Question from reader "R" re sociopaths vs. narcissists (edited):
Dear Sociopath:my response:
I hope you don't mind but if you have chance I have some questions for you. I've never knowingly dealt or spoken with a sociopath before (as far as I know) and this is my first time reaching out. I've become interested in sociopaths because I recently realized through a very melodramatic relationship that I was searching out a sociopath under the guise of trying to seek a highly romanticized romantic relationship. It turned out I think that all I got was narcissist... and after he fired me (he was my boss) I realized part of my bitter disappointment was that he was only a narcissist.
I don't think a narcissist is much like a sociopath... they just operate on a lower emotional level that rules them entirely where as it seems sociopaths function without the entanglements of the regular fears and ambitions that the rest of us have? What do you think?
I think that sociopaths and narcissists are very different, although they both demonstrate a certain amount of "narcissism," which is confusing terminology for some people. There is clinical "narcissism," the disorder, and narcissism in the traits of self love, overconfidence, delusions of grandeur, etc. "Narcissism" the disorder is just a term for a bundle of traits that happens to include narcissism the trait. Narcissism isn't necessarily the dominant trait of the narcissist, although it is certainly a prominent one. Sociopaths also frequently manifest the narcissistic trait, but the sociopath would believe he has more justification for his narcissism, and with good reason. The sociopath is exceptional -- his brain is hardwired differently to think rationally all the time, to exploit, to be a predator/scavenger. I don't think this is true of narcissists. I believe narcissism is deeply based in self-deception. as Fyodor Dostoevsky said in The Brothers Karamazov:
"A man who lies to himself, and believes his own lies, becomes unable to recognize truth, either in himself or in anyone else, and he ends up losing respect for himself and for others. When he has no respect for anyone, he can no longer love, and in him, he yields to his impulses, indulges in the lowest form of pleasure, and behaves in the end like an animal in satisfying his vices. And it all comes from lying--to others and to yourself."
Empaths may think that all of this is a distinction without a difference because interactions with narcissists may seem very similar to interactions with sociopaths. Both may seem uncaring, but with the sociopath it is more because he is incapable of caring about you the same way you care about yourself, whereas with the narcissist it is more because he is too self-involved to notice you. But there is arguably more hope of a stable relationship with a sociopath because sociopaths are self-aware and manifest greater control over their behavior (i.e. ability to adapt to individual needs and preferences). That said, a relationship with a narcissist could be more stable because they are more constant (albeit constantly selfish) and have more genuine (albeit histrionic and self-involved) emotions. And narcissists too can change their behavior if they think that the change is more consistent with their deluded self-image of themselves -- a-friend-to-man, a superhero, a-good-guy, or whatever it is they are telling themselves that particular day. If you don't mind everything always being about him in a relationship, a narcissist should be fine. If you don't mind everything always being about you in a relationship, a sociopath should be fine. but I like your description, too -- that narcissists operate on a lower emotional level that rules them whereas sociopaths function without the entanglements of the regular fears and ambitions that empaths have. To the extent that means that sociopaths have much greater control over their behavior/destiny, I think that is true.