What is the difference between a sociopath vs narcissist? People sometimes get these personality types confused and often use the terms interchangeably, but they are not the same. Though they share some characteristics, there are distinct differences between the two.
In this article, we’ll explore the similarities and differences between sociopaths and narcissists and give you the tools necessary to better identify if someone in your life is a narcissist or a sociopath.
Sociopath Vs Narcissist
Some of us are more self-centered than others, and that’s normal. Sometimes we need to focus a bit more on ourselves than other people to make sure we get our needs met.
Still, when someone exhibits self-centered behavior around others, people often refer to them as a ‘narcissist.’
On the more extreme end of self-centered behavior, people often use the term ‘sociopath.’ Both are serious personality disorders defined by a lack of empathy and a heightened sense of self.
However, sociopaths often have a personality disorder called antisocial personality disorder, or ASPD, while someone with narcissistic tendencies might be diagnosed with a narcissistic personality disorder or NPD.
What is a narcissistic personality disorder?
Narcissists focus heavily on themselves and get what they want, whether affection, a job position, or financial support, without considering others’ needs or emotions. They live with a grandiose sense of themselves, a deep need for attention and admiration, and believe that they are entitled to special treatment.
On the outside, the narcissist can seem confident and self-assured. However, they often deal with deep feelings of shame, anger, frustration, and even helplessness, especially when something challenges their grandiose self-image.
“When I look at narcissism through the vulnerability lens, I see the shame-based fear of being ordinary. I see the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.” – Brené Brown.
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is dangerous to live with. In reality, nobody is as entitled to special treatment or is as grandiose and important as the narcissist believes themselves to be.
However, they place so much emphasis on being important that, as mentioned, any challenge to that delusion will lead to internal emotional turmoil. Interpersonal relationships suffer as a result, which can lead to isolation and loneliness and an increased risk of suicide.
Is narcissism treatable?
Whether narcissism manifests as unrealistic grandiose self-importance or a sense of hurt and betrayal when they don’t receive the excessive love and affection they think they deserve, they have a distinct lack of empathy for others and suffer from their poor mental health.
A narcissist must speak to a therapist to help them address the way they think and behave. A trained psychotherapist may help a narcissist gain an objective view of their behavior. As well as help them learn why they’re experiencing strained relationships and emotional dysregulation.
What are the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder?
The severity of NPD varies between affected people, but some common symptoms indicate someone is struggling with the disorder. These include:
- A grandiose sense of oneself
- A sense of entitlement to special treatment
- A sense of that one deserves constant attention
- A need for admiration
- Exaggeration of achievement and abilities
- Perceiving others as inferior
- Preoccupation with fantasies of success or power
- Unwillingness to consider others’ feelings, lack of empathy
Narcissists find it challenging to take any form of criticism. As such, if they perceive criticism, they might experience any of the following:
- Anger when not treated specially
- Frequent interpersonal conflicts
- Belittling others
- Poor emotional regulation
- Difficulty adapting to change
- Deep-rooted feelings of shame and vulnerability
- Fear of humiliation
If you’re living with someone who has narcissistic tendencies, make sure you prioritize your health and well-being over everything else. Know when to set healthy boundaries and try not to get lost in their self-centered behavior.
What is a sociopath?
The term ‘sociopath’ is used to describe someone who has been diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). Like the narcissist, the sociopath tends to lack empathy, has an exaggerated sense of importance of self, and may manipulate others for their own gain.
Unlike the narcissist, however, the sociopath shows no remorse for their actions. The narcissist will manipulate others for their own gain, but this stems from their sense of self-importance, not from an intention to hurt anyone.
Sociopaths might intentionally hurt somebody just because they can and may derive pleasure or satisfaction from doing so.
What is antisocial personality disorder?
Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), also known as sociopathy, is a mental health disorder that affects those involved in terms of their relationships, professional life, social life, and legal well-being.
People that have antisocial personality disorder often show no remorse for their wrongdoings and ignore others’ feelings. They may be manipulative, antagonistic, and often face legal issues.
Other characteristics of ASPS include:
- Violent or aggressive behavior
- Impulsive behavior
- Drug and alcohol misuse
While living with someone who has ASPD is difficult, it is also difficult for the person affected. People with this disorder may have trouble holding down a job, staying in school, or maintaining a relationship.
Is antisocial personality disorder treatable?
Therapy is available for ASPD, but it can take some time before positive outcomes are achieved within therapy, given the person’s trait of disregard for authority. Therapists must establish a solid therapeutic alliance with their ASPD clients to increase the chances of positive therapeutic outcomes.
Examples of narcissism
Some narcissists are easy to spot. They are unapologetically the loudest in the room and share exaggerated yet arguably entertaining stories about their experiences and personal achievements.
The sense of grandiosity is undeniable, but at least you know who the narcissist is if you want to avoid such behavior.
Other narcissists, however, operate on a more subtle level. These people are referred to as ‘covert narcissists.’ The covert narcissist knows how people generally feel about narcissistic people. They understand people don’t always like narcissists, but they want to be liked, given their way of being.
They tend not to be loud and dramatic but still behave in ways that manipulate other’s emotions and general goodwill for their own gain. They might intentionally avoid being loud and dramatic to hide their narcissism and operate ‘under the radar.’
For example, a covert narcissist might tell you a story about a situation in which they were mistreated or victimized. Still, they took the high ground and walked away or did whatever they claim to be the right thing when in reality the truth of the situation was far different.
They were not the victim they claimed to be and did not take as mature an attitude about the situation as they say did. Their exaggerated victimization attempts to get your attention and affection and commend them for being so mature.
“Playing the victim role: Manipulator portrays him- or herself as a victim of circumstance or someone else’s behavior to gain pity, sympathy or evoke compassion and thereby get something from another. Caring and conscientious people cannot stand to see anyone suffering, and the manipulator often finds it easy to play on sympathy to get cooperation.” – George K. Simon.
Examples of sociopathic behavior
Sociopathy is a spectrum. Some people exhibit mild sociopathic tendencies, such as those who lie repeatedly or show disrespect towards authority. In contrast, others’ tendencies are more severe, such as people who commit robbery and murder.
An example of sociopathic would be the affected person driving recklessly and under the influence and causing a collision. A sociopath might leave the scene immediately to avoid any consequences, show no remorse for their mistake, and exhibit little to no concern about the other people involved in the incident.
How do I deal with sociopaths and narcissists?
Dealing with sociopathic and narcissistic personalities can be tricky. The charisma and ability to emotionally and psychologically manipulate others that characterize both conditions, can make it hard to know how to appropriately assert yourself and prevent yourself from being taken advantage of.
One of the most important and effective ways you can deal with these people in your life is to put some distance between you and them.
This could be physical distance, or it could be a personal boundary that you let them know if they cross, there will be consequences, such as cut communication or reduced contact.
The danger of living with either of these personalities is that it can damage your self-esteem. Psychological games and calculating behavior can be exhausting and may eventually leave you confused, disoriented, frustrated, and believing that you’re the one with the problem.
If possible, encourage the person to seek professional help. It’s important to set boundaries for yourself, but this might elicit an unfavorable reaction in the other person and put your well-being at risk.
A combination of therapy and healthy boundaries set by those in their life may help both narcissists, and sociopaths realize the consequences of their behavior and make some necessary changes.