Monday, December 28, 2009

Economic disaster = sociopaths' fault?

So says the good Doctor Robert Hare:
Robert Hare, from the University of British Columbia, Canada, said in a seminar on psychopathy that people with a certain degree of psychopathy sometimes have their own place in a society.

"They tend to be important to society sometimes," he said.

"These are people who take risks, tend to not be afraid."

He pointed out the example of a white-collar psychopath, viewed as "a good leader, good person and charismatic", but who secretly did harm to their surroundings.

Hare added such psychopaths were behind last year's global economic downturn.

"They engage in all sorts of illegal behavior. Half of the financial crisis we had throughout the world in the last few years, who's behind it all? Warm, loving people? No, people who want all they can get, they don't care about millions of people who lost their life savings," he said.
I'd like to think that sociopaths collectively have the power to send the world spinning out of control, but I wonder if that could possibly be accurate. Sociopaths take risks, and with risk comes higher return. But risk is still risk and there certainly aren't enough greedy sociopaths to have tipped the scales of excessive risk without empath help, no? Let's hope his comment made more sense in context.

Sociopaths: pitiable?

I confess to never having had the patience to read The Sociopath Next Door all the way through, but I did find this psychologist's review of it interesting because it gets at the core of what many have accused this blog of trying to accomplish -- manipulating people to pity us:
"The most reliable sign, the most universal behavior of unscrupulous people is not directed, as one might imagine, at our fearfulness. It is, perversely, an appeal to our sympathy."

The pity play or attempt to appeal to the sympathy of others was also addressed in research conducted by the Minnesota Department of Corrections and The Hazelden Foundation (2002). There, researchers concluded that criminal thinkers most often attempt to control others by portraying themselves as a victim, turning to fear tactics only when the victim stance fails to get them what they want.

The act of eliciting pity from another unequivocally makes the elicitor something to be pitied, a victim, per se. It is human nature to aid the pitied. Hence, the pity play, or victim stance, stands to get the Sociopath what he or she wants easily and without being found out as a bad guy. This is manipulation. Manipulation is the tool of choice for smart criminal thinkers and, according to Dr. Stout, the Sociopaths amongst us. She says, "Sociopaths have no regard whatsoever for the social contract, but they do know how to use it to their advantage. And all in all, I am sure that if the devil existed, he would want us to feel very sorry for him."
I sort of don't understand this argument, perhaps not surprisingly. Does the devil not deserve pity because he doesn't meet the criteria (i.e. not pitiable enough)? Or does he not deserve it because it wouldn't mean the same thing to him (i.e. wasted on him)? Or is it because, as the author suggests, there is something wrong with your pity being used for a purpose (i.e. getting you to think about something from another's point of view) rather than just functioning as one of the empath's favorite self-indulgent pastimes? I really want to understand, and I know some of our readers are very smart with strong feelings about this subject, so let's have at it. For once and for all, let's discuss all the reasons why this blog is manipulative and sociopaths aren't worthy of pity, etc. etc. And just for fun, let's try to use arguments that wouldn't apply equally to some other more "acceptable" variants of humanity.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A proposition

A reader offers:
I recently became aware of sociopathy and found your blog, which I have enjoyed reading today. It's difficult to find anywhere else online anything written from the point of view of a sociopath, and I've learned some valuable info from the posts and comments.

I have been studying astrology for twenty years and enjoy studying birth charts. If there are any blog followers here who believe they are sociopaths who'd be willing to provide thier birth data, I would like to study their charts to see if there are correlating aspects and placements that form a pattern. I don't think anyone's done this sort of astrological research yet, at least I haven't found any. Would you or your readers be game? If so, what I would need is the date of birth, the exact birth time, and the city in which one was born. Once I have a few charts, I can post the results on your site if you'd like.
One of the reasons that I am religious is that I refuse to accept truth only from state sanctioned sources, so to speak. I think that it is too limiting and that there is a certain amount of hubris in looking for truth only from those sources that you have pre-screened as being legitimate. So I replied:
Ah, very interesting proposition. I would be game, and I wonder if some of my readers would also be interested, in the name of science. I actually don't know exactly what I believe about astrology, though I tend to think it is interesting, accurate, and predictive, but of whether or not stars have any impact on our lives I am less sure. I've often wondered whether certain signs lead more to sociopathy, or whether certain signs lead to higher functioning sociopathy. (For instance, I am Cancer, supposedly a feeler. Does that make me a "softer" sociopath than most?)
Sensitive information like birth dates, times, and locations should not be posted to the internet. So I suggest that you email me if you would like to participate. Feel free to come up with a "fake" email address just for this purpose. I'll pass them along, and we'll make sure that birthdates and locations never get published.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

He knows if you've been bad or good

Am I the only one who has ever been creeped out by the specter of Santa Claus? An all-knowing, one man judge and jury revanchist who allegedly knows everything that goes on, doling out what he thinks people deserve? As a mild-to-moderate dystopian, I am paranoid about things like that, and if Santa gets his way, he is going to be even more efficiently big-brother-ish than before, according to the byline of this article sent to me by a reader:
By using technology to detect guilty expressions, of course. CSIRO is using automated expression recognition technology to tell whether someone is in pain and, according to computer scientist, CSIRO’s Dr Simon Lucey, there’s no reason why Santa couldn’t train the system to find out who’s been naughty or nice.
We've talked about microexpressions before. And apparently "they" have had some success programming computers to read them:
While a guilty person might fool a human with their look of pure innocence, it’s very hard to fool Dr Lucey’s computer.

“There are always some micro expressions that we are unable to control and some of these are associated with deception. It is these tiny facial expression components that the computer can spot.”

The system uses a technique called machine learning. After being programmed with what to look for and what it means, each observation taken or analysis performed is used to refine the computer’s technique so it gets better at its assigned task over time.

“When it comes to finding out who’s been naughty or nice, we show the computer what expressions are associated with good behaviour and it watches for a departure from that” Dr Simon Lucey

One of the applications for Dr Lucey’s research is in detecting whether someone who cannot communicate is in pain and how intense that pain is.
Yeah, that's *one* application for it. Another, perhaps more obvious application also springs to mind.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Best of 2009

In an effort to make the material on the blog more accessible to new readers and avoid having to repeat myself too much, I have been trying to think of ways to link to important or favorite posts. Taking a cue from every single media outlet in the world, I decided to do a 2009 retrospective. In no particular order, I like this post on mimicry, Bach, sociopath rights, any of the sociopaths in literature, but particularly Byron's Lara, Ruining People Iago style, Sexuality, Flexible sense of self, being "found out," religion, mob mentality, and different moral universes. Have I forgotten any good ones?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sociopaths in fiction

Sociopaths portrayed in fiction = mixed bag. Some would-be authors/filmakers have asked me which fictional sociopaths I consider accurate. I, of course, love Dexter, but I don't think I have mentioned before that a favorite sociopath author of mine is Patricia Highsmith. I was enjoying this review in the New York Times of a new biography of Highsmith. I even enjoyed the headline, "Hiding in plain sight." I have a theory that only real sociopaths are able to write from the sociopath point of view in a way that really rings true (to other sociopaths at least), and i have long suspected Ms. Highsmith to be a member of the tribe. The new biography seems to point in that direction.

To truly appreciate good sociopath portrayals, though, I feel like you need to experience bad sociopath portrayals. A reader flagged for me this blog entry, featuring a short story written from the perspective of a murderous sociopath out to teach women a lesson in manners. A warning sign of a bad sociopath portrayal is the author's need to justify the accuracy of his character by referencing the consulting of an expert. I understand the urge. From what I know of popular culture, critics are always questioning the "motivations" of a fictional character. But the mind of a sociopath works so differently than an empath's. There is almost an unspeakable beauty to it, like a work of art. Either the protrayal rings true or it doesn't. It's almost impossible to fake. If you find yourself faking it, though, do like this author did and name drop:
I wouldn’t want to be a psychopath, but I thought it would be a good mental exercise to write a short story from a psychopath’s perspective. After doing the appropriate research, and getting a helping hand from Dr. Robert Hare, the world’s leading expert on psychopathic behavior and mental processes, I composed a bit of romantic psychopathic fiction entitled “Giving Shelter.”
To hear these authors/filmakers/actors talk, you'd think that all Dr. Hare does is consult. He's a smart guy, but he readily acknowledges that many elements of psychopathy remain a mystery even to him. I appreciate the attempts to positively portray sociopathy, but I feel that the accounts that ring most true to life are the accounts that come from the cold black hearts of people like Ms. Highsmith and whoever it is who writes Dexter's internal monologue. It's a blessing and a curse.

Friday, December 11, 2009

An outside perspective

A letter from a reader:
I was just reviewing recent media articles about psychopathy on-line and stumbled across your blog.

