ASK DR. LEEDOM: What is the difference between a narcissist and a sociopath?

The first question victims of love fraud ask concerns themselves and is generally something like, “Why is this so hard for me mentally?” The second question concerns the perpetrator, “What is wrong with him/her?” Many seek answers to these questions on the internet and in the popular psychology literature. A person looking for answers in these sources is just as likely to read about narcissism as he/she is to read about sociopathy. Thus the confusion between narcissism and sociopathy begins.

When trying to understand the difference (if any) between narcissists and sociopaths, it is important to understand why we have psychiatric diagnoses in the first place. We have diagnostic categories because people go to professionals seeking help for their emotional/psychological issues. The problem is that people who are grandiose, exploit others, lack empathy, and apparently have no conscience are unlikely to seek mental health treatment. Therefore, people with these symptoms are poorly understood. This is also the basic reason why this set of symptoms has been labeled both narcissism and sociopathy.

To further the confusion for victims of love fraud, a psychologist, Millon, has described the amorous narcissist. Such people are charming, articulate, charismatic and emotionally exploitative of their lovers. The amorous narcissist, like Don Juan, seeks conquest in his relationships. A Lovefraud reader commenting on another post has provided the best example of an amorous narcissist I have seen, yet she (correctly) calls him a sociopath:

I was completely taken in by a sociopath over a year ago. I had never met anyone who was so attentive, charming, complimentary, good looking”¦ oh, the list goes on. I felt I had not only met Mr. Right, but Mr. Perfect. This was a very cultured and well educated man. Unlike the stereotypical sociopath, he holds a good job -can even be considered a “captain of industry”. We live in different cities, so it was even easier for him to fool me. He would call me 2-3 times a day – send text messages, write e-mails. I wondered sometimes how he got the time to do all this. But it was almost impossible for ME to get him on the phone. He said he was at a meeting, at a business dinner etc.

He also seemed to not have many good friends. But all the people he mentioned were women – some one who went to the symphony with him – and had for a long time, someone who was a biking partner etc. He said his friendships with these people were built around common interests, which I thought was fair enough.

After 6 months and visits back and forth, his romantic speil was not as effusive, which I thought normal. But I also began noticing a lot of inconsistencies and lies. I caught him out on a lie about where he was – he said he was in one city on work and it turned out that he was in another on vacation – and I knew it had to be with another woman! Anyway, i expressed my distrust and he accused me of being suspicious for no reason. He said I had a mental illness and should have my head examined. I got so blisteringly angry when he said this that I told him that I would prove to him that my suspicions were warranted. I embarked on a detective spree and uncovered 4 women who he was courting the same way. One was the official girlfriend in the city where he lived. The others were mistress-type girlfriends. I spoke with all of them. And then I presented him with the evidence. He did not have much to say other than that he had “done everything for me, shown me a good time, bought me gifts”¦” and did not know why I was upset. I know now that there are others. It is like he needs to get all the women he meets to fall in love with him.

Generally speaking, the term narcissist is less pejorative than the term sociopath. The reason for this is that some professionals view the behavior of narcissists as stemming from “low self esteem.” Thus, people feel sorry for narcissists, “He/she wouldn’t do that if he/she didn’t have such low self esteem.” Many sociopaths also recognize that narcissists are more highly regarded than are sociopaths, and so state, “I’m not a sociopath, I’m just a narcissist!”

A close friend of mine who has been on a quest for answers about the man who perpetrated love fraud against her came to the legitimate conclusion that the perpetrator is a narcissist. We have had many discussions about her situation. What bothered me about her description of this man as a narcissist was that it seemed to be part of an ongoing effort not to accept his inherently evil nature. If perpetrators are only trying to bolster their low self esteem, they can still be “good.” It may also be that it is easier to accept being victimized if the perpetrator is a narcissist. The reality that we have spent years of our lives loving an evil sociopath is truly difficult to accept.

