Narcissist and Sociopath? Similarities, Differences

The differences between narcissistic and sociopathic personality disorders

If there’s ever been a time in the history of mankind where psychological terms have evolved to be common terms, ignorantly thrown around, then it’s in this century. Experts everywhere, TV and film characters are the key suspects fueling this development.

At the very least, weighing on the mental health public figures, we start to think of ‘Little Finger.’ On the extreme end, we get a character from Game of Thrones- Ramsay Bolton. Looking at them, we probably may assume we know the real meanings of these two labels “narcissist” and “sociopath”. Worse to imagine is the illusion that we can easily spot these characters in real life.

The case for today is to seek understanding of how to distinguish between these two characters- narcissist or sociopath. Then learn to spot the differences, similarities, and signs to watch out for in real life situations.

Obviously, there is notable overlap between these personality disorders. One common thing about sociopath and narcissist personality disorders is that they both fall in the “Cluster B” group among the DSM-5 comprising of narcissistic, antisocial, histrionic and borderline personality disorders.

As they say, TV life isn’t real, and it’s far much easier to spot sociopaths, narcissists or even those we think are somewhat “off” the norm than it’s in real life.

As such, we’ve listed down why it becomes so difficult at times to spot narcissists or sociopaths in day-to-day life, and what you can do to prevent serious damage from the onset.

1.Think of it as a matter of ‘to what extent’ is it manifesting

It’s possible to have someone show signs of a disorder and yet not meet the full criteria and being labeled a sociopath or narcissist. Some are self-centered or have some callous “flavor,” yet the same person does not stretch to the extreme end of the continuum of the observed traits. Which means their dark side occurs less frequent or less severe that would be expected of a full-blown personality disorder or, they allow criticism on their character yields some feedback.

Narcissistic or sociopathic people require extreme caution and care to deal with and a readiness to swallow their “no, you are the problem attitude” and gaslighting whenever you point out something in about their behaviors.  

They are likely to punish you by some means such as silence or covert aggression. It may be less prolonged or intense as it would with the same character who is at the extreme end of the spectrum.

So, how then do we make the distinction? At what point does the red flag show? Well, a mild form of these traits may not warrant a narcissistic or sociopathic conclusion but a person who never admits to being wrong, is actively vengeful and is entirely unwilling to compromise is obviously of the limits of just a few “traits.” It’s mostly like a real sociopath or narcissist.

2. They are experts at “Impression Management”

Impression management is a hard thing to diagnose in a person, and the more one is more skilled at it, the more it’s to discern their pathological behavior or personality. It’s more like you would confuse a fool as intelligent when they keep silent.

Even people with problematic traits are able to present themselves as thoughtful, charming, and competent. In fact, some are able to sway you without a hint to their side and have you take responsibility to for their mistakes and help them do their bidding.

Narcissists are particularly good at it because they are incredibly talented in making you feel special whenever their attention is on you.

Furthermore, the fact that narcissist pay close attention to their appearance, they can sometimes be very attractive- which is part of their allure game.

3. They are gifted with “Sixth Sense” to sniff out the right people

One of the reasons why narcissists or sociopaths are difficult to spot in the real day-to-day society environment is because these people are gifted at picking out the people to manipulate. People who are vulnerable, too trusting and tend to always seek the good in others. Narcissist or Sociopath?

Because sociopaths and narcissists are extraordinarily cunning and able to discern the “nice” people in the society, it becomes very hard these seemingly nice people to spot them until they have done tremendous and undeniable havoc in their lives.

Also, because most of us have subscribed to a general moral code of what is considered wrong and right, some people (especially savvy people) tend to look for the possibly “good reason” why someone is acting “off.” They do this sacrificing the more beneficial approach of instead looking for what could be the personality problems and behaviors these people could be hiding.

In a study done in the early centuries, the discovery of cognitive dissonance- which is the fear of distress that we would get if we developed feelings of distrust, fear or the anxiety and fear about what we could unearth about a loved one, was proven to be the likely cause of most us to reinterpret facts that contract what we need and want to believe in regards to a person, and mostly to a loved one.

Reasons why it’s so hard to detect narcissists and sociopaths

Sociopaths and narcissist are mere human beings just like us and look exactly like all of us. In fact, some look out for their appearance (narcissists) than some of do. They may even be more industrious, more prosperous and well-dressed than us. Nothing physical distinguishes them from us.

The differences between narcissistic and sociopathic personality disorders

The differences between narcissistic and sociopathic personality disorders

The notable differences include:

  • Narcissists have an incredibly inflated sense of self-worth and importance. They are likely to overemphasize their achievements or expect to be recognized more than others
  • Sociopaths thrive on being extremely manipulative. They are very charming. Thus, they may want to know you first, talk to you and understand your weaker points. This is unlike narcissists.
  • Narcissists can suffer narcissistic injury or rage- a case where they feel extremely offended or raged when they don’t get total admiration and obedience from the world. It’s a big assault on their ego. Sociopaths on the other hand experience short-lived emotions and take it more like ordinary people.
  • Narcissists manipulate with anger and threats. They are best at shaming people. Sociopaths manipulate using flattery and by exploiting one’s vulnerabilities.

Wrap up

Narcissist or Sociopath? Similarities, differences and signs, all examined, may lead you to difficult reality to believe and conceptualise but the fact of the matter is that these people exist and you will not tell them apart by looking at them.

Also, these two terms may have been used interchangeably by some influential people but, that does not give them the same meaning. They have clear differences although one may exhibit either of the presentations of these disorders and even more that has nothing to do with them.