Antisocial Personality Disorder: Portrait of the Psychopath in TV and Movie Part 1

Personality disorders are one of the most fickle mental illnesses to diagnose and still some of the most debated because they seem to be the catch-all of problems that modern psychology can’t diagnose as anything else. However, it seems to be that all serial killers fall into a particular personality disorder called Antisocial.

Antisocial Personality Disorder (hereon referred to as ASPD) goes hand in hand with narcissism because both share the trait of caring very, very little about others and sometimes highly of themselves. The trademark example of someone with ASPD is a person who has no actual empathy and is often cold and callous toward the feelings and suffering of others. Not unlike someone with Aspergers, ASPD shows very little outward emotion almost as if emotions in general confuse and upset them. This obviously makes being a serial killer fairly easy because they can detach themselves from the situation and the pain of the person they are attacking naturally.

Often people with ASPD are not diagnosed until after something major or catastrophic has happened and they are court ordered to visit a mental health professional. The common signs that a person has ASPD are:

  • Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest.
  • Deceitfulness as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases or conning others for personal profit or pleasure.
  • Impulsivity or failure to play ahead.
  • Irritability and aggressiveness as indicated by repeated psychical fights or assaults.
  • Reckless disregard for safety of others or self.
  • Consistent irresponsibility as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations.
  • Lack of remorse as indicated by being indifferent or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated or stolen from another.

All of these symptoms are the current guide to diagnosis of ASPD according to the DSM-5, however there are a multitude of other examples that do not fit into these signs that can still be seen in someone with ASPD. To better understand this, let’s take a look at the Myers-Briggs personality type INTJ.

Nicknamed “The Scientist” a person who falls into the personality category of Introverted Intuitive Thinking Judging or Introverted Intuition with Extraverted Thinking often leads a very internal life. Everything needs strategic planning, logic and to be rational (according to the individual). They come across as aloof, reserved, picky, not entirely capable of demonstrating affection or praise or support of others’ needs and desires. I will spare you the length of the entire breakdown, but much of the traits of an INTJ are not only shared with ASPD, but the INTJ personality type gives more depth into the thinking mind of ASPD.

The INTJ is seen more as the misunderstood introvert where as ASPD is seen as the cold blooded killer or con-artist, yet in reality they are one in the same. One thing to keep in mind: not every INTJ is a scientist or engineer and not every ASPD is serial killer, sometimes they can go either way.

Due to the lack of research done on this particular personality disorder, we know so little about the once named Psychopath, despite them being all around us. We want to latch onto the idea that they are all blood-thirsty maniacs that go around hunting their next victim at night. Even if they are not murderers, we expect them to at least be suave con-artists or at least have some sort of criminal past. When we don’t see any of that behavior, we want to associate Aspergers or another part of the Autistic spectrum to a person with ASPD. All people with ASPD are different and ASPD has it’s own spectrum. The signs and symptoms they experience and exhibit are individual.

The term “antisocial” conjures an image of someone whom often will shy away from social activities and interactions with other people but in the case of ASPD is actually refers to the lack of connection with other people. Which makes a scale of ASPD so interesting. Take these characters portrayed in movies and TV as examples of the wide range of sociability.

Hannibal Lecter
1418921094991Seen as very charming, well spoken, intelligent, elegant and in a way beautiful, Hannibal is the most social of the ASPD spectrum. He seeks to be social, to be the center of attention although his ability to quickly turn cold and aloof can disrupt that. However, he does not break character. He has perfected his ability to maintain that facade and that makes manipulating others very, very easy for him. Hannibal–like every ASPD–has high expectations of people, perhaps even too high. When someone is seen as rude, his charm is instantly turned off.

Earl Brooks
brooks1His business, his ability to handle family problems and the public makes Earl appear like the an excellent socialite. However, you can see how thin the mask he wears truly is. Not considering his alter ego Marshall whispering in his ear, you can see how Earl does not go out of his way to compliment or enthuse others. He does the minimum to get by which is why he scores lower than Hannibal.

Louis Bloom
Jake-Gyllenhaal-Louis-Bloom-Nightcrawler-jacket-600x800Something is odd about Louis. He comes across at first impression as very bizarre, like the person you suspect that keeps dead bodies in their basement, but once he opens his mouth and begins to speak you hear eloquence though it seems forced and practiced. He does not make eye contact often, does not wear his mask well or for very long and does not keep a background appearance to go with the character he tries to portray. Unlike Earl and Hannibal, Louis is not rich, successful and does not appear to have family or friends which make him untrustworthy.

Dexter Morgan
997586-dexter_morganAlthough it’s not part of his job to be friendly and social, Dexter is forced to because he has so many personal connections. Despite this, he genuinely hates people and does an unfortunately bad job trying to be social, trustworthy and graceful. Many of his friends, family and colleagues see through the thin veneer of his attempts and constantly question his motives. His ability to manipulate others is not as refined as Louis however.

Patrick Bateman
American PsychoThe friends and colleagues Patrick keeps are entirely there for appearances. He “wants to be normal” and uses his connections to make that climb up the social and corporate ladder like rungs. Patrick is almost entirely isolated in his own mind and spends very little time trying to impress and manipulate others, in fact he’s actually quite terrible at it. Like the others on this list, Patrick uses routine to stay in control and although part of his routine is making himself appear perfect on the outside, there is no effort to present anything from his personality.

Will Graham

HANNIBAL: SEASON ONE (Photo: Robert Trachtenberg/Sony Pictures Television/NBC)

Out of everyone on this list, Will is the least likely to have friends or be seen out in public if he can help it. He does not value interacting with people, in fact he does most anything he can to avoid others. This makes his ability to manipulate others difficult but still possible. He can put on a very short lived and minimalist act to appease others, using dark humor and self-depreciating jokes to make himself seem more likable. His style of manipulation is by far the strongest however, because he can appear to be that tough nut to crack with a soft, sensitive interior. He comes across at that level as genuine and innocent which to an extent fools even Hannibal, though he can see that there is more to Will than that.

For Part 2 I will discuss more of how ASPD is presented and has changed in TV and movies and how that compares to real life cases.

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