Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Quote: Akin

"Fish in the deep sea are luminous so that they can recognize one another; might not men and women also exude some kind of speechless luminescence to those akin to them?"

Angela Carter

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Brain matter

From a reader:

I've just completed your book and was particularly struck by a few things towards the end.  Its inspired me to share a few things with you mindful of your comments in the epilogue (which I'm guessing you intended would draw attention to your 'vulnerabilities'?).  

As a highly sucessful health professional with experience and interest in the brain it has taken me a while to realise where on the spectrum I lie personally.  I doubt I am fully sociopathic within your conception though certainly have family history and personal features (impulsivity, occasional recklessness, narcissism, lack of inborn empathy - though I'm a good actor) recognised by a psych friend and my therapist. I score pretty high up on the various formal inventories I have filled.

Your book I found entertaining, certainly does strike a chord and there is much I can resonate with, so I guess you have succeeded in part of your mission to demystify and encourage tolerance and understanding, if only to those whose experience of life fall within the same ball park as yours.

My principle reason for contacting you relates to your thoughts about the relationship between neuroanatomy, neuropsychology and neurochemistry in hard wiring the features of sociopathy.  I have had the unique (to me at any rate) experience of having had parts of my neuroanatomy and chemistry rewired following neurosurgery for tumour, radiotherapy and the commencement of psychoactive drugs to control resultant epilepsy.  My MR is a battle field. Of interest to me, and perhaps to you, is that this has not really changed who I am. It has (pre diagnosis of my tumour and subsequently as the years of 'recovery' have rolled on) attenuated, and in some cases damaged, my carefully honed life skills which have enabled me to deal with myself and what life throws at me.  

In studying myself going though this I have begun to realise  (I think I already knew) that I have controlled most of my sociopathic features in ways that have generated professional and (to casual observers) personal relationship success over the years.  Having acquired structural neuro damage and been forced to take drugs whose neurochemistry is well understood to have bad effects on people like me, these features have not gone away (I'm still me) , but have become more likely to leak out in ways I find increasingly difficult to control.

I guess I'm saying that to me I'm still the same (despite the re-wiring) but to others (family and colleagues - largely but not exclusively empaths as you call them - terrible term but I know what you mean) I've become more difficult and more 'sociopathic'.  This to my mind gives credence to some of your speculation about aetiology and might be of interest?  I have certainly worried about my kids' genetic predispositions and sought to parent in ways that teach them how to deal with whatever emergent traits might given them difficulty as they grow. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Sociopath or not?

From a reader:

I've read your book, Without Conscience, Sociopath Next Door, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and Wisdom of Psychopaths, and still haven't been able to figure out if I'm a sociopath, because I don't fully fit into the category of empath or sociopath.

I don't do things because I will feel guilt, remorse, shame, etc., if I don't. I can turn off my emotions at will, and feel nothing for hurting others, and the results of an IQ test in high school showed I had an IQ of 147. 

The thing that confuses me is that, while I can't empathize with others' emotions, I have a rule for myself that I won't do anything I wouldn't be okay with others doing to me, because I hate when others cheat and screw me, so I want to make sure they know what their dealing with, but it's an intellectual decision to treat ppl the way I'd want to be treated, but at the same time I could be a total douche to people and not care. Also, I'm honest with people because it takes too much effort for me to lie, but I have no feelings about lying when it's easy and convenient, or manipulating someone's sense of morality and personal emotions and beliefs to protect myself, or get what I want (in a survival of the fittest way).

Unlike most of the sociopaths, though, I don't crave stimulation or power. Roller coasters bore me, I don't take pleasure in anything with others (like having power over them makes me feel nothing, and being below them makes me feel nothing). I have no anger towards others either; like if someone gives me shit I don't feel anger or have any desire to hurt them, but I don't feel fear or anything either; it's like I'm eternally emotionally neutral towards everything; like I enjoy being around people or out partying, but I enjoy being at home with a book exactly the same, because my inner emotional state doesn't change according to what happens in my outside environment.

