Narcissists, Sociopaths, Psychopaths: What’s The Difference?

We seem to use the terms narcissist, psychopath, and sociopath interchangeably. Other times we just say, “Damn, he’s crazy.” But what’s the real difference between those disorders and how can you spot if a guy’s showing signs of one (or both) of them? Here’s everything you need to know.

  1. What’s a sociopath? A sociopath is a person who’s got antisocial personality disorder and it comes with some clear symptoms like a guy showing a lack of remorse when he does something wrong, violating the law, lying a lot, being aggressive, and being irresponsible. These symptoms must be present before the person is 15 years for the diagnosis to be made. It seems sociopaths really do tend to start showing symptoms in their childhood. Scary!
  2. What’s a psychopath? A psychopath is someone who has a more severe form of sociopathy. You can tell someone’s a psychopath instead of a sociopath because their symptoms are much more obvious and intense. Also look for manipulation, superficial charm, a lack of emotional attachments with people, and a lack of empathy. If you stub your toe and he doesn’t even flinch or he tells you to stop being a big baby, it’s a red flag. Same goes for if he’s super-charming and flattering when you first meet him.
  3. Okay, but then what’s a narcissist? A narcissist is someone who is actually in love with an idealized self-image they project to the world. They want everyone to believe that they’re kind, helpful, and charming and they work damn hard to display these traits to the outside world (even though they don’t possess them) so that they avoid being seen as, or feeling, like their real wounded self. They’re damaged but they don’t want anyone to see it.
  4. You can spot a narcissist. He’ll try his hardest to impress you by showing off his new car and being the perfect gentleman on dates. Other signs of a narcissist include someone who dominates the conversation, someone who has a grandiose view of himself like he thinks he’s some sort of hero who’s coming to rescue you, and someone who’s extremely charming. The thing is, his charm is all about helping him get what he wants down the line. It’s not genuine and it’s not about you.
  5. There’s more than one type of narcissist. The first one is the exhibitionist narcissist. He’s the type who’s all about grandiose thinking and he has a “look at me!” mindset. Being around him might make you start thinking that he’s pretty much a toddler in a suit. Man-child alert! He’s selfish and always focused on himself, so you might spot him by how he ignores your problems and talks over you at dinner.
  6. There’s also such a thing as a closet narcissist. This is one who wants to feel special but is confused or conflicted about it. You might not spot him as easily as the exhibitionist. He’s insecure but feels entitled. Although he’s shy to boast or be grandiose, he’ll associate with other special things or people so that he feels special by association, such as status items, friends in high places, and reading material.
  7. The third type is a toxic narcissist. Yes, all narcissists can be toxic but this one is all about destruction. He’s characterized by wanting attention and making others feel inferior. He’s malicious and malignant and has no problems destroying people’s lives at the drop of a hat.
  8. Is there any hope for a narcissist? A narcissistic can change but the actual disorder can’t be cured. It’s really up to the person to want to change their behavior, which admittedly isn’t an easy task. In other words, don’t waste your time hoping that he’ll come around. Besides, if you’re dealing with a toxic narcissist then you’re better off without all the drama he brings.
  9. Forget about changing the sociopath! Creepy fact: sometimes therapy can actually worsen a sociopath’s traits because they see the whole process as a game. Eek! The thing is, sociopaths don’t want to change. Next!
  10. Finally, what about psychopaths? They won’t change so don’t bother trying. Seeing a pattern here? A psychopath doesn’t always become a criminal or end up in jail. In fact, many manage to live successful lives. Behind closed doors, though, you might see that the guy you’re dating has something “off” about him. Don’t hold your breath that you can help or rescue him. For starters, he probably doesn’t see that he has a problem and there’s no evidence that a psychopath’s personality can change. The important thing with psychopaths, sociopaths, and narcissists, then, is to spot their signs and GTFO as quickly as you can!
Giulia Simolo is a writer from Johannesburg, South Africa with a degree in English Language and Literature. She has been working as a journalist for more than a decade, writing for sites including AskMen, Native Interiors, and Live Eco. You can find out more about her on Facebook and LinkedIn, or follow her on Twitter @GiuliaSimolo.