I am a doctoral intern in clinical psychology at a forensic state hospital in California. Psychopathy is fascinating to me. Aside from its unique neurological, interpersonal, and even existential attributes; the legal and social implications of psychopathy's marginalization in society is huge. It seems your blog clearly and convincingly (not surprising) addresses the injustices psychopaths face- injustices I find again and again in the forensic setting where I work.

As health care providers, psychologists are trained to uphold equal client rights and ensure every individual's dignified treatment. This is regardless of diagnosis, crime, history, or personality. However, when it comes to psychopathy, it's incredible how quickly clinical providers are able to abandon these previously held ethics, not realizing that they are adopting the unempathic tendencies they explicitly persecute in the psychopath. I am further amazed at the legal and hospital standards set for psychopathic admits, standards that practically necessitate the psychopath to contrive and manipulate their evaluators to believe they are no longer contriving or manipulating, lest they spend the rest of their lives in corrections.

So, while I go up against hospital administration on my end, I want to also convey my admiration of your well-informed and thoughtful blog in the hope that what is better understood may be less feared. Based on history, psychology, and statistical likelihood of danger; I'll take one psychopath with their wits about them over 99 "normals" driven by fear, any day.

Thanks for sharing your experience and for encouraging an interesting and important discussion.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sociopaths in the news: fratricide

Kids these days... tsk tsk.
An Indiana teen who has allegedly admitted strangling his little brother likened the murder to satisfying a craving for a hamburger and told authorities he was inspired by the television series "Dexter."

Anthony Conley, 17, is charged with murdering his 10-year-old brother Conner on Saturday night, allegedly strangling the boy and then stuffing his head in a plastic bag so that blood wouldn't "get everywhere," according to Dearborn-Ohio County Prosecutor Aaron Negangard.

"It's disturbing that a 17-year-old would want to kill under any circumstances, let alone his own brother," said Negangard. He described Conley as "emotionless" when he was interviewed by police.

Negangard said that when Conley was asked to explain his behavior by investigators the teen said he identified with Dexter Morgan, the main character in Showtime's "Dexter," which chronicles the life of an undercover Miami blood spatter expert who doubles as a serial killer.

"Conley said that he just 'felt like him,'" said Negangard.

In interviews with investigators, Conley also allegedly likened his desire to kill to a craving a person gets when they want a particular food.

"He analogized the murder to when someone wants a hamburger," said Negangard. "He said that when someone wants a hamburger they've just got to have it."

Monday, December 7, 2009

New Study Reveals Most Children Unrepentant Sociopaths

So reads the headline of a hilarious article from the Onion, sent by a reader. Selections are below, but read the entire article here.
A study published Monday in The Journal Of Child Psychology And Psychiatry has concluded that an estimated 98 percent of children under the age of 10 are remorseless sociopaths with little regard for anything other than their own egocentric interests and pleasures.

According to Dr. Leonard Mateo, a developmental psychologist at the University of Minnesota and lead author of the study, most adults are completely unaware that they could be living among callous monsters who would remorselessly exploit them to obtain something as insignificant as an ice cream cone or a new toy.

"The most disturbing facet of this ubiquitous childhood disorder is an utter lack of empathy," Mateo said. "These people—if you can even call them that—deliberately violate every social norm without ever pausing to consider how their selfish behavior might affect others. It's as if they have no concept of anyone but themselves."

"The depths of depravity that these tiny psychopaths are capable of reaching are really quite chilling," Mateo added.

According to the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, a clinical diagnostic tool, sociopaths often display superficial charm, pathological lying, manipulative behaviors, and a grandiose sense of self-importance. After observing 700 children engaged in everyday activities, Mateo and his colleagues found that 684 exhibited these behaviors at a severe or profound level.

The children studied also displayed many secondary hallmarks of antisocial personality disorder, most notably poor impulse control, an inability to plan ahead, and a proclivity for violence—often in the form of extended tantrums—when their needs were not immediately met.

"Children will use any tool at their disposal to secure gratification," Mateo said. "And as soon as the desire is fulfilled, be it some material want or simply an insatiable and narcissistic desire for validation, they quickly become bored and lose interest in their victims, all the while thinking only of satisfying whatever their next hedonistic craving might be."

Mateo added that even when subjects were directly confronted with the consequences of their inexplicable behavior, they had little or no capacity for expressing guilt, other than insincere utterances of "sorry" that were usually coerced.

Because children are so skilled at mimicking normal human emotions and will say anything without consideration for accuracy or truth, Mateo said that people often don't realize that they've been exploited until it is too late. Though he maintained that anyone can fall victim to a child's egocentric behavior, Mateo warned that grandmothers were especially susceptible to the self- serving machinations of tiny little sociopaths.
According to renowned child psychologist Dr. Pritha Singh, author of Born Without Souls, diagnosing preadolecents as sociopaths is primarily a theoretical interest, as the disorder is considered untreatable.

"We've tried behavior modification therapies, but children actually learn from our techniques and become even more adept at manipulating others while concealing their shameless misanthropy," Singh said. "Sadly, experience has taught us there is little hope for rehabilitation."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Conversation with a friend

This is a very early, pre-blog conversation I had with a friend.
M.E.: The other night I met these strangers and within hours we had all outted ourselves as sociopaths and started collaborating on internet startup ideas. There was one non-socio there who was asking all these questions.

Friend: Do you really feel no guilt?

M.E.: No, I feel guilt

Friend: Well, that's not very sociopath of you.

M.E.: Well, I am not full sociopath then maybe. But I mean, it's a different kind of guilt.

Friend: Are those people full?

M.E.: I don't know. The other guy was funny, he was like "good sociopaths" do this. I think it is true that there are good sociopaths. I don't know if I feel guilt. I feel regret.

Friend: How many of the symptoms do you think you have? It seems like a lot, I guess.

M.E.: I dunno, like everyone has different symptoms because they deal with the lack of empathy in different ways. Some people see it as a lack and try to make up for it, others don't see it as a lack at all and sort of exploit it. So the symptoms are very varied.

Friend: It seems that there are plenty of consistent things.

M.E.: Ha, yeah, well everyone is manipulative, everyone is trying to avoid detection, everyone is a little reckless. Anyway, I told the empath that it is probably harder for socipaths to become an empath than for empaths to become a sociopath.

Friend: Hah, funny that you call him an empath.

M.E.: Because there is low road and high road mental processes going on. High road is conscious thought, low road is unconscious instinct type thought. So I tried to explain to him that sociopaths are essentially just shifting way more of their decisions into high road thought than the typical empath. Empaths can practice that and get good at making conscious decisions about everything (socio). But how can socios conscious force decisions into the unconscious? I think it could happen but it would have to be through the influences of someone else training you, something that you could remain unaware of.

Friend: It's not really like that

M.E.: Like what?

Friend: high/low

M.E.: Yeah, it is kind of

Friend: Well, we disagree

M.E.: Or I mean, pop science stuff I have read has said that the brain works that way. Are you saying that that isn't the distinction between socios and empaths? Or just that the mind doesn't work that way? Or not all high roaders are socios?

Friend: It's not that you're more conscious. It's that all your conscious thoughts are focused on the single-minded goal of achieving your interests. To the destruction of others. Everything is a war game to you and the fact that you are more conscious than most just means that there are lots of dumb people.

M.E.: Yeah, good point. You hate that I am a sociopath?

Friend: That's like saying I hate you because of your gender or ethnicity. Doesn't mean anything, really.

M.E.: You hate the sociopath in me, though? You hate the tendencies?

Friend: Well, obviously I don't like that you are manipulative and megalomaniacal and reckless abt your life and others. But I mean, that's just a given, isn't it?

M.E.: Given meaning that's just who I am and always have been?

Friend: And I mean, who knows what else arises from you believing you're a sociopath. That's just who you are. Alright sociopath, I'm going to maybe try to take a nap.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

It's alarming how charming I feel (part II)

I could go either way on this letter (link here). It might have been written by a sociopath, or it may have not. But I always think it's an entertaining exercise to look at other people's communication in a critical way, trying to strip it of all your prejudices and preconceptions.

I think the letter is definitely manipulative. There is a certain lilt to it, a certain charm. There is a relatively good cadence, it is interesting to read. There's not really one point made, and though there is an apology, it's not for nothing specific. The apology, to the reader, could be interpreted as an apology for everything and anything that the reader believes the writer did wrong. This was clever, because the writer may truly be sorry for only one thing ("not behaving better") or may not even know what to be sorry for, so instead keeps things vague and lets the reader fill in the blanks. (Or perhaps doesn't feel any real guilt at all.)

