Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sociopath suicide?

A reader asks if sociopaths ever experience desires for suicide:

I'm going to cut right to the chase with this one.  I believe I might be a sociopath, but I am not sure if that is because I am one, or if I am just trying to search for the easiest explanation for my actions and who I am.  I'll try to give you as many details as I can to help give a full view on my life and why I believe I may be a sociopath as well as why I may not be (If I can remember some reasons I thought of before).  

First a little bit of basics:  I am a 20 year old Caucasian male, and a very logical thinker. 

My whole life for as long as I can remember I have been extremely gifted in lying.  I don't know when it actually started but I know that in kindergarten, I told the first lie that I got caught in by blaming another kid for knocking down a caterpillar in a cocoon in our classroom that we were observing.  I did not knock it down intentionally but I did blame the other boy intentionally.  I knew I could blame him because his mom was friends with mine, so if I told my mom he did it word would get back to the teacher and his mother.  I cannot recall how I got caught, but somehow they found out.  Anyways, ever since then I can recall being able to lie to anyone without it phasing me at all, even if I didn't have to.  

Another trait that I've noticed I have that seems to match a sociopath is a lack of empathy for others.  I have never in my life been able to feel bad for someone else that I know of, or feel proud of them.  I currently have a girlfriend who I love, but I don't know if I love her because of who she is or what she can provide me.  I try to think of the answer and I feel like it's all just a calculation, even though I know I would be hurt if she broke up with me.  I constantly am in arguments with my parents and don't really have anyone I would consider a friend like the definition.  The only time I really talk to a "friend" is if I need something, or I'm bored trying to pass the time.  I can steal from anyone, whether it be a neighbor, my parents, a friend, or a stranger and honestly feel no guilt or remorse, unless I am caught. 

I can also read people's emotions and what they want to hear and/or are looking for very easily. If someone comes to me seeking advice on a relationship, or even just self worth because they are having a hard time I can almost always make them feel better.  I'm not sure if I do this to keep them around, or because I care about them.  The flip side to this is if someone upsets me, I can find the exact way to inflict as much emotional pain on them as I feel necessary, without feeling remorse.  I've almost never apologized, and when I do I don't mean it and just do it because I have to to get something or to stop someone from nagging me.  

The last little bit about myself I'm going to include in this email is that I have a very explosive temper, to the point where I get violent.  I can go from cold to 100% hot and angry in a split second.  The other day I wanted to go get some cigarettes so I asked my mom if I could take the car to go say hi to my girlfriend and drop off some electrical tape for her mom (her mom didn't need it) and when she said she'd just bring me over, I flipped out and threw a ton of stuff, punched things, ended up punching our outside steel door so hard I left dents in it and cracked the frame around the top hinge.  I also have a substance problem, and will really do whatever I can to get drunk or high, except for stupid stuff like huffing gas or something i think might really damage or kill me.  

If you could please get back to me that would be great.  If you have any questions I'm open to answer anything.  Oh, and I forgot to mention the one reason I feel like I am not a sociopath!  I often contemplate suicide, not how but just the thought of offing myself but decide it'd be a bad idea because I don't want to do that to my girlfriend. I haven't ever really tried suicide, I just kind of pondered it because life seems meaningless really.  It gets tiresome interacting with people when I don't really feel an emotional attachment to them.  It's  like playing chess all day every day.  Thank you for taking the time to read this email, and I hope to hear from you soon.

There were a lot of traits that seemed sociopathic to me, but I was wondering particularly about the suicide thing. For me, I don't have a great love of life. In fact I have a bit of a death wish, but it's because life seems so pointless and tedious sometimes, not because I actively feel a lot of suffering. Does anyone else have any experience with sociopaths and suicide?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

On blogging

It is possible to see everything we write as a letter to ourselves, designed to convey to one portion of ourselves the lesson that another portion has already learned.

- Lawrence Block

Friday, April 18, 2014

Sociopathic decisionmaking

Along the same lines as yesterday's post, another reader writes about what motivates him (gratification) and what keeps him from doing other things (negative consequences). From a reader:

dear m.e. thomas:

i just wanted to write this to you to express gratitude.  until reading an excerpt from your book, i had always had the vague sense that there was something different about me.  perhaps it was always wishful thinking, or some kind of desire to be special.  who knows? i've never been fully examined by a psychologist or any other kind of -ist, for that matter.  so, after all these years of wondering and suspecting, i came across your writing.

now, all i have is relief.  can sociopaths feel relief?  i don't know.  i have no better explanation for it than that. i am relieved at having read your writing.  the feeling of relief was so palpable that it brought tears to my eyes.

