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Are Psychopaths Actually Narcissists?
Anyone who has been unfortunate enough to encounter a sociopath will tell you that sociopaths are the most selfish people on the planet. They care literally nothing for other people. All they truly care about is what they want. Seeming to have no genuine feelings of their own, the sociopath is like an empty machine which can only fill it's own wants and endlessly hunger for more. This is not so different from the way the pathological narcissist behaves. So how similar are they? What's the difference?
Both sociopaths and narcissists suffer from what is called "the narcissistic wound." This is the defining injury to the psyche which occurred during the young sociopath or narcissist's development. It is the trauma or series of traumas that made them what they are.
In the narcissist, the trauma(s) occurred after some emotions developed but before regulation of these emotions or empathy was learned. Therefore, we could say the narcissist suffers from "too much" emotion, rather than not enough. The emotions he does possess are out of control and unregulated because he is unable to control them, much the same way a very young child is unable. The narcissist's emotions are all self-focused however - again like a very young child - and if he possesses empathy at all, it is generally maladaptive and dysfunctional. His few emotions are simply too important; they are the focus of his entire being. It is for this reason that he is unable to empathize with other people. Other people just don't matter as much as how he feels.
In the sociopath, the narcissistic wound occurred before any truly genuine feelings developed at all. Therefore, for all intents and purposes, the sociopath has no real feelings. These feelings have never developed and they never will. There is no empathy, dysfunctional or otherwise - even for himself. He may feel primitive variants of fear or anger (the kind all animals feel to ensure self-preservation, like fight-or-flight), but many sociopaths don't even feel those. There is literally nothing there. They only feel "physical feelings," such as when something feels good to the body and they can become addicted to these things because it is the only experience they have with "real" feelings. This is the dynamic we see at play with serial murderers and sociopaths that are adrenaline junkies.
In relating to other human beings, there are some differences between the sociopath and the narcissist, and there are many similarities. The main difference seems to be in interpersonal relationships. The pathological narcissist and the antisocial personality are both manipulators and both wear masks. However, the narcissist needs other people very much. The sociopath does not. Unencumbered as he is by the emotional baggage carried around by the narcissist, the sociopath can play out a role for a very extended period of time if he must. He can derive private satisfaction from his wrongdoings, without relying on external validation of how powerful he is. This is something the narcissist has a lot of trouble with; his true self always comes through in the end, because it demands acknowledgment and it demands satisfaction - loudly. His end goal is purely selfish. The sociopath's goals are selfish as well, but they do not rely on the validation of others. Because of this, his ego does not come in to play the same way the narcissist's ego does and the sociopath can remain "hidden" for far longer. In fact, unless he makes a very serious mistake (which is rare but does happen), he may never be revealed.
The difference between sociopaths and narcissists then, is one of degrees. We could say that a sociopath is an "end stage narcissist." When narcissism is taken to the nth degree and the personality is so self-involved and self-focused that literally the only feelings which may occur are those aimed at making the self feel good, you have a sociopath. This is why there is so much overlap: sociopaths are narcissists. Many narcissists have antisocial tendencies as well.
In healthy people, there is a level of narcissism but it is not pathological. That means that it isn't inflexible. Healthy narcissism does not demand that others worship, revere, admire or give things to the person just because the person wants these things. Healthy narcissism does not scream that it's being oppressed or abused just because the person can't have what they want. People with healthy amounts of narcissism do not insist that others go without so that they can have more. People with healthy amounts of narcissism do not insist that you must set yourself on fire to keep them warm - and that if you won't, you are abusive and uncaring.
This graphic shows the whole narcissistic spectrum for human emotion and personality. As we can see, cluster B personality disorders are grouped beneath "pathological narcissism."
As seen in the above graphic, there is a theory which postulates that all cluster B personality disorders sit on a "pathological narcissistic spectrum." This is a theory which carries a lot of weight. The cluster B personality disorders are: histrionic, borderline, narcissistic and antisocial. If we were to envision the spectrum of malignant narcissism to start at histrionic personality disorder and end with sociopathy, we can see that there is indeed quite a bit of validity to this theory.
Note that this particular spectrum does not encompass all narcissism, as the first one did. This second graphic measures malignant narcissism, or pathological narcissism. All of the cluster B personality disorders express some type of pathological narcissism. The further down on the spectrum someone is placed, the worse the pathological narcissism is, until we arrive at Antisocial Personality Disorder, which is the complete absence of empathy or conscience.
Notice that there is not a large gap between Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Antisocial Personality Disorder. This is because there is a great deal of overlap in these. It is interesting to note that most of the cluster B disorder do occur in "clusters;" that is, they rarely exist on their own. There is almost always another cluster B personality disorder that is co-morbid. Many people will be diagnosed with HPD, NPD and BPD. Or they may be diagnosed with BPD, NPD and APD. This is another signal that the "narcissistic spectrum" theory is right on the money.
There is more than one type of sociopath and another interesting thing to note is that the further down the spectrum a person is placed, the fewer symptoms of the other cluster B personality disorders are present. You wouldn't expect a sociopath to go into the hysterical tizzies that Borderline Personality Disorder is famous for, and most of them don't. This can probably be attributed to sociopaths having no true emotions. If a sociopath were to have such an emotional outburst, it would serve you well to investigate if it's an act first, before concluding that it's genuine. It probably isn't. Histrionics, Borderlines and Narcissists feel cheated, overlooked and discarded by the rest of the world. The sociopath just doesn't look at things that way. As the quintessential narcissist, it is impossible for the true sociopath to feel anything about or for other people at all. This usually includes anger.
The idea that sociopaths are "mad at the world" is interesting but really a misnomer; they feel nothing for the world or the people in it. The difference between this and the narcissist is that the sociopath generally feels nothing for himself either, whereas the narcissist feels only for himself 95% of the time. Most sociopaths don't fear death, illness or injury (whereas many narcissists fear these things greatly). This could be because - as some experts have stated - sociopaths are never even really alive in terms of human existence.
If we follow the spectrum, we see that the focus on the self increases like a balloon being inflated more and more until it reaches a frenzied, unsustainable importance in Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Then we hit Antisocial Personality Disorder and it is as if the balloon bursts. The focus has become so narrow that not even the self can fit into it. It is as if rather than being a slave to the hungry, selfish, malfunctioning ego - as the histrionic, borderline and narcissist are - the sociopath becomes the hungry, selfish, malfunctioning ego. The narcissist, histrionic and borderline are miserable because they are forever trying to silence and appease the ego but they still exist outside of it. The sociopath is the ego; he is empty but does not feel miserable because those kinds of more "evolved" feelings exist outside of the primitive desire and selfishness of the ego, and he does not.
Since all sociopaths are "end stage" narcissists, we can therefore conclude that sociopaths are in fact narcissists and that narcissists are in fact "lesser" sociopaths.