Is this person a jerk, a narcissist or a sociopath?

I do my best to read all of the comments on because I think they are a good barometer as to what people are thinking and questioning. One recent theme/question has been the issue of the realm of jerkdom. Just what is a jerk?

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines a jerk as an annoyingly stupid or foolish person b: an unlikable person ; especially one who is cruel, rude, or small-minded. But how would a psychologist approach answering this question?

Psychologists studying personality tend to fall into two categories, with members of the first category being far more numerous. The first category of psychologists is composed of trait psychologists. A trait psychologist is someone who studies personality by looking at traits. Traits are words, primarily adjectives that are used to describe people.

The dictionary says jerks are foolish, unlikeable, rude, cruel and small minded. We might take the process further and ask everyone reading this to list adjectives describing jerks. We would then find jerks and make our own determination as to whether or not the adjectives describe them.

This trait approach is similar to that used to identify sociopaths and narcissists. This process allows us to put people in a category. So with this approach, we could find traits that differentiate between jerks, narcissists an sociopaths. Most of us think of traits when we think about people and personality.

There is another way to look at people and personality that considers motives rather than traits. Although the fundamental motives of love, power and achievement exist in all people there are individual differences in the degree to which these motives rule a person.

A motive psychologist might say that a jerk is someone with too little love motivation and too much power motivation. But then that also describes a sociopath and a narcissist. Aren’t motives after all more basic than traits? If you are interacting with someone, aren’t you most interested in understanding that person’s motives as opposed to observing their traits?

Consider the following letter we received this week:

There are certain things about my daughter-in-law that I just don’t understand. I am not a psychologist so I don’t know for fact what is wrong with her.

She and my son had a rocky relationship before marriage. She was pulling him away from his best friend but was herself going to spend time with the guy after she dropped my son off at work. She played them off of each other until they just went their separate ways. It was always his best friends fault.

This is what truly hurts me….. after she married my son they lived with my husband and I. We worked long hours and came home to a mess. She and my son neither one worked but expected us to clean up after her. She would cook and I was to play maid. When this didn’t go over she belittled me. She asked to talk to me privately. There wasn’t one thing about me she liked. She told me that she was tired of fighting for my sons attention. They moved out to my relief. I took what she said to heart and didn’t contact my son for anything. I left it to him to contact me if he needed me. This hurt him even though I explained I didn’t want to come in between them.

They had a beautiful daughter and she uses her against us at every turn. We have gotten used to it and don’t let her get satisfaction from it any more. She has planted pills on the floor of my mother-in-law’s home to make it look like her home isn’t safe. She has done that scam twice. She has told my other daughter-in-law that she is only with my son because he puts up with things other men wouldn’t. She has admitted to sleeping with other men but made it out to my son that she was made to share a blanket. I am truly worried for my son and his daughter. She is such a good liar. Oh by the way she makes it out as if she is the only person capable of watching my granddaughter. At my grandma’s funeral she became angry with my son for not catching the baby before she put chalk in her mouth. but then she didn’t catch her stick a holly berry in her mouth and that was ok. She was too busy flirting with my son’s cousin who btw is working on his masters”¦

Am I a paranoid mother and grandmother that just needs to continue watching people she loves be hurt? Or is there maybe something to this behavior?

What do you think?

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161 Comments on "Is this person a jerk, a narcissist or a sociopath?"

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muldoon, you’re daughter showed good judgment.

Maybe her courage to say no to him made you feel guilty or something like that, wondering if he was being hurt. He’s not (even if he sounds like it). If anything, he’s frustrated and irritated.

It sounds like he’s trying to worm his way back in. That’s all that’s going on. And you can probably expect more of it. Oh happy days.

Until very recently, stress or anxiety brought up all kinds of positive memories of my ex, along with feelings of grief and abandonment. For a long time, he seemed to hold the position of “my strength,” no matter how well I knew that he was an incompetent weasel, whose main life skill was exploiting me.

I think that the most powerful thing we can do for one another is to remind ourselves of how strong, kind, brave and competent we are. That’s why they were attracted to us, and that’s why they tried to break us, in order keep us confused and immobilized while they took everything they could from us.

So I’m reminding you. And if you doubt that you’re such a wonderful person, look at your wonderful daughter.

Obviously you did a lot right in raising her.

Hard as this is, you sound like you’re doing everything right. Caring about the right things. Taking the right steps. Holding on to the long view, while you’re reclaiming your life.

Strong, kind, brave and competent. I hope you’re proud of yourself. You should be.

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