Psychopaths, Sociopaths, Narcissists, and Dark Empaths: Who is more harmful?

Have you ever met a sociopath, psychopath, narcissist, or dark empath before? Have you ever wondered who would be the most harmful out of all four personalities? These personality disorders have dark traits or characteristics that make them dangerous to normal people in varying degrees. 

Some personalities are more aggressive than others, some conceal themselves better than others but what they all have in common is their manipulative traits. While they all manipulate people to get what they want, each has their unique way and reason behind why they do it. 

In this article, we will explore each dark personality type briefly before going into which one could be the most harmful to your mental health. Remember that this article is for information and educational purposes only. It is not meant to diagnose, treat, or advise anything. If you need help or direction please contact a mental health provider near you. 

Keep reading to find out more about the four dark personality types, and their characteristics. 

1- Sociopaths

Image Credit/ Evelyn Chong

Sociopathy is a term used by both professionals and regular people to describe someone with an antisocial personality disorder. Psychology characterizes sociopaths as having a conscience but a weak one. Even if they know that their actions are wrong, they will find ways to justify their actions. 

In addition, and according to an article in Very Well Mind, sociopaths also display the following characteristics:

  • Make it clear they do not care how others feel
  • Behave in hot-headed and impulsive ways
  • Prone to fits of anger and rage
  • Recognize what they are doing but rationalize their behavior
  • Cannot maintain a regular work and family life
  • Can form emotional attachments, but it is difficult
  • Are erratic

Sociopaths can have and feel empathy but it is a lower percentage of empathy compared to other people. People with antisocial personality disorder are considered to be manipulative, they often don’t see or care little (if at all) about what they do and how it affects others as long as they are getting what they want. 

Lying is a recurrent theme with sociopaths, as well as disregard for things, people, or commitments, spiteful behavior, risk-taking, reacting negatively when confronted by a fallout, among others. People with antisocial personality disorder do not understand the difference between right and wrong, they do not respect others, they are impulsive, and have difficulty recognizing emotion.

This type of personality disorder is said to be a chronic condition that you’re born with or something that was learned at a young age due to an abusive family dynamic.  According to VeryWell Mind, these abusive family dynamics include sexual abuse, physical violence, and parental instability. 

2- Psychopaths

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The term psychopath is an unofficial and unregistered term for a small percentage of people who suffer from an antisocial personality disorder. In contrast to sociopaths, psychopaths have no empathy. Although both sociopaths and psychopaths are people who have an antisocial personality disorder and display almost the same traits, there are a few things that set them apart. 

For example, while sociopaths are hot-headed and erratic, psychopaths are the exact opposite and display cold-hearted behavior. Sociopaths tell you that they do not care, but psychopaths pretend to care. You will notice a sociopath for their risk-taking behavior and hot-headedness that often leads them to function outside of social norms and laws, but psychopaths tend to maintain the illusion of normal life within social norms and laws. 

In an interview with The Cleveland Clinic, psychiatrist Andrew Coulter, MD, says that they diagnose people with antisocial personality disorder based on the behavior that they see. 

“With sociopathy, we’re often making the diagnosis based on what we or others see”, says Coulter, “With psychopathy, the diagnosis is based more on what that person is thinking and how they got to that point.”

Similar to sociopaths, studies have shown that psychopaths tend to come from unstable households or environments where violence, substance abuse, and parental negligence were present. 

It seems though, that while most sociopaths are made that way due to their circumstances, most psychopaths exhibit their personality disorder due to an imbalance in the chemicals of the brain says Willem H. J. Martens, MD, Ph.D. in an article

“In the past decade, neurobiological explanations have become available for many of the traits of psychopathy”, says Martens, “For example, impulsivity, recklessness/irresponsibility, hostility, and aggressiveness may be determined by abnormal levels of neurochemicals…”

Martens also suggests that contrary to popular belief, psychopaths do feel emotions like sadness and loneliness. Despite the consensus and the media portrayal, sociopaths and psychopaths are not necessarily as prone to violence as people may think. Violence like that shown in movies is not common but it is not rare either. 

A study conducted by Arielle Baskin-Sommers in a Connecticut maximum-prison could help explain why some psychopaths do behave violently. The study which measured psychopathic tendencies in the inmates revealed that despite their lack of empathy, sociopaths could understand the perspective of others. 

