shouldn't be taking it in the first place. It just sounds like your roommate is a jerk.

Do you have an RA you can talk to? They're usually pretty good at mediating disputes. And if they see it's not helping, their word often carries some authority with the college housing people.

You could try inviting the roommate along when you go grocery shopping, giving him the opportunity to buy his own food. Otherwise, you might just have to get some sort of food pantry/trunk and lock stuff up. I had a friend in college whose roommate kept "borrowing" her jewelry and "forgetting" to give it back. My friend ended up storing some of her valuables across the hall in a friend's suite instead.
posted by bluefly at 3:59 AM on November 20, 2008

You and your other roommates lock your shit up and tell him about it. Tell him what a dick he was to use your towels, take your food and lie, etc. Then concentrate on getting him or yourself out of that situation. Don't fret about it, just take action to protect your stuff and prevent it happening again.

He might be mentally defective but it sounds like he's merely an asshole. Just like everyone else said.
posted by dozo at 6:16 AM on November 20, 2008

For example, switch to zero-fat soymilk instead of regular milk, that sort of thing. Cultivate a taste for chilli, anchovies & coriander (cilantro?) if you don't have one already.

I don't think OP is the one who should be changing their habits here.
posted by mippy at 7:19 AM on November 20, 2008

You can buy several items of food that he does like, and likes to steal. Then
a) spike them with chillies, hot sauce, vinegar, or whatever or
b)print fortune-cookie-size notes that say "Dude, stop stealing my food!" and get them inside the food somehow that he doesn't know they're there until he's chewing one.
posted by K.P. at 7:23 AM on November 20, 2008

I had a mom with borderline personality disorder, so mental problems in people, lying, or "not remembering" malicious actions put me on alert. People who have not lived with mental illness often underestimate the effect it can have on the person who is ill or the people living with them. Instead of treating this guy like just a "jerk", I would assume the worst in this person, inform the college that you do not feel safe living with someone who is performing actions that make you afraid for your welfare (because really, do you know what his limits of strange behavior are? You don't know this person and he's already acting very strange), and that they must get him out or get you out. Highlighting a fear for your safety will make this happen.

Also, in a book I've been reading on BPD (the first ever I've read on it, and describes my mother so well it is unbelievable), the author notes that BPD is often undiagnosed in men, who are typically sent to jail rather than referred to mental help. I would discount the comments here saying that the guy is "just" an asshole. You're living with someone unpredictable, who lies. That is by nature a dangerous situation unless proven otherwise. Don't wait to have it confirmed to believe it - raise hell till you or he are out of there.

I agree with other posters that a particular diagnosis is not your concern. However, mental instability and/or theft and lying on the part of someone you live with is your concern. You are not being paranoid - you have a right to security where you sleep (and the school should be afraid of what would happen to them if they forced one student to live with one who might be mentally ill - murders do happen on college campuses due to mental illness and that is never good for a school's reputation or wallet).

Again: get yourself or him out before you see how bad his behavior can get. Raise hell. Don't wait. Emphasis fear for your safety and you'll be amazed how fast they get him or you out of there. If you think the guy should not be exposed to any other roommates, you may end up with a suite with one fewer roommate for a while - probably the best of all worlds for you (assuming you like your other roommates) and anyone else who would otherwise be exposed to this person.

I also note that getting the college to punish him without getting him out of your presence will not help the situation, and may aggravate him if he has other problems that you haven't seen yet. He doesn't need to be punished, he needs to be separated. So emphasize the desire for him to be out, not for him to change. People with mental problems find it extremely difficult to change sometimes, and you don't want the risk that he won't change or that he'll take out aggression on you if he's punished. For this reason, it would be best for a third party like campus security to simply show up one day and escort him out - this way he doesn't have a chance to steal anything of yours while packing (or do something worse).
posted by lorrer at 9:03 AM on November 20, 2008

You lived with this guy last year. He was a crappy roommate then. You presumably chose to live with him again this year. He's still, unsurprisingly, a crappy roommate. Keep fighting the good fight with the campus housing folks, but given that you chose to put yourself with a known quantity of crappy roommate for a second year seriously weakens your claims. Might explain why they're not taking your complaints as seriously as you like.

So yeah, get yourself a few extra locks. Booby-trap your peanut butter. And enjoy scouting out a new roommate for next year.
posted by amelioration at 9:07 AM on November 20, 2008

I just read your follow-up. If changing tactics with housing to emphasizing that his behavior has become such that you are afraid for your welfare does not change their tune then what changeling said - lock your door, lock up any of your stuff in common areas, and really, keep as little in common areas as possible.

I also re-read your post and noticed something I hadn't before - he said he was on medication that made him afraid to go outside. That sounds like something a BPD sufferer would say. I'm not aware of a medication that would do that. However, BPD people can be naturally afraid of leaving their homes or doing normal things - and will often try to blame anyone or anything but themselves for their phobias and/or erratic behaviors. Saying things that don't make sense and at the same time lay blame / are excuses for behavior, and denying the obvious, are pretty bad signs. In your situation I'd be doing anything possible to get out or get him out. Again, I have had a traumatic experience in the past and am more sensitive to these issues than most people probably would be, but you have to be safe at home, and you're in college, trying to have fun and learn, you shouldn't have to worry about the mental instability of someone you're living with.
posted by lorrer at 9:15 AM on November 20, 2008

I've lived with an actual Honest to Dog true blue 100% sociopath. Lucky for me, he's also my younger brother!

With a real sociopath there is NOTHING you can do to get annoying/destructive behaviors to stop. Nothing. It doesn't matter. Because they don't care. That's what being a sociopath is all about - total lack of empathy.

The only thing you can do to stop him from making your life miserable is to move. If you do get locks, well, more power to you, but it might not actually work. A sociopath will find your keys/pick the lock. It will just add to the challenge, not actually deter him in anyway. You won't be able to alter his behavior at all and will just have to find some way to live with it until you're out of the situation. Honestly. You can MeMail me if you want details of the specific ways that my brother was totally a horror show to live with and how there's absolutely nothing humanly possible to stop it. Very few people can make the honest claim to having lived with someone with DPD, and it's so far beyond the pale that it's hardly imaginable. I seriously doubt your roommate, having been socialized enough to get into college in the first place, falls into this category.

If he's just a dick, you can try talking to him. It's way more likely that he's really just a dick. Also, if he's just a dick, he'll be less motivated to pick locks on your food.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:56 AM on November 20, 2008

Why don't you take that lovely video and photos you have of him stealing to your resident dean, or whoever is in charge of your housing? Don't just take it to an RA, take it to the highest person you know of.

Send a letter too, formally documenting dates and times and weird/wrong stuff he's done. Say you're afraid for your safety. Send it with copies of the video and photos. If they ignore that, and he still steals your stuff or worse, they are the ones in legal hot water for ignoring you. If you don't document, and don't make a fuss, of course they have no reason to do anything, but if you make your case the way you made it in your post, with proof, there is no way they could keep ignoring you without incurring huge liability.
posted by slow graffiti at 12:57 PM on November 20, 2008

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