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Sociopathy Vs. Narcissism

To the unversed, sociopathy and narcissism might appear to be closely related. In fact, many people often tend to use the terms sociopath and narcissist interchangeably to describe people who seem to be arrogant and haughty, care very little about how others feel, and put their own needs first. However, despite the many overlap in behaviors, narcissism and sociopathy are actually two different concepts. Each condition is a unique personality disorder with its own recognizable differences that sets them apart from one another. Sociopathy is the unofficial term used to refer to antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), which is a mental health condition that involves a long-term pattern of having total disregard for social norms and the rights of other people. On the other hand, the term narcissism refers to narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), which is a mental health condition characterized by grandiose behaviors and attitudes, feelings of self-importance and superiority, as well as an extreme need for admiration.

Let us take a look at sociopathy versus narcissism.

Sociopathy vs. Narcissism – Defining the Conditions

What is Sociopathy?

Sociopathy is not an official diagnosis. The term refers to antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). (1, 2, 3, 4) However, there is a lot of inaccurate description of what being antisocial means. Antisocial does not mean that a person avoids socializing. A better definition of antisocial would be to, say, a person who is being against society. It would be correct to say that people living with antisocial personalities usually tend to take very little social responsibility and also show a lack of remorse over their actions and consideration for other people’s rights, safety, and belongings.

Sociopaths are likely to engage in the following behaviors:

  • Have a total disregard for laws and rules.
  • Manipulate and exploit other people – by cheating, lying, or stealing.
  • Having a cynical, contemptuous attitude towards other people.
  • Behave impulsively.
  • Rationalize their actions and show little regret or guilt after hurting others.
  • Tend to easily become irritable or aggressive, which may lead to physical conflict or even damage to property.

These behavioral patterns don’t show up suddenly. However, mental health professionals do not diagnose this condition in people under the age of 18 years. Furthermore, a diagnosis of an antisocial personality disorder requires a history of conduct disorder and at least a few symptoms of this condition to show up by the age of 15 at least. (5, 6)

What is Narcissism?

Narcissism is a term used to refer to narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). This condition is marked by a self-centered, entitled and arrogant attitude that often covers up deep-rooted feelings of inferiority. (7, 8, 9)

A person living with a narcissistic personality disorder may exhibit the following behaviors and symptoms:

  • Show arrogance and a sense of entitlement in their attitudes and actions.
  • Believe that they are better than others and expect special treatment as well as the best of everything.
  • Constantly needs a lot of admiration and praise from others.
  • Spends a lot of time lost in fantasies about their own importance, power, attractiveness, or intelligence.
  • Prone to fits of rage when challenged.
  • Easily able to manipulate or take advantage of others to get their way.
  • Have trouble recognizing other people’s feelings and needs.
  • Holds on to grudges and tries to get even in passive-aggressive ways.

In most people, the early signs of narcissistic personality disorder may start to appear during the teenage years. Many adolescents, though, show several of these signs and symptoms without actually going on to develop narcissistic personality disorder. In many cases, mental health professionals avoid diagnosing the condition until they reach the age of 18 years.

As with the diagnosis of all other personality disorders, a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder needs a fixed and stable pattern of behavior in the person. This is why it may take a bit more time to recognize these traits in teenagers and young adults.

It is also possible to have some traits of narcissism or another personality disorder without actually meeting the complete diagnostic criteria for the condition. (10, 11)

Sociopathy vs. Narcissism – How Do They Compare?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental Disorders (DSM-5), both antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder are grouped under Cluster B personality disorders. (12, 13)

Experts describe the conditions in cluster B disorders as ones that often involve highly emotional, unpredictable, and dramatic or volatile interactions with other people.

Keeping this in mind, there are several similarities between NPD and ASPD, including:

  • In both disorders, the person lacks empathy.
  • Shallow and insincere behavior.
  • People have trouble maintaining relationships and employment.
  • Manipulate or exploit others for their own gain.
  • Show superficial charisma and charm.

The behavior traits of both the conditions tend to become less severe as the personages. Both these conditions can also improve if you seek proper treatment from an experienced therapist.

Further complicating the overlap in symptoms of both these conditions is the fact that many times, these conditions can occur together. Research has shown that a co-occurring diagnosis is quite common. (11) Experts also believe that having both antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder tends to cause worse mental health outcomes in general. (14)

If you explore these conditions further, there are plenty of differences as well between sociopathy and narcissism. (15)

For example, people with narcissistic traits tend to:

  • Show some degree of empathy towards others, especially children or pets.
  • Usually don’t show the same disregard for laws and rules as people with antisocial personality disorder.
  • Are not necessarily dismissive or impulsive about their own safety.

On the other hand, people with antisocial traits tend to:

  • Usually don’t express the same level of envy of others as people with NPD do.
  • Are more likely to use violence or aggression to resolve a conflict.
  • Don’t necessarily need praise and admiration from others.

Understanding the Sociopathic Narcissist : While we have explored sociopathy and narcissism as distinct conditions, it’s intriguing to consider cases where traits of both disorders overlap. This intersection leads to the concept of a ‘sociopathic narcissist’ – individuals who exhibit a complex mix of these personality disorders. To gain a deeper understanding of what characterizes a sociopathic narcissist, you can explore further details on what is a sociopathic narcissist. This resource delves into the signs and behaviors that define this unique blend of traits, offering insights into their psychological makeup.

