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.

27 comments:

  1. I came across this exchange recently, also.

    I disagree with you on one point, however. In response to the second exchange between pychologist & father, you say, "the psychologist, to his discredit, believes the father implicitly, apologizes profusely while justifying himself..."

    Do you really believe that the pychologist is buying this second helping of garbage? It was my impression that the pychologist was using impeccable bedside manners and was subtley patronize the father.

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  2. To be the child/product of a sociopath or narcissist is a total head f##k each and every single day. It's more than confusing????Empaths can be born from someone with a "personality disorder". However its only common sense that certain parental "traits" are learn't behaviours. So what would a psychologist "label" the product of the sociopath or narcissist, who was an empath?? Thats what intrigues me. I only felt like i could "breathe" when i left home. I was told as a child i would perish in this world, i was a doormat personality type according to my parent, she was superior i was a disapointment with my "hyper sensitivity". When i was told i wasn't born i was "hatched" or she didn't want me but i crawled out of the "abortion bucket" then the hurt written on my face was a sure sign of weakness. That was a turning point for me and i never forgot that remark. It felt like i was always underestimated or belittled. I was known for being dim, because that's all that was expected of me. However appearences can be deceitful. To be seen as as dim means "harmless", i was often ridiculed because i radiated vulnerablilty. I looked as fragile as the petals on a flower. Small and petite. It EXTREMELY irritated me. But i have realised as i'v got older, more fool her. I use the behaviours i witnessed as a child as defence and it works. I noticed to be ruthless gets results. To be manipulating gets results, to be cool and observant gets results. Im not sociopathic im not a narcissist i'd never ever want to be called one i'd never aspire to be one. Yet i've been told i act like one from time to time, then on the flip side been told i just want to be one?? But no matter what others "think" they know about me doesn't mean anything to me anymore and hasn't done for a long time. Im sure i know who i am, i've spent long enough searching. However there will always be a slight feeling of ambivalence that i don't think i will ever be able to shake off. My parent has developed a sort of respect for me because as an adult i stamp my way through my life. Taking absolute no shit and disregarding those i'v finished with like they are nothing. Its a ruthless way to be, i'd rather not be so blunt but to be a empath in my opinion and in my experience attracts pain and discomfort.

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  3. I can't decide between saying ugh or sighing at the pathetic conversation.

    This guy simply goes on and on, from therapist to therapist, trying to outsmart them. Reading those words were like looking through a shallow dirty liquid.

    Seems as though the therapist simply gave up due to being able to see through him so easily that he knew continuing the conversation was futile.

    By the way, Mr(Or Ms. ? I'm not sure entirely.) Hybird, you sound like me only except for the huge amount of anger and ruthlessness.

    I think my father was a sociopath and that my mother was also. Or that she was a narcissist. I can't be totally sure.

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  4. I am the psychologist to whom the first poster referred. Thank you for
    taking the time to share your views. Your comments, however, in my view, betray a great deal of ignorance about the issues raised in the original question to "ask dr. robert," as well as to the meaning of my reply to that question. In fact, you seem to have missed entirely the core of that situation, and to have confused the parts that you did somehow manage to notice.

    After reading your post twice through, I am left wondering if this confusion really is just simple ignorance, or if you have some issues of your own with empathic attunement—if perhaps you resist feeling the compassion which arises whenever someone can feel the pain and suffering of another sentient being, or even if you are incapable, like the father in the story, of feeling it at all. I say "sentient being." instead of "human being," because any entity which can experience pain and fear automatically becomes part of the
    circle of compassion for a person who can empathize. A recent
    question to "ask dr-robert," about a father who beat a dog to death with a baseball bat while his five year old son looked on makes that clear I think.


    Specifically, your saying that, "the psychologist goes on to whine about the horrors of war, bla bla bla" leads me to wonder why you would so callously deprecate the psychologist's obvious distress at the horrific nature of the fathers's correspondence to him by using the
    word "whine" to describe my honest revulsion towards glorifying war, and then compound that deprecation by using the phrase "bla, bla, bla," as if caring about the human cost of warfare were somehow boring or passe. Your final comments about my "discredit" because the
    psychologist "believe[d] the father implicitly," and then "apologize[d] profusely while justifying himself," are just silly. If you had read my reply properly and had understood what it
    meant, you would have understood what lay behind my words (as
    apparently another poster on this forum did understand): the father had to be told that his "intelligence test," was foolish because anyone can create a fictional presence on the internet and perhaps manage to sell it, but if one needs help, and writes to "dr. robert," one must ask for
    it candidly and honestly.

