Sociopath vs. Narcissist: What's the Difference?

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While both sociopathy and narcissism are personality disorders, they are not the same. Sociopaths are more calculating and have no regard for the welfare or pain of others. They are most likely to derive pleasure from their acts. Narcissists differ because their actions are usually targeted towards self-inflation, and any harm done to others is usually a result of them pursuing some goal.

People with personality disorders can become dangerous to themselves and those around them. So, it's good to know the traits of both sociopathy and narcissism so that you can recognize them in those close to you. When you're aware of the signs, you'll be better prepared to protect your safety and well-being.

How to Identify a Sociopath

Sociopaths can be identified by their frequent run-ins with the law. They also have very few hang-ups about exploiting people purely for their own gain and have been known to have dramatic or volatile interactions when dealing with people.

A sociopath is more likely to have difficulty holding a job and may be unable to form stable relationships.

Some sociopaths may have an antisocial personality disorder and make up approximately 1% to 4% of the population.

Sociopathy Signs & Symptoms

A sociopath typically begins to develop symptoms of the disorder before the age of 18.

Signs of Sociopathy

Signs of sociopathy include:

  • Having a disregard for the law and engaging in acts that can lead to arrest
  • Using deceit to forge relationships or to swindle others of their time or money
  • Having a persistent inability to plan ahead
  • Showing a poor, non-committal attitude toward work
  • Disregarding financial obligations like paying back debts
  • Having no remorse after physically or emotionally hurting another person

Sociopathy can be a result of genetics or adverse childhood experiences such as abuse. It may also be the result of early neglect. Environmental conditions like family relations and how well associations with peers are handled may also be responsible.

How to Identify a Narcissist

Someone with narcissistic personality disorder will display an excessively heightened sense of importance, a strong need to be admired, or an entitlement to special treatment. Other times, a person with this disorder may have dreams of wielding far-reaching power.

Narcissists don’t care if they have to lie and scheme their way to a desired position. They are typically unconcerned about the needs of their partners in romantic relationships and may feel slighted when they don't receive praise or admiration for their achievements.

Away from the view of others, however, when a narcissist is looking within, they may experience heightened feelings of shame, helplessness, and anger when difficulties crop up that interfere with a projected vision of themself. This disorder may lead to an increased risk of attempting or carrying out suicide.

While it’s difficult to give an exact statistic, narcissism is believed to be found in 1% to 15% of the U.S. population.

Narcissism is typically noticeable in two main forms:

  • The grandiose narcissist believes that they are excessively important
  • The vulnerable narcissist who feels hurt and offended when they aren't showered with admiration.

Both of these forms include a lack of empathy for others.

Narcissism Signs & Symptoms

Narcissism may be caused by a number of factors such as a difficult childhood where rejection was prominent, or cases where the individual involved had a fragile ego.

Likewise, praising a child excessively during their formative years can lead to a heightened belief in oneself, encouraging narcissism. There are also suspicions that a genetic link may be to blame for this disorder.

Signs of Narcissism

Whatever the cause, a person displaying the following traits may be said to have a narcissistic personality:

  • An arrogant attitude
  • A strong lack of empathy
  • A constant need for admiration
  • A heightened sense of self-importance 
  • Envy towards others doing supposedly better
  • Baseless assumptions that others are envious of their accomplishments
  • An obsession with success, power, looks, and exorbitant wealth
  • An exploitative personality, regardless of who gets trampled on

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Sociopathy vs. Narcissism

Let's take a look at the major differences between sociopathy and narcissism.

  • Antisocial

  • Manipulates others for pleasure

  • No empathy or remorse

  • Legal and personal problems due to their behavior

  • Has no regard for other people

  • Selfish

  • Manipulates others to feed their ego

  • May feel some empathy or remorse

  • Focused on looking successful

  • Concerned about what others think of them

In distinguishing between a sociopath and a narcissist, the motive behind their actions is usually an important place to look.

Sociopaths will manipulate, harm, rob, and otherwise violate another person merely for fun. Narcissists' motives are rooted in magnifying their importance or accomplishing some goal.

How Are Sociopaths and Narcissists Similar?

Both sociopaths and narcissists show a noticeable lack of empathy when dealing with others. They are severely lacking in morality, and have no qualms about scheming against and controlling others to suit their agendas. To achieve their objectives, a sociopath or a narcissist can turn on the charm.

In addition, exhibiting sociopathic or narcissistic traits usually increases the risk of developing a mood disorder, substance abuse, as well as holding suicidal thoughts, or committing suicide.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Can Someone Be a Sociopath and a Narcissist?

Though sociopaths may be narcissistic, not all narcissistic people can qualify as sociopaths.

Someone who is both a sociopath and a narcissist might be called a narcissistic sociopath or a sociopathic narcissist.

You can tell if someone is a narcissistic sociopath if they display many different symptoms of both narcissistic and antisocial personality disorder.

A narcissistic sociopath is someone who has traits of both narcissistic and antisocial personality disorder. They may have an exaggerated sense of importance and are willing to manipulate others to get the things they want.


When a person exhibits traits of a narcissist or a sociopath, this usually means they are calculating, empathy-deficient, and put their own interests above those of others. However, despite sharing similarities, these conditions are not the same.

With serious cases leading to self-harm and harm to others, it's important to note that both personalities may be improved through consistent therapy over a period of time.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Mitra P, Fluyau D. Narcissistic Personality Disorder. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan.

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By Elizabeth Plumptre
Elizabeth is a freelance health and wellness writer. She helps brands craft factual, yet relatable content that resonates with diverse audiences.