Narcissist or Sociopath? What's the Difference?

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#1 Jun 22 - 12AM
Anonymous (not verified)
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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 - 1PM
FourWands's picture

I see it this way...

Jun 1 - 7AM (Reply to #14)
Janie53's picture


Jun 1 - 12PM (Reply to #15)
FourWands's picture


Jun 1 - 6PM (Reply to #16)
Janie53's picture


May 30 - 9AM
Lacey's picture

I'm not sure....

May 31 - 1PM (Reply to #12)
TruthbeginsToday's picture

lacey, I agree and....

May 30 - 6AM
Allesandra's picture


Jul 10 - 7AM
dolphingirl's picture

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?
Jul 10 - 8AM (Reply to #9)
single100's picture

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
Jul 8 - 8PM
MandyM's picture

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.
Jul 8 - 4PM
Susan32's picture

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.
Jul 8 - 1PM
fooled no longer
fooled no longer's picture

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.
Jul 8 - 12PM
gittemes's picture

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.
Feb 17 - 2PM
mystwoman's picture

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.

Feb 17 - 10PM (Reply to #3)
fierflie's picture

i thought so too

i thought so too
Mar 28 - 12AM
Kelly's picture

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.