Monday, August 26, 2019

Killing Eve, Mad Chat, and The Hidden Brain

I've written about Killing Eve before. Here's a clip a reader sent in which she discusses the boredom and emptiness she feels.

Killing Eve was also featured in a recent episode of the podcast Mad Chat here. In it they interview Sarah Kay, who had done the sociopath themed episode of Sincerely, X. I think you can sign up for a free trial to listen to it here because it's behind a paywall.

The Killing Eve podcast references a lot of the Sincerely, X concepts, including the ups and downs of empathy and what it makes to be human. For instance, one fictional psychologist in Killing Eve has a quote about how most people when they think of sociopaths think: add violence, add coldheartedness. But what people should really be doing is subtracting everything that makes a person human. The podcast host and guest on Mad Chat do a good job pushing back on some of the portrayals of sociopathy or other mental illness in the show.

The Killing Eve podcast has a transcription.

The Hidden Brain is a sometime favorite of mine. Another sociopath friend of mine likes it because it explains some of the things about humans and how they're influenced, etc. that she's intuited but gives her the science. She liked a recent episode on empathy, but I didn't like the guest that they had on. Nor did I like the supposed example they used of the dude getting shot by paintballs. I just think it's a lot more complicated and whenever people try to simplify and give the same tired platitudes about the importance of empathy, I start feeling a little like I'm getting conned. The guest is a Stanford professor, and I guess I didn't empathize with him because I thought almost all of his takes were tired and even disproven by researchers like Paul Bloom, author of Against Empathy.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Tourniquetting identity leads to weak sense of self

From a reader:

I was reading your blog, specifically the post titled “Seeing things as they really are”.

On the topic of weak sense of self. I’m really curious as to how that affects people and sociopaths in general. (I would love to read a post specifically on that topic.) I was listening a song by Charles Manson called “My World” which actually mentioned his weak sense of self or lack of ego. (I’m not necessarily sure what the difference between a sense of self and an ego is) Charles Manson was considered either a psychopath or sociopath.(they never really specified, constantly using the terms interchangeably) If you don’t know about him, in a very small nutshell he was claimed to have grown a following, a cult. And then was claimed to use that cult to kill some famous people. He has also been in and out of  penitentiary's his whole life. He himself claiming that the penitentiary was his father. You should really check out his interviews, many are available on YouTube.  

On a separate matter, if you ever get the chance head down to Kentucky. Me and my friend would love to sit down and talk. I suspect myself to be sociopathic, no idea of if i am or not. I’m not going to get a diagnosis mainly because of the negative effects that can occur. But basically before preschool in daycare i made my best friend that we’ll call Sam. We both had a very  similar up bringing and have always stayed friends. About a year ago we both started researching about sociopaths, for some reason we were both naturally drawn to this. And when I say we both started researching this i mean that we were doing this separately from each other, not know that the other person even knew about the subject. And one day it popped up in a conversation some how and we both confessed. But what’s really amazing about that is that we both started researching around the same time and came to the conclusion around the same time. 

You mentioned that you’re trying to learn more about other sociopaths. I can’t say for sure that i am one, but you can make an assumption off the info that i give you. I’d like to know if i am one. Not because of the thought that “oh I’m a sociopath and I’m callous and blah blah so I’m better” but rather that I’m just very curious. Referring to a weak sense of self, i believe that i have one. People always tell me that you gotta find yourself, i guess mainly because I’m the age of 18. But i am confused by that statement because why do you need to find it in the first place? Aren’t you already yourself? And can’t you just be whatever you want? One thing I’ve said before is that “you can’t be something you’re not if you don’t know what you are.” 

Who am i as of now? I’m 18 and male, and i see the whole world as an opportunity to exploit. I feel that you can do anything that you can do. I’m a very kind and popular person. I have many friends that i got to for if i need something. I have both meaningful and meaningless bonds with my friends and family. I’m nice for one because it’s beneficial in the long run and two because it gives me a challenge for something to do when I’m bored. Which I am a very very bored person. I drive fast, take hard turns and used to drift (until i had to buy new tires ) if i could i would get a motorcycle. I play with fire a lot (or so my friends say) although it’s a lot less than i used to. But i do a lot of thrill seeking activities. I love art, dancing, and science/engineering. I draw abstract concepts of my mood and thoughts. I used to dance a lot being in on a competitive dance team that’s been to Vegas. And i build things all the time, my latest project being an electric bike so i don’t have to walk at college (I’m lazy, or as i see it being efficient). I feel as though i have multiple personalities or masks. Wearing different ones for different people, although I’m pretty sure most people do that. Here are two different examples of times where I’ve acted different. 