So what is the difference between a narcissist and a sociopath? Generally speaking narcissists are less impulsive and higher functioning than are sociopaths. Both narcissists and sociopaths have a severe disorder of the Inner Triangle. Both are not capable of love, and have problems with moral reasoning. In fact, many experts say that a condition called “pathological narcissism” is the core problem that results in sociopathy/psychopathy. In conclusion then, the answer to our question is, “To a victim of love fraud, there is no difference between a narcissist and a sociopath.”

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86 Comments on "ASK DR. LEEDOM: What is the difference between a narcissist and a sociopath?"

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Hi all
I’ve spent a lot of time reading back through posts, reading old posts, catching up. I appreciate all the the comments made to my long overdue post.

Southernman – your words “the relationship and the years of healing afterwards has left a profound effect on me both good and bad”Sadly, I doubt I’ll ever be the same person as before” ” hit a chord in me.

I know that there is a lot I have gained from this experience in terms of growing, learning about myself, clawing my way back up from a pit of despair and dealing mainly with the pain of having this person invade my sanity and try to tear it down. I know that. I read it here in all the positive posts. I feel it most of the time.

But I also know that a little part of me that I once valued so much has gone. I used to have a much greater sense of joy and happiness, I smiled a lot, and I was generally a happy person. I am stronger. I am more aware. I also find I have to work at it a bit harder. It is easy for me to find myself ruminating, even now. The pain isn’t anywhere as intense. But I still find myself unable to really satisfy myself with answers. Every story I read is different to mine, but the same. I have a little tiny core of sadness I just can’t seem to overcome. The sadness is for me. I lost sight of my self, my values, my self esteem, my belief system – they were all badly shaken by my experience. I had to do a LOT of work on myself and how I could allow one human being to have such a deeply disturbing and profound affect on me.

He’s still there, lurking around in the deep recesses of my mind. Rarely a day goes past that he might pop up in my head, even if only for a second or two. A constant reminder of how I was so easily fooled, manipulated, conned. A constant reminder of how powerfully I loved, was spellbound, and yes I think, addicted.

Mine was more the silent type. He could be verbally abusive, but it was more with clever use of confusing words, questioning my reality. It was the way words were delivered with contempt. Even though I realised I was up against something way out of my league to deal with in terms of his supreme intellect and always ahead of the game, I never stopped trying to convince myself that he couldn’t be all that bad. There must be a good person in there somewhere.

His ability to remain silent was astonishing. He could lock me out of the house and still somehow it felt like I deserved it even when my rational self knew that was far from the truth. He would remain silent.

It was through his communication I suffered. He could be so loving and attentive – so ruthlessly cold and dismissive. On one occasion when I had discovered he was texting at least six other women, sexually explicit texts, obviously one or two he had met up with, he asked me cooly and calmly “why do you worry about such stupid and trivial things?” and walked off to bed and went into a deep sleep within minutes, in the face of my distress, leaving me standing with my jaw on the floor. I hadn’t banked on that. I thought he might be contrite, sorry, embarrassed, try to explain. He neither admitted, nor denied. That was one of his cleverest ploys.

I was supposed to “endure” and when I finally left him, without warning, literally fleeing from the home a shadow of the woman I once had been, he admonished me for making a “mistake I would regret” and that he “understood – the bridges had fallen down” – he never once apologised, or asked me to go back to him, instead sending me messages of how I had let him down by showing him I didn’t need him. Not passionately. Just factual statements.

It was the strangest 2 years of my life – it created so much doubt in my head about what was right or wrong any more and I still suffer from that. I still struggle with boundaries. When I feel them being crossed, I am still able to sit and wonder if it’s really ok for me to angry about that. I have done a lot of work, but I still suffer from doubt about my own ability to recognise when I am being treated unfairly or unjustly. I used to even wonder if I was wrong to be angry at him for lying. Madness. Complete madness.

Dear Ellejay,

Glad to see you back. Your posts makes a lot of sense. I think, for what it’s worth, that we lose TRUST IN OURSELVES to KEEP OURSELVES SAFE.

The self-doubt I felt, the utter STOOPIDITY of being so deceived by so many, being gaslighted, reality twisted, thinking they loved me, realizing they didn’t ACT like it though….left me feeling more that I had let myself down than what they had done. Which was bad enough! It took me more time to “forgive’ MYSELF and to TRUST myself again than it took me to get “over” what THEY did.