“The results show that psychopaths (or male ones, at least) do not automatically take the perspective of other people”, says the article explaining Baskin-Sommers’ study, “What is involuntary to most people is a deliberate choice to them, something they can actively switch on if it helps them to achieve their goals, and ignore in other situations. That helps to explain why they behave so callously, cruelly, and even violently”.

3- Narcissists

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One of the most notable traits of narcissism is the egotistical self-love that a person demonstrates. This is why many people call others narcissists when they perceive that the other person is presenting a sense of ego and entitlement. But calling someone a narcissist doesn’t automatically mean that they have a narcissistic personality disorder. 

All of us have narcissistic traits that help us navigate our sense of self. When these traits are inflated, blown out of proportion, and develop into a personality disorder it becomes a problem. 

Psychology describes narcissistic personality disorder as the personality trait of vanity, self-superiority, entitlement, dominance, grandiosity, and a craving for admiration and submission. It is said that “people high in narcissism believe that they deserve more than anybody else because they are better than everybody else”.

Another characteristic that sets the narcissists apart is, that due to their very little empathy or lack thereof, they view other people as objects to be used for their benefit. Once that person is perceived as not fulfilling the narcissist’s needs, they are thrown out or exchanged for someone else, much like an appliance. 

There are different types of narcissism and different ways that the narcissistic personality disorder can manifest but for the sake of keeping this article concise, we will not go into them. 

Instead, we will look at how someone who was diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder views themselves. HG Tudor is a YouTuber and a clinically diagnosed narcissist. According to Tudor, who studies narcissism himself, narcissism is a self-defense mechanism that focuses on acquiring the prime aims which are fuel and control; character traits, and residual benefits. 

“Fuel is, in essence, an emotional output”, says Tudor in his video where he explains what narcissism is, “Any interaction that you have with the narcissist, which is an emotional output in some form, demonstrating either positive or negative emotions is all fuel to us”. 

These interactions can take the form of verbal and physical exchanges, from the simplest of positive phrases to the most negative of actions.

“If you say, for example,  ‘I love you’ that’s fuel”, says Tudor, “If you angrily tell the narcissist that he’s mean, that’s fuel. If you glare at the narcissist, that’s fuel. If you go hug the narcissist, that’s fuel. If you send the narcissist a birthday card with birthday greetings, that’s fuel. If you leave a dog turd on his doorstep, that’s fuel”. 

The next things that a narcissist wants to acquire are character traits, which Tudor describes as aspects of the person’s life that narcissists take in as their own and pass off as their own. Lastly, residual benefits are things like a place to live, money, a car, sex, someone to wash clothes for you, someone to make dinner for you, access to the other person’s network of contacts, information, etc. 

“Narcissism seeks out the fulfillment of the prime aims of fuel and control, character traits, and residual benefits from all of the people that we interact with”, Tudor explains, “Our sense of entitlement enables us to obtain those prime aims. Exploitative behavior is part of our mechanism to obtain those prime aims”. 

But, where do this defense mechanism and these character traits develop? Similar to people who suffer from an antisocial personality disorder, narcissists develop at a young age due to unstable, abusive, negligent, and violent home conditions. On the other hand, narcissism can also form due to having been exalted or protected at high levels by the parents when the narcissist was young. 

4- Dark Empaths

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A 2021 study introduced a new term to the psychology field, called the dark empath. In this study, it was discovered that these people tend to score high on empathy but also high on dark triad traits like narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. 

So, dark empaths have narcissistic and psychopathic traits while at the same time being empathic. But this empathy is only cognitive, meaning that they only know how people feel but do not feel it themselves. Knowing how others feel gives them an advantage, and makes it easier for them to manipulate others. 

A few traits that characterize dark empaths are high extroversion, they like power and leadership but do not want to lead all of the time, they have a superiority complex, they are talented and skillful, they are great at emotional manipulation, they are good at guilt-tripping others, and they enjoy malicious jokes or making fun of others. 

Much like the earlier personality types, dark empaths manipulate to get what they want but because they are more empathic dark empaths also have more control and conscience when it comes to what’s right and what’s wrong. Therefore they can become aware of themselves much faster and better than sociopaths, psychopaths, and narcissists. And they can choose to do good or benignly use their skills. 

