Sunday, May 12, 2019

Happy Mother's Day

My mother has a bunch of kids, and I think that's a nice thing. I certainly liked having a bunch of siblings, because there were just better odds that you would like some of them. Or maybe more accurately, what ended up happening is that I liked certain of them for certain reasons and others of them for other reasons. They each have their strengths and it's great to have so many people at the sibling level who you can reach out to for whatever you might encounter.

Today I was going through and texting my friends who are mothers in whatever ways and wishing them a happy mother's day. I also chose photos I had in my phone to include with the well wishes. In my faith tradition, every woman is a mother, either currently or latent, so every woman gets celebrated on mother's day. And of course many women fill a mother-type role in our lives.

Today I wondered what sort of daughter-like role I fill in my mother's life or the lives of other people who have had a mothering type relationship. I think on the one hand that I am a little bit of an unusual specimen. I don't care in the same ways that people classically care and I don't love in the ways that people classically love. But in choosing photos to send to my loved ones, I mostly tried to let them know that I understood their situation and their loves. For my friends who are animal lovers (maybe even as much lovers of their animals as their own children), I sent photos of them and their animals. I knew that most other people would be thinking of their mother role as humans, so I wanted to let them know that I understood that their mother role to their animals was just as important to them.

For my own mother, I sent her a photo that I had of her mother, taken during high school. Her mother is deceased and my mother had a difficult relationship with her. But the photo I sent shows my grandmother perhaps at the height of her beauty and potential. I could have chosen hundreds of other photos to send: photos of my mother with her and her grandchildren, with her and her children, or any number of other combinations. But I thought this photo of her mother was best because everyone (including my mother) would be thinking about her today in reference to her roles as mother and grandmother. I chose to reflect an aspect of her motherhood that was likely to be a little overlooked today especially now that her mother has been dead for quite some time and is mostly off everyone's radar -- my mother's role as a daughter and the love she maintained for her mother despite their many differences.

This is probably one of the most boring posts I have posted, but I often do think about how sociopaths are different in small but meaningful ways, one of which is their ability to see quite clearly things that are often overlooked in the people they encounter. It's almost like sociopaths are looking at an entirely different spectrum, like wearing infrared goggles. I was just thinking about what this might be like to experience on the flip side. Because in some ways I am one of the least sensitive of my mother's children, but I think in other ways I can be shockingly sensitive and insightful, seeing layers that her other children do not see. 

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Seeing things as they really are

I've recently been having to sort of explain sociopaths to normal people a little more frequently. It's funny because normal people are really quick to kind of want to know not just about sociopaths objectively, but also want to know how they should feel about sociopaths. Like is it woke to be pro-sociopath? Remove the stigma? Or is there danger? I feel like everyone wants to know what should be the overall take from sociopaths. And it keeps catching me off guard. Because especially in the past couple years all I've been doing is trying to meet and understand sociopaths, the same way I might watch and try to understand leopards as an animal researcher or something. I don't form judgments. I notice how they operate and their strengths and weaknesses, but I don't really think "what's the general take away about leopards?" Nor do I feel like I have to sort of justify their existence or have any sort of reaction (much less emotional) about the fact of their existence. They just are a fact, is sort of how I want to respond.

And I think even if you eventually wanted to come up with some normative suggestion or application of what you learn about sociopaths, it's probably good to spend at least some time just observing objectively, to really understand before you jump to any conclusions.

I felt like this reader did a good job of this:

This feels risky because I don't feel I can trust a sociopath now that I have met one.

I don't know your name, I don't suppose it really matters.

I just came out of a 15 month relationship with a sociopath. I had no idea that was what he was until after the relationship ended and I only really feel confirmed in my non-clinical diagnosis after reading your book.

I had to do digging after he initially, flippantly broke up with me over the phone after being so loving and kind for 15 months, and then called back a few days later and swore he wasn't seeing anyone else and wanted to re-visit the situation when he returned to town, and THEN proceeded to block my calls and texts. He had given me details of his mom's illness. And he had started a private Facebook account.

Through his mom's Facebook and one photo she had and tagged him in I found his "newish" relationship (started before he broke up with me) and the fact that his mom wasn't. Through his sister's Facebook I found the woman who was sick. I reached out to both. The new relationship was very new but I was quick to realize that every trip away during the time I was with him involved another relationship, some very short, some probably in search of a situation in Texas that would accommodate his need for a comfy home and a willing, gullible partner. And of course, he was seeing the woman who was sick the whole time (the illness was new though).

