15 Vital Differences Between A Narcissist & A Sociopath

15 Vital Differences Between A Narcissist & A Sociopath

They’re not created equal.

Sociopath and narcissist are labels that are thrown around a lot these days, sometimes even interchangeably. They are both considered diagnosable personality disorders and share many of the same characteristics. At the same time, while a sociopath can also be a narcissist, the opposite isn’t always true. Using these terms loosely can be harmful to anyone living with mental illness, so here’s what you need to know about 15 of the most important differences between a narcissist and a sociopath.

1. One is Driven By Ego, and the Other By Self Interest.

A sociopath is the ultimate con artist. Every move they make is calculated to help them meet an end goal that benefits them. If that means staying out of the spotlight at times, they’re perfectly willing to do that. A narcissist, on the other hand, is driven by their own inflated sense of self-worth and they need to be the center of attention in all situations.

2. Their General Personality—or Lack Thereof—Says A Lot.

A sociopath is a shape-shifter who lacks a solid personality. They adapt to different situations by copying what other people do but they don’t have a strong sense of self that guides their actions. A narcissist is more consistent in who they are, but they tend to believe they are better and more important than others at the same time.

3. Only One is Capable of Sincerity.

While a narcissist can genuinely care about people, even if they don’t always know how to show it, a sociopath is almost always faking sincerity. They can shift focus on a dime if it benefits them and they only pretend to care if there’s something in it for them.

4. One is More Predictable Than the Other.

Young Parisian couple having conversation at a Cafe.©iStock/GCShutter

A narcissist can be a lot more consistent in their actions compared to a sociopath. If you know them well, you can start to understand how they operate and find ways to navigate around it. A sociopath, on the other hand, is constantly adapting and finding new ways to manipulate–and they don’t care about the consequences.

5. One is an Attention Seeker.

Narcissists are usually happy to be in the spotlight. They’ll even go out of their way to make things that have nothing to do with them about them. They are experts at turning situations around so they come out looking like the good guy. A sociopath doesn’t need the attention, in fact, sometimes it’s more in their favor to avoid the spotlight–and they are acutely aware of that.

6. One Is Proactive; the Other Is Reactive.

A sociopath thinks things through and chooses the most calculated path forward to advance their own interests while a narcissist naturally defaults to lies and manipulation. Another way to look at it is that a sociopath lives life on the offensive looking for new opportunities while a narcissist is constantly on the defensive looking for a chance to play the victim.

7. One Cares What People Think of Them.

A narcissist is very concerned about their image and people seeing them a certain way. A sociopath isn’t concerned what other people think of them–partly because they have a hard time seeing things from anyone else’s perspective so they don’t understand how they come across–not that they would care anyway.

8. They Both Use People But in Different Ways.

A narcissist will take any opportunity to exploit other people to give themselves a leg up, but they tend to do it in a more subtle way that might involve gaslighting and other manipulation tactics in order to give themselves plausible deniability. A sociopath is more likely to blatantly lie, cheat and steal to get what they want.

9. One Can Be More Easily Manipulated.

Since a narcissist cares what people think of them, they can be influenced and even manipulated under certain circumstances. They want to be admired, so it’s possible for other people to take advantage of that. Sociopaths don’t always have clear motivations so it’s harder to get under their skin.

10. One Feels an Exaggerated Sense of Entitlement.

One of the quintessential traits of a narcissist is they feel like they are better than everyone else and therefore deserve special treatment. A sociopath is more of a scrapper who will do whatever it takes to further their own interests without necessarily believing they deserve it over anyone else. All that matters is that they get what they want.

11. One Can Be a Lot More Reckless.

Since sociopaths often operate with no sense of consequences, they’ll often do things that can be considered dangerous or illegal without thinking twice. Narcissists usually have a stronger handle on social norms and are more likely to follow the rules in general while using emotions and personal relationships to get what they want.

12. One Fears and Avoids Criticism.

unhappy female friends sitting on couches

A narcissist hates hearing any sort or criticism, constructive or not. In their minds, they are always perfect and always right so if someone has the audacity to say otherwise, they might lash out–and they definitely won’t take any of it to heart in an effort to change. A sociopath doesn’t care what people think, so criticism has little effect on them.

13. Hurting People May or May Not Be Intentional.

guy covering his face with phone

A narcissist has a hard time seeing how their behavior affects other people so they end up hurting them without necessarily meaning to. A sociopath may do the same, but they also have no qualms about intentionally hurting someone, either for fun or just because they want to see what happens.

14. One Has More Run-Ins With the Law.

For sociopaths, their urge to engage in reckless, risky behavior can often translate to drug use, theft and violence. A narcissist is less likely to engage in these activities because they desire accolades and success, which they know aren’t as achievable with a criminal record.

15. One is More Likely to Feel Empathy.

While both narcissists and sociopaths have a hard time with empathy, it’s possible for narcissists to feel close enough to certain people to begin to understand how they might feel to some extent. A sociopath never feels empathy and although they could learn what it means as a concept, they’d most likely be faking it just to get by.

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By day, Courtney is a digital marketing copywriter living in Toronto, Canada. By night, she's a freelance lifestyle writer who, in addition to Bolde.com, contributes regularly to AmongMen.ca, IN Magazine, and SheBlogs Canada. Want to chat about relationships, Stephen King or your favorite true crime podcast/documentary/book? She's on Twitter @courtooo.