A Brief Overview of Sociopathy and Psychopathy

People love the shows Sherlock on BBC and Dexter on Showtime.  I love both.  Both of the lead characters on those shows share something important.  They are described as being “sociopaths”.  Are they really though?  Could it be that they are “psychopaths” instead?  Is there even a difference in the two?  Well, yes, there is actually.  There are a few key differences.  I can delve into the really deep stuff.  However, I do not know how many of you have studied psychology and how many of you understand much about that discipline.  As such, I will just be giving the basic differences here so that people that have not studies psychology can get a bit of an understanding.  That means that this will have a tone of glittering generalities in it.  If you have any questions about what those glittering generalities are, feel free to let me know down in the comments section.

First off, what is sociopaths and psychopaths tend to fall into the same category when it comes to categorizing them in terms of the mental health spectrum.  In all fairness, the two do have a lot in common.  Both types of people tend to be antisocial and have some odd personality quirks when it comes to showing emotion.  Many will be amoral when it comes to handling certain situations.  A great number of both will have some form of quirkiness when it comes to learning.  In some situations it is a learning impairment and in some situations it takes the form of learning about subjects to the point of sometimes the behavior is similar to that of someone with Asperger Syndrome.  There are a great number of things that these two mental disorders have in common and I could go on, but let us get to the differences.

While both psychopaths and sociopaths also have problems with feeling empathy, psychopaths either have so many problems with it that they isolate themselves because they do not know how to handle situations or they just flat out do not express it at all.  This is where the disorder becomes dangerous.  Those that have no empathy do not see problems with causing harm to other.  These people tend to be violent in nature and may not express it at all times.  Certain actions that they perform do not fit circumstances and they may come off as acting fake.  They do not have a set plan for their life and often exhibit poor judgment.  While they come off as being intelligent they usually just mask it well by knowing a lot about a certain subject and do not like talking about subjects that they do not know anything about.  When brought out of their comfort zone they become aggressive and disgruntled with the person and may lash out at them.  If you are going to be putting the lead characters of the shows mentioned above into either category, Dexter would be more of a psychopath than a sociopath because he actually does go out and actively kill people without remorse unless it comes to almost getting caught.  It is difficult to treat psychopaths without heavy medication or being locked up in an isolated prison cell.  In fact, many believe this disorder to be untreatable.

Sociopaths are sometimes described as “gentle psychopaths” or “non-violent psychopaths”.  While this is almost true, most of the psychology professors and psychologists that I have spoken with seem to think this probably is not the case.  Sociopaths often do have a problem with empathy, but rather than shutting others out of their life or not expressing it they instead act as though they are flustered about the whole situation as if they do not understand entirely what is going on.  That is probably true!  This can lead to depression because other people shut them out because of this strange behavior and it may end up causing depression to the point of suicidal thoughts that are never carried out.  The suicidal thoughts that are never carried out seem to stem from a fear of not being entirely sure that that is how the situation at hand should be handled.  While they may seem violent, they usually do not act on these impulses or they channel them into something less destructive or not destructive at all.  Sociopaths usually are intelligent and that is what is “dangerous” about them.  They know a lot of things about a lot of things, but they may have a few subjects that they are interested in the same way that a person with Asperger Syndrome does.  At times the two may get confused.  Sociopaths know what is right and what is wrong and know that they should not perform wrong actions because of social norms.  This leads people to want to place Dexter into this category.  Dexter knows that what he is doing is wrong by social norms.  However, him acting on it is what should really place him in the psychopathic category.  Sherlock, on the other hand, knows the social norms and does his best to follow them in a non-violent way.  Sherlock acts awkward and does not seem to understand because of his intelligence.  Sociopaths can be medicated and at time require no medication, but rather therapy to help calm uneasiness about dealing with situations they are uncomfortable with.

So, there you have it.  Those are some of the basic differences between the two.  An easy way to remember it is that psychopaths are “violent psychos” and sociopaths are more “socially awkward” than violent.