Still have some sad or negative days or thought tracks from time to time..

The problem in the past with me was that there was no solid boundary, no point at which I would not let the person back into my “circle of trust”—no matter how painful the betrayal was if they were “family” or “close friends.”

I could stand my ground with outsiders, but not with those close to me….and I let too many people get too close.

Now I can trust myself, because I KNOW I will defend my boundaries and I know what those boundaries ARE. There isn’t any equivocating about “what the boundaries are” or who can cross them and who can’t. THERE is the line, don’t cross it, no matter who you are. LIE TO ME, CHEAT ME, show me you are dishonest or mean and you are OUT of my circle of trust forever. Have a nice life. Go away. Don’t need you. What part of Fark off do you not understand? Bye bye! No second chances, no third chances, I’m DONE!

It seems so simple now, just set limits and enforce them….but it sure wasn’t at the time…and yea, Ellejay, it is OKAY TO GET ANGRY! Anger is our friend! It tells us that someone is doing something nasty to someone! Heck, even Jesus got angry! If it’s good enough for Him, it is good enough for me!

Glad you are making progress! You are relearning to trust yourself agaiin! (((Hugs)))) and God bless.

Thanks for this Ox Drover, I hadn’t seen it quite so clearly this way, that is more I’ve lost the ability to trust myself. I was fooled once before simply by being a decent human being. What’s that saying – “treat people the way you expect to be treated?” Sure as hell doesn’t work in Sociopathic/Narcissistic/General loon tune world does it? I once fervently believe that if you treat people well, they returned the favour. Especiall one who (initially anyway) made you feel like their long lost and finally found perfect soulmate. So you love them. They encourage that well don’t they? I mean who can resist a man makling you feel like you are the only woman in the world for them? A man who literally seems to charm anyone he meets.

I had never come across someone who could lie to you so boldly, ignore you for days at a time and then wonder what your problem was, cry like a baby when you finally got really really angry, dismissive of you if you were emotionally weak and showed distress. Trouble was, I was madly in love with him before these little oddities became apparent, and when we love, we tend to justify/rationalise those little oddities as not really the worst thing, in the scheme of things. They creep up on you, the moments in between so good it’s easy to forget those little oddities until you are on your own, away from their power, in the cold light of day. You suddenly find yourself thinking about one of those little oddities, and wondering. Then things move along quite nicely until the next weird little thing happens, and the next, and they drop their mask just a tad, just enough to make you wonder if they are all they seem. You start doubting yourself, after all, on the whole, well he seems so great doesn’t he? Or does he? Little lies, plausible reasons, bit of doubt creeps in. If you aren’t satisfied by the plausible reason, then you are made to feel bad while he moves into victime mode. If that doesn’t do it, silent treatment.

That’s when my loss of self belief started to creep in. A lot of the lies made no sense – he didn’t really need the lie. Some of them were just downright weird, like telling me he had joined a rugby club in his new location, and he couldn’t wait to play. Telling me about each game in detail. (We lived apart for some time initially as he got a job overseas) Phoning me in excitement to tell me he found a sports shop and bought some rugby boots. Why do I tell you this, you wonder. Well he went to such lengths to tell me about all this. I wasn’t really that bothered, I wasn’t there at the time. But I tried to be interested in it all.

A year later I was to find those rugby boots. Still in the box. Still all wrapped with the labels on. Never worn.

I can remember sitting for a long long time (quite funny really) staring at those boots. All his words kind of floating around my head as I tried to figure out how this could make any kind of sense. And a weird kind of feeling, a bit of dread, creeping up from my stomach as I began to realise I had come across a few things by then that didn’t make sense, but somehow realising he could make this story up, could he make up others too?

Then you would spend time with him, and his charm, his intellect, his (apparent) devotion and affection, and you would doubt you could think such harsh things and there must be some rational explanation.

