The chaos of psychopath labels. Order out of chaos.

If you are not a professional you may have been confused when you looked up the differences between Anti Social Personality Disorder, narcissist, sociopath, and psychopath. If you were you would not be alone, there is some contention between psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists alike. Also the conflict spans cultures and countries. After careful analysis, it seems there is a profound, and likely unintentional order to the rough consensus.

First all of the above share a common attribute. Total lack of empathy. That is mentioned in every serious definition of these labels, and seems to tie all the terms to the label psychopath. In other words an ASPD, narcissist and sociopath are all psychopaths. Some might argue that all four labels are identical. I disagree. There are many attributes they do not consistently share.

ASPD is a formally defined term in the DSM-IV. It deals most directly with behavior that comes into conflict in legal and school settings. This seems to help the clarity needed for decisive action against outwardly displaying psychopaths. Both by setting law like requirements for diagnosis without including the hard to measure 'lack of empathy', and by sounding nicer than the term 'psychopath' inspiring less resistance to action. It seems to me that lacking empathy is in this case a strong possibility if not a certainty in most ASPD cases as defined.

Psychopath is often used to refer specifically to Anti Social Personality Disorder. ASPDs act outward and are more 'in your face.' than the other types of psychopaths, typically ending up as criminals. Many people including the press use psychopath and criminal interchangeably, when both are specifically referring to ASPD. Sociopaths and narcissists often escape local law enforcement because it is almost totally geared toward outwardly aggressive ASPD types. This does not mean they do not commit their share of crimes. Intelligence and regulatory agencies pursue sociopaths and narcissists all the time, often with poor results. Partly due to poor public support and understanding.

They all display the same variation of intelligence, social standing, and wealth. Lack of intelligence can limit each type making them less successful. All three apply large amounts of their available intelligence into blending and appearing normal leaving less than typical mental resources for socially acceptable, productive pursuits.

Now that we know who they are and what they have in common, what are their differences?

Viewing the above subtypes of psychopaths something stood out to me. I think that the 3 non-empaths are actually a progression.

Narcissist -> Anti Social Personality Disorder -> Sociopath.

Why? Narcissist rage is actually typical ASPD behavior. They all believe we are extensions of themselves, known as projections. Narcissists internalize this, unconscious of their own nature. When this model is challenged they are forced to express themselves to maintain it. ASPD trade self gratification for self actualization and express their rage. Sociopaths further self actualize by realizing that revealing their nature is unnecessary to validate their disgust and disregard for their projections (other humans.) That's why so many sociopaths tend to be disproportionately smart compared to the other psychopaths. They could never complete this internal journey, isolated from society, without some intelligence.

So if you stare at ordered list above you may see another pattern. It is one of the most established patterns in psychology.

id -> ego -> superego

That's correct, it correlates to Freud's model conventional human development of the subconscious. The progression is the same. But instead of how an empathetic human relates to the humans around them, it's how the psychopath relates to their own externalizations. Could this be a coincidence? Could it be that the cumulative psychological fields have collectively, subconsciously, recognized Freud's model in psychopaths?

One way thinking about the id/ego/superego helps is to realize that the narcissist/ASPD/sociopath classifications play into an individual psychopath's hands during classification and diagnostic efforts, masking at least some of their weaknesses and abilities. They are all a blend. Very few humans are all ID, or have NO superego for example. Likewise most psychopaths incorporate at least some of the attributes of each of the three into themselves.

Lets compare the sub-components. It seems to me that there is a natural progression with the differences in these states. Psychopaths start as a self involved unaware narcissist where everyone is projection, then they become angry with the world, decide it is broken and lash out as a ASPD, and then finally recognize that they can live a happier (selfish) life with more cunning and self control. Some indicators include the similarity of narcissist rage to ASPD, and fear or reprisal and the tendency of therapy aimed at growing the ego and superego to make psychopaths progressively more manipulative. This can result in people with one disorder, psychopathy, displaying wide variations of measurable symptoms.

If this model is accepted, not only may it form another unexpected proof of Freud's model of the subconscious, but it may provide another powerful tool for understanding and identifying psychopaths.

Matthew A. Newhall

If this interests you, please share. I will be happy to answer questions and defend my theory.

You may be interested in my blog, The Civilization Gene

My other theories on the human mind.