Many of us believe we can instinctively discern between psychopaths and sociopaths. The psychopath is a monster like Hannibal Lecter or Jeffrey Dahmer, one who relishes in the pain of others. On the other hand, a sociopath can function in society, and is likely the cold-hearted man who left his girlfriend for her best friend, or embezzled thousands from his boss. The sociopath seeks to please his or herself, disregarding others, while the psychopath actively seeks to harm.

This notion is somewhat true, but does not relay the full reality. The terms psychopath and sociopath are not real psychological diagnoses, but are cultural labels that are derived from the behaviors of people diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASP). Psychologists diagnose ASP in patients based on a long-standing pattern of disregard for the rights of other people. Some specific symptoms of ASP include:

  • A failure to conform to social mores or established laws
  • Lying or deceitful behaviors, such as using aliases, conning others, or blatant dishonesty.
  • Impulsive behaviors; lack of ability to plan ahead
  • Irritability or aggressiveness as demonstrated by violence
  • Recklessness and disregard for the safety of oneself and others
  • Irresponsibility without concern
  • Lack of remorse

Many psychologists agree that Antisocial Personality Disorder is based upon several factors including genetics, social environment and upbringing, childhood abuse and other psychological factors. These psychologists agree that ASP is not inherited and cannot be diagnosed until one has reached 18 years of age.

While ASP’s traits describe both the typical psychopath and sociopath, the difference between the two comes down largely by degree. Many experts believe that psychopaths’ differences from most people derives more because of their genetics, while sociopaths tend to disregard others based on their experiences. It is believed that psychopaths lack the ability to consider right and wrong, and often find pleasure in harming others. Sociopaths typically have become disconnected from morality, and believe their own needs supercede the wellbeing of others.

Another distinction is that sociopaths usually disregard strangers and the law, but can form close relationships with people who they will treat with much more respect. On the other hand, psychopaths can coldly turn against their friends and family.

Psychopaths also tend to be organized and methodical. When sociopaths break the law or harm others, it is typically in a moment of impulsiveness. When psychopaths commit crimes, it is typically planned out, frequently to cause large amounts of damage. Psychopaths also tend to have more control over their emotions, and do not usually commit crimes that demonstrate an uncontrolled moment of anger, while sociopaths lose their temper more often.

Furthermore, sociopaths tend to be identified by their nervousness and temper, while psychopaths can frequently go about their daily lives seeming like normal, if not charismatic and friendly people. This is due to their meticulous care to their composure that sociopaths lack.

The differences between psychopaths and sociopaths are important, but both derive from similar types of abnormal behavior. While psychologists typically do not refer to people with ASP as sociopaths or psychopaths, it may be important for people to be cognizant of the differences between these two labels. It may be helpful to consider the signs of sociopaths and psychopaths to better manage one’s social interactions.

Sources

1. Bonn, Scott A. “How to Tell a Sociopath from a Psychopath.” Psychology Today. N.p., 22 Jan. 2014. Web. 15 Dec. 2015.

2. “Antisocial Personality Disorder Symptoms.” Psych Central. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2015.

A healthy relationship requires many qualities in order to blossom and grow. Virtues like respect and trust are critical in providing a solid foundation in a relationship, but empathy is essential in forming that deeper connection between you and your significant other.

One study shows that the perception of feeling understood, or being shown empathy, is a key component of satisfaction in romantic partnerships. Researchers propose that having someone understanding our feelings allows us to better acknowledge these emotions and enables us to ultimately live more satisfying lives (Cramer & Jowett, 2010).

Empathy, according to Psychology Today, is “the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective.” This can also be thought of as ‘perspective taking’, or envisioning how someone else is feeling in a given situation.

A three component model of empathy was first introduced by researchers Norma Feshbach and Shari Kuchenbecker. Accomplishing complete empathy requires all parts of the following model:

 

  1. The ability to distinguish and label the feelings of others.

 

We must be able to read and recognize how our partner feels in a given situation. Consider the way your partner might emotionally handle a given situation and how they might be affected because of it. In other words, being able to pinpoint the feeling that the other person is experiencing.

 

  1. The ability to take on others’ perspectives.

 

Beyond just identifying another’s feelings, we must also be able to see the situation through their eyes. Use what you know about them. Understand why they are feeling this way- everyone sees a situation differently. Everyone has a different perspective, and long-term relationships allow us to see how our partner may respond to different situations.

 

  1. Emotional capacity and responsiveness.

 

Essentially, we must be able to emotionally connect with our partners and react quickly and positively. To actually feel what they are feeling, and share their pain or happiness. This goes beyond the first two points and is the most critical. We must emotionally connect and share the same feelings experienced by your significant other. Fulfilling this point involves actually experiencing the emotion with them, and feeling exactly what they are feeling.

 

It is easy to get caught up in our own mindset, or become distracted by day to day life, and thus fail to see things in any other way. It’s also common to become frustrated when we do not understand our partner’s feelings and perspective. If you don’t catch yourself, this frustration can distance yourself from that emotional connection and severely damage your relationship. Furthermore, if we fall victim to a selfish mindset we will fail to empathize with our partners.

With just the right dose of empathy, the emotional connection between you and your significant other can greatly improve your relationship and bond.

 

Sources:

 

Cramer, D., & Jowett, S. (2010). Perceived empathy, accurate empathy and relationship satisfaction in heterosexual couples. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 27, 327–349. doi:10.1177/0265407509348384

If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a free, 24-hour hotline at 1.800.273.8255. If your issue is an emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.