The Difference Between A Psychopath Vs. Sociopath Might Surprise You
By: Nadia Khan
Updated December 18, 2018
Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC
If you've ever watched TV, and especially crime shows, you've probably heard the words psychopath and sociopath used interchangeably. You've probably heard criminals referred to as one of these two terms almost all the time. But what do they mean? Are they the same? Well, there is a difference between psychopath vs. sociopath, and it's important to know the difference before you start making any generalizations or claims about specific individuals or criminals.
What Is A Psychopath?
Let's start with a psychopath first. What is a psychopath? Well, the actual definition of a psychopath is someone who has a mental disorder that causes violent or abnormal social behaviors. Of course, that doesn't tell us a whole lot, does it? It also tends to feed into the idea that a psychopath is 'crazy' and that they're a 'danger to society.' But that's not always the case at all, and there are many people out there who could meet the diagnostic criteria of a psychopath, but you wouldn't ever think of labeling them that way.
That's not to say there are no bad traits associated with being a psychopath. Someone who is a psychopath does not have a conscience, for example. This means that they do not care about morals or right and wrong. They have no guilt or shame for doing something that hurts someone else whether that's lying, cheating, stealing or anything else. These individuals can do anything, and everything that it takes to get what they want in their lives and they don't care who they hurt or walk over to get there.
Next, a psychopath is an extremely good actor. Because they have no conscience, they have no problem hiding their true thoughts and feelings either. In fact, they can fake just about anything that they want. Sympathy that your dog died? Not a problem. Happiness that you got a promotion? Not a problem. A psychopath can manipulate anyone around them to believe exactly what they tell them. These people win in business because they can make the people around them believe anything, and they can win over clients, bosses, and co-workers with absolutely no problems because they tell everyone what they want to hear and they don't concern themselves with who they hurt on the way to getting what they want.
What Is A Sociopath?
Okay, so if that's a psychopath then what is a sociopath? A sociopath is similar to a psychopath in some ways, but there are a few key differences. First, we look at the definition, which says that a sociopath has a personality disorder that causes extreme antisocial attitudes as well as extreme antisocial behaviors. That's a little bit easier to understand than the definition of a psychopath, but it probably still sounds a little confusing. It means that these individuals are also not 'crazy' and not an inherent 'danger to society.' It means that they tend to be loners and that they have some oddities about them, but not necessarily dangerous oddities.
Psychiatrists define sociopaths as having a conscience, though they tend not to let it affect them too much. That means that when a sociopath lies, cheats and steals they do feel a little bad for it, but unlike the average person who may change their mind, the sociopath can justify their actions and appease their conscience because whatever it is they are doing is going to help them in some way.
A sociopath is not able to fake a bedside manner. That means they can't fake the emotions that they don't have. If everyone else is sad, they don't know how to mimic the emotion. They don't know how to act empathetic or compassionate. These emotions mean nothing to them and they simply don't know how to fake it. In most cases, they won't even try, but if they do try, it becomes evident that they don't know what they're doing and that they don't feel the emotions at all.
The Truth About Both
The truth is that someone who is a psychopath or a sociopath is not necessarily a criminal, and someone who is a criminal is not necessarily a psychopath or a sociopath. That's because these are mental conditions and what happens or what someone does with a mental health condition is going to vary depending on the person. It's important not to judge someone too quickly when you don't know the extent of their mental health, medical conditions or anything else, so make sure you're encouraging treatment and help but not jumping to any other conclusions.
Someone who has psychopathic tendencies or sociopathic tendencies can be helped, and it is possible for them to go through counseling and other methods of treatment and never become the deviants that we often associate with these terms. It's entirely possible for them to be contributing members of society with this type of medical disorder in the same way those with other medical or mental health disorders can continue with their lives. Getting help, however, is always going to be the best thing for these individuals.
Both psychopaths and sociopaths lack empathy. That means they cannot put themselves in someone else's shoes and understand how they might be feeling in a specific situation. Instead, they can only think about what they want, think or feel. They don't know or care about other people, which is one of the ways that some people might be able to notice and recognize them. Though a psychopath may be able to fake their way through some emotions, a sociopath doesn't have that capability and may come across even stranger for trying to fake it.
Getting Treatment From A Professional
Finding a professional for treatment is going to be important for anyone suffering from a mental health condition, and for those who have psychopathic or sociopathic symptoms it can be even more so. Though these individuals may or may not be violent, some of the behaviors that they engage in can most definitely be problematic. You want to make sure that, if you believe you are suffering from either disorder, you are seeking out professional treatment from a therapist or psychiatrist. They will be able to help you with the symptoms and work with you to overcome them on your path to your future.
BetterHelp is one place that you can access professionals who can help you with anything you're going through. With BetterHelp you're connected to an online service that can provide you with access to a therapist or psychiatrist without ever having to leave your own home, hotel, vacation rental, or your favorite cabin. You can just log on to the website and connect with your therapist right there. All you need is an internet connection, and you'll never have to miss an appointment for any reason.
With this service, you're getting a highly qualified and certified therapist or psychiatrist that can work with you on anything that's currently concerning you. There are plenty of articles and some information about different medical conditions and mental health problems that you can check out for some information and background, and then you can connect with your health care professional to find out more about what you're going through and get some one-on-one support and assistance. Just take a few minutes to check it out, and you'll be surprised by what you find and what kind of help you're able to get.
Who Do You Know?
If you know someone that you think may be a psychopath or a sociopath, encourage them to reach out for help. Even if they aren't engaging in violent behaviors, THE chances are that they are engaging in some behaviors that they shouldn't. While some degree of ruthlessness is needed in the business world and is even encouraged, the level of ruthlessness that a psychopath or sociopath might exhibit is extreme. The inability to feel empathy or to commiserate with others around them can negatively impact their lives as well. Getting help from a professional can help with this.
If you believe that you may be a psychopath or sociopath, it's important to reach out for help. There are professionals out there who can help you go on to live a better and more productive life. There's more to life than being successful in business, and with psychiatric help, it's possible to develop stronger friendships and relationships and build a more meaningful life for yourself. The key is getting help because learning skills or feelings that you don't possess without someone there to guide you is going to be nearly impossible. Reach out to someone and work on building up the kind of life that you want for yourself.