Sociopathy and psychopathy are very similar and are therefore often confused. In general, there are different clinical opinions on the classification of these personality disorders, here are some of the most common traits.
Sociopathy (dissocial or antisocial personality disorder)
Sociopaths do have feelings, but they cannot control them and can hardly build relationships, let alone maintain them. They are able to experience and show deep feelings, but these are limited to a small group of their closest people. They have no understanding of societal rules and social obligations. They are easily irritated and quickly become aggressive when disconcerted. They have little sense of guilt and therefore do not learn from punishments (the rehabilitation of prison inmates is therefore also repeatedly discussed). This personality disorder usually shows up first in childhood or early adolescence.
Statistically, most sociopaths are male. A sociopath will be more than happy to apologize if it helps them achieve their goal. Sociopathy is now officially called antisocial personality disorder and is the personality disorder that is already noticeable in childhood, which is often also a clear component of the diagnosis. Many people with this diagnosis experience violence in their youth. They often commit criminal activities of their own „motivation“ and drug consumption, as well as substance abuse is frequently recorded. Symptoms may lessen with age.
A psychopath is clinically also a sociopath, but a sociopath is not necessarily a psychopath. Psychopathic people are characterized by their willingness to use violence, a lack of empathy and their ruthlessness. They are emotionally cold and manipulative, but can also come across as charming. They are seen as more dangerous to society than sociopaths due to the lack of a sense of guilt. They learn „normal“ behavior and human reactions from their environment and from strangers and copy common human behavioral patterns. They only have superficial relationships and are therefore often integrated quite inconspicuously into society. So, clinically speaking, psychopathy is a more severe form of sociopathy. These people often do not want to work and are very happy to benefit from other people without feeling guilty. They do not care about social conventions or legislation, which often lets them descend into crime without worrying about acting irresponsibly. Psychopaths never feel that anything is their own fault, they project everything onto others. They cannot bond, or if they do, it is often coupled with extramarital relationships.
A „classical“ psychopath can be recognized by the following characteristics:
- A significantly exaggerated sense of self-worth
- Tendency to overestimate oneself
- Takes advantage of others and is calculating
- Other people can be won over through superficial charm
- Cheats, lies and manipulates
- Superficial feelings, hardly any empathy and emotionally cold
- No conscience or guilt
- Impossibility to take responsibility for one’s own actions
- Impulsive and aggressive, unable to control behavior
- Constant need for variety and excitement
- Goals in life are unrealistic and only short-term
- Short relationships or several partners simultaneously
The difference to narcissism
As mentioned before, psychopathy is the extreme form of sociopathy, both of which are classified as an antisocial personality disorder. Narcissism has different grades on a wide spectrum, from being a personality trait to the narcissistic personality disorder. These are all characterized mostly by exaggerated vanity and extreme overconfidence. A narcissistic personality disorder is usually only officially diagnosed when a person shows a very pronounced form of narcissism and it becomes noticeable as a result. Sociopaths, psychopaths, and narcissists are often pathological liars without feeling guilty about affecting those around them. The biggest difference between psychopaths and narcissists is the lack of empathy and the degree of unscrupulousness, which is significantly more pronounced in psychopaths than in narcissists. Narcissists cause harm through following only their own interests, while psychopaths intentionally want to hurt or inflict pain. Narcissists tend to be jealous, while sociopaths and psychopaths don’t care, except when it comes to their own gain. The narcissist behaves arrogantly and out of entitlement, while socio- and psychopaths tend to be more aggressive and impulsive. A sociopath or psychopath can also be narcissistic, which often makes the diagnosis more difficult and complex.