After a long time of “there must be some explanation” and his realising I was beginning to catch on, his tactics started. Silences. Gaslighting. Confusing me. Denying things, telling me I was unstable. Always done in a gentle, patronising voice, with a smile that never quite reached the eyes.

Yet by then I had the image of him that I believed, and loved, not this image, not this cold uncaring man. I could never quite bring the two images together and see it for what it was.

So yes, by the time I realised I had to get away, I was too enmeshed, too confused, too hurt, to see how I had been taken in, and totally lost trust in my “self”. Where were my boundaries? Where were my values and self respect? Where did they go? Out the window?

I have noticed that like you say, it’s harder to set the line in the sand with people you care for. And that’s when I feel all those old feelings rush up, as soon as someone steps over a line. I find myself doubting, uncertain, a little afraid. You would think I would rise up and punch their lights out really!!

How do you re define your boundaries when your reality has been so confused you don’t even know if boundaries exist?

Perhaps that’s a question I should put out their ?

Thanks again for taking the time to read, and then give me such an insightful response. It does help. Enormously.


🙂 and Hugs back

Dear ellejay,

I actually sat down and wrote out some “boundaries” that I called DEAL KILLERS—meaning that if someone does this to me or somene else and I know about it, they will NOT RETAIN OR GET MY TRUST and I will not allow them inside my heart again unless there is some real and I mean REAL behavior changes and acknowledgments.

1. People who LIE

2. DIShonesty, or track record of such in the past (exconvict, drunk driving etc) people who take things that are not theirs. People who cheat on their spouse or GF/BF.

3) addictions, alcohol, drugs, or anything else that becomes THE most important thing in their life

4) Just plain nasty tempered and grumpy as a way of life, unkind to others like waiters, etc.

5) financially irresponsible, broke because of bad planning—like not carrying car insurance etc. and then wreck the car, that is a PLANNING PROBLEM not a wreck problem. Don’t pay their child support or whatever….

6) trouble holding a job

Why do I need people with any of those “problems” in my life?

I looked around and you know I had several people in my life who STOLE from me and I was afraid of huring THEIR FEELINGS WHY? LOL I had people who were mooching off me, and I was afraid to tell them NO Why?




Period, end of that discussion. Treat me the way I treat you or GO AWAY, GET THE HELL GONE, AND DON’T COME BACK. LOL

OMGsh….mine was so much the same!!! (Mine played college lacrosse..oh wait no he didn’t he he just said he did) Thats why I still struggle. He was wonderful for 8 months, then quirky but still wonderful, then an all out Jekell and Hyde. I remember who I fell for in the beginning. I too cannot rationalize how the two are in the same body.

That is the hardest part….I still miss who I thought he was….I miss that terribly. I miss the fact that I thought I had an amazing love with this man….I the image and now all i see is the monster. But it still hurts like crazy!!!

Ox…why didn’t I have you around when I was with him. He fails all but number 4. I love the reminder that it is ok to EXPECT things of people. I can EXPECT honesty without being unreasonable!!!!

So here is my confession…please dont yell at me. I broke the NC rule. I was so pissed. A new lie was revealed to me and I was just too pissy to let him get away with it. So I confronted him (email). Why I still feel the need for him to acknowledge all the lies, cheats, and manipulation???

Are these typical responses for a spath….

*You’re obsessing and will try an villanize me in any and every way you possibly can to yourself and anyone who will listen.

* There was a period of time where I thought that I could be friends with her and still date you, when I thought we could work through whatever issues and be together. That changed when I decided that it was more inportant to me to see her again.*

Then he said this when I confronted him on another inconsistency

**I didn’t know which day you were talking about, not that it really matters I’ve given up trying to explain anything to you. You don’t think I cared about you, that I conned you out of your money, while “betraying you in every possible way” that’s fine. I know that loved you and then I didn’t. You say that’s not possible, and that I must have lied about loving you in the first place, fine. I’ve apologized to you several times for the way things ended but you’ve always dismissed it so I gave up on that too. You’ll get your 13k back soon trust me, nothing will make me happier.

**iPod… about that. I smashed that f#@&er to little tiny bits after I got the only email I’ve gotten from my uncle since our break up asking me to return it to you.

