Understanding Classifications: Narcissist Vs. Psychopath

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated May 28, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Is there someone in your life who seems too full of themselves or who seems to always find a way to manipulate others regardless of the consequences? If so, you may be wondering if they have narcissistic or psychopathic traits. Despite the similarities, there are some significant differences between these two classifications. Below, we’ll explore narcissistic personality disorder and psychopathy in more detail.

What does narcissistic personality disorder look like?

People with narcissistic personality disorder tend to be self-absorbed. Their needs often take priority over everyone else’s, and they can be highly critical of others. They may not understand why everyone else does not feel the same way about them. It is often difficult for them to comprehend that someone else is just as important as they are, let alone more astute in their evaluative capabilities.

Individuals displaying traits of narcissistic personality disorder may try to redirect conversations around themselves or their interests. They usually want people to like them and admire them, but how they act and talk can sometimes make this difficult. They tend to ignore some social rules, including basic manners and may be entirely unaware of how off-putting their behaviors can be to others.

Narcissistic and antisocial personality disorders share some traits

If someone with a narcissistic personality sees you as a threat, they may lash out at you with relational aggression or even sabotage. They may attempt to criticize you if they perceive that you are surpassing them in any task or area, yet they can also charm and manipulate others. They may embellish their stories and adapt what they say to fit specific audiences.

Narcissistic individuals tend to work hard because they seek admiration and approval. They may do whatever it takes to obtain permission for something, even if it requires deceit. They tend to have a history of poor relationships and often feel frustrated when they do not have successful relationships. They tend to not do well on teams because they prefer to serve their own needs and perceive themselves and their ideas to be superior.

What does antisocial personality disorder look like?

Like people with narcissistic personality disorder, those with psychopathic traits generally have high opinions of themselves and believe themselves to be superior to others around them. They may have an extremely high level of confidence and feel immense self-worth.

Also, they might not care if someone else approves of them, likes them, appreciates them, or pays attention to them unless it could benefit them.

People with psychopathic tendencies do not usually base their self-esteem on what other people think. Instead, they often have a strong sense of themselves that can be observed in everything they do. They might desire attention or admiration only as a means to attain the things that they want. They may also take on different personas to achieve their goals. People with psychopathic traits are usually highly skilled in manipulating others to secure their own wants and needs.

These individuals rarely have an identity of their own—at least not an identity that anyone gets to see unfiltered. Instead, they are more likely to act in ways they believe will benefit them. Such behaviors may include faking friendships and relationships, displaying false feelings and emotions, or even assuming the beliefs and opinions of others. They can often tailor their personalities to manipulate individuals and situations.

A person displaying behaviors and traits aligned with psychopathy typically has no conscience, which means they do not usually feel bad for lying, cheating, stealing, or engaging in similar actions to manipulate others. They may continue to convince others of false stories regarding their own life ventures.


Treatment for those with NPD or antisocial personality disorder

If you believe you or someone you know is showing signs of narcissistic personality disorder or psychopathy, you might consider reaching out to a mental health professional. Just because someone receives a diagnosis of one of these conditions doesn't necessarily mean they are dangerous. Films tend to demonize people with psychopathy (and other mental health conditions) as being prone to violence. However, many people with psychopathic traits never kill or physically harm anyone, but they can still cause emotional harm.

People with psychopathic or narcissistic traits typically do not have much empathy. They often cannot form lasting and meaningful relationships on their own because they usually have little concern for others. This can cause pain for others in their lives.

By working with a mental health professional, those experiencing psychopathic tendencies or narcissistic personality disorder may start to understand different emotions. While treatment tends to be complex and lengthy, these individuals might learn to interact in positive and less hurtful ways with others, especially those close to them.

Treating people with psychopathic or narcissistic tendencies can be challenging, as many people showing signs of these mental health conditions may not believe that anything is wrong with them. In meeting with therapists, these individuals may lash out or frequently criticize or challenge their therapists. If someone showing signs of narcissistic personality disorder or psychopathy willingly chooses to invest in therapy, the likelihood of mitigating their symptoms may be more promising.

Support for family 

It can be difficult to care for friends, partners, and family members who are living with conditions like psychopathy or narcissistic personality disorder. Therapy can be an effective way to learn more about a loved one’s condition and symptoms and to practice strategies for using de-escalation, asserting oneself, and staving off manipulative tactics. 

Narcissistic and antisocial personality disorders share some traits

If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression due to your relationship with someone who displays narcissistic or psychopathic tendencies, you may benefit from online therapy. Several studies have found online therapy to be more effective than in-person counseling. Your therapist may use techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help you reframe negative thoughts and develop positive coping mechanisms. 

Through online therapy platforms like BetterHelp, you can schedule appointments at convenient times and from preferred locations, like home or an office. You can communicate with your therapist via audio or video chat from anywhere with an internet connection. Also, you can contact your therapist in between sessions via in-app messaging if you have questions or concerns, and they’ll get back to you as soon as they can. 


People living with narcissistic personality disorder or psychopathic tendencies are not usually devoid of emotions. They can typically experience a range of emotions, such as sadness, joy, and confusion. If they can harness their ability to work hard to talk to a therapist, they may see improvement in their symptoms. If you know someone with one of these conditions, know that you are not alone. Help is available through a licensed counselor with experience helping the loved ones of people with these conditions. Take the first step in feeling stronger and more assertive in your relationships by reaching out to BetterHelp today.
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