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.


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