Saturday, February 28, 2009

Narcissistic father

This is an interesting letter from a self-deceived narcissist father, allegedly of a sociopath son, to an online psychologist. The letter rants for quite some time about how evil the son is and how opposite the father is. The father is a self-proclaimed "empath," the opposite of a sociopath, what I have termed before an uber-empath for lack of a better term. The psychologist, to his credit, calls him out on his inconsistencies and ego-driven statements: "I am afraid that I cannot buy into any of the ideas you put forth in your letter; they all seem to me to be rationalizations meant to make this tragic situation easier to bear, and perhaps, as I will explain, to mask your own shortcomings in the empathy department." In response to the father's description of himself:
At a funeral I am unable to maintain my composure. When I grieve I feel overwhelming, debilitating pain. At those time I look at "normal" people being stoically sad, and I feel that they are callous. I see a chasm between myself and the mass of humanity who has so much less passion and so feels sadness, happiness, and pleasure in much smaller amounts than I.
The psychologist responds:
[T]he excessive emotionality you describe in yourself is not what I would call empathy at all. As I understand it, empathy is the entirely normal and usual human ability to tune in to the feelings of others as if feeling them oneself. That is all. Empathy really has nothing to do with the exaggerated grieving you describe. When the grief is yours, and you feel great pain, that is not empathy, but self-pity, for, as I say, empathy means tuning in on the feelings of another person, not experiencing your own feelings more deeply than you assume that others do. I say "assume," for, based on your letter, I do not think that you really know much about what others feel—you seem to be too wrapped up in your own emotional world really to comprehend the inner experiences of other humans. Since I do not know you personally, I could be mistaken about this, but I do not think so.
To me, a high level of emotional capacity would not mean being overwhelmed by emotions, but quite the opposite. To me, it would mean being able to experience and contain a wide range of emotions of various kinds without being overwhelmed by them. And, sorry to say, I must agree with you that your attitude does have the aroma of ego-mania as you said of yourself. In fact, an egomaniac, which you say you are, is the opposite of an empathic person: the egomaniac is all wrapped up in himself and his own feelings; the empathic person constantly relates to the feelings and concerns of others as well as his or her own. I agree with you also that you are objectifying your fellow humans in a rather strange way, which also is quite the opposite of empathy since empathy, in its purest form, sees no gap between self and others. In other words, the empathic person does not objectify others, but experiences, second-hand of course, their subjectivity.
The psychologist goes on to whine about the horrors of war, blah blah blah. The father, caught redhanded in his self-deceived web of lies, starts backpedaling, replying in the most bizarre fashion that he made it all up, with additional sociopaths-are-evil rhetoric thrown in for good measure:
You had previously stated that it is difficult or impossible for a therapist to empathize with a sociopath. You are right. It is also impossible for me to do so. As you stated the theories which I presented are garbage.

What I was really trying to ascertain was whether you would be able to provide therapy for my son. Whether you would be able to win his trust and some modicum of respect from him.

I am sorry that I had to fabricate this nonsense about the existence of "empaths," lump yourself and myself in that category, and then add Genghis Khan and Hitler to the group for good measure. That was a little excessive, but necessary for me to ascertain your ability to deal with morally and emotionally challenging statements that are reasonably well articulated. That is nothing compared to what my son would say to you in sessions! He is much smarter than I am, and exhibits a level of callousness that would make your blood run cold!
According to the father, he was just "testing" the psychologist to see whether he would really be a suitable therapist for the son. Having obviously failed the test, the father asks for a recommendation of someone more qualified:
If you have any recommendations on how I can find someone who can provide therapy for my son I would be deeply grateful. I believe that person should possess remarkable levels of emotional intelligence, incredible levels of objectivity, and be a phenomenal critical thinker (able to look beyond the 1st, 2nd and 3rd levels of communication). I know that is a tall order, but my son will be able to fool anyone who does not posses these traits, and he will not respect them.
The psychologist, to his discredit, believes the father implicitly, apologizes profusely while justifying himself, "A good therapist can go very much deeper in a face to face conversation--body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, feelings in the room, etc., all speak volumes—but anybody can hide behind words on a page as you did. . . . The problem is not one of an intelligence gap as you seem to think—despite your little experiment I am notoriously hard to fool tete-a-tete." Are people really this easy to fool? I mean, I know they are, but the psychologist knew the father was off from the first letter, and the proffered excuse was so flimsy! I know I always hate on narcissists, but really guys? This is the best you can do? I guess there's no reason to do more when there is apparently no need. Still, what a hack job. And I say "allegedly sociopathic son," but speaking from experience as the child of a narcissist, I wouldn't be surprised if the son was actually a sociopath.