    Thanks again, both for following my webpage, and for taking the time to comment, but please think this through.


    Be well,

    Dr. Robert Saltzman

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  5. Said Robert:

    After reading your post twice through, I am left wondering if this confusion really is just simple ignorance, or if you have some issues of your own with empathic attunement - if perhaps you resist feeling the compassion which arises whenever someone can feel the pain and suffering of another sentient being, or even if you are incapable, like the father in the story, of feeling it at all.

    Um... check out the title of this blog: SociopathWorld--a blog explaining the life and musings of the sociopathic author. Of course M.E. has trouble with empathic attunement!

    the father had to be told that his "intelligence test," was foolish because anyone can create a fictional presence on the internet and perhaps manage to sell it, but if one needs help, and writes to "dr. robert," one must ask for it candidly and honestly.

    I do believe you here. I think as a sociopath, M.E. may have trouble understanding you response, as you could have seized more power by snubbing him more maliciously, or just not answering.

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  6. “as if caring about the human cost of warfare were somehow boring or passé…”

    Hate to break it you doc, but it is. The words ‘whine’ and ‘bla-bla-bla’ seem apropos.

    My first reaction to the war pictures was along the lines of “Oh for pity’s sake!” What are we supposed to feel exactly when we look at that man? Sadness? Anger? An overwhelming desire to protest the Iraq war and become peace activists? I felt nothing but disgust for the transparent attempt at emotional manipulation that those pictures represented.

    Anyway, I read this exchange months earlier and didn’t give it any thought until Dr. Robert left his comment here. I decided to read it again. I do generally like Dr. Robert’s comments on sociopathy on his blog. He does make a stab at not condemning the poor, would be, conscience deficient sociopath and I can appreciate that. But this particular exchange however did seem a tad bizarre. It almost seemed that Dr. Robert was more interested in presenting himself as a cagy but compassion filled person rather than someone who is genuinely trying to help the narcissist. It was weird. I don’t know if I can say anything more about it than that.

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  7. What was with the psychologist's comment? He sounded awfully hostile, but you didn't seem to do him any real discredit. If you were lying, it sounds like it was in his favor.

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  8. I am both a psychopath and a regular reader of "ask dr-robert," and I don't think the psychologist was "hostile" at all. In fact, he seems more open and understanding of psychopaths than any shrink I have ever known about. If you don't think so, you should go to his site and check out everything he has written about psychopaths and sociopaths.

    I think his point was that calling the anti-war comments and photograph and the sympathy for suffering in his letter to the father "whining" misses the whole meaning of what he was trying to say, which was that the father was trying to come off as empathetic when really he seemed psychopathic himself, and a nasty psychopath at that. The doc tried to explain this in another "ask dr-robert," and it seems clear enough to me.

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  9. Terry:

    I for one didn’t miss that point. Of course he was trying to prove the father wrong and himself right by declaring what true empathy would “require”. Dr. Robert apparently knows what the gold standard for empathy is, which is why he could so easily declare that one must be a psychopath if one doesn’t feel a certain way when looking at those pictures. As for the “whiny” part… Well war happens. Tragedy happens. Sitting around in my room and crying myself to sleep as a result of looking at those types of pictures does not change that. Does, to quote the good doctor himself, “putting yourself in the place of that poor man, feeling his pain, and feeling remorse for the crimes, including this one, of your country” change anything for the man referenced in the picture? I wonder, would this guy even want his image used as a tool to convince a narcissistic father that he’s a narcissist? Did Dr. Robert obtain his permission? If not, did the man's possible desire for privacy not matter to Dr. Robert at all?

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  10. Daniel:

    I don't agree. I have read a lot of the doc's stuff, and I don't think he was interested in being right, but in trying to communicate something to the father.

    I am almost 50 years old, and have been trying to understand my own psychology since childhood. I feel very little for other people, if anything at all. In fact, I used to think that empathy was just fiction, but I have learned better. I don't think the doc was saying that he has the gold standard on empathy, but only that your comment about "whiney and passe," was psychopathic on the face of it. That doesn't make it "bad," but that was not the doc's point. As I understood it, he was trying to tell you that the father was a psychopath, and his letter to the father was an attempt to get the father to realize that, not to prove how cool he is or how much empathy he has.

