You have probably heard the words “psychopath” and “sociopath” in colloquial language or even used them to describe someone. Nowadays, we frequently use these labels to refer to manipulative people without a moral compass or consideration for other people’s feelings.
However, these words are not in the DSM, and psychiatrists actually don’t diagnose anyone as a psychopath or sociopath. The official diagnosis for behaviors we commonly describe with these labels is antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). Experts in the psychiatry field use “sociopathy” interchangeably with ASPD and “psychopathy” as a subset of behaviors related to this disorder.
One of the most common characteristics of psychopathy is superficial and insincere charisma. Psychopaths lure their targets by making them feel special. For that purpose, they use various methods, from gifts and flattery to a sympathetic, shy demeanor. They can quickly shift from one inauthentic persona to another to appease different people.
Psychopaths stir the pot wherever they go, then sit back as the chaos unravels and blame everything on others. They love to provoke your emotional response and then condescendingly avoid further discussion.
If a person in your environment constantly lies, you might be dealing with a psychopath. Lying is the default mode for psychopaths - they shift fake personalities and come up with false stories even when there is no reason to do so.
Most people feel bad after lying, cheating, or manipulating others. Not psychopaths, though. Instead of shame, guilt, and remorse, they find pleasure in these harmful behaviors. They are entirely aware of the pain they inflict on others - and they enjoy it. If a psychopath ever apologizes to you, they probably just need to save face.
The average psychopath can easily replace and remove anyone from their life. Even if you think you have a special bond with them, you’ll eventually realize they can fake the same connection with anyone else.
Once the charismatic mask falls off, psychopaths act unnecessarily mean and cruel to others. They may start harmful rumors, lash out aggressively, or deliberately put others in hurtful and embarrassing situations.
Due to psychopaths’ emotional dysregulation, they find it harder to feel happy, excited, or thrilled than the average individual. Therefore, psychopaths are more likely to engage in extreme behaviors like sexual promiscuity, violent crime, and alcohol or drug abuse.
Sociopathy is a short and colloquial term for what experts define as Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD). This mental condition makes it hard for affected individuals to engage with others socially.
People with ASPD or sociopathy are called sociopaths. They are self-centered individuals with little to no empathy and conscience. Sociopaths are capable of building relationships with others but struggle to grasp social norms. Some researchers believe sociopathy to be hereditary, while others link it to childhood trauma.
Common characteristics of sociopaths include:
Contrary to popular belief, sociopaths can be highly emotional. In fact, they often experience mood swings and emotional outbursts. While individuals with sociopathy often inflict harm on those around them, they usually try to justify and rationalize these behaviors.
On the other hand, psychopaths rarely experience any emotions whatsoever and have no problem concealing their dark side to avoid trouble. Psychopathy is associated with a complete lack of empathy that leads to cold behavior and an inability to identify emotional distress in others.
People with sociopathy and psychopathy require proper diagnosis and treatment from professionals who can distinguish the two labels. There is no specific cure for these disorders, but cognitive behavioral therapy can help affected individuals improve and build healthy relationships with others.
You may also consider consulting an expert if you have someone with sociopathy or psychopathy in your life. Therapy can give you valuable tools to understand your loved one’s behavior and maintain your own mental well-being.