Adolf Hitler, psychopath
Credit: Wikimedia Commons photo by Georg Pahl, CC-BY-SA 3.0.

Adolf Hitler is undoubtedly the most well-known example of an obvious psychopath, with no conscience whatsoever and the ability to lie and say completely insane things - while also getting millions of people to adore and follow him, and defend him against anyone who questions him. Photo is from 1930 in Weimar, Germany.

The easiest way to understand the difference

Narcissists and psychopaths (also called sociopaths) both are thoroughly selfish and do not have any empathy, or any true feelings of care or love, for other people. Both are very manipulative and want to control others, and they view honesty as unrealistic. They truly do not believe in being honest, and are constantly deceptive.[1]

Narcissists have a strong need to be admired by others, to be viewed as great, and to be viewed as always correct and superior to everyone else. They try to manipulate others into viewing them this way, and underneath they have terror about their inadequacy and cannot handle any degree of criticism whatsoever. They will criticize others like crazy to try and make themselves look better by comparison, but cannot handle any criticism directed toward themselves, and may fly into a rage at anyone who even questions them in the slightest.[1]

Psychopaths on the other hand have no need to be admired by others, or to be viewed as great or superior - although they would view this as a convenient way to get what they want, so they don't have to resort to more negative tactics. They believe the ends always justify the means and won't hesitate to lie, steal, or do anything, even to family members. They will betray anyone in an instant if it serves their goals, and they never have any remorse.[1][2]

Narcissists can't handle rejection or criticism, and are deeply bothered by it.  They thrive on the approval and praise of others. However, they don’t truly believe that they deserve it, and view manipulating others and lying, and gaining praise in this way as the only way to accomplish it.[1]

Psychopaths don't care about having the approval of others whatsoever. If others hate them or criticize them, they don’t care unless it thwarts their goals – which are usually to have power and authority over others at any cost.[1]

Are there any narcissists or psychopaths in your life?

Chances are that you know people in both categories, and sometimes it's someone you have a close relationship with, such as a family member. They will use you as long as they can, and do not in reality care about you, but only fake it.  If you were to become viewed by them as a hindrance to their goals, they would discard you, and in an instant their true vicious persona will show, which they always try to carefully hide from others with a false outward show. 

Many appear very confident and charismatic, although they are an empty shell with little or no conscience (none whatsoever in psychopaths).  Some people have definite traits of each, overlapping.  Understanding how to identify such people and avoid them can save a lot of trouble.  Psychopaths in particular seem to wreck everything they touch, ruining people’s lives – and they don’t care, and always have excuses and can quite skillfully place the blame on others.[2]

The way they present themselves to others causes others to quickly be divided up into either believing them and being sucked into their lies, or being labeled an enemy.  Those who get sucked in can literally become brainwashed, and it’s especially sad when this happens within families, and a narcissist or psychopath has control over family members, taking advantage of their trust, and their desire to feel loved, wanted, and valued – and the very understandable desire to believe that the person is honest and good, and would never do anything abusive to them.[2]

Many leaders of cults are psychopaths, as are many politicians, especially dictators.  But even small groups such as families can become a mini cult with their psychopathic leader and followers who defend the psychopath, and any family members who figure out the lies are basically kicked out of the family while all the others follow the lead of the psychopath in persecuting the dissenter.[2]

And how did I learn about all of this?  Because I’ve had it happen to me – betrayed by someone close after figuring out things that they didn’t want anyone to know about – and then they turned their followers against me.  I’ve met psychopaths and have been severely harmed by them more than once.  I’ve seen their rage at being confronted over their lies.  No remorse.  Only pure hatred for someone who only ever did whatever they could to help them. The problem is, they don’t want help with their deepest problems. As soon as you don’t cooperate with their false narrative, their rage comes through and you’re finished. They will never forgive and will only lie about you to those who continue to believe in them forevermore. 

I strongly recommend that everyone (all of us who aren't psychopathic) learn about these topics and even examine our own interactions with others to ensure that we aren't making use of any of these manipulative tactics ourselves. The world is a happier place the less prevalent these behaviors are, although the fact is that they exist - and we need to be on our guard against those who lie and deceive with a charming smile on their face, which can turn to rage in an instant once the lies are uncovered.