Psychopathy & Narcissistic Personality Disorder Differences
© Rhonda Freeman | All Rights Reserved
Before we take a closer look at the differences between psychopathy and narcissistic personality disorder, let’s review how these personality disorders are similar.
Many symptoms of psychopathy and narcissistic personality disorder overlap. Miller, Dir, Gentile, Wilson, Pryor, & Campbell (2010), found a moderate positive correlation (.39) between the two conditions. Interestingly, many scientific studies uncovered similar findings.
Several experts in the field suspect that narcissistic personality disorder and psychopathy are conditions that lie along a continuum or spectrum. I agree with this stance, because they take very similar approaches in their interactions with others.
Individuals with both conditions tend to be exploitive of even the people who love them, with minimal regard for the pain they cause.
Similar to psychopathy, narcissistic personality disorder is suspected to be more common among males. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th ed. (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) “50 to 75% are male.” Both groups tend to ‘blame shift’ and refuse to accept responsibility or be accountable for poor behavior.
Overview of the similarities and differences between psychopathy & narcissistic personality
Charming | Charismatic
Exploitive of others
Low in empathy
Extremely sensitive to the opinion of others (Narcissistic personality)
Requires positive attention (Narcissistic personality)
Minimally burdened by anxiety or fear (Psychopathy)
Low Conscientiousness (Psychopathy)
Indifferent to the opinion of others (Psychopathy)
Fragile (Narcissistic personality)
Easily prone to boredom (Psychopathy)
Impulsive style (Psychopathy)
The differences in the list above is not always cut and dry. Those who meet diagnostic criteria for narcissistic personality disorder can also demonstrate a pattern of deceitfulness or some of the other traits primarily demonstrated within psychopathy. For example, an individual with narcissistic personality disorder can certainly demonstrate patterns of promiscuity when they are seeking the admiration needed to keep them functioning.
Therefore, the labels above are tagged to the traits that are most commonly found within that particular disorder and not necessarily only found within that condition. Skilled clinicians (through thorough evaluations) will be able to tease out if the condition is present and which symptoms are true reflections of a particular disorder.
When clinicians are involved in the diagnostic process of determining the presence of a personality disorder it is not uncommon to find features and traits of more than one condition. Often human beings simply do not fit one. Blending of personality disorders is not an uncommon occurrence.
Let’s go a bit more into the conditions.
[Can Stock Photo Inc. | © 2009 Tiero]
Psychopathy is a disorder that impacts the way the brain processes emotional information. fMRI studies of the brain have demonstrated that there are significant limitations in their ability to process certain emotional states.
Kiehl, Smith, Hare, Mendrek, Forster, Brink, Liddle (2001) examined a psychopath’s ability to process words that should elicit a response from the brain’s ’emotion processing regions’. They presented a group of criminal psychopaths as well as two groups of non-psychopaths with a word-list memory test that consisted of neutral and negative words.
A normal brain should respond to the negative words by processing them using both the thinking and emotion processing areas (e.g., paralimbic region). What they found was quite interesting. When the psychopaths were compared to the non-psychopath groups the results indicated that the group with psychopathy processed the negative words through the thinking (cognitive) regions only. There was minimal engagement from their emotional regions, which completely contrasts the workings of a normal brain.
The negative words did not elicit the emotional system to respond. Interestingly, psychopaths used their thinking regions ‘more’ when presented with negative (emotion eliciting) words, thereby demonstrating better recall of the negative words within the list. It suggests that the thinking areas of their brains work harder when they are presented with emotionally charged information.
Essentially, the psychopaths did not use the emotion processing regions of their brain as it should or like the non-psychopathic groups. Instead they relied upon their language processing (semantic) and decision making areas – the thinking regions.
It is possible that one could extrapolate and conclude that if a person cannot process emotional information properly, then many experiences or people that should hold deep meaning, simply do not. For an individual with strong psychopathic traits, everything is replaceable, particularly if it has lost its usefulness, appeal, or ‘newness’.
A “chair” or “wife” – feels the same.
There is not a deep emotional bond with either – only a needed use.
Although emotional states such as genuine appreciation are low, individuals with psychopathy are prone to intense feelings of anger, low frustration tolerance, and boredom (Blair, 2010). They can easily shift into a disdainful and contemptuous state when they are no longer stimulated or interested in a partner. This sudden change can come across or ‘feel‘ cold and callous to the former object of their affection.
Individuals with strong psychopathic traits can communicate something that should be emotional with very little emotional tone, as though there were no genuine feelings behind their words (because there really is not).
Due to their brain disorder, those with psychopathy rarely learn from their mistakes. They tend to repeat the same behaviors – particularly if the activity is
a) pleasure oriented,
b) has a significantly stimulating ‘chase’ period, and/or
c) has a high pay off.
Most tend to run an agenda that is in extreme opposition to the wellbeing, safety and harmony of others. They are deceitful, remorseless, and often dangerous.
Psychopaths frequently engage in violating behaviors. It is not uncommon for those with strong traits to consistently infringe the rights of others, often in the most egregious ways. [See our series – Psychopathy and Society]
There is a tendency to lie for purposes of bolstering their image, to get out of trouble, or at times for no apparent benefit or reason at all. It is not uncommon for those with psychopathy to have a near complete inability to accept fault or responsibility for any pain or chaos created by their behavior. They are manipulators, con artists, and see others for their use or purpose. Calculating how a particular person, group, thing, or scenario benefits them, even to the demise of others who caused them no harm, is often the norm for an individual with psychopathy.
Although individuals with narcissistic personality disorder are also exploitive – violating others, deceitfulness, and conning are more common amongst psychopaths. Many with psychopathy enjoy attention, however their love of attention has very little to do with approval or admiration from the source. Whereas, individuals with narcissistic personality disorder love attention as well (admiration), however they tend to need positive attention for validation.
Their feelings can be easily hurt (e.g., “injury”) if others do not reflect back to them their specialness. For many with narcissistic personality disorder, this can lead to reactions of agitation, aggression, or punishment of the perceived offending party.
It is not uncommon for an individual with narcissistic personality disorder to be bothered by what others think of them and only want to be held in high regard. Hence, they use their audience to reflect back how special they are.
Conversely, an individual with psychopathy really does not care what others think of them – their self esteem is minimally tied to external relationships. However, many with this condition want to be held in high regard, but this tends to be tide to power or manipulation. Their feelings of superiority is not based on the opinion of others.
If there is an audience, they tend to abuse those individuals or manipulate and use them for personal gain or exploitation purposes, (e.g., for sex, reproduction, public perception of normalcy, child care, money, housekeeping, further their power, do their ‘dirty work’, a ‘project’ partner to corrupt or engage in perversions).
Go to part II
• Want the basics of psychopathy? You might find this article helpful, Psychopath Basics Q and A