There are a lot of similarities in the grooming-cycle between narcissists and sociopaths and both have many similarities and overlap to predatory behavior and predators themselves – who will often be narcissists or sociopaths. I have intimate knowledge of the first two, studied the third intensely over the years. They may be of the “new person in your life” variety or within your very family construct. Regardless, the progression is extremely subtle, even for the sharpest minds…at times, completely invisible. Remember, this is from my experience – yours may be different. I have not researched much on this outside of my living in the midst of it and reflecting back on that living experience.
Gaslighting. They both make you consistently feel like your perception is off and things are not at all what you originally thought they were. They skew your perceived view of reality and make you question or doubt your own sanity, coherence, and state-of-mind. This includes expecting you to go along with their gas-lighting of others as to outward appearances, material wealth, perfection of the nuclear family. (all innocently, of course, in a “keep up with the Joneses” manner. You can become paranoid and insecure in a hurry with both.
Gifts. To distract from their behavior or manipulations, they’ll buy you lots of things, spend money on you, and buy your unconscious compliance. They believe they can overshadow their narcissism or agenda by appealing to your material or flattered side.
Guilt. Here’s where I’ve noticed a difference, in hindsight. Whenever you call out or react with hostility at the tactics or a narcissist, they crumble, put on a show, becoming exorbitantly over-emotional, and try to make you feel awful for mistreating them as it was never their goal to hurt or offend you. They can feign support when they subtly intimate things that cause you guilt, remorse, or shame. A sociopath is cold, unbending, and utilizing denial. They return to the gaslighting and show care and love to reinforce your original loyalty towards them, stating emphatically how much you mean to them and how they’d never do anything to hurt you.
Victimhood. Both will play the pity card any chance they get when feeling they’re being exposed or narrowed in on. They’re always the center-of-attention and always find a way to take the spotlight off the actual victim and make it about them. They’re the main sufferer and protagonist when something happens with their partner, child, parent, or sibling. They prey upon this and are masters at manipulating the narrative. However, narcissists lay blame at the feet of others wherever and whenever possible. Their therapist doesn’t understand them. Their family is mean to them by cutting them off. If only things weren’t the way they were, they’d be better. Everybody abandoned them. Their loved ones are what makes them miserable. Sociopaths do so in a more biting way, to wear-away the fabric of their victim’s self-confidence. Side-handed insults. Critiques. Planted rumors to others. Cutting comments.
Isolation. Sociopaths are exceptionally gifted at isolating you from your loved ones and those that will point-out what’s happening. In actuality, even minimal accessibility plays into their charade as you’ve often become so co-dependent on the manipulator that anyone doubting or questioning your relationship immediately becomes the enemy and someone trying to damage your loving relationship. A narcissist isolates in different ways, gaining your time and emotional investment by hiding their flaws and covering for them, making it seem like you’ve voluntarily taken away time from other loved ones to tend to their weak and vulnerable state.
Over-reliance. Narcissists prevent you from developing intestinal fortitude, resilience, and independence as much as possible. They intentionally prevent you from learning about life’s healthy struggle, making you dependent on them and under your wing. It also comes from a different place….insecurity. You can’t always gain attention without useful tools that can help make you a satellite to their pain or pride. Sociopaths add to your struggle. They want to subtly see you suffer and break you apart mentally, emotionally, and psychologically over time. Sometimes it’s for personal-gain, others it’s simply the power of knowing they can break-apart someone otherwise strong and confident. They take joy in the omnipotence of their ability to dismantle that self-confidence and inner-strength.
Tribalism. Narcissists stress the “family-unit” and act like there’s an unequivocal united-front in all things. They will not, however, openly go to bat for you, will scheme behind-the-scenes to sabotage you, and inevitably hang you out to dry when you feel you can count on them most. Sociopaths, too, promote tribe and family-unity, but at a moment’s notice can dissolve that dynamic with lies, deceit, and seed-planting, making you feel abandoned and ostracized when the need arises for their goals. And they won’t let you all the way in…something will be held above your head to keep you at-bay, knowing they’ll be leaving a train-wreck behind at some point and cutting-ties.
Antipathy. Both have an extremely hard time being authentic as they project a facade so often they find it difficult to authentically show empathy to the pain of others. They study that pain so that they can project it outwards to others, in the case of the narcissist, to gain sympathy for their own victimhood as they crave attention and pity, in the case of the sociopath to further goals and motivations. They both feign empathy extremely well, though there’s an insincerity about it that often goes overlooked by the actual victim…but it’s there, present and accounted-for.
Aggression. Narcissists exhibit passive-aggression in the form of sabotage, truth-manipulation, and partial-truths. They will black-list you quietly and, upon discovery, apologize without genuineness, not knowing exactly what it is they’re apologizing for when grilled. Sociopaths are a little different animal here. They can convince others to do their revenge bidding should vindictiveness boil over. Intimidate subtly (eg. standing over you while sleeping, brandishing a weapon in a subtly-threatening manner). Get people within your dual sphere to conspire against you and alienate you….or become aggressive in their own right. Death threats. Middle-of-the-night silent phone calls. Remember, if they can gaslight, manipulate, con, or hypnotize you….they can certainly do it to other people against you as well.
Money. Both like the outward-perception of doing well. They like their material things, the projection that they’re well-off, showing-off new toys. I’ve found, however, that narcissists can be very good with money, very capable of balancing budgets and saving, and restraining themselves when needed. Sociopaths tend to go the other way. They are not good with money, buy often on impulse, and can siphon money out of joint bank-accounts pretty quietly while using some of the same tacts above – gaslighting, denial, lies, etc.
Recklessness. Narcissists, from my experience, are not reckless as outward-perceptions are so important. They do not want to ruin the facade and exposure runs the risk of preventing others from that pity, empathy, and attention they so need. Prim and proper is the game. Sociopaths are more reckless, with sex, money (as mentioned), affiliations. They play with fire far more and become bored with their current status-quo after a time – they cycle and repeat patterns over and over.
Opportunity. They both profile well instinctively. They know when someone fits their description and they learn quickly the weak links in the chain. They see victimization possibility from early-on, thus the grooming strategies. The bigger the fish, the greater the challenge, but there have to be certain traits available that open the door. Insecure. Low self-esteem. Simple. Moral. Decent. An “in”..
Patterns. I should be clear that both narcissists and sociopaths are completely capable of functioning under-the-radar in society for lengthy periods of time. They can raise families, hold jobs, be pseudo-responsible parents, protecting and caring for loved ones…even show their version of love in their way and within their capability. There will always be something lacking in the authentic sense and they each have their own way of breaking the boredom of “normal urban living”…but they keep up the charade for an exponentially long time before needing to break routine again.
As you can see, there’s a lot of overlap here with child-grooming and relationship-grooming, and flat-out predatory behavior….as there would be. This is not an exhaustive list, just the elements that I’ve experienced first-hand. You may have experienced others. This, however, can be a template of signs to recognize for loved ones, your children, female (or male) members of your family or circle, or others you see in situations similar. If you’ve got a number on this checklist, pay attention, it’s not coincidental. Go with your gut. I learned a lot the hard-way, even in spite of a strong support-staff; this was not easy to write, trust me. In the end, I uncovered both, developed powerful strategies to manage and keep them at-bay, and set clear-and-reinforced boundaries….but it took years. I always say, though, in the end, by learning the intricacies of the game, even by learning it the hard way…you learn to control the game…though sometimes at a very high cost.