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Is Your Character a Psychopath?

Is Your Character a Psychopath?

In every great novel, there are villains doing villainous things, anti-heroes treading the line between good and evil, and even noble heroes willing to do "dark" things for the greater good. Everyone has their "dark side", the part that they hide from the world and which only comes out in moments of great stress or emotional turmoil. And then there are those whose dark side is a lot darker than we might suspect. On first glance, we understand there's something different or off about them. As we discover them more and more, the belief is reinforced. Their behavior or mannerisms are never quite…right. Sound like one of the characters in your novel? Maybe it's the person whose hiding his villainy and pretending to be an ally, or the supporting character who is just a little too eager to embrace the dark side. If that's the case, the person may secretly be a psychopath. There are multiple ways to recognize and diagnose psychopathic tendencies. One of them is the Five Factor Model, which uses "openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism" to diagnose personalities. According to the Five Factor Model, psychopaths are a combination of:
  • Low conscientiousness and agreeableness
  • High anger
  • Low anxiety
  • High assertiveness
  • High sensation-seeking
  • Low warmth
The Elemental Psychopathy Assessment also uses a series of items (anywhere from 18 to 178) to measure and diagnose psychopathic tendencies. The questions indicate that psychopaths:
  • Believe they deserve special treatment and that feeling sorry for others is a weakness
  • Care less about their relationships with others and don't worry about others' feelings
  • Look for the motivation behind kind actions
  • Have a temper, which can lead to trouble
  • Are impulsive when angry
These are just a few of the signs that the person has psychopathic tendencies. The truth is that it's incredibly difficult to tell a psychopath apart from a neurotypical person. They have learned from a very young age to mimic "normal" or socially acceptable behavior, so they can blend in. However, understanding these traits about the psychopaths can help you to understand if that person (in your novel, of course) is actually hiding psychopathic tendencies. It can make your writing of the character much richer and deeper if you understand the underlying reasons for why they do what they do or how they perceive their actions and their relation to others.