Common themes associated with antisocial personality disorder are:
Aggressive, violent behaviour—verbal and physical
Compulsive stealing Disregard for the safety of one’s self or others Prone to getting involved in fights
Recurrent problems with the law No understanding of other people’s sexual or emotional rights
Prone to violating other people’s legal rights Constant lying
Inability to maintain lasting friendships
Inability to keep a job Lack of remorse for hurting other people
Feeling persistent agitated Inability to tolerate boredom Behavioural problems in childhood Possessing a superficial charm
A sense of extreme entitlement
People with antisocial personalities do not have a sign on their head saying that they are ‘antisocial—stay away!’. They know that they need to gain trust with other people in order to fit in with society and achieve their goals; however, they often have no sense of sense of shame or remorse for their hurtful actions. Some textbooks state that the anti-social behaviour begins in teenage years and is at its worst in one’s twenties; and yet, perhaps the individual becomes better at hiding the truth or acting. Another possibility is that the individual may have other accomplices that may act on his behalf. Often, individuals with antisocial personality are indifferent to the right of others: they only care about themselves. The following is a short list which includes examples of this personality disorder in films. Another disorder that is inextricably interconnected with antisocial personality is the term ‘sociopath’.
Hannibal Lecter (The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, The Red Dragon)
Tommy DeVito (Goodfellas)
Annie Wilkes (Stephen King’s Misery) John Doe (Seven)
Tom Ripley (The Talented Mr. Ripley)
Jason Dean (Heathers)
Individuals with this disorder are often very charming. Initially, before the person is caught—if he is caught—many feel compelled to befriend and get to know him. The more power the individuals has, the more he can get away with, the, consequently, the more damage he can do. For example, Hannibal Lecter was famous, he was very refined, knowledgeable and both interesting and engaging in conversation. Tom Ripley was also very clever at covering his tracks: he wore very smart suits and made it his business to learn about other people’s behaviour, their likes and dislikes. Another example is Tommy Devito in Goodfellas. He had a huge amount of power in the mafia. People respected him and, combined with the Sicilian code of honour, it made it very difficult to challenge him. But, with all these examples, they had one overriding feature—their inability to feel remorse after speaking aggressively, causing actual pain or death to another person.
Fred West was another person who had an antisocial personality. During a twenty year period, he and his wife, tortured, raped and murdered at least eleven women and girls. Fred West was prone to exaggeration. In fact, he embellished stories in order to compensate for his mundane life. In the police report during his first arrest for murder, the policeman noticed that,
‘Fred also had a gift for telling stories. But these had little contact with reality; he invented his stories as he went along and would embellish his role with outrageous descriptions of his achievements. He genuinely believed that what passed through his head at any given moment was the truth, whether it was based on fact or not’.
However, he lied so frequently that he was unable to decipher what was try and what was false; as a teenager, his phantasies became more and more sexual and dangerous. He viewed girls as objects of pleasure. It was at this time that he started molesting girls.
Importantly, it was his ability to pretend, to make up interesting stories and to lie about his life that help him to allure girls back to his place. In addition, he like many other psychopathic sexual serial killers, preyed on the young and vulnerable (Boduszek & Hyland, 2012). Fred West was not as charming as, say, The Talented Mr Ripley; however, he was able to use his charm and his power in order to set up meetings with girls. Serena Davies, in her article in the Telegraph, explained how the actor in the film ‘Appropriate Adult’ was able to depict the duplicitous nature of Fred West who was able to, ‘lay on the charm when he wanted to, although his wife Rose (a disturbing Monica Dolan) remained a shrieking harpy’ (Davies, 2011). In fact, often, as Egger (1990) puts it, these murderers are chameleon-like in the environment and appear normal to others (Egger, 1990).
Boduszek, D. & Hyland, P. (2012). Fred West: Bio-psycho-social investigation of psychopathic sexual serial killer. International Journal of Criminology and Sociological Theory, 5: 864-870.
Davies, S. (2011). (Last accessed June 14, 2013). http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/8738468/Appropriate-Adult-ITV1-review.html
Egger, S. A. (1990). Serial Murder: A Synthesis of Literature and Research. In S. A. Egger
(Ed.) Serial Murder: An Elusive Phenomenon (pp.3-34). New York: Praeger Publishers.
David Kraft PhD