Narcissist or sociopath?  Both of these words bring up ideas of villainous, abusive people that most people think they can spot just by looking at them. However, both narcissists and sociopaths are very good at hiding their true intentions. For the most part, people aren’t able to tell the differences between these kinds of people.

Today, the term sociopath is casually tossed around. It’s often used to describe someone who lacks a conscience or acts hatefully. Similarly, the term narcissist gets thrown around, labeling anyone who acts selfishly or aggressively. Maybe watching too many television dramas have contributed to people making these quick diagnoses. But, it’s important to understand the true meaning of these two terms before you label a co-worker, friend, or family member as having one of these personality disorders. So, let’s examine the definitions of a narcissist and a sociopath and see the difference between the two of them.

What is a narcissist?

Studies define narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) as having a pattern of self-absorption, grandiosity, a lack of empathy with the need for admiration. Common characteristics of a narcissist include

  • Over-inflated view of self: Exaggerates their achievements, need to be recognized above others, wanting praise for things they didn’t really do.
  • Feel they are unique: They need to hang out with special people or groups they perceive as like themselves. They feel like they are special people with unique looks, talents, and abilities.
  • Fantasizes about their power: Narcissists are reoccupied with beauty, success, and perfect love. They feel like they deserve these things in their life.
  • Must be admired: They have a strong need to be praised, and if they aren’t, they get angry and vindictive.
  • Sense of entitlement: A narcissist expects to be treated differently than others. They are unreasonable in their expectations of how they should be treated.
  • Exploits: A narcissist will exploit others to achieve their goals. They don’t mind cheating to reach their goal.
  • Lack of sympathy: Narcissists are unempathetic.
  • Envy: Assumes people are envious of them, but in reality, they’re envious of others.
  • Haughty and arrogant: They feel like they’re better than others.


It’s important to never jump to quick conclusions about someone being a narcissist. It takes years of evaluation to diagnose NPD truly. There must be a thorough examination of a person’s entire life and childhood to get an accurate diagnosis.

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What is a sociopath?

The term sociopath is used to describe a group of antisocial behaviors. Sociopaths are unable to show loyalty to people or social values. They’re extremely selfish, hard-hearted, irresponsible, and impulsive. A sociopath feels no guilt or remorse. They rationalize their behavior, typically blaming others for what they’ve done.

Some other characteristics of sociopaths include the following:

  • Understand other’s feelings but don’t care how they feel
  • Angry, impulsiveness and easily angered
  • Raging fits or meltdowns
  • Know what they’re doing is wrong, but make excuses for this behavior.
  • Can’t function in a regular job
  • Can’t handle family life
  • Have the ability to have friends or lovers, but it’s hard for them.

Sociopaths clearly have an antisocial personality disorder (APD). Sometimes the terms sociopath and psychopath are used interchangeably, but they are totally different disorders. Here television has done a disservice because upon hearing the term sociopath, many people assume this person is a mass murderer.

High functioning versus low functioning sociopaths

Part of the confusion about sociopath terminology is that there are two sociopaths: low functioning and low functioning sociopaths.

Low-functioning sociopaths show little to no social skills.  They often lack education, interpersonal skills and can be deceptive. They’re given to threatening, manipulation, and intimidation to get what they want.

You might not identify a high-functioning sociopath right away. They’ve adapted well socially and can function at work or school. Characteristics of a high functioning sociopath include

  • Every intelligent: They are brilliant, with an incredibly high IQ. Because of this, they are good at manipulating and persuading people to do what they want.
  • Lack of empathy: They may be confused with narcissists, and they could have some narcissistic tendencies. They don’t like worrying about how people feel and don’t really care how they affect others.
  • Driven and determined: Sociopaths have a strong will and value their knowledge and ability. This is, again, similar to a narcissist.
  • Secretive: High-functioning sociopaths don’t reveal much about themselves to others.
  • Charmers: They don’t like to be around people, but they can be charming when needed. They have good social skills and use them to manipulate.
  • Defensive: These folks are highly sensitive, quick to be angry if they don’t feel like others give them the approval they need.
  • Addictive behavior: High functioning sociopaths lean towards addictive behaviors. They can be compulsive gamblers, alcoholics, drug users, and sex addicts.

