Qualities of a Narcissistic Sociopath

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Most people assume that others have the same moral code as themselves. We assume that others agree it is wrong to lie, steal, and manipulate others for our own gain. It can come as a shock, then, when you cross paths with someone who shatters that perception. In some cases, this person may be a narcissistic sociopath—a person with a unique combination of traits that causes them to create destruction in their personal and professional lives.


How to Identify a Malignant Narcissist

While there is no official diagnosis of "narcissistic sociopath," the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) recognizes two disorders that may be present to form this constellation of traits: narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and antisocial personality disorder (APD). People who have aspects of both of these personality disorders could be considered narcissistic sociopaths.

These people are not always easy to identify. Some people may show traits of a narcissistic sociopath. But only when these patterns of behavior are severe and interfere in their life and the lives of those around them that this person would potentially be considered to have a personality disorder.

Narcissitic Sociopath
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin 

Diagnosing the Narcissistic Sociopath

In order to conclude that a person is a narcissistic sociopath, they must be diagnosed with aspects of both narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. These two personality disorders are both a part of the Cluster B group in the DSM-5.

In general terms, a personality disorder refers to unhealthy and rigid patterns of thinking and behaving that impair social, work, and school functioning. Most people with personality disorders do not realize that they have a problem and blame others for the issues that they create themselves.

DSM-5 Criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Narcissistic personality disorder is "a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts," according to the DSM-5.

Five or more of the following DSM-5 criteria need to be present for an official diagnosis.

  • A grandiose sense of self-importance (i.e., exaggerates their achievements and abilities)
  • A preoccupation with the idea of gaining success, power, love, and physical attractiveness
  • A belief that they are special or high status and can only be understood by similar people or should only associate with those people (or institutions)
  • A need for excessive admiration
  • A sense of entitlement and expectation that others will comply or give them favorable treatment
  • Exploits other people for personal gain
  • Lacks empathy for others
  • Envies others or believes that other people envy them
  • Arrogant behaviors and attitudes

People with this disorder may monopolize conversations and look down on people whom they feel are inferior to them. They will take advantage of others to get what they want, no matter who gets hurt along the way.

Individuals with NPD live with many negative outcomes of their personality disorder. They may have trouble handling criticism, stress, and change, and easily become impatient or angry if they don't think they are being treated correctly. They have trouble regulating their behavior and emotions, feel easily slighted, and may have relationship problems.

People with NPD can become depressed if they fall short of what they feel is ideal. They may secretly feel insecure, vulnerable, and humiliated and have fragile self-esteem.

DSM-5 Criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder

Antisocial personality disorder is "a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others," according to the DSM-5. An individual must show at least three of the following diagnostic criteria:

  • Repeatedly failing to follow social norms resulting in grounds for arrest
  • Engaging in deceitful actions such as lying, using aliases, and not paying off debts
  • Impulsivity and lack of planning ahead
  • Irritability and aggressiveness that lead to physical altercations
  • Reckless lack of concern for the safety of other people
  • Chronic irresponsibility that leads to failure to maintain a job, finish school, or keep financial commitments
  • Lack of remorse about hurting other people

To be diagnosed with APD, the individual must be at least 18 years old and have had evidence of a conduct disorder by age 15.

Causes of Personality Disorders

While we don't know the exact causes of NPD or APD, environment, genetics, and neurobiology probably all play a role. These disorders are more common in males than females and begin in the teenage/early adult years. Some aspect of their upbringing or early environment, or even later stressors, combined with a genetic predisposition or biology, leads to a disorder.

Identifying a Narcissistic Sociopath

In order for someone to fall into this category, they would need to show several of the diagnostic criteria for both NPD and APD. Narcissism intensifies with qualities of APD (or sociopathy) to worsen outcomes.

A sociopathic narcissist will be cold and callous but will also be seeking the admiration of others (and will believe that they deserve it). They will have a disdain for people and think it's okay to exploit and dispose of others in whatever way it helps them to get ahead.

While sociopaths don't think about other people unless they can benefit them in some way, narcissists only thinks of others in terms of how they reflect back on the narcissist.

When you put these two qualities together, the result is a person on a quest for power and control, who uses the love and admiration of others as a tool to dominate and manipulate, and who goes about all of this thinking that it is their right and that they are justified. There will be no guilt, no apologies, and no remorse coming from the narcissistic sociopath.

Even if these behaviors cause significant problems for this person, they may find it very difficult to stop the problematic behaviors. After all, it's all just a game and the people are pawns. When the narcissistic sociopath gets tired of those people or they aren't serving a useful role anymore, then they will cast them aside.

