Follow TV Tropes


The Sociopath / Real Life

Go To

(NOTE: Must be actually professionally diagnosed with sociopathy, in order to follow the Rule of Cautious Editing Judgment.)
  • It's estimated that about 1.5% of men and about 0.5% of women display sociopathic traits. Hardly any sociopaths/psychopaths are criminals, and in fact, the personality is overrepresented in a number of high-end fields, particularly those that demand both ruthlessness and an ability to cope under intense pressure. Examples include chefs, surgeons, journalists, lawyers, the media, and, at the very top, CEOs.
  • Hermann Göring, the Reich Marshal of Nazi Germany and the initial second-in-command to Adolf Hitler. Also the founder of the Gestapo. He was diagnosed as a narcissistic sociopath and found to have the highest IQ among the Nazis at the Nuremberg Trials. Cruel, corrupt, and self-indulgent, he amassed enormous wealth at the expense of his country, during wartime. Neither did he give two shits about any National Socialist ideals — when they asked him why he joined the Nazi movement in the first place, his explanation boiled down to "It Amused Me" — i.e. he did it only to indulge in a decadent lifestyle. When his sentence was proclaimed he said he had no regrets... he lived like a king for over 10 years and that's all that mattered to him. His only real complaint was that he was sentenced to hang, he lobbied the Judges to go before a firing squad instead since he saw hanging as a fate only fit for "common criminals". When they refused, he died of suicide to spite them.
    • And yet Göring also rescued several Jews and Jewish families from the Nazis, making sure they were able to get out of Germany, mostly because they'd showed him some kindness when he was poor or otherwise in a bad way. And by all accounts he really did love his daughter. His brother was an opponent of the Nazis who used Hermann's name to smuggle Jews out of Germany — Hermann knew about this and turned a blind eye. He also deeply loved his first wife Karin — enough that he maintained a shrine in her honor after she died.
    • Goering's indifference to Nazi Germany's antisemitic policies makes sense in light of recent research that suggests sociopaths are incapable of genuine bigotry. While they often join racist organizations because they are attracted to the authority and hostility they represent, instinctual hatred towards people one does not consider part of their "tribe" is caused by the hormone oxytocin, which sociopaths are deficient in, because they have no actual attachment to their "tribes" or other social groups, but only themselves. Even when aware of the dangers and harm that other groups present, they'll not care as long as they feel they're not personally threatened.
  • Advertisement:
  • Ted Bundy raped, tortured, and murdered women (though not always in that order) for several years, even going so far as to strangle two 12-year-old girls to death, while appearing to lead an exemplary life. Yes, this sadistic Serial Killer was a member of the Crime Prevention Council, a political staffer, and a volunteer at a suicide hotline — all likely chosen to make himself appear honest, law-abiding and caring to the public at large. The main reason he was so successful as a serial killer and the reason he was able to elude the authorities (other than his ability to disguise himself) for so long was that he, like most sociopaths, was very charming. It also didn't hurt that he was handsome and had a 100-watt smile. He even used to get fan mail from women while he was in prison, but then again, most famous violent criminals and serial killers do. Bundy actually was a low-functioning sociopath, in the sense that he couldn't hold down jobs and had difficulty sticking to his law-school studies, due to his overwhelming need to murder. But he was still able to project the image of a pleasant, charming young man. Interestingly, although he was proud and boastful about most of his crimes, there were some that he didn't like to talk about including victims who were known to people he knew personally and the two twelve-year-old girls he'd murdered and he became particularly angry if people brought them up, suggesting that even he thought he sometimes went too far.
  • Advertisement:
  • Ancient history gives us Alcibiades of Athens. The nephew of Pericles, intellectually brilliant, personally charming, and stunningly handsome, Alcibiades excelled at virtually everything he applied himself to, from soldiery to statecraft to seducing women (and men, this being Ancient Greece). He was also inconstant, fickle, capricious, and felt lasting affection for few people, if any at all — except, perhaps, for his surprising purported friendship with/lust for Socrates. He was as good at making bitter enemies as he was at making superficial friends, and for this reason, he changed sides a dizzying number of times during The Peloponnesian War; a war that he had helped to reignite, for no other reason (according to Plato) than to further his political career. In The Mask of Sanity, psychiatrist Hervey M. Cleckley decides that Alcibiades "had the gift of every talent except that of using them consistently to achieve any sensible aim or in behalf of any discernible cause."