    As I say, I have been studying myself and others like me for many years, and the doc seems to understand the psychology of psychopaths better than any other source I have encountered, and his stuff makes sense to me. Take a look at this letter to a girl with a psychopathic friend.

    Terry.

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  11. Terry:

    The question in my mind is, why? Why was he “trying to communicate something to the father”? To help him? On the surface, yes. What about underneath the surface? What about the motivations that they hide, even from themselves? My theory is that the underlying motivation for Dr. Robert’s desire to “help” the father had more to do with his need to validate his sense of himself as a compassionate and accepting, if still somewhat moralistic, person than he cares to admit. When that view of himself is challenged (which is what happens when one’s values are questioned since the sense of self and values are inextricably linked), he decided to dismiss the challenger (me) as a “limited” and “deficient” psychopath. First, what happened to not diagnosing someone from a distance, someone who did not ask for one to begin with? Why would he call me a psychopath without ever even communicating with me? Remember, he didn't just say my comment was psychopathic, he said I was. Second, why would he be interested in telling little ole me anything about who or what the father was/is? Why would my opinion be relevant at all, on any level? Of course it isn’t. It is only relevant, in his mind, to the degree that I called his beliefs (and thus himself), into question. None of the above should be construed as a moral judgment, by the way. Just an observation.

    As I said in the original comment, the part Dr. Robert didn’t quote, I actually like many of the things he says about people on this side of the psychological spectrum. Not everything, but many things. To reiterate, I find his attempt to be open minded about psycho/sociopaths refreshing. This is just one of those times where he sounds a little more like a conventional (read, moralistic) psychologist than normal, that’s all.

    Btw, I applaud your investigations into your own psyche. That very impulse is what led me to Dr. Robert’s site to begin with, along with this one. If only more people would show such an interest in their own inner landscapes.

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  12. Daniel:

    I think I understand now what you are getting at, and I agree. Everyone has hidden motivations, and the doc is not immune to that. Nevertheless, I think he really is motivated to help. Helping people has never been something that motivated me, and for a long time I just wrote off people who claimed that they wanted to help as bleeding hearts or do-gooders who really only wanted to feel superior to the poor downtrodden needy people they were "helping." But in the last few years, particularly after I became deathly ill and met a doctor who helped save my life, I have had to admit that there really are people who sincerely want to serve others, and I think the doc probably is like that. But you are right, just because he likes to help people does not mean that he is ego-free, or that he has no narcissism at all, and maybe some of his own ego-trip or need for self importance is what you have been picking up on.

    But I don't think he ever tried to say that you were limited or deficient, but only that we psychopaths (I am assuming you are like me, so forgive me if I am wrong) have a blindness towards certain aspects of what the majority of people feel who are not psychopaths, and that your passe and whining comment was coming from that blindspot place. In fact in another post, the doc compared psychopaths to people with colorblindness, which, although it does sound a bit insulting in a way, might not be wrong psychologically. I have to admit that I was blind to "helping" for a long time. Now even though I never try to help anyone, and don't care to, I still want help when I need it, and believe that there are people who just want to help, although, as you say, they may also have unconscious egotistical needs to come off as helpers. I can see how you might interpret having a blind spot as being deficient, but I don't think that was the docs intention, because in that post he said this: "psychopathy, despite the unfelicitious "pathy" syllable in its name, is not, in my opinion, a mental disorder such as, for example, depression, but rather a personality style, most likely primarily genetic in origin, which became a permanent part of the human genome because in certain circumstances, and across countless eons, it had positive survival value, not just for the individual, but even for the group of which the individual was a part," which seems to indicate a respect for people like us (or like me if you are not a psychopath) which is pretty rare in the world of shrinks or in the world in general. Most people just seem to think that people like us (or is it me?) are "sick," or "crazy," but the doc seems not to see it that way, and I appreciate his point of view.

    I don't know if you will agree with me or not, Daniel, but that's the way I see it. Of course I have become something of a fan of the doc since I first came upon his website, so I could be mistaken.

