In movies like Psycho, ASPD is portrayed as a step into the abyss of madness. Norman Bates carries the charm and manipulative properties of someone with Antisocial Personality Disorder, but the depth of his character does not go beyond the fact that he dresses up as his mother and kills women. Speculation is given as to the reasoning behind his acts but it’s left at him just being a deranged killer. Unfortunately, so very little was known about ASPD back then and what was known made an unsuccessful attempt at categorizing the different types, labeling them as “psychopath” or “sociopath”. Both of these terms are outdated and incorrect, but they were on the right track. One was used to describe the social manipulator and the other described the cold, dead-eyed monster. Sadly, these terms are still thrown around fairly loosely these days, usually be the older generation that hasn’t caught up to modern psychology. As I mentioned in Part 1, there is a spectrum of ASPD, it’s not so black and white as to say you’re either a con-artist or a monster even though that is how it is played out in movies and TV.
In the words of Will Graham, “Insane isn’t really black or white. We’re all pathological in our own ways”. Looking at the list in Part 1, five out of six of the people mentioned were murderers (sort of, it’s still debatable whether or not Patrick Bateman actually killed anyone). Although a reason is not given in every character’s background for their behavior and heinous misconduct, it is general agreed upon that people don’t start out as murderers, something tragic has to happen for that switch to be flipped.
Back when terms like “psychopath” was used, it was believed that people were born with this mental dysfunction–essentially born evil. Very little was known or considered about how children and adolescents are effected by their environment. As the study of human psychology advanced we came to realize that traumatic events stay with a person for a life time.
One of the theories behind personality disorders is that it is a learned disorder. Unlike some mental illnesses that are directly connected to problems in brain chemistry or biology, personality disorders are carried on from generation to generation because of how we as humans mimic those around us. ASPD can be a learned disorder when we consider how many real life serial killers described growing up witnessing the acts of violence they would later commit, but not all serial killers grew up in such a way. Genetics and even an unstable, emotionally vacant environment can trigger this disorder as well.
Proven throughout several tests done with both humans and animals, the mind can only handle so much stress and fear before it breaks. Survival is possible beyond that breaking point, but quality of life and thinking patterns change, sometimes for the worst. Norman Bates’ character barely skimmed the surface of how an inconsistent up bringing can damage a child, but it wasn’t until much later on that we came into what I like to call the “misunderstood villain” era.
Villains are given a broader background with logical–albeit twisted–reasoning behind why they went bad and we tend to sympathize with them. We’ve all had our moments of behind beaten down with no sense of hope in humanity anymore and these villains have turned a few bad days on everyone else. In a way, we all want to have that moment of revenge.
The main difference between TV and movie killers and real life killers is that a mental illness is almost always associated with the fictional murderer. Homicides can happen daily across the world and it’s not always the fault of an ill mind.
Serial killings have a special place amongst the gore and true crime of our society because they appear to be committed by people who play on a different field than the rest of us. It’s stated in the DSM-5 that ASPD comes with the distinct lack of empathy and concern for others and that appears to be why a person can go on killing so many strangers in such a horrifying way. No sane, rational person could do such a thing, right?
The truth of the matter is not all those diagnosed with ASPD become serial killers, in fact a good majority of them never commit murder or spend a night in jail. That is not to say that they don’t want to push their limits and have not done something illegal.