Psychopath vs. sociopath! We usually use both terms interchangeably to describe an extremely horrible person. But when it comes to the technical use of the terms psychopath and sociopath, there are some key differences. While psychopathy and sociopathy can overlap at times, experts use each of them to describe different characteristics.
Psychopathy and sociopathy are mostly used in pop psychology and media to refer to people who suffer from an antisocial personality disorder or ASPD. However, that’s not all there is to the equation. In this article, you’ll learn 5 ways to distinguish between psychopathy and sociopathy on the fly, and also how to deal with them.
Make sure to read until number 3, because it’s one of the key differences between the terms psychopath vs. sociopath you should always keep in mind!
Number 1: Psychopaths are usually born that way; sociopaths develop their disorder.
While both psychopathy and sociopathy show signs at an early age, the first one is usually hereditary and the latter is a product of nurture. People are usually born psychopaths; they don’t develop psychopathy as a consequence of contact with their environment. On the other hand, sociopathy is usually a product of a harsh upbringing, especially during toddlerhood. A psychopath’s brain scan usually displays a lack of adequate development of the parts that regulate emotions due to genetic disposition. Psychopaths grow up lacking empathy and a sense of remorse.
A sociopath usually develops symptoms as a consequence of childhood trauma and bad parenting or lack thereof. Just like an aggressive street cat who doesn’t trust people and might injure your hand even if you’re only trying to pet it, a sociopath grows up distrustful of people and turns to aggression to cope. So, the first key difference is mainly nature vs. nurture.
A psychopath is by nature a psychopath, and a sociopath is only a sociopath because they developed it from a very young age as a defense mechanism. On the scale of evil, if you want to call it that way, psychopaths are generally more villainous than sociopaths even though sociopaths may come across as louder and more aggressive. One of the best indicators of a psychopath in early childhood is animal cruelty. Both psychopaths and sociopaths tend to hurt animals, but psychopaths seem to be crueler and more prone to prolong the torture.
Number 2: Psychopaths are deceptive; sociopaths are compulsive.
Psychopaths usually grow up seemingly normal, especially if they have a normal family. Aside from the scary cruelty and other pathological behavior they display from time to time, a psychopath can grow up to be a functioning member of society. They learn from an early age to adapt to social norms and fake emotional responses and empathy. A psychopath learns to imitate the patterns of behavior of a normal person very well. It’s only on rare occasions that a psychopath shows his or her real colors, which is often a horrible situation for people who witness it.
Psychopaths often change their social circles when people start to see through their masks. When a psychopath commits a crime, it’s usually very well-calculated and planned in a way that makes it nearly impossible to frame them for it. On the other side, a sociopath usually comes across as impulsive, aggressive, and grumpy. You can easily spot an extremely sociopathic type because they’re usually displaying warning signs.
A sociopath is always in a constant battle with society, which makes forming lasting relationships and keeping a job difficult for him or her. 0Society also doesn’t tolerate sociopathic behavior because of its erratic nature, which in turn drives the sociopath to commit crimes and fall into a downward spiral of crimes, jail, resentment, and vengeance upon the society that rejects them. The prisons are packed with these wayward children of society. These are the types that tattoo “Born to Lose” on their arms.
Number 3: Psychopaths are more dangerous than sociopaths.
Although sociopaths scream aggression and crime from a faraway distance, a psychopath is still more dangerous than them. A sociopath may not display any signs of empathy or remorse, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have those emotional responses. They usually bury their fragile emotions deep down where they can rarely access them as a defense mechanism that they developed from childhood. The only way through life in the eyes of a sociopath is through suppressing fragile emotions.
As for a psychopath, they lack empathy and remorse in the first place. Those emotional responses never were a concern for them. A psychopath is capable of doing anything no matter how horrible it is and has no remorse. As long as they don’t get caught, a psychopath’s mind doesn’t care if something is right or wrong. While psychopaths might go to great lengths not to show any signs of psychopathology, they’re only doing so because it sucks to be in prison. Therefore, all their psychopathological behavior is well calculated, which makes it even scarier.
A sociopath might act compulsively in a situation that drives them to hurt someone, or even kill them, which will lead to prison. A psychopath will hurt and kill people and might never get caught; we also refer to this kind of extreme psychopath as a serial killer; their stories make shocking news and great Netflix series.
To put it simply, while you keep watching out for the loud ones, the quiet ones will commit horrible crimes that no one witnesses nor expects. And by the way, killing, torture, and physical pain are only some extremes of anti-social behavior. Sociopaths and psychopaths can still function in society and their psychopathology might even predispose them to be successful. Many successful people climb the social hierarchy only because they have no empathy or remorse about crushing everyone in their way.
Number 4: Mild psychopathy vs. mild sociopathy.
As mentioned before, not all anti-social people get their 15 minutes of fame on the national news after committing a crime or multiple ones. Some of them get their own Netflix documentary, a couple of books, and a movie adaptation. And others never get to be known by more than their immediate social circles. Let’s call these types mild anti-socials.
Mild psychopaths are extremely manipulative and can come across as normal people. Their psychopathy displays at best as pathological lying, deception, shallowness, and a lack of remorse. While they might be good at covering their dark side with a fake persona that they practice since childhood, the pathology of a psychopath never fails to show itself to the world from time to time, especially when there’s something at stake that the psychopath values, like a job promotion or some sort of monetary gain.
A psychopath will do whatever it takes to get their desire at the expense of others because he or she lacks empathy and remorse. Mild sociopaths, on the other hand, can avoid a criminal path in life if they grew up in a better environment than the one that triggered their pathology. When a sociopath changes his or her social circle that provokes their pathology, they might get a chance to become a better person, especially at an old age. Many sociopaths turn to religion to calm their monstrous side. That’s why you also find many prison inmates attribute their redemption to finding God.
As long as there are no situations that evoke anger or extreme need in a sociopath, he or she can lead a life with no serious crimes or extremely bad situations that trigger their impulsive behavior. A mild sociopath can just be referred to as a person with anger management issues or a bad temper. Many people would even describe them as having a good heart deep beneath the raging exterior.
Number 5: Dealing with a psychopath vs. dealing with a sociopath.
Generally speaking, it’s better not to deal with a psychopath unless they’re a close family member who cannot be ghosted or abandoned. A pure psychopath won’t even feel love for you in the first place. The more psychopathic a person is, the less they’re likely to develop bonds. As long as your psychopathic sibling or child is capable of taking care of himself or herself, it’s better to keep the least possible amount of contact with them, especially if you’ve already witnessed their psychopathy firsthand.
The same goes for an extreme sociopath, although the situation might be a little bit different. Since a sociopath is usually incapable of long-term planning and keeping a job, they might be dependent on you if you’re a close family member, which makes it hard to abandon them. Sociopaths also develop bonds and are capable of love even though their version of love might be different than the norm. You’ll have to weigh your scales when it comes to dealing with a close family member or a friend who’s sociopathic.
If it’s a situation that’s too much to handle, it’s better to keep a distance from your sociopathic loved one. If their sociopathy is not too pathological (if it’s just an extreme part of their personality), then you can cohabitate with your sociopathic loved one and even help him or her overcome their dark side. Having genuine love can be therapeutic to a sociopath with the hope of a better life and a more balanced personality.
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