—Amy watched as the mouse squirmed in her fingertips.  “Ugly vermin” she said, “you must die!” With that she put the little mouse body in the bucket of water until the bubbles stopped. To assure herself it was dead she decided to roll over it a time or two with her bicycle. Afterward, she looked down at the tiny dead body with curiosity. Were all creatures so easily destroyed and controlled she wondered? What a powerful feeling it gave her to take the life of that mouse.—

What do Ted Bundy, the BTK killer Dennis Rader, and John Wayne Gacy all have in common? They were all diagnosed with a psychopathic anti-social personality disorder, and they were cold blooded killers.

Psychopathic and Sociopathic characteristics overlap a bit and at times it is difficult to understand the difference between them. Then you throw in the occasional narcissistic personality disorder and the water gets murkier still.  I’ve often wondered at my morbid fascination with profiling serial killers and their stories. Some of my favorite, colorful characters in books and movies have been psychopaths (Gone Girl, Hannibal Lector, Dexter).  Dexter is a personal favorite as he was a serial killer who was a hero of sorts.  He only killed bad guys. Great series look it up if you haven’t seen it.  Usually though they are the villains who achieve their goals by violence. In real life not all psychopaths are violent. The everyday psychopath may just use manipulation and charm to get their desired results.

So what is the difference and why does it matter? Not much, but one may kill you. Either type can be a charmer, and offer a convincing show of emotions such as fear and love, but lack both.  Both types lack the ability for real empathy, or putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, circumstances, or position. The psychopathic are thought to be born that way with faulting wiring. While the sociopathic may have become who they are through a combination of environment and natural tendencies. Psychopaths are the ones who are usually the cold hearted killers. They will calculate a plan to maim, kill, and torture their victims. Oh and not all psychopaths are serial killers – some of them happen to be CEOs and politicians.

Traits of Psychopaths 101:

  • Glib and superficial charm – may say and do all the right things to gain trust.
  • Grandiose self-perception – they believe they are smarter and more powerful than they are.
  • Constant need for stimulation. They do not take time for stillness or reflection often.  They like constant activity and to be entertained.
  • Lies without reserve – little white lies, big lies, huge fish stories. They use this to manipulate and control – to them we are all predators or prey.
  • No remorse or guilt for bad behavior. When accused of some behavior or act they can even weave it into them becoming the victim.
  • Lack of empathy. They can learn from others the expected emotional reactions and are good actors.
  • They seem to be fearless.
  • Unwilling to accept responsibility for their actions – always someone else is to blame – they are without fault.
  • Multiple relationships and promiscuous sexual behavior.

Those are just a few of the traits. Oh and just in case you are feeling a creeping anxiety that you possess some of these traits, it usually means that you are not one. That is self-reflection and true psychopaths usually don’t reflect in a remorseful or guilty way. Anyone can be selfish or thoughtless at times and that is called being ‘human’.

I believe we are drawn to serial killers just like the gawkers at a car wreck or any other catastrophe. It is as if our eyes must see it to believe it. If we cannot absorb it then we try to understand what caused it or what must have happened. It allows us to face our horrible sides also and reckon that they are/were human like us too?

So as a child fascinated by the monster in the bedtime story we look to serial killers as a “safe” outlet. Something that makes us feel we aren’t that bad, or at least we are more normal. We are drawn to the randomness, the killing without perceived motive, the coolness and emptiness inside them like a black hole. Maybe the fascination is a protection of sorts. Perhaps we think that the more familiar we are with the psychopath, the easier it will be to recognize a perceived threat. Perhaps our guilty pleasure actually serves a purpose.


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