I obviously don't know anything about the target of the letter, but I know it was effective because the reader has reunited with the writer. The letter seems clearly designed for one purpose, and that it accomplished that purpose leads me to believe that despite certain prejudices of mine about what I think people want or do not want to hear, this was obviously what the reader wanted to hear. The most interesting thing about it, though, is that although it is what the reader wanted to hear, the writer doesn't actually say much. Instead, the writer relies on the order, the structure, the format, the very cadence and rhythm of the words to lead to what were probably almost unavoidable logical inferences for the reader.

The writer hits hard with phrases like "I loved you" -- phrases that are sure to stand out in the reader's mind much more than the follow-up qualifiers of the love being selfish or narcissistic. The letter seems like an illusion, relying primarily on misdirection rather than outright deceit. The writer knows that he has to be honest, and has to come clean (so to speak) by actually including the various qualifiers and self-effacing statements he includes. That the reader wants to think he/she is reading honest responses is also apparent by the included phrase, "It's funny that after telling you virtually nothing, now I just want you to know the truth." We have talked before about how good lies typically contain a good deal of the truth, and the writer seems very careful about keeping the letter realistic (e.g., it sounds like these two did not know each other well enough for the reader to believe that the writer genuinely loved him/her, which is why the writer says "of course it was, I barely knew you"). The writer seems to be trying to reestablish a shared reality between the two of them, but a reality based primarily on rewritten history.

Going back to the phrase "I loved you," the past tense of the word loved is curious, but it seems purposeful, perhaps wanting to instill a sense of fear of loss or actual loss in the reader. Also it suggests that the writer is harmless, impotent -- because he/she no longer loves, he/she no longer has an incentive to "behave [poorly]". This seems designed to assuage any fears or misgivings the reader has about letting the writer back into his/her life, all while piquing the reader's interest --wanting the reader to not just think it is harmless to allow the writer back into his/her life, but actively wanting the writer back in his/her life.

The letter is also a Trojan horse, however. It promises love and eternal devotion, but those very promises are designed to guilt the reader into some sort of a response -- the writer's desired goal. The writer says, "It feels like you never really gave me a chance," followed by "I loved you." There are also the recriminations: "I feel like you have given me abandonment issues that I never really had before. I've gained a touch of paranoia. I second guess myself, even second guess the world." This is not only a plea for sympathy but a pointed finger of look-what-you-have-done-to-me-what-did-I-ever-do-to-deserve-this accusation. If the reader sees his or herself as a good, open-minded individual, he/she may have misgivings about his/her actions after reading this.

There is a suggestion that if they start over things will be different ("I guess I just wish that I had known it was coming"), but no direct promises or even a direct suggestion that it would have made any difference to the writer to know that the reader was leaving him/her. Finally, there is a plea to vanity: "I know I'll get over you, but I don't want to." I feel like that must work like a charm with empaths, if only because it sounds like a sappy movie line to me.

Our reader who sent this letter is right to be suspicious, I think. Even if the writer is not a sociopath, I am sure the friend has a very different understanding of the contours of their proposed renewed relationship than does the writer of this letter. Not only that, I believe that was the writer's exact intention.

Monday, November 30, 2009

It's alarming how charming I feel

A reader asked me to assess the following letter for sociopathy. It's a letter that apparently charmed his/her "friend" back into her short-lived, nefarious lover's arms after her friend had successfully cut off ties for months:
I keep thinking that I want to write you something. I've actually written you several drafts, but have put off sending anything because I knew it would in all likelihood be the last thing I would say to you, and I didn't know what I wanted to be the last thing I said to you. I think about you everyday. I'm brokenhearted still. I feel your loss exquisitely. I kept the little drawing that you did for me and your picture you let me steal from your wallet. I see your name in my phone, see google suggest it when I start typing in my sister's. I really don't understand what happened, but I defer to your judgment. Still I wonder, did it have to be this way? It feels like you never really gave me a chance. I loved you. It was a selfish, demanding love. It was the bastard child of narcissism and a desire to possess, of course it was, I barely knew you, but I loved you. I miss you. I miss your handwriting and your forthrightness. I miss your diet sodas and smoking breaks. I miss your quest to do the right thing, but how you never took yourself too seriously. I don't feel like I really knew you, but in some ways, some concrete ways I did. Maybe it was all a fantasy. Maybe that was the problem. But now I feel like there's a hole in my heart and I don't know what to do about it. I hope this doesn't sound too cliche. It's funny that after telling you virtually nothing, now I just want you to know the truth. That's all I expect from this, all I have the right to expect, if that. But what do I want? What do I hope for? Maybe answers. Really any sort of response would make me ecstatic. I feel like you have given me abandonment issues that I never really had before. I've gained a touch of paranoia. I second guess myself, even second guess the world. I know I'll get over you, but I don't want to. I want to see you. I want to at least know you're alive. It seems weird to me thinking about the last time I saw you. I didn't expect it to be the last time I saw you. The last time I spoke with you, I didn't expect it to be the last time i spoke with you. it was so sudden, so unexpected. It caught me short. I was hurt. I apologize for not behaving better. I don't know. I guess I just wish that I had known it was coming, or known what had happened, still wish those things.

You said once that I should give you credit for picking me out of everyone else and knowing that I was worth getting to know. I thought it was funny, because you never picked me out, I picked you out. I'm still so so glad i did, even with how it ended. I guess mainly I want you to know that you will always have my admiration, respect, and devotion, for whatever that is worth to you.
I had my own opinions about this letter but wanted unbiased viewpoints on it to verify. Thoughts?

Friday, November 27, 2009

More on IQ tests, intelligence, and sociopaths

From a reader:
The question of whether or not IQ tests are equally valid for sociopaths is an interesting one. Essay tests typically measure not only subject material mastery, but also how closely the opinions expressed by a test taker match those of the test grader. Poorly written multiple-choice questions may follow simple patterns e.g. longest answer is always right. If someone administering a test knows the answers and gives non-verbal cues, then they may just be measuring a Clever Hans effect. And of course having a copy of the answer sheet before the test can reduce performance to an act of memorization.

Any of these systematic difficulties would drastically decrease the g-loading of a test. After going through all the ways that test questions can potentially be `gamed`, we must face the truism that a g-loaded question is g-loaded question. A given question may be solvable by more than one means, but if the ability to solve it by any and all of these means has a strong enough correlation with the ability to solve a diverse enough body of other seemingly unrelated problems involving complexity, then the ability to solve it is a mathematically valid demonstration of general intelligence per Spearman's factor analysis.

I've never heard a good argument against this, so I'm not interested in debating it.

On the other hand, I may be interested in debating subtler points about interplay of the general factor and specific factors amongst different groups of people with certain sets of DSM-IV diagnoses. For example it's generally accepted that high functioning autistics are better than the general population at performing some cognitive tasks, and worse than the general population at performing others. A significant proportion of autistics exhibit such large discrepancies on Raven's Advanced Progressive Matrixes vs. Wechsler tests that the discrepancies in scores actually far exceed what can be accounted for by the sum of these test's specific factors as normed on the general population. This is true even when comparing the Raven's scores against some of the Wechsler subtests considered to have the best g-loading.

Autism is not as well understood as some other DSM-IV diagnoses, but the effect involving IQ score discrepancies appears analogous to the way that ADHD can be accurately diagnosed from disparities between Wechsler series sub-test scores. There are non-IQ related cognitive skills tests which can effectively screen for sociopathy to the extent that test subjects are not aware of how the tests work. Additionally, there's some anecdotal evidence that sociopaths may generally fare better in chronometric IQ testing than in other forms of IQ testing.

There are some parallels between thought processes of autistics, sociopaths, and people with 3+ sigma general intelligence (1 or less out of every 1,000 for the general population, or IQ of 145+ with a standard deviation of 15). This mostly relates to being more rational/calculating as opposed to emotional/reactive. There are ways in which all three groups seem to act stupidly, but most of these don't really relate to lack of general intelligence. Some relate to different emotional needs, or emotion processing deficits in said neuroatypicals, and at least a few actually result from cognitive deficits in the aggregate population.

I know someone who's convinced that sociopathy occurs with a greater frequency among the highly intelligent. Personally I don't think true sociopathy occurs with much greater frequency, but I do think that similarities in dick-head behavior result from similar secondary causes. For example, I've noticed that extremely intelligent people:

* don't feel compelled to follow social norms for the sake of following social norms
* don't hold authority figures in high regard
* don't make decisions based on emotions, including empathy
* can be very adept at using self-manipulation while justifying unreasonable behavior
* tend to experience disdain to a heightened degree when they do experience it

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sarah Palin: sociopath?

So says a former Palin staffer. I rarely give credence to these accusations. It's so easy to call anyone you don't like a sociopath or psychopath or narcissist or whatever term seems to embody unrestrained evil at any given time. This particular accusation seemed less accusatory to me, though. As reported by the Anchorage Daily News, when ex Palin aide Paul Bitney was asked whether he believed Sarah Palin was sane, he replied, "Is a sociopath sane?" Good question, John Bitney.

