Is a narcissist the same thing as a sociopath? A lot of people mistakenly think so, which is understandable considering that they share many of the same characteristics and that they’re both on the cluster B spectrum. (See video here)
What qualities do narcissists and sociopaths share?
Both narcissists and sociopaths can be very charming and charismatic. Each is known for being self-serving and manipulative, and they each tend to have no empathy. Both have personality disorders and value themselves above all others. Both are known to harm others and to negatively affect their own lives with their behaviors. Neither can step outside of their own heads enough to recognize or concern themselves with the needs of others, but each is fully focused on their own needs. It is also true that all sociopaths are narcissists. But not all narcissists are sociopaths.
How are narcissists and sociopaths different?
In most cases, sociopaths, who might be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, are a lot more dangerous than those who are purely narcissistic. That is unless you’re talking about a malignant narcissist, who might present very much like a sociopath, but their motivations are different.
Let’s talk about five ways this manifests differently between the two personality disorders.
1. A Narcissist is Motivated by Ego and a Sociopath is Motivated by Self-Interest
The narcissist’s destructive and manipulative behaviors are all about feeling important and superior and being the center of attention, and this is driven by their overinflated ego that needs constant stroking – aka, narcissistic supply. But a sociopath’s self-interest doesn’t require stroking in the same way – so the sociopath will be whomever they need to be in order to get their needs met.
So, what’s the difference?
Since sociopaths really don’t need to have their ego stroked, they can be more sneaky and strategic with their manipulation. They don’t need you to be impressed with them and will only seek out your approval if you have something they want. They have no actual personality.
A narcissist, on the other hand, needs your approval and your attention. And since they are ego-driven, they will be less calculated in their reactions and behavior. So the narcissist is more likely to demonstrate narcissistic rage and to react emotionally than a sociopath.
2. A Narcissist Wants to Be Adored and a Sociopath Could Care Less.
Narcissists need to be adored. They are very concerned with their own image and how other people perceive them. They are known to want power, success, and plenty of admiration and adoration from the people around them and while they’re often willing to work hard to get it, they’ll also exploit and torture people along the way without a second thought. Their motivation and focus are all about themselves and their own agenda (getting the praise and attention they need). Again, they’re driven by their ego, so that makes sense.
But a sociopath doesn’t care what anyone thinks of them, which makes them more dangerous. They will spend months or years planning and scheming against you if it serves them to do so. They are much more calculating and far less emotional overall.
3. A Narcissist Talks About Themselves And A Sociopath Talks About You
As you know, narcissists only want to talk about themselves and their interests. At least after the initial love-bombing or idealization phase of the relationship, where they’ll ask you all about yourself in order to store up ammunition to use against you later. But as the relationship goes on, they make it painfully clear that they have no interest in what you care about and will always turn the topic back to themselves. In fact, many survivors of relationships with narcissists literally almost forget how to talk about themselves because they grow so accustomed to being shut down this way.
But sociopaths are very interested in knowing about your interests and everything else about you. They will ask you about what you like and what strikes your fancy. They often masquerade as empaths – as in, they appear to really care about you. They know exactly what to say and how to hold themselves so it’s almost impossible to tell that they don’t genuinely care about you. But remember that they have no empathy. They have their own reasons for caring. If they want something from you later on, they will use anything to do with your interests as a manipulation tactic to get what they want. Sociopaths are often so smooth that you miss the fact that they’re manipulating you – at least at first.
For example, a sociopath asks you what your favorite band happens to be. If you say Fleetwood Mac, they will surprise you with a Fleetwood Mac CD. It is not from the goodness of their heart. They want something from you and are using this as a jumping-off point to get it from you.
4. Neither Care About The Rules, But For Different Reasons
You already know that a narcissist is not concerned about the rules due to the fact they are so self-absorbed that they are not even aware of the rules. Or, in many cases, they literally feel that they’re above the rules or deserve special exceptions to every rule.
But a sociopath does not care about the rules for the sake of manipulating situations for their purpose. If they can get away with breaking the rules (or even the laws), they’ll do so without remorse if it serves them.
5. Narcissists Are Mean But Sociopaths Have Plans To Take You Down
This is where you see how dangerous a sociopath is as opposed to a narcissist who is mostly dangerous for your mental health. Narcissists are bullies and braggarts. They can also mess with your head, especially if they see you as a threat to their ego or fear abandonment. And, of course, that’s when they’ll throw your most painful experiences and insecurities back in your face in order to hurt you if and when they feel the need to drag you down.
