by Lillian Csernica on April 22, 2019
Sociopaths are scary people. They are cold-blooded, their conscience is weak, and they do not play by the rules most of us learn early on. What’s worse, they are often attractive and can pass themselves off as perfectly wonderful people.
Sociopaths make useful characters in stories. In real life, they can be terrifying.
When I was still a teenager, I worked for a man who seemed like a lovable teddy bear, a great father, and a fun boss. Bit by bit I discovered the truth he kept hidden behind this lovely front. The man was a sexual predator, a child molester (his own), and he let his girlfriend deal drugs out of what amounted to the “back room.” I consider myself very fortunate to have gotten out of that situation in one piece.
Writing about someone like this man is not simply a matter of devising some well-deserved and precisely constructed karmic annihilation. Sociopaths know how to spot the types of people who will play right into their hands. Sociopaths can make you feel wonderful, get you to open up about yourself, and then they will use all of that against you in the most heartless, vicious, and efficient ways possible.
If you want to create a sociopath in a story, bear in mind that a sociopath has Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD). This can present with a variety of symptoms. The particular symptoms an individual shows will vary according to genetics, the family environment, and other factors such as alcoholism or substance abuse. One of the most common traits is expert manipulation of other people. This is where the weak conscience is a factor. Sociopaths might know what they’re doing is wrong, but they don’t care. They will use and abuse other people to whatever extent is necessary just to get what they want.
It’s easy to think of sociopaths as being monsters. They can be, but they’re not always the worst sort out there. People sometimes confuse “sociopath” with “psychopath.” I once attended a lecture by the psychologist and profiler who worked with Ted Bundy. It was that man’s opinion that psychopaths are made, not born, through key events in their lives. This is even more true of sociopaths, because they are more common and the psychiatric “starter kit,” so to speak, can be shaped by a wider variety of influences.
A character with sociopathic tendencies can make an excellent good guy, if only in the antihero sense. Take a close look at the classic noir detectives such as Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade or Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer. They have their own codes of conduct. They might acknowledge the authority of police and the courts, but they play by their own rules and deliver the punishments they believe are deserved.