So many disturbing things about this exchange, but I guess those are the highlights. Sigh.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sociopath quotes: evolution

“Man is something that ought to be overcome... All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment...”

Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Borderline personality disorder and sociopaths: one big empathy-challenged family

As sociopaths we all have a baby sister named Borderline Personality Disorder. (This woman has a real sister with BPD and wrote a book based partially on her experiences). I say sister because unlike sociopaths, who are primarily male, BPDs are primarily female. She's a little sister because on the danger/power spectrum of the empathy-challenged, she is closer to the aspie's and the autie's than the narcissists or sociopaths. But don't underestimate her -- she can be nefarious when she wants to be. Though she's more likely to steal a spouse than to steal $50B.

The BPD is a lot of things, but most interesting to me is the skill with which she sheds one skin after another. For narcissists the mirror is always pointed at themselves, but for BPDs the mirror is always pointed at others -- allowing those around them to see exactly what they want to see.* For instance, under the title Meet the Marriage Magnet, this self-confessed chameleon explains why she believes she received nine marriage proposals:
I was living like a trainee Stepford Wife

Young and still experimenting with my sense of self, I was happy to pursue their pastimes, agree with their politics, even wear clothes they liked.
Besides, I find it easy to understand other points of view or problems and I get close to people quite quickly. I'm always interested in other people's hobbies, families and their lives - I suppose that's why I'm a writer.

This intimacy can be misinterpreted for a lot, lot more than mere curiosity. My boyfriends assumed I was smitten with them because I fell into the habit of moulding myself into their ideal.
A similar character can be found in Edith Wharton's short story "The Other Two," wherein the third and current husband of Mrs. Alice Waythone encounters the first two husbands by chance and is distressed to discover that these men -- who share nothing in common with him -- each had a relationship with his wife quite similar to his own. As professor Cynthia Griffin Wolff puts it:
To each and every one of these three quite different men, Alice Waythorne had been the perfect wife: eager to please, ready and willing to adjust her behavior and desires to those of her husband. Gradually, as Mr. Waythorne lets this fatal knowledge penetrate his judgment, the very qualities he had most admired in his wife begin to seem grotesque and deformed. He wonders who she is, wonders whether she is anybody at all in particular. He marvels at her personality, "for it was an art, and made up, like all others, of concessions, eliminations and embellishments; of lights judiciously thrown and shadows skillfully softened."
I have a friend who was married to a woman with BPD and had a similar lament -- he never knew who she was, or if what she felt was real. It makes me wonder -- even if sociopaths became truly harmless, would we ever be accepted? Or do our neurological differences represent an unbridgeable divide between us and empaths? If a Stepford wife-type creeps people out, do socios stand a chance?

*sociopaths are probably best described as being behind a two-way mirror.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Silencing the devil

