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Compare and Contrast: The Differences and Similarities Between Sociopaths and Psychopaths

A man looking at a person in a bad way. / Photo by: Davide Fiorenzo De Conti via 123RF

 

Under the Anti-Social Personality Disorder (ASPD), there are two terms that psychological experts often use interchangeably: Sociopath and Psychopath.  Some of these psychologists argue that there is no clear distinction between the two. There are also those who claim that there are indeed differences that distinguish them.

According to Signs of the Times, 4% in every level of population are psychopaths. In addition to this, 6% of them are born genetic psychopaths.

What makes a psychopath and what makes a sociopath? Let us break down the similarities and differences.

 

Psychopaths

Psychopaths are people who are incapable of feeling empathy and forming emotional bonds.

They are characterized as those who lack remorse and are constantly lying, cheating and manipulating in order to gain total power and control over others.

According to Signs of the Times, “Psychopaths disassociate from their actions, regardless of how terrible they may be.”

Although they cannot feel emotion on a normal level, they are able to imitate having them to make people trust them. On the surface, they are able to keep up appearances by faking normalcy. Gottadotherightthing.com describes them as being “calm, cool and meticulous”.

Contrary to how they are stereotyped, psychopaths are not often found in prisons and repetitively breaking the law. That would be a hindrance for them from achieving their goal. Instead of prisons, they are found in the places where we least expect them and are usually are very top too.

To support this, Dr. Hare stated, “Many psychopaths never go to prison or any other facility. They appear to function reasonably well--as lawyers, doctors, psychiatrists, academics, mercenaries, police officers, cult leaders, military personnel, business people, writers, artists, entertainers and so forth without breaking the law. Their intelligence, family background, social skills and circumstances permit them to construct a facade of normalcy.”

Dr. Renato Sabbatini, author of the article The Psychopath’s Brain writes, “Most of these people are not just right in your churches, schools, charitable organizations, and workplaces, but by their very nature, they are likely running them. It is a core trait of a psychopath to place themselves in positions of influence, not for public service but for power.”

A psychopath’s actions are driven by their desire to obtain supremacy, their indulgence of watching people get tortured and their envy.

Furthermore, since they do not feel any emotions, they only see people as objects to pass the time. People for them only exist for their amusement. They only get this sense of gratification and pleasure when they are able to exercise their power by inflicting pain on others. This pain that they inflict is not usually physical, but leaning more toward mental and emotional pain.

Dr. Hare elaborates, “Psychopaths view people as little more than objects to be used for their gratification. The weak and vulnerable--whom they mock, rather than pity--are favorite targets.”

Dr. J. Reid Meloy explains  in his book, The Psychopathic Mind, that the only “emotions” they can feel, according to how Signs of the Times describes it, are “...boredom, envy, exhilaration, contempt, sadistic pleasure, anger and hints of depression.”  

Two doctors confronting a "psychopatic" man. / Photo by: couperfield via 123RF

 

How do they gain influence even though they have all intentions? It turns out that because they are liars, cheaters, and manipulators, deceitfulness is another core trait that they have. In connection with their deceitfulness, they are also called “masters of disguise.” It is hard to uncover their real intentions because the way they project themselves. The reason for this is that they are great at making good first impressions. They are surprisingly charming, friendly, good conversationalists and often engage in philanthropic activities. However, all of these traits that they display are just part of a facade which they use as a tool to rise to power.

 

Dr. Hervey Cleckley, the author of the book The Mask of Sanity, pointed out, “...the typical psychopath will seem particularly agreeable and make a distinctly positive impression when he is first encountered. Alert and friendly in his attitude, he is easy to talk with and seems to have a good many interests. There is nothing at all odd or queer about him, and in every respect, he tends to embody the concept of a well-adjusted happy, happy person.”

 

Moreover, Dr. Hare affirms, “Psychopaths are often witty and articulate. They can be amusing and entertaining conversationalists, ready with a quick and clever comeback, and can tell unlikely but convincing stories that cast them in a good light. They can be very effective in presenting themselves well and are often very likable and charming.”

 

Sociopaths

Gottodotherighthing.com  describes sociopaths as, “ easily agitated, nervous and volatile. They often have emotional outbursts and sudden attacks of rage.”

They are also described as uneducated, unable to stay in a job or place for long and living on the fringes of society.

They are able to form bonds with others but only with a limited number because of their disregard for society’s rules. Due to this, they struggle with finding a compatible romantic partner.

They usually commit a crime on impulse which makes them easily identifiable.

 

The Similarities

The traits that both sociopaths and psychopaths share according to Signs of the times are:

- Having no regard for laws or morals

- No regard for other people’s human rights

- Being unable to feel remorse

- Tendency  to show violent behavior

Psychopathy and sociopathy are often mistaken for psychosis but they are completely different things. A person who has psychosis cannot tell the difference between reality and fantasy, which means they are living according to their hallucinations. However,  Wisegeek.com states that sociopaths and psychopaths are more in touch with reality, but do not care about the consequences of their actions since they have no regard for laws nor have a conscience.

