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How to write a sociopath

How to Write a Sociopath

Both sociopaths and psychopaths are defined in the DSM-5 (the official book used to define/treat mental health) as being antisocial personality disorders.

However, sociopaths and psychopaths still have their differences.

Where psychopaths are cool and calculating, sociopaths are impulsive and unreliable. You could make your character’s friend a sociopath, a relative, or even the protagonist themselves. Sociopaths can be so much more than just villains.

If you’re considering writing a sociopath, here are some of their characteristics to keep in mind:

They’re nervous and easily agitated

This is one of the main characteristics that stands out for me. A great example is Lisa in Girl, Interrupted. She lashes out. A lot. The tiniest thing can cause her to go into a full-on outburst.

Rumour has it that Angelina Jolie refused to get friendly with Winona Ryder because she would’ve felt too guilty lashing out at her. Now that’s method acting.

Angelina Jolie's character in Girl, Interrupted is a great example of a sociopath. Find out how to write a sociopath in this blog post.

Image courtesy of Fanpop.

They have no impulse control

Sociopaths will do things on a whim without thinking them through, whether it’s having sex with a stranger, stealing from a shop, or something smaller like eating something they shouldn’t.

They don’t learn from their mistakes

Unlike most of us, they don’t learn from their mistakes. They don’t have the patience to think through and analyse what’s happened to them.

So for instance, if your character steals from a shop and gets punished for it, they still won’t feel guilty, and they may not understand why they’re being punished. Instead, they’ll come up with some convoluted logic to explain their actions and get them out of any trouble.

They don’t plan things

If you’re an impulsive person, you don’t like planning things. What’s the point? Where’s the fun in planning things out?

They’re unreliable

Being impulsive and doing things on a whim can be fun, but it can make life difficult for your other characters.

They tell lies

Sociopaths like to get their own way, and if they have to get there by lying, then so be it. They won’t care that they have to lie to get what they want, nor will they consider how your other characters feel about being lied to.

They’re manipulative

People who like to get their own way are always, always manipulative.

They don’t understand emotions

Where psychopaths learn to deal with different situations by mimicking the reactions of others, sociopaths don’t. They won’t understand that they should be sympathetic if another character’s relative dies. They may react ambivalently, or not react at all.

They have difficulty forming attachments

If you don’t understand emotions, there’s no way that forming attachments will be easy, if possible at all. If they have friends, they’re likely to lash out at them over minor things, and possibly even break up the friendship over said minor incident.

That being said, they can love.

Not in your typical way, though.

M.E.Thomas explains it perfectly in her blog post Do sociopaths love?

Long story short, they do love, but their love is far from blind. It will see every. Tiny. Fault.

Their personality may well be from environmental factors

According to recent studies, sociopaths learnt to react to stimuli differently due to traumatic events(likely during childhood).

When creating a character such as this, it’s important to keep this in mind and work into their backstory. You don’t want to do them an injustice by giving them a backstory that’s not strong enough to justify such a dramatic change of behaviour.

Want to know how to write a sociopath? This is the blog post for you.


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Kristina Adams

Kristina Adams is an author of fiction and nonfiction, writing and productivity blogger, and occasional poet. She has a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Derby and an MA in Creative Writing from Nottingham Trent University. When she's not writing she's reading, baking, or finding other ways to destroy the kitchen. She can be found under a pile of books with a vanilla latte.

3 Comments

  • 20th May, 2018 at 07:17
    Scott

    I’m currently writing a story featuring a sociopath as a protagonist, or at least I would say he is most similar to a sociopath (as I have tried to design him as such). I have two questions:

    1) How would a sociopath deal/feel about the loss of someone who was very close to him since childhood (basically the only person who was ever close to him and not abusive towards him)?

    2) How do you develop a sociopathic character? The general description here defines an individual that seems more static than anything, leaving little room for emotional development. I know where I want my character to go int erms of development, but am not 100% sure in how to portray his journey of emotional development.

    REPLY
    • 20th May, 2018 at 10:51

      Great questions, Scott!

      I can’t say 100% as I’m not a psychologist or a sociopath myself, but here’s my take:

      1) It would be very internal. What did that person do for them that nobody else can? What have they lost with that person?

      2) This is a tougher one. For someone with any personality disorder, it’s difficult for them to go on a journey where they mature emotionally because they lack the self-awareness needed to do so. I know someone on this spectrum, and no matter what life throws at her, she will NOT change. I have known her a very long time and she’s gone through everything from breakups to life-changing surgery, and no matter what, it is always about her, and what’s in it for her. There’s no thought to how her actions affect other people. To develop emotionally, it really does require some level of self-awareness/accountability, and that’s something that most sociopaths lack. If they realise that they’re on the spectrum and decide to get help, this could be a way around it, but how they would realise it I’m not sure – the further down the spectrum they are, the harder it will be for them to acknowledge or even notice that the world doesn’t revolve around them.

      While it’s important for us to go on a journey with your character(s), they don’t always need to learn something from the journey they go on. This is important for most characters, but, if done in the right way, it can be just as believable to have a character who learns absolutely nothing. There should be some sort of takeaway for the reader if this is the case, though, even if it’s just that some people will never change. The ending of Gone Girl is a perfect example of this.

      I’d recommend watching Girl, Interrupted and reading Gone Girl for some inspiration. Without giving too much away, both these contain characters with personality disorders and show what you can do with them.

      Hope that helps. Good luck 🙂

      REPLY
  • 2nd September, 2018 at 22:39
    Hazel

    I’m writing a character that will be a high functioning sociopath protagonist. She’s humorous, smart, manipulative and intelligent. A question I have is can a sociopath live a normal life and have an event trigger these tendencies to come out for example a parent dying?

    REPLY

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