Sociopaths VS Narcissists: 9 Important Differences to Understand

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When he said, “Don’t forget I know where you live,” I knew I was dealing with someone who is sociopathic and not an average narcissist. You won’t believe why he threatened to show up at my home. For a Keurig coffee machine!

He was pissed off because I was unable to return it immediately. I threatened to call the police. I knew there was a real possibility of getting harmed dealing with a sociopath vs narcissist.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) identifies sociopathy and narcissism as personality disorders as well as mental disorders. Someone with either disorder may act in ways that can cause harm to others.

The fact that a sociopath and a narcissist can be mistaken for each other makes things even more complicated. For example, both show a lack of empathy or a general disregard for the well-being of others.

You may not know the right way to respond or cope with their behavior if you’re uncertain which one you’re dealing with.

This could change by the time you finish acquainting yourself on the nine ways to tell them apart. That way, you can set boundaries to protect your safety and well-being and those you love.

What Is a Sociopath?

A sociopath is a term commonly used to refer to a person who displays a pattern of behavior a psychologist diagnoses as signs of antisocial personality disorder (APD). Individuals with APD show a high tendency to manipulate, deceive, and break the law.

According to Psychology Today, they have “no moral compass.” For these reasons, people find it hard to trust and deal with sociopaths.

Sociopaths make up 1% to 4% of the population, according to VeryWellMind. Chances are it’s the person sitting next to you, a work colleague, or someone you’re dating.

Note, however, psychologists do not diagnose someone as a ‘sociopath’, but as having antisocial personality disorder.

What Causes Someone to Become a Sociopath?

Experts who studied APD are of the view that the disorder stems from genetics, differences in brain function, and poor nurturing from parents or caregivers. Children who experience abuse, neglect, or other forms of childhood trauma may be more prone to developing sociopathic traits. 

According to psychologists, these harsh childhood experiences can interrupt their personality and emotional development and cause APD.

Poor emotional development may help explain the sociopath’s strong lack of empathy, lack of moral judgment, and failure to feel guilty. 

How to Know Someone May Be a Sociopath

Like narcissists, sociopaths struggle with deep insecurities and forge relationships for self-serving reasons. Normally, you won’t find out until after the fact or when it’s too late to avoid the consequences.

With sociopaths, you’ll notice they show a pattern of disregard for boundaries, impulsivity, aggression, deception, and irresponsibility.

Acting impulsively makes them difficult to predict and lands them in trouble more often. They usually don’t take work and other social responsibilities seriously. As such, they have trouble keeping a job or paying their bills.

These and the following pattern of antisocial traits have far-reaching consequences for sociopaths and their loved ones:

  • Ignoring or going against societal norms and rules
  • Lying, manipulation, and using charm to exploit others
  • Feeling superior to others
  • Caring only about what they think
  • Behaving in a highly aggressive, hostile, or violent way
  • Frequently faced with personal and legal troubles from an early age
  • Not able to reflect on their wrongdoings or feel guilty 
  • Engaging in reckless and dangerous behavior that puts themselves and others at risk

What Is a Narcissist?

A narcissist refers to someone who displays traits and characteristics noticed in people diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). The disorder, also called narcissism, affects up to 5% of people who have NPD.

Narcissists appear charming and confident. At the same time, they tend to struggle with a fragile sense of self-worth.

Their low self-esteem interferes with how they see themselves in relation to others and interact socially. They’ll act in socially unacceptable ways yet think their behavior is completely normal.

What Causes Someone to Become a Narcissist?

The exact cause of NPD remains unknown. So far, researchers and doctors link it to a combination of factors.

These include genetics, temperament, and traumatic childhood experiences, such as abuse and parental neglect. Overprotection from parents and receiving excessive praise as a child also contribute to the making of a narcissist.

How to Know Someone May Be a Narcissist

The DSM outlines nine narcissistic personality traits. A person has to have at least five of the nine characteristics for a psychologist to diagnose them with NPD. Below are the signs of how a person with NPD thinks, feels, and behaves.

