A reader writes in response to yesterday's post, providing the female perspective of growing up sociopath.
For me, the early shift from fitting in as a child, to completely lost socially was around ages 9 and 10. By the end of fifth grade, I had captured my peers’ new patterns a bit better. I had also made a couple of other P/S-like friends from the two grades above mine. Oddly, it was easier to mimic their mimic (a simplified copy of the neurotypical’s behavior that seemed to work for them) than it was to copy the highly complex behavior of those around me.
By 6th grade I realized I was different- that I thought about things differently. I just assumed it was because I was smarter. I think around this time is when my actions really differentiated themselves from my classmates enough to be noticed by others. It was then that my mother began to call me her little cyborg. I wasn’t a big crier, I didn’t get angry easily, and I didn’t get scared, though for her sake I faked great enthusiasm at positive things. I had been going for “Pollyanna”, but I guess, instead, I came across as “cyborg” to my too-intuitive, uber-empath, teacher of a mother. I also remember, after explaining how I came to my position on an issue in class (totally based on logic, not compassion), my teacher responded with a smile (almost in my defense) to the disgusted faces of the other students that I marched to the beat of a different drummer. I thought they all needed to think a little more and feel a little less. Also, in retrospect, I think I remember the first adult that I had noticed I gave the creeps to being an 8th grade teacher of mine. I protected my pets and squished the bugs that annoyed me if there was value in it, all while getting praise from most adults about being the sweetest girl they knew.
In high school, I was much more comfortable, as I’d developed better technique and defined the roles I wanted to play. I noticed some differences between myself and others. While they sometimes became angry or sad, which are passionate emotions, my negative emotions were more of aggravation and annoyance. Though I could become very aggravated or very annoyed, my reaction was just due to scaled up frustration, and not related to the intensity of the emotion it started from. I found that I get more satisfaction out of small pleasures than most others, while things that make people overwhelmingly happy give me roughly the same experience as those little things. Socially, I found that having many separate groups of friends was ideal for me. When I got bored of one group, I’d move on to another. I never played with the people in my 2 core groups, so I always had a place to go, socially, when I’d played a little too much with a group and needed to lay low for a while. I didn’t really need more depth of friendship than this situation provided, though I had two particularly close friends (stories for another day) outside of my groups. I didn’t really have a point where they figured things out or found me no longer appealing as a friend. However, I did find a major stumbling point that I didn’t even recognize until the end of high school: Relationships.
My freshman year of high school I saw a few different guys, but nothing was serious. Toward the end of that year I heard someone saying disparaging things about another girl who had seen a few guys (actually fewer than me) that year, though she wasn’t nearly as discreet. It occurred to me that boyfriends are part of being a teenager and one would look good in my real-person portfolio. Also, it could be fun! I assumed that whatever we ended up doing (sneaking out, making out, etc), I wouldn’t want to have broadcast on the small town gossip network (for the sake of my mother’s reputation), so I chose someone from the next town over whose family was well-known in the area. This way, he would need to keep things to himself to protect them as well. He was good looking and liked me (I was good-looking, too). Being with him was fun in the beginning, but after a while he became very controlling and violent. I kind of liked that. To the people around me, I was suddenly a victim and weak and someone to be protected. That was…helpful. He certainly wasn’t “hurting my feelings,” and I didn’t mind the physical damage, but after a while the controlling rules he wanted me to follow did get annoying. I didn’t want to be one to hop boyfriends and I didn’t want to leave an angry guy behind me with any ammunition against me, so I formed a plan and waited. The next time that he was really angry at me for whatever and drove off mad (we’d been dating about a year and a half at this point), I waited a couple of hours, then called him (because I could fake cry over the phone, but not as convincingly in person). I explained that I was no longer good for him if I made him so sad and angry all the time and that I loved him too much to keep him in a relationship that hurt him. No problem. Ten days later I was dating the next guy, who I ended up being with for another year and a half. His dad was a preacher, so he was safe, socially. This is where I got stuck. The previous relationship had been a bit of a beard, some fun, and a learning experience, but for the most part I hadn’t worried about what he felt or needed except for how that would affect me: happy boyfriend = a nicer day for me. Of course that means that I tried to make him as happy as possible to make my life easy, but who cares about the motives? I was still a nicer girlfriend than most out there because of it. With Guy 2, though, it was different. Maybe it was because