The 5 Differences Between Narcissism And Psychopathy

We analyze the differences between these two personality types that tend towards the pathological.

Differences between narcissism and psychopathy

The narcissism and psychopathy are two pathological personality traits they share some characteristics like selfishness, the tendency to manipulate others or lack of sensitivity and empathy.

We live and coexist with narcissistic people and with individuals who present obvious psychopathic traits, but it is often difficult to recognize which is which based on their behavior. That is why it is important to know how to distinguish them.

In this article we explain what narcissism and psychopathy consist of, and we address the main differences between these two personality trends.

Narcissism: definition and characteristics

Narcissism is a personality tendency or a behavior pattern characterized by the fact that people believe they have the right to everything and are very arrogant, selfish, have an extreme need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. Narcissistic people tend to spend a lot of time fantasizing about achieving power and success, and they can be obsessed with their appearance.

However, behind that appearance of control is an incredibly fragile ego that is easily hurt by criticism. The narcissistic person generally cannot handle any form of criticism and tends to put others down in order to validate their own superiority.

There are different classifications and types of narcissistic people. Here we will address the three main types.

1. Classic narcissist

Classic narcissists are outspoken about their need for constant attention and always brag about themselves, seek compliments, and believe they are entitled to special treatment. They become noticeably bored when the topic of conversation revolves around themselves, and they don’t like to share the spotlight with others.

However, although they consider themselves superior to most people, they are desperate to feel important and to be admired. They are generally the easiest type of narcissistic person to deal with, as they tend to have stronger self-esteem.

2. Vulnerable narcissist

Vulnerable or fragile narcissists feel that they are superior to most of the people they know ; however, introverts that they are, they tend to avoid being the center of attention. They often try to bond with special people rather than seek special treatment themselves.

They may try to feel sorry for or manipulate others by being too generous to gain the admiration and attention they need to appease their deep-seated insecurity. They have extremely fragile egos and are more likely to attack passively-aggressively if they feel offended or mistreated.

3. Malignant narcissist

Evil narcissists are highly manipulative and exploitative. These people have much less empathy than the other two main types and can also have sociopathic or psychopathic traits. They have a sense of cruelty that sets them apart from the other two types of narcissists.

The main goal of evil narcissists is to dominate and control, and they use deception and aggression to achieve this, showing a lack of remorse for their actions. Also, they can get carried away by the suffering of others.

Psychopathy: what is it and what are its characteristics?

Psychopathy is an antisocial personality disorder and is usually diagnosed at 18 years of age or older, although it must be present before the age of 15 for its diagnosis. Psychopaths have an awareness of good and evil, although it is not very solid. They know that committing an illegal act like stealing, for example, is wrong, and they might even feel some guilt or remorse, but that doesn’t stop their behavior.

Traits of psychopathy include: lack of guilt or remorse, narcissism, lack of empathy, superficial charm, dishonesty, tendency to manipulation, recklessness and lack of attachments and affection. Psychopaths make up about 1 percent of the general population, and several studies have found that about 20% of corporate executives also have psychopathic traits.

Psychopaths are insensitive, but they can be charismatic and persuasive. They manipulate and deceive others using their charisma and intimidation, and can effectively mimic feelings to present themselves as “normal” to society. Furthermore, the psychopath is organized in his criminal thinking and behavior and is capable of exerting strong emotional and physical control, showing little or no fear, even in threatening situations.

Psychopathy does not understand morality; Psychopaths can lie, cheat, steal, hurt others, and even kill without feeling any guilt, although they can pretend it bothers them. Psychopaths observe others and try to act as they do to avoid being discovered.

For example, watching a violent scene in a movie causes most people to react with a high heart rate, faster breathing, and even anxiety. However, the reaction of a psychopath is the opposite and they do not show any emotional reactivity.

Differences between narcissism and psychopathy

Although narcissistic people and psychopathic people can share certain personality traits, such as the fact that they lack empathy, the absence of remorse and self-responsibility for their actions, their tendency to manipulate others or that both conditions are more frequent in men, there are notable differences between one and the other.

Here are the most important differences between narcissism and psychopathy.

1. Differences in origin

Narcissism is a personality trait or tendency that is based on the interaction between genetics and environment. Variables such as parenting style in parenting, overvaluing or undervaluing the child from an early age, are factors that favor the appearance of this trait.

However, it seems that psychopathy is a trait that creeps in from birth. Research has been able to detect antisocial patterns in babies as young as 5 weeks. The numbness traits exhibited by 2- and 3-year-olds can serve as a predictive marker for psychopathic traits in adulthood.

In addition, several studies have identified children aged 6 to 13 years with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and a diagnosis of conduct problems (such as oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder) who end up showing traits similar to psychopathic adults.

2. Differences in emotionality

Narcissistic people can be euphoric, anxious, depressed, etc., depending on their environment and the stimulation they receive from outside. However, people who suffer from psychopathy show a very subdued range of emotions, since they do not experience symptoms of depression or anxiety, and their ability to get emotional is practically nil.

3. Differences in tendency to sadism and revenge

Individuals who suffer from narcissism are often sadistic and have a tendency to revenge when offended. Hurting other people can make them feel more powerful and perceive that they are in control.

Psychopaths, on the other hand, tend to be more selective and generally do not exhibit sadistic tendencies. When someone tries to offend a psychopath, he reacts with indifference or by withdrawing from the situation. And if they consider that something is unfair, they can exact revenge but this will always be controlled and meticulously prepared. A psychopath can also torture someone to test their limits, but the goal is not to harm for the sake of harm and their role is more incidental.

4. Differences regarding fear of rejection and failure

Narcissistic people have a great fear of failure, rejection and not being considered good enough at some task. However, psychopaths are often courageous and courageous, and they do not often have feelings of fear or anxiety in situations that carry some risk of failure.

5. Other differences

Narcissists have a peculiar characteristic that often causes displeasure in the people around them, and that is their tendency to dramatize and communicate their feelings in an exaggerated way. If something has bothered or displeased them, they will soon make it public and demand redress, as they feel very comfortable in the role of victims.

Psychopaths, on the other hand, do not like drama too much, rather it bores them and they have no problem showing their indifference and their coldness in such situations, since they do not care what others think of them. However, the ease with which a psychopath manipulates and exploits others using tricks and a false appearance is a problem when it comes to knowing their true intentions.

Bibliographic references:

  • Brown, RP, Budzek, K., & Tamborski, M. (2009). On the meaning and measure of narcissism. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35 (7), 951-964.

  • Cooke, DJ, Hart, SD, Logan, C., & Michie, C. (2012). Explaining the Construct of Psychopathy: Development and Validation of a Conceptual Model, the Comprehensive Assessment of Psychopathic Personality (CAPP). International Journal of Forensic Mental Health, 11 (4), 242-252.

  • Paulhus, DL, & Williams, KM (2002). The dark triad of personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Journal of research in personality, 36 (6), 556-563.

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