In today’s society, the terms “sociopath” and “psychopath” are often used interchangeably. What people do not realize is, although both are similar in definition, there are a few key items that make the terms different when applied to the person being diagnosed.
For the most part, the mental health field has come to a general agreement that psychopathy is a more innate, almost genetic phenomenon whereas sociopathy is more due to environmental influences despite it having a similar clinical presentation to psychopathy. Essentially, it is the nature versus nurture argument.
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Let us look first at their commonalities. Both sociopaths and psychopaths will show a pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others starting in adolescence. They may fail to conform to societal norms; this is generally seen with respect to lawful behavior. There is almost always a pervasive pattern of deceitfulness and manipulation of the people around them. Both may have a reckless disregard for the safety of themselves or others. There is also consistent irresponsibility, most likely seen in an inability to maintain a job or pay bills.
Now let us look at the more in-depth differences between our two similar, yet different personality types. Although both parties are manipulative beings, a psychopath will have no remorse over any wrongdoings done to those around him or her whereas a sociopath may feel remorseful if one of the few people he or she has emotionally attached to gets hurt. The sociopath will lack empathy toward greater society like the psychopath, but doesn’t lack it entirely. Where the psychopath is organized and purposely callous, yet charismatic and able to affect feelings in order to appear “normal” to society, a sociopath is less organized and may appear anxious or short-fused. He or she is more likely to act spontaneously and inappropriately with no thought to potential consequences. A psychopath will be able to move through society more cleanly due to a lack of attachments. Conversely, a sociopath will have difficulty in society while attempting to keep the select few he or she cares about from getting wrapped up in his or her lies and manipulations.
Although these two personality types seem almost interchangeable, there are distinct differences between sociopaths and psychopaths that make them more like two sides of the same coin. Hopefully our continued efforts to acknowledge the small, but significant differences between the two will pave the way for better understanding and treatment of the people with these disorders.