The woman who is sick had been in his life for the past 7 years and had known of his incessant lies, his incredible charisma, and his proclivity for multiple relationships during that whole time. She still was willing to shut her eyes to what was going on though and had not known about me. His mother confirmed to me herself that no, she was never ill.

The woman in another state had also been told his mother was sick. Whatever lies he told her about myself and the woman who really has is sickand the fact that his mom isn't sick, she is willing to believe him.

Looking back, of course, I can see clearly that when he left constantly to walk the dog, run to the bathroom, smoke, it was all a cover to make calls to other women. He called me almost every day during that 15 months so that is how he handled them as well. I can also tick of 100's of lies. The woman who is sick and I have met and compared notes - she can tick off 1,000's. It seems obvious to me in retrospect, but I had no context for the reality of a sociopath in my life, before this.

In reading your book I have come to realize that, though my reality is totally altered, I do not have the right to wish this person harm (even though I did at first). He is delusional. He writes the way you sometimes write - in contradictions. With you I mostly see it when you declare you have no fear of consequences, yet you lie. You lie to keep your cover. What do you need a cover for unless you fear consequences? I know that since that writing things have come out and there have been consequences and you seem to have survived them.

What hurt me the most was the lies. I wanted to stay friends with him. The lies made it impossible. And I have no idea, and never will, if he would even enjoy these multitude of relationships without the lies. He felt SO REAL to me. The woman who is sick describes him the same way, and because she's known him longer and he has been more honest with her than with anyone else he is probably more real with her than anyone else.

But I don't think he could ever have a relationship with anyone without the thrill of the lie.
He never showed his anger to me. Looking back I can see the times when he was hiding it. He does go into rages with the woman I have talked to.
I feel sorry for him. One time I told him that and it made him angry (in the very subdued way he would get angry with me). But then I was only feeling sorry for him because I thought he seemed to shut down his emotions. Now I feel sorry for him because reading your book makes him seem like a very lost, lonely soul.

I know you say it doesn't bother you, so I guess it shouldn't bother me because I guess it doesn't bother him. I know you are much smarter than him and much more high-functioning. He never physically harmed me and never stole from me. In fact he probably
gave more materially than I ever gave him. I think he probably takes pride in that (though I returned everything that could be returned when he was out of town).  

It just occurs to me that the lies aren't just for other people, they are also for the sociopath. The sociopath seems to constantly be trying to define who they are with no clear internal signal, "no clear path" is something he would always say. So the lie is the only direction they have, which is no direction at all (often doubling back even)..... which for me is the same as constantly being lost, and never truly being real.

Thank you for your book. It helped me understand.

My response:

It’s interesting what you say about contradictions because I’ve started seeing that more as I’ve hung around sociopaths. They’re not aware of the contradictions. Or sometimes part of them is. Their perspective is like that of cubists. It’s distorted in its own way like maps of the world— their reality is distorted in a particular way that suits them best but it ends up making Antarctica look huge. It’s part of the personality disorder just like the weak sense of self, which you described as being the reason for the lies. 

Friday, April 26, 2019

Killing Eve and Bisexual Sociopaths

When the Confessions book came out, the publicist from the publisher asked me if there were any niche audiences that might be interested in the book. I told her that the gay/bisexual community might be interested, because they (especially at the time, in somewhat a dearth of gay themed books and other media) seemed to highlight anything with a touch of gay. I gave the publicist a list of such media outlets, but nothing seemed to come of them, which surprised me then, although it wouldn't surprise me now. The publicist basically shut down my inquiry, but reading between the lines I could see that they weren't interested in the sociopath angle.

Why the big reluctance to have homosexuality or bisexuality associated with sociopaths? I'm a little loose on the facts here so feel free to verify sources, but homosexuality was not only considered a mental health disorder until about the middle of the last century (unless the homosexual acts were done as part of an incarceration or military service, which was considered something that non-disordered people would get up to in those situations as well) -- it was also associated for a time with psychopathy. In my quick and dirty searches for this association, I found a reference in Hervey Cleckley's The Mask of Sanity wikipedia page: "He also notes he no longer considers that homosexuality should be classed as sexual psychopathy, on the grounds that many homosexuals seem to be able to live productive lives in society." But does say that sociopaths often show deviant behavior, and several of his case study subjects appear to be bisexual. (Click on the homosexuality link at the bottom of this article to read more).