But I was curious. You always hear that sociopaths are overrepresented as heads of state, so I did a little bit of "empirical research." I googled the names of several well-known politicians and likely sociopath/NPD subjects and discovered (1) American politicians seem much more likely to be or be accused of being a sociopath or narcissist than politicians from other countries and (2) accusations seemed to track my own non-professional guesses. Here are the biggest "offenders":

Palin 853,000 hits for sociopath, 478,000 psychopath, 781,000 narcissist
Obama 1.73M for sociopath, 289,000 psychopath, 1.75M narcissist
GW Bush 2.16M for sociopath, 2.95M psychopath, 1.54M narcissist
Hillary 741,000 for sociopath, 768,000 psychopath, 702,000 narcissist

I feel like people think warmongering = psychopath, and arrogance and ambition = narcissists, or if they want the insult to have more teeth, sociopath. But I doubt that any of these people are sociopaths. I can't imagine a sociopath ever thinking becoming a world leader would be worth the trouble. Maybe if something like that dropped in my lap I would take it, but usually there are decades of scheming and mask wearing involved. Or so I 'm told...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sociopathy as legitimate life philosophy?

a reader writes:
I'm attaching two articles I thought you MAY find interest in.
I have this book that contains about 30 daily 'meditations' that I've been studying for years.
As an empath when I first started with this stuff it was a totally new world to me and seemed awfully cold at times but now I dont see it that way at all, I actually embrace it. When I have applied some of these principles to my own life people have labeled me jaded...Even though that is of no significance to me.
It's relevance to you, you ask??? Well a lot of the lessons seem to teach people to be more 'sociopathic' (to me) but the title of the book happens to be "The Way To Love." Funny enough its not actually about the way to 'love' and it hints that love is almost undefinable...
Check it out and if you wanna read more highly intellectual 'lessons' you can buy it for like 5 bucks at any bookstore.
Author: Anthony DeMello
a selection:
When someone tells you how special you are, all that you can accurately say is: This person given his particular tastes and needs, desires, appetites, and projections has a special desire for me, but that says nothing about me as a person. Someone else will find me quite unspecial and that too says nothing about me as a person. So the moment you accept that compliment and you allow yourself to enjoy it, you will give control of yourself to that other person. You will go to great lengths in order to continue to be special to this person. You will be in constant fear lest he meets someone who will become special to him and thus you will be dislodged from the special position you occupy in his life. And you will be constantly dancing to his tunes, living up to his expectations, and in doing so you will have lost your freedom. You have made yourself dependant on him for your happiness, for you have made your happiness depend on his judgment of you.

Then you can make things worse by beginning to search for other people who will tell you that you are special to them and you invest so much time and energy in making sure that they never lose this image they have of you. What a wearisome way to live! Suddenly fear comes into your life, fear that the image will be destroyed, and if what you seek is fearlessness and freedom, you must let go of this. How? By refusing to take anyone seriously when they tell you how special you are. The words “You are special to me” simply say something about my present mood regarding you, my taste, my present state of mind and development. They say nothing else. So accept that as a fact and do not rejoice in it. What you may rejoice in is my company and not my compliment. What you may enjoy is my present interaction with you, not my praise. And if you are wise, you will urge me to find many other special people so that you are never tempted to hold on to this image I have of you. It is not my image of you that you enjoy because you are ceaselessly aware that my image of you can change so easily. So what you enjoy is the present moment, because if you enjoy the image that I have of you, I will control you and you will be afraid to be yourself lest you hurt me, you will be afraid to tell me the truth, to do or say anything that would damage this image I have of you.

Apply this now to every image that people have of you and they tell you that you are a genius or wise or good or holy, and you enjoy that compliment and in that minute you lose your freedom; because now you will be constantly striving to retain that opinion. You will fear to make mistakes, to be yourself, to do or say anything that will spoil the image. You have lost the freedom to make a fool of yourself, to be laughed at and to be ridiculed, to do and say whatever feels right to you rather than what fits in with the image others have of you. How does one break this? Through many patient hours of study, awareness, observation, of what this silly image brings you. It gives you a thrill combined with so much insecurity and unfreedom and suffering. If you were to see this clearly you would lose your appetite to be special to anyone, or to be highly regarded by anyone. You would move about with sinners or bad characters and do and say as you please, regardless of what people think of you. You would become like the birds and flowers that are so totally unselfconscious, too busy with the task of living to care one little bit about what others think of them, about whether they are special to others or not. And at last, you will have become fearless and free.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cultural morality in action

A friend sent me a link to this Huffington Post article suggesting that the practice of frying a fish and eating it while still alive may be "shocking" and "too graphic for some readers." I guess the Chinese are just a cruel race of sociopaths, because the people in the video seemed to enjoy it immensely.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The dandelions and the orchids

A reader writes:
I thought this David Dobbs article in The Atlantic was fascinating and I will add, personally gratifying. It’s saying in effect that personality traits that are so often deemed deleterious by society can indeed be not only adaptive but advantageous in certain environments. It specifically mentions “antisocial” behavior several times. I found it gratifying because it’s something that I’ve thought and voiced in my own way several times, only I didn’t have any research to back me up. My opinion was based on deduction rather than science. Now thanks to this article, I’ve got some scientific findings to turn to support my observations. Of course, the research is still young, but it’s promising. Actually, it’s commonsensical and even obvious when you think about it. There isn’t anything particularly revolutionary about it. Well, it’s radical only if you believed the myth that so called bad traits had no redeeming value whatsoever.

So all those people who are so certain that traits associated with sociopathy, psychopathy and antisocial behavior and thinking are nothing more than a curse on society that must be eradicated as soon as possible can go suck it! LOL.

Anyway, here's the link to the article:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Are Co-dependents and sociopaths a perfect match?

So asks a reader:
Just wanted to let you know I really enjoy reading your blog. I have been researching sociopaths, for personal reasons, over the past couple years and always wanted to hear more about the way sociopaths think, behave, react I have been visiting everyday in order to gain more knowledge. I myself am a total empath....a people pleaser, co-dependent. There are things about it I like, and others I don't....

I understand precisely why I am that way. It has to do with my mothers expectations of me growing up, but that's another story. I first started my investigating due to the fact that my boyfriend was sending me mixed messages. By mixed, I mean from a point where I thought he likely did care-I was never certain though, to the point where he was threatening to kill me when things didn't go the way he wanted them too-usually got caught behaving badly or lying. Although I am driven by my emotions, I try to communicate with him logically to avoid conflict. If I show him that I am upset he instantly becomes defensive and angry. I usually get a damaging verbal beating thereafter. I get it though, it is only out of his frustration because he doesn't understand how what he says could hurt me..nor does it make any difference to him. It took along while before I understood this. He considers me a nuisance when my feelings are involved. He has got better at pretending to care over the years though with guidance from me, lol. After court ordered anger management I think he learned that it wasn't in his best interest to lose complete control. I realize anything he changes is only for himself and is never a result of what I would like.

When I first started my mission of better understanding I was appalled to discover that some people never feel any emotion~ now in some ways I believe this may be more beneficial than having them...I believe there is a place for both types. Without one there wouldn't be the other. I often wonder if that is where the term opposites attract came from.

There is much more to know about my personal experiences with my potentially sociopathic BF. I will continue to visit and if you are ever looking for some input from a person such as myself, I would pleased to assist you. That's what I'm best at!

The people pleaser
I love this for some reason. Maybe it is the slight abused-spouse vibe I get, or maybe it is the complete willingness to accept the sociopath worldview from a non-sociopath, or maybe it is the fact that these two crazy kids are still apparently dating. But I shared it because a lot of people wonder how you could date a sociopath. This is how.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sociopath quotes: self

Nature has very conveniently cast the action of our sight outwards. We are swept on downstream, but to struggle back towards our self against the current is a painful movement; thus does the sea, when driven against itself, swirl back in confusion. Everyone says: 'Look at the motions of the heavens, look at society, at this man's quarrel, that man's pulse, this other man's will and testament'-in other words always look upwards or downwards or sideways, or before or behind you. Thus, the commandment given us in ancient times by the god at Delphi was contrary to all expectations: 'Look back into your self; get to know your self; hold on to your self.' . . . Can you not see that this world of ours keeps its gaze bent ever inwards and its eyes ever open to contemplate itself? It is always vanity in your case, within and without, but a vanity which is less, the less it extends. Except you alone, O Man, said that god, each creature first studies its own self, and, according to its needs, has limits to his labors and desires. Not one is as empty and needy as you, who embrace the universe: you are the seeker with no knowledge, the judge with no jurisdiction and, when all is done, the jester of the farce.

