Is My Abuser a Narcissist, Psychopath or Sociopath
Written by Randi Fine, Narcissistic Abuse Expert
Narcissistic Abuse Awareness and Guidance with Randi Fine
Many have asked me, “Is my abuser is a narcissist, psychopath or sociopath.”
The confusion comes from the assumption that since psycho/sociopaths and narcissists are both empathy devoid and psychiatrically classified in the same cluster of personality disorders, they are one and the same. They are not.
There is a great deal of false information on the internet about narcissistic personality disorder and its relationship to psychopathy.
All psychopaths and sociopaths are narcissists, but not all narcissists are psychopaths or sociopaths. The blanket diagnosis only works one way. Still the possibility exists that in addition to being a narcissist, your abuser may also be a psycho or sociopath.
Psychopaths and sociopaths fall under a broader class of mental illness known as “antisocial personality disorder.” Just as is true with all mental illnesses and personality disorders, symptoms of antisocial personality disorder can vary in severity. Sociopathy and psychopathy, the most dangerous forms of APD, are found at the extreme end of the spectrum.
Sociopaths and psychopaths have very similar characteristics and behavior patterns so the terms are often used interchangeably. Since there are many similarities between sociopathic and psychopathic behaviors and very few differences, the confusion is understandable.
Three subtle distinctions between sociopaths and psychopaths are:
- Psychopaths are more calculating. Sociopaths are more impulsive.
- Psychopaths are more prone to commit crimes and murder than sociopaths are.
- Psychopathic behavior is innate–heredity and genetics are primary causes. Sociopathic behavior is learned—sociological factors and childhood trauma or abuse are the primary causes.
Traits and behaviors common to both sociopaths and psychopaths are:
- They are highly destructive to other people.
- They have superiority complexes.
- They have a grandiose sense of self-worth and self-image.
- They are master manipulators
- They have no self-identity; therefore create different personas and disguises for each target.
- They appear “normal.”
- They are disingenuous.
- They are unaware of social cues.
- They have charming, charismatic personalities.
- They appear highly intelligent.
- They are calm, sometimes eerily so.
- They are well-mannered and well-behaved
- They are perpetual gratification seekers needing constant stimulation, pleasure and excitement.
- They cannot form emotional attachments or maintain relationships, but may be good at faking them.
- They lack empathy but are adept at mimicking appropriate emotions.
- They are remorseless.
- They are exploitative and violent.
- They demonstrate predatory behavior.
- They are sadistic.
- They are cold and callous.
- They are compulsive liars.
- They are often successful in their careers.
- They have no regard for societal rules.
Psycho/sociopaths share many characteristic traits and behaviors with narcissists. That is why distinguishing between them is confusing.
To truly understand the distinction, they must be examined under the entire antisocial personality disorder umbrella. When characterized in its entirety, antisocial personality disorder is much more dramatic and disconcerting.
Antisocial personality disorder is characterized as a prevailing behavioral pattern of disregard or violation of the rights of others. It is psychologically classified as a cluster B, “dramatic” personality disorder by the DSM-5 along with narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder and histrionic personality disorder.
Since many of the signs and symptoms of APD overlap with other disorders, it is not easy for practitioners to diagnose this condition. A single test to assess a person does not exist. Before any conclusions can be made, a comprehensive medical exam and mental health interview must be conducted.
A primary factor in diagnosing someone with antisocial personality disorder is the person’s age when their symptoms first began. An APD diagnosis requires that the person showed symptoms of conduct disorder before the age of fifteen.
Signs and symptoms of antisocial personality disorder appearing before age fifteen may include:
- Cruelty to animals
- Little or no regard for people’s feelings
- Poor academic performance in school
- Alcohol or substance abuse
- Not motivated by either approval or reward
- Suicide attempts
- Criminal behavior
- Explosions of anger
A true APD diagnosis cannot be made until the age of eighteen. The symptoms are typically most evident between the ages of twenty and thirty.
Signs and symptoms of antisocial personality disorder in adulthood may include:
- Disregard for right and wrong
- Failure to conform to society
- Antagonizing and manipulating with callous indifference
- Criminal behavior, recurring difficulties with the law
- Persistent lying or deceit
- Using charm or wit to manipulate others for personal gain or pleasure
- Intense egocentrism
- Sense of superiority
- Repeatedly violating the rights of others through intimidation, dishonesty and misrepresentation
- Child abuse or neglect
- Significant irritability and agitation
- Lack of empathy for others
- Lack of guilt or remorse about harming others
- Risk-taking or dangerous behaviors
- Exploitation of others
- Poor or abusive relationships
- Failure to learn from the negative consequences of their behavior
- Violent and aggressive behavior
- Motivated by greed or revenge
A person is not required to have all the above traits. The American Psychiatry Association lists specific criteria for mental health professionals to use in making an APD diagnosis.
Jeffery Dahmer, Casey Anthony, John Wayne Gacy, Gary Gilmore, and Drew Peterson are infamous anti-socials who exemplify this disorder.
If you are now more confused than ever about what makes your abuser tick you are not alone. Narcissists are complex people. You will probably never fully understand the workings of his or her mind, and that is okay. The process of healing from this type of abuse is more about learning to accept it than understanding it.
This is copyrighted material. May only be shared with permission and proper attribution.
Randi Fine is an internationally renowned narcissistic abuse expert and coach, and the author of the groundbreaking book Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: The Narcissistic Abuse Survivor’s Guide to Healing, the most comprehensive, most well researched, and most up-to-date book on this subject. In addition to helping survivors recognize their abuse and heal from it, this book teaches mental health professionals how to recognize and properly treat the associated abuse syndrome. She is also the author of Cliffedge Road: A Memoir, the first and only book to characterize the life-long progression of complications caused by narcissistic child abuse.