Sociopathy is a term to describe people who are diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder (APD), but it is sometimes confused with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). The terms carry very different meanings. People with APD have no regard for laws or others’ rights, and those with NPD have no empathy for others, carry a heightened perspective of themselves and they frequently require praise.1
What Is Narcissism?
Narcissism is another name for individuals who have traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). NPD is distinguished by a grandiose sense of self and a need to be admired and validated frequently. Narcissists tend to have little empathy for others and do not respond well to criticism, as they are frequently insecure.1,2,3,4
There are lots of different ways narcissism can present itself, including covert narcissism, which is more internalized, and communal narcissism, which tends to come out in group settings.
Signs of a narcissist include:1,2,3,4
- Significantly heightened sense of self that includes exaggerating their achievements
- Frequently requiring admiration and approval
- Preoccupation with fantasies about limitless power and success
- Believing they are unique and can only be connected with similar type people
- Expressing unreasonable expectations of people as well as expecting said people to automatically agree with their wishes
- Lacking the ability to identify or connect with others’ feelings and needs
- Feeling envious of others and believing that others envy them
- Difficulty with mood regulation, especially if they feel criticized
What Is Sociopathy?
Sociopathy is a name given for those who have been diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD). APD is characterized by a continuous disregard and violations of others’ rights, feelings, and the law. Sociopaths are often known to use manipulation along with other forms of antisocial behavior to meet their needs.1,5,6
Signs of a sociopath include:1,5,6
- Inability to meet social norms, evidenced by continuously engaging in illegal behaviors, whether or not they are arrested
- Using manipulation and lying to meet personal needs and wants
- Lack of remorse for their behaviors and any impact they have caused
- Displaying failure to plan for the future and impulsive behaviors
- Irritable mood
- Verbal or physical aggression, including assault
- Reckless behavior and disregard for other people’s safety
- Continuous irresponsibility and inconsistency in daily expectations, such as instability in work, relationships, or financial responsibilities
Key Differences Between a Narcissist & a Sociopath
While narcissists and sociopaths may appear to have some similar traits based on the signs listed above, they have a number of distinct differences, including their motivation and how and why they treat others the way they do.
Here are some key differences between a narcissist and a sociopath:
The main difference between narcissists and sociopaths includes the motivation for their behaviors. Narcissists have a larger-than-life self-perspective and often present this exaggerated, brilliant version of themselves to others in general. However, their behaviors—such as praising themselves or exaggerating their talent—are often motivated by the intent to have others admire them and recognize their achievements and their “special,” status, which is often to fulfill a deeply neglected ego.1,3,4
Sociopaths, on the other hand, tend to have motivation that is based on what interests them and their specific goals, and do not require any personality or ego fulfillment. They are only interested in accessing something of their own interest and tend to engage in whatever action is necessary—regardless of how they harm anyone or anything else—to meet their goals.1,5,6 This can be fueled by how they treat or perceive others.
How They View Others
In the perspective of a narcissist, the expectation of others to praise and admire the persona they present to the world is influenced by a need to be seen as “special,” and to fulfill their ego. In this goal, they will often see others as below their own status, regardless of the input they have to offer. As a result, narcissists can come off as shallow, cut-throat, and self-centered while trying to achieve an ego that is required to be bolstered by others’ admiration and “VIP” treatment.
Sociopaths do not require this admiration to meet their goals. Sociopaths often treat people as expendable, but also have the ability to be incredibly manipulative and charming. Although sociopaths do not need an ego boost, they will manipulate, flatter, and charm other people to help them achieve their goals, and then walk away without looking back. In addition, sociopaths lack any remorse in getting anyone or anything else harmed, regardless of whether it harms their reputation. These goals can be important, as both narcissists and sociopaths have significant differences in the ability to maintain work and structured goals.1,2
Need for Reputation
Narcissists struggle with an ego that often needs support to maintain its “special” status, which the narcissist wholly believes is an accurate representation of themself. To do so, narcissists can be found to work hard to maintain their successful, “VIP” status, and have the ability to maintain work, even though they may hurt people on the way to this perceived success.
Sociopaths will break laws and norms without any care to meet their goals and interests. As a result, sociopaths tend to have difficulties maintaining work and may be frequently involved with the legal system.1,2,7
Regardless of narcissists’ and sociopaths’ abilities to flatter and manipulate, one may be able to observe the differences in their ability to maintain relationships, work or careers, social, or financial expectations.1
Sociopaths can be easily confused as a narcissist because they do share some similarities, but there are significant differences in the way they treat people.
Similarities Between Narcissists & Sociopaths
While they may have different motivations, both narcissists and sociopaths share the ability to be charming, successful, and alluring. Each also has the capability to be cut-throat, selfish, controlling, and engage in lying and dishonest behavior towards people to meet their goals.1
Further, both sociopaths and narcissists can show others successful personas and exaggerate their skills and achievements. Those with APD and NPD both have difficulty acknowledging insight to their behavior and thinking.1
What Is a Narcissistic Sociopath?
A narcissistic sociopath, also called a malignant narcissist, is someone who has a combination of narcissistic and sociopathic traits, but may not qualify for either diagnosis due to not meeting the expected amount of symptoms for either disorder. While this is not a diagnosis commonly used at this time, this does not mean that someone who has these traits is less dangerous than a narcissist or a sociopath.
A narcissistic sociopath shares these traits with narcissists:
- Fantasies of unlimited successes or power
- The self-perspective of being “unique”
- a need for admiration,
- an expectation of deserving and entitlement,
- exploiting people for personal gain,
- envy for others,
- lacking empathy or concern for others, and
- struggle with a fragile ego and difficulty with criticism.
They also share these traits with sociopaths:
- Lacking empathy
- Exploiting others for interests
- Lacking interest in others unless able to use them for gain
A narcissistic sociopath does differ in that they can struggle with constant feelings of self-doubt, paranoia about outside influences, and emptiness. They can connect with some social groups, but this can be limited to the people who support them regardless of their negative behaviors.8
Tips for Dealing With Narcissists & Sociopaths
Dealing with a narcissist or a sociopath can be difficult and overwhelming, especially if you have not dealt with behavior like this before. Due to the tendency of narcissists and sociopaths to lack insight about their behavior, it is important to note that these individuals rarely attend or engage in mental health treatment.
If a narcissist or sociopath engages in treatment, it is more common that it is for substance use and rather than their other problematic behaviors. Narcissists and sociopaths have behavior traits that can lead to financial, emotional, or physical abuse of those who are close with them, regardless of the relationship, and it can be difficult to make sense of their behaviors or seek help for yourself.
Some tips for dealing with a narcissist or a sociopath include:5,6,7
- Set and maintain firm boundaries. When you bend a boundary, a narcissist or a sociopath is likely to take advantage of that wiggle room.
- Respond without emotional reaction when addressing the issue at hand. If the request seems unrealistic, you could ask if the request is reasonable, with facts to back up your perspective.
- Gently address an issue, especially with narcissists who can have difficulty with criticism, and demand changes in behaviors rather than promises (and you can remind them how everyone is looking forward to this change).
- Allow yourself space and attention to work on your goals and needs, and do not get sucked into the narcissist’s or the sociopath’s world.
- Monitor your safety risk and know if it is time to go (especially if you’re dating a sociopath or a narcissist). Make a safety plan with your support system or an agency, if needed.
Both of these diagnoses are serious personality disorders and can be difficult to live or deal with on a regular basis, especially if you are already feeling stressed. However, you are not alone and there are ways to find the light or a path that works for you.