Identifying the Differences Between Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Borderline Personalities

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Do all personality disorders have some elements in common? Typically speaking, most personality disorders have some notable similarities, though there is great significance in the slight differences.

Most personality disorders carry with them trace amounts of narcissism. That is, personality disorders are characterized by disturbed patterns of thinking that put the sufferer at the front and center of their lives—a manifestation of narcissism. But actual narcissistic personality disorder is distinct from outright sociopathic behavior, and both are different from borderline personality disorder in important ways.

Read on for an explanation of the differences—and a description of some similarities—between narcissism, sociopathy, and borderline personality, and check out this post for more information on the hidden behaviors narcissists use in a relationship. 

Defining Traits of the Disorders

We are frequently inclined to state that narcissists lack empathy. This is true, of course, in a sense. What separates narcissism from these other disorders is that narcissists can recognize the feelings and needs of others, but they choose not to act upon that understanding. 

In contrast, the sociopathic individual is totally devoid of empathy. They have no ability to identify with others at all, which is why sociopaths are often viewed as violent and dangerous. A borderline personality is more difficult to pin down. They will act as if they have empathy, but it isn’t always clear that they do.

Narcissists are also quite dependent on others, even though they act as if they can manage everything on their own. Their arrogance and superiority complex make them seem invincible. However, they desperately need others for their narcissistic supply of attention, adoration, and validation. Without others, the narcissist is empty and incomplete.

In comparison, a sociopath truly does not need others for anything. In fact, the sociopath doesn’t even recognize other individuals as legitimate human beings. The borderline personality is at the opposite extreme, with their search for constant validation. They cannot stand to be alone for any length of time.

Perils of Unstable Personalities

Narcissists can be charming to get what they want, then quickly swing into demeaning or psychologically cruel behavior. They come across, at first, as charismatic personalities to which people are drawn.

It doesn’t take long, however, to grow tired of their self-aggrandizing behavior or their snobbish superiority. Covert narcissists employ a fake innocence and faux victimization that also wears thin over time.

Sociopaths, on the other hand, are like supercharged narcissists. They are extremely charming and disarmingly charismatic, which switches into cruel and violent behavior with alarming rapidity. Unlike narcissists, they are detached from other people, rather than dependent on them.

Borderline personalities display a rather chaotic set of personalities, depending on the situation. They are often described as “drama queens” and play the martyr with finesse. They can swing between portraying themselves as exceptionally generous and helpful to inappropriately angry and self-pitying. Borderline personalities often behave like (or are) addicts.

Other Primary Characteristics in Contrast

Some other common characteristics of narcissism is that these individuals show an exaggerated sense of entitlement alongside their arrogance, and they lack the ability for self-reflection. They aren’t able to make genuine connections with others, for the most part, and they grow bored of relationships quickly. They’re in it for their own self-interest.

In contrast, the sociopath doesn’t really have typical emotions at all. The sense of superiority they project comes across as cold and calculated. They don’t see themselves as superior so much as they see themselves as the only legitimate being. Nobody else is granted humanity in the eyes of a true sociopath. Their actions are always justified, because only they are allowed to act.

Someone with borderline personality disorder, in comparison, has too many moods. Unlike the sociopath, they have a bunch of chaotic emotions that move from extreme clinginess to detached seduction to cagily manipulative. They move quickly in relationships because they fear being alone. They validate their existence through the eyes of others.

Perspective on Relationships

One of the most notable traits of narcissism is in how they view other people. Narcissists most often see others—particularly those closest to them—as mere extensions of themselves. Their children are worthwhile to them insofar as they can reflect well on their own accomplishments or serve their own needs. Other people are available for the narcissist’s personal gain.

Perspective on Relationships

The sociopath is quite different. They simply have a complete disregard for other people. They are not interested in forming relationships, because they have no respect—indeed, no acknowledgement—for other people’s humanity. They see others as victims or, worse, mere animals.

In contrast to both types above, the borderline personality wants as much out of other people as they can get. This is both a positive trait, in that they truly enjoy being in the company of others, and a negative trait, as they are frequently needy and overbearing.

Childhood Origins of the Disorders

You can track the development of most personality disorders through their disruptive and abusive childhoods. For the narcissist, that upbringing is marked by other narcissists. Oftentimes, parents with narcissism will train their children to also be narcissists. Or, they are overindulged as children without given the coping skills for mature emotional development. This post offers more insight into how narcissism develops

The sociopath, tragically, often endures a childhood that is marred by trauma. Many sociopaths experience extreme physical and psychological abuse throughout their childhoods, as well as chronic neglect and outright abandonment. They are unable to form attachments to other people because they were never taught love or compassion.

The borderline personality also suffers from an abusive childhood, though not to the extent endured by the sociopath. Their chaotic upbringing might include abandonment issues, which taught them how to seduce and manipulate others to get what they need. They have a hard time establishing healthy relationships with others, because they have no clear model for this.

Final Thoughts

While these three personality disorders often intersect, they all contain some characteristics distinctive to each singular condition. Narcissistic qualities are found in all three disorders, while sociopaths fall on one dispassionate end of the spectrum and borderline personalities on the overly emotional other.

A common sign of all of these disorders is inappropriate anger or even rage. This post will give you some insight into what triggers narcissistic rage


If you want more tips for dealing with narcissists, setting boundaries, and managing emotional triggers, make sure you subscribe to my youtube channel


Narcissistic abuse takes a terrible toll on your life. I’m Patricia, and my mother is a narcissist, so I know what you’re going through. These blog posts will help you understand narcissism better and give you tips for dealing with the narcissists in your life. Healing starts here!

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