  • Reinhard Heydrich, Heinrich Himmler's deputy and SS governor of Bohemia and Moravia, is almost universally seen as this by historians. The man planned the Holocaust with ruthless efficiency (what's more, before the age of 40), was a skilled manipulator, and practically ran a private spy agency to better blackmail political opponents. Kenneth Branagh, who played him in Conspiracy (2001), said he felt that Heydrich wasn't even particularly anti-Semitic: if he had been ordered instead to exterminate tennis players or Eskimos, he would have done so with just as much enthusiasm. One episode from his personal life alone pushes him over the edge here. As a young naval officer, he impregnated his fiancé and then left her. His reason? Any woman who gave herself away so freely was beneath him. It backfired when Admiral Erich Raeder dismissed him for refusing to marry her, only for him to (quickly) withdraw under the protective wing of Himmler. He despised everything, his bosses included, and cared only for power.
  • Oskar Dirlewanger is a much more violent and low-functioning example than Goering and Heydrich, being described as an extremely cruel person by historians. Dirlewanger was defined by his bloodlust and extreme sadism, leading a battalion known as the Dirlewanger Brigade that, true to his name, was comprised of other violent criminals, psychopaths, and poachers, and regularly engaged in Rape, Pillage, and Burn, Cold-Blooded Torture, and even necrophilia, all of which he relished in. A post-World War I police note described him as "a mentally unstable, violent fanatic and alcoholic, who had the habit of erupting into violence under the influence of drugs". Prior to WWII, Dirlewanger was repeatedly convicted of embezzlement and illegal arms possession, as well as for molesting a 14-year-old girl. His criminal streak landed him at the Welzheim concentration camp, only to be personally bailed out by his wartime companion Gottlob Berger, who was also a long-time friend of Heinrich Himmler. Dirlewanger's volatile behavior made him have an uneasy relationship with the SS, all the way to Himmler, with some contemplating removing him from the organization.
  • Before he was released from Sing Sing Prison in 1931, doctors diagnosed Carmine Galante (a mobster and former underboss of the Bonanno crime family) as having a psychopathic personality and recommended treatment. Galante ignored their suggestions and went back on the street as a Mafia hoodlum and associate, rising up the mob ranks to become Joe Bonanno's underboss and a major drug pusher in the 1960s and 1970s. It was rumored that he was involved in as many as 100 mob hits.
  • Thomas "Karate" Pitera, a former hitman and caporegime for the Bonanno crime family, earned a reputation as a vicious and sadistic killer who enjoyed murdering people, and was reportedly involved in as many as 60 murders. Philip Carlo, a Mafia historian, even wrote a book about Pitera called The Butcher: Anatomy of a Mafia Psychopath, describing how Pitera went from a meek and often bullied high school kid to a vicious and cold-blooded killer.
  • Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo, boss of the Philadelphia crime family from 1981 to 1991, was described by mob journalist George Anastasia as a narcissistic and cold-hearted psychopath with an extremely notorious penchant for violence; according to Anastasia, murder was Scarfo's "calling card" — his way of dealing with problems. Described as 5-feet-5 with a high-pitched voice, Scarfo was viewed as "a greedy despot" who reveled in "wanton, ruthless and senseless violence," according to Anastasia in his book Blood and Honor. His tenure was often marked by turf wars and multiple gangland hits, and was widely known one of the most vicious and brutal crime bosses in the country — perhaps the most violent according to Anastasia, outstripping bosses like Carmine Galante or Albert Anastasia in terms of sheer ruthlessness and brutality. He rose to power during one of the bloodiest periods in Philadelphia organized crime history, as two of his predecessors were assassinated (Angelo Bruno in 1980, and Philip Testa in 1981). After his ascension, Scarfo often ordered many murders in public to instill a constant atmosphere of fear and paranoia throughout Philadelphia, and wanted everyone in the Philly underworld to fear him, which is another reason why he ordered his men to kill people in broad daylight unlike his predecessors. Within his own crime family, Scarfo demanded complete allegiance to him and would kill underlings over petty reasons such as disrespect, insubordination or resistance. Between his accession to boss in 1981 and his arrest in 1987, Scarfo ordered the murder of over 25 people and ran the Philly mob like an absolute totalitarian and tyrannical dictator; he even hated his nickname and often lashed out violently at those who mocked his short height or high-pitched voice.
