James Marshall writes from London: How does one understand the mind of a father who could cut the throats of his two children? And say he feels no remorse. The central character of BBC2’s The Fall is a father of two. He earns his daily bread as a marriage guidance counsellor. He selects his victims carefully. They are female, brunette, middle class professionals who have been successful in life. He tortured and strangled his latest victim. Then he washed her, dried her and laid her out on her bed in a specific pose. He is a serial killer. He will continue killing females until he is apprehended and locked up. Is he a psychopath? No, he can be classified as a sociopath. So what is a sociopath and how many of them are walking around today? Could you be a secret sociopath without realising it?
Psychologists have coined the expression anti-social personality disorder (APD). We have all been anti-social at some time. APD goes beyond losing your temper and wanting to kill the other person. It is defined as a wanton disregard for the rights of others, a complete lack of remorse, a penchant for deceit and a refusal to conform to social norms. Sounds like the average tearaway teenager! Or the middle class professional who gets drunk at the weekend, assaults and sometimes kills people. When asked to explain his behaviour, he replies: ‘I just snapped.’
It may surprise you to learn that sociopaths appear to be quite normal people. They may be married with children. Then something happens to switch on their psychopathic mode. It may be a minor incident but an uncontrollable rage takes hold of them and they kill to release the inner tension. A frightening scenario as it is impossible to predict when a sociopath will flip.
Let a sociopath who has recognised that she is one describe her emotions. It turns out that emotion is what is lacking in her life. She is incapable of love in the usual understanding of the word. She is beautiful, clever, professionally successful and knows how to use her body to achieve what she desires. It is not sex. It is the power to manipulate the other person, male or female. She is the ice maiden. Every man knows at least one. Beautiful and sexy but impossible to get to know deeply. She surrounds herself with a wall to repress raiders. She may say that that is her private zone and that no one is allowed to trespass in it. She never trusts anyone 100 per cent except perhaps some members of her family. She is the type of girl who, if you take her home, your parents will fall over themselves to welcome. Your friends will envy you.
Other women find her charming. Wives do not automatically sense that she is a threat to their marriage. Her dress sense is impeccable and she can easily progress upwards in her profession. In moving upwards she is ruthless, calculating and utterly remorseless if she breaks up a marriage, relationship or destroys a career. She is incapable of experiencing deep emotion but understands how it affects others. That is their Achilles heel and she seizes on it to her advantage.
Every sociopath is capable of killing. Indeed, you and I are also capable of killing but the rules of society stop us. Sociopaths do not recognise any social or societal rules. That is their strength and their weakness. God help you if you marry one of them. The next time you read of a mother or father killing their children, or a random killing in the street, think sociopath.