Today I want to talk about narcissists and psychopaths: what are they; how do you tell the difference; and why do HSPs (highly sensitive people) often find themselves falling prey to these types of people?
For those who prefer to watch, or listen to videos, please skip ahead to the bottom of the page where you can hear me chat about this topic and give you some pointers. If you prefer to read the information, then please keep going 🙂
Narcissists and psychopaths are very similar, they’re both personality disorders and I think that the term narcissist is used a lot in social media, but I’m not sure how many people know exactly what a narcissist is, and also how similar a psychopath is….
This is part one, of a four-part series. Part 1 is going to be an introduction on the two personality disorders, while how to identify them will be covered in the rest of the series. Over the series, I will provide a lot more detail about what narcissistic personality disorder looks like; what a psychopath looks like; and how you can spot them; as well as what are the best strategies to implement in order to avoid becoming their next victim.
Narcissists and psychopaths have many similar traits, so if you’ve come across somebody that you think might be a narcissist, you may be right, or they might actually be a psychopath.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
The definition from the DSM-IV (which is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders that psychologists use when they’re diagnosing people) of narcissistic personality disorder is “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity in fantasy or behavior, need for admiration, lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
- Has a grandiose sense of self importance. For example, exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognised as superior without commensurate achievements.
- Preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
- Believes that he/she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should only associate with, other special or high status people or institutions.
- Requires excessive admiration.
- Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favourable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations.
- Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.
- Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognise or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
- Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
- Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.
In layman’s terms, narcissistic personality disorder is a pervasive pattern (it is evident in all areas of their life), it shows up as they believe they are higher than, better than, and “special”. They put themselves above everybody else, and they need others to recognize how special and amazing they are. They expect others to worship the ground they walk on.
The term psychopath isn’t actually used in the diagnostic manual (DSM-IV). The most similar disorder is antisocial personality disorder. So I’m going to go through the criteria for that.
Antisocial personality disorder
A. There is a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since age fifteen years, as indicated by three (or more) of the following:
- Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviours as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest.
- Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases or conning others for personal profit or pleasure.
- Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead
- Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults.
- Reckless disregard for the safety of self or others.
- Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations.
- Lack of remorse, as indicated by being in different to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.
B. The individual is at least 18 years of age.
C. There is evidence of Conduct Disorder with onset before age 15 years.
D. The occurrence of antisocial behaviour is not exclusively during the course of Schizophrenia or a Manic Episode.
It’s important to point out here that people with antisocial personality disorder (psychopaths) – even though they are always operating on the edge of the law – are not always criminals.
If you google psychopaths, they’re actually a lot more common in today’s society than most people realise. I think that the statistics are about 1 in 100. The outcome, for somebody who fits the definition of a psychopath, is usually one of two directions:
- they end up living life as a criminal or on the flip side
- they end up being highly, highly successful business people.
My layman’s explanation of a psychopath is someone who does whatever the hell they want. They’re reckless, they’re impulsive, they take advantage of others, they’re deceitful, irresponsible and will lie, cheat, manipulate and steal to get what they want.
Similarities / Differences
The main similarities of narcissist and psychopath are:
- Both personality types tend to take advantage of others.
- Both display little, to no, empathy.
- And both types engage in lies and manipulation of others.
The main differences:
- narcissists like to think they are God-like, they believe they’re brilliant and require excessive admiration.
- a psychopath, views him/herself as above the law, but it’s not all about them, whereas a narcissist it IS all about them.
- a psychopath believes they’re above the law and they live a more chaotic, reckless impulsive life, a narcissist will regale you with tall tales of success and amazing things they have done, or will do, in the future but they usually live more stable lives.
- Narcissists care what others think of them, psychopaths do not.
WHY DO HSPs so often become victims?
One of the reasons why highly sensitive people often find themselves falling prey to narcissists and psychopaths is:
- as a highly sensitive person, we give the majority of people the benefit of the doubt. It is almost our default mechanism. Therefore it takes us a while to figure out if somebody isn’t quite what they seem because we’re giving them the benefit of the doubt.
- I also think that highly sensitive people have a kind of naive innocence about them, we have this view that everybody is like us, so we expect that everybody we come across is a decent caring, compassionate, empathetic person.
- We find it difficult to wrap our heads around the fact that there are people out there who have zero empathy because we have so much empathy. They are our polar opposites.
- It is quite common for highly sensitive people to lack boundaries. This is also the biggest thing you can do to help stop yourself becoming a victim. We often become targets because we don’t have the boundaries in place to prevent those people from getting close, and hurting us.
What next? (Challenge)
My challenge for you now, is to have a look through your past and see if you have any experiences with people who may fit the definition of narcissist or psychopath. We will have a conversation in the group about this. If you are not a member of my free Facebook group: Bright Sparks: Empathetic Extrovert Warrior Women, we would love to have you join us in the group.
Stay tuned for part 2: more in depth details about the characteristics of narcissists and how to spot them.