The Thin Line Between Self-Adoration and Sociopathy: Narcissistic vs. Antisocial Personality Disorders

Personality disorders refer to a group of ten mental health disorders, all characterized by some of their overlapping symptoms and manifestations. The closer some of those symptoms are related, the more overlap there is and the bigger the challenge of differentiating. However, it is important to know the intricate differences between antisocial and narcissistic personality disorders in order to get a proper diagnosis and treatment

Antisocial personality disorder vs narcissistic personality disorder 

Personality disorders are grouped into three distinct clusters:

  • Cluster A
  • Cluster B
  • Cluster C

Cluster B includes:

  1. Antisocial personality disorder
  2. Borderline personality disorder
  3. Histrionic personality disorder
  4. Narcissistic personality disorder

Cluster B has four types of personality disorders, which are grouped together because of erratic behaviors, including emotional instability and impulsivity. Some of the shared traits between them include:

  • Emotional instability
  • Erratic behaviors
  • Impulsivity 

Given that they are under the same cluster, it can be difficult to understand narcissistic personality disorder vs antisocial differences and where they overlap. This article will focus on contrasting antisocial personality disorder and narcissism to help provide a better understanding of both.

Narcissistic Man with Crown

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

The term “narcissist” gets thrown around a lot to refer to someone who is selfish, but a narcissistic personality disorder is a legitimate mental health disorder. 

-Understanding Narcissistic Traits

The biggest trait of narcissistic personality disorder is a pervasive pattern of:

  1. No empathy for others
  2. Grandiosity
  3. A need for admiration

Someone with NPD is likely to have an exaggerated or unrealistic sense of their self-importance. They typically overestimate their abilities or exaggerate their accomplishments. Most people with whom they interact would describe them as pretentious. 

Other NPD traits mean that someone with NPD would assume that they are highly valued by those around them and that everyone around them would do whatever they ask. They are often preoccupied with fantasies of power or adoration from famous or important people, thinking that they will receive great things in life because they are so unique. 

Tangentially, NPD traits mean that individuals believe they are unique, something everyone else will eventually recognize. However, they are also likely to be reliant upon admiration from everyone around them, and their self-esteem is typically fragile. For that reason, they regularly seek out the admiration of others. 

-Diagnostic Criteria for NPD

Narcissistic personality disorder symptoms usually begin in early adulthood. A diagnosis requires five or more of the following to receive a diagnosis:

  1. A grandiose sense of self-worth, such as regularly exaggerating talents or achievements and expecting to be recognized as superior to everyone else without actually having Superior talents
  2. Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited beauty, love, brilliance, power, or success
  3. Believing that you are special or unique and only people in high-status positions can understand that
  4. Requiring excessive admiration
  5. Having a sense of entitlement and expecting things like automatic compliance with expectations or setting unreasonable expectations for favorable treatment
  6. Being interpersonally exploitative, such as regularly taking advantage of others to achieve personal ends
  7. Lacking empathy and being unwilling to identify with the needs or feelings of others
  8. Being envious of other people and believing that other people are envious of them
  9. Showing arrogant and haughty attitudes and behaviors

Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD)

Antisocial personality disorder is characterized by a lack of respect for others or social rules. It often results in emotional and physical harm to others, and the person responsible for said harm does not take responsibility for their actions or the consequences that follow. 

-Exploring Antisocial Traits

Antisocial traits begin to manifest before the age of 15 and continue into adulthood. Someone who struggles with antisocial personality disorder will not conform to social norms or respect lawful requirements. This is typically manifested by breaking the law regularly without any remorse.

The central trait is repeatedly behaving in such a way that is grounds for a rest whether or not they actually get arrested. This could mean:

  • Destroying property
  • Harassing others
  • Stealing
  • Working in illegal jobs

Someone with antisocial personality disorder is regularly deceitful and manipulative in order to gain things like money, power, or sex. They will manipulate others for personal gain or for profit without any remorse. It’s not uncommon for them to lie, use aliases, or con other people in order to achieve these ends. The lack of remorse applies to the irritability and aggressive behavior that often results in physical fights or reckless behavior like recurrent speeding, multiple accidents, or driving under the influence. 

Moreover, someone who has antisocial personality traits have patterns of impulsivity which means all of their thoughts are made spur of the moment and this can mean sudden changes to where they live, where they work, or their relationships. This impulsivity hinders their ability to plan ahead.

-Diagnostic Criteria for ASPD

In order to be diagnosed with ASPD, someone must have the following:

  1. Three or more of the following since the age of 15:
    1. Failure to conform to social expectations with respect to lawful behavior, as evidenced by regularly breaking the law in such a way that warrants an arrest
    2. Deceitfulness like lying, using aliases, or conning other people for pleasure or profit
    3. Impulsivity and a failure to plan ahead
    4. Irritability and aggressiveness, which often manifest in physical fights or assaults
    5. Reckless disregard for the safety of self or others
    6. Consistent irresponsibility, like not honoring financial obligations or not going to work when it is expected
    7. Lack of remorse, particularly being indifferent to having stolen, mistreated, or hurt others
  2. Be at least 18
  3. Have evidence of symptoms before age 15
  4. Symptoms cannot be better explained by bipolar disorder or schizophrenia

Key Differences Between NPD and ASPD

There are several key differences between NPD and ASPD, namely, relating to self-image and relationships, emotional regulation and empathy, and impulse control and risk-taking behavior. 

-Self-Image and Relationships

When you look at self-image and relationships for narcissistic vs. antisocial personality disorder, there is a significant difference. Someone who has a narcissistic personality disorder has a distorted self-image, but that self-image is also tied to the beliefs of other people. With low self-esteem they are constantly seeking reassurance from other people about their grandiose and exaggerated sense of self. This can make relationships emotionally one-sided and challenging.

By comparison, someone with antisocial personality disorder isn’t bothered with their self-image or their relationships. With a lack of remorse for how they behave, impulsivity, and other behaviors, they are likely to get into fights with those with whom they have relationships, including things like domestic abuse and child abuse. They are also likely to cut ties with any relationships based on impulsive actions.

-Emotional Regulation and Empathy

When you are looking at narcissistic personality disorder vs. antisocial personality disorder, a big difference lies in the emotional regulation and empathy traits.

Someone who struggles with narcissistic personality disorder might not be capable of empathy for the needs of others, but someone with narcissistic personality disorder doesn’t care about hurting others in pursuit of Their Own gain.

-Impulse Control and Risk-Taking Behavior

Someone struggling with ASPD cannot control their impulses, nor can they plan ahead, so they are likely to do things like quit a job, move to a new city, or break off relationships without any thought, planning, or remorse. They are also likely to engage in several risk-taking behaviors that are risky to others and themselves.

NPD traits might have problems with risk-taking behavior and impulsivity as it relates to trying to get attention from other people and making sure that others understand how unique they are.

Summing up

There are several main differences between antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder, having to do with emotional regulation, empathy, risk-taking behavior, and harm to others. It is important to get an accurate diagnosis and tailored treatment approaches for addressing the unique needs of any individual with these complex psychological conditions.