Many people use the terms psychopath and sociopath interchangeably. While there are similarities between the two, there are also surprisingly many differences. This article gives in-depth information about the differences and similarities between psychopaths and sociopaths. It also covers symptoms and behaviour patterns of both, risk factors for each, treatment options, the relationship between bullying and these disorders, and examples of infamous individuals who have been diagnosed as either psychopaths or sociopaths. Read on to learn more about psychopath vs sociopath.
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The Definition of Psychopath and Sociopath
The psychopath vs sociopath distinction is sometimes a subtle one with overlapping similarities. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA) both of these terms are usually defined as types of antisocial personality disorders. The distinctions between psychopaths and sociopaths are generally defined by various behaviours and personality traits. Ether are likely to be bullies or the victims of bullying, and ether is likely to have some of the traits associated with narcissism – a third personality disorder that is closely related to both psychopathy and sociopathy.
The APA lists several types of criteria for diagnostic purposes when determining if a person has one of the personality disorders discussed above. These criteria include:
- A disregard for the rights of others.
- A lack of empathy for others.
- Difficulty with genuine intimacy.
- Manipulative behaviour.
- Impulsive behaviour.
The primary diagnostic difference between a narcissist, in comparison to psychopaths and sociopaths, is egotistical behaviour and grandiosity, usually manifest in an inflated sense of superiority. According to Mayo Clinic, a narcissist has feelings of self-importance and a need for admiration. They normally have little regard for the feelings of others. Underneath, however, a narcissist normally has extremely low self-esteem.
Sociopaths and narcissists are not always easy to tell apart, however there are major differences. As clinical psychologist Jennifer Francis points out:
“Narcissists are generally not necessarily dangerous or aggressive whereas the sociopath or anti-social types will often enter into aggression and violence – they cross that line without a sense of remorse”.
Similarities between Psychopaths and Sociopaths
According to the article Wicked Deeds written by Scott Bonn Ph. D. on psychologytoday.com, there are several traits that psychopaths and sociopaths share: Both have a disregard for laws in a society and the social mores that most others share. Both are unconcerned with the rights of other individuals. Neither feels guilt or remorse, and both of these types tend to display violent behaviour.
One of the unfortunate similarities between psychopaths and sociopaths is the likelihood of bullying during childhood. This is also true across the spectrum of all those who exhibit criminal tendencies. According to the website Criminal Justice School Info, individuals who are chronically bullied throughout childhood and more likely to commit crimes. A specific study conducted by Michael G. Turner Ph. D. at the university of North Carolina demonstrates this clearly.
Scott Bonn in Wicked Deeds goes on to describe the major differences between sociopaths and psychopaths. While the sociopath can be easily agitated and may often appear nervous, the psychopath is usually calm, seemingly well behaved, and even charming. While unlikely, it is not impossible for a sociopath to form an emotional attachment to a group or an individual. However a true psychopath is incapable of this sort of connection.
There are several other differences when examining a psychopath in comparison to a sociopath. Psychopaths have a high predisposition towards violence. This propensity varies among sociopaths. A psychopath’s behaviour is controlled and calculated; they are the masters of manipulation. A sociopath’s behaviour is often impulsive and erratic. While sociopaths may form some superficial relationships, a psychopath is incapable of maintaining a true relationship. The appearance of such is all manipulation and therefore completely disingenuous.
Causes of the Disorders for Sociopath vs Psychopath
The psychopath vs sociopath differences are clearly seen in the causes behind the two disorders. Most experts, including newhealthguide.org, state that heredity and genetics are the primary cause of an individual becoming a psychopath. Factors in the environment and an individual’s upbringing are the main causes behind a person becoming a sociopath.
Risk Factors for Sociopaths and Psychopaths
The Mayo Clinic lists several risk factors for these types of personality disorders. This includes:
- A family history of antisocial behaviour personality disorders, or mental illness.
- Being subject to abuse, a chaotic family life, or a history of substance abuse in the family.
- Anti-social and personality disorders may sometimes be the result of childhood bullying.
Symptoms and Behaviour Patterns in the Sociopath vs Psychopath
When determining if an individual is a sociopath or a psychopath there are signs to look for, however it can be really difficult to know if someone is a psychopath. This is because a true psychopath has mastered manipulative behaviours and is an expert at fooling others. There are some warning signs in children that may indicate sociopathic and psychopathic tendencies. Setting fires and torturing animals are two troubling characteristics of children who often go on to have severe mental issues. In the article Is My Child a Sociopath written by Joseph Lee M.D., published on the website of Psychology Today, Lee states that sociopathy is not necessarily an all-or-nothing disorder. He claims that sociopathic behaviour exists on a spectrum. This means that some children may exhibit antisocial behaviour at various times but don’t completely meet the criteria for diagnosis of an antisocial personality disorder.
According to Good Therapy, a therapy website, bullies are usually people with low self-esteem. They also often misbehave with a full awareness and understanding that what they are doing is wrong. These traits are similar, at least in part, to traits and behaviours exhibited by narcissists, sociopaths, and even psychopaths. While not all bullies will go on to become sociopaths and psychopaths, and not all sociopaths and psychopaths were bullies as children, there do seem to be some strong correlations.
Treatment Options for Sociopaths and Psychopaths
Many people may wonder what the treatment options are for psychopaths and sociopaths. Psychopath and sociopath behaviours are often treated with a combination of psychotherapy and medication. According to Psych Central, a psychiatry website, individuals suffering from these disorders usually don’t seek out treatment on their own. They are often mandated to do so by a court, or a family member to seek treatment. When forced into treatment, these individuals are often uncooperative. Threats, such as threatening to report them to a court or probation officer, seldom initiate any positive response. A skilled therapist will want to help the individual find positive reasons why he or she wants to work on their problems. An example could be the hope that the person will not have to deal with the court system again if an honest effort is made in therapy.
Many serial killers have been psychopaths. John Wayne Gacy, Charles Mansion, and Ted Bundy were all considered psychopaths. Jeffrey Dahmer not only was a psychopath, but he also practiced cannibalism and necrophilia. Perhaps the classic case of psychopathy is that of Ted Bundy. While Bundy’s crimes may not have seemed as bizarre or brutal as that of Mansion or Dahmer, Bundy was known to be extremely charming and intelligent. These are classic symptoms of a psychopath.
Many people may wonder if bullying is related to sociopathy or psychopathy. Unfortunately, there is strong evidence to indicate that there is a connection. Kids IQ Test Center states that most serial killers were bullied as children. Both bullying and being bullied can have a profound impact on individuals, even years after the bullying has ended. There appears to be a disturbing connection between criminal activity, sociopathic and psychopathic behaviour, and bullying.
According to Dr. Laura Finley, an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Barry University, there have been numerous studies that show a connection between bullying and crime. In her article Bully Today, Criminal Tomorrow she draws the connection between serial killers and bullying. Dahmer, Bundy, and Gacy were all bullied in school.
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