-- Michel de Montaigne

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Eye of the Storm

Before I did something that would put me in danger I used to unfocus my eyes. Slowly I would lose myself to instinct like I gave over control of my body to someone else. Someone stronger than me. My animal self. Sharp, quick, and decisive. This is how I never hesitate to do something that must be done. I just make my eyes go blurry and at that moment I cross the point of no return.

My new enemy became stubbornness. Stubbornness to keep pushing until things got desperate. In times of desperation I would use my tool to my own destruction. I didn't hesitate any longer. I just acted. As my eyes became unfocused so did precaution. As my eyes became unfocused the lines drawn and my own principles were as blurred as my vision.

Balancing on the line between hesitation and recklessness is how I live. Walking the tight rope where darkness lies below. I can lose it all if I lean in either side, but if I stop walking the rope I'll slip. If I run across I will slip as well. So cautiously we must move inch by inch. Understanding when it's time to act and when it's time to focus. When it's time to be a animal and when it's time to be human.

Have you ever had plans almost come to fruition and had them ruined at the last moment? I have. Rather than dump the plan and go back to the drawing board I keep pressing onward. Like a captain on his ship he built with his own hands trying to bucket water out of his doomed vessel. Drowning in stubborn resolve.

Today I've made a new landmark in my personal growth. I won't succumb to desperation and stubbornness. I will succumb to adaptation.

Victim of sociopathy?

A reader wonders:
I was wondering if you were also a sociopath...and if you are, then perhaps you too also live in such a lonely inner world. I find it hard to live life without the pleasures it has to offer, but I find that I am also subject to various addictions...So I wonder, how do you cope? Do you find yourself hinting at how you really are, as a way to "express yourself"?...If not, then how do you express yourself? How do you counter that terrible lonely feeling?

...and if you are not, then why do you share so much information about this malady?...or should I say, gift.
My response:
I actually have a lot of friends and family members. I have at least five who I consider very close. They all know who i am and are fine with it. I guess I am blessed to be a relatively good judge of character that way. But you're right, when I told them, it was all hints at first. Sometimes I wonder how much they actually believe what I tell them, but it's nice to have someone to talk to anyway. But loneliness is the worst. I work very hard at charming my friends and family, maintaining the relationship in ways that come easy to me (money, gifts, flattery) so I don't end up being lonely.

I am also subject to various addictions. That is the problem with being a sociopath. We're so impressionable and have so many needs, it is hard not to be completely self destructive.

I think the focus of the literature on sociopathy to date has been on the victims and what it feels like to be a victim of a sociopath. Very little has been written about what it feels like to be a victim of sociopathy -- to be a sociopath. That's why I initially started writing. I keep writing because I get such positive response from both sociopaths and friends/enemies of sociopaths alike. Plus it is a good way for me personally to keep track of who I am and where I am going. It forces me to confront myself on an almost daily basis.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Effectively parenting a sociopath (part II)

A reader responds:
I was really glad to get your response, and thank you very much for your advice.

I love my daughter and very much admire her veiwpoint, it must be great to be able to dismiss anyone that you don't like or who doesn't agree with you. She is very bright, extremely careful to keep herself safe, yet very brave. It's been a conundrum to me how she could not care for, or even like, many of her friends, yet be the most popular child in her class. She is flying at school, follows the rules, collects the rewards for good behaviour, informs the teacher of any unfairness and I think is running rings round them without them knowing. Who cares though as she's achieving highly, the teaching staff like her and she's never in trouble. Yet she can be very sensitive and has been devastated when I have reacted harshly to her actions. This confuses me as she has been upset that I have rejected her, which I took to be empathy at upsetting me, but is more likely a reaction against rejection. Why be so upset at rejection if you don't really care about the people doing the rejection? I take your point about trust on board and have already found myself being specific about the consequences for breaking boundaries, as literal she understands, but "making me cross" doesn't affect her at all.

I suppose the qualities that attracted me to her Dad are present in her as well. She's still quite young now so not diagnosable I expect, as many children lack empathy and are self centered at that age. I shall watch as she grows up, but I already know she is her father, at least now I can hopefully encourage the favorable qualities and try instill the rules of relationships like the rules of the road. It's confusing to me how a Sociopath can choose to drive within the speed limit as otherwise they would lose their licence, yet chooses to cheat on their partner even though they might get caught and get dumped. I suppose it's the same really as he would speed if he knew he wouldl get away with it and there are no speed camera's in his bedroom to catch him out!!!

Anyway, thank you again for being so open and working so hard to prevent the persecution of a "different" way of looking at life. Doesn't mean I'd ever try and live with a Sociopath again though, it'd be like keeping a tiger in a rabbit hutch.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Effectively parenting a sociopath (part I)

From a reader:
Thank you so so much for writing your blog. I have just found it and it has helped me infinitely. I have been involved with a Sociopath for a long time and we have several children. You have helped me to understand how he can appear to love me whilst still hurting me. Reading your blogs has been like finally learning his language. I recently ended the relationship but now that I understand him more I can communicate with him without hating him. It's not his fault I can't be with him and he has so many good qualities, i now see them so much more clearly since I don't have to wonder why he is like he is.

I shall continue reading your blog as our middle daughter looks like she will also be a Sociopath, but you have given me so much relief that I can celebrate her for the wonderful person she is rather than trying to change her (not that I think that would have been possible).

Thank you so much for sharing yourself and educating me and so many others.
My response:
Thank you for this. I'm particularly happy to see that you seem fine with the fact that your middle daughter may be a sociopath. My parents love me a lot. I am quirky, I am different, but they have learned to adapt and accept me for what I am. Trust is key with us. When I trust that they really have my best interests at heart, I have traditionally (and still do) accepted and acted upon their judgment on things even though it differs from my own. I realize that I (like everyone) have blindspots and another person's trusted viewpoint is important to me. I'm the same way with a few trusted friends. If I suspect they have ulterior motives, or seem to be overly biased by their own worldview, though, I will ignore their advice. A lot of parenting a sociopath seems to be about picking your battles. You have to be careful not to reject or reprimand them on things that are very core to their identity, otherwise they lose their trust in you. Sociopaths can feel rejection acutely. Sociopath children are very very sensitive to incentives and fairness. Make sure that if you set rules, you always play exactly by the rules and make your child do so as well. This will help train the sociopath to learn to live effectively within boundaries. She'll realize that it is possible to follow rules or maintain boundaries while still accomplishing her goals or get what she wants or needs out of life.

Friday, November 6, 2009

My story, for whatever it's worth (part 3)

So there you have it. Because I know who and what I am, I now know what I want: power, which equals freedom. Pursuing power/freedom would also provide the opportunity to play the game and a challenge. And it starts within. I see how important it is to focus on self development, to take command of myself. And to command myself, I must inevitably command my circumstances. None of this necessarily involves getting to the top of any ladder unless I decide that’s the game I wish to play. None of this need involve anything huge or historical unless I want it to. And it certainly doesn’t need to involve society’s definition of success unless it helps me achieve my objective. I want to experience the inner essence of these goals in the present and I am free to do just that. There’s also a whole world of tastes and locales and literature that I have yet to sample. I don’t have to do the so called ‘big things’. Self development, meeting and exceeding self chosen challenges and enjoying what life has to offer on its own terms really can be enough for now. I’m excited about my future, for the first time in a long time. That’s thanks, in part, to your insightful blog and the email exchanges. Even now, I don’t know if every professional would agree that I am a sociopath. What I do know is that it doesn’t matter. The label isn’t relevant; the underlying characteristics are. My detachment from emotion, including and especially moral ones, my lack of conscience, my flexible personality, my ability to manipulate at will and the profound impact these traits have on how I experience life, all of this I now understand in a way that is both illuminating and coherent, and I have your blog to thank for that.

I’m going to go play now, so to speak. Don’t worry. I won’t hurt anyone unless I’m crossed or unless I have to, so you haven’t unleashed a monster. You’ve liberated a wolf.

Thanks again!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

My story, for whatever it's worth (part 2)

A reader writes (cont.):
I make it sound easy or even simple. But it wasn’t. It was hard. It was confusing. It was painful. It was hard seeing everyone live a life that at least on the surface, made sense to them. It was painful seeing over and over again that I would never be part of their world without pretending. The fact that I knew I was pretending while they were being sincere made the alienation worse. I went through a time of hating them. I hated everything they stood for, everything they said they believed in. I also went through a time where I seriously indulged my delusions of grandeur. I figured since I could never truly be ordinary in the sense that other people were, I’d be extraordinary. I made so many mistakes during this time, so many errors and lapses in judgment. All because I didn’t know what I was. At last, I’ve figured it out.

