Is your Narcissist a Sociopath?

Is your Narcissist a Sociopath?

Narcissism and Sociopathy


Not all narcissists are sociopaths.

Backing up a bit, we know that both narcissism and sociopathy exist as a spectrum of personality. As “traits.” But are all covert narcissists sociopaths? One expert in the field seems to think so, so I want to explore the question are all narcissists sociopaths? How about yours?



From Psychology Today, “Sociopathy refers to a pattern of antisocial behaviors and attitudes, including manipulation, deceit, aggression, and a lack of empathy for others. Sociopathy is a non-diagnostic term, and it is not synonymous with ‘psychopathy.'”

Determining if someone is a sociopath is difficult, especially when they are experts at facades, as successful covert narcissists invariably are. How can you tell if they are conscientious and will treat you decently when they first meet you, especially if they mirror you?

Of course, sociopathy is not a well-defined term (nor should it be since it exists on a spectrum). It is not psychopathy (which inevitably involves physical or mental violence), nor antisocial personality disorder, though it is common for Cluster B diagnosis to overlap. It is too simple to say that sociopathy is the layman’s term for narcissistic or anti-social personality disorder, but that might be close enough for our purposes.

Or, perhaps a better way to think about sociopathy is that these folks have a sense of right and wrong; it just doesn’t align with cultural and social norms. They are comfortable justifying “wrong” actions because they can never be wrong, so even if they do something that might be morally questionable, it fits right into their worldview, and thus they are justified to do it, even (or especially when dealing with narcissists) if it hurts someone else.

Taking this to the extreme, if there is no sense of morals and complete lack of empathy, that might be psychopathy.


How can you tell if someone has sociopathic tendencies?

So, what should you look out for to spot someone who is sociopathic? In general, there is a persistent pattern of disregard for others, though this can be selective depending on the environment. For instance, narcissists treat those closest to them the worst (because they “know” the trauma bond is thick), and thus family and loved ones are often the first (or even the only) people to spot the sociopathic tendencies.

The rest of the traits are similar to the more diagnostic anti-social personality disorder and include:

  • Overstepping boundaries and breaking rules
  • Lying and manipulating (often for personal gain but sometimes just because)
  • Impulse control issues and occasional aggressive behavior
  • No guilt or remorse and the ability to justify their behaviors


So, while the symptoms overlap, let’s decide if all narcissists are sociopaths


Are all Narcissists Sociopaths?

So, are all narcissists sociopaths? It depends on who you ask.

And the right answer, of course, is, of course not. Narcissism exists on a spectrum. Those with narcissistic traits can have empathy and a defined ego that recognizes other people exist (instead of others just being objects to manipulate). But those with narcissistic personality disorder who are predominantly malignant narcissists are certainly sociopaths.

What about covert narcissists? More likely than not, you are dealing with someone who is not overt and who has pulled the wool over your eyes for years or even decades.

From, again, psychology today:

A sociopath is more calculating and might premeditate aggression in advance. A narcissist is more likely to react sooner with lies and intimidation. Narcissists often work hard to achieve success, fame, and perfection but may exploit others along the way. In contrast, sociopaths try to swindle, steal, or exploit others financially. Although both characters may be motivated to win at all costs, narcissists are more interested in what you think of them. They need others’ admiration. This makes them dependent and codependent on others and actually capable of being manipulated. They’re less likely to divorce their spouse than a sociopath, who might leave or vanish if they’re exposed or don’t get what they want.


So, suppose you expose a covert narcissist and yellow rock them. In that case, they will often work with you because it is in their best interest, whereas a sociopath really doesn’t have a best interest maintained over time. It comes down to motivation. Covert narcissists are aware some consequences may personally cost them if they go too far. At the same time, a sociopath may have no motivation and thus no regard for the consequences of their actions.

I see it like the sociopath has a fixed delusion, and no amount of evidence will shake their belief that they are the only thing that matters. The covert narcissist, on the other hand, is so scared to look at their true self that they do whatever it takes to avoid it. But sometimes, they back off and take a look over the ledge.

Let’s finish with this nice chart.

sociopathy vs narcissism

Is your Narcissist a Sociopath?

So, is your narcissist a sociopath? “Sociopaths are more like classic con artists, while narcissists are more like hurt children lashing out and faking superiority to hide inner pain.” (source)

Are you dealing with a con artist or a hurt child? Dealing with a hurt child, one suffering from intergenerational trauma and an abandonment wound, leaves them stuck in the tantrum-prone initial three years of life. Forgive these folks, as intergenerational trauma is at play, and forgive yourself for being the magnet that attracted them. But know a narcissist is not infrequently aware of their harmful behavior and can modify it depending on their motivation. Thus, there is a level of consciousness in the cruelty.

The answer for me is: time will tell. But it doesn’t matter since the prescription is nothing more than self-work either way. All you can control is who you are as a person, not who other people are.

Hell hath no fury et al.  Remember unless you are close enough to them, you won’t see it. Narcissists reserve their worst behavior for those closest to them, which is why the betrayal is so deep when you discover the narcissist in your life. Covert narcissists come across as charismatic and highly functional, but it is a facade full of smoke and mirrors. Once you see past it, you discover you are the one on fire, and the mirror reflects your own lack of self-love.



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