Enter the BBC drama "Killing Eve," which features a bisexual sociopath that actually is so accurately portrayed that I'm 90% sure that the writers have done decent amounts of research, including reading the Confessions book? Here's why I think so, without too many spoilers. In Season 2, Episode 1 the sociopath is in the hospital with a serious condition. Her roommate says she's not looking too good and the sociopath starts responding she's fine and then passes out. This is almost identical to what happened to me on the 10th day of a ruptured appendix when nurses came back with my lab results, told me that my white blood cell count was through the roof and that I needed to immediately go to the hospital, asked me if I needed to sit down, I said I was fine then promptly passed out. When I came to everyone was freaking out and threatening to call an ambulance. My dad talked them down from it, saying that we were only blocks from the hospital and it would be quicker (and, I'm sure he also thought, infinitely cheaper without health insurance).

But how do people who identify as gay or bisexual love the fact that the character is both sociopathic and bisexual? (Which given the dozen plus sociopaths I've met in the past year or so is quite common in the sociopathic community, even if the reverse may not be true.) Not too well. A Buzz Feed writer complains (some spoiler-esque parts here): "Villanelle is bisexual, and for all the nuance we see around femininity and desire, Villanelle’s bisexuality is portrayed in a way that is both tired and damaging. Her need for sex with multiple genders is tied to her depraved and insatiable appetite, which she is only able to feed because of her total lack of a moral compass."

But I think the Buzz Feed writer actually gets it mostly wrong here. The sociopath character is not portrayed as being inherently depraved or having an insatiable appetite at all, I didn't think. In fact, if anything, she seems to have a classic sociopathic sort of indifference to sex. Even when she finally connects with the object of her obsession, there's no sex, there's just the visceral physical presence of the two. A lot of eye contact! And the Buzz Feed author goes on to describe not just this character but other classic sociopathic bisexual characters (e.g. Frank Underwood) with their voracious appetites that they can't control -- because a character eats ribs for breakfast? Come on. This is the trope that is tired, the sociopath whose appetites drive him or her to commit greater and greater atrocities. Sociopaths aren't engaged enough in the world for all of that. They're not driven by their appetites, so much as (aimlessly) seizing upon anything that intrigues them for longer than a moment, and as a remedy from the boredom that so often plagues them.

I get it that not all bisexuals are sociopaths, but I don't think these characters are chosen in these narratives because they're bisexual, but rather because they're sociopaths. And of course not all sociopaths are killers. But again, I guess if you need a killer for a narrative, a sociopath is a common choice for a reason -- because they're interesting and can be compelling without being offputting for the audience about that whole murderer thing. And if you're going to choose a sociopath character, accuracy demands that there's a good chance they're either bisexual or you'll see some other quirky features about the way they think about, desire, and engage in sex. Because sociopaths in real life don't have normal sex with all of the emotional underpinnings and awareness or acknowledgment of the intimacy of the act with another person. In my experience, they think of sex a lot like they think of exercising regularly or peeing or taking their boss up on that invitation for dinner with the family -- probably a good idea to do and maybe even in a certain way necessary and desirable. 

Friday, April 12, 2019

Transgressions vs. Sins and Differences in Motivations

This was also sent to me by a reader, and I found it to be a pretty interesting and valid distinction between the dark triads sociopathy, narcissism, and machiavellianism. I think that people can be surprised at why people do the things that they do. For instance, once sociopath recently told me about how when she was 21 years old, she got a job at a bar so she could get better tips than at her previous restaurant job. She only lasted two weekends because she was giving away free drinks (she says she grossly underestimated their ability to track alcohol sales) and stealing tips from other servers. I immediately related to this a sort of naïvety about the world, a childlike innocence.

I told this story to a lawyer friend of mine and immediately likened it to the way I was with my first law job, in which I exploited some of the weaknesses of that system in similar sorts of ways and ways that were equally unappreciated by my employers. My friend was scandalized by the free drinks and tip stealing, but responded to my story "who hasn't done that?" I thought this was an interesting response. Why? Is it just stealing from the server's? But a lot of servers split tips because of things like some people getting better areas of the restaurant, etc. In fact, this was exactly what was happening to the sociopath server. But my friend thought that my sketchiness was totally normal, and even that my employer probably had it coming or that was just part of the employment deal, whereas she was disturbed by the other story and thought there couldn't be any other explanation for the behavior other than maliciousness and greed.