While I was on my quest to understand what evolution made me for, to use a figure of speech, I set up a comfortable but boring life for myself. Steady work, a small studio apartment, isolation from family and friends and lots of reading, thinking, and me time was and is my life. I’m ready to change all that. Now that I understand what I am, I want to ‘play the game’. It’s time I used my instinctive psychological insight to my advantage rather than to just maintain the status quo the way I have been. I also want challenge. I want to push myself mentally and physically in ways that I never have before.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My story, for whatever it's worth (part 1)

A reader writes:
I wanted to thank you for the blog. It’s been very helpful. I understand what I want now. It’s what I call the inner essence of the goal that I want, the thoughts and feelings I want to experience. I want power because I want to experience more freedom in my life. I have existential freedom of course. We all do. But I have not made good use of it. What I didn’t get before was that if I cannot make use of the power I could potentially have in the here and now, then getting to the top of any kind of organization will be for nothing. You know the old saying: wherever I go there I am. I haven’t taken advantage of the opportunities all around me because I’ve been too busy figuring myself out. My life up to this point has really been designed to keep myself afloat with minimal drama and effort while I focused on unraveling the mystery of why I was so ‘different’.

My story starts like so many of the other stories that you’ve featured in your blog and in the comments. I was a typical outsider. I knew I was different from my peers and even my family. I just never understood exactly what that difference was. I was never a shy kid. I was mostly indifferent, especially after I proved to myself that popularity could be had with just the right facial expressions, words and a few well placed actions. The social scene at school stopped being mysterious and became merely boring. And yeah, I pulled a series of stunts that would have gotten me a nice stay in prison if I’d been caught. I got over all of that in my early 20’s when it dawned on me that I was empty and that I had nothing I needed to do or had to do. I was without purpose or meaning. Yeah, sex is fun, no question, but orgasms only last so long. And I still didn’t get why I was so different? Not only did I not get that I would never be one of them, I didn’t even know why. So I went searching for answers. It took a long while. There were loads of false starts, dead ends and misunderstandings along the way. Finally, I was able to discard some false beliefs, start fresh and reexamine things. When I did, I was finally able to see where the differences were. I was able to put a name to the face. Those differences eventually lead me to study concepts like sociopathy and psychopathy. I read a lot of the popular work and some interesting articles on the internet. My Googling lead me to your blog and the comments. It was your unique take on all of this as well as some of the smarter commenters that lead me to see that I’d finally figured it out.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Insights into empath minds

I just don't understand them sometimes. I do things for (mainly) logical reasons, with a core emphasis in efficiency. As a libertarian, I'm always interested in the suppression of markets for moral reasons, so I found myself reading an article on the altruistic kidney donations of strangers and how (wait for it) the empath hordes shun them, considering them "freakish, inhuman, even repellent."
Most people find it uncomplicatedly admirable when a person risks his life to save a stranger from fire, or from drowning. What, then, is it about saving a stranger by giving a kidney, a far lesser risk, that people find so odd? Do they feel there is something aggressive about the act, as though the donor were implicitly rebuking them for not doing it, too? (There is no rebuke in saving a stranger from drowning -- you weren't there, you couldn't have done it. And you can always imagine that you would have if you had been.) Or perhaps it's that organ donation, unlike rescue, is conceived in cold blood, and cold-blooded altruism seems nearly as sinister as cold-blooded malevolence. Perhaps only the hot-blooded, unthinking sort can now escape altruism's tainted reputation, captured in the suspicious terms for what people are really engaging in when they think they're helping (sublimation, colonialism, group selection, potlatch, socialism, co-dependency -- the list goes on).
And this quote from one of the fascists supporting the UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing) kidney breadline at the expense of donors taking the private option of self-selecting donor recipients:
Douglas Hanto, the chief of transplantation at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston, for instance, feels that the system should work the same way for everybody--that there should be just one line to stand in. He concedes that it's possible that MatchingDonors draws in people who wouldn't otherwise donate--people who need the tug of a human story to sway them--thus making everybody better off, but, as long as its dating-service model favors the photogenic, the eloquent, and the computerized, he is against it. "We are all going to die," he says. "We have to do everything we can for our patients, but within the boundaries of moral principles. As much as we want to save everybody, we just can't."
I think the label "altruistic" is misplaced. I don't think the people donating need the tug of a personal story. From what I read, most of the donors think that it is inefficient to not donate a kidney that they're not using to someone who needs one to live. For instance, this description of a young donor:
The petty selfishness of daily life drove her crazy and she wanted to fix it. She hated the way that, in the checkout line at Target, a person with a whole cartful of stuff would not let a person with only one or two things go ahead of him. She hated that, when she was driving and let a pedestrian cross the road, the driver behind her would honk in frustration. She always tried to do nice things for others. At work, she would often buy coffee for her co-workers without being asked, though mostly this just bewildered people.
I know how she feels, but as much as I'd like to say that empaths live in a horrible world of their own making, I think it's just that they think so differently. Maybe their world doesn't seem so ugly to them.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sociopaths on Wall Street

From a New Yorker article about the collapse of Bear Stearns:
[Former Bear Stearns C.E.O. Jimmy] Cayne understood selling; he started out as a photocopier salesman, working the nine-hundred-mile stretch between Boise and Salt Lake City, and ended up among the highest-paid executives in banking. He was known as one of the savviest men on the Street, a master tactician, a brilliant gamesman. “Jimmy had it all,” Bill Bamber, a former Bear senior managing director, writes in “Bear Trap: The Fall of Bear Stearns and the Panic of 2008” (a book co-written by Andrew Spencer). “The ability to read an opponent. The ability to objectively analyze his own strengths and weaknesses. . . . He knew how to exploit others’ weaknesses—and their strengths, for that matter—as a way to further his own gain. He knew when to take his losses and live to fight another day.”
Although the most successful Wall Streeters are probably narcissists:
This is what social scientists mean when they say that human overconfidence can be an adaptive trait. “In conflicts involving mutual assessment, an exaggerated assessment of the probability of winning increases the probability of winning,” Richard Wrangham, a biological anthropologist at Harvard, writes. “Selection therefore favors this form of overconfidence.” Winners know how to bluff. And who bluffs the best? The person who, instead of pretending to be stronger than he is, actually believes himself to be stronger than he is. According to Wrangham, self-deception reduces the chances of “behavioral leakage”; that is, of “inadvertently revealing the truth through an inappropriate behavior.” This much is in keeping with what some psychologists have been telling us for years—that it can be useful to be especially optimistic about how attractive our spouse is, or how marketable our new idea is. In the words of the social psychologist Roy Baumeister, humans have an “optimal margin of illusion.”

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sociopaths want to eat you or cheat you

A reader wrote (edited for length):
I noticed your interest in the origins of sociopathy. One sadly deceased researcher published a long paper called "Sociobiology of sociopathy" that was an attempt(probably one of the earliest) to put it in an evolutionary perspective. I'm not an expert in that sort of thing, but the case looked tight enough to me. To her, it looked like sociopathy is a biological adaptation to a cheating strategy at life. True sociopaths have a certain set of genes, and are from problem families. People of low intelligence with same backgrounds may appear to have some of these traits, but in them it's just the environment and so on.

Another thing you may not have come across is Blindsight(novel, not syndrome). I don't know whether you like speculative fiction, but this one is very dark, very bleak, and very anti-neurotypical (compares ordinary humans to the equivalent of Oz marsupials..). It's mostly about mind, consciousness, utility of consciousness and how at some point in the future, homo sapiens will become somewhat obsolescent.

It was written by Peter Watts. One of the chief characters of Blindsight is a vampire (not the fantasy variety, sort of believable - an extinct sub-species of exclusively man-eating completely sociopathic* humans, brought to life again through modern science). The others are less weird, though. In other books, he loves having various non-standard characters, from serial killers, sexual sadists, wife-abusers, pedophiles.. ptsd sufferers, etc.. )

*obviously, if wolves empathized with sheep.. they'd go hungry.
I started reading the article. It's very good but long. I'm not surprised that vampires have once again been connected to sociopaths. I myself am hoping that this blog will ride the new vampire popularity and get picked up for a miniseries. Not true.

Sharks = psycho killers

According to this article sent in by a reader, scientists are using the known patterns of serial killers to explain the hunting patterns of sharks:
What do great white sharks have in common with serial killers? Refined hunting skills, according to a paper recently published in the Zoological Society of London’s Journal of Zoology. Researchers have found that sharks hunt in a highly focused fashion, just like serial criminals.

