Narcissist or Sociopath? What's the Difference?

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#1 June 22, 2009 - 12:37am
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Narcissist or Sociopath? What's the Difference?

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.

May 31, 2013 - 1:34pm

I see it this way...

All narcissists are sociopaths but not all sociopaths are narcissists.
Just like all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares. It may not be the DSM's answer but it works, at least for me, on a practical level.

My sister is a sociopath. People are just toys to them. They serve no other purpose but to amuse them. The more they can manipulate, be it in number of people, the level of manipulation or both, it's all in good fun.

My limited (fortunately) exposure to N's has me thinking it's not so much for their amusement as it is for their "benefit" - usually it's their ego but it would appear it goes beyond that.

My sister is evil because she can be. The N, he was evil because he needed to be.
I hope that makes sense...

June 1, 2013 - 7:38am (Reply to #14)


My understanding is that it is the other way around, all sociopaths are narcissists but not all narcissists are sociopaths. Regardless, however, poison is poison and I'm grateful I learned how to remain toxic free.

Stay true to you!

June 1, 2013 - 12:11pm (Reply to #15)


Agreed. Poison is poison. I guess I am just curious why you see it the other way around.

My experience with Ns is, like I said and very fortunately, limited. My sister, unfortunately, is something (I can't even call her a someone) I've had to deal with since birth. She is, unquestionably, a sociopath. She doesn't care if you know she what she is, she doesn't need a supply and she couldn't care any less what people thought of her. She's only interested in conning, manipulating and crushing people. My understanding is that she can be charming (I've never seen that side of her) but it's usually part of her con. She says she just likes to laugh and she can't stand being bored so that's why she does what she does.

What was weird to me about the N, and this was almost immediately, I mean maybe to the day, I first read about NPD, I actually left a message on his voicemail saying I didn't really understand his behavior. He knows about my sister and I said "it's so weird. I've known sociopaths. I know their way of working and you don't seem like that, yet you have that same soul-lessness now". Later that day, when I read about NPD, I sat there thinking, OMG... he is a sociopath... he's just a different flavor! There's purpose to his actions beyond "toys". He needed someone to feed him. My sister, she doesn't need anything but amusement to keep the boredom out.

But yeah. Poison is poison. Evil is evil. I am 29 days NC of my N and many years of NC with my sister. I still miss the N. I walked away from my sister with no regrets and I never, ever looked back. Dealing with a sociopath sucks, no matter how you slice it.

June 1, 2013 - 6:08pm (Reply to #16)


Congrats on 29 days NC! Keep going, one day at a time. You can google the differences between narcissists and sociopaths, there is a lot of information available. But, as we both agreed, poison is poison! No thanks!

Stay true to you and keep up the good work. I promise the end result is better than you can ever imagine!


May 30, 2013 - 9:33am

I'm not sure....

"A Narcissist desperately needs others to validate him. He will only exploit those who pose a threat to him."

I disagree completely. A narcissist exploits others when he/she identifies an opportunity. The victim does NOT need to post a threat; she only needs to demonstrate that she admires or respects the narcissist which signals to the narcissist that she may potentially be an object of exploit. The narcissist will, in the right circumstances, take advantage of any and all opportunities to exploit others.

The characteristics of narcissists and sociopaths overlap to a great degree. Individuals with narcissistic personalities could show sociopathic tendencies given the right circumstances. The key is that neither has a conscience, and therefore opportunity and circumstances tend to influence both of these types.

There has never been a "definitive" definition of either of these diagnoses and I think that needs to be clear. I agree that it doesn't really matter who is which. Steer clear of anyone who demonstrates any of the above characteristics.

May 31, 2013 - 1:27pm (Reply to #12)

lacey, I agree and....

"The narcissist will, in the right circumstances, take advantage of any and all opportunities to exploit others."

Yes the narcissist will take advantage OF ANYONE and anything...

but so will the sociopath/psychopath.

All 3 will also try to harm anyone who poses a threat to their truth.All without batting an eye.

It's where they draw the line or how far they will go to get what they want that separates them.Or perhaps what they believe they can get away with?

No one knows who is a sociopath/psychopath vs the narcissist until they NEED something that only they are aware of...the key is HOW sick is their need? What truly gives pleasure to them?

Their hidden needs are normally not found out until it's too late.

All 3 learn skills to gain what they need...and learn to hide their mimicking normal.

Some are better than others at the performance..due to upbringing. But eventually they all grow tired of the

I found out the hard way... years of suffering, 2 years more thinking my N was harmless..only selfish. EVERYONE was wrong about that. He was/is a psychopath...but it took some time to show.

ALL disordered are to be kept at as far a distance as possible.

In fact, I'd suggest... run, and never ever look back..except for therapeutic purposes and learning to recognize them sooner.