  • Inflated self-importance.Giving you the impression they are very important 
  • Excessive admiration. Constantly putting themselves in positions to receive admiration and compliments 
  • Self-centered. Only concerned with getting what they want while looking past the needs of others 
  • High sense of self-entitlement. Believe they deserve privileges, favors, special treatment, and recognition 
  • Lack of empathy. Little to no interest in the needs and feelings of others or how their actions affect others
  • Exaggeration. Speak highly of their talents, abilities, and accomplishments to make themselves appear impressive or important  
  • Fantasizes about power. Preoccupied with having infinite success and power
  • Superiority. Believe they have special or extraordinary power and should be revered for it
  • Critical and condescending. Talk down to people who they view as inferior or ‘beneath’ them  
  • Exploitative and controlling. Willing to manipulate others to take advantage, gain control, and get their needs met
  • Arrogant. Convinced they know everything and unwilling to consider the opinion of others 
  • Envy and jealousy. Inherently think people deserve what others have or that others are jealous of what they have

If you ever had a run-in with a narcissist at home or work, you already know how difficult they are to deal with. It’s all about keeping attention on themselves and getting their never-ending needs met. This makes them difficult to please.

There’s no cure for narcissism. However, therapy can help someone with NPD improve their self-esteem and work on changing behavior that causes conflict in social and romantic relationships. 

Have you noticed these 13 Narcissist Traits, Characteristics, and Warning Signs in your friend, partner, or boss?

Can Someone Be a Sociopath and a Narcissist?

Yes, a person may be diagnosed with both antisocial and narcissistic personality disorders. However, research suggests that there’s a stronger likelihood of encountering a sociopath who has narcissistic tendencies, than someone with NPD who is sociopathic.

Sociopathic narcissist” is the name given to someone who displays strong symptoms of both disorders. You can tell if someone is a narcissistic sociopath if they display a variety of symptoms of both narcissistic and antisocial personality disorder.

They may more than likely engage in higher levels of manipulation and hurt people without giving it a second thought.

9 Differences to Note about Sociopath vs Narcissist

Of course, it’s necessary to know what type of personalities we interact with. Are they trustworthy or manipulative and dangerous? Are they a narcissist or a sociopath?

Even so, that doesn’t give us the right to hastily label someone as a sociopath or narcissist at the first sign of controlling, manipulative, or deceptive behavior.

The fact that they have overlapping traits means we should be even more careful in jumping to conclusions. Otherwise, we risk wrongly judging and hurting someone we care about.

Noting the below nine behavioral tendencies that distinguish a sociopath from a narcissist is a great place to begin. Not only will you widen your understanding, but are able to determine how to deal with them.

#1. Sociopaths Don’t Care About Self-image

A sociopath presents himself differently from a narcissist. They really don’t care about what others think or feel about them.

They’re only concerned about themselves and the pleasure they can get from tricking and hurting others.

How Are a Narcissist and a Sociopath Different | sociopath | narcissist
Narcissists work overtime on their physical appearance and go to lengths to protect their reputation. 

Not being interested in your opinion of them is striking for someone with a fragile ego and low self-esteem, similar to a narcissist. 

Narcissists are preoccupied with how others view them. This deep concern causes them to exaggerate their accomplishments to come across as a very important person.

Unlike sociopaths, they work overtime on their physical appearance and go to lengths to protect their reputation. 

#2. Sociopaths Persistently Disregard the Well-Being of Others

Experts in psychology agree that this is the main difference when you compare sociopathy vs narcissism.

While both personalities lack empathy, things get a little extreme with sociopaths. They tend to show a persistent disregard for the emotions, rights, safety, and well-being of others.

You may not recognize these attributes since they use their charisma or intelligence as a disguise.

People in reputable positions can be sociopaths and may use their ‘office’ to exploit and hurt vulnerable targets. It comes as a surprise to many that these apparently “nice” individuals are capable of doing evil.

#3. Sociopaths Continuously Disregard Social Rules and Laws

Narcissists who aren’t antisocial are careful to follow rules and stay on the good side of the law. They are afraid to tarnish their image.

While they’re preoccupied with success and building a good reputation, sociopaths don’t care about that type of stuff.

Sociopaths ignore social norms and have a strong tendency to break laws. Experts trace back these tendencies to as early as childhood or adolescence. Common crimes include stealing, stalking, destroying property, threatening harm, and fighting.

#4. Sociopaths Flirt with Jail All the Time

Despite the threat of getting caught or jailed, sociopaths lack the emotional maturity to keep themselves from committing crimes.

Experts say they tend to have a history of criminal offenses. You may not see this track record in narcissists, save and except the person is a narcissistic sociopath.