I don't care or get affected by what others say about me, I don't feel fear (or much any emotion) in response to situations, fear or otherwise. For example, a woman with a phenomenal body and breasts walked by in a bikini on the beach, and all my friends will be drooling over her, and, while I'd enjoy fucking her, I'm apathetic, and will just observe her like a car walking by, other than reading her body language and studying her like a science textbook, then I went up to her, played out a few lines and shit I'd seen out of movies like The Notebook and books like 50 Shades of Grey, fucked her, and thought nothing of it. 

While all my friends were too wimpy to approach her, I felt apathetic the whole time, even after I fucked her, I walked out with a, "well, that was nice, time to move on with my life" mindset and attitude.

I'm don't have any of the hallmarks of empaths, but I lack many traits I read that are common in sociopaths, so I don't know how to classify myself, and knowing you have more experience in this area I figured you had the answer.

I considered many disorders. They all came back to the conclusion that I no one could find any evidence I suffer from delusions, am fully aware of my behavior, actions, and consequences. I'm brilliant at analyzing situations, people, and rational and abstract reasoning. 

The psychologist who gave me my IQ test said he had to re-check part of the test, because he thought he added the score twice, and that in 22 years of giving over 1,200 tests he only had 3 people ever scored higher than me in this area. I've always been able to read people's life story like a book within 30 seconds of meeting them just by reading their body language.

The confusion about where I fit in, is that, around people, I can appear engaging, passionate, funny, or whatever else, and I don't really care if I'm alone or with people, but I never have a preference to avoid situations with a lot of emotions and shit, or close relationships, and I don't get uncomfortable. I just use these situations as experiments to entertain myself, and to experience and learn new things I can use to better manipulate people better to get what I want in the future, but I am indifferent to what people say/think of me, and even though I act my mood rarely changes... it's all a facade.

I also like sex a lot, but I don't give a shit about the intimacy; just the rush of dopamine that comes from an orgasm... it has nothing to do with the other person. 

At work or school I'd always do whatever I could to get good grades and make myself look good with the least amount of effort (in college I always went on RateMyProfessor and picked the easiest teachers so I could get a high GPA with little to no effort).

I want you to put this on your blog so I can see what sociopaths have to say. Most of the therapists and "experts" I know don't know seem to know shit beyond what they read in some book. It would help to hear what other sociopaths think.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Sociopath on drugs

From a reader:

Hi there, 

I literally just now (10 mins ago) discovered your site, and found myself wondering about sociopathy and drug abuse. I'm learning to embrace the term currently, as it seems to be utterly precise in describing myself, but I'm also a highly functional alcoholic. Are these things in conflict, or does it make sense that this would be the case? Poor impulse control, managing this addiction unbeknownst to nearly everyone around me, etc. On the one hand, it seems like (from the descriptions on your blog) a sociopath would be hesitant to engage in things that strip them of control, but given that I feel like alcohol firmly restores my control -- and allows me to more fluidly (pun!) manipulate my environment, the abuse of alcohol doesn't seem to be at odds with sociopathy. 

I am sure you're busy and won't respond to this, but since it is such a profound quandary in my own life, I thought it might help a lot of people to include it in your FAQs section. Many people have a hard time navigating their sense of self amidst drug abuse. What is my brain? vs. What is my brain on drugs?

M.E.: I have heard conflicting things about addictions. I myself don't like the feeling of loss of control that I get from any narcotic type substance. But I have also heard that sociopaths can be very prone to addiction -- maybe because they don't care about the supposed immorality of abusing substances? Should we post what you wrote and see what other people have to say?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Morality experiment

From same reader:

My experience my entire life has been people trying to lay a moral "trip" on me - in the sense that I "ought" to be "good". They never gave me a convincing reason. It was always easy for me to see, for instance, that me taking what I wanted led to me getting what I wanted. Maybe I got punished, so I needed to be sneaky and not get caught. I have a calculating mind, so I'd take risks if it seemed like the benefits outweighed the costs. This is classic sociopathy/psychopathy. I've been this way as long as I can remember.

