Mindhunter, Sociopathy and Psychopathy

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If you know me, you know that I rarely watch television or movies. I know, they feel like the kind of thing Olivia should be interested in, especially considering how much free time I’ve had, but during my concussion era I couldn’t watch screens in that way and otherwise, I just feel antsy and anxious while I’m watching videos. Youtube videos of maximum 15 minutes are even hard to sit through. So when I find a show that I really take to, it’s gotta be pretty good. Or at least, the show will say a lot about me.


I love Brooklyn 99 because it’s a non-toxic display of both policing and masculinity mixed with very low-pressure comedy (non awkward, minimal discomfort, you’re in on the joke type stuff). I like Sherlock because of its witty back and forth dialogue. I like The West Wing for the Sorkin pace. I like Mindhunter for a few reasons.


Part of the reason I discuss the sociopath I encountered so much is because he hurt me so badly, and I’m traumatized. Part of why I do it is because I’m a bit addicted to it. I partly want justice in the form of exposure. I partly am just purely fascinated by the abnormal psychology that is a lacking of empathy. It’s just so close to the tip of unfathomable but these disorders exist, and people with them do dangerous things.


As I have started to do, I want to begin with a blanket disclaimer that having these diagnoses doesn’t mean you’re automatically a serial killer. The one I know hasn’t killed anybody yet. But in order to have these disorders, one must have displayed a callous disregard for the humanity of others already, so my sympathy isn’t exactly running high. Anyway, here’s what I watched and why it was of interest to me.


Mindhunters is a show about the birth of the Behavioral Science Unit in the FBI, but even more than that it’s about the birth of the sector of criminology that accounts for serial killers and takes into account the background, upbringing, and emotions, or lack thereof, of serial (“sequence” as the characters have conjured up) killer. There are never no emotions, though. They’re just not the ones that are portrayed.


Pathological liar. Psychopath. Sociopath. What’s the difference? As it turns out, very little. I’d kind of been operating under the assumption that there was a difference, but the real difference seems to be that psychopathy is more extreme. Here’s why that matters.


The sociopath I know was diagnosed as such. His girlfriend doesn’t want to believe that, or thinks it’s incorrect, or whatever it was that I told myself when I was in her position, but it’s true. He would say that he was diagnosed a psychopath. It’s clever for him not to use the real name of what he was diagnosed with: antisocial personality disorder. That’s sociopathy, but he never said sociopathy, he’d say psychopathy, a little verbal run around meant to make the listener recoil because of course he’s not a murderous psychopath! He’s smart, he got a near perfect SAT score, it’s pretty intuitively clever. It takes a type to understand.


Now, in the show, the backgrounds of the psychopath are savored by analysts just as much as the behavior in the present. In the pasts of each sociopath and psychopath laid a childhood wake of explanation for the behavior. We see bedwetting, animal abuse, maternal humiliation, matriarchal struggle, absent fathers, drug and alcohol abuse in the family. Discord with the mothers and sons is a very common theme. 


The sociopath I know was raised as his mother was suffering from alcoholism. He claims she verbally abused him during that time, but he claims a lot. Perhaps that’s one of the only true things he ever said to me. That certainly doesn’t mean that the family deserves what he is, it’s just an explanation. A check mark, if you will.


One episode was particularly interesting to me. In it, the killer is the boyfriend. The boyfriend is a sociopath at the very least, and the way it manifests in him is that he can very accurately mimic the emotions of others in order to appear normal. He’d cry, he’d bemoan the horror, he appeared to be very “sensitive.” But at the end of the day, he was a remorseless killer, and the trick was that the agent knew it all along, and he knew it because of his instincts.


When he watched the killer boyfriend cry, something felt off, felt wrong, like he shouldn’t be seeing it.


That’s exactly how I felt when the sociopath I knew would cry. He’d look away and make sobbing noises, but I never saw tears. He’d ask to be held, and I would, and part of me felt sympathetic, but always, always, I felt an ever so slight tug of something being off. I wouldn’t recognize it as this until later.


In fact, sociopathy and psychopathy are often hard to square with the person in question. Oh, but he’s such a sweet, kind, empathetic, liberal boy! That’s because they need to appear to be so in order to survive. My sociopath, so to speak, had a supposed connection with his dog, seemed to care about others, and was very liberal. It takes a tuned eye, one that I now have, to see his behavior as hunting.


In fact, we were often in his basement, being physical and watching movies. One night, he was describing to me the way in which he cared about others who struggle. He described it, then, as a hunt. He pretended to be a sniffer dog. I laughed, I thought it was funny. He pretended to sniff all up and down my body, and howled like a dog. 


I see now how haunting that incident really was. It was a not-so-rare moment of self-reflection. I believe (with a diagnosis backing me up) that he’s a high functioning sociopath, one that is perhaps afraid of his condition but he has it, nonetheless. He’ll have insight into his condition that his intelligence and hesitance gives him, but that doesn’t give him humanity, or the ability to feel or love.


He chose my therapeutic school to begin dating in because it was the perfect hunting ground. First he dates an anorexic girl with PTSD. Then he dates a bipolar girl who cuts. Women without vulnerabilities like that aren’t suitable prey for him, because like killers, he seeks the prey who are like his admittedly hated mother and sister. He seeks empathy, suffering, vulnerability, and then when the play acting gets boring, he relishes in tossing them aside.


The new girl even looks like his sister. 


Anyway, I’d highly recommend the show. They have a little quip about how they know Nixon’s a sociopath. It’s chock full of stuff like that, it’s set many decades ago so the costumes and sets and cinematography are marvelous, and who knows, maybe you’ll see someone you know in the killers. I did.

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