  • M. E. Thomas is a clinically diagnosed sociopath who wrote a memoir called Confessions of a Sociopath and also has a blog. Predictably, she's a lawyer.
  • Richard Allen Davis, the killer of Polly Klass, was diagnosed as having anti-social personality disorder while in prison. Before he killed Polly, Davis had committed numerous burglaries, had tortured animals as a child, faked a suicide attempt in prison to fool the authorities into sending him to a mental hospital and had attempted to sexually assault and kidnap several other women. When he was on trial for the rape and murder of Polly, Davis was belligerent, giving the finger to the judge and Polly's family.
  • H. H. Holmes, often regarded as America's first (or at least first well-known) Serial Killer fit almost all of Hare's criteria before Hare was even born. Most notably the "glib and superficial charm" aspect that allowed him to dupe many many people. One trick he pulled off multiple times was with creditors he had taken money from and then not repaid, so whenever the creditors came to him looking for blood, he talked them into sympathizing with him and giving him more time. On one occasion he pulled this off on an entire room full of creditors who had gotten together in order to trap him and managed to get away before any of them realized they had been given the slip. He also fits the "many short term marital relationships" criteria due to his habit of enchanting a young woman, making her grandiose promises and acting the part of a lover until he became bored with her and killed her in the elaborate hotel/dungeon he built while keeping the builders in the dark as to its real purpose. He also pulled all this off while technically still being married to his first wife who he had callously abandoned back in Vermont and had the balls to file for divorce claiming she had been unfaithful to him (and yet he never bothered to get the divorce finalized), and later pulled this off a second time by abandoning another wife and child who were unaware that they were actually his Secret Other Family in favor of a third woman who was similarly unaware of his two previous marriages. His main motivation for doing this as well as the succession of lovers seems to have been a need for stimulation and quickly grew bored with his new paramours.
  • Eric Harris, one of the two Columbine shooters, was diagnosed as a psychopath after his death at the Columbine High School Massacre. While many psychologists are hesitant to diagnose someone after death, Harris is notable as one of the best-documented mass shooters in history due to the infamous "basement tapes" that laid out his thought process in his own words. His fellow shooter Dylan Klebold, on the other hand, is widely agreed by professionals to have not been this and would likely have never come up with such a plan on his own without Harris' influence, and better fit the criteria for some manner of depressive disorder instead, which unfortunately made him vulnerable to the manipulation from Harris. The two are often used as a case study of how people with sociopathic characteristics can lead non-sociopaths into displaying similar behavior under their influence.
  • Diane Downs, who shot her three small children, killing the younger of her two daughters in 1983 (her older daughter and toddler son were seriously injured, but survived), was diagnosed by psychiatrists with antisocial personality disorder, among other conditions. At first, Downs had driven her wounded children to the hospital, claiming that they had been shot by an attempted carjacker on an Oregon country road late at night (she had gone as far as to shoot herself in the arm in an attempt to make her story more convincing). Investigators considered her original story far-fetched, but Downs' stoic, even jovial, demeanor in the days following the death of her child was what led them to look to her as a suspect. As it turned out, Downs wanted her children dead because she wanted to be with a married man who didn't want to be a parent.
  • Klaus Kinski, infamous German actor known for his work with director Werner Herzog and extremely volatile behavior on and off set was actually diagnosed with psychopathy in 1950 after being admitted to a psychiatric hospital due to stalking, and eventually trying to strangle, his theatrical sponsor. During his lifetime he saw no shortage of prisons, hospitals, and asylums, and allegedly sexually abused his eldest daughter, Pola from a young age. His youngest daughter, Nastassja Kinski also claims he tried to molest her too, but was unsuccessful, and that she lived in terror of him. Despite all this, however, he still managed to gain film roles, right up until his death in 1991.
