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Day 6: Hello, Neighbor? Are You a Psychopath?

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Day 6:  Hello, Neighbor?  Are You a Psychopath?


# of pages written: 7

# of times I’ve checked email/facebook: 3

# of days left to write 1st draft: 155

Today I’m trying to figure out who in my life is a sociopath. What with the Colorado massacre and the fact that I’ve been dipping into various books about psychopaths and sociopaths (these words, as far as I can tell, mean pretty much the same thing), I can’t seem to escape this fascinating and disturbing topic.  According to The Sociopath Next Door, 4% of the population are sociopaths, which means 1 out of every 25 people, and I know way more than 25 people. Thus, I must know at least a handful of sociopaths.

On the other hand, I’m not sure how much I believe this 4% statistic. The Sociopath Next Door is very sensational in its claims that 1 in 25 Americans “has no ability whatsoever to feel shame, guilt, or remorse….They can literally do anything at all and feel absolutely no guilt.” I don’t know about all that. How exactly do scientists determine whether or not someone is feeling guilt? And isn’t one of the hallmarks of a psychopath his or her ability to lie and act normal? So how do we know much of anything at all about them? I suppose I need to finish reading both books to find the answer.

illustration by a very talented friend

Even still, I will give my uninformed opinion now. I think, if this 4% has any semblance of truth, perhaps it’s that 4% of the population demonstrates sociopathic tendencies. Maybe there is a scale of pychopathy, just like there’s a scale for everything else in psychology, including empathy and intelligence. Maybe some people are more likely to feel shame and guilt, or they feel it more often, in more circumstances, than others.

Because, try as I might, I cannot think of one person I know who could possibly be a true psychopath. And I know some crazy people. I know some people who have treated me or others badly. And yet, I can’t believe that any of these people are totally devoid of conscience. Am I being too naïve?  Even someone like James Holmes, the deranged, orange-haired joker who killed people at a Colorado movie theater, I have trouble calling him a psychopath.

And although I have trouble proving their existence, I’m fascinated by the concept of psychopaths and often want to write about characters who have sociopathic tendencies. But it’s hard, because I honestly have no idea what that would be like. I feel guilty every day for numerous things, such as eating too much dessert, or being a minute late to meet a friend, or not writing enough, or accidentally saying to someone, “you got a haircut” instead of “I like your haircut.”

So the question is, how do I write from the the perspective of a character who is nothing like me? And, even more intriguing: could I write from the perspective of an insane person? Sometimes I worry that I’m just too darn stable and mentally healthy to be able to write from the point of view of a truly disturbed character.

I’ve decided that for now I will not be writing from the perspective of anyone on the psychopathic scale, but I almost definitely will populate my fiction with characters who have psychopathy and other interesting psychiatric dysfunctions. I’m also, for example, fascinated by bipolar and borderline personality disorders, as well as all forms of paranoia and disorders that skew people’s perception of reality.

Currently, I’m writing about a disturbed 14-year-old who is extremely uncooperative, sexually provocative, and socially inappropriate. She’s certainly nothing like the way I was at fourteen (I don’t think!), so it’s interesting, and difficult, for me to figure out her psychology. She’s not a sociopath, but I think she must be way farther down on the guilt scale than me, because she doesn’t seem to feel bad about making other people upset or uncomfortable. Of course, she’s got a back story that explains a bit why she’s so troubled.  That’s hard thing about sociopaths – there doesn’t see to be an explanation.

Anyway, I think I’ll start here, with this low level of understandable psychiatric dysfunction in my fiction, and I’ll wait until I’m more of a seasoned veteran to tackle writing about the truly, dangerously insane, and from the perspective of the truly, dangerously insane. And one day, I promise you, I will do it…. Oh, how I dream of the day when I successfully create a female Humbert Humbert!

In the meantime, if you are a psychopath in my life, would you please let me know? I won’t be mad – I’ll be super excited! I swear I won’t tell anyone. I just want to hear all about it.


About evalangston

Eva Langston is a writer, among other things.

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