(part of the 3 articles series,
“Narcissists, Psychopaths and Sociopaths… How to distinguish them?”)

Many people use these terms, giving them the same meaning, but in reality, we are talking about different personality disorders.
To clarify this, we have to make the following distinction: any psychopath is also a narcissist, but not every narcissist is also a psychopath.
We talked about narcissists in previous articles (read more about Narcissists here), in this article we will try to differentiate between narcissists, psychopaths and sociopaths.

When a narcissist does something “bad”, unlike a psychopath or sociopath, he feels guilty and shame, generally more shame than guilt, because he is first interested in how other people look at him. We also talk about a self-image here, because narcissists do not like being looked negatively by others.

Instead, terms like psychopaths and sociopaths have been used by clinicians to refer to people today who are classified as having antisocial personalities – people whose behaviors are immoral, asocial and impulsive, and do not feel remorse or shame.

The origin of the psychopathic word is centered on the idea that there is something wrong (pathological) in the psychological functioning of the individual. Instead, the roots of sociopathy focus on the social deviation of the person.

Psychopaths have the same characteristics as narcissists, but they are totally different because they do not feel ashamed, guilty or remorse when they do something “bad”.

Psychopaths do not care if someone gets hurt by their actions, while narcissists hope that nobody will suffer.

But what is the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath, because many people make a confusion between the two terms?

First of all, it is important to know that there are three common features that we find both in psychopaths and sociopaths:

  • Arrogance (pride, infatuation)
  • Falsity
  • Manipulation

Both categories currently fall into the antisocial personality disorder; both psychopaths and sociopaths can do bad things without care, but the difference lies in the fact that psychopaths are born, while sociopaths acquire these traits (they are “produced”), this is the most important difference.

Studies have shown that psychopaths or people diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder (the current name in the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders) lack the emotional reaction to the threat, have an excessive need of stimulation in order to maintain a minimal level of nervous excitation, and have underlying brain abnormalities underlying the disorder. For example, they have the autonomic nervous system different, compared to people considered normal. The autonomic nervous system is that part of the peripheral nervous system with an activity which is largely involuntary and continuous (in the awaking and sleeping state’s), that controls vital functions such as heart rate, breathing, digestion, blood pressure, and ensures the body’s reaction to stress – fight or flight.

For example, when a normal person violates a rule or makes something risky, shameful, etc., the autonomic nervous system enters in action and makes heart rhythm to grow, the person begins to sweat, looks worried about, because he is fear of consequences. Instead, a psychopath does not have this type of nervous excitation and has no such reactions, which is why he can deceive even a lie detector and even escape sometimes.

It has been shown, based on the brain imaging researches, which has been done so far, that psychopaths also have a deficit of the mirror neurons system that affects their level of empathy, that is, the ability of an individual to understand the emotional state of the other and to perceive what the other perceives. Brain imaging research has shown that while observing the emotional state of others, the same neural structures are activated as well as then when we experience our emotions.

Due to this lack of mirror neurons which imply a low level of empathy, a psychopath would remain cold, indifferent, calm in any risk situations, no matter how dangerous it would be for him or for others.

Other important factors in the development of this disorder are the genetic heritage and the environment in which the person has grown. Although, in the case of psychopaths or what we call antisocial personality disorder today, the genetic heritage plays an important role, because most of the times the psychopaths are having parents with antisocial personality traits, so we can’t tell exactly which of the two factors (genetic or environment) plays a more important role in the development of antisocial personality disorder.

Also, psychopaths tend to be very slippery, sly, seductive and, last but not least, intelligent, that’s why they manage to escape justice often.

In order to diagnose an antisocial personality disorder, antisocial behaviors must have occurred before the age of 15 in the form of behavioral disturbances. These early forms of antisocial behavior can include harassing, running from home, lying, theft, robbery, physical violence, use of weapons, physical cruelty to humans or animals, deliberate destruction of property, premeditated and voluntary fire, and others.

Over time, the antisocial and criminal behavior associated with the disorder tends to decline with age and may even disappear until the person reaches the age of 40.

However, the basic personality traits associated with the disorder, such as egocentricity, manipulation, lack of empathy, guilt or remorse, and insensitivity to others seem to remain relatively stable with aging.

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