Due to the novel nature of this study, there is a lot that isn’t known when it comes to dark empaths and more research is needed. 

Who is more harmful to you?

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All of the personality types mentioned above have high manipulative traits, but they are not at the same level. Although all of these personality types are spectrums, two types stand out due to their empathic tendencies or lack thereof. 

The first one is the psychopath. Psychopaths lack empathy. Due to this psychopaths do not care if they hurt or how they hurt others in the pursuit of their own needs and desires. Joe Navarro, an FBI veteran, said in a Psychology Today blog that psychopaths are “individuals that habitually live by taking advantage of others physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically, or financially, without remorse”. Making them, in his book, the most dangerous personality type when compared to narcissists.  Another Psychology Today article also places psychopaths above sociopaths in the danger scale. 

On the other hand and in light of the introduction of the new dark empath personality, some experts have started to consider the dark empath as the most dangerous personality type because the dark empath has direct access to knowing what other people are feeling through their intuition rather than having to study people like the other dark personalities have to do. 

But, while some experts consider the dark empath a personality on its own, other experts say that the dark empath is a narcissist or sociopath who can feel some empathy towards others. 

With that being said, if you do not believe that dark empaths exist and you exclude the fact that there are times when people can be diagnosed with multiple personality disorders like narcissistic sociopaths or narcissistic psychopaths, then the most dangerous type of personality would be the psychopath.

If you do believe that dark empaths exist, then the one who would be on top would most likely be the dark empath due to their ability to tune in to your emotions through empathy. Which is the conclusion that some experts have come to. Remember to take into consideration that there is still much we do not know about dark empaths, and further research is required. 

Which one of these dark personality types do you think is the most dangerous or harmful to you and your mental health? Let us know in the comments. Don’t forget to check out our YouTube channel for more about psychology. 

Sources:

Blanchard, A., Bloxsom, C. A. J., Firth, J., Harper, A., Heym, N., Kibowski, F., 

Sumich, A., & Wallace, L. (2021, February 1). The Dark Empath: Characterising dark traits in the presence of empathy. ScienceDirect. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0191886920303615?via%3Dihub

Carter, L. [Surviving Narcissism ]. (2021, August 30). What You Should Know About Dark Empathy [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1kOl3H3L2U

Deibe, I. (2022, January 27). Dark empath traits: 6 signs someone has ‘the most dangerous personality.’ Express.Co.Uk. https://www.express.co.uk/life-style/life/1479097/dark-empath-traits-dangerous-personality-evg

Martens, W. H. J. (2021, June 29). The Hidden Suffering of the Psychopath. Psychiatric Times. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/hidden-suffering-psychopath

Mitchell, M. [Psych2Go]. (2021, February 24). 5 Things Dark Empaths Don’t Want You To Know [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pHbqxhMjhs

Morin, A. (2021, November 30). Could Someone I Know Be a Psychopath? Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-a-psychopath-5025217

Navarro, J. (2017, December 28). Narcissist or Psychopath – How Can You Tell? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/spycatcher/201712/narcissist-or-psychopath-how-can-you-tell

Pandita, S. (2022, February 13). Dark Empath: The Most Dangerous Personality Type. Theviolentheart. https://theviolentheart.com/dark-empath-the-most-dangerous-personality-type/#:%7E:text=Dark%20empath%20%E2%80%94%20A%20group%20of,golden%20expertise%20in%20emotional%20manipulation

Purce, M. (2020, June 15). How Sociopaths Are Different from Psychopaths. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-a-sociopath-380184

Tudor, H. G. [HG Tudor – Knowing the Narcissist: Ultra]. (2020, October 17). What is narcissism? [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20QTsUyUO8I

WebMD Editorial Contributors. (2020, December 3). Narcissism: Symptoms and Signs. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/narcissism-symptoms-signs#:%7E:text=Narcissism%20is%20extreme%20self%2Dinvolvement,needs%20of%20those%20around%20them.&text=People%20who%20show%20signs%20of,right%20away%2C%20especially%20in%20relationships

Yong, E. (2021, July 14). How Psychopaths See the World. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/03/a-hidden-problem-at-the-heart-of-psychopathy/555335/

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