Ex.1 i got a call from a friend. Her voice was almost inaudible. I could tell that she was crying. So i asked “where are you?” I then drove to her car which was in a parking lot. This i found odd, but thinking to myself I knew that she was a sensitive and emotional person so i just assumed that it was just on a whim of some sort. So i hopped in her car, she had just got in an argument with her boyfriend.  She had her head on her steering wheel, her hands were clinching the wheel with intensity. She was crying very loudly tears were just pouring out her eyes. I calmed her down and reassured her. Being very attentive and holding the best facial expressions that i could( crying is always hard to deal with, since i never know how to actually act. I always wish that i could just give someone a pat on the back say “there there” and then say “get over it, you’re fine”) she was actually on the verge of suicide so i was being extra attentive marking up lies and connections, just about anything that would give her enough reasons to hold onto life. She hasn’t killed herself yet. 

Ex.2 it was New Years. I went to a friends party. It was a smaller group of 15 people. But one girl one having too much to drink, on purpose it seemed like to me, i think she needed an excuse to act reckless. But she was very insecure and very unstable. Constantly letting people know that she loved them and that the world loved them as well, some how i guess that helped her feel like she was loved. But she was getting too drunk and dropped a glass that shattered onto the floor. She attempted to go clean it up and almost fell into the glass. As a reference from your book it seemed to me as she was flirting with death. So they stopped her and cleaned up the glass. We all moved out of the basement and to the upstairs cause there were still shards laying around. She stayed down there desperately Singing and moaning for attention. Annoying everyone at the party. I walk to the basement door and from the top of the steps i yell “SHUT THE FUCK UP” she then was quiet, i walked into the room where everyone was and they all were at awe. They slowly began to laugh quietly, because they knew it’s what they wanted to do but wouldn’t. She latter came upstairs, projectile vomited, got on her knees(which were now in the vomit) and proceeded to scoop up her vomit with her hands. It was disgusting, embarrassing, and enthralling to watch. Then she took a shower, went into the kitchen and grabbed a knife and was about to kill herself. I sat on the couch and watched, somebody stopped her. This is by no means extreme in anyway, simply the fastest experience i could think of. 

For as long as i can remember I’ve always felt apart from the crowd. I’ve never been a part of something. I never belonged to a group of friends or my school or even to my best friend Sam. I believe that i will always feel alone and isolated. How i act is also heavily affected by my mood. I mainly have three moods. One is where I’m irritable, aggressive, impulsive, blunt, callous(more than normal). Two is where I’m very calm, quiet, reflective, rational and calculating. Three is my neutral where I’m in the middle of the two. I have a little bit of high energy great for interacting with crowds and talking to people. The perfect twist of impulsivity and calculating. But perfect mood for doing anything i need done. One thing i find odd is how being nervous affects me. It affects me physically with increased heart rate and maybe a little bit of jitteriness, but i don’t feel that it actually gets to me, my mind is perfectly calm. A difference between me and you is that i don’t have a grandiose view of myself. However that seems to slowly be changing as I’ve become aware of how stupid other people are. It took me a lot longer than you to realize this. I figured this out around the age of 12 or something like that. I believe that’s because my mother tried to me make believe that i was worse than everyone else so i always felt stupider and didn’t judge other people. But i grew out of that perspective and am confident and smarter than most ect. 