i am 30 years old, and i've felt this way to one degree or another for most of my life. i think it started when i was younger, and had to learn to read people to gauge their responses to my words and actions.  it wasn't until later that i learned that empathy is usually what people use to do those things.  i've always had the burning curiosity, and the desire to experiment.  i truly enjoy experimenting, and over the years it has gotten me into minor troubles, but thankfully i learned early on that i can't just do things for the sake of my own desire.  

i can relate to many things you write about.  i especially relate to the desire to hurt others who have seemingly slighted me.  the only reason i don't act upon my urges is the knowledge of reprisal.  i don't necessarily fear consequence; i simply acknowledge it as being more inconvenient than some short-lived gratification. as a matter of fact, the inconvenience of consequences is the only thing that holds me back from my desires.  the wants themselves run the gamut of importance... sleeping with a woman who isn't my wife is not ethically or socially objectionable to me.  overall, the impact on the world because of 'cheating' is incredibly minimal.  the risk-analysis of temporary physical enjoyment Vs long-term stability is more effective in decision making than any kind of ethics. refusing to slow down at an intersection, when i have the right-of-way and someone pulls out in front of me, is not ethically or socially objectionable to me.  however, going to jail and being locked in a cage seems especially repugnant- not to mention the hassle of repairing my vehicle.

i think things that don't seem to be commonly thought.  i've gone to the point of isolating myself from society because i know i'm different.  the quality of the difference has always been irrelevant, but now i have more to think about.  i constantly want to test and experiment with the 'norm'.  i want to change things, both for the better and for the worse, and i want to observe the reaction.  i WANT to do so much. the gross inconvenience of consequence is the only thing stopping me.  guilt and shame are non-existent. the only thing i truly feel with any kind of passion is a certain amount of hatefulness towards that which i can't control.  the barrier between my wants and satisfaction is maddening.  obviously i can cope with that; you'll not see me in jail any time soon.

please realize that these are merely statements of fact. i would no more act upon them than i would t-bone the car that pulls out in front of me, or fuck a woman simply because i can.

thank you for your writing, and for being straightforward in your words.  if you wish to reply, please do.  if not, i won't really be that upset, will i?

I still get a lot of emails from people that suggest that they don't really understand the sociopathic decisionmaking process. Is it because they make Decision X a particular way, let's say by using empathy, so they expect that anyone without empathy would not be able to reach Decision X? I find that religious people can be this way -- assume that atheists must do bad things because atheists have no reason to be good?  Likewise, do some people believe that sociopaths only choose bad? And if so, what consequences, if any, do they suffer? I feel like there are people who fall into either extreme: believe sociopaths magically get away with things (i.e. won't suffer any consequences) or think that sociopaths will eventually suffer for every choice they make (i.e. karma's a bitch). The reality is that sociopaths probably get caught a little less often than other people because they're better liars and manipulators, but even the best laid Ponzi scheme will eventually collapse. Not all sociopaths are intelligent and sociopaths as a group tend to fail to learn from their experiences (possibly because punishments don't affect them as much as normal people?) but sociopaths are also sensitive to consequences in the form of incentives. So yes, sociopaths are capable of and often do take into consideration consequences (e.g. the reader's comment "thankfully i learned early on that i can't just do things for the sake of my own desire"). And maybe this explains why sociopaths can often function very well for a stretch of time, but willpower has its limits for everyone and sociopaths don't have great judgment, which maybe explains how sociopaths can also self destruct in huge ways.

Or am I wrong? Are sociopaths always scheming ne'er-do-wells? And if so, do they always get what they have coming to them or get away with everything? 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Sociopathic savior

When I was growing up I had such insight into the psyches of others (and when I was younger, not enough of a filter from saying creepy things to people's faces), that people would tell me that I should be a psychologist. Often I feel like people either seek me out because they are interested in having me see through them or someone else they're trying to understand, or at the very least it contributes a lot to what my friends seem to get out of our relationships. That's why I thought this email from a reader was an interesting take on the reasons why a sociopath might choose to help people:

First of all, I just wanted to thank you so much for Confessions... I personally have several male sociopath friends (we just attract each other!), but no fellow female sociopaths have ever come my way. As such, I was naturally curious how other women display their sociopathy, and how the display of my own characteristics "measured up" to other females. I'm happy to say that much of your book felt like stream of consciousness coming from my own mind. There were even a couple of adages or quotes I found within your book that I've been saying for years, haha. It was a pleasure to read.

