Nancy's Notes From Florida

Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

The Evil Mind

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 13, 2012

Rick David, a licensed Florida mental health therapist for over thirty years, spoke at the Florida Romance Writers monthly meeting in Fort Lauderdale on “Inside the Mind of Evil”. First he differentiated between a sociopath and a psychopath. The sociopath lacks empathy and remorse and is fueled by narcissism. He has feelings of omnipotence and is ego-centric. These people may be criminals but “not all sociopaths are psychopaths.”

Psychopathy means mental illness. The psychopath may be a sociopath with a mental illness, usually psychosis in that he’s out of touch with reality or living in a fantasy world of his own creation. All psychopaths are not criminals.    3836602_med

Killers objectify people and see them as things to bring gain. These psychopathic killers are incapable of meaningful relationships. They lack remorse in their actions. They can be deceitful, impulsive, and glib. Power, control, and fear are their motivators. They are cold and calculating. Many have early behavioral problems as noted below. They can look at you with a steely, predatory stare (or they can be as friendly as the guy next door). Usually they’ll project blame onto others. Killing fills their emotional void, and it may be the only way they can feel anything. Drugs and alcohol are often involved. If anti-social behaviors are mixed in, they may be the loner type, avoiding social contact with others.

Behaviors in children that may be warning signs when taken to the extreme can be testing limits, kids described as difficult or “different”, young people to whom consequences mean nothing. Aggression, bullying, and lying may be evident. A pattern of hurting animals or setting fires may be signals that this person needs intervention. Also, not every serial killer has had an abusive childhood. Even kids from happy families can take a turn to the dark side.

When writing crime fiction or romantic suspense, the writer needs to get inside the mind of evil. These behavioral factors should help you create your villain. Remember that he thinks differently from normal people and rationalizes his internal fantasy. Better we should meet him on the page than on the street.

21 Responses to “The Evil Mind”

  1. Very interesting post, Nancy! I used to work with convicted felons when I worked in forensic psychology. Love your “Notes from Florida” –I hope everyone signs up!

    • Eileen Gabriel said

      Kinda makes me wonder…An old boyfriend once saw me fall down in a parking lot during a rainstorm and he didn’t even run to help me. He just laughed and stood there. Hmmm. Why didn’t I see it right then?

  2. Love to talk about character development. Thanks for sharing!

  3. David Wainland said

    It was an interesting talk. Sorry I left just before it ended. I had a murder scheduled at one.

  4. This talk helped me improve my mystery synopsis. It was fascinating, and a bit scary to listen to Rick.

  5. Haha, David, very funny! I’d better bring my mace and pepper spray if you’re at the next meeting.

  6. Mary, you have experience in this arena. Anything you’d like to add about the criminal mind?

    • Nancy, I think the issue of “blaming others” that Rick mentioned is really key. I saw this again and again. And the total lack of empathy is chilling. I once wrote a piece for RWA on “Creating the Perfect Predator– tips from a forensic psychologist.” I keep meaning to put it on my website. I used clinical information on ociopaths, collected from my own case files and I blended it with examples from current thrillers–all the big name authors you can think of–and talked about how they got it “right.” If anyone wants the article, I can send it as a Word document. Also, if you ever need a guest speaker for your chapter meetings, Nancy, I’ll be in Ft. Lauderdale in February–I”d love to meet you!

  7. Oh, Eileen, I can see how someone might laugh in that situation, like a comic pratfall, but then your guy should have asked if you were okay or needed assistance. Probably didn’t even occur to him if you picked yourself back up.

    • Eileen Gabriel said

      No, he didn’t ask if I was okay. Actually, I don’t see how someone falling in a rainstorm is funny in any way. Maybe mystery writers eventually think like those they write about?

  8. monarisk said

    Nancy, thank you for summarizing and posting Rick David’s talk. Very interesting.

  9. Thanks for sharing, Nancy. I’m interested in criminal profiling. It started out as research for my romantic suspense stories, but it’s intriguing study for nonwriters, too.

  10. Cheryl, if you get a chance, read something by Stanton Samenow…he’s an expert on sociopaths and has an interesting take on them. He feels that they can’t be rehabilitated because the whole idea of “rehab” suggests going back to an earlier state of being. And with sociopaths, there is no earlier state to go back to–their way of seeing the world has been warped from day one. Therapy with them is useless, I can certainly attest to that, after spending two years in forensic work. It’s a fascinating field, you’re right!

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