What Is The Difference Between A Sociopath And A Narcissistic Sociopath?

By Sydney Wiederhold|Updated April 28, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Robin Brock , LISW

Personality disorders are sometimes hard to diagnose, as they often have different symptomology. However, three similar personality disorders are narcissistic personality disorder, sociopath, and psychopath. Those with labels sociopath and psychopath are challenging people to determine which category they fall into, as some of the behaviors coincide. However, there are similarities, differences, and types of narcissists, sociopaths,s and psychopath criteria and behaviors that are important to note.

What Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

A narcissistic personality disorder is a mental condition where people have low self-esteem yet an inflated sense of their own importance. Narcissistic people don’t have empathy for others and have attention-seeking behaviors and a need for deep admiration. Narcissistic people don’t have an easy time in their relationships, school, or work because of their extreme range of needs.

Being In A Relationship With A Narcissist

Narcissistswith controllingbehaviors tend to set expectations with difficult benchmarks to reach. Dating a narcissist can be hard because they may never completely satisfied or capable of having those expectations fulfilled. Since they perceive themselves as perfect, it can be hard to live up to their standards. They often expect their partner to be perfect too. Anything short of perfection might be a flaw in their eyes, and they’ll normally let you know it. This being said, it can be very hard to date a narcissist, if not impossible for many individuals. Everyone has to decide for themselves what they can and cannot allow.

You may not know how to spot a narcissist if you aren’t familiar with the disorder. Indeed, since they can be so charming, it can be hard to know whether they are a different person deep down. Sometimes, you will be able to see their controlling, narcissistic tendencies once you get to know them further. Here is a checklist of narcissistic behavior to be on the lookout for:

  • Exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Sense of entitlement and a need for constant admiration
  • Expectation of being recognized as superior even when it is not warranted
  • Tendency to exaggerate achievements and talents
  • Tendency to be preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, intelligence, perfect looks, or the perfect mate
  • Belief that they are better than others and a desire to only associate with those of equal status
  • Difficultybeing and staying happy
  • Monopolizing conversations, belittling others, and looking down on those they perceive as inferior
  • Expectation of special favors
  • Taking advantage of others to achieve a desired outcome
  • Having an inability or lacking the will to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Belief that everyone is envious of them

Dealing with a narcissist can be hard because of their inferiority complex, as well. Those with narcissistic personality disorder sometimes:

  • Get very angry when they are not recognized as important
  • Have significant interpersonal problems
  • Easily feel slighted
  • React with rage or contempt
  • Have a challenging time controlling themselves, their actions, and their feelings
  • Secretly feel insecure, vulnerable, and humiliated

While this checklist of narcissistic behaviors is not complete, it contains many of the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder,or NPD.

Narcissistic personality disorder can be hard to treat.Often, a narcissist will not seek treatment for their behavior because they don’t believe that their behavior is unhealthy. On the contrary, they might view themselves as perfect. In a relationship, this means that it will likely be hard for them to apologize, accept blame, and admit when they are in the wrong.

Keep in mind that narcissism does run on a scale. Someone might have few symptoms, while others will be impacted severely by the condition. If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, consider whether the relationship is a healthy one. That is what matters, more than the diagnosis of NPD. If the relationship is toxic or otherwise unhealthy, consider seeking help from a trusted friend or reaching out to a mental health professional. It’s important to trust yourself and do what’s best for you, even when it might be a hard decision.

What Is A Sociopath?

While many people still use the term sociopath, what they are really describing is antisocial personality disorder. Those with this disorder will usually display the following traits and behaviors:

  • Inability to understand or empathize with other people
  • Lack of guilt or remorse when they cause harm
  • Manipulative behavior
  • Tendency to deceive
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Propensity for breaking the rules
  • Violence
  • Lying for personal gain or selfish reasons
  • Controlling behavior
  • Using charm to deceive

As mentioned above, doctors label sociopaths as having an antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). Sociopaths qualify as such by their excessive patterns. Extreme symptomology is typically the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath. However, the differences are irrelevant in many cases.

What Is A Psychopath?

Psychopathy is a chronic mental health condition that is related to antisocial personality disorder and is marked by a lack of empathy for others and a detached emotional state. Those with symptoms of psychopathy can be hard to spot because of their charm and seemingly normal behavior. In many ways, they tend to act purely out of self-interest and have a disregard for the feelings, needs, and emotions of other people. It can be hard for them to keep up with school and work, and they are often pathological liars. They might become criminals, especially if the disorder isn’t caught during childhood. If it is recognized in one’s youth, there may be treatments available that can help curb the behaviors before they become a serious issue.

How Are Narcissists Similar To And Different From Sociopaths?

Sometimes it is hard to differentiate between someone with narcissistic personality disorder and someone with antisocial personality disorder.Why? The two conditions can look very similar. This is especially true when you aren’t very familiar with either disorder.