 

The Differences

While they are both antisocial in nature and although they often have been used interchangeably, they both have qualities that are distinguishable.

Firstly, they are caused by different things. Sociopathy is caused by environmental factors, also known as nurture. One becomes a sociopath because the circumstances he or she has faced. This is linked to a trauma a person has experienced in their childhood which can be emotional or physical abuse. On the other hand, psychopathy is caused by a person’s genetics or nature.

Secondly, because sociopaths are a result of childhood trauma, they are able to feel empathy on some level towards certain people, while psychopaths cannot feel it at all.

Thirdly, psychopaths are usually educated and can have stable jobs, while sociopaths are the opposite.

Fourthly, when it comes to committing crimes, a psychopath will calculate his every move and even have back-up plans should anything go wrong. Contrarily, a sociopath will commit a crime spontaneously which is why they are caught more easily.

Lastly,  even though psychopaths are rarer than sociopaths they are more dangerous. They have an inherent hate of good, are motivated by the pleasure of hurting others, deceitful, liars, manipulators and are great at disguising. They are much more difficult to spot because of how normal they seem on the surface and because they are often in leadership positions, they are able to make people believe that they are to be admired.

A study has revealed that almost 50%  of serial killers are in fact, psychopaths.

 

Final Notes

To emphasize the difference between sociopaths and psychopaths, Signs of the Times explains, “In the eyes of others, sociopaths will appear to be very disturbed.” It might be easier to pick apart a sociopath from the public than a psychopath because in general, psychopaths can have very attractive personalities, while sociopaths often do not appear this way.

It is also not baffling to find psychopaths participating in politics since being a politician connotes gaining massive power over those who are under him.

Those who are able to see through a psychopaths motives are rather unfortunate because when they try to expose these, people have the tendency not to believe because they often see the psychopath as an all-around good-natured person due to the personality he masks. This is also due to people refusing to believe that someone they look up to, such as a leader, can create such a huge lie and do something that will actually betray the trust of people.

People should be more careful of psychopaths rather than sociopaths because sociopaths are not inherently evil. Psychopaths are. Sociopaths are mostly just victims of their circumstances.

The amazing thing about psychopaths is their ability to make their evil intentions have the appearance of good and that they are able to persuade people to side with them.

Dr. Peck expounded on this, saying, “They are likely to exert themselves more than most in continuing effort to obtain and maintain an image of high respectability.”

Unlike how the media portrays it, evil is not always something that is visible in plain sight.

According to Signs of the Times, “...Evil does not reveal itself as the bad guy dressed in black or the monster in plain site. Evil will very rarely expose itself to public light. It must hide. And it almost always hides under the guise of something righteous.”

Dr. Peck stated. “While evil may manifest itself obviously, it...rarely does so. Those who are evil are masters in disguise.”

Signs of the times warns us about the different disguises these psychopaths put on and how they are able to ruin us. To quote, “In fact, rather than hiding in the shadows dressed in black, it disguises itself in suits, uniforms, and charitable organizations which allow it to deceive us into thinking it’s our savior. This enables it to cause far greater damage.”

Despite usually being in a position of power, there is a vulnerable side to psychopaths. Even though they hurt people for fun and are apparently invincible because they are not able to feel anything at all even after they have done something atrocious, their lack of ability to feel is actually their weakness. They may do things for the sake of just doing it (for example lying under any or every circumstance because they can) but one of the things that drive them is their envy of how people are able to feel pleasure of life in general. They are actually not aware that they are being envious but it is one of the underlying factors of why they take pleasure in controlling and destroying people’s lives.

Dr. Meloy elaborated, “perception of other people’s pleasures arouses only greed and envy in them.”

In short, to make up for their jealousy, they compensate themselves by finding an outlet and that is by toying with people who can feel emotions and mocking them for being “weak” and “naive”.

To explain this, Dr. Meloy also stated that they get, ‘“gratification of sadistic impulses through intentional infliction of emotional or physical pain upon others.”

He goes on to say that, “The manipulative cycle both enhances his narcissism and protects his vulnerability.”

Signs of the Times explains that this is because “the threat to the inflated self is ever present.”

Beware of both psychopaths and sociopaths. However, be even more cautious when having to deal with a psychopath because they comprehend the world differently due to their emotional impairment. They are even being considered as a “different species of human”.

Their condition is declared to be incurable and untreatable because instead of therapists being able to help them,  they end up being damaged in the process. A traditional therapy would just worsen their psychopathy and just make leverage their ability to cover up their behavior and manipulate people. It is even stated that legal jurisdictions consider them sane. Therefore, they are technically not mentally ill. They just have an emotional disorder.

It is crucial that a person would be able to differentiate the two and to be able to identify especially the dangers of coming in contact with a psychopath, especially since their true nature is not obvious to the average person and also so that they will not fall victim to their schemes.

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