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What's the difference between a Narcissist vs Sociopath?

Updated: May 18

Uncover the crucial differences between a narcissist vs sociopath. From their behavior to their impact, learn how to spot and navigate these toxic traits.
Narcissist vs Sociopath: Understanding the Key Differences

Narcissist vs Sociopath! We hear these terms all the time and you may wonder what’s the difference and does it really matter.

Narcissism exists on a spectrum or scale, and it goes from a person who has narcissistic traits, to someone who is has Narcissist Personality Disorder (NPD) to a Sociopath who has Anti-Social Personality Disorder (APD).

Really what this means for you, is the further along the scale they are, the level of paranoia, anger and aggression increases, while their capacity for attachment, commitment and empathy decreases. So while a person with narcissist traits will show a low level of empathy, the sociopath will exhibit a complete lack of empathy.

For someone to be diagnosed with a NPD they need to be displaying five of the following traits:

1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance and exaggerates achievements and talents

2. Dreams of unlimited power, success, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

3. Lacks empathy for the feelings and needs of others

4. Requires excessive admiration

5. Believes they are special and unique and can be understood only by, or should associate only with, other special or of high-status people (or institutions)

6. Unreasonably expects special, favorable treatment or compliance with their wishes

7. Exploits and takes advantage of others to achieve personal ends

8. Envies others or believes they’re envious of him or her

9. Has “an attitude” of arrogance or acts that way

For someone to be diagnosed with a APD they must have had a conduct disorder by 15 years old, and show at least four of these traits:

1. Doesn’t sustain consistent work

2. Doesn’t conform to social norms, including unlawful behaviour, whether or not arrested

3. Disregards the truth by repeated lying, conning, using aliases, not paying debts

4. Impulsive or fails to plan ahead; moves around without a goal

5. Irritable and aggressive e.g., fights or assaults

6. Recklessly disregards safety of self or others

7. Consistently irresponsible, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behaviour or honor financial obligations

8. Lacks remorse, and feels justified in having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another

9. Doesn’t sustain monogamy for more than one year

So a sociopath will be a narcissist, but not all narcissists are sociopaths. To really spot the difference you need to look at what drives them, so for instance a sociopath will be more cunning and manipulative because their ego is not at stake, in fact they don’t really have any real personality, they are the ultimate con people and can take on any persona that suits them. Also because a sociopath is more calculating, they might plan their acts in advance, whereas a narcissist is more likely to react to the situation with lies and intimidation.

Narcissists are concerned only about themselves and their needs. They have an exaggerated opinion of themselves and do not consider other peoples needs and emotions to be important. They are generally self-involved, driven by the need for attention and/or approval. They are also very jealous and insecure and since everything is all about them, if you take away their spotlight, they are spiteful and vindictive.

It’s important to note that these disorders are all classified as personality disorders, and these can only be clinically diagnosed. So yes, it’s helpful to understand the differences, but ultimately if you are in a relationship with someone who displays any of the above, it really comes down to how they make you feel, if you feel that you are walking on egg-shells, afraid to speak your mind, are confused and feel that you are failing and that you can never please them, then it is probably time for you to asses if your relationship is toxic.

If you need help identifying if your relationship is toxic and what your next steps might be, please schedule your free 15 minute discovery call with me by sending me an email.

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