Those with NPD and ASPD are similar because they can both be smart and successful. They also share the commonalities of being potentially abusive, dishonest, selfish, controlling, and unreliable. Those with ASPDcan also exhibit symptoms of narcissistic behavior, including a lack of empathy and appropriate emotional responses. People with ASPDoften qualify as narcissists because they lack insight but are at the same time charismatic. However, not all narcissists have antisocial personality disorder.

Symptoms of both disorders can improve with proper help—and worsen over time if not treated. Those with ASPDand NPD can be treated with forms of psychotherapy like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Keep in mind, though, that both conditions can be very difficult to treat. It also might not be likely that these individuals will seek help for their condition in the first place. Whether they don’t want to or just don’t believe that there is anything to address, it can be hard to convince them to reach out for assistance, let alone decide to get help on their own.

Abig difference between a narcissist and someone with ASPDmay bethe degree to which you are harmed when associating with the latter person. A secondary difference between the two is that a narcissist can make you feel good about yourself, at least in the beginning. People with ASPD are more likely to be deceitful, calculating, and manipulative. They might even get pleasure from harming other people. Narcissists, on the other hand, usually don’t try to purposely hurt people. Rather, any harm they cause is often a byproduct of them pursuing some goal or interest. They care more about their own needs and desires than they care about trying to hurt another person. In this way, someone with ASPD may be more difficult to be around and engage with, especially if you’re in a relationship with one.

If you or someone you know is experiencing or has experienced abuse, the National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) and is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Is It Possible To Have A Dual Diagnosis?

Since there are often many similarities between those with narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder, it is possible to have a dual diagnosis. This is more common when you are diagnosed separately or by two different doctors who disagree. The differences are few, and it is not always easy to determine which mental illness a patient may be experiencing.

When diagnosing NPD, those closest to the individual can be of help. At times, a couple may seek marriage or family counseling. The partner of a narcissist can tell the therapist which symptoms they’ve noticed, which may result in further analysis and an NPD diagnosis.

How Many Types Of Narcissism Are There?

There are thought to be up to 7 types of narcissists, ranging from the covert narcissist to the grandiose narcissist. These different types of narcissists include:

  • Classic narcissist
  • Seductive narcissist
  • Vulnerable narcissist
  • Covert narcissist
  • Grandiose narcissist
  • Malignant narcissist
  • Vindictive narcissist

The distinctive qualities of specific narcissists can be minor. However, all seven types are characterized bythe typical qualities of NPD. Narcissists who cannot control someone often do not want to waste their time associating with them; they mayprefer to move onto someone they can manipulate.

Narcissistic abuse does exist, and it can bein mental, physical, or otherforms. This, again, is found in both those with antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder. Narcissists learn how they can gain the response they want from the target of their deception. They are calculating, often spending time finding people they can manipulate the most. Aperson with ASPD might take longer to leave a relationship because they are less likely to have an emotional reaction or empathy. What drives them differs slightly, with social cues being a significant factor in a sociopath’s perception of the relationship.

How Can I Find Out Whether My Partner Has A Condition Like NPD Or ASPD?

If you believe you are in a relationship with someone who has a mental health disorder, a good first stepis to learn more about each condition. The subtle variations among mental disorders can make them challenging to treat because there is usually no single test that can help diagnose someone.

You should also never attempt to make a diagnosis yourself. Only a doctor or other medical professional can do so. Usually, it has to be a qualified expert like a psychologist or other mental health provider. Even if you don’t have a diagnosis to work with, you can still ask yourself whether the relationship you’re in is healthy. Is it one you want to remain in?

Some will choose to stay with their partner because they feel there is true love there. Others will leave because they recognize their relationship is based more on control than true passion. Only you can decide what is best for you and your own mental health.

Leave A Narcissist: 8 Steps To Freedom

If you want to get out of a potentially damaging relationship, the following are eight steps you can consider:
  • Do not tell your partner that you are planning on leaving.
  • Make a thorough plan.
  • Set aside cash to take with you so that credit cards cannot be traced.
  • Check your bank records to see if you have a digital trail or a noticeable spending pattern.
  • When you leave, do not go back.
  • Maintain a no-contact policy from the instant you leave.
  • Don’t go back or take your ex back.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to heal from the abusive relationship.

You might need to speak with a therapist to heal from a relationship with someone who is a narcissist or a sociopath. Be sure to lean on family members and friends for support and stick to your decision. Although the choice may be a hard one, you ultimately must put yourself first. Know that you deserve better. There are plenty of potential partners out there for you who will treat you with respect and out of true love rather than control.

ReGain Can Help

Do you know someone with antisocial or narcissistic personality disorder? Do you feel that you could have one of these conditions? Consider speaking with a therapist through ReGain, an online therapy platform. This is not a journey you have to walk alone; help is available. Simply connect to the internet and pick up your phone, tablet, or laptop to get started. Video chat, text, or call your therapist for sessions; or you can message them at any time—whenever you’re feeling down or need advice—and they will respond, usually within 24 hours.

ReGain could be the assistance you need to move forward. While you can still rely on friends and family members to be there for you, sometimes you need an unbiased third party to listen to what you have to say. Reach out today to get connected with a ReGain therapist and start your path to healing.

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