Comparing Pathological Demand Avoidance with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Sociopathy
A PDA friend of mine was recently accused of being a narcissist, or having NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder). Hurtful as this was, it isn’t the first time that I have known of a PDA individual being accused of being a narcissist or Sociopathic.
PDAers have been referred to, in jest, as ‘cuddly sociopaths’, but how close to the truth is that?
So, I decided to look into all three, and to write this comparison article so that it is clearer where the crossover traits are, and how each have very different traits that distinguish them from each of the others.
Let’s start by listing the characteristics of each;
Need for autonomy
Need for freedom
Need for control
Demanding – often wants to be centre of attention
Mischievous/impish sense of humour
Irrational demand avoidance
Dual nature – usual personality and PDA entity
Can lash out violently or verbally abusively if triggered
Has urges to perform shocking behaviour during calm situations
Can appear to have little regard to others feelings
Hate to be interrupted during an activity – being pulled from the PDA flow
A need for everyone to be on the same authoritative level
Rich imagination and may hide within fantasy or roleplay
Lack of empathy
Inability to feel remorse for their actions
Difficulty in forming emotional bonds
Relationships tend to be unstable and chaotic
Try to seduce and ingratiate themselves with those around them for their own gain or entertainment
Dishonest and deceitful – comfortable lying to get their own way
Openly violent or aggressive – cruel disregard for others feelings
Hostility – themselves and they view others behaviour as hostile and use that as an excuse for exacting revenge
Disregard for responsibilities – financial and otherwise
Impulsive with no thought of consequences
Need for instant gratification
Alcohol/drug abuse common
Insatiable appetite for the attention of others
Extreme feelings of jealousy
An expectation of special treatment
Exaggerating achievements, talents, and importance
Extremely sensitive and a tendency to feel easily hurt and to feel rejected with little provocation
Difficulty maintaining healthy relationships
Fantasizing over their own intelligence, success, power and appearance
An ability to take advantage of others to achieve a goal without regret , or conscience
A lack of empathy, or ability to understand and share the feelings of others, and a tendency to disregard others feelings
A belief that only certain people can understand their uniqueness
A tendency to consider themselves as skilled in romance
Responds to criticism with anger, humiliation, and shame
Seeking out praise and positive reinforcement from others
An expectation that others will agree with them and go along with what they want
Whatever they crave or yearn for, must be ‘the best’
The PDA need for autonomy and freedom is unique, when we look at these three labels. It can be presumed that both narcissists and Sociopaths want to have both autonomy or freedom, but it would not be any way near as intense and need driven as it is within a PDA individual.
PDA individuals cannot cope or thrive for long without both their autonomy and freedom. Without it, they can spiral into deep levels of anxiety and their demand avoidance would increase dramatically which, if ongoing, often leads to mental health issues such as depression or extreme anxiety. Having autonomy and freedom is how PDA individuals feel safe. Without it, they feel trapped in a terrifying nightmare, doing everything in their power to regain their autonomy and freedom at any cost.
The PDA need for control is another unique factor in that, again, it is not a want; it is a NEED. I know, personally, that if I am not in control of a situation, then my anxiety goes haywire, I cannot think or process well, I am obsessing over how to gain control, and often end up having a meltdown.
Both Narcissists and Sociopaths use manipulation to gain control over people, but this is a completely different motivation and degree of needing control. PDA individuals feel unsafe and lost without control, whereas Narcissists and Sociopaths want control to gain what they need from other people.
Demanding and wanting to be the centre of attention is common in both Narcissists and PDA individuals. Though with Narcissists, it is a constant thirst for the attention of others to feed their need to feel special and to be adored by everyone, whereas, for PDA individuals, the desire is to feed their need to be in control of a situation, as well as reassurance that they are liked and accepted. It could be described as a survival instinct.
As you can see from the above; the outward behaviour is similar, but the motivations behind the behaviour is completely different.
Manipulation is another common factor amongst the three labels. I touched on this earlier when I said that both Narcissists and Sociopaths manipulate others to gain adoration or to obtain a goal, regardless of the consequences, feelings, or damage for the other person/people.
PDA individuals manipulate in order to gain control of the situation, or to get the other person to like them. There is no malice or maliciousness involved in PDA manipulation. It is all to help fight crippling insecurities and a need to feel safe (when they have control of a situation).
PDA individuals are the only ones out of the three labels that have a mischievous or impish sense of humour as a characteristic. The humour is often inappropriate and PDA individuals can usually find humour in every situation, and it is often difficult for a PDA individual to remain serious for very long; especially if they are in polite company or in a situation that requires them to behave.
Irrational Demand Avoidance is also unique to PDA, this is not only compared to NPD or Sociopathy, but to any other label; including Autism.
Every other form of demand avoidance is rational; there is a clear reason why they do not want to do that activity; they don’t think they would be good at it, they’re too tired, it looks too hard.
With PDA, the demand avoidance is irrational where there is no clear reason why they are avoiding the demand, they just cannot comply with it, often using excuses like; I cannot do that, I am a potato and potatoes don’t have arms. I cannot do that because I am a Llama.