Sociopathy vs. Narcissism – Causes

The exact cause of either of these personality disorders is not known, but they tend to share several of the same risk factors. These include:

  • Having a family history of the condition.
  • Unhealthy family relations.
  • Adverse childhood experiences, including neglect, rejection, and abuse.

There are differences in causes as well, and evidence shows that there are a couple of additional risk factors for antisocial personality disorder, including: (16)

  • Lower family income or coming from a lower socioeconomic status.
  • Smoking during pregnancy and substance use or high stress while being pregnant. (17, 18)
  • Exposure to violence among peer groups or in the community.
  • Irregularities in the brain structure and brain chemistry.

Narcissistic personality disorder, on the other hand, is believed to be associated in part with extreme parental praise and admiration.

What About Psychopathy?

Psychopathy, like sociopathy, is a term used to refer to antisocial personality disorder. However, you will not find psychopathy being included in the DSM-5 as it is not a real mental health diagnosis. But, many experts do consider psychopathy to be a more extreme subtype of antisocial personality disorder. (19)

Many experts think of antisocial personality disorder as being something of a spectrum, where psychopathy is located at one end. According to the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R) created by psychologist Robert Hare, people with psychopathy completely lack any empathy for others, and neither do they have a sense of right and wrong or morality. (20, 21)

People with sociopathy, which is considered to be a less severe form of antisocial personality disorder, may show a little empathy for others’ feelings and needs and may also have some recognition of the difference between what is right and wrong. They may also rationalize their behavior when their actions don’t match up with the typical social norms.

Many have suggested that sociopathy involves more impulsive behavior and less of a tendency to plan ahead. However, these distinctions are not officially recognized.

At the same time, one must take into account malignant narcissism as well. Some experts tend to use this unofficial term to describe a severe representation of narcissistic personality disorder that involves a combination of both antisocial and narcissistic traits, along with paranoia, sadism, and aggression. (22, 23)

However, bear in mind that not everyone with both antisocial and narcissistic personality disorder will have the exact combination of these traits.


People having personality disorders like antisocial personality disorder or narcissistic personality disorder often fail to recognize how their behavior affects others, and neither do they understand why it’s problematic. It is important to keep in mind that personality disorders tend to involve a wide variety of complex symptoms, many of which are not always easy to understand. Only trained and experienced mental health professionals can make an accurate diagnosis and distinction between sociopathy and narcissism.
If you think a loved one is exhibiting narcissistic or antisocial traits, the best way to help them is to encourage them to consult a mental health professional.


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  2. Black, D.W., 2015. The natural history of antisocial personality disorder. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 60(7), pp.309-314.
  3. Luntz, B.K. and Widom, C.S., 1994. Antisocial personality disorder in abused and neglected children grown up. The American journal of psychiatry.
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  10. Russ, E., Shedler, J., Bradley, R. and Westen, D., 2008. Refining the construct of narcissistic personality disorder: Diagnostic criteria and subtypes. American Journal of Psychiatry, 165(11), pp.1473-1481.
  11. Caligor, E., Levy, K.N. and Yeomans, F.E., 2015. Narcissistic personality disorder: diagnostic and clinical challenges. American Journal of Psychiatry, 172(5), pp.415-422.
  12. Kraus, G. and Reynolds, D.J., 2001. The “abc’s” of the cluster b’s: Identifying, understanding, and treating cluster b personality disorders. Clinical psychology review, 21(3), pp.345-373.
  13. Reise, S.P. and Wright, T.M., 1996. Personality traits, Cluster B personality disorders, and sociosexuality. Journal of Research in Personality.
  14. Mitra, P. and Fluyau, D., 2020. Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
  15. Gunderson, J.G. and Ronningstam, E., 2001. Differentiating narcissistic and antisocial personality disorders. Journal of personality disorders, 15(2), pp.103-109.
  16. Junewicz, A. and Billick, S.B., 2021. Preempting the Development of Antisocial Behavior and Psychopathic Traits. The journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law.
  17. Wakschlag, L.S., Lahey, B.B., Loeber, R., Green, S.M., Gordon, R.A. and Leventhal, B.L., 1997. Maternal smoking during pregnancy and the risk of conduct disorder in boys. Archives of general psychiatry, 54(7), pp.670-676.
  18. Blair, R.J.R., 2013. The neurobiology of psychopathic traits in youths. Nature reviews neuroscience, 14(11), pp.786-799.
  19. Hart, S.D. and Hare, R.D., 1996. Psychopathy and antisocial personality disorder. Current opinion in Psychiatry, 9(2), pp.129-132.
  20. Verschuere, B., van Ghesel Grothe, S., Waldorp, L., Watts, A.L., Lilienfeld, S.O., Edens, J.F., Skeem, J.L. and Noordhof, A., 2018. What features of psychopathy might be central? A network analysis of the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) in three large samples. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 127(1), p.51.
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  22. Glad, B., 2002. Why tyrants go too far: Malignant narcissism and absolute power. Political Psychology, 23(1), pp.1-2.
  23. Goldner-Vukov, M. and Moore, L.J., 2010. Malignant narcissism: from fairy tales to harsh reality. Psychiatria Danubina, 22(3), pp.392-405.
Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:November 20, 2023

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