This is a conversation that crops up quite frequently in terms of ascertaining whether somebody is a narcissist or a sociopath. It is something that I have discussed with the good doctors as part of their ongoing assessment and treatment of me. This has provided me with additional insight which I am obliged to share with you. It is universally acknowledged that all sociopaths are narcissists but not all narcissists are sociopaths. Rather than regard narcissists and sociopaths as two separate creatures, I regard them as existing on the same spectrum. You are on this spectrum as well just so you don’t feel left out.
Way off to the left are those people who exhibit some slight degree of narcissistic tendency, since everybody has them and this is where you are your empathic brethren reside. Moving to the right the intensity and the prevalence of these narcissistic tendencies increases although one would still not call somebody at this juncture a narcissist. Eventually as we continue to the right we enter the narcissist zone. Hereon in one finds the narcissist. To begin with, in this zone are those who I label as Lesser Narcissists. These people are narcissists but do not have the higher cognitive function. These people have no awareness of what they are, reject any notion they are a narcissist and operate in the main as a consequence of instant response and knee-jerk reaction. Moving further to the right come those who are the Mid-Range Narcissist. These are narcissists too but they have a cognitive function which is higher than that of the lesser. They have a greater awareness, there is some calculation and forethought but this is as a consequence of their higher function, not as a consequence of a prevailing sociopathy. Continuing to the right on this spectrum we now enter the sociopathic zone. We remain in the narcissistic zone still because the narcissistic traits remain evident but they are supplemented and indeed in some instances supplanted by the sociopathic tendencies. This is where we find the Greater Narcissist (the malign narcissist or the narcissistic sociopath). This is the overall spectrum ranging from few narcissistic traits which are weak in nature all the way through to a full-blown narcissistic sociopath.
This spectrum is an accumulation of Character Strands. These strands also operate on a spectrum. At the far left there is non-existent, moving through to occasional, then repeated, then prevalent and finally on the far right, overwhelming. These strands show the intensity and strength of certain key characteristics. Once these strands are bundled together there is a cumulative outcome which places the person at a particular point on the narcissistic spectrum. These strands explain why you may find someone who is to be regarded as a lesser narcissist because some strands show increased tendencies, for example prevalent Self-Interest but then lower intensity in another characteristic such as Malice. Just because somebody is a Mid-Range narcissist it does not necessarily follow that all the Character Strands are middling in nature. Some might be, others will be lesser and some higher, but it is when these are looked at as a whole that the determination of that person being a Mid-Range narcissist is arrived at. This also means that those people who have sociopathic tendencies will score differently in the character traits but will have some similarity with others, denoting the narcissistic element of their personality.
Thus a Lesser Narcissist is far more narcissistic than sociopathic and has a lesser cognitive function. A Mid-Range Narcissist is more narcissistic than sociopathic, but has a higher cognitive function than a Lesser Narcissist. The Greater Narcissist has narcissistic traits and also sociopathic ones and is high functioning.
With regard to the strands the Lesser, Mid-Range and Greater Narcissists all score higher than a “normal” person but there are still differences thereafter between the three, with some characteristics being greater in others and therefore the eventual “type” of narcissist will vary.
So, what are these Character Strands? They are as follows: –
Lack of Empathy
Desire to Exploit
Lack of Accountability
Lack of Insight
Ability to Mimic
Power and Control
Desire to Punish
Desire to Win at All Costs
Need for Stimulation
Spadework to Succeed
How then do the intensity markers – Non-Existent, Occasional, Repeated, Prevalent and Overwhelming – apply to each of these Character Strands and what levels on each strand combine to create one of the three schools of narcissist? At this stage, I thought I might leave that with you to consider by reference to your own experiences before I elaborate further.