Sometimes I feel like I have a devil and angel on my shoulders trying to convince me how to behave. More devil than angel, of course. In the books on which the TV show Dexter is based, the fictional Dexter refers to his devil as "the Dark Passenger." (Apparently. I haven't read the books, but so says wikipedia.) It's an interesting idea -- how do sociopaths perceive their identity? Is it split? Is there a devil tempting them to do things they otherwise wouldn't? With Dexter, the Dark Passenger is the one that wants to do all the killing. When Dexter can no longer ignore it, he "lets the Dark Passenger do the driving." That sounds plausible enough, until the books get all voodoo:
In Dexter in the Dark, the third novel of the series, it is revealed through third person narrative of an entity referred to as "IT" that the Dark Passenger is an independent agent inhabiting Dexter, rather than a deviant psychological construction. "IT" is revealed to be Moloch, a god worshipped in Biblical times. The Dark Passenger is one of ITs many offspring: IT had many children (formed through human sacrifice), and IT learned to share ITs knowledge with them. Eventually, there were too many, and IT killed the majority, some of whom escaped into the world. In the novel, Dexter learns of the Dark Passenger's true nature when it briefly "leaves" him, frightening him into researching possible reasons for its existence.
The demon angle is ridiculous, but again, maybe that is just how Dexter deals with his impulses. Because that is what I think the Dark Passenger really represents, and for me the little devil on my shoulder equals impulses. Everyone has impulses, and sociopaths are notorious for having poor impulse control -- at least those in prison. I am a highly rational person, always weighing the costs and benefits of every action, but I can still succumb to ill-advised impulses some of the time. That's my devil, always trying to get me into trouble. As I grow older, the impulse-control has actually gotten worse instead of better. When I was a child, I was used to people looking over my shoulder all the time, so keeping my own behavior in check was a more immediate concern. Adults don't have the same external restraints. For instance, I am frequently tempted to "ruin people" or lash out in anger. Recently I've been looking for ways to not just ignore or suppress these impulses, but to tame them. I am getting too secure in my career and position in society to risk having a blowout over nothing. I have found that swimming laps helps a lot; the rhythm and the white noise are very soothing. I have also recently discovered tai chi. I'm almost ashamed to admit this, but it really works wonders for soothing the mind. You have to do something, otherwise you'll end up in prison or a social pariah or worse.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

True Blood: Sociopath Rights Amendment

The HBO show True Blood features vampires who have recently come out of the closet (due to the development of a synthesized blood food source called "true blood") and are demanding their legal rights in the form of an equal vampire rights amendment to the United States Constitution -- with regular opposition from the humans. Some think that the show's premise is a metaphor for gay rights, but it portrays equally well the issues that would face sociopaths if we ever came out of the closet and began demanding anti sociopath discrimination laws. The vampires, like sociopaths, are not united in the desire to "mainstream" their lifestyle and become like the human sheep they have long fed on. And for good reason -- although the vampires gain the freedom to live more publicly, they are also the target of violent hate crimes and other backlash from the humans.

Seeing all the problems the vampires are having, one wonders why they chose to come out of the closet at all. Unfortunately sociopaths may not always be able to remain in the closet themselves, but may instead be outed by genetic testing and overt discrimination. For instance, this is a relatively interesting collection of people's musings on the pros and cons of governments genetically screening for sociopaths.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Relationship with a sociopath: breaking up is hard to do

A(nother) reason that many sociopaths like to be around people, have friends, be in relationships, etc.:
Rejection resonates with a primal threat, one the brain seems designed to highlight. [I]n human prehistory being part of a band was essential for survival; exclusion could be a death sentence, as is still true today for infant mammals in the wild. The pain center [that triggers actual physical pain at real or impending social isolation] may have evolved this sensitivity to social exclusion as an alarm signal to warn of potntial banishment--and presumably to prompt us to repair the threatened relationship.

When our need for closeness goes unmet, emotional disorders can result. . . . Social rejection--or fearing it--is one of the most common causes of anxiety. Feelings of inclusion depend not so much on having frequent social contacts or numerous relationships as on how accepted we feel, even in just a few key relationships.
Also from Social Intelligence. This interesting because I can feel severe anxiety at the prospect of a break up, resulting in nausea, headaches, and other intense physical pain. A relative of mine (also sociopath) gets the same -- always in the toilet vomiting when his girlfriend threatens to leave him. I don't know whether all socios are that way, but I imagine that they at least find isolation or abandonment to be unpleasant.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Sociopaths categorically get excluded from neuro diversity movement

Under the headline, "Neurodiversity editorial: Do we have to accept sociopaths?":

Yay for neurodiversity. History-making artists, scientists, politicians -- were any neurotypical? Probably not. But then who is? Up with neurodiversity.

Yet, I’m a huge hypocrite: I just can’t get with the whole sociopaths-are-just-another-neuro-diverse-population gig.