My child hood.
In my child hood i was high in Conscientiousness. I remember being just tall enough to reach a door knob as i thought to myself “i wonder what happens to you when you die, does anything happen or are you just dust?” I always would enjoy them moment and try to be one with my surroundings. Or i would sit down and just think, walking around the hallways of my mind for what felt like hours. My cousin that we’ll call Nate introduced me to fire and other things. I remember one memory where me my sister Sabrina and my cousin Nate were all sitting around this green slide in the heat of the summer. The sun was very intense. We grabbed worms one at a time and put them at the top of the slide to watch them wiggle their way down as they turned into crisp. Me and my cousin did things like this a lot. Snails and salt, watching in awe as the snail would bubble and fizz. Me and Sam would go out at night killing fireflies with our hands, tennis rackets, swords, and a can of hair spray with a lighter. We also found a snake in his yard one time, we both grabbed sticks and started beating it to death. It was a fun game dodge the snakes bites, after it couldn’t move we then cut off its head and put it in a bowl of salt in his shed so that we could keep the skull. There were a bunch of other things too. One time me and my Sabrina (as toddlers) walked down the neighborhood to the river, grabbed some rocks and started throwing them at ducks. The police cars siren turned off and told us to stop. I’ve always wondered how different i would’ve been i had started the habit of abusing smaller animals(this event with the ducks happened years before the event with snakes and Sam), because up to then it was just bugs. I was emotionally and mentally abused throughout elementary school and possibly before that (can’t remember that far, all those years just blur together to me) i have a good family, i recognize that I’m very fortunate and that what i experienced is nothing compared to others. My mother was mainly the antagonizer. She’s bipolar and possibly has borderline personality disorder. She loved me when it was convenient, when she needed me to do something, and constantly lied to me. One moment i was the best child in the world and then next i was the worst. And I’m not exaggerating  that at all.  She was very emotional, she taught me that emotions were unreliable and so was love. I was only with my father when i was helping with one of his projects. When there was a complication or obstacle he would always get furious and yell and cuss. It was always so annoying and made me mad. I didn’t want to be like that so i taught myself how to hide my anger. I was never physically abused. However my mother would always yell at me calling me things like worthless and good for nothing. And her face was red and she was very loud stomping through the house making noises by slamming doors, drawers,pans, pots, everything. She always tried to make me feel bad about myself.  there was a time when i cried myself to sleep every night in a row for a month. One time i watched a movie where the person said “being yourself is enough” so i asked my mom one day. Isn’t being myself enough? She glared at me with anger and said no. The sadness she made me feel became anger and somewhere along the line i created a dissociation from my self. Life didn’t feel real and i was just like another one of my games.(life still doesn’t feel real) but as i grew up i realized that my mother only acted that way because she was just very unintelligent, insecure, and living a life she didn’t want. I used to hate her but after realizing that i forgave her. This doesn’t mean that she doesn’t  aggravate me, she does. But instead i feel indifferent towards her. I was unpopular in elementary school, mainly because i didn’t fit in or understand people. So when i went to middle school i mimicked the popular people and added bits and pieces to my arsenal of personas. Then i became popular and people loved me. I watched a plethora of psychology vids trying to understand people as much as i could. That’s mainly why i got into psychology and am now planning to major in it. 

Thank you so much if you read all that. I’d love to hear back from you. 

My response: 

I’ll try to write about sense of self again sometime, but I think you already understand how and why it happens to us — we take enough psychological hits to our identity that we just dissociate ourselves from it, like a tourniquet cutting off blood flow to a damaged limb. I think (through usually professional help) we can restore some function to that damaged limb, but it isn't super easy, it's not intuitive, it's hard for us to even have a vision of what it might look like to do something like that, and it's a bit like being lost in the woods trying to find our childhood home that we only remember faintly. And certain things will never be back the way they could have been. I still don't experience affective empathy and probably never will, despite finally graduating from therapy. 

Friday, July 12, 2019

Making Better Podcast

You may have seen my re-tweet this on Twitter, but I realize not everyone is on Twitter.

This is a podcast I recently did with Making Better.

They have an interesting philosophy. I was talking to Francis, one of the hosts, about how he is interested in the concept of a human Utopia and what is keeping us as a race from getting there. He wants to explore some of the things that we could be doing better now, as well as things that might be keeping us back or that we would need to work on before we reach a Utopic existence. I liked this idea of reverse engineering Utopia and having a vision of what we want to achieve rather then just henpecking each other about perceived faults. With no offense intended, there are certain "weaknesses" I often see in neurotypical people that I think keep them from being happier in their lives and more pro-social themselves. That was, at least in part, what we talked about.

Here's a link to the transcript.

Thanks to Making Better for having me on.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Developmental stages of sociopathy

I recently got an email from someone whose loved one told them they might be a sociopath, but they don't want to be a sociopath. They find at least certain aspects of sociopathy to be repugnant, although they do recognize that they themselves share in those traits. It's maybe a little like closeted gay homophobia? Anyway, I thought I'd shared how I replied (please forgive any typos):