All gushing, flattery, and gratitude aside, I wanted to take a chunk of my own life and throw it to the wolves, as it were ;) I'm not asking for clarity on whether or not I'm a sociopath (I know I am, and I don't need "reassurance" for such things), but I suppose I would like to initiate a bit of discussion among your readers as to how sociopathy can play out.

Growing up, I had all of the classic symptoms of a sociopath. I used my parents' divorce to manipulate, guilt-trip, and ultimately profit from both parents, I would get in fights at school, covering up quickly by claiming the other child wanted me to hit them because they wanted to see what I was learning in martial arts, I learned how to fake guilt in that "I guess I took it too far," with crocodile tears to boot. I would lie about the most mundane of things, like whether or not I had brushed my teeth a particular morning, and sometimes I would lie just to create emotional outbursts "for the fun of it" (ie: I was homeschooled by my stepmom, who I despised entirely, so occasionally I would come to my dad in tears, confessing I had "failed" a really important test, that I felt like I wasn't taught any of the material covered. In reality, I always got very high marks, but I gained a sort of satisfaction in watching my dad blow up at my stepmom for "ruining my education.")

All of this took a turn when I was sixteen, when my dad, in one of his outbursts, killed my stepmom, baby sister, and himself. (I was also shot, but survived.) I was "sentenced" to court mandated therapy, which was entirely necessary as I was having flashbacks, nightmares, etc. But my therapist noticed something: aside from my dad--who, at very least, had sociopathic tendencies, though his primary dx was bipolar... he was incredibly intelligent, however, and through his own wits and ways of "bending the law," he went from being a high school dropout, son of a hooker to a multimillionaire by his early twenties. I still admire and respect him, probably more than any other person--aside from my loss of this influential role in my life, I did not grieve. I was not concerned for my losses, except the man I saw as most contributing to my education and growth (he spent hours every week teaching me about social manipulation, business strategy, etc)--someone I had seen as "useful." My therapist chalked this up to a delay in grief caused by shock, but five and a half years later, I have never been so much as concerned to think of the others. 

Though I was not grieving, being in therapy taught me how I "should be" grieving. My therapist used a lot more suggestive questions than she probably should have, likely to try to draw me "out of my shell" or to help me put a name to emotions I was "experiencing," but didn't "understand." So I created a persona based on this "grieving me." My performance won me a full-ride scholarship to college, many families opened their homes to me, and I noticed something odd--people came up to me, seemingly out of the blue, to talk to me about their problems, thinking "if anyone could relate," it would be me.

Having been in therapy, and having keenly observed my therapist, I simply played counselor to these people. And they would look at me and tell me how much I inspired them and gave them hope... Several told me, eventually, that had it not been for me, they would've killed themselves. The power and influence I had over these people was astonishing--and I loved it. 

So I used my education to get my BA in psychology, and in the near future, I will be pursuing a MA in Grief and Trauma Therapy. I currently volunteer once a week at a grief center for teens (I specifically work with teens who have lost someone to suicide, which earns me double points for 1. working with "the toughest cases," and 2. for being "strong enough to open up to relate in such a personal way to these teens"). I also work at a residential treatment center for adolescent girls who have been through trauma and abuse. Everyone I tell my persona's story to gushes at me in admiration, and more often than not, opens themselves up ever so completely to me. They trust me, in many cases, more than anyone else they've ever met. Trusting someone is laying down your defenses completely and being bareboned honest, fearless of the consequences. People trust me so much as to let me in where no other may go. I saved their lives, and in essense, now control their lives. The power of that is incredibly intoxicating.

So, yes: these days, I help people. And I am damn good at it. But I'm tired of hearing so many people (mostly empaths and wanna-be-sociopaths) tell me that no "real" sociopath would want to help people the way I do. Even some sociopaths are skeptical. But the display of sociopathic behavior is rooted in what we want. We want power. For me, I've found the most success in gaining power through letting people trust me on what they believe to be their own terms. Yes, I could ruin them, and that is a delicious fantasy (and one, admittedly, I play out now and again with lovers)... but if I did so with clients, my reputation could be ruined more than it would be worth. By being "responsible" with my power, I gain more of it. 

I'm curious what you and yours would remark on my endeavors. I don't help people because I feel "compassion" or any nonsense like that. I don't feel any sort of "trauma bond" either. Simply, I'm good at something, and people admire, praise, and depend on me (to the point of stopping themselves from suicide) for that. Any other "savior sociopaths" out there? (After all, being a Savior entails being someone's God...)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What am I?

