Monday, April 4, 2011

Sociopaths I have known - or created

Tomorrow, April 5, marks the launch of the new Triple Threat series book, Heart of Ice. Heart of Ice is about a beautiful - and deadly - sociopath.
When I was doing research for the book (which is co-written by legal analyst Lis Wiehl) I realized that I have actually known two sociopaths fairly well.  
When people hear “sociopath” or “psychopath” - the two terms are in many ways interchangeable - they think you must be talking about a serial killer.  But no.  Only a few are killers, like the young woman who is at the heart of Heart of Ice.  Most are people you might work with, live next door to or even be related to.  It’s estimated that up to 3% of men are sociopaths, and 1% of women.
Therapists now diagnose these folks with antisocial personality disorder, maybe because it doesn’t sound so harsh.
Sociopaths have an inability to value other people as real, vulnerable human beings.  They were probably born that way (just like I was born with an inability to read maps and understand directions).
A Canadian psychologist, Dr. Robert Hare as spent over 35 years researching psychopathy and is the developer of the Hare Psychopathy Checklist.  Here are some of the highlights. 
Charm. Sociopaths are smooth, engaging and charming.  That’s because they are not in the least self-conscious. The two sociopaths I know draw people to them easily, at least initially.  
Grandiose sense of self. Sociopaths are so sure they’re fantastic that at first you might be, too.
Easily bored. Sociopaths need stimulation and thrills. They take chances, are impulsive, and have a hard time finishing what they start.
Lie and manipulate. The sociopaths I’ve known might threaten to spread lies in order to get you to do what they wanted, or lie themselves when caught red-handed.  Their lies are amazingly believable - maybe because, in some ways, they believe them too.
Zero guilt. About all they feel for their victims is disdain. They have a lack of feeling in general - cold and tactless. I've seen a sociopath laugh about another person's tears.
Parasitic lifestyle.  Oh boy, I could tell you some stories!  What a sociopath wants, a sociopath gets.  They play on other’s guilt, secrets, fears.  They are good at getting others to pay and to support them in general. Sociopaths will figure out your weakness and exploit it.
Uncontrolled behavior. Sociopaths get annoyed, impatient, aggressive, hasty, and often angry.
No real-long term goals. Or their goals are unrealistic. When I first met one sociopath, years ago, they told me that they couldn’t decide between being a famous actor or a famous rock star.  They were serious. 
Irresponsible. Sociopaths may not pay bills, show up late, or do a sloppy job.  But, according to them, it’s not their fault.  
Sociopaths - a problem without a solution
If you put them in the general prison population, they’ll manipulate the other prisoners.
In terms of mental health treatment, they probably cannot be cured, because you need to want to be fixed, but they seldom, if ever, want to be.  If you hospitalize them, they'll just manipulate all the poor souls around them. 

Writing the sociopath
It turned out that while sociopaths are no fun in real life, it’s kind of fun to imagine what you might do if you were one.  Sociopaths get to do what we would if we had no internal brakes. Things like: 
- Trading carts with another shopper because you like what’s in their basket more.
- Stealing from a birthday card (and money for a group gift) making the rounds at work.
- Taking back the big tip your boyfriend leaves the waitress.
- And of course - manipulating others to kill for you.

What about you? Do you have an old boss, neighbor or boyfriend you think might be a sociopath?


  1. I'm a very happy to say I don't know any sociopaths, but this article was fascinatiing. Happy pub day!

  2. April, happy pub day and thanks for the insightful post. While it sounds odd, one of my favorite books is THE MURDERER NEXT DOOR about killers and what motivates (regular, normal) people to kill.

    I do know a sociopath and she's the only woman on death row right now in Oklahoma for her role in having her husband killed. The D.A. did a nice job of planting the seed that she could've fired the last shot, too.

    Wishing you much success on your book.

  3. I don't know any sociopaths - that I know of! - but I did create one in The Thin Pink Line. Happy Pub Date, April!

  4. I've told my husband it's his job to keep creepy people away from me. So far, so good. :-) HEART OF ICE looks fab, April! Happy Launch Day!

  5. Congrats on the release of your book, I just may have to take a look! :-) Reading true crime books is one of my big interests. I have read about more real life sociopaths over the years than I can count. I never cease to be amazed at their total self-absorption and lack of thought of the consequences of their actions. I think it will be fun to read about a fictional one!

  6. It sounds like you have the description of a sociopath down pat. I've known some, luckily in clinical settings mostly

  7. When reviewing your list of sociopath markers, I could come up with people who fit some of those traits--fortunately, not all of them! Fascinating list, and an even better book, I'm sure! Best of luck with your new release!

  8. Um...did you find the list of guys i dated in college and interview them? Haha, wow. Not only have i known some sociopaths, but i've written a few, not even knowing it. And yes, they were very fun to write. Thanks for the great post.

  9. One of the most chilling speakers I ever heard was a defense attorney who had worked with two sociopaths, and how they worked to make him laugh and to win his trust. He said they were like patient fishermen - dangling one type of bait ("How about them Yankees?") and then another ("Now she's hot!") trying to find something that interested him. With one, there was an actual video of a killing he did a in prison yard, and while they watched it together, the guy was joking and mocking his victim.

  10. AWESOME post. I've never been a fan of people who were just too charming, and maybe this explains why. But I live in L.A. Do you know how many people out here match this description?

    In any case, we'll be linking to this post on Friday over at Fierce and Nerdy in our end of the week round up.

  11. I've just come to realize my father is, then I found this article as well. I'm just grateful I learned from it an he no longer can manipulate me.