Sociopathy and psychopathy, characteristics and differences

S.ociopathy and psychopathy are two terms that we often consider “interchangeable”, but in truth they hide substantial differences

You will have heard (or used, admit it) the terms sociopath and psychopath a thousand times over and it is never something beautiful. Let’s also say that we associate these words with an “altered” mental state, out of the norm and which involves behaviors that are somehow “disturbing”. But sociopathy and psychopathy they are not the same, they have substantial differences. And above all, they are words that are almost always used improperly.

There is a grain of truth when with adjectives such as psychopath or sociopath we refer to people who act in a negative way, because we know (if we have met at least one) that they have difficulty understanding normal human feelings, have a relationship with emotions and consequently with others distorted.

But don’t forget that using terms inappropriately, especially those like psychopathy and sociopathy which have a certain specific weight, it is never correct and it is important to know them differences. And fully understand “who” they describe.

What is antisocial behavior

We feel obligated to start not with a difference, but with something that psychopathy and sociopathy have in common. Generally all diseases and disorders of the psyche are collected and deepened in the so-called Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) which is a bit like the “Bible” in this area. A book that collects, classifies and differentiates through symptoms and various documented cases mental illnessto put it simply.

Well, in the famous manual you will not find the items “psychopathy” and “sociopathy” because, in fact, doctors do not diagnose them as real disorders. “Sociopathy” is in a sense the term unofficial to define the broader antisocial personality disorder (APD). Psychopathy, on the other hand, it is not an official diagnosis and is not considered APD.

A matter of conscience

The differences between sociopathy and psychopathy can really seem like it very subtle and difficult to spot. And don’t be surprised if you find this difficulty because the truth is that they share a lot of traits in common. But if there is an obvious and important difference, it is conscience.

Consciousness is that part of our mind that allows us to have awareness of what surrounds us, the quality that determines ours ability to interact with the environment and with people. In psychology it is defined at various levels because – and this is a fact – not all of us have the same level of consciousness and not all of us have that inner “voice” that lets us know when we are doing something wrong.

Here, the psychopath does not have a conscience. He is a person who acts without the slightest scruple from an ethical and moral point of view because, in fact, he does not follow a moral. Not even for a nanosecond flashes in his mind that he could harm someone else. They just don’t care.

The sociopath, unlike the psychopath, possesses a conscience even if he carries out antisocial behaviors that would suggest the opposite. He is a conscious person, who recognizes when an action is wrong or immoral and that is why in general manages to feel guilt. The only problem is that awareness and remorse aren’t enough to stop it.

“Cold heart” vs “hot head”

The lack of conscience in the psychopath is total while, as we have seen, in the sociopath it is as if there is a minimum (sometimes very hidden) glimmer of awareness. That doesn’t make it more empathic than the psychopath and the truth is, however, both of them cannot interact with people “normally”. Both sociopathy and psychopathy lack the ability to put oneself in the other’s shoes and to understand the emotions and feelings of others.

You will surely have heard the term “psychopath” used in reference to violent and dangerous people, to all that series of characters a la Hannibal Lecter (serial killers, so to speak) that fuel our worst nightmares. It is not wrong and know that these individuals are precisely the psychopaths par excellence: cold, calculating, they never act on impulse but think in detail every single move.

The psychopath is a skilled manipulator who can turn you around like a sock if he really wants to. If you fall victim to such a person, you will most likely find yourself thinking or doing things you never even imagined. Because you, a human being, are a means to an end.

The sociopath lacks this “acting” ability, it fails to pretend to be something it is not. On the contrary, he just doesn’t have the patience to calculate moves, make plans, develop a plan. He thinks only of himself, he doesn’t care what you feel or how you may feel once he has done something to you and he does it like this, without even thinking. (Then maybe he feels guilty, but now what’s done is done).

Family history

Chances are you’ve read or heard that people are born a psychopath, and a sociopath becomes over time. Let’s start by telling you that this is a rather generic distinction that cannot be valid as an axiom. Many experts believe that psychopathy does indeed have one “genetic” componentthat is, that the psychopath tends to be like this due to an underdevelopment of some parts of the nervous system (such as the amygdala) that regulate emotions, fear and impulsivity.

In addition to the genetic factor, however, we cannot overlook everything that can contribute to the development of a behavioral disorder. Some studies state that family life plays a fundamental role in a psychopath, that often these people were born and lived in difficult and violence-prone contexts. Many have a history of drug abuse, still others of the absence of the maternal and paternal figures.

Sociopathy is also often associated with harmful childhood experiences, even sexual abuse and physical and mental violence. What unites them is, in any case, the influence of a past that has led psychopaths and sociopaths not to conceive stable relationships, to the perennial feeling of having been “robbed” of opportunitiesunlike all the others.

Brain differences

The topic is still open and widely discussed but, as we have mentioned, there are differences between sociopathy and psychopathy already at the organic level. The latest research suggests, in fact, that a psychopath’s brain is not like that of other people and that this somehow affects her behavior.

In practice there are physical differences, parts of the nervous system less developed than in a “normal” brain that deprive the person in question of the ability to feel emotions like others, identify with others, understand the anguish of others. They even react differently when they witness violence or even see blood. Most people sweat, breathe heavily, have a pounding heart but the psychopath no: he calms down. This is what makes him truly dangerous and unable to feel remorse.

Sociopathy and psychopathy, characteristics and differences