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Narcissist Vs. Sociopath: What’s The Difference?

Many individuals may use the terms ‘sociopath’ or ‘narcissist’ to describe someone that they know who exhibits certain characteristics or behaviors. However, many times these terms are mixed up, mistaking one for the other and vise versa. In many cases, distinguishing between a narcissist and a sociopath is difficult for most people because they do not understand the differences or similarities between these two common personality disorders.

Similar Characteristics:

Narcissistic personality disorder and Sociopaths have a set of characteristics which are very similar, although they may be experienced at different levels of intensity and frequency. These characteristics include:

  • The ability to use extreme charm or charisma to engage those around them and create the illusion of personability. In many cases, both narcissists and sociopaths use their charm to help create a false sense of security as a means of manipulation.
  • A grandiose nature. Both narcissists and sociopaths often have big dreams, big plans, big goals, and a big idea of who they are and what skills they possess to achieve these goals and dreams.
  • The inclination to seek praise for good events while posing blame on others during bad events. For both narcissists and sociopaths, they will take credit for good events even when they are not responsible for them. Similarly, they will also point the finger of blame at others for anything negative that occurs, even if they are the ones truly responsible for such events.
  • A complete lack of empathy. While there are differences in the way that these individuals exhibit a lack of empathy, both types of personality disorders contain the inability to feel for the experiences of others or demonstrate any concern for those emotional experiences.
  • An entitled nature. Both narcissists and sociopaths believe that they are more deserving than others or that the world and those around them owe them a great debt for being allowed the ability to be a part of their lives.
  • The inability to experience emotions in the way that others do. Both narcissists and sociopaths do not recognize their emotional experiences in the way that those without such disorders do. They often disregard emotional experiences unless they serve as a benefit to them. For example, a narcissist or sociopath may attempt to use emotions as a means of manipulating others to act or behave in a specific manner.
  • An inability to express true apologies. In most cases, both narcissists and sociopaths do not recognize when an apology would be appropriate and therefore do not provide them. However, either may use fake apologies as a means of manipulation.

Differences between Narcissists and Sociopaths

Some of the distinguishing characteristics of narcissists and sociopaths are in the various ways that they express or exhibit specific behaviors. In most cases, the differences in their behaviors and characteristics is due to the nature of the personality disorder itself. Some of these characteristics include:

The way they engage with others- A narcissist will seek out any and every opportunity to discuss themselves or their achievements. On the other hand, a sociopath will get others to divulge information about themselves. Narcissists tend to seek opportunities to make others feel inferior by exaggerating their place, purpose, or recent accomplishments whereas a sociopath will make others feel inferior by getting them to discuss their fears, insecurities, or weaknesses and use this information against them.

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The perception they attempt to create for others- Narcissists want to be perceived by others in a favorable light. They will attempt to use any means necessary to seem good, whole, and desirable. However, a sociopath wishes to be perceived in any way that is most beneficial to them. Unlike narcissists, a sociopath is not afraid to be seen in an unfavorable manner if it suits their purpose. Similarly, a narcissist will seek out opportunities to be admired, accepted, and appreciated. They are typically unconcerned with statuses such as winning or being the top of the class. Whereas, a sociopath is driven to be the best in all things, to always be the winner as this indicates a superiority to others that he or she can use against them.

The lack of respect or reverence to social rules- Narcissists are typically unaware that any social rules exist as they are more concerned with themselves and their own desires. Sociopaths are often aware that social rules exist, but they choose not to follow them as a means of manipulation.

The recognition of their personality disorder- Narcissists typically do not recognize their personality disorder or its symptoms or effects to others. Sociopaths, on the other hand, are usually accurately aware of their personality affliction and utilize this as a means of defense or attach against others. Sociopaths are often known to be individuals who use their disorder symptoms, such as a lack of empathy, as a way to achieve their own goals and purposes.

The targeting of opponents- Narcissists may use bullying if they feel that an individual is in their way or disrupting the illusion the narcissist has created. They will seek out opportunities to diminish their opponents but often seek out the shortest route possible. On the other hand, a sociopath is strategic and patient and will knowingly seek out individuals to take down.

The exertion of effort for a goal- A narcissist doesn’t mind working hard or getting their hands dirty if it helps them to achieve their goals and receive admiration or appreciation. A sociopath, however, will choose to exert as little effort as possible in the pursuit of their goals. Sociopaths typically tend to seek out ways to manipulate others around them to help them achieve their goals or financial purposes.

Their relationships- Narcissists typically have a string of bad relationships that ended dramatically. Sociopaths can maintain relationships for longer periods of time but usually abruptly end the relationship when their tactics of manipulation and behavior have been exposed or are no longer effective in achieving their desires.

Overall, both sociopaths and narcissists can be extremely difficult to work with or engage with. They both present unique challenges to social relationships. However, narcissists tend to be more erratic with their behavior while a sociopath is typically more cunning and strategic.

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Angela Sartain, PhD Psychology
Angela Sartain, PhD Psychology

Angela is currently finishing up her doctoral degree program in General Psychology. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family, reading, and crafting crochet dolls for her small business.

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