Mental health providers occasionally encounter clients who exhibit sociopathic are narcissistic behavior. This or maybe providers work with a client who believes someone in their life is showing these kinds of behaviors and they want to know how to spot it when it’s happening. The two terms (sociopath and narcissist) are often interchanged and used to describe people who are acting outside of what is defined as normal behaviors.
Many individuals throw around either term as a way to call out behavior they do not like or do not understand, but that might not necessarily mean it’s true. The ability to identify and diagnose sociopathic or narcissistic behaviors can only be done by a qualified mental health professional. As providers, it is vital to understand the difference between the two, how to identify either, and when the two might overlap.
What is a Sociopath?
The term “sociopath” is not an actual diagnosis. In reality, mental health providers may encounter individuals who they might diagnose with what is actually referred to as antisocial personality disorder. The American Psychological Association defines an antisocial personality disorder as “the presence of a chronic and pervasive disposition to disregard and violate the rights of others.”
The characteristics of someone with antisocial personality disorder include someone that repeatedly violates the law, exploits others, is deceitful, is impulsive, is aggressive, is reckless, disregards the safety of themselves and others, lacks guilt, lacks remorse, or lacks empathy.
Mental health providers might identify someone as a sociopath should they exhibit these patterns and behaviors.
What is a Narcissist?
Someone identified as a narcissist most likely would be diagnosed with Narcissistic personality disorder which is defined as a personality disorder characterized by an exaggerated sense of self-importance, a need for admiration, or a lack of empathy toward others.
The characteristics of someone with narcissistic personality disorder include grandiosity toward their sense of self, a need to be admired, lack of empathy, difficulty forming attachments, exaggerations of achievements, preoccupied with fantasies about success, tendency to monopolize conversations, looking down on others or viewing them as inferior, and is insistent on their overly defined high standards.
Sociopathic Behavior vs Narcissist Behavior
There are some key similarities between a narcissist and a sociopath. Both types of disorders involve a lack of empathy toward others, a disregard for the needs of others, the exploitations of others, and interactions toward others in general. Both are treated with a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Individuals with both of these conditions may have a difficult time self-identifying their symptoms of either disorder.
Although they are similar in this way, there are major differences that distinguish a sociopath from a narcissist. A sociopath has a general disregard toward everything, including themselves. They are reckless, even at their own expense. This is extremely different from a narcissist, who only thinks about themselves. A narcissist disregards everyone else around them for the sole purpose of self-preservation and self-advancement.
Treatment for Sociopathic Behavior
Anti-social personality disorder is treated through a combination of long-term psychotherapy and medication. There is a list of FDA-approved prescriptions that have shown some success in treating sociopathic behavior. Therapy for sociopathic behavior usually focuses on anger and violence management, treatment for substance abuse, and more. Psychotherapy is not always effective for those with anti-social personality disorder.
Treatment for Narcissistic Behavior
The main form of treatment for narcissistic personality disorder is also a combination of psychotherapy and medication with a focus on talk therapy. The goal of treatment for NPD is for therapists to teach their clients how to better relate to others, understand the cause of their emotions, maintain healthy personal relationships, learn to accept criticism, increase their ability to empathize with others, release the need to achieve unattainable goals, and more.
Ultimately, being able to distinguish between the two conditions enables a mental health provider to form an accurate analysis and treatment plan for their client. If a client is encountering someone with either of these conditions in day-to-day life, being able to identify between the two helps a therapist teach that client how to manage their relationship with those people.
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