From a reader:

Over the past couple years, I’ve begun to think I’m a sociopath, and the most frustrating thing about being it, is that I’m alone in a way that normal people could never even begin to fathom. Granted, I rarely feel "lonely" anymore, but in my heart I know that I am, and always will be, TRULY alone. I will NEVER know [again] what it feels like to long for another person's company, to miss them when they are not there, or to be excited to see them once more. I haven't felt any of that in years. I can't even remember what it feels like. I will live and die alone, forced to watch every person around me chase that high that only emotions can deliver... that I'll never be able to feel... That’s what I mean by alone, I often wondered if other people felt like this and just acted happy to see an old friend because it’s the normal thing to do, but ever since I looked into the human condition of being normal, it quickly dawned on me that me not giving a shit about anyone or anything that doesn’t affect me wasn’t exactly a normal thing.

I’ve often wondered about ways in which I could convey this feeling of total emotional emptiness. Easier said than done though, how can you tell someone who has, say the ability of speech, what it’s like to be unable to communicate with the world? If you told someone to think about it, they could maybe have a rough idea but they’ll never be able to truly understand. But here’s the funny part, I just don’t seem to care about my inability to feel real compassion, I don’t think of it as a loss, or a disadvantage, I have a sort of… indifference towards it, or usually I see it the total opposite nothing more than a gift of clarity and reason, the only way I could ever describe it is if I use my life as an example, because I’ve never really known anyone to feel this way before

I've got a lot of friends. Well, acquaintances, rather. People like me, and not just because of some strange charm that a lack of feelings is meant to give. True, a good bit of my charm is superficial, and yeah, most of my social interactions feel forced or even downright faked, but people like me for a different reasons. Despite my less-than-human existence and my inability to form emotional connections, people are always drawn to me when they need help or advice, I used to think I was pretty emotional before I realised I was only doing it because I felt like it was easier than saying “sorry, but your problem’s a load of crap and the fact you haven’t figured out how to sort it out yet, despite the fact it’s staring you right in the fucking face. Is totally yours to deal with, mainly because now that you’ve told me all about it, it’s not interesting anymore and so I don’t really give a flying fuck.”

But no, people are drawn to me because I know how to listen and care (when really I just know how to pretend to listen and care, when really I just don’t). More than that, I know how to listen without judging. I'm not clouded by petty, trivial emotions, so I don't look at other people with the same silly emotion-based prejudices that everyone else does. If I like someone, I accept them for all of who they are, the good and the bad, but it’s truly unconditional. I can be "friends" with anyone. 

So how can I let people see my reasoning, well think about all your friends. Think about how you feel about them. Hold on to that while you read this next part: 

I've got friends that I've known pretty much all of my life. I've got friends that should be closer than family. I've got friends that have been through hell with me, who would show up at my beckon call if needed... and that bothers me... a bit... because I'll never be able to return that.

It's very hard to explain, but no matter how much I want to want other people, I never do. No matter how much I want to need to feel close to another human being, I never do. No matter how much I want to be human, I never am.

I don't miss people when they walk away. Not anymore. Out of sight truly becomes out of mind. And I do almost feel bad about it from time to time, but it doesn't change. It never does. People walk out of my life and it feels as though nothing has changed, I recently moved to the other side of the country and I won’t be able to see my friends (with whom I’ve spent the everyday with for the past 9-10 moths with, probably about 19 hours day with, whenever I was up, I was with them) and now that I’m gone, they all say how much they miss me, but I just don’t miss them, at all, or even my parents for that matter.

I remember I had to go to a funeral a year or so ago, and it was for beloved family member, someone that I “loved” and “cared” for a lot, but she was a very nice lady, caring, compassionate person. But she always knew I didn’t care for that, and always treated me as an equal even from a young age. I liked her a lot for it, she was the only person who ever treated me the way I wanted to be treated, just let me get on with my own thing (mainly games, television and smoking, once I started last year, she was the only one who didn’t really mind it). She was one of my favourite family members, the more I researched into who I was and sociopathy as a whole the more I thought that she was one, and recognised even from an early stage that I was as well.

But when I found out she died, I felt... nothing. Most of my family were standing around fighting tears or shamelessly crying and I felt cold and empty.

They say I don't feel guilt, but I almost do. I felt what could have been misconstrued as guilty that day. I felt guilty that this women I liked and came-as-close-to-caring-about-as-I-could died and all I could do was think "wow, that's... sad… I guess."

And a few moments later, it was as if nothing at all had happened.

I know I'm a different. But am I right for thinking I’m a sociopath?
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