The depiction of colorful, dangerous characters on TV and in film has brought psychological terms into the common vernacular. The words “narcissist” and “sociopath” are bandied about by pundits, on Facebook, and at the dinner table – sometimes (and incorrectly) interchangeably. We weigh in on the mental health of public figures. We think of “Little Finger,” or at the extreme, Ramsay Bolton on Game of Thrones, and we assume we know what the labels “narcissist” and “sociopath” mean and that we could easily spot such characters in real life.
There is certainly some overlap between these two personality disorders, which is why they are both part of the “Cluster B” group in the DSM (comprised of narcissistic, histrionic, antisocial, and borderline personality disorders). Sociopathy is captured by the diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder. Despite both being part of this “dramatic erratic”, cluster, however, the two disorders are not interchangeable. Nor are they always so easy to identify in the day-to-day.
It’s actually much easier to spot narcissists, sociopaths, or those who are “off,” in some way on TV than it is in real life for a variety of reasons. Below I list several of these, as well as what the criteria are for these disorders. The points below may help you to spot the potential problem person before getting in too deep, or at least help you assess what you’re dealing with and get help if need be. (And it will certainly help you to be more accurate when you weigh in on public figures on social media.)