Is there a difference between a narcissist and a sociopath?

Researchers say NPD and ASP have a few overlapping characteristics, but they are really distinct conditions. The biggest difference is that narcissists tend to be more grandiose and exaggerate their abilities by seeing themselves as superior. This isn’t the case with sociopaths. Sociopaths aren’t necessarily violent people.

Once again, it’s unhelpful to give an off-the-cuff diagnosis of a sociopath to a co-worker, friend, or family member. Doctors who professionally diagnose these conditions take their time giving tests, looking at their lives and childhood. Everyone’s body has quirky characteristics of some sort. Be sure you’re not giving in to work gossip or quick judgments about others.

Here Are 3 Major Differences between a Narcissist and a Sociopath

Relationships with both narcissists and sociopaths can skew towards abusive. As such, it’s important to be able to tell the differences between these harmful personalities. Psychologists who have been studying these kinds of behaviors enable us to understand the differences between a narcissist and a sociopath.

“While sociopaths qualify as narcissists, not all narcissists are sociopaths. What drives them differs.” – Darlene Lancer, LMFT

1. A narcissist has an inflated sense of self-worth or importance

Whether or not the narcissist’s self-importance is apparent, they believe they are the most important person to walk into a room. They feel that everyone should respect them (usually above all others) and that everything they have to say is worth hearing. Narcissists often talk over people, forcing their narrative into a conversation. What is more, they clearly consider theirs the most important viewpoint.

In their own mind, the narcissist is the only one whose opinion matters. Anyone who dismisses them has not been “enlightened” to their truth.

A sociopath is more likely to want to get to know you.

The sociopath is much more likely to want to talk about you instead of having an inflated sense of self-importance. This is because a sociopath thrives on their ability to manipulate other people. They need to know all of your vulnerabilities to manipulate you. In this way, sociopaths can be incredibly charming. They are very good at making themselves seem interested in what other people have to say.

They will often choose to minimize or downplay their own issues or accomplishments as a tactic to appear more concerned about others than themselves.

2. Narcissists experience “narcissist rage” or “narcissist injury.”

Mark Goulston, M.D., explains that the rage of a narcissist rises due to a lack of admiration from the rest of the world. To the narcissist, Goulston explains, anything less than total admiration and obedience is “an assault” to the narcissist’s ego. When the narcissist feels their sense of self has been challenged, they often experience “narcissist injury,” which causes them to lash out at the people who caused the injury to their sense of self.


Sociopaths experience short-lived emotions.

Unlike the all-consuming rage of narcissist injury, sociopaths tend to feel emotions in a very “shallow” sense. They tend not to be particularly in touch with emotions in the same way other people generally are. At the same time, they can use emotions to manipulate the people around them. Sociopaths have the ability to mimic emotions when it’s convenient for them to make someone else do something they want.

In both cases, the narcissist and the sociopath use emotions to control their victims.

3. Narcissists will manipulate you with anger and threats

When it comes to manipulation, a narcissist will use anger; they will also employ various threats. Narcissists often use shaming as a tactic to manipulate, especially when a confrontation is in public. This is because the narcissist has been careful to surround themselves with people who already uphold their worldview. To effectively manipulate, the narcissist will try to shame someone publicly, so the victim feels compelled to go along with whatever the narcissist says or thinks.

Sociopaths will manipulate you using flattery and vulnerabilities.