  • Doctor Harold Shipman, aka "Dr. Death" - even before the investigation into his practice. Later nicknames included "The Ferryman". If not the most famous Serial Killer ever, he could well be the most prolific. Convicted of 15 murders, proven 218 so far, and furthermore, 459 patients had died under his care between 1971 and 1998 - mostly elderly women. Shipman had a pattern of administering lethal doses of diamorphine, signing patients' death certificates, falsifying medical records to indicate that they had been in poor health, and requiring countersigning for their bodies to be cremated. Many of his patients then left him substantial amounts of money in their wills. How did he get away with it? In part, sheer incompetence. Those looking into his case during the initial inquiry were unaware of his history of forging documents, nor did police check for criminal history. Neither Shipman nor his patients nor the families of the dead patients were informed. While he was being investigated, Shipman killed three more women, his final victim leaving him over £350,000, and her daughter with nothing; another sign of how confident Shipman had become. And even while being held in prison before trial, he was confident he would be found innocent and was actually trusted and respected by the prison inmates, with them allegedly consulting him on medical matters more often than the prison doctors.
    • In 2004 Shipman hanged himself from his prison bars and his victims' families felt as if they had been 'cheated' since they would never have a confession or a reason. Various theories have been put forward to explain why Shipman turned to murder. Some suggest that he was avenging the death of his mother, who died when he was 17. Others propose he simply could not resist playing God, proving that he could take life as well as save it. But even in the face of glaring scientific evidence, Shipman never confessed even after conviction to anybody, and his wife has likewise insisted upon his innocence. In fact, his main concern seemed to be that he had been stripped of the title 'Doctor'. Then again, as well as all the forged wills, there was that £10,000 worth of stolen jewellery stashed in his garage when he was arrested, so...
  • Sam Vaknin, the author of Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited and the creator and editor of a website about Narcissistic Personality Disorder, says that he is a psychopath, and met the criteria for psychopathy according to Hare Psychopathy Checklist. A documentary, I, Psychopath, was made about him where he details his thoughts.
  • Gary Ridgway aka "The Green River Killer". Like Ted Bundy, he preyed on women (mostly sex workers) and is also known to have engaged in necrophilia with many of their corpses. He somehow managed to do this while being married. In fact, he married three times, all the while keeping his second life a secret from each of his wives and holding down a job. Indeed, his wives seemed to be the only women who were actually safe around him as by all accounts, he was a loving husband. His third wife Judith said he "made her feel like a newly wed every morning" and his son from his second marriage has gone on record to say that Gary was also a loving father. Whether or not he was like this so that they never suspected him or because he genuinely loved his wives and son is anyone's guess (though, all his marriages ended in divorce, so it would seem that his love for them eventually did end). The fact that he was able to live reletively normal married lives while murdering as many as 49 womennote  is nothing short of mind blowing.
  • "Mad" Dan Morgan, born John Fuller, was an Australian outlaw and is often seen as one of, if not the most notorious bushranger in the country's history, with a penchant for extreme cruelty, remorselessness and often violent mood swings.
  • Kim Jong-Il, the late dictator of North Korea, was diagnosed by Western psychiatrists with all of the Big Six of personality disorders commonly found in dictators; with Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Saddam Hussein as reference points. They are as follows: Antisocial, Narcissistic, Paranoid, Sadistic, Schizoid and Schizotypal. Kim was found to have a personality profile almost identical to that of Saddam Hussein. His son and successor Kim Jong-un has been described as "the model of his father in appearance and personality", but Jong-un's personal chef claims that he is even worse.
  • Uday Hussein, the eldest son of Saddam Hussein, was as every bit as terrible as his father, if not even worse. By all accounts, he was an absolute sadist who genuinely enjoyed causing pain and grief to those beneath him. A video exists of him sitting at a table while at a party and firing near the dance floor with an AK47, showing complete disregard for the people there. He was also a Serial Rapist who assaulted countless women, and his former press secretary said in an interview that raping women was a hobby for him. Keep in mind, Uday managed to get away with all of this due to being the son of Iraq's president. He also took part in the torture of many prisoners of war, including one incident where he murdered one by driving an electric drill into his head, in front of other prisoners. It was only when Uday killed his father's food taster and valet that Saddam finally stepped in and exiled him from Iraq (Uday had in fact murdered the valet because he believed that he had introduced Saddam to his second wife. Uday saw Saddam taking another wife as a betrayal to his mother, whom he loved dearly). Eventually Uday had proven to Saddam that he was simply too evil to take over as president, and instead named his younger son Qusay as his successor. Yes, Saddam Hussein thought his son was too cruel and sadistic to be given control of the whole country. It should come as no surprise that the people of Iraq were overjoyed when news broke out of his death at the hands of the US military after a standoff with them at a villa.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: