We often use the terms sociopath and psychopath interchangeably. It is fair to say that there are a fair amount of similarities between the two disorders. They are both labelled as Antisocial Personality Disorders but they are quite different in a lot of ways.
There are three main traits that are commonly associated with both disorders. They are conceitedness, deceitfulness and manipulative behaviour. People who suffer from the disorders also appear to have a very warped moral compass.
While it is true that they can manipulate, sociopaths tend to be more prone to instinctive behaviour. A sociopath lives for the moment with no thought for the consequences. As a result of this, they are prone to issues with alcohol and drugs because they can’t see the consequences in their actions. Unlike a psychopath who has a complete inability to comprehend emotions, sociopaths have a limited sense of empathy so they can form meaningful relationships.
There was one case of a sociopath who murdered 47 women but was happily married. When he was sentenced his wife couldn’t believe it because he had been such an attentive husband.
They tend to have issues settling down and may have problems holding on to a job. Because their desire to work is fuelled exclusively by their set of wants often they can turn to scams in order to produce money to live the kind of life that they want. Their diminished sense of empathy means they have no problem in stealing from strangers.
While sociopaths tend to live for the moment a psychopath is far better at blending into society. They are not always violent either, despite the obvious associations. In fact, due to the emotional disconnect and the desire for power people who suffer from psychopathy are often able to carve decent careers out for themselves.
It isn’t uncommon to find psychopaths in high-powered positions such as in the legal profession or as CEOs. We get it that sounds like such a stereotype, lawyers are soulless! But their ability to remain calm and calculated and to coerce, charm and manipulate make them ideal in these positions.
Psychopaths tend to be able to compensate for their inability to feel emotions by being skilled actors, because of this they seem just like their more emotional kin. They put on a social veneer which lets them operate in society. Quite often they will do charity work, or do things to help the community, not due to the warm feelings it gives them but to portray they are good people.
An example of this would be the serial killer John Wayne Gacy who was famed for helping local charities and used to dress up as a clown to entertain local children. Creepy.
Psychopaths do not feel emotions and so don’t feel guilty or remorse over their actions, but they are often high functioning and intelligent, often well-educated. It is because of this they can often fit perfectly in society.
Have I ever met one?
You probably have. According to recent studies, sociopaths account for about 5% of the population, whereas psychopaths comprise about 1%. That isn’t particularly uncommon. When you consider that basically means one in every twenty people is a sociopath, take a look at how many people you have on your friend’s list.
However, it is important to remember that these are still just people. Not all of them want to kill you. Not everybody who suffers from psychopathy has murderous tendencies. They are not all the next Ted Bundy. Not all sociopaths are going to go on killing sprees. if they did the population would be in trouble given their numbers.