Predation is one of the most fundamental and fascinating interactions in nature, and sharks are some of the fiercest predators on Earth. However, their hunting pattern is difficult to study because it is rarely observed in the wild. As a result, shark predatory behavior has remained much of a mystery. Now, researchers from the United States and Canada are using geographic profiling -- a criminal investigation tool used to track a connected series of crimes and locate where serial criminals live -- to examine the hunting patterns of white sharks in South Africa.
I wonder if they can go they other way: use known behaviors of animal predators to explain the behavior of serial killers. But it brings up a good point: how many of the arguments for eradicating sociopaths could equally be applicable to sharks, tigers, lions, killer whales, and other man/animal predators? Maybe people are just scared because man has gotten used to thinking that he is at the top of the food chain. But most species have natural predators -- it's nature's way of keeping things in check. Is man an exception?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Glenn Close: Sociopaths must be stopped

This is paraphrased and taken out of context, but yes, Glenn Close pretty much says that in her blog about mental illness in the Huffington Post:
There are some notable exceptions, of course -- Dustin Hoffman in Rainman, or Russell Crowe's portrayal of John Nash in A Beautiful Mind. But more often than not, the movie or TV version of someone suffering from a mental disorder is a sociopath who must be stopped.
I get it Glenn. If they are bipolar or schizoaffective or have whatever other disorder that someone in your family has, they are fine. If the disorder was portrayed by a lovable Hollywood favorite or the portrayal ends up winning an Oscar, it is fine. But sociopaths must be stopped.

On a positive note, sociopaths seem to be getting more press than usual recently (excluding news about the Bush administration, of course).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mr. Birdick responds

Mr. Birdick gets analyzed by "Dr. Robert" and responds:
Number one, I’ve never actually copped to being a "psychopath". I might score high on the PCL-R, but not high enough to warrant that particular “diagnosis”. I believe that there is a meaningful difference between psychopaths and sociopaths.

Second, whether I can "fathom" other people’s suffering is an irrelevant red herring. My feeling sorrowful or righteously angry when I hear about someone else’s pain does not change things for that person -- it would not change the reality of the man in the picture or make the Iraq war and all of its associated consequences disappear. Dr. Robert’s regret, his remorse, his compassion may mean the world to him but it means nothing at all to the man in the picture.

Third, I still believe that Dr. Robert’s photo placement was manipulative to the degree that it was deliberately designed, by his own admission, to induce emotions in other people in order to prove a point. He was trying to prove himself and to his faithful readers that he was right and the father wrong. Dr. Robert was acting in a self-serving, manipulative fashion. His expression of moral horror served only one purpose -- his.

Fourth, for someone as eager to paint me as arrogantly certain of my superiority, Dr. Robert comes off as awfully... superior, to the point of being downright condescending. Doesn’t the deliberate use of terms like “limitation” and later “deficiency” imply that? Dr. Robert likes to think of himself as a compassionate, liberal and open minded soul, but who is also in fact more judgmental and moralistic than he cares to let on, even to himself. And I caught the misspelling of my name. Quite a class act our Dr. Robert, isn’t he?

Finally, I love it when so called empathic people tell me what I do and do not believe without bothering to ask me. He completely misrepresents my thoughts on those who practice the healing arts. The people that I believe are “foolish, sentimental, and weak” are those that allow others to run roughshod over them; to destroy what they’ve spent a lifetime building; or to allow any system of ethics to dictate, a priori, the decisions that must be made in real time because of their adherence to morality or principles.

It’s too bad Dr. Robert decided that he needed to prove his mettle as a compassionate, liberal healer (how much better he is than the poor, deluded ‘psychopath’), by writing in such an obvious and overtly manipulative fashion. I’d say he was far more concerned with demonstrating his so called great compassion than he was in answering Brian Lippman’s question. Then again, moral hypocrisy, especially the unconscious kind, is so typical for the conscience bound.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

If You Kill My Demons You will Kill My Angels Too

I snuck a peek at the comment page recently. I see a lot of dialogue between empaths and sociopaths, which to me is really groundbreaking. Where have you ever seen this done outside of clinics where specialists being the only ones interacting? So I want to feed this discussion some food for thought.

Since I know M.E. best I'll talk about myself. I've always loved myself. Yes, people would call it narcissistic. I do believe I'm the greatest person who's lived. Sometimes I've gotten a little god complex. That's just how I am, and I'm not really going to apologize for it. I wake up everyday and I feel like I'm amazing. I channel this energy to focusing on being the best in anything I take part in. I don't try to be the best. I am the best. In doing so I will do everything and find a way to get there. This is my way of making who I am positive.

I can manipulate people. More than that, I do manipulate people. Everyday, every week, every month, and every year. The medical community calls this 'superficial charm.' But charm to me can't be defined as superficial. Either you are charming or you're not. People like charming people -- that's why they give them things so selflessly. When you have the power to persuade people to do and give you what you want it's easy to abuse it. For empath readers I want you to imagine what it's like to have everyone love you right off the bat, and want to do things you want them to do. Would you manipulate people to give you money? Would you manipulate people into sleeping with you under false pretenses? Would you honestly tell me you wouldn't get tempted to justify reasons to fuck them over? Most people would. You make up excuses. "Oh well I heard they stole from so and so," or, "He's there with someone I don't like," or, "Well I'll try to make it up to them." You will find ways of demonizing the people you victimize until they seem like the worst people you're ever met. You don't feel guilt, just justification. The positive side is people can channel this feeling into businesses to sell products, make effective advertising, diplomacy, intelligence, etc.

I am emotionally shallow. The commenters are completely correct. I'm not emotionless. I don't walk around with a exoskeleton under my skin saying, "You will be terminated." I feel what I make myself feel, when I'm supposed to feel it. Sometimes I can't. I can't feel for other people. I don't get excited with people, or feel someone's pain when they cry. I get angry at them because I can't understand. A less extreme example of this: recently someone close to me had their identity stolen and bank account wiped out, and their rent was due the next day. The bank wouldn't refund it till they investigated for few months. The person was crying and looked at me for comfort, and I thought, "What do they want from me? I hope they won't ask me for money." After a while I asked what they wanted me to say. The person looked at me like I was retarded, and I got angry. I told them, "Just get it done and don't worry about things you can't change." The person got angry and left.

What I lack in my own capacity for emotion I make up for in manipulating others'. When I was younger I abused the hell out of this. I could make people happy, excited, sad, depressed, disturbed, hurt etc. It was fun. It still is sometimes, but I don't abuse it that much any more. I cut people into pieces with things I've said. I would save things I knew they were insecure about and cut them deeply with is when I didn't get what I wanted. One person told me that they would rather have me hit them then tell them the things I said. A emotional bully, I guess you can call me. I admit that I did it. I didn't know I was doing it till I took more time to learn about who I was and why I do what I do. Now I use it sparingly.

Sociopaths have a lot of power over people, like it or not. Denying that power exists doesn't improve the life of either side of the fence. I denied it and I was out of control. What I realized is that by acknowledging who I was, and wielding that power for what was effective and not just destructive, I could become more powerful. To have true power you need to have control over yourself first. People trying to change that power instead of focusing it will only meet in failure.

I think it's important for sociopaths to accept themselves the way they are, and not try to change. There isn't a 'cure' for sociopathy because there's no way to change someone's complete identity. Change who they are: their tendencies, their motives, their behaviors, and even their feelings. Is it possible? Perhaps, but is that the kind of power you want substituted for natural human behaviour?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Psychopaths = mentally handicapped

One researcher has found that psychopaths may be more aggressive than the average population because they do not assign meaning to the fearful faces of their victims:
In her groundbreaking work funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, [Abigail] Marsh and her colleagues have been exploring how “callous and unemotional” individuals tend to show a very specific cognitive deficit: namely, they are especially poor at recognizing, processing and responding normally to the facial expression of fear on other people’s faces (a “normal” response being ceasing an assault on the frightened person or offering aid). Curiously, their trouble in this area is not due to a problem with facial expressions in general—they do perfectly well deciphering the look of disgust, anger, happiness and so on on other people’s faces. In contrast, autistics have trouble with pretty much all facial expressions of emotion, suggesting that, for them, this generalized difficulty is meaningfully linked to their broad social disfunction. Rather, it’s only the look of fear that puzzles diagnosably antisocial people (and to a somewhat lesser extent, sadness). Thus, in a converted boathouse on Squam Lake in early July, Marsh discussed several key studies, all indicating a fear-specific facial processing deficiency in children and adults with persistent antisocial behavioral tendencies. That is to say, “behavior that violates the rights and welfare of others or breaks important normative rules.”
. . .
Marsh relayed a chilling anecdote about a colleague of hers, University College London psychologist Essi Viding, who was going through a task with a psychopathic murderer in which a series of faces with different emotional expressions were laid out before the woman. When the murderer saw the picture of the fearful face, she scratched her head and said: “I don’t know what that expression is called, but I know it’s what people look like right before I stab them.”
Interestingly, another study found that the people who can recognize fearful faces recognize them faster than any other "emotion" face. I guess that makes psychopaths literally "slow."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Frauds in Love

Today we are going on a field trip. A field trip to the opposite side of the spectrum. A lot of times when I need a good laugh I will visit In case you don't know about this site, it's dedicated to victims of sociopaths. Broken, self-loathing, and bitterness fills the pages. It's like a sociopath's trash dump. My personal opinion is that these people set themselves up to be victims, then want to point the finger at the person who took advantage. Nobody put a gun to their head and told them to stay in a relationship they admit was so terrible. If you read the posts and comments (from people with weak names like 'justabouthealed'), you can see how they've already started off with defeat in their minds. It's not hard for ready made victims to become victims. The following post is the perfect example of how they set themselves up for the fall. Victory is not fighting, it's persevering. The old turn the other cheek. Lying to themselves, they believe that licking your wounds after getting victimized is a 'viable' victory. In reality it's failure. Here is the article:

My wonderful stepfather was a young basketball coach when he got his first real job coaching for a very small rural school which had not had a winning game in over a decade. The team was dispirited and had no real expectation of ever winning a game.

