Is there any group of people more fascinating than psychopaths? I do a presentation at writer’s conferences titled The Most Villainous of All: Using the traits of psychopathology to create memorable, compelling villains. I researched this topic because I wanted to write a novel about two evil women. Not serial killers. I wanted my evil gals to be more mundane, less evil, but still damaging. (I wrote the novel and I think all the scenes with the evil women are really good. The rest of the book doesn’t hold together, though, so I’ve shoved it in a drawer. Still interested in the topic just the same and will use the traits of psychopathy for other villains in other novels.)
This is what I’ve learned from my research:
1. Psychopaths are not mentally ill. They can’t be cured or rehabilitated, not with therapy, not with drugs. They know what they’re doing is “wrong,” but they choose to do it anyway.
2. All psychopaths are narcissists, but not all narcissists are psychopaths. Look at Mr. Gaddafi of Libya. I certainly am not qualified to label Gaddafi a psychopath, but he certainly fits the description of a malignant narcissist. That whole rebellion thing is all about him.
3. Psychopaths are often glib and superficial. Don’t want to tar every used car salesman in the world with this label, but car salesman would be a good fit for the psychopath who loves to play the game, to manipulate, to charm.
4. Psychopaths are incapable of guilt or remorse. Nothing is ever their fault. They feel no responsibility for anyone or anything. Imagine being able to do anything and feel no guilt? What couldn’t a bad guy do with that attitude?
5. Psychopaths do not feel empathy. They don’t seem to have the capacity for that, at all. Maybe they don’t feel much themselves, so can’t see it in others either.
6. Psychopaths are unrepentant liars. They deceive and manipulate even when they don’t need to. It’s their default mode.
7.Psychopaths are sometimes impulsive and have poor behavior control. Some live under bridges, some function in corporate boardrooms (or operating rooms!). The latter types are capable of delayed gratification – they can get themselves through an MBA or an MD program. But all of them feel entitled to express their displeasure whenever so moved.
8. Most psychopaths are not violent. The serial killer is a rarity. They all do a lot of damage, but many of them never actually break a law. Think of the toxic boss.
There’s more, but those are the highpoints. Every time I’ve given this talk, afterwards people seem compelled to share their experiences with psychopaths. Really horrible, haunting stories.
If you’re interested, you can email me and I’ll send you a list of the most useful books I’ve studied. Meanwhile, if you like your information through fiction, you might look at thrillers, which are nearly always about serial killers, a small percentage of psychopaths, but nevertheless fascinating. Some good novelists who write about these evil folks: Eileen Dryer, J.D. Robb, Dean Koontz, Tami Hoag, and Kay Hooper. Lots more out there, too.