Your Mother-in-Law, the Sociopath

Anyone who writes crime fiction, especially novels about a serial killer, is familiar with the sociopathic personality. But not all sociopaths are killers. Some psychologists estimate that there are thirty thousand psychopaths who are not serial killers for every one who is. So who are these non-killing psychopaths? Your neighbor, perhaps, or your mother-in-law. Maybe even the psychologists who came up with the sociopathic profile. Possibly even you.

Abused children who were not born with a sociopathic personality usually grow up to lead normal lives. Sociopaths who were not abused usually grow up to lead normal lives or lives that mimic normalcy. Sociopaths sometimes become killers because of childhood abuse, and sometimes they become killers simply because they want to. (The killer in the Dutch version of The Vanishing was a classic sociopath who killed to see what it would feel like.)

Even if you don’t write crime fiction, familiarity with the sociopathic personality can help you create dynamic characters and even interesting dialogue. For example, sociopaths frequently use contradictory and illogical statements such as “I never touched her, and anyway, she wanted it.”

A sociopath has difficulty connecting to others, though people often like them. They are charming, glib, witty, and use captivating body language. Because of their impulsiveness, need for excitement, poor behavior controls, and lack of responsibility, they can be fun companions, but because they lack empathy, conscience, and remorse, they can never truly connect with anyone.

Other characteristics of the sociopath are shallow emotions, egocentricity, lying for no reason, no need to conform to societal standards, the skill to detect and exploit the weaknesses of others. They are also well satisfied with themselves, never looking back with regret or forward with concern.

One characteristic that keeps a sociopath from being a good fiction hero is that in fiction heroes need to change during the course of the novel, and sociopaths have solid personalities that are extremely resistant to outside influences. But, being the manipulative creatures that they are, they can make us believe they have changed.

Sounds to me like an interesting character. With or without the killing.

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4 Responses to “Your Mother-in-Law, the Sociopath”

  1. elizaw Says:

    Do characters really need to change inwardly over the course of the book, though? People keep telling me this, and I’d like to challenge it. Some books, yes, it’s pivotal… but I can also think of several books that I adore where the hero character didn’t really go through any emotional breakthrough or adaptation before the end (the number of which changes depending on if the hero survives the ending of the story).

    I think a sociopath would be hard to make a main character because if the hero doesn’t care, then why should we? Their lack of attachment would extend to the audience as well as his or her peers.

  2. Bertram Says:

    In most books I have read, the characters never change in any basic way, so I’m not sure how important it is in the long run.

    It would be a challenge to make a sociopath a main character, but someday I’d like to attempt it for that very reason. Sociopaths may not care, but they do want things, and that desire/need is important in a character.

  3. Vana Roth Says:

    Sociopaths make wonderful characters in novels but not such wonderful characters in real life…lol!

    I’m also of the opinion, hero’s don’t necessarily have to change for the story to be fulfilling. I think a hero can mature, come to certain realizations, and achieve their goals or objectives but if the hero is say “honest” and remains “honest”…that’s what makes them a strong hero.

  4. Life is a Present | Bertram's Blog Says:

    […] Not even all humans feel emotion. Sociopaths don’t feel emotions, or if they do, the emotions are very shallow. (There could be 30,000 non-killing sociopaths for every murderous sociopath, so this is a fairly common emotional disorder. See: Your Mother-in-Law, the Sociopath.) […]

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