What's the Difference Between a Psychopath and a Sociopath?
By Dr Becky Spelman
The terms psychopath and sociopath aren’t definitions that you can readily find in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. And you certainly won’t receive either as a diagnosis from your therapist or doctor. If someone is exhibiting the types of behaviours associated with either of these conditions, they’re more likely to be considered as having anti-social behaviour disorder. But really, that’s a catch-all term for two archetypes that are very much real and separate from one another. Psychopaths and sociopaths do share a similar set of traits to one another, which has caused some confusion through their portrayal in film and TV.
Psychologists and researchers tend to believe that psychopaths are born into the personality traits they exhibit – whether it’s by genetics or other means. By their nature, they have a hard time forming meaningful relationships. In fact, it’s practically beyond them. They’re incapable of displaying real emotion but can learn to mimic others to manipulate people into giving them what they want. The best that a psychopath can manage in the way of social connections are superficial relationships designed to benefit them as and when needed. In this sense, the people they interact with are often seen as pawns to used and disposed of when they have served their purpose.
Here is a list of the most common traits:
Lacks Guilt, Remorse and Empathy
Pretends to feel emotions (manipulative)
Inability to form emotional attachments
Are usually very successful
Sociopaths, on the other hand, are generally believed to the product of their environments. They are made rather than being mentally programmed at birth and as such, there is a sense that they might be redeemed given the oppurtunity to do so. It’s not unusual for a confirmed sociopath to come from a dysfunctional family, having been subjected to physical, mental and even sexual abuse. As a rule, they tend to be more impulsive and less calculating than psychopaths. However, where the difference between the two really become apparent is the ability to genuine attachments with like-minded people – although these are few and far between.
Here is a list of the most common traits:
Lack of remorse, but guilt and empathy may be present in some cases.
May feel some emotions such as rage, but are fleeting occurrences.
May form close attachments to one or more individuals.
Consistently irresponsible and may violate the law
Constant lying and deception
Aggressive and Reckless Behaviour
Although both personality types can be aggressive and capable of causing harm both physically and mentally, which one is the more dangerous? For questions such as this, it creates a huge grey area. It depends from case to case. But talking purely about the associated traits and habit patterns, the psychopath would present more of a challenge not only to spot but to contest with due to their chameleon-like personalities. High-functioning psychopaths exist all around us. But they’re extremely hard to pick out, as their often able to misdirect your suspicions with excessive amounts of charm and humour.
About the author:
Dr Becky Spelman is a leading UK Psychologist who’s had great success helping her clients manage and overcome a multitude of mental illnesses.
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Psych Central. (8nd Jul 2018) Differences Between a Psychopath vs Sociopath. Retrieved on 15th March, 2020 from, https://psychcentral.com/blog/differences-between-a-psychopath-vs-sociopath/
Web Md. 24th Aug 2014) Psychopath vs. Sociopath: What’s the Difference?. Retrieved on 15th March, 2020 from, https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/features/sociopath-psychopath-difference#1
Psychology Today. 24th Aug 2014) The Differences Between Psychopaths and Sociopaths. Retrieved on 15th March, 2020 from, https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/wicked-deeds/201801/the-differences-between-psychopaths-and-sociopaths
What’s the Difference Between a Psychopath and a Sociopath? was last modified: October 16th, 2020 by Dr Becky Spelman
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