Narcissism Vs. Sociopathy: Understanding The Difference

Updated April 25, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

You may have heard someone called a narcissist or sociopath and wondered about the difference between the two mental health conditions. Both personality disorders can affect how a person thinks, behaves, and feels. Read on to learn more about the differences between narcissism and sociopathy. 

What Is A Personality Disorder?

Researchers at the American Psychiatric Association define personality disorders as mental health conditions that involve rigid, unchanging thought, behavior, and emotional patterns that deviate from cultural and societal norms. Generally, several factors influence your personality—such as personal experiences, genetic characteristics, and environmental concerns like your socioeconomic status and surroundings. Personality disorders typically begin presenting during adolescence or early adulthood. 

“A personality disorder is a mental health condition that involves long-lasting, all-encompassing, disruptive patterns of thinking, behavior, mood, and relating to others. These patterns cause a person significant distress and/or impair their ability to function.” — The Cleveland Clinic

What Are Narcissism And Sociopathy?

Narcissism (narcissistic personality disorder) and sociopathy (antisocial personality disorder) are two of the ten conditions listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition's personality disorder types. 

Do You Know The Differences Between Narcissism And Sociopathy?

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

According to the Mayo Clinic, some people experience a mental health condition called narcissistic personality disorder, which involves an unreasonably high sense of their own importance, a constant craving for admiration and attention, and a disregard for or inability to understand others' feelings. However, behind the façade of confidence, they are easily upset by criticism and insecure about their self-worth. 

Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD)

People with antisocial personality disorder show a consistent indifference to the conventional boundaries of right and wrong, generally ignoring the needs, feelings, or rights of others in pursuit of their own goals or pleasure. They may intentionally anger or upset others, enjoy manipulation, and lack remorse or regret over their actions. 

Recognizing A Sociopath Vs. A Narcissist

It can be important to remember that mental health conditions—like many illnesses—often look different for everyone. However, the medical community has compiled a list of common signs and symptoms documented in most patients with APD and NPD. Also, while the following characteristics may help you recognize sociopathic or narcissistic tendencies in yourself or others, a doctor’s diagnosis is required.  


Many people referred to as sociopaths show little concern for the conventional sense of right and wrong, operating instead on a self-serving philosophy that caters to their desires over the comfort, wishes, rights, or consent of others. People with APD often have legal problems because they disregard the boundaries of the law and often engage in risky, dangerous, violent, or impulsive behavior. 

APD often develops comorbid to conduct disorder, which involves severe, ongoing behavior problems such as aggression or violence toward people and animals, destruction of property, lying and dishonesty, theft, and persistent, serious violations of rules at home, school, and legally. 

Antisocial Personality Disorder Symptoms

  • Ignoring societal norms for right and wrong
  • Lying to manipulate and take advantage of others
  • Being insensitive or disrespectful to others’ feelings or ideas
  • Using charm or wit to control people for personal pleasure or gain
  • Feeling superior to others
  • Being extremely opinionated and disregarding the value of others’ thoughts
  • Personal and legal troubles due to behavior patterns
  • Hostility, aggressiveness, violence, or a threatening demeanor
  • Lack of guilt about harming others
  • Irresponsibility, such as failing to meet work commitments or financial obligations
  • Dangerous or risky behavior with no regard for personal safety or the well-being of others


The roots of NPD trace back to the ancient Greek god, Narcissus, who thought so much of himself that he lost the ability to see value in or love others. While "narcissist" is often thrown around without proper context, it refers to a diagnosable personality disorder. People with NPD often struggle with relationships, school, work, or financial stability. They frequently feel unsatisfied due to not receiving the special treatment they think they deserve and may be unfulfilled in work or personal relationships. 