Having a dual nature could be perceived to be common across all three labels, purely because both narcissists and sociopaths tend to put on an alluring façade to draw people to them or to gain the attention or adoration that they want or need.
With PDA individuals, there is no ulterior motive for having a dual nature. They have no choice in the matter as, the internal PDA entity is a protective force that only emerges when the individual is feeling triggered or is in meltdown. This entity will use any method to protect the individual, including (but not exclusively) aggressive or violent verbal or physical behaviour, or damaging objects in their vicinity, or those owned by those who have triggered the PDA individual. The main goal of the PDA entity is to protect the individual by forcing whatever caused the individual to be triggered, to stop or to make them leave the individual alone. The entity may strike out at the perceived ‘enemy’ in a personal and pointed way; targeting their mental or emotional weaknesses.
But once the perceived threat has been managed and fought off, the PDA entity goes back into the PDA individual and the true nature returns; often leaving the individual full of shame and embarrassment for what the PDA entity has done.
This may seem like a sweeping generalisation, but from my experience (and the experience of others in the PDA field) PDA individuals tend to be highly intelligent.
Those with NPD tend to think that they are highly intelligent and want praise, adoration, and recognition of their high level of intelligence, but studies have found that their actual intelligence often does not match that which they believe they have.
It has been found that Sociopaths can have any level of intelligence; there is no evidence to state that all, or most, Sociopaths have a high level of intelligence.
Having a high empathy level is unique to PDA individual in this trio of labels. However, due to their blunt honesty and need for autonomy at all times, it can appear that they can be more selfish and uncaring than Neurotypicals or other autistics. This appearance could not be further from the truth; PDA individuals feel emotions exceptionally deeply and also for others that they care for. The issue comes when they face a situation where they are feeling things deeper than they are able to cope with, and that is when the mask will appear or they will come across as blunt or selfish as they are trying to protect themselves from the flood of emotions. Or if the other person is trying to make the PDA individual feel a certain way; such as, if someone who is self-piteous is trying to gain sympathy or pity from a PDA individual, it is most likely to appear as a demand and will be fully rejected.
Both those with NPD and Sociopaths have no empathy. They are purely self-driven and do not understand, consider, or often acknowledge another person’s feelings. In contrast to the PDA individual’s blunt honesty, both those with NPD and Sociopaths will bend or break the truth in order to gain what they want from others.
The urge to performing shocking acts in calm or inappropriate situations is also only found in PDA individuals. A base impulse of PDAers is to break the system; to create chaos that they can control, or to destroy so that they can recreate a more effective and fair system. When things are very calm or they are in a situation where they are socially required to behave or remain calm, the urge to disrupt the calm is often too much for a PDA individual to contain.
Neither those with NPD or Sociopaths have this urge.
One thing that PDA individuals hate more than most things is to be interrupted when they are in the middle of an activity or task. When they are doing something that they have been drawn to and is what they want to do at that moment, it is referred to as being in the ‘PDA flow’ (coined by Harry Thompson – PDA Extraordinaire) this is when they are being completely true to themselves and what they want to be doing – complete autonomy. If this is interrupted, it is like being pulled out of the flow with no control. As you can imagine, this can be, not only jarring, but incredibly irritating to the PDA individual. This can cause the PDA entity to appear or for their level of demand avoidance to sky rocket.
Neither those with NPD or Sociopaths have been found to have a trait anything like this.
Impulsivity is something that both PDA individuals and Sociopaths have in common. The sudden, overwhelming desire to do something can take you and, in the moment, it feels like the best idea that you have ever had and that you would be utterly crazy not to do it.
Those with NPD are not impulsive.
The PDA need for everyone to be on the same authoritative level is the polar opposite of what both those with NPD and Sociopaths want.
PDA individuals do not recognise those in authority (teachers, bosses, etc.) as they see everyone as equal, and that everyone should be treated in the same way.
Both those with NPD and Sociopathy want to be seen as the best, for them to be able to get what they want from others when they want it. They see themselves as above others, and it would be unlikely that they would see anyone as above them, but most others below them.
The final PDA characteristic to look at is having a rich imagination and may hide within a fantasy world or roleplay.
It can be thought that those with NPD live in a kind of fantasy in which they are the most intelligent, talented, awe-inspiring and that they deserve the best, and adoration from everyone.
Though the PDA fantasy world is used as an escape from reality; a coping mechanism that helps them self-regulate after spending time in the harsh real world where they are widely misunderstood.
The fantasy world can be anything at all – it is all down to the PDA individual’s imagination.
Roleplay is a common tool used by PDA children in that, when they are feeling anxious, stressed, or are avoiding a demand, they may completely take on the role of a totally different person, an animal, or an object. They may have a common role that they take on, for example; a cat, that they get the regulation and escape that they need, or they may have many different roles that appear sporadically.
Sociopaths do not have this characteristic.
So, in conclusion; as you can see from the above, there are very few true matching traits within PDA that are in NPD and/or Sociopathy. Some of the outward behaviours can appear the same or similar, but the motivations and reasons behind that behaviour could not be more different.
We are not ‘cuddly Sociopaths’; we are PDA and we are proud.