Narcissist or Sociopath? 9 Differences in These Dangerous Personalities
Do you know someone who is annoyingly full of themselves or who seems to have absolutely zero remorse for their actions? You might call them a narcissist or a sociopath. Many people throw these terms around interchangeably, but they are two separate personality disorders. What’s the difference, and how can you tell if someone has one of these dangerous personality types?
Know the Similarities of Sociopaths and Narcissists
In our “selfie” culture, it’s not unusual for people to seem self-absorbed, act like they’re very important, seek validation, or come off as entitled. Does that make them a narcissist or a sociopath? Not necessarily. It’s only when these characteristics are so extreme that they cause problems at work, at school, with the law, or in relationships—getting fired, flunking out, getting arrested, or losing loved ones—that they meet the diagnostic criteria for these disorders.
People with narcissistic personality disorder or sociopathy, also known as antisocial personality disorder, share many similarities. They both view themselves as special, think primarily of their own needs, and don’t consider other people’s feelings. And they can both be disarmingly charismatic, superficially charming, and frighteningly intelligent.
These personality disorders are more common than you might imagine. The number of people with narcissism is estimated to range from less than 1% to over 6% of the population, and research shows that the lifetime prevalence of antisocial personality disorder ranges from 2-4% in men and 0.5-1% in women. This means millions of narcissists and sociopaths are populating our neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, and churches.
9 Differences of Dangerous Personalities
1. Every sociopath is a narcissist, but not every narcissist is a sociopath.
2. They both hurt people, but with sociopaths it’s intentional. Narcissists can take advantage of people, but it’s often a consequence of their heightened focus on their own needs and desires and their lack of awareness of how what they do affects others. With sociopaths, however, exploiting or hurting others can actually bring them pleasure.
3. Sociopaths are more dangerous than narcissists. People with antisocial personality disorder are more likely to be engaged in an abusive or controlling relationship. They’re also more likely to be involved in illegal activities or financial fraud schemes. If dating someone like this, you’re in trouble. It could be a very dangerous situation. Most people who engage in domestic violence are narcissistic or sociopathic
4. Narcissists are actually insecure. Behind all their bravado, narcissists often have a fragile ego. They can’t handle criticism and will usually turn the tables on anyone who dares to point out a flaw or mistake. They are experts at gaslighting.
5. Sociopaths are masterful actors. These people are skilled chameleons, able to take on many forms based on what they want out of a relationship.
6. Sociopaths stay in touch with their exes. Antisocial personality types keep their exes around when they are beneficial to them, according to a 2017 study in Personality and Individual Differences. They maintain relationships with people from their past when it provides them something they want, such as information, money, sex, or admiration.
7. Narcissistic brains work differently. A 2013 brain imaging study in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found that narcissists have less gray matter volume in brain regions associated with empathy. Other brain imaging research has found that people with NPD also have hypersensitivity in brain systems associated with distress and social pain networks.
8. Sociopaths have brain abnormalities. Neuroimaging research in a 2017 issue of Scientific Reports suggests that people with antisocial personality disorder may have reduced white matter integrity. Another brain imaging study in the Journal of Neuroscience on prisoners found that those with antisocial personality disorder have reduced connections in areas of the brain related to empathy and guilt as well as areas associated with fear and anxiety.
9. The stress response system works differently in people with antisocial personality disorder. Research shows that the autonomic nervous system, which is what triggers the fight-or-flight system in stressful situations doesn’t function normally in these people. In people who don’t have the disorder, running a red light, telling a bald-faced lie, or stealing something from a friend’s home flips the switch on the fight-or-flight system and causes the heart to beat faster and breathing to quicken. Not in people with antisocial personality disorder. They simply don’t get stressed about the consequences of their actions.
If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist or sociopath, it may be a dangerous situation for you. Getting these people to seek treatment is challenging because they won’t admit anything is wrong with them. Getting treatment for yourself can be beneficial in helping you learn how to cope with these difficult personalities or how to walk away before it’s too late.
At Amen Clinics, we have helped thousands of people overcome personality disorders as well as spouses and significant others who need help living with these people. We use brain SPECT imaging to help people understand that their personality issues are brain-based rather than a character flaw. This can be a very important first step in the healing process. For more information on how we can help, call 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are helping others, you can or schedule a time to talk that is convenient for you.