Narcissistic Personality Disorder Symptoms

  • An unreasonably high view of self-importance
  • Requires constant and excessive admiration
  • Convinced that they deserve special treatment, favors, and privileges
  • They expect recognition even without achievements to earn praise
  • Exaggerate talents and accomplishments to make them seem more impressive
  • Often preoccupied with fantasies about their future success and power
  • A belief that they are special and superior and only other extraordinary people can understand them
  • Critical and condescending to people they view as inferior
  • They expect people to cater to their wants and needs without question
  • No concerns about taking advantage of someone to get what they want
  • Unwilling or unable to understand and allow for others’ feelings and needs
  • Often envious of others and think others envy them
  • Arrogant, bragging, or conceited behavior
  • Insistence on having the best of everything, and strong materialistic tendencies
  • Challenges accepting criticism of any kind
  • Impatient when not receiving special treatment

Understanding The Difference Between Narcissism And Sociopathy

Though APD and NPD share some similarities, critical differences exist in the motivations of actions, thought processes, and emotions that people with each disorder experience and display. 

Reasons behind the behaviors

One of the most significant differences between NPD and APD is the reasons behind abnormal behaviors. For example, are they manipulating someone to get their way for personal gain or to boost their ego? If so, they are showing narcissistic tendencies. However, if they manipulate others for personal enjoyment, that shows more sociopathic tendencies. 

The intention to cause harm

People with APD tend to be calculating, often intentionally cause harm to others, and may enjoy inflicting pain or distress on others while feeling no guilt or remorse for their actions. While a narcissist may harm others, it is generally only in pursuit of their goals. They often don't feel guilty, but it can happen. 

Risky and impulsive behaviors

Sociopaths frequently engage in risky and impulsive behaviors. Narcissists are often too concerned with their own well-being and future success to entertain significant risk-taking. 

Legal and employment troubles

While APD and NPD symptoms and personality traits can make it hard for people with either condition to maintain steady employment, sociopaths are more likely to encounter trouble with law enforcement because they show little or no regard for law and order. 

How they present themselves to others

Narcissists generally set great importance on how others see them and actively work to cultivate an appearance and reputation for success. In contrast, sociopaths rarely care what others think of them in any capacity and often show open disdain for the opinions of anyone but themselves. 



  • Concerns with others’ view of them
  • Selfish tendencies
  • Focused on the appearance of success
  • Manipulates others to feed their ego
  • May feel some sympathy or remorse


  • Shows no regard for others’ opinions
  • Antisocial tendencies
  • Often faces problems due to behaviors
  • Manipulates others for their pleasure
  • Feels no empathy or remorse

Treatments For Sociopathy And Narcissism

As with many mental health conditions and personality disorders, psychotherapy is the primary treatment method for NPD and APD. Talk therapy teaches patients to examine their thought and behavior patterns to eliminate negative habits and reinforce practical, positive coping and communication skills. 

Your doctor or psychiatrist will decide whether medication is appropriate for your symptoms and circumstances. While no medicines are specifically used to treat either mental health disorder, both often occur alongside other psychiatric issues, such as depression or anxiety. However, effective treatment of either illness requires the patient to recognize the problem and commit to making meaningful life changes. 

How Therapy Can Help Treat Narcissism Or Sociopathy

If you struggle to manage the effects and symptoms of NPD or APD, consider working with a licensed therapist online through a virtual therapy platform such as BetterHelp. If you’re a parent or guardian seeking help for a child from 12 to 19 with a personality disorder, contact TeenCounseling for online assistance. Teletherapy is generally less expensive, has shorter wait times, and offers flexible appointment formats, making it simple to work treatment into your busy schedule. 

According to the results of a 2020 study, online therapy can be an effective treatment option for people with personality disorders. Many people said the extra distance allowed by virtual treatment made sharing personal details easier, increasing trust between patient and therapist. Others said the convenience of attending therapy from home made it possible to participate more reliably, which also increases the effectiveness of treatment and the duration of the results. 


Personality disorders can drastically influence the feelings, actions, and behaviors of the one living with them. However, they can also significantly impact their friends and loved ones. The information presented in this article may offer insight into recognizing NPD and APD and the essential differences between the two disorders.

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