A narcissist without APD might have some ability to feel guilt or remorse and may be able to be helped with appropriate psychotherapy. A narcissistic sociopath, however, is unlikely to feel those emotions or be helped in a genuine way through psychotherapy. Therapy is a game to be manipulated and the therapist is a pawn.

The Prototypical Narcissistic Sociopath

What would a prototypical narcissistic sociopath look like? While there are variations in the severity of symptoms, we can start to assemble a picture that will help you to identify these people in real life.

Most likely, you've encountered these types of people in news reports. One study suggested that around 35% of the prison population has APD, versus 0.2% to 3.3% of the general population. Or you might find these individuals climbing the corporate ladder (stepping on people as they go) or holding positions of power in government. A narcissistic sociopathic business owner might default on debts or misrepresent what the company is selling.

The scariest part is that people with this disorder are hard to spot. They may be polished, well-dressed, successful, and charming. They may take part in charitable causes or activities, not because they care, but because it makes them look good. In particular, people with these disorders who have money and privilege may be particularly hard to spot.

Some will be physically aggressive while others may be harmful on an emotional level. Regardless of the harm that they do, these people believe they are exempt from the moral code that everyone else follows, which is what makes them so dangerous.

Traits Shared by Narcissists and Sociopaths

Both narcissists and sociopaths may be charismatic and charming, unreliable, controlling, selfish, and dishonest. They both feel entitled and deny responsibility for their actions. They usually lack empathy, emotional responsiveness, and insight into their personality disorder.

How Narcissists and Sociopaths Differ

The driving force behind the two disorders differs. The narcissist's ego is always at stake, and this drives many of their behaviors.

On the other hand, sociopaths are always driven by their self-interest, and take on whatever persona gets them ahead in the moment. Sociopaths are more like classic con artists, while narcissists are more like hurt children lashing out and faking superiority to hide inner pain.

Classic sociopaths are not trying to impress you to build up their own ego; rather, they will only try to impress you if it serves a purpose in their greater plan. They are less likely to brag than narcissists. Instead, the sociopath is more likely to bestow compliments on you and center the conversation around you to get you to like them (and to do what they want).

Sociopaths are more calculating while narcissists are more reactive. Sociopaths might even apologize or put themselves down if it serves some greater purpose in the game they are playing.

Treatment for Narcissistic Sociopaths

Narcissists generally don't seek treatment on their own unless they are experiencing extreme stress or depression, substance abuse problems, or their partner insists. People with APD (sociopaths) may be put in court-ordered therapy, but aren't likely to seek treatment on their own as they don't believe they have a problem.

Therapy for NPD often focuses on techniques to facilitate a more resilient sense of self-esteem. However, it can be hard for them to follow through on treatment because it is common for them to perceive the whole process as insulting to their self-esteem.

At the same time, people with NPD are dependent on others and are less likely to leave relationships than those with APD. They often have families and children and may be amenable to change if the right balance can be struck with the therapist.

Coping With a Narcissistic Sociopath

How do you know you've met a narcissistic sociopath or if there is one in your life? Does the person:

  • Constantly make you feel like you are the problem, not them?
  • Punish you with criticism or silence?
  • Seem to get you to take responsibility for their errors or insults?
  • Make you feel special and shower you with attention but then withdraw it for no reason?
  • Obsess about their physical appearance and need compliments?

Unfortunately, narcissistic sociopaths are good at finding the right people to manipulate. They can see when someone is trusting. They know good people will make excuses for their bad behavior because they don't want to see it for what it really is.

However, if your gut is sending you signals and you're brushing off feelings of anger, distrust, and fear, there is probably a good reason. This is known as "cognitive dissonance." You want to believe that this person you know is as good as they appear, even though you know it all seems too good to be true.

The first step to dealing with this person is to stop reinterpreting the facts. Don't give someone with a narcissistic sociopathic personality the benefit of the doubt.

You're a good, trusting person who wants to see the good in others—that's understandable. This may make it hard for you to see clearly. You might also be in a disadvantaged social or financial position that impairs your ability to fight back.

If the relationship is abusive, you must find a way to leave. If there is no abuse, you can set boundaries, build your assertiveness, and set limits, but you can't change the other person. It's not an easy decision whether to stay or go.

Gain awareness and help from others and confront the situation with as much logic and rational thought as you can muster. Fighting or arguing with the narcissistic sociopath won't help and will only make things worse.

If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.

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

A Word From Verywell

If you know someone who fits the criteria for a narcissistic sociopath, it is important to recognize that it's unlikely that person will change or seek help. Your best option is to arm yourself with knowledge, set strong boundaries, and distance yourself from the person as much as possible. If you find yourself in an abusive relationship with someone displaying these qualities, it is important to find a safe way to leave.

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6 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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