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  13. Actually no, I’m not a psychopath. At least, I’m not as Robert Hare defines the term. I imagine you’re familiar with Hare’s work on the subject. Although psychopathy isn’t an official diagnosis per the APA, I hear that it and Hare’s work on it, is being used in a variety of settings and that it has gained broad (but not universal) acceptance. Having said that, I know that Dr. Robert defines psychopaths/sociopaths by one major characteristic: they lack conscience. That apparently is enough for him and by that definition, I would be classified as a psychopath in his mind since I appear to not have much of a conscience. That’s the thing with all of this psychopath/sociopath business. The definitions are sometimes clear and sometimes not and the experts usually have good reasons for offering their particular but differing point of view on this. I’m making an arbitrary decision though and going with Robert Hare. According to Hare, I’m going to say that I am not a psychopath, I’m just lacking in the conscience/guilt/remorse department in comparison to the wider population, that’s all.

    I agree with you about what you refer to as a blind spot. It was true for me for the longest time. I assumed, as most of us do, that everyone was more or less like me. It was only until relatively recently that it really hit me that other people experience guilt and remorse, while I do not. That was a big discovery for me. I had to admit to myself that I really had no firsthand experience with remorse on an emotional level. I know what the words mean of course, but the emotion isn’t really there for me. It’s like I’ve said in another comment here, I didn’t know that I didn’t know. Hypocrisy, I understand. Self deception, I understand. But you’re right. I don’t know the profundity of emotion that comes with a genuine desire to be of service, or true compassion or deep remorse. I can however spot the contradictions, especially the ones people hide from themselves in order to avoid cognitive dissonance and preserve their self image. Contradiction is what I noticed in Dr. Robert’s comments to the narcissistic father, Brian Lippman and in his response to my comment. I don’t doubt Dr. Robert’s sincerity for a second. But as you said, I just think it’s a bit more complicated than that.

    Look Terry, it’s good that you’re one of Dr. Robert’s fans. Again, I like many of his posts also. I guess I never really expected a response from him on my comment, much less to be used as an object lesson in one of his posts. I found it disconcerting. I guess I assumed a kind of continued anonymity when I comment here, relative to the wider internet world. That’s still true of course, since I don’t think either site has huge followings. When ME (the blogger here) alerted me to Dr. Robert’s post, it threw me, so I sent him a response, which he later published. In the greater scheme of things, it’s no big deal really. I’m sure Dr. Robert will continue to be of great assistance to most of the people who write him.

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  14. Well, I came here from an article about whether or not a psychopath can be taught morals on Dr. Saltzman's excellent website. I am not a psychopath, but I have known one intimately. An old boyfriend of mine turned out to be a psychopath, and finally admitted it to me after years of strange behavior which ended up hurting me a lot and being extremely disappointing.

    All the posts on this page are worth reading, but the exchange between Daniel and Terry is very interesting because it is a conversation between two psychopaths. I know Daniel says he isn't a psychopath, but he did say he has no remorse or conscience, which from everything I have read sounds like a psychopath to me. I am not a psychologist, but since my experience of total disillusionment several years ago, I have read a lot about psychopaths, and that is how I first came upon Dr. Saltzman's webpage.

    So here are two psychopaths discussing whether or not Dr. Saltzman has any contradictions in his comments to the father. I'm not sure what Daniel meant by contradictions, but I assume that he thinks the Doctor was trying to prove himself superior to the father. But why is that a contradiction? In one sense we are all equal, and none of us is superior to anyone else to be sure, but in another sense isn't the Doctor's attitude towards suffering better than and superior to the attitude of the father? I mean the attitude that the father was pretending to have and which the Doctor took seriously. The father sounded absolutely terrible, totally narcissistic, and also sadistic. What is good about that?

    Daniel seems to think that the Doctor's attitude was about making himself more powerful than the father, but maybe the Doctor doesn't think that way and doesn't care about power in the way that a psychopath would. And maybe Daniel really does miss seeing that side of Dr. Saltzman because it isn't natural to him as a psychopath. My boyfriend never really believed that I cared about animals the way I really do. He thought I was just pretending to care when a bird fell out of its nest, but he was wrong. I do care. I wonder if Daniel also does not really see the Doctor for who he is which to me is a very bright light of understanding and a very open heart, totally different from the rather nasty father who pretended that war was wonderful, and Gehghis Kahn was a lover of humanity

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  15. Anonymous said, “isn't the Doctor's attitude towards suffering better than and superior to the attitude of the father?”