of all those teenage hormones, but my brain formed connections in a way that I don’t think it had before or since. I wanted that guy to be happy. I experienced great pleasure when I could make him happy. We were in a real relationship, and I was missing some key skills for the situation. I was still me- I definitely used stories of Guy 1’s violence as a way of making Guy 2 feel close to me, but I found after a while that I really didn’t need to guide his actions to fit my desires. I was perfectly happy changing myself to be whatever it seemed like he wanted. In the end, it seems that there was a disconnect between what he said he wanted and what he did want and what he said he felt and what he did feel (stupid, crazy, elusive, and evidently important emotions so often get in the way) . I didn’t have the tools with which to intuit when he was lying. I usually read intent very well in people- this helps me manipulate them. I can also see very clearly why they might do something, even considering their emotions, because I’ve been a student of this since fifth grade, but when someone lies with no intent- no real reason or goal behind it- I’m lost. So if I ask, “Is it okay if I do this?” or “Are you okay?” and the response is “Yes”, when the answer was “No”, the only purpose behind it being to make me happy or to not bother me with petty feelings that he may find embarrassing, I don’t even know there is a problem. After we broke up, we dated again a couple of times, and later on, I was able to detect this type of lie with more accuracy, but when I could get to “I know something is wrong- what did I do or say?”, he couldn’t manage to tell me what it was that I had done or said, so there was no opportunity to learn and fix it for the future. Damn hormones affecting neuro-connections. When I think of this guy, still, I get an obnoxious jolt of those emotions that are a little strong for a person who doesn’t generally experience them. Ick. I like thinking I'm above all that.
In my late teens, I dropped a lot of friends because I had moved away and no longer had to worry about how I made my mother look. I still did this and that, activity-wise, to keep up my person cred, but soon I made a wonderful discovery- in one of my activities, there were two other P/S-like girls who wanted to play. There are some major benefits to having friends like this. Their feelings aren’t hurt if I ditch them for something else more valuable that day- they would’ve done the same thing. They are easy to be with because I don’t have to look at everything I do and say through the lens of some other animal. They are less work, because I don’t have to worry about scaring them off with something I do or say. Of course, for the first few years of our friendship, someone was pretty much always playing someone else. Both for the game and for the prize. There were, naturally, guys involved…empaths…poor things… But after musical boyfriends, we all got married and it was lovely. Outside friends were always shocked that we never got angry with one another at the crazy tactics we’d use, but for us, it was all fair-game. The other two probably don’t know what they are in name, but we recognized each other and occasionally would refer to the “us”/”them” distinction.
As an adult, I don’t really want to spend my effort on real people that I don’t have to (other than co-workers, family, etc), but that behavior isn’t very human, so the girls and I are now each others’ people cred. :) I have one best friend (one of the two from high school). I’m devoted to my family, active in my community, and a well-liked leader in my workplace. I’ve found that telling people who notice something (I have no idea what they notice, but on rare occasions, a person will give me one of those what-are-you looks), apologizing and telling them that I’m a very driven type-A person seems to “explain me”. I have a wonderful relationship with my husband, who I love like my mother and grandparents. He communicates his needs and reactions clearly since I’ve explained that reading these is a weakness of mine and I easily conform to fit him.
It was only about a year ago that my husband and I were discussing some of the classic philosophical thought experiments that he looked at me and said, “So you are a sociopath.” I smiled and said, “Oh, yeah. That’s me.” And we had a laugh. It’s become a little joke between us (and now my best friend) because he points out sociopath-ish things that I do, but I’ve made a point of referring to it as an inside joke to outside company, so they know not to share. I am cautious about hints that I may be what I am getting out to the wrong person, but for right now I feel relatively safe because I have my go-to explanations for things (Type A, I’m thick-skinned because I had to be at some earlier point, I don’t understand peoples’ drama because I don’t have that kind of craziness in my life, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah) I do worry slightly about the potential for a genetic test to identify a predisposition to P/S behavior , which may be possible based on an article you shared recently, but I expect some time before anything like that happens and if anyone can get around a serious inquiry...it’s us, right? I can’t help but think, in a world with real witches, those burned in Salem would still have been innocents, as the true offenders would have magic-ed their way out of the situation.
Of course, I don’t even know for sure that I am a P/S since I’ve never been diagnosed, but I am pretty confident that I fall somewhere on the spectrum. :)