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.


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  2. ME said, “my parents love me a lot.”

    I envy you your relationship with your parents. If I believed that my parents truly had my best interests at heart I’d be willing to put more of their advice into action also. I’m pretty confident however that their own best interests are almost always the top priority, which in their case boils down to ego validation. I get most of sociopathic-like tendencies from my father while I inherited my narcissistic thought patterns from my mother. I don’t hate them though. As I’ve have said before, I used to detest my father, but now that I get him, I get myself, so the hatred is gone. I get them both now. And I believe they love me as best they can, and I them. I’m just very wary of their words of wisdom.

    “sociopath children are very very sensitive to incentives and fairness. make sure that if you set rules, you always play exactly by the rules…”

    I think this was true of me also, which in part explains my own rather jaded view of morality and the rules. When I was younger the contradiction between people’s stated morals and their actual behavior used to frustrate the hell out of me. For all the talk I heard from adults about the importance of rules, it became obvious early on that most of them only lived by those rules when it suited them. They then justified their own bending of the rules, or felt very very sorry about breaking them, but sorry means nothing.

    “this will help train the sociopath to learn to live effectively within boundaries.”

    I wonder… In another world where I was born to parents who had a much clearer understanding of themselves and would accordingly have a more clearer view of what kind of children they were likely to have, would these hypothetically wiser parents have been able to raise me in such a way that I would have learned to value moral boundaries? Would I have truly been able to emotionally connect with said boundaries, so that I’d have a conscience? (I’m assuming that’s what having a conscience means: emotional connection to the rules, so that when you break them, you automatically feel emotional pain.) I guess it goes back to the nature/nurture thing. Oh well, either way I’ll never know.

  3. Btw, I don’t know if I’d have liked it if my parents thought of me as a sociopath while raising me. It’s one thing to notice the suite of traits that are associated with those labels and respond accordingly. It’s another to actually think of your kid as a sociopath. The label has way too much baggage and I don’t know that I’d trust my parents to be able to make the subtle distinctions I would about all of this for one thing. For another, their suspicions would have been aroused all the time, which would have made my childhood much more problematic than it was. And last, no one label will say everything there is to say about an individual child anyway (or adult for that matter). People forget that sometimes, especially when it comes to so called sociopaths.

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  6. I have a question for Daniel Birdick:

    You say that you have felt anger towards your father. If you observed that someone else was treated unfairly by their father, would you empathize with that? I'm just extremely curious. I had once thought that sociopaths didn't feel emotions and therefore were unable to empathize but if they can feel anger, frustration and loneliness are they not able to empathize with someone else who may be feeling that way too? What do you feel when you see another human being treated unfairly?

  7. Anon:

    My father’s parental and marital example left me with an abiding distaste for abuse specifically and physical bullying in general. That kind of behavior shows a lack of self control and imagination. ME and I are on the same page when it comes to bullying I think.

    Wrt empathy… Well that depends on how you define it. I now think of empathy as two-fold. The first part is being able to imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes. That I can do easily. I have a great imagination and an innate ability to act. The second part is the “automatic, compelling and affective response” to what you imagine another person feels. That’s the part that’s different for me personally. I can imagine how an abused child feels, sure. But I would be detached from the knowledge that brief flight of imagination would impart. There is no response, emotional or otherwise. Simply put, just because I can imagine how someone feels doesn't mean I care about those feelings or the person feeling them.

  8. I think that "normal" people could be that way too. They can empathize with what is happening in war torn countries but they don't care to promote awareness or get involved.. It gets somewhat muddy there. I'll use a very simple example then to try and understand better what goes through a sociopath's mind. If you see a kitten on the street and it is cold and thin, you empathize with the kitten being cold and hungry but there is no part of you that thinks about buying it food and if a car hit the kitten, you wouldn't feel anything at all and there would be no feeling of injustice? Is that the feeling? Sorry and thanks, I'm trying to understand someone..

  9. Anon:

    I agree, normals are far more callous than they like to admit, especially to themselves.

    And as to your hypothetical kitten, no, I would not empathize with its plight. I’m about to live up to stereotype so to speak, but very recently someone thought it was a good idea for their cat to hang out in the stairwell of my apartment building, one that leads to my parking lot. So that meant that I had to walk past this cat everyday on the way out to my car. They left food for it and everything. Although it did not appear to be in distress, I did find its presence annoying. If I wanted to see a cat everyday I’d go buy one. So I thought about poisoning it. Plus I figured what better way to really stimulate whatever guilty might be lurking way down deep somewhere? I don’t appear to have much of a conscience, but I never know. Maybe I do and all that it needs to really get going is a little kitten killing. Don’t worry. I didn’t kill the cat. Why? The stairwell is one of those outside deals facing a series of windows and balconies in the other part of the building, as well as a busy parking lot. I figured I ran a pretty decent risk of someone noticing me if I put a little something extra, say strychnine, into its food. If the body ended up somewhere obvious and inconvenient, my hypothetical witness might remember me. (Of course, I could have dealt with the body myself if I got lucky. I didn’t think of that till just now…) I don’t like adding needless drama to my life unless it serves a freely chosen and important purpose. Facing any kind of animal cruelty charges would definitely be needless drama. So I left the cat alone. It disappeared a few weeks later anyway, so all’s well that ends well.

    Does that answer your question? What are you trying to find out exactly and why?

  10. I think I dated someone who was. But I think instead this person had bpd. This person was fond of animals..but who knows, it might have all been fake. I am dealing with my guilt for finally cutting this person off because, as you can imagine, it was hell. But if the emotions were fake, I want to stop beating myself up for allegedly ruining someone's life.
    Thanks for the answers.

  11. You’re welcome Self Flagellator. Although responses like yours are always puzzling. I imagine you can shortcut some of that guilt you’re feeling with a few cognitive therapy-like techniques designed for it. You don’t have to wait until you convince yourself that your ex was a sociopath. You can experience emotional relief sooner rather than later, which is really what you want. Just stop projecting responsibility for your own well being onto your ex, or anyone else. It doesn’t matter who they are, only who you are

  12. I don't know why it was assumed that I was projecting responsibility for my own well being onto my ex or anyone else. I'm taking the necessary steps to recover from this and I'm very aware of what I need to do for myself and my internal conflict. I don't think I've said once that my ex was responsible for my own well being.

  13. Self Flagellator said, “I don't know why it was assumed that I was projecting responsibility for my own well being onto my ex or anyone else.”

    My assumption was reasonable given the comment you made: “I am dealing with my guilt for finally cutting this person off because, as you can imagine, it was hell. But if the emotions were fake, I want to stop beating myself up for allegedly ruining someone's life.”

    To repeat myself, why wait until you can convince yourself that your ex was faking anything? Do you see how this thought looks as if who and what the ex is/feels will determine whether or not you’ll ‘stop beating on yourself’? Why not instead, stop beating up on yourself, even if the ex’s feelings were completely sincere? Why bother asking hypothetical questions on a sociopath’s blog, which were round about ways of asking about the ex at all? Who gives a damn what he was feeling? If you want to feel better about your life, then find a way to do so, from where you are, now. After all, now is all you have. Be the cause of your experience whether than the effect. When normals forget that, or worse, never know that to begin with, they become much easier to manipulate.


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