May 30, 2013 - 6:58am


This is what I was looking for.

July 10, 2011 - 7:55am

learning a new way

Thank you for the post and clairity
My ex-narc boyfriend and ex-narc husband
were both very successful in their careers- by outer
apperarnces they were at the top of their game
one a musician and the other the CEO of an investment company
both of them fit the this definition of narc's
to a tee. Both very dangerous men who would chew you
up with unbeleivable rage if you disagreed or
did not feed their huge egos

my comfort level with narc's begin with my narc
father who was the same way, successful, fun to be with,
but unbeleivably rageful when his needs were not met and mean, very mean. My father wanted nothing to do with me when I questioned his parenting and so I had no contact with him for over 20 years until he died. Which I found out after the fact.

so now I need to learn how to be connected to others without the adreniline, the heights of excitment, sexual intrique and of course,immense pain and suffering.

Seems like it should be easy, but it is a challange,
any advice?

July 10, 2011 - 8:09am (Reply to #9)

lonely but making it through

This is so powerful. I am sorry that you have had to go through that - the pain of having a father who was a narc. I too have a similar experience and most people, not only bfs, that I attract have tended to lean towards that side. But I am getting better. I am very alone now, and sometimes it's painful, but you must let go of anyone that has those traits, and focus on you now; it's time, and if you are alone a lot so be it. It takes TIME for new people to enter your life, and you need to be alone now to see why YOU allowed that all these years. Look up 'inverted narcissist' --- Most of are that. And we have a hard time being with anyone who is not a narc, but it's necessary if you want to not go crazy and lose your life.

Therapy, SLAA meetings (wonderful), meditation, this site -- these are the tools

July 8, 2011 - 8:34pm

The ex who landed me at this

The ex who landed me at this site was definitely a narcissist, a very passive aggressive narcissist. Even at his worst, not once did I ever feel threatened by him or afraid of him, and he never threatened me, either, neither verbally or physically. To the best of my knowledge, he's never bad-mouthed me to anyone, either, although what do I know?

The man from my past who recently showed up again out of the blue after fifteen years . . . something about him never sat right with me, but I couldn't put my finger on it. I know now that he is/was definitely a narcissist, but while he never threatened me, either, he gives off a whole different vibe in my memory than my recent ex. My ex was "sexy" bad. The past guy is/was bad, and not in a sexy way. Something about him scares me, and I still can't say why - just a feeling. I'm guessing he's a sociopath and I was fortunate that he left me when he did way back when. I want absolutely nothing to do with him. Thankfully he's left me alone since I didn't acknowledge him when he turned up.

July 8, 2011 - 4:12pm

The Narcs in my life...

Are SAINTS compared to the ex-Psych (as in psychopath) professor! It's important, in its own way, to know the difference. My former Narc boss wasn't an angel... but I think he had enough of a conscience to keep from sabotaging my job search. He might be the reason I have a FT job NOW, here, in California, OF ALL PLACES :0

My Narc grandmother is self-absorbed. She ditched the family recently, moving back here to California. But I don't see that depth of malevolence. I never felt unsafe around her. She WANTS to do the right thing-she doesn't know how.

Narcs and Psychopaths/Sociopaths are different ENOUGH. Doesn't justify their actions, just helps explain things better.

July 8, 2011 - 1:00pm

Its not important, read the

Its not important, read the latest post on the blog about this.

Focus on your own healing..

They are two similar flavours of the same icecream.

July 8, 2011 - 12:51pm

Narcissist or Psychopath

Thank you. This was very helpful. According to a test with my therapist my ex matches most characteristics of both disorders. It is still hard for me to tell which of his behavior fits in the right category because they mostly fit in both. Maybe once I stopped feeding his narcissism the psychopath took over to punish me.

February 17, 2011 - 2:58pm

Wow! This is really

Wow! This is really enlightening. Great article. Thank you so much for bumping it up.

God sometimes removes a person from your life for your protection. Don't run after them.

February 17, 2011 - 10:53pm (Reply to #3)

i thought so too

i thought so too

March 28, 2010 - 12:27am

Rocked my world

I think I've had it backwards this whole time! I thought the last narc I was with was the possible sociopath . . . I'm thinking now that he was just a narc and that the guy I was with for nearly six months was an actual sociopath!

Scary . . . I had a feeling he might have been, but this just confirms it for me! The last one really fits the bill of being a narc. Once he was done idealizing me and seeking my admiration, he turned into a contemptuous freak show, D&D'd me and he was gone.

The other guy just worked hard to exploit me every way he could. When he finally got what he wanted from me and he knew he had had reached the limit of as far as I would go, he was gone. He didn't go nearly as far idealizing as the other one did.

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