The terms ‘narcissist’ and ‘sociopath’ are sometimes used interchangeably, often about the person who uses manipulation and duplicity to achieve self-serving goals. However, nothing could be further from the truth, as these two personality traits present themselves in entirely different ways. However, their distinctions are essential because these conditions have different implications for people exhibiting them.
Understanding the similarities and differences between these personality disorders can help counselors better determine their personality type when treating patients suffering from Anti-social Personality Disorder (ASPD) and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). It can also aid anyone in helping a friend or family member suffering from one of these disorders.
What Is Narcissism?
The term “narcissism” comes from Greek mythology. A Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a term used to describe people who act excessively self-centered manner without consideration for others. It is a psychiatric diagnosis in which a person has exaggerated feelings of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration, and a lack of understanding of others’ feelings. These individuals often display arrogance and callousness.
They have very high opinions and constantly look for praise, admiration, attention, success, status, wealth, etc. Narcissists are determined to come out on top in every way – always the winner, the best dressed, the most popular, even when it is detrimental to them.
There are two common forms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder:
- Grandiose and
- Vulnerable narcissism
The grandiose form is characterized by an excessive preoccupation with oneself, achievements, and idealized qualities. On the other hand, the vulnerable condition is characterized by feelings of inadequacy, a sense of being inferior, sensitivity to slights, and self-consciousness.
Symptoms of Narcissistic Personality
Narcissists come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They have a deep need for admiration and attention but are often unwilling to reciprocate others’ feelings. People with narcissistic personality disorder tend to be attracted to positions of power because it feeds their need for attention and admiration.
They all have in common that they think they’re better than everyone else, and everything revolves around them. They have a couple of traits in common, even if they present differently. At this point, you may be wondering what exactly narcissism symptoms are. So, here are some characteristics of people with narcissistic personality disorder:
- Frequently feels grandiose
- Has an unrealistically large sense of self-importance
- Is excessively preoccupied with success, attention, appearances, prestige, or power
- Doesn’t believe that any personal problems can’t be fixed
- Demands constant admiration from others—and reacts with extreme rage toward those who he feels are not sufficiently admiring on command
- Has a sense of entitlement so over-the-top that it is difficult to even for his own family or intimate circle to relate to him
- Sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with their expectations
People with a narcissistic personality disorder often come across as arrogant and full of themselves. They often monopolize conversations, belittle others, and exaggerate their achievements. They can be very condescending and hostile when people don’t agree with their opinions or praise them enough.
However, not everyone with narcissistic personality disorder seeks to use their power over others. Some become workaholics who derive satisfaction from achieving the goals they set for themselves at work rather than receiving praise from other people. In many cases, narcissists seek prestige in careers that will bring them power or attention without requiring too much interpersonal contact or close relationships with other people.
What Is Sociopathy?
A sociopath is a broad term to describe someone who lacks empathy or remorse and uses others to meet their own needs. They may lack concern for the feelings of others and tend to be impulsive, reckless, and often criminal. A true sociopath has a conscience and a clear idea of right and wrong but lacks any sense of moral responsibility towards others. They can often engage in violent behavior, ignoring the pain it may cause to those around them.
Sociopathy is the clinical term for antisocial personality disorder. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, sociopaths are people who have a general callous unconcern for the feelings of others, shallow emotions, including a lack of guilt, and a parasitic lifestyle.
Symptoms of Sociopath Personality
Just like narcissists, sociopaths come in all shapes and sizes. They work next to you, your classmates’ friends and they can even be family members — sociopaths are very good at deceiving others. They do it by learning to mimic emotions that seem normal to us. But a psychologist or psychiatrist can tell you that these tendencies are red flags that need to be recognized as early as possible to help them.
Sociopaths are often manipulative, deceitful, impulsive, irresponsible, aggressive, volatile, selfish, narcissistic, and emotionally shallow. While not all psychopaths are violent, many have frequent run-ins with the law. A sociopath typically will not exhibit all of the following characteristics, but people who do show some or many of these signs may be sociopaths:
- They tend to lack empathy.
- They cannot put themselves in another person’s place and understand that person’s feelings.
- They can be manipulative and deceitful.
- They often make an excellent first impression on people they meet, but often their behavior turns out to be very different from what they initially appeared.
- Their behavior may change depending on who they are around and what they want at the time.
- They will do whatever it takes, without any regard for moral or ethical standards, to get what they want or need at that moment.
- They have no real sense of what is right or wrong and seem to justify just about any behavior that gives them an advantage over others.
- They are not bothered by their behavior when they get caught lying or stealing from someone else because they have no concept of guilt or remorse for their actions.
- Their actions are often fueled by selfish desires and needs
Why Do People Develop Narcissistic and Sociopathic Personality Disorders?
Genetics may play a role in both narcissism and sociopathy, especially regarding the related trait of impulsivity. Specific childhood experiences can also contribute to developing these disorders—a person taking advantage of a child’s innate sense of trust.
For example, it could leave the child feeling betrayed and manipulated. Early exposure to violence can also play a role in developing narcissism. The disorder can develop from early childhood, although it may not manifest until later in life.
What’s the Difference Between a Narcissist and a Sociopath?
