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.


  1. Interesting synopsis. Love your analytical style m.e.
    As for the post, let's check in with the 'happy' couple in a few months; I imagine things havent changed and he/she is worse off than before, emotionally and mentally.
    Speaking from personal experience, nothing more, nothing less.

  2. Great choice of photograph, M.E. That's a strikingly beautiful photograph.

  3. i dont know who said i didn't post the thing about my prior job hooking and presently working at walmart. Thats all true. The other poster is an imposter trying to steal my anon identity.

    Luv Lucyx ~ washing your cucumbers.

  4. You beat me to it Dirty Harriett.

    The photo struck me in a similar fashion since I found it somewhat, in it of itself, misdirecting to the fact that ME never really stated anything new about the letter or even his own thoughts of the writer being a sociopath and instead used phrases like “even if the writer is not a sociopath” and added onto it by saying that it is irrelevant since the letter worked then the writer being one is irrelevant. Truthfully I agree that it is irrelevant. To me, it seems like ME wanted to get our opinions on the letter not because he cared about it or wanted us help try and pull him to any one conclusion, instead, I think ME asked our opinion so that he could assess the types of people reading this based on our reactions to the letter and to each other. Our answers said more about us then it does about the writer.

    It’s just food for thought.

  5. I think this breakdown was well done.

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  7. Hmm . . . I have to politely disagree with ME.

    Narcissists are typically pretty attractive and charismatic. It may be the 'memory of him' that got her back, but there's nothing too compelling or persuasive in the letter itself.

    The "cadence" ME describes just strikes me a self-reflexive pattern . . . his thoughts wander away from himself and then back.

    Narcissism can be compelling to a woman. A man more focused on himself than her presents a unique challenge.

  8. Anon,

    Do you mean that ME is using this blog to spy on its readers? Get into their minds, and figure them out, rather than the issues, at hand?

    That's interesting...

    Hardly shocking, though.

  9. * it's really a shame that more sociopaths don't participate with posting on this blog.

    Otherwise, it would be incredibly useful for certain purposes...

    Like tracking psychopaths, sociopaths, narcissists, and just the random crazy person...

    If I were M.E., I'd use every bit of information gathered, and put it to use, somehow.

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  11. after following this blog for a few months, i've come to the opinion that sociopath/psychopath tendencies really shouldn't be considered a disability. sure, there are radical extremists in any group but it appears to me that most of the people here are interesting in their ideas and i imagine there are probably alot more sociopath/psychopaths out there than what is reported. personally i would be more leary of say, an aspie group.

  12. Harry Lime,
    I think you over-generalize. Neither all women nor all men find narcissism compelling.

    Perhaps you are speaking from personal experience?

  13. Normal Norma:

    I’m an empath who’s been lurking for a few months myself and thought I’d go ahead and jump into the conversations. As muymalgal said, sociopaths here are more varied in their expressions and their outlook than I thought. Having said that, I do however still believe that people with no conscience are to be watched and guarded against. You all would hurt people like me without a second thought. But forewarned is forearmed and this blog is helping me with that. Thank you ME.

    Anyway, I like ME’s take on the letter. I think he’s got a good chance of being right. The letter writer certainly sounds manipulative to me. Here’s hoping the recipient gets a clue quickly before the letter writer does any more damage.

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  16. Oh I do understand Daft, I do. That's why I'm here. It's part of my education.

    And yes, actually I would blame the rattlesnake for biting me. As much as I think animals should be protected, I also that they shouldn't be allowed to harm people. That's kind of how I feel about sociopaths. Maybe you can't help yourselves, but that doesn't mean that you are allowed to hurt people as much as you want. We have the right to protect ourselves and thank heavens that we do.

  17. I would bite the rattlesnake's head off. My teeth are bigger. My jaw is stronger. We both die, but I die with my opponent's mutilated body between my teeth, my tongue twitching against its own twitching, bloody mess of a body. I would taste victory as I succumb to defeat.

    What a mental image, huh?

    The blame game, though... no idea about that. Fuck the rattlesnake. He fucking bit me. That's all I know.

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  20. My sociopathic ex used the "love" word all the time to manipulate for his own agenda and yes he also used "loved" past tense in order to excuse his future and present cruelty. Some of his famous lines "I love you like I've never loved anyone" "I love you so much I would die for you while he forced me to look into his eyes" "I honestly loved you and thought that we were going to get married" as an excuse for the evil he was commiting on me later And then in the end "love isn't everything" another excuse when he wanted to cheat or make me feel bad about the many "flaws" that I had although he of course had no flaws that ever needed to be worked on. Now when I ignore him I get the "luv u" text. Sociopaths seem to know that this word has a very powerful hold on normal people and will use it in the most evil ways to manipulate us. I'm still trying to figure out how to get rid of and deal with my experience with this sociopath so if there are any willing sociopaths or others who are kind enough to give me advice please do!

  21. J, I am trying to figure out how to break away from mine. Your comment sounds like I wrote it. However, I am still deeply entangled.


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