When it comes to sociopath’s manipulation, they’re going to do everything they can to get you on their side. Even if they are abusing you, they’re going to manipulate you using flattery. This is why many domestic abuse situations have a “honeymoon period” in which the victim is drawn in by flattery and affection. In this way, sociopaths using places where their victims are vulnerable. Sociopaths manipulate in a way that will benefit them best.

This will often differ from person to person. Unlike the narcissist, the sociopath doesn’t worry that their sense of self is shattered when their tactics don’t work.


How to avoid falling into the traps of these people

You never want to allow yourself to be controlled or abused by another person. This applies to all people, not just those people who are diagnosed as narcissistic or sociopaths. Working with someone like this can be difficult, but you can follow some tips to avoid falling into their traps. Here are the best ways to avoid falling into a sociopath and narcissists trap.

How to avoid sociopath’s manipulation

Here are some strategies to avoid being manipulated by a sociopath.

  • Don’t think you can change them: This is a pitfall, especially if you find yourself drawn romantically to this person. It does happen. Sociopaths can be very charming, especially if they’re high functioning.
  • Avoid them if possible: This cannot be easy at work. Some sociopaths do well in certain jobs. It’s tough to avoid them entirely, but steer clear as much as you can.
  • Please don’t share personal things: Because they can be charming and very polite, it’s easy to befriend a sociopath without knowing it. Please do not share personal stuff, especially not your fears or worries, with them. They can turn this back on you to manipulate you.
  • Please don’t believe everything they say: They lie to get what they want, and they’re compelling.
  • Tell others if you feel threatened in any way: Keep a record of negative experiences or conflicts with this person. Get help if you feel threatened in any way.
  • Keep your poker face on: Don’t reveal your feelings or emotions. It can be used against you.
  • If you must talk with them, turn it to them: Are you feeling okay today? Then get away, so you’re not alone with the person.
  • Please don’t share your plans, where you live, or any other personal information: The less they know, the better.

You may find yourself trying to relate normally, but a sociopath can’t do this, so they manipulate to come across as normal. They will use any weakness against you to control you, so don’t feel bad about not being friendly. Don’t feel sorry for a sociopath. Don’t forget they’re manipulators and won’t feel sorry for you.

How to avoid narcissists manipulations

Dealing with a narcissist can be similar to a sociopath but, in many ways, very different. They are more social and able to interact with others.

  • Don’t allow yourself to be vulnerable: Narcissists love to manipulate and humiliate, don’t share personal weaknesses that they can use against you.
  • Don’t believe everything they tell you: Image is important to a narcissist. They lie about their successes, who they know, and what they’ve done. Reputation is everything to them, and they work hard to make keep it.
  • Don’t argue with a narcissist: They can get you on the defensive with sarcasm, so you’ll try to defend yourself. A narcissist will bully, mock, and call you names in the argument.
  • Don’t minimize their bad behavior: Narcissists are self-absorbed and crave attention. They have no problem getting what they want. Don’t make excuses for their selfishness.

It’s important that you realize that lying, bullying, and mean sarcasm is unhealthy. You can overlook some of their immaturity, but don’t allow yourself to be drawn into their need for attention.

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Final thoughts on telling the difference between a narcissist and a sociopath

The similarities between the narcissist and the sociopath are numerous, but so are the differences. It’s important to know what kind of behavior you’re dealing with. If you realize you are involved with one of these personalities,  make a solid plan to exit any relationship with them.

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is often misunderstood for a sociopath, an antisocial personality disorder (APD). There are similarities, but they are also very different. Never allow yourself to be manipulated or controlled by anyone. If you feel threatened, avoid people with these tendencies and never get into a personal relationship with them. Never assume you can help them change or feel sorry for them or try to give them counsel.

Be sure you aren’t quick to diagnose individuals you work with or know with one of these disorders just because they’re difficult or have a hard to deal with personality. Everyone has their quirky ways, so be sure you’re too quick to judge.

There’s always hope in getting these kinds of toxic people out of your life. What is more, avoiding them is vital to your emotional health and well-being.