**If you want to believe that I emotionally and financially “conned” you then that’s up to you but it’s complete garbage.

Yall…he lied to me about everything!!!!! From the day we met he lied about his education, why he lived where he did, having a commission coming soon, his “life”history, relocating on my dime for a job that didn’t exist. Like LJ said he lied about stuff and made stories up that he never needed to….complete fiction that never needed to be told. This man even told someone else that he couldn’t date because he lost his fiancee in the towers on 911….who does this crap.

And then he tells me that “it doesn’t really matter” It matters!!!! Living your life as a lie matters. He has a warrant in Minnesota for credit card fraud….He has started an investment fund lying about his educational credentials and work history. HE ruined his sisters credit by starting a publishing company with her credit and running off to Mexico when it failed. He didn’t pay his taxes last year for cash work that he did…IT MATTERS!!!!!! How can he sit there and say that honesty and hurting people doesn’t matter???!!???

I’m sorry….I am just a person who believes in justice. I believe in write and wrong. I’m just supper pissy tonight after the hurricane blew through!!! OK…lesson learned tomorrow starts NC again!!!!

Sweetie, I know you believe in JUSTICE and we all DESERVE justice, but we won’t get it from THEM. Sometimes we can have them arrested, or lose their job, or kick their sorry butts out of the house and some3times even make them pay child support, and sometimes it isn’t even worth our time to try.

NO contact gives us time to heal wihtout being hit by new arrows every day. Without having to hear their lies and psychological-warfare.

It’s like they are beseiging us and trying to get us to give up. We just have to hunker down most of the time unless what they are doing is illegal and then we go to the court and file for a RESTRAINING ORDER, and we enforce it.l

Change phone number, block e mail, block on FB and tw2itter, tell our real friends that they are NOT TO SPEAK TO HIM ABOUT YOUR, AT ALL. iF his FRIENDS COME TO YOU AND WANT TO TALK–GIVE THEM THE SILENT TREATMENT—walk away.

This is the ONLY “closure” you will get from him if he is like most creeps.

BE SAFE above all else. He will get worse for a while, making more efforts to contact you but you cannot give him ANY contact because that is what is called “intermittent reinforcement” which will make him continue on for a much longer time. Right now any NOTICE from you even a fight is what he wants.

Being shut out by you is a big ego injury and so he will upo the stakes and efforts for a while. If he is the time that might shhow up at your work and make a scene, keep calm, and call the police. Or security. Change locks on your house and you might invest in a small hideable nanny cam set up so if he does break into your car or home you have proof.

BE cool calm and collected around him, do NOT react—go home and cuss and scream and cry but hold it together in any court hearings. The day I spoke to the judge at the bail hearing for the Trojan Horse Psychopath and my DIL who had tried to kill my son, I was shaking inside so bad I was VIBRATING but my son said that I did well when I talked to the judge and he raised the bail to $150,000 (it would have been like $3500 if I hadn’t spoken) so they didn’t bond out hee hee)

I should have won the academe award for BEST ACTRESS that year, because I was SCARED, Terrified, and I apparently pulled it off like a champ—we’ve had to learn to ACT around the Ps to keep from pithing them off, so we are good actors, and sometimes we need to use that for OUR benefit!

It is amazing what talents we have that we don’t even know we have.

Kind of like the woman who had been a stay-at-home-mom and needed a job and she didn’t think she had any job “skills:”

Her friend said, “Of course you do, you are a DOMESTIC ENGINEER, you are a nutrition specialist for children, you are an economyist living on a budget and providing for a family. You aqre a car mechanic in fixing the old heap and keeping it running. You are a nurse, qualified to take care of the sickest children. You are a preschool teacher and have taught your class well, you are a sports coach…..and so on and on….naming all the things that a stay-at-home-mom is capable of and required to do on a daily basis.

We have other skills to that we learned by living with an interacting with the psychopaths that also increase our ability to be strong and to accomplish many things. It is that strength that has kept us alive.

I think you have got strength and determination that he knows nothing about!!!! You GO GF!!!!! ((((hugs)))))

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