So, for example, if you tell a narcissist that you are insecure about your weight, they might later try to make you feel bad about yourself by suddenly beginning to point out people who are thinner than you and telling you how attractive those people are. And then, once you’re good and insecure, you might tell them it bothers you that they’re doing this. Instantly, the narcissist will freak out and attack you, swearing that you’re excessively jealous and controlling. They’ll say something like, “What, do you want me to close my eyes and not look at people? There are other people in the world. I’m not blind!”
In this case, the narcissist is out to take your self-esteem down a couple of notches so that you’ll feel like you can’t do any better than them. The idea is that you’re more likely to stick around and be their source of narcissistic supply if you don’t feel good enough about yourself.
So once again, the narcissist is driven by ego and the need for ongoing, reliable narcissistic supply.
Sociopaths, on the other hand, will do what they can to take you down (or out completely) if they see you are trying to get in the way of what they want, even if that means you just won’t give them your time and attention. And, regardless of who you are and what your relationship happens to be, you aren’t exempt from a sociopath’s manipulation and abuse.
In fact, even if you aren’t purposely causing them trouble, but they perceive you as a threat to them or their end goals in any way, they will strategically destroy you in any way they can, and without remorse. Sociopaths want to win and will do it at the expense of anyone.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a psychological disorder with symptoms such as an exaggerated sense of self-importance, an obsession with power and personal success, self-centeredness, and the inability to empathize. It causes the affected person to have a pretty distorted self-image, unpredictable and intense emotional issues, and most notably, a serious lack of empathy for the people around them. The lack of empathy leads them to not feel or understand the feelings that aren’t their own – and clearly, this causes serious issues in relationships.
Someone with NPD may also have a sense of superiority and grandiose fantasies of power or importance, not to mention a huge sense of (often unearned) entitlement, and they may consider themselves and their ideas more important and correct than anyone else’s.
Now, let’s quickly cover the diagnostic criteria for APD or anti-social personality disorder. First, Antisocial Personality Disorder is considered a “mental health disorder” characterized by a blatant disregard for others.
Here, we see similar traits, including a propensity for egocentrism and self-directed goal-setting without regard for societal norms or rules. In addition, personality traits include a propensity for manipulating and deceiving others, hostility, and a sense of callousness. Also present are irresponsible and impulsive behaviors, excessive risk-taking, and other behaviors considered outside of the social norms.
Confusing, maybe, because there are some similarities there. For example, a narcissist will be uncomfortable in situations where they aren’t the center of attention, and so will the antisocial person. Both narcissists and people with APD can be very dramatic, and each likes to feel that they’re the center of the world.
What are the differences between APD and NPD?
Both the narcissist and the person with anti-social personality disorder are typically victimizers of others. However, while the narcissist lacks empathy, the anti-social personality has a reckless disregard for the safety of others – slightly different but still very similar, right?
But there are also some marked differences between APD and NPD, and that’s what we’re covering next. Probably the most notable one is that in most cases if the narcissist breaks the law, they aren’t caught because they’re very carefully calculating their behavior. For the anti-social person, though, being arrested at some point in their lives is pretty common.
NPD vs. APD on Attention from Others
Narcissists also really NEED their sources of narcissistic supply to self-validate. When it comes to their personal identities, the narcissist bases their self-esteem on how other people react to them and treat them. As a result, they tend to have an exaggerated sense of self that fluctuates to desperate self-doubt (which is usually not verbalized for many narcs). Narcissists are also known for their emotional extremes and mood swings.
NPD vs. APD on Self-Esteem and Personal Goals
On the other hand, the anti-social personality derives self-esteem from their own personal gain, power, and pleasure – not so much through the approval of others. They will aggressively and openly go after what they want without regard for the concerns of others. They want power, control, and material gain – the APD focuses mostly on functional benefits instead of the narcissist, who focuses on getting their supply needs met (the ego is more important to the narc).
It makes sense then that the narcissist’s goals are generally based on getting approval from other people and the need to see themselves as special or different. The narcissist also doesn’t really know why they do what they do, and as I mentioned, they have a great sense of entitlement.
The anti-social personality’s goals are based more on personal gratification, and this type of person lacks concern for societal standards when going after what they want.