Recently, after the losing-my-sense of self experience (see previous emails), I noticed that depending on how I behaved, I'd have more or fewer thoughts about "me". That is, if I had a conversation with someone and I wasn't truthful, I'd replay the conversation in my head. That gets in the way of having fun. Rather than being able to enjoy what's in front of me, I'm replaying my lies. Of course, it makes it easier to remember the lies and whom I lied to, but it isn't as fun as being able to enjoy whatever I'm doing when I'm doing it.

So I did some reading, in a book written by an embezzler (sociopath?), "A Practical Guide to True Happiness". In it, he explains that when we do things like kill, lie, steal, etc. that is exactly what happens: we'll feel more disconnected from life. If you've experienced being connected to life and then the feeling of contraction, you know that one is nicer to live. So his advice is that we eschew lying, stealing, etc. And if you notice this stuff, you change your behavior. Once you figure out that the stove is hot, you stop touching it.

After experiencing things and paying attention, I've decided to change my behaviors and behave morally - so that I'll have peace of mind. It has nothing to do with good/bad or moral/immoral. I feel relieved to have figured out this. For about four decades, I've been a deliberately amoral person. As you'd expect. I've treated people badly, treated animals badly, lied all the time (aka "living a secret life"), cheated, stolen, etc. Relief is near immediate. You get peace of mind and it stays.

This is the one way I can see an evil person deciding that he wants to live a moral life: he decides he wants complete peace of mind.

I should have figured it out by now - but as you know, sociopaths aren't that good at learning from negative feedback (in this case, contraction of mind) nor do they have much insight (into what their mind is like from moment to moment). The classic way of trying to tell a sociopath to behave ("do it or else" or just "be good") doesn't work at all and leads to resistance.

I thought I'd propose the following exercise for your sociopathic audience:

1) Pack a bag of waste paper, empty bottles, etc. into a plastic bag. Try to make sure it has some trash that blows away.

2) Go out on a walk in nature on a windy day. Make sure you are alone. Do deep breathing to get REALLY relaxed. Watch the play of light, sounds and feel your feet and legs as you walk around. If you concentrate on your breath, you'll get more and more relaxed. There might be a feeling of contentment. Your sense of who you are may be feeling "bigger" and more vacuous - check and see if you feel that way, or if you feel like a robot made of meat, trapped in your body. When you are very content and relaxed, move to step 3. Even if you are anticipating step 3, try to set that aside, and focus on relaxing and noticing as much as you possibly can.

3) Take out the bag of trash and empty it. Watch the stuff blow away. Try to see how you think and feel. Does your mind contract? Do you feel more or less like someone trapped in a body. Does your mind fill with justifications about why littering is OK? What is your mind doing? How does your body feel?

4) Notice - how connected to nature do you feel? Any regrets?

5) Leave all the trash there and get away. Notice if your mind replays the incident later, or if you have any thoughts about it.

Another similar exercise:

1) Drive your car in some traffic. Get into a relaxed, happy, content mood. Pay attention to the breath as you drive. Reflect on how miraculous it is that you've got a body, a car, eyesight and all that you need to drive down the road. Try to notice how you feel in your body. Big and vacuous sense of self? Or do you feel weak and like you're trapped in your body? When you're feeling relaxed and content, or even joyous, move to the next step.

2) Do some bad driving in front of other people. E.g. run a red light. Go through a stop sign that you should. Do a u-turn in the wrong place. Just pick some maneuver that is anti-social, but that won't get you put in jail. Do it. Do a bunch of it.

2) Notice how you feel in your body. What sort of thoughts are you having? Do you feel better or worse than when you were relaxed? Is your mind filled with justifications. Do you feel connected to your fellow humans.

3) Note if you replay the incident in your head, replay what you'd say if told not to do it, etc. The point is to notice if what you do impacts your experience later. Does it?

When I did these experiments, I was bothered at how it felt to be me afterwards. I enjoyed being relaxed and happy more than I enjoyed being selfish.

It might be nice if your readers would do some experiments and send you responses. You could get two blog posts out of it. :-)

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