I kept trying to give her different analogies to help her understand that it was really malicious, and wasn't even really this overwhelming sense of greed, so much as a childish way of exploiting things. I remember once being at Disneyland when I was aged 8 or 9. I was old enough to realize that lines were long and thought of the lines more like a multilane freeway than a static order of things, so I kept pushing forward in line until these people got very angry at me and said that no matter my physical position ahead of them, they were going to still ride the lines before me. Mine was a breach of a rule, yes, but I don't see it as a moral failing.

My theology has a word for the breach without moral failing, "transgression". You have transgressed a law, although you may not have necessarily sinned because you didn't have a sinful heart (so to speak) when you did the thing. Although cutting ahead of people in line did hurt others, and that was clear to me, I didn't understand it to be an unfair hurt. When I get off the plane and walk faster than others to the customs lines, that's also sort of like cutting in line, but we don't think of it that way. We don't have a sense of the line starting from the moment of the plane, so it's a fair exploitation of the system. It of course is hurting others, people for instance who have young children or a disability and cannot walk as fast and have to perhaps wait longer in line than I do. Or I may use scarce resources before others do. I'm going to camp at a location this summer that requires a permit. By me using the spot, someone else is not able to use that spot. That also is prioritizing myself at the expense of others.

I don't know. I have a strong sense of there being a distinction in the transgression behaviors that sociopaths engage in at the expense of others in which there's not really an intent to harm (even though there is an understanding that there will be harm), so there's no malice, vs. the sort of behavior that one might correctly classify sin.


Saturday, March 30, 2019

Better communication/intimacy during sex

A sociopathic inclined individual sent me a link to an Aeon article about good communication/consent re sexual intimacy, Sex Talks. One thing that I have noticed in meeting sociopaths is that sociopaths show a shocking lack of interest in sex. Shocking I guess only when compared to the neurotypical population, which seems almost obsessed with it. Sociopaths on the other hand are very take-it-or-leave-it about sex. I think it's because sociopaths don't tend to connect emotionally with their partners very well and so sex is either a performative act (which can be fun and exciting depending on the partner and/or situation) or source of pleasure that most sociopaths are better able to provide with their own two hands (and/or feet?). I also think that sociopaths and everyone have a hard time understanding the role of continued consent during any interaction with a person.

A quick word on my own thoughts about sex. I have had plenty of bad experiences, probably not surprising. By bad experiences I mean experiences that seemed to cheapen rather than deepen a relationship, that made me feel used, that felt like a parallel experience, and even experiences where I feel like the lines of consent got blurred against me. I had a bad understanding of consent for a long time so I am sure that people have similar experiences with me. Now, I do not engage in any degree of physical anything with another person unless I am sure that there is consent and that it is a shared experience of love and affection. It's not hard to be very hardline about this because I otherwise care very little for physical affection. But since I have been this way, I experience everything so differently and it really does seem to have more meaning and pleasure for me that I couldn't recreate more efficiently in a solo experience.

I remember in law school studying rape and the Antioch College rules regarding consent, which require not just all sexual or physical activities to have consent, but that anytime a new element is introduced between individuals. Even when I went to law school in the early aughts, this was considered a little bit extremist, as was evidenced by the SNL skit making fun of it (transcript here). 

Antioch College SOPP Media Coverage from Jon Wohlfert on Vimeo.

But Google "Antioch College sex consent" and you'll see a bunch of fresh takes about how the Antioch College Womyn were more prescient than we had thought. Maybe and romance and these things that we think should just be a natural, organic, but most of all unspoken meeting of the minds. I remember growing up thinking that this is what people wanted and expected, but I also had a really hard time understanding subtext or other forms of unspoken communication reliably so I would often just propose whatever physical intimacy to people whenever I felt like it. They would be surprised and almost embarrassed, but I don't remember being turned down, so maybe they were trying to get at the same thing via subtext?

But now I'm super verbal and communicative all of the time during any sort of romantic or intimate situation whatsoever, and it is such a better experience. I wanted to suggest it to everyone. Sometimes I'll get a little quite, and it's always for some reason worse. It is so much easier to stay on the same page with people by asking short simple questions (credit Arthur, a sociopath I met) and trying to say something every minute or so or as things change up. Maybe give it a try?

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