Monday, April 30, 2012


It's been a while since we've had one of these.  From a reader wondering if she is a sociopath:

I didn't even consider it until a few weeks ago, when I was just taking some personality disorder quiz, rated ridiculously high on antisocial personality disorder, and then proceeded to identify with all of the symptoms listed. This doesn't really alarm me, but I think it should? I don't know. 

See, I wouldn't even think twice on it if it wasn't the answer to the question I've been asking myself for years: namely, the "what the hell is wrong with me" question. I always thought that I was probably crazy, but it wasn't impairing me so it didn't bother me. I use people like toys even when I know intellectually that I shouldn't. I've been astonishingly cruel to people who have offended me in the past, but on the whole, I'm the most charming person I think I've ever met. I don't think I'm seen anywhere besides my house without a smile on hand. Ask any of my friends; I'm a fun kind of person. Except I don't trust my friends. I don't tell them anything remotely personal, but I read them like a book, from body language to facial expressions to verbal cues. They tell me everything and trust me completely. I'm not touched but I feel like I should feel honored or some such thing. If I'm tearing into