The difference between narcissism and sociopathy is that narcissists are self-absorbed but care about other people. They are capable of empathy, although they may not show it. Narcissists are prone to envy and have fragile egos. They’re also more likely to be envious of people who have things they do not.
A sociopath, on the other hand, does not have any sense of empathy or conscience. They are unable to feel guilt or remorse for anything they do. A sociopath will go through life only thinking of themselves and their own needs and desires. They treat people as ruthless and tend to lack remorse for their actions. Narcissists are nasty enough, but the lack of conscience that comes with being a sociopath makes them particularly dangerous.
For example, a narcissist might notice someone with a nice car at the gas station and feel angry and resentful about it. In contrast, a sociopathic person might see someone with a nice car at the gas station and decide to steal it. That’s no skin off his nose if he gets caught; he’ll go to jail for a few years until he gets out, after which he’ll probably do the same thing again. He’ll keep driving around in the stolen car if he doesn’t get caught.
Narcissists aren’t so inclined toward criminal behavior and are less likely to commit crimes, steal, manipulate others, be verbally abusive toward others, and have regard for social norms. They are less likely to get into legal trouble or hurt someone else. At the same time, sociopaths are less likely to know their behavior is wrong.
What Are the Similarities Between a Narcissist and a Sociopath?
Both narcissists and sociopaths have a diminished capacity to feel guilt or empathy for others. This causes them to behave in ways that many consider immoral or unethical. For example, neither of these individuals is likely to care about how their actions affect others.
Both also tend to be selfish, vain, and manipulative. People who suffer from these conditions may end up hurting others quite often simply because they don’t think about how their actions might affect someone else’s life.
Narcissists and sociopaths also feel that everything is about them; they can be self-centered. Although their patterns of behavior may not be the same, they share a few common characteristics:
- Both can be charming and persuasive in the early stages of a relationship. Narcissists and sociopaths are often very successful in their careers, and many go undetected until their true nature is revealed.
- They both have a grandiose sense of self-importance. They believe they deserve special treatment and are entitled to whatever they want. When you confront them about their narcissistic or sociopathic behavior, it’s like trying to reason with a two-year-old who has a tantrum when he doesn’t get his way.
- Both lack remorse or guilt for the actions they’ve committed. They blame others for their behavior and do not accept responsibility for anything they’ve done wrong.
- They both tend to rationalize their behavior and rarely show empathy towards others. They usually turn things around so that it appears that others are at fault for how they feel or what happened between them.
- They both exhibit pathological lying and claim to be “great lovers” when they’re incapable of having emotional intimacy with anyone.
- Both seek extreme admiration from others and will go to great lengths to achieve this admiration.
One will rarely find someone who admits to having a narcissistic or sociopathic personality. These personalities are such because of the exaggerated sense of self and lack of concern for others. However, the same factor makes them more challenging to deal with. Such individuals neither seek treatment nor are they likely to get it if forced by an oversight authority.
There’s no established cure for Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Sociopathic Personality Disorder, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be treated. It can be challenging to recognize in moderate or low levels; if someone you know is diagnosed with these disorders, they will most likely refuse treatment.
They are challenging to treat in many respects because the very traits that cause them problems (such as lack of empathy) may also serve to impede their treatment progress. A thorough diagnosis by an experienced mental health professional is essential to rule out. The most common treatments done by mental health professionals include psychotherapies and medications. Here are some of them:
It is a type of psychotherapy that looks at not easily quantified issues. This includes emotions, thoughts, past experiences, etc. Essentially, psychodynamic therapy aims to help someone learn how to control their thoughts and actions to be less stressed and more effective in their life.
It is an integrative psychotherapy that recognizes that all people act out of their most self-protecting motives. From this premise, it works from a position of mutual understanding to facilitate establishing a constructive therapeutic relationship. In more straightforward terms, it aims to help patients eliminate unwanted patterns by discovering how they are currently being played out in the therapy session.
It is an evidence-based approach to helping people resolve life issues around relationships, fear, and self-image. It is directly linked to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). While CBT focuses primarily on how one’s thought patterns affect our behavior, schema-focused therapy addresses the emotional relationship with people, places, and things.
Regarding medications, many people with NPD benefit from treating symptoms including depression, anxiety, mood liability, and psychosis. Thus, antidepressants and antipsychotics are the most commonly used medications, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, and mood stabilizers like lamotrigine.
Narcissistic and sociopathic tendencies can be benign, but they become dangerous when they cross a certain threshold. It is easy to confuse a narcissist and a sociopath. Many terms are used interchangeably, but that is not entirely accurate. Though there are many subtle differences between these two personality types, we’ve discussed some critical ways in which you can identify them.
Spotting the symptoms is crucial before it’s too late. The sooner you can identify and help your loved one – the chances of them recovering almost double. Before it takes hold, look for it early on and seek help from a mental health professional.
- Werner, K. B., Few, L. R., & Bucholz, K. K. (2015). Epidemiology, comorbidity, and behavioral genetics of antisocial personality disorder and psychopathy. Psychiatric Annals, 45(4), 195–199. https://doi.org/10.3928/00485713-20150401-08
- Mitra, P., & Fluyau, D. (2021). Narcissistic Personality Disorder. StatPearls Publishing.
- Fisher, K. A., & Hany, M. (2021). Antisocial Personality Disorder. StatPearls Publishing.