    Is it? In and of itself, is it in fact, objectively better? If so, how do you know?

    “What is good about that?”

    What’s bad about it?

    “Daniel seems to think that the Doctor's attitude was about making himself more powerful than the father, but maybe the Doctor doesn't think that way and doesn't care about power in the way that a psychopath would.”

    Or maybe Dr Robert does care about power, only he doesn’t call it that or think of it in those terms. What is power really, if it isn’t power over? And wouldn’t it be an interesting exercise in power to use one’s ‘authority’ as a doctor to use words, in just the right way, to manipulate someone else’s emotions and point of view as a means of shoring up his own ego? I’m not saying that I’m sure Dr. Robert was doing that, only that it is a distinct possibility.

    “I wonder if Daniel also does not really see the Doctor for who he is which to me is a very bright light of understanding and a very open heart…”

    I wonder if you do not see that every light casts a shadow, and the brighter the light, the deeper the shadow. I maintain that a bit of the doctor’s shadow showed in his comments regarding my comment, no more, no less. The real question now is, why did my useless opinion disturb you so much that you felt compelled to come here, read me and Terry’s conversation and leave a comment?

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  16. toinfiniityandbeyondOctober 23, 2009 at 5:59 AM

    I also came here following a link from Dr. Robert's website. This whole blog is interesting and I will visit here again. I think Daniel is correct in saying that all of us, including Dr. Robert, have parts of us which are unknown and unacknowledged which is what we call the shadow, and he may be correct in saying that the brighter the light, the deeper the shadow. As Terry wrote, there is no reason to assume that Dr. Robert would be immune from having a shadow. So Daniel may be correct in imagining that part of Dr. Robert's communication with the father involved some need to shore up his own ego, and that Dr. Robert might be unaware of that need.

    But what if the doctor, who clearly has had a lot of training and experience, is not unaware of his own shadow, which according to Daniel in this case would be his own ego needs. If the doctor is not unaware of all that, but has confronted it during his training and his own psychotherapy, perhaps those needs do not interfere with the way he communicates with the people who write to him for help, but simply become part of the background of that help. If this is true, and I think it is, I just wonder if Daniel is missing something by magnifying the part about the doctor's ego while missing the main point which is that the father was clearly a confused and conflicted person who was either suffering from having to deal with his psychopathic child or (and I consider this really possible) had just invented a son in order to try to ask Dr. Robert for help for his own psychopath tendencies in a clandestine way, and Dr. Robert understood that and tried to help the father to see that his confusion about being an "empapath" was hanging him up. After all, that was the central point to the entire communication between the father and the doctor.

    Daniel focuses on power which is clearly a main method of Daniel's approach to understanding human relations as it was for Neitzsche. Of course a psychologist, or any other "helper" for that matter, has a kind of power over the person who comes to them for help. That is just implied in the relationship between helper and helped. One is needy, and the other meets the need. But power is not the whole story, there is also the question of strength. There are powerful men and strong men, and the two often are not the same. A powerful man has power over others, but a strong man has power over himself, including the strength not to misuse whatever power he has. To me this is the essence of Dr. Robert's work which I have been reading for several years now. He seems to help the people who write to him by meeting them on their own level, and, although he clearly is in a powerful position, does not seem to misuse that power. I see kindness and caring in his words, not an abuse of power or any desire to put himself above his readers. I attribute this to strength, which means not misusing power.

    Daniel made some good points, and raising the issue of the shadow can never be wrong in a discussion about psychology, but I do not agree that a concern for the victims of war and conflict is either passe or whining. As anyone who has ever suffered knows, and this is all of us, suffering matters tremendously which is what the doctor was trying to tell the father. We all hate to suffer and try to avoid it when we can and lessen it when we can't avoid it. How much aspirin is sold in a year? For a psychopath, the only suffering that matters is their own, but the empathetic, compassionate person feels the suffering of others, and tries to lessen it if they can as if it were happening to themselves. This is what I see in Dr. Robert. If some shadow is involved, and how could it not be really?, that is a very small matter in my opinion compared to the good which is done by understanding and counseling confused people.

