(This was a post on my previous blog, Loner’s Highway, where I presented narcissists as another type of loner. Because they’re such problematic people, especially for shy people, I’m including them here.)
According to The Everything Guide to Narcissistic Personality Disorder, by Cynthia Lechan Goodman, MEd, and Barbara Leff, LCSW, someone may have narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD, if:
- They can’t put things in perspective, and blow situations out of proportion
- They have little or no empathy and can’t identify with the feelings or thoughts of another person.
- They are preoccupied with their own problems.
- They don’t respect authority and have little concern for morals.
- They feel inferior, but try to be seen as superior.
- They are extremely sensitive to any kind of criticism.
- They are often exhibitionists, and need sexual admiration.
- They are exploitative, vain, and not self-sufficient.
When you consider the lack of empathy, no respect for authority, and exploitative behavior, it’s not unreasonable to ask whether narcissist isn’t just another word for sociopath.
But based on the criteria there is a difference. A number of items don’t fit well with the detached, cool, scheming sociopath – preoccupation with yourself, inability to see things in perspective, feelings of inferiority, exhibitionism, and, maybe, extreme sensitivity. The sociopath, freed from those liabilities, should be a more formidable person.
However, in her book Confessions of a Sociopath: A life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight, sociopath lawyer M. E. Thomas speaks often of the sociopath’s quick anger. Apparently the sociopath’s detachment isn’t complete.
During my life, I’ve known two men who fit either narcissist or sociopath very well. Both of them flew into anger at the drop of a hat. Both were insensitive to other people, but acutely sensitive about themselves.
If you meet someone like that, my advice is – clear out immediately. They may present themselves in a charming way, but in the long run they’re big trouble.
There are some distinctive characteristics. The Everything Guide authors say some narcissists are lazy, “preferring fantasylands to reality, grandiose self-concepts over realistic self-evaluations, sexual fantasies to mature adult relationships, and daydreams to real-life achievements.” That doesn’t describe sociopaths, who seem to crave success and show a strong practical focus on action.
Then again, further into the The Everything Guide, we learn that a study of 39 U.S. Presidents from George Washington to Ronald Reagan concluded that narcissistic behavior is a common presidential trait.
You wouldn’t think narcissism should lend itself to success, but these authors say fame is often a result.
“. . . people are often fascinated by what can be seen as the narcissism and grandiosity of celebrities. And the media loves to paint top celebrities with the brush of narcissism, like Madonna, Michael Jackson, Tom Cruise, Suzanne Somers, Deepak Chopra, Oprah, and last but not least Charlie Sheen.”
That’s their list, not mine. I only see one or two possible narcissists there, however they seem to be suggesting that the media go out of their way to depict people as narcissists.
This raises another question. Why is social humanity so attracted to grandiose personalities? I don’t know the answer.
Most books about narcissists and sociopaths devote a lot of time to advice for getting rid of them, or surviving a relationship with one. For anyone in need of such help, I should say that there’s plenty of that in The Everything Guide.
If you’re shy and/or solitary, you may, like me, prefer walking in the mountains and forests to playing social games inside the human herd. I recommend it, for you rarely meet narcissists or sociopaths on mountain paths. You’re pretty safe there. The wilderness that narcissists and sociopaths like, and which they explore and exploit constantly, is the great maze we call society.
But if you’re going to venture into that maze, which most of us have to do sometimes, watch out for both narcissists and sociopaths.