Acting impulsively may make them more prone to committing violent crimes than narcissists. This leads to a greater risk of arrest and jail time compared to narcissists.

#5. Sociopaths Have a Harder Time Keeping Down a Job

By nature, sociopaths do things that are socially unacceptable, making it difficult to have healthy relationships or maintain a job.

Being frequently jobless leads to petty theft and related crimes to maintain their livelihood.

what is a narcissist | what is a sociopath | sociopath vs narcissist
A sociopath will manipulate, deceive, and harm others intentionally and purely for fun.

Narcissists create dysfunctional relationships, usually from a pattern of lying, gaslighting, and manipulating relatives and friends. However, they manage to stay employed because they understand the financial and social consequences. 

In fact, staying employed is more tied to their self-image. Their ego cannot withstand others thinking they’re a bum. They need the praise and validation that comes with being somebody.

#6. Sociopaths Harm Others for Pleasure

A key factor that sets a sociopath apart from a narcissist is the motive behind their actions. Both are capable of scheming and plotting to get what they want. However, the WHY is different.

The motive is often ego-based for narcissists. They’re always seeking to gain control and inflate their importance. This gives them a sense of superiority. Any harm to others caused by their self-centeredness is usually a natural and unintended consequence.

On the other hand, a sociopath will manipulate, deceive, and harm others intentionally and purely for fun. They’ll take pleasure in causing you pain and misfortune. They treat people as objects and believe they’ll get away with their crimes.

#7. Sociopaths are More Dangerous

Sociopaths are more inclined to harm others without giving it a second thought. This trait makes them far more dangerous than narcissists.

When they’re not acting impulsively, they carefully plot to do wrong. They may also use more aggressive and violent tactics to manipulate.

Narcissists can also behave impulsively, but usually as a reaction to not getting what they want. However, scheming to physically harm someone isn’t something listed as a personality trait in DSM-5.

Narcissists do commit emotional abuse by manipulating others to get their needs met. For example, they’ll put themselves down in search of praise and validation from you.

Sociopaths are more preoccupied with plotting ways to cheat, steal, and physically abuse people and animals just for fun.

#8. Sociopaths Lack Guilt and Remorse

Not only do sociopaths have no disregard for laws and the well-being of others, but they also lack remorse.

In other words, they do not feel guilt or regret for physically or emotionally hurting people or animals. This makes it harder for them to change. Interestingly, they can fake emotions as needed to make others trust them.

Even though they are capable of exploiting others without considering how they feel, some types of narcissists may experience emotional distress and guilt.

sociopath vs narcissist similarities | sociopath vs narcissist differences | what is a narcissist
A Sociopath tend to show a persistent disregard for the emotions, rights, safety, and well-being of others.

This is according to research on Guilt and Proneness to Shame: Unethical Behaviour in Vulnerable and Grandiose Narcissism. However, the guilt narcissists feel isn’t driven by empathy.

Unfortunately, feeling guilty or ashamed does not stop narcissists from wreaking havoc in relationships.

#9. Sociopaths Use Charisma for Devious Reasons

Narcissists pack on the charm to turn the spotlight on themselves. Not surprising, considering you’re dealing with a “look-at-me, I-am-here” personality.

A sociopath, on the other hand, uses charm to disarm, lure, and get you to trust them. They’ll then carry out their motives as soon as you let your guard down.

Sociopaths are so charming and manipulative that you may continue trusting them against your gut feeling something isn’t right. The next thing you’re asking yourself is how such a “nice” person could con you.

Final Thoughts on Sociopath vs Narcissist

APD and NPD are both personality disorders that affect how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. Their signs and symptoms can look similar, except that you’re now equipped to spot the differences.

I agree having someone in your life who is a sociopath or narcissist can make life difficult for you.

Unfortunately, they cannot easily adjust their behavior without help from a mental health professional… but that doesn’t mean that it’s okay for them to disregard your boundaries or hurt you.

You can empathize, but there may be times when you have to take steps to protect yourself.

Set boundaries, end the relationship, go no contact, or get help from the police depending on your circumstances. Not sure how to deal with a sociopath in your life? Why not take a look at 7 Sociopath Weaknesses You Can Exploit Today.

And if you’re looking for more articles about different personality types, be sure to check out these blog posts:

sociopath vs narcissist | sociopath vs narcissist similarities | sociopath vs narcissist differences

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