Crucial Differences Between a Sociopath & A Psychopath

Crucial Differences Between a Sociopath & A Psychopath

While it’s tempting to throw all extreme personality types in the same box, sociopaths and psychopaths definitely aren’t the same. Of course, they both have many toxic characteristics and behaviors that make them unpleasant or even dangerous to have in your life, but the way they express these traits is quite different.

1. Empathy

A psychopath won’t feel a thing when they hurt you. Their empathy is non-existent, like trying to squeeze water from a stone. A sociopath, on the other hand, might feel a twinge of guilt, a fleeting moment of regret, but it’s like a drop in the ocean. It doesn’t stop them from repeating their actions.

2. Charm

Happy, smile and portrait of business man in city for professional, corporate and pride. Happiness, confident and career with face of male employee in New York for mindset, opportunity and positive

Psychopaths have charm in spades, and it’s dangerous. They’ll sweep you off your feet and make you feel special, all while plotting their next move. It’s like a chess game to them, only you’re the pawn. Sociopaths aren’t as charming. They’re more likely to be rough around the edges, their behavior more erratic and unpredictable. Because of this, they find it harder to “trick” their victims and often resort to even more underhanded tactics.

3. Manipulation

couple having serious conversation at table

Both can manipulate, but psychopaths do it like they’ve got a Ph.D. in deception. They’ll twist and turn anyone around their little finger to get what they want. They’re skilled gaslighters who will stop at nothing to get what they want. Sociopaths also manipulate, but it’s more impulsive, like a knee-jerk reaction, and less of a premeditated strategy. Because of this, their efforts tend to get mixed results.

4. Rules

To a psychopath, rules are like decorations — nice to look at, but ultimately meaningless. They don’t care about laws, social norms, or any form of regulation. Sociopaths, on the other hand, understand these rules but choose to shrug them off as if they don’t apply to them. They get why they exist, but they feel like they’re an exception to the rule and should be able to live by their own laws.

5. Violence

Psychopaths are more likely to resort to violence. Their acts of aggression are often cold, calculated, and devoid of emotion. In fact, it’s been found that around 27% of murderers are also psychopaths (and that seems like a very reserved estimate). Sociopaths can be violent too, but it’s more of a spur-of-the-moment thing, like a sudden outburst in a heated argument.

6. Responsibility

A psychopath won’t ever take responsibility. In their world, they’re always the victim, never the perpetrator. Sociopaths often play the blame game too, but occasionally, they might admit they were in the wrong, like a broken clock that’s right twice a day. Of course, this is usually for their own gain in some way, but it does happen.

7. Relationships

Psychopaths can fake relationships. They’ll pretend to connect, to care, to love, all while wearing a mask. They’re so convincing with it that their partners are often completely blindsided when they realize the truth of who they’ve been with for all those years. Sociopaths also form connections, but they’re as shallow as a kiddie pool and as short-lived as an Instagram Story.

8. Lying

Happy woman enjoying her free time while lying on grass

Psychopaths lie like it’s their second language. They’re experts at spinning tales and deceiving people, from little white lies to massive ones that completely misrepresent who they are and what their lives are like. Sociopaths also lie, but they’re not as skilled at it. Their lies are like a house of cards, likely to crumble at the slightest push.

9. Consistency

Psychopaths can hold down jobs, maintain relationships, and generally appear normal. It’s like they’re wearing a camouflage, hiding their true nature. Sociopaths struggle with this. They’re more likely to live on the fringes and their lives are unstable and unpredictable as a result.

10. Fear

Psychopaths don’t feel fear. They’re the ones who’d walk into a haunted house, laughing. Sociopaths, however, can feel fear, especially when it comes to people they’re close to. It’s like they have a chink in their armor that only select few can penetrate. They’re not completely emotionally numb, which is often surprising.

11. Remorse

Psychopaths don’t feel remorse. They can harm you and sleep like a baby at night. It’s not that they don’t think they do anything wrong, it’s that they don’t care about it, or about the people they hurt. Sociopaths, while capable of remorse, usually experience it as briefly as a passing shower, not enough to wash away their deeds.

12. Planning

Psychopaths are meticulous planners. They’ll calculate their moves and plan their actions like they’re plotting a heist. Everything has to be set out just so, so that it’s more likely to go the way they want. Sociopaths, in contrast, are impulsive. They’ll act first, think later, like a bull in a china shop.

13. Social Relationships

Man looking serious at the camera while standing in front of a group of people. Team and leadership concept.

Psychopaths can blend into society. They’re like chameleons, faking emotions to fit in. Sociopaths, however, are more likely to be loners, unable to maintain sustained relationships, like a lone wolf in the wilderness.

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Sinead Cafferty is a writer who has authored four collections of poetry: "Dust Settling" (2012); "The Space Between" (2014); "Under, Under, Over" (2016); and "What You Can't Have" (2020). She's currently working on her first novel, a dystopian romance set in the 22nd Century, that's due out in 2024.

Sinead has an MFA in creative writing from NYU and has had residencies with the Vermont Studio Center and the National Center for Writing.