Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Narcissistic and Antisocial Personalities: Similar but Different

Knowing the differences between these personalities can help you deal with them.

Key points

  • Narcissistic and antisocial personality disorders are Cluster B disorders, which include domineeringness, vindictiveness, and intrusiveness.
  • Both of these personalities can be very charming, but also abusive in private.
  • One big difference is that narcissists tend to exaggerate a lot and people with antisocial personality disorder tend to lie a lot.

It is common to see narcissism in anyone we disagree with. However, narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a serious disorder for those who have it and those around them. Likewise, antisocial personality disorder (ASPD; also known as sociopathy) is one of the most difficult and dangerous disorders. Characteristics of each of these disorders are often misunderstood or not even noticed, until there are serious problems.


Key Characteristics of NPD and ASPD

The diagnostic manual for mental health professionals summarizes NPD as a “pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy….” People with this disorder can be particularly arrogant, feel entitled to special treatment, and take advantage of others.1 In addition, they see themselves as winners and everyone else around them as losers. They can be mean as they put others down to boost themselves up—often publicly humiliating the people closest to them. They frequently insult others but cannot take it when others insult them. They are preoccupied with being seen as superior and often exaggerate their accomplishments, yet they often alienate everyone around them and may end up looking rather ridiculous or inferior.

The diagnostic manual describes ASPD as a “pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others….” This includes lots of aggressive behavior, deceitfulness (lying and conning), and a lack of remorse.2 In addition, they can be reckless and endanger themselves and others, and often violate the law and many get caught. They can be irresponsible and get into a lot of fights with those around them. However, many don’t get caught and they can be particularly good at talking their way out of having consequences for their actions.

Similarities of NPD and ASPD

These are both Cluster B personality disorders in the diagnostic manual of mental health professionals, which means that they can be “dramatic, emotional, or erratic.”3 Some research indicates that Cluster B personality disorders have strong associations with “domineeringness, vindictiveness, and intrusiveness.”4 These descriptions accurately describe many people with each of these personalities (but not all).

Yet at the beginning of getting to know them, they can be some of the most charming people you will ever meet. But don’t be deceived. Take your time in getting to know them. While both can invest a lot of energy in presenting a public image of being wonderful and successful, they can be abusive in private including domestic violence and the destruction of property or reputations.

Many people with traits of either of these personalities can be quite successful, at least for a while. If they actually have the disorders, then they have an enduring pattern of inflexible behavior which will often interfere with their relationships and their success. Both of these personalities lack loyalty to others, although they may demand that you be loyal to them. Some seek new relationships rather than deal with major conflicts in existing relationships.

More men have each of these personalities, but women have them too. A major study in the United States in the early 2000s found that 62% of those with NPD were men5 and 76% of those with ASPD were men.6

Differences Between NPD and ASPD

Narcissistic personalities tend to be more sensitive to other people and especially to other people’s criticisms.7 They care what you think about them, whereas those with ASPD really don’t. This means that those with NPD may restrain themselves from the worst behavior and may be somewhat workable in relationships. However, this doesn’t prevent them from exaggerating greatly and claiming that their ordinary accomplishments are something incredible. Many of them will use those close to them to get ahead—in love and work—and then leave those they used behind. Narcissists usually appear to be self-centered. But if they lie a lot, consider the possibility of an antisocial personality.

Antisocial personalities tend to be impulsive, aggressive and deceitful in contrast to narcissists.8 They want what they want, and they want it now. If you get in their way, they don’t care if they hurt you. They lack remorse and some may enjoy hurting you. This can make them less committed to relationships—in love and work—and more dangerous. This willingness to deceive may be the most common characteristic in everyday life. Nothing they say can be relied upon.

Experience shows that people with ASPD will lie even when they can be easily caught, although they still may talk their way out of consequences. They often make up entire false stories about others and even about you—even to people in positions of authority. They will often seek favors and try to charm you into doing things for them, typically for a bogus reason. It helps to have clear boundaries on what you will or won’t do, regardless of the reason.

Strategies for Handling People with NPD Or ASPD

In general, strategies for dealing with those with ASPD include a focus on positive and negative consequences (carrots and sticks), since they don’t care how they impact others. This goes for relationships, at work, and even in legal disputes. Pleading with them to care and be reasonable usually has no impact.

Strategies for dealing with those with NPD usually include a combination of praise (buttering them up) for something realistic they did or are good at, and pointing out how their image will benefit from doing what you are requesting. Sometimes it helps to point out how their reputation may be damaged by not cooperating with your requests, since their superior reputation is their biggest concern. But be cautious about saying anything negative as it could backfire.


Generally, narcissists exaggerate and antisocials lie. Both can fool you, seduce you, and get you into difficult situations. The strategies for dealing with them are somewhat different. However, some people have both personality disorders, so use the strategies for both with them. Avoid believing everything you hear. Instead, look out for these patterns of behavior.


1. American Psychiatric Association (APA): Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, Text Revision. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 2022, 760. (Hereafter DSM-5-TR)

2. Id. at 748.

3. Id. at 734.

4. Wilson S., Stroud, C. and Durbin, C. "Interpersonal Dysfunction in Personality Disorders: A Meta-Analytic Review," Psychology Bulletin, July 2017; 143(7): 677-734.

5. Stinson, F. S., D. A. Dawson, R. B. Goldstein, S. P. Chou, B. Huang, S. M. Smith, et al. 2008. “Prevalence, Correlates, Disability, and Comorbidity of DSM-IV Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Results from the Wave 2 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.” Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 69: 1033–45.

6. Grant, B. F., D. S. Hasin, F. S. Stinson, D. A. Dawson, S. P. Chou, W. J. Ruan, and R. P. Pickering. 2004. “Prevalence, Correlates, and Disability of Personality Disorders in the United States: Results from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.” Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 65: 948–58.

7. DSM-5-TR at 763.

8. Ibid.

More from Bill Eddy LCSW, JD
More from Psychology Today