I have noticed a great deal of discussion lately on the difference between the Narcissist and the Sociopath. An update to the Diagnostics & Statistics Manual (the bible for mental health professionals) is due out in 2013 and speculation regarding upcoming revisions has caused a great deal of controversy in the mental health field.
Some reports indicate the American Psychological Association (APA) will condense or combine some of the personality disorders. While we cannot predict what changes the APA will make, let’s take a look at these two personality disorders as they are currently defined in the DSM-IV:
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)
THE NARCISSIST – This person is an elitist and exists to be adored and admired.
• A pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and a lack of empathy.
• Think Wall Street (Gordon Gecko) or American Gigolo (Richard Gere)
Anti-Social Personality Disorder (APD)
THE SOCIOPATH – This person is the con-artist who often exhibits more criminal and violent traits.
• A pervasive disregard for the law and the rights of others.
• Think The Talented Mr. Ripley (Matt Damon) or American Psycho (Christian Bale)
Both the Narcissist & the Sociopath have absolutely no remorse and no conscience. They both view others as nothing more than objects to be used as a means to an end. However, the way they use others is what differentiates them.
A Narcissist demands his sense of self be propped-up by others on a continual basis. This is because he is disconnected from himself and has no sense of self. Without validation and recognition from the outside world, a Narcissist feels dead inside.
A Narcissist has a very fragile ego and is extremely insecure. He needs others to reflect his image back to him in order to feel alive. A Narcissist is addicted to the spotlight and craves attention and adoration like a drug. He has an insatiable need to be recognized for his achievements, no matter how small or insignificant. He is grandiose and views himself as much more accomplished than he really is…basically, he is delusional and not in touch with reality. He believes other people worship him when in actuality, most people see right through him.
A Narcissist has a sense of entitlement that is unsurpassed. He demands to be idealized by others. If you do not revere him, he will lash out at you. If you do not agree with him, he will retaliate against you. He has no moral code and no conscience. He simply cannot help himself. If you do not admire, adore and revere him, he will devalue and discard you with no remorse.
A Narcissist only surrounds himself with people who agree with everything he says and worship the ground he walks on. To watch a Narcissist in the workplace is pathetic. It is a fascinating study in human behavior, to say the least.
The underbelly of a narcissist is a scary thing. He feels nothing but contempt and jealousy towards others, especially those who may pose a threat to him. Anyone he perceives as a threat will be swiftly removed from his court. He views others as objects in his quest for dominance. Because he has no conscience, a Narcissist is often quite successful in business and other areas where cut-throat behavior is required in order to get ahead.
Narcissists view others as objects, but not quite in the same sense that Sociopaths regard others as objects. A Narcissist is reliant on others to stroke his fragile ego and feed his insatiable need for validation. He relies on others to maintain his peace of mind and sense of self. Without reassurance from others, he feels dead inside.
A Narcissist constantly seeks reassurance of his superiority, and especially as he ages, his virility. A Narcissist does not age gracefully. He becomes very desperate for reassurance. Desperate people have no boundaries. They will break the law and hurt others regardless of the consequences.
A Narcissist invests all of his energy into ensuring others validate his fragile ego. He lives in a frantic state of paranoia that he will be exposed at any minute. Consumed with avoiding this inevitable disaster, he has little energy to be genuinely interested in others.
A Sociopath, on the other hand, is quite different. To begin with, a Sociopath has no need to be validated by others. Unlike a Narcissist, a Sociopath has no underlying neediness for others approval. His remorseless behavior does not stem from a deep insecurity, like a Narcissist. Instead, he desires to exploit others simply for his entertainment and amusement.
Both a Narcissist and a Sociopath use others as objects, but a Sociopath is more exploitive. A Narcissist desperately needs others to validate him. He will only exploit those who pose a threat to him. His remaining victims (the ones who stroke his ego and provide supply) are vital to his sense of self. Without these people in his life worshipping him at all times, he will crumble.
A Sociopath has no need for others to validate his existence. He sees others as play things. The main character in the show “Dexter” is a perfect example of a Sociopath. He has no need for others except to the extent they can provide amusement to him. He exploits others to see what he can get away with because he finds it thrilling and exciting.
I have learned that the fundamental difference between the two is this:
A Narcissist sees others as a means to validate his existence. The less validating you are, the less use you are to a Narcissist.
A Sociopath views others as entertainment. The less entertaining you are, the less use you are to a Sociopath.
Both the Narcissist and the Sociopath need to dominate and control others. They will both exploit you with no remorse and have no conscience. My advice? Do not validate the Narcissist and do not entertain the Sociopath. Stay clear of them. Once they suck you in, it is hard to get away. Avoid them both at all costs and if they manage to bring you into their den, run like hell.