Every psychopath is narcissistic, but not every narcissist is psychopathic.
Narcissist, psychopath, or Sociopath?
There’s a lot of overlap between these terms.
Many people are using these terms interchangeably.
But they represent distinct personality types.
Let me clarify this concept to you.
A narcissistic personality is characterized by a grandiose sense of self-importance, a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. Individuals with this personality trait often exhibit arrogance and preoccupation with their own achievements and superiority. It’s a disorder of self-esteem and they have trouble regulating their self-esteem.
When a narcissist does a bad thing, they feel a fair amount of guilt and shame.
More shame than guilt, frankly, because they’re concerned about how other people view them.
Shame is a public emotion. So they don’t like being viewed negatively in the public eye, that’s where the shame comes from.
But they’ll feel a little bad, like if they cheat on their wife,
They are like, uh, I probably shouldn’t have done that.
A psychopath’s a different animal.
They’re all of those things as a narcissist but they feel no guilt or shame.
They don’t feel remorse when they do something bad.
So, they’re serial killers or hired assassins.
People who are gonna go in and literally sort of gut a business.
They’re like I don’t care who gets hurt. They’d say that and they’d mean it, where a narcissist is like, I hope no one gets hurt.
Psychopaths are people who are actually believed to have slightly different autonomic nervous systems.
For a normal person, when our autonomic nervous system, gets charged up, which it would if we broke a rule, if we did something embarrassing or rude, or if we ran through a red light — our heart starts racing, we sweat, our pupils get wide.
Like if I am driving, and I see police sirens coming behind me.
I mean it is a full-on, Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’m gonna get pulled over.
A psychopath doesn’t have that same kind of arousal.
A psychopath would see that and go, Oh, I’m gonna get pulled over.
Well, they could have a dead body in the trunk and they, wouldn’t show that.
And so they pull over, they get the ticket and they don’t…care, and they’ll be cool as can be.
Psychopaths have a diminished autonomic nervous system response, leading to reduced physiological arousal in situations that would typically elicit stress or fear.
That’s why they’re able to lie on lie-detector tests. That’s how they get away with it.
PET scans, which visualize brain functioning, have shown that the empathy-related region of the brain does not naturally activate as strongly in psychopaths.
Now, their interesting counterpart, the sociopaths:
The difference between the psychopath and the sociopath is the one where most people get confused. because the sociopath is a lot like a psychopath, they do bad things and they don’t care.
Psychopath vs Sociopath
Here’s the key difference: a psychopath is born and a sociopath is made.
Psychopathy is believed to have a significant genetic component, while sociopathy is primarily influenced by environmental factors.
Sociopaths, they look a lot like the psychopath. The difference is they were made.
Some examples here: the kid who grows up in an extremely rough neighborhood and learns criminality to get by or learns to be a bully or gets involved with the wrong kids.
Sociopaths may engage in antisocial behaviors, but their reactions and emotional responses are influenced by external factors rather than an inherent lack of empathy.
Unlike psychopaths, sociopaths may experience some level of stress or discomfort in response to their actions, although they learn to suppress or adapt to these emotions.
Psychopathy vs. Sociopathy:
- Nature vs. Nurture: Psychopathy is believed to have a significant genetic component, while sociopathy is primarily influenced by environmental factors.
- Lack of Empathy: Both psychopaths and sociopaths display a lack of empathy, but psychopaths lack guilt and shame, whereas sociopaths may experience some level of discomfort or remorse.
- Autonomic Nervous System Response: Psychopaths have a reduced autonomic nervous system response, while sociopaths may exhibit more typical stress responses.
- Early Signs: Psychopathy often manifests in childhood through behaviors like truancy, violence, stealing, and cruelty to animals. Sociopathy is typically acquired later in life due to external influences.
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As the author of this content, I originally published this article on the Medium platform, under the publication titled “Being Well,” on the 7th of July, 2023.