Narcissist or Sociopath? 9 Differences in These Dangerous Personalities

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.

Seeking Help

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.


  1. I think SPECTS are amazing having worked with a psychiatrist who often used them. However, I recently heard that there is radio active substance used in the procedure. That sounds dangerous. What is your response to this?

    Comment by Diane Bailey — February 26, 2020 @ 7:29 AM

  2. Hello Diane, thank you for reaching out. The radiotracer that we use for SPECT is called Technetium 99m. Its signal is detected by the scanner. Combining Tc99m with other molecules (like HMPAO – “Ceretec”) allows Tc99m to enter specific/desired tissues. This allows us to understand the functioning of that tissue.

    SPECT requires an injection of 20 to 25mCi (millicuries, the measure of radioactivity inherent to a radiopharmaceutical – in our case, Technetium 99m). The biological effect a dose of radioactivity has on tissues (effective dose), cannot be linearly extrapolated from the radioactivity of a dose of administered radioisotope, and it varies with tissues, so a total radioactivity exposure (effective dose) for the whole body is calculated. This is measured in rem (Roentgen equivalents to man) or Sieverts (one Sievert = 100 rem).

    The average radiation exposure for one SPECT scan is 0.7 rem. Two of our SPECT scans are roughly equivalent to, or a bit less than, one CT scan of the abdomen or pelvis (about 0.7, depending on protocol).

    This amount of exposure is well below the cut-off level (10.0 rem) for any known potential or observable health risks.

    About 5% of the total dose goes to the brain. About 40% of the tracer is excreted within minutes by the kidneys and the remainder by the gallbladder over about 24 hours. Tc99m has a half-life of just over 6 hours. We always encourage patients to drink plenty of water.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — February 26, 2020 @ 12:33 PM

  3. I came to the Amen clinic in Belview just as my ex was filing for divorce. I was hoping to save our marriage by getting treatment for ADHD.
    My ex accused me of being a Narcissist, but I have a lot of empathy for others. My research has led me to conclude she is a Narcissist, and her actions, including manipulation, gaslighting, extreme insecurity and inability to accept praise or criticism, led to the destruction if our family unit, and children’s wellbeing.
    Can the Amen Clinic look at my brain scan and determine if I have narcissism or sociopathy? I recall the psychiatrist making a strange comment about how the analysis did not delve into personality disorders… It would help me to know more. I know I am different, but I would hate to be a Narcissist.

    Comment by Matthew — March 3, 2020 @ 3:51 PM

  4. I never knew that a brain scan or MRI shows also that type of information… Really? It’s sooo interesting! Sociopath o mr narcissistic behaviour according to that exam?!

    Comment by Cristiana — March 4, 2020 @ 7:28 PM

  5. Once you have doubts about your self being a narcissist , then you are not. Narcissists don’t see a problem in there selves at all, they always accuse the other but never there selves.

    Comment by Mehad Zain — March 8, 2020 @ 5:45 PM

  6. If i already had my husband have the spect done where can i send it for review & analysis. I am well aware he has a sociopathy personality disorder, i have been faithful praying and selfhealing all the verbal not to mention other wounds he has inflicted. The family is appart my son is the most hurt as he has turned to drugs due to the emotional stress and adhd. Jail is not the answer,divorce either as love is there he is just totally disconnwcted irrationally when disturbed and thats most of his day as anything bothers him. He had a traumatic childhood and alcohol is also a factor

    Comment by Mirleyn Garciat — March 10, 2020 @ 5:12 AM

  7. It seems to me that calling either of these conditions brain based and not a character flaw is
    an excuse. Could it be that consistently making wrong choices affects the brain just like poor eating habits, smoking, and drinking affects the body?

    Comment by Wilda Bezet — January 10, 2022 @ 4:31 AM

  8. I have a history of being in abusive relationships. The last one, I believe, was either a narcissist or a sociopath – I'm not sure. But, I'm exhibiting a lot of symptoms of narcissistic abuse i.e. anxiety, agoraphobia, can't sleep, can't trust, etc.. I need help. Could this help me?

    Comment by Tricia McKague — January 23, 2023 @ 1:49 PM

  9. Hello Tricia, thank you for reaching out. For more information about SPECT scans and our services, please contact our Care Coordinators:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — January 24, 2023 @ 8:25 AM

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