The Lure of the Sociopath – CL Taylor
It’s no co-incidence that some of my favourite characters in fiction and film are sociopaths – Patrick Bateman, Amy Elliot Dunne, the Marquise de Merteuil, Tom Ripley, Hannibal Lector and Kevin Khatchadourian to name but a few. Whether you call them psychopaths or sociopaths (and the debate continues on) the fact is they’re hugely memorable characters. There’s something about sociopaths that intrigues and captivates the reader. They’re charming yet cruel, grandiose, callous, fearless and manipulative. They’re fascinating and terrifying at the same time.
When I studied for my degree in Psychology at the University of Northumbria, Newcastle in the early nineties it wasn’t language and memory or research methods that intrigued me – it was personality and abnormal psychology. Long after my degree ended this fascination has remained and when I sat down to research my psychological thriller THE ACCIDENT, sociopathy was the first subject I tackled.
As I mention in the notes at the back of my novel I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for four years in my early thirties. I built on this experience to create a more extreme and brutal relationship in THE ACCIDENT but I needed James, my sociopath, to be as authentic as possible. I watched the Channel 4 documentary ‘Psychopaths’, I bought ‘The Sociopath Next Door’ by Martha Stout and ‘Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us’ by Robert D. Hare and I trawled through the internet for scientific and anecdotal stories about sociopaths. What I found was astonishing. According to Martha Stout sociopaths make up 4% of the population of North America. If the same statistics were applied to the UK that would mean there are over three million sociopaths living amongst us. Should we be afraid? No. The majority of sociopaths are law abiding citizens and, according to the Channel 4 documentary they’re essential to society because sociopathic traits like charisma, ruthlessness and competitiveness are vital to careers like banking, policing, law and sales. All careers where sociopaths thrive.
But what about the dark side of sociopathy? Why are so many abusers in relationships sociopaths? And why don’t their victims leave? My research revealed that relationships with sociopaths aren’t abusive from the start. Instead the sociopath will be charming, attentive and loving. To the victim it feels like love but the sociopath is only playing the role of a caring partner. Sociopaths lack empathy and feel only superficial emotions but they’re great mimics and they’ll say or do whatever is necessary to get what they want. Sociopaths pride themselves on being more intelligent than anyone else and being one step ahead of the game. They so enjoy the thrill of the chase that they’ll continue the courtship charade until their partner has fallen for them. And that’s when everything changes. Their victim is now their possession.
I find sociopaths so fascinating that I continued to research them for my second book LAST GIRL STANDING (out in June 2015), only this time I looked at what happens when a sociopath attempts to exert control over a large group of people and the phenomenon of brainwashing and mind control. A topic for another article I think…
CL Taylor lives in Bristol with her partner and young son. Born in Worcester, she studied for a degree in Psychology at the University of Northumbria, Newcastle then moved to London to work in medical publishing. She currently works as a Distance Learning Design and Development manager for a London university. She credits Roald Dahl’s ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ for her love of a dark, twisted tale.
For further information visit CL Taylor’s website: www.cltaylorauthor.com. She’s also on Twitter (@callytaylor) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/CallyTaylorAuthor)