NPD vs. APD on Relationships
Here’s an interesting note on empathy for both personality disorders. While we know that both lack empathy for others, the APD also lacks remorse when hurting or mistreating another person. While the same appears true for a narcissist, there is this interesting twist here – the narcissist tends to be hypersensitive to the reactions of others as they relate to themselves. The narcissist also seriously underestimates the effect of their behavior on other people.
Narcissists need relationships because they help provide them with validation and recognition, while anti-social people will build and discard relationships for their own financial or social gain. When their relationships end, narcissists are known to “hoover” their exes, while the ASP will walk away without a second thought.
NPD vs. APD on Sex and Intimacy
When it comes to sex and intimacy, the anti-social personality disorder person cannot have a mutually intimate relationship – they are all about exploiting other people to get what they want, and sex and intimacy are no exception. It’s the only way they know to relate to people. So the APD will use bullying and intimidation to control the people around them.
For narcissists, relationships are all about supply – getting their needs met. The narcissist enters relationships to serve him or herself only, boost self-esteem and fulfill the narcissist’s needs. Here is where people are most damaged by the narcissist – in intimate relationships. Narcissists are most often abusive to those closest to them. They tend to have very little interest in other people’s experiences, which leads their relationship partners to feel unheard and unimportant in many cases.
NPD vs. APD on Manipulation
Like the narcissist, the anti-social personality also includes manipulative behavior through seduction and charm, but for different reasons. But, again, the narcissist does it for supply and attention, while the ASP does it to meet their personal goals or for personal gain.
The APD-affected person is more likely to be blatantly callous and sadistic, deceitful, and to commit fraud. They are also more openly hostile and mean to others than narcissists, who are more likely to reserve these behaviors for their established sources of narcissistic supply.
NPD vs. APD on Taking Risks
Narcissists are less likely to take big risks and engage in hazardous behaviors, while the ASP is all about both of those things – in fact, they are known to be incredibly impulsive and irresponsible. As far as anyone can tell, many narcissists are financially and socially responsible, but that’s because they are also very concerned with their personal image and what others think about them. On the other hand, the ASP tends to lack the ability to be financially and socially responsible and really struggles to follow through on things promised and on agreements (legal or otherwise).
NPD vs. APD on Emotions
Narcissists have emotions, and they let everyone know it. But the ASP brain is wired differently. Neuroscientists believe that the brain’s prefrontal cortex has structural and functional issues that cause the ASP to have an inability to have remorse and genuine emotion. So while narcissists struggle to display remorse and genuine emotion in a normal way, it’s because they’re too self-focused sometimes to pay attention to or respect the feelings of others – not because they don’t feel anything. The APD genuinely can’t experience normal human feelings at all.
The narcissist will feel wounded when their pride feels attacked or when someone doesn’t agree with them, and they may seek revenge for the narcissistic injury they get out of the deal. The APD doesn’t care what anyone thinks of them, but they will react with anger or aggression if their personal goals (for material or personal gain) are affected.
Can someone be both narcissistic and antisocial?
Yes, the two conditions can be comorbid, but not often. The symptoms overlap, but the specific diagnostic criteria are specific to motivations, so it’s rare that they can both be identified in a person.
Question of the Day: Do you know someone who is APD or NPD? What have your experiences been?
Start Getting Help with Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Today
Why are psychopaths so good in bed? What makes them so strange? Recently, we covered psychopaths and how they became psychopaths, plus how psychopaths differ from narcissists and sociopaths, as well what to expect from sex with a psychopath.
Narcissists are the worst kind of abusers because so often, even the very people they’re abusing aren’t aware of it – in fact, that’s the very nature of their favorite manipulation tactic, gaslighting.
So many people are in these situations and because they are being so heavily manipulated, they really believe that they are the ones with the “issues” – when in reality, they’ve just been horribly gaslighted by one of these people.
In general, when we talk about a narcissist, we’re talking about someone with a high opinion of him/herself. But when it comes to toxic relationships and narcissistic abuse situations, the term refers to a toxic, verbally (and sometimes physically) abusive person who may have narcissistic personality disorder. The malignant narcissist is officially defined as someone who has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) along with various antisocial features, paranoid traits, and ego-driven aggression. They may also exhibit an absence of conscience, a psychological need for power, and an inflated sense of self-importance and entitlement. However, very often people who should be or might be diagnosed won’t be labeled as such. This is due to the fact that they’re unlikely to see a psychologist unless they’re forced to legally, or in some cases, as an attempt to maintain control over or connection to someone in their lives who threatens to leave due to narcissistic abuse.
What Qualities Are Shared by All Malignant Narcissists?