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  17. Good letter, toinfinityandbeyond. I came here from the doc's site and agree with you. There is another thing here also. The doc tries to be open to everyone, including psychopaths which is probably why so many psychopaths go to his site and send questions. He doesn't blame people for being the way they are if the way they are is beyond their control. But that does not mean that he believes, as Daniel apparently does, that every action is equal and that nothing can be proved to be "objectively better," as he put it. Duh! Of course nothing can be proved to be "objectively better," because there is no objective observer. We all have a different seat at the table with a different point of view and different interests. No one is above life, and no one sees all of life or even all of any issue in life. But that does not mean that the doctor should avoid making any statements of preference, or in assigning value, either positive or negative, to various ways of being. I would think that would be part of his job. A good example is the doc's answer to a question about the father who beat dogs to death with a baseball bat. Now that one dealt with a man who seemed clearly to be psychopathic, and even though the doc normally does not judge psychopaths, or really make many moral judgments at all, here he said this:

    "This sad excuse for a human being should be deeply ashamed of that action--the brutal murder of a defenseless, sentient being--and at least as ashamed, if not more ashamed, of having exposed a five year old child, or a child of any age, to such fearsome sadism. Since he is not ashamed, but instead justifies his actions, evading all responsibility for the harm he has done both to the animals he murdered and to you, I strongly advise you to stop speaking with him and with your mother about your inner life, your mental health, or about any of the sad incidents of your childhood."

    As I understood this, his objective was not really to judge the psychopathic father, even though he called him "a sad excuse for a human being," but to free the son from his natural desire for approval from the father.

    Psychologists like the doc work in strange ways because they are trying to affect people's very deeply held ideas, not just intellectual ideas such as "there is no objective truth," which is obvious but not very useful for someone like the son in this situation who was suffering deeply and who probably was relieved of a lot of his suffering if he followed the doc's advice.

    Daniel, you obviously are very intelligent and thoughtful. I wish you would read more of the doc's stuff and then add another opinion here.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Hello Dr. Robert fans! Although I’ve said this numerous times, including in my first comment which got this little shindig started, it apparently bears repeating. I do, in general, appreciate Dr. Robert's answers to would be inquirers. I can clearly see he takes pride in his open minded approach towards groups that others find reprehensible, like those of us who don’t have much in the way of a conscience. His posts are intelligent, sharp of wit, incisive and yes, compassionate. We are of the same mind when it comes to religion also. In fact, I have more positive things to say about Dr. Robert’s posts than ME, the main blogger here, does. I’m quite confident that many of his readers have been greatly assisted in one way or the other by his website.

    My response to Dr. Robert’s propaganda-like use of those pictures and my questioning of his motives for doing so in no way changes any of the positives I’ve mentioned. Bringing up a less than flattering aspect of this particular post is no way magnifying it out of proportion, although it appears that this is the conclusion several of you are coming to. Terry, infinity and Mikhail have written articulate and well thought out responses to what they seem to think was my total misunderstanding of Dr. Robert’s post and his work in general. I think you all are mistaking a couple of less than glowing remarks and a differing perspective on certain topics like war for an outright rejection of his website and/or a complete lack of comprehension of the points he was making to the narcissistic father. That just isn’t true as I’ve never said anything of the sort in any of my previous comments. I do believe I understand what Dr. Robert was doing and why. I chose to respond the comment he left here on this blog and nothing more.

    Mikhail said, “But that does not mean that the doctor should avoid making any statements of preference, or in assigning value, either positive or negative, to various ways of being.”

    I never said he should.

    “his objective was not really to judge the psychopathic father, even though he called him ‘a sad excuse for a human being,’”

    You do see the irony in that statement, right? “Even though I’m calling you a filthy whore, I’m really not judging you…”

    “Psychologists like the doc work in strange ways because they are trying to affect people's very deeply held ideas, not just intellectual ideas such as "there is no objective truth," which is obvious but not very useful for someone like the son in this situation who was suffering deeply and who probably was relieved of a lot of his suffering if he followed the doc's advice.”

    Actually, this ‘intellectual idea’ is not only potentially useful, but positively transformative to someone enduring emotional suffering. Questioning the nature of the beliefs we hold so dear can sometimes be liberating, especially those about our parents. Truly seeing the relative nature of many of our personal beliefs about ourselves and our families is one of the most practical things any of us can do for ourselves.