On the one hand, it’s true: sociopathy is organic. Just like kidney stones. On the whole, kidney stones are seen an illness; a little free will with diet, but, in general, involuntary. Same with sociopathy. Some contextual free-will, but not much. I know that. Predators are predators, sociopaths are sociopaths, that’s what they do.

Contrast autistic spectrum disorders. I’m totally ok with that neurodiversity. Both autistic spectrum and sociopaths lack “empathy” (although there are profound other differences, which I won’t go into here). Why am do I grade these two organic conditions differently, having neurotolerance for autistic spectrum, and no tolerance whatsoever for sociopaths?

Fear. I’m fearful because wild-type sociopaths roaming free in society are capable of huge swaths of destruction, and I can’t tell who they are. They look so lifelike. It’s context. I understand the ecological niche for rattlesnakes. But NIMBY. If sociopaths were culled from the herd, and put somewhere where they couldn’t do any harm, I’d be much more benevolent. I know this is inconsistent. But is it wrong?

If society tested first graders, and herded off the proto-sociopaths into a special needs class, I’d feel sympathy. “Oh, look,” I might say as older vo-tech school sociopaths get off the bus with guidance counselors at Broad and Wall to work the bond trading desk, “how sweet. ” And I’d probably feel good and righteous, and probably tell other people, “I saw the sociopath school bus today. They were all wearing their “Do Not Approach- I’m A Sociopath” badge, and not one put up a fuss. What a great thing for them.”
The author suggests using the crossed out devil logo above to signify your intolerance for sociopaths. I know I don't even have to say it, but it might as well be:

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sociopath quotes: Monsters

Friedrich Nietzsche:

Battle not with monsters
lest ye become a monster
and if you gaze into the abyss
the abyss gazes into you.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Sociopath utopia?

Many detractors have suggested rounding up sociopaths and sticking them on an island somewhere. This sociopath reader suggests sociopaths rounding themselves up and living in a sociopath commune:
Hey I posted a few times on your site, think its a grand place. I respect your point of view. I live in the middle of nowhere. I decided to build my village into something more. In my homeland we (sociopaths) govern ourselves. Nothing to stop it from happening. Just no one's thought of it yet. I see how it can be made. "Whatever the mind . . . can conceive it can achieve." I want to build homes and one day a University. A place to learn for free, a place for Logical thinkers, dedicated to evolution(of the mind and body). I learned to calculate from empaths (four out of five people in this area), the rest are socios and then the sane (it won't be changeing the over all populations way of thinking/planning/living, just a larger scale).

I don't want to hide, and I want rights. Would you live in a place that you were consittered in the 'norm'? Is that such a crazy idea? Theres enough of us out there. If we have nothing to gain from eachothers defeat, can't we work together as a whole? The last thing on my mind is to make waves for the world. I want -peace-. Is change possable, while maintaining peace? Would it be possable to keep such a place stable? Im tired of singing the Un-birthday song.

I've been called the Devil. I may very well be evil, but thats Just a point of view! I value your thoughts. I may let this pass and let the next generation think of it (But where would the fun be in that?). Is it worth the trek? To be accepted. Through out history, socios would have been labled heros... Im not looking for somethin so high, I would just like to be labled human beings. Maybe Im just ahead of my time.

I hope to call you friend,
Thanks Daemon. I have sometimes wondered what a society of sociopaths would be like, or at least a society where sociopaths can come out of the closet. I think sociopaths are generally disassociative, though. I wonder if they would willingly band together unless pressured to do so by some sort of empath/sociopath war. And there are some of us who insist that we stick to our old, parasitical ways of doing things, which would preclude outting ourselves and living in a commune. Thoughts?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

James Bond: Sociopath

Matt Damon, in an interview with the Miami Herald, outs fictional spy hero James Bond as a sociopath:
Damon has acted in several spy movies, including three as discarded CIA superassassin Jason Bourne, and he has developed some very strong opinions on the subject. Do not, for instance, compare that unctuous James Bond fellow to the misguided but moral Bourne.

''They could never make a James Bond movie like any of the Bourne films,'' Damon says scornfully. ``Because Bond is an imperialist, misogynist sociopath who goes around bedding women and swilling martinis and killing people. He's repulsive."
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