We have all heard of these two terms sociopath and psychopath and we have often used them. They are often used interchangeably by people who generally avoid using the term crazy. The two terms are however different and they describe different personality traits. So what is the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath? Not much, but one might kill you.
Psychopath and sociopath are terms used to describe antisocial personality disorder. Antisocial personalities are also not the same as nonsocial personalities. In this article I will focus on antisocial personality disorders.
While both psychopath and sociopath have similar traits such deceit and manipulation and blatant disregard for the safety and well-being of others, a psychopath or a sociopath is not always violent. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) they are listed under Antisocial Personality Disorders (ASPD) their similarities include:
- A disregard for other people’s rights
- Lack of guilt or remorse
- Disregard for laws and social morals
- Aggressive behavior and prone to fights
- Lies and manipulates others
In addition to these listed characteristics they have their own set of traits which set them apart.
Sociopaths are more impulsive and generally have more erratic behavior. They tend to be haphazard even in the crimes they commit. They will often be very disorganized and spontaneous. Sociopaths tend to be easily agitated and often nervous. They are also extremely prone to violent emotional outbursts.
They are unable to hold down a steady job or stay in one place for very long and often have difficulties in forming attachments to others. Some sociopaths may be able to form an attachment to another person of similar behavior.
It is hard to pinpoint the time of onset but it is often as a result of factors in a child’s environment. For instance, physical and/or emotional abuse or childhood trauma.
Psychopathy is believed to be more genetically predisposed i.e. psychopaths tend to be born. In the case of psychopaths there is often an underdeveloped part of the brain responsible for regulation of emotion and control of impulses.
Psychopaths experience extreme difficulty in forming real emotional attachments to others and more often than not, form shallow, artificial relationships in which the psychopath will manipulate others to their own benefit. Put simply, they see other people as pawns in their goals.
Psychopaths come off as charming and trustworthy and often hold long-term steady jobs and can even have families and somewhat loving relationship with partners.
Psychopaths are more organized when involved in crimes. They often have a backup plan and always ensure that they don’t get caught. They minimize the risk to themselves as much as possible.
Who is More Dangerous
While both a sociopath and a psychopath are a potential risk to society, in a lot of the situation they both try to live a normal life while addressing their disorder. Psychopathy can be named as the more dangerous of the two disorders as the psychopaths experience a lot less guilt towards their actions.
A character trait in psychopathy is the ability to dissociate from their actions therefore without the emotional involvement the psychopath does not empathize with the pain that others suffer. A lot of serial killers are often psychopaths. Not all people we’d call a psychopath or sociopath are violent. Violence is not a necessary ingredient (nor is it for a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder) — but it is often present.
An example of a psychopath is Dexter from the hit series Dexter, Henry in Henry: Portrait of a serial killer and Ted Bundy while an example of a sociopath The Joker from The Dark knight.
Are they born this way? While the answer to that question is no these two disorders can be spotted in childhood. A lot of the people often diagnosed with this condition have a basic pattern of behavior in which they often violate the basic rights and wishes of others and are a danger to their safety.
As children they often break rules (or Laws) and a lot of societal norms. In childhood they are often referred to as conduct disorder and quite often include four clusters of problematic behavior:
- Destruction of property
- Aggression towards animals and people
- Theft and a lot of deceitful behavior
- Serious violations of rules, laws and norms
While these traits may not necessarily mean that the child or teen is a psychopath or a sociopath it does pre-dispose them to antisocial personality disorder.
While both psychopaths and sociopaths can live in society throughout their life without causing harm to anyone or themselves, psychopaths have been deemed a greater threat and are more dangerous due to their lack of remorse or guilt for any actions done.
It is advisable to monitor for any symptoms or peculiar behavior in young adults and if any disturbing incidences are noticed in a child or a young teen they should be addressed accordingly.