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  19. Daniel, thanks for responding. A lot of what you say makes sense. I do think, however, that you missed the point of my "sad excuse for a human" quote. The point I was trying to get across is that even though the doc normally maintains a non-judgmental (or at least mostly non-judgmental, if you prefer) stance towards psychopaths and other types who usually find themselves demonized by psychologists and by the public, in this case he was very hard on the dog-killing father, and I tried to explain why I think that was. I don' think it was to preen or show off his superiority. My theory is that if he had been addressing the father, he would have spoken to him from his usual non-judgmental place, but that since he was trying to help the son, not the father, it was important to diminish the father's importance and influence in the eyes of the son, since that seemed to be the crux of the son's problem: respecting someone not worthy of respect. This demonstrates, I think, that the doc might use words or images in ways that might look like a need for power or for self-aggrandizement when really he is just trying to work with the particular psyche of the person he is trying to help. Along the same lines, I think that he put the anti-war image in the reply to the psychopathic "empapathic" father, not to come off as superior to him, or to be judgmental, but to try to show him that pretending to be empathetic when really he was excited and thrilled by war and violence, and admired powerful psychopathic rulers, would not get him anywhere useful. I don't know any of this for a fact of course. It is just my theory based on my reading of the doc's stuff.

    In any case, Daniel, I think you have contributed something positive to this conversation, so no criticism intended. In fact, I do agree that questioning beliefs is totally important. I am a skeptic myself, and I think the doc is too. My only point about moral relativism is that although it seems to be a fact and certainly has its place, it may not always be the best stance for a doctor who is trying to influence ideas in order to free someone from psychic pain. Although I don't imagine that this is the way you are, in many people the deconstruction of ideas and their meaning may lead to not valuing anything at all, or in thinking that every idea is just as good or just as bad as any other. In fact, I have a couple of friends who were influenced in that way by Derrida and the other French deconstructionists, and now have become mostly just nihilistic. And boring.

    Anyway, thanks for batting this aroud, Daniel.

    ReplyDelete
  20. No problem Mikhail and thank you (and Terry, anonymous and infinity) for the interesting conversations. See, Daniel Birdick ‘the psychopath’ isn’t so bad, is he? I’m just a guy looking at the world from an ever so slightly different vantage point, that’s all.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Anonymous - post May 9,2009.

    You have told my story (which is of course yours too) except that my father said those things to me and not my mother. Psychopathic parents' really F***k you up and sometimes you relaize it very very late, of course if you survive to live.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I don't think any of the self-described sociopaths on this page ARE actually sociopaths. I think you're all empaths who locked down in childhood for your own survival.

    Why? Because of your expressions of hostility and disdain around empathy for war and suffering. You ARE having emotions as a result of those descriptions/pictures--self-protective emotions. A sociopath or psychopath would not need to protect themselves with anger when confronted with images of suffering, because there is nothing within them to protect.

    You guys, on the other hand--going on about your lack of conscience, your inability to feel guilt, your annoyance at those drippy empaths getting all upset by war--are like gay men who are so deeply in the closet that they themselves believe they are straight. Therefore, they go around wildly overcompensating--chests puffed out, ostentatiously checking out anything female, a copy of Juggs rolled up in their back pocket.

    ReplyDelete
  23. bizylizy (the first comment):

    I got the same impression

    ReplyDelete
  24. This was interesting to read as I believe my father to be a narcissist. When I needed help at 16, he fired a couple of my therapists - one for seeing through him and another for saying she could not treat me unless he signed a consent form that says she is allowed to share information with my mother. He really had it in for my mother when she left him and last summer I found a letter at her house from this last therapist. In it, the therapist addressed both my mother and father and proceeded to explain that she has not abandoned me in my time of need, as my father had accused, and explained the necessity of being able to make decisions about my care in case I needed to be hospitalized. She brought this up because I was involved with a dangerous older boy who my mother didn't want me seeing. However, my father, as soon as he was certain about my mother's conviction, let him into the house. The therapist went on to say that many of my problems were caused by the dysfunctional lack of concern for my well-being and unwillingness to participate in my therapy, along with the fact that she was quite certain that my father was not above putting my needs for help beneath his own need to foster contention and acrimony towards my mother. I am now 45 and I am still trying to figure out how to deal with my father. I finally figured out he was probably NPD last year sometime.

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