Hello friend. I have a personal rule that I don't tell people anything about themselves that they don't already know themselves. But I also feel like you might benefit from some information, and I'll leave it to you to determine whether or not it applies to you. I don't know if you looked at the blog at all, but I've been traveling around the world meeting other sociopaths and writing a second book, working title "A Sociopath's Search for Meaning." Maybe that title is something you relate to. What I've sort of noticed about sociopaths is that they tend to go through certain phases, like the phases of grief. Some take longer in certain phases than others, and I think maybe some skip steps or go out of order, but there's enough of a pattern there for me to describe it. There's the mostly unself aware part of childhood, even though child sociopaths seem to be aware they're different they don't really have a sense of just how different yet. I'll call this Nascent Sociopath. Somewhere in the teens to early twenties they seem to have a better grasp on the basics of their personality. I'll call this simply Newly Self Aware. Next phase is what another sociopath friend called the "Playground Stage". It's where all the world is a playground for the sociopath, who seems to have a charmed life and never really seems to feel or care much by way of consequences of her actions. This is peak sociopath and is characterized by a playful carefree attitude about the world and maximum self absorption. 

Somewhere after this it's common for people to have a second point of self-awareness, maybe I'll call this one a Come to Jesus Stage. It's a phase that for some reason makes me think of the word "reckoning".  I have seen this happen as early as early twenties (the harder people play in the playground stage, the faster I think it comes). It's in this Come to Jesus Stage that the sociopaths starts caring about things like the consequences of her actions and the emptiness she feels. I've heard various sociopaths describe it like this -- you've won all the battles you set out to fight, gotten everything you wanted or at least known you could, and although the pursuit was very captivating in the moment, ultimately it seems devoid of meaning. I guess the Come to Jesus stage is the first stage in which any of the sociopathic traits are seen as being at all negative. I think this is the first stage where there is a high likelihood that someone might get stuck and just stay in this phase for decades. I think they find their lives increasingly meaningless and burdensome and they start experiencing anxiety about the build up of social/political/financial costs of their antics. I've seen some of these people develop neuroses or addictions or other compulsive behavior with negative effects. These people are white knuckling it through life, always feeling like they're trying to wrangle themselves and rein in their darker impulses. The white knucklers are the people who don't like aspects of who they are, maybe even are repulsed by them, and actively reject them. But that sort of internal antagonism is very harmful to one's psyche, so maybe they'll need to add even more compulsive behavior or addictions for self-soothing. This stage is very Jungian shadow. 

If they can get unstuck, I think they go into what I'll call "I'm ok, you're ok." It's in this stage that they really come to terms with the parts of their personality that they can change and want to change, the parts they want to change but can't, and the parts they choose to wholeheartedly embrace. There's no white knuckling. These people have more or less healed some of the original dissociation characteristic of their disorder. In that sociopathy is essentially just having a very weak sense of self, or little to know sense of identification with anything (that's why they demonstrate fluid sense of gender, sexuality, etc.), sociopaths who learn to strengthen their sense of self can get "better" in a lot of ways. Because even though sociopaths have a weak sense of self, there is a self there for them to discover. And as they discover more truths about themselves (not the way they were socialized, but deeper personal attributed), they find more sense of meaning and purpose in their life, they don't white knuckle anything or try to do things solely by strength of will. If they can't bring themselves to care about something, then they just unabashedly don't. It is true that I've seen sociopaths embrace more of their darkside in this stage, like a sort of internal if you can't beat 'em join 'em. But I think I see just as often and even more commonly that sociopaths embrace much more the light part of themselves that they (usually due to trauma as very small children, like toddler age-ish) had dissociated from because that part of themselves was to vulnerable and the traumatic things hurt so much that they detached from those things. But they all seem to stop manipulating or living a double life or trying to manhandle their own impulses, because that's where the stress and anxiety and sense of meaningless come from. As one sociopath I met told me regarding some radical life changes she had undergone to live closer to her personal truth "life is too short." And what's the point of pretending throughout your entire life? 

I don't think they'll become normal people. There are just to many neural pathways that didn't get formed for them to do certain things automatically or well, e.g. empathy. They're like native English speakers learning French in adulthood. They'll likely never pass as normal. In fact, letting your freak flag fly at least in part is common to all people I've met who are in this stage. And I think people are surprised to reconnect with some of the lighter and more vulnerable aspects of their personality. 

Do they come out better people? I think they definitely come out happier and more satisfied with life. They take more pleasure in simple things like self expression and in little forms of self exploration. They tend to be curious and friendly and very open minded and tolerant of themselves and others. They're not necessarily amoral, but I think they just understand that the morality is much more complicated than they were led to believe. 

I personally try to help anyone who is into it to get to I'm Ok You're Ok stage. But I also 100% support people in all the other stages. I figure they'll get "Ok" eventually. Or maybe they'll learn even more than I have or the people I have met have. That would be very interesting to hear.   
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