One of the local coaches bragged that he would beat them “by a hundred points!” at the next game. The team thought there was a good possibility that that coach’s team could do just that. However, it is “good sportsmanship” for a coach playing a much weaker team to let their second, third, and fourth strings get a chance to play, and to win over the weaker team, but not “tromp” them.

Daddy thought this other coach’s brag to stomp and tromp his team was poor sportsmanship so he made a plan. When the fourth quarter started and Daddy’s team had the ball, they “froze” it (which was legal in the game then) and wouldn’t either shoot the ball or take a chance on losing it, so passed the ball from one of Daddy’s team members to another the entire quarter. They didn’t make any points, but they kept the other team from even getting their hands on the ball the entire quarter, and thus making points against them. Daddy’s team didn’t win, but the other coach didn’t win by his “hundred points” either. That little team went on the next year to win their division championship because of the confidence that Daddy inspired in them.
Sometimes “winning” or “victory” can be interpreted in different ways. I’m also reminded of the old Country and Western song, the “Winner” where an older man and a younger man are in a bar talking. The younger man wants to be a “winner” in bar fight brawls, and the older man is educating him on what is “winning” and what isn’t.

Sure, you can get into a fight and you may inflict more damage on your opponent than he inflicts on you in the fight, but like the old man said, “He gouged out my eye, but I won.” Sometimes it is better to walk away from a fight and not lose more than you have already lost, or allow your opponent to take another “pound of flesh” in your attempts to “get justice.”

It isn’t always about getting what you deserve, or victory over them, or even seeing that they get “what they so richly deserve,” sometimes, I think, “winning” simply means keeping them from taking more out of you and, like Daddy’s team, “freezing the ball.” Sometimes, it is like the would-be barroom brawler, walking away (intact) with the other guy yelling curses in your direction.

It is emotionally tough to watch a cheater “get away with it” when they have ripped us off, and go “waltzing away” unscathed and apparently the victor. It eats at our sense of fairness to let them “succeed” and not pay a price for their bad behavior.

Yet, sometimes, “discretion is the better part of valor” to use an old phrase, or to “be a live dog, rather than a dead lion,” and “retreat and live to fight another day.”

Those victims who are not able to fight for a “victory” of any sort, I don’t think need to feel that they have “failed” because they chose not to fight the sociopath.

Too many times fighting the psychopaths are like “fighting a circular saw,” as my grandmother would have said. It “just isn’t worth it,” because the damage to yourself will be worse than you can possibly inflict on the psychopath. They stack the odds so in their own favor, that even if you “win,” you end up like the old brawler sitting in the barroom, broken and so gravely injured yourself in your effort to gain a “victory, of sorts” that in retrospect the price was too high.

Sometimes, it is better to walk away a “loser” but still intact, and with your head held high, using the energy and resources you have left to focus on healing yourself, on recovering what you have lost in terms of finances and strength, and take care of yourself. To me that is also a “viable victory.”

Friday, October 9, 2009

Do sociopaths have high IQs?

A reader asks:

"do you happen to know if sociopaths are typically of extremely high i.q.? from what i've seen from personal experience and posts on your site, most individuals who fit the classification appear to be at least above average in intelligence. is this an accurate observation?"

My response:
I think that sociopaths would typically score high(er) on IQ tests, but I don't know if that would necessarily mean that they are of above average intelligence. Sociopaths are extremely capable of finding the weaknesses in things, people, the social fabric, etc., like a shark sniffing blood or a dog "smelling" fear.

Let's take for example the fact that I have always performed very well on standardized tests. I will readily admit that doesn't necessarily make me "intelligent." Rather, when I read a question, I am not always looking for answers, or even clues to the answers, but rather clues into the test maker's mind. Are they trying to trick me? I think, if I were a test maker, how many different ways could I ask a question on a critical issue? There will always be a limited number of ways that test makers can/will ask questions--you just have to figure out which, and then recognize those particular questions when you see them. I also try to guess what would be the fake answers test makers might come up with. Test makers have fears like everyone else has fears -- fears that a question will be too easy, fears that a question may have more than one answer or be ambiguous. You can practically see a test taker's CYA precautions in some of the questions you read. You know immediately what the answer is, just like when you ask someone, "Where's the safe?" and they say "I don't know," but their eyes look to the wall behind the desk. Obviously the safe is in the wall behind the desk.

Is this ability to sense weakness what intelligence is? I wouldn't think so. Standardized IQ tests don't necessarily test intelligence, they just test someone's ability to correctly mark the right answer -- they don't account for how you managed to choose that right answer. Take the extreme example: you obtained all the answers ahead of time (cheated). Your score indicates a very high IQ. Does that mean you are intelligent? What if, instead of "cheating," you are a mind reader and get the answers that way? What if you are just very good at predicting what answer test makers think is "right"? Does that mean you are intelligent?

But I do think most sociopaths seem intelligent, particularly to empaths. They have different blindspots than you do, and they think out of the box because they aren't in a box, or at least not the same box you are. Have you ever heard a child speak a foreign language? Maybe for a moment you are amazed. "Good lord! That child's speaking Swahili!" But you are amazed because you are framing the issue in terms of how difficult it would be for you to be speaking Swahili, particularly at that child's age. Your mind has forgotten that some people grow up speaking Swahili as their native language, or in bilingual homes. So the sociopath can amaze the empath with his charm, wit, and intelligence, just because that is the sociopath's "native language," so to speak.

But are sociopaths perceived as being above average, charming, witty, and intelligent? Yes, most of us manage to come off that way. And life is almost always form over substance, rarely the other way around.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Culture Of Narcissism

Here's an excerpt from Christopher Lasch's Culture Of Narcissism:
"The contemporary American may have failed, like his predecessors, to establish any sort of common life, but the integrating tendencies of modern industrial society have at the same time undermined his 'isolation.' Having surrendered most of his technical skills to the corporation, he can no longer provide for his material needs. As the family loses not only its productive functions but many of its reproductive functions as well, men and women no longer manage even to raise their children without the help of certified experts. The atrophy of older traditions of self-help has eroded everyday competence, in one area after another, and has made the individual dependent on the state, the corporation, and other bureaucracies.

Narcissism represents the psychological dimension of this dependence. Notwithstanding his occasional illusions of omnipotence, the narcissist depends on others to validate his self-esteem. He cannot live without an admiring audience, His apparent freedom from family ties and institutional constraints does not free him to stand alone or to glory in his individuality. On the contrary, it contributes to his insecurity, which he can overcome only by seeing his 'grandiose self'
reflected in the attentions of others, or by attaching himself to those who radiate celebrity, power and charisma. For the narcissist, the world is a mirror, whereas the rugged individualist saw it as an empty wilderness to be shaped to his own design."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Don Draper: Sociopath?

The fictional character Don Draper, from AMC's Mad Men, beat out Usain Bolt and Barack Obama as most influential and gets called out as a sociopath:
In a poll conducted by, readers have chosen Don Draper as the most influential man of 2009 — yes, that Don Draper, Jon Hamm’s 1960s ad man who coasts through Mad Men while cheating on his wife, changing his name, uttering horrible secrets about his (and your) childhood, and gently warming his kids to the idea of patricide. Now, you’re wondering: What can be the benefit of admiring this sociopath when we already trust the teachings of Dexter, The Joker, and Roald Dahl? AskMen has the not-even-joking explanation after the jump.

“Men are seeking the stability of tradition in the masculine qualities that they imagine their fathers and grandfathers to have had,” said James Bassil, AskMen’s editor-in-chief. “The character of Don Draper brings all these traits together, and in doing so speaks directly to the modern man. He’s a man whose time has come.”

Breaking: I actually prefer not to think of my grandfather as an unscrupulous asshole. Nor do I like imagining him treating my grandmother like an alcohol-powered parking meter. In sympathy with the voters, though, I do imagine that my grandfather had a desk.
Joker for sure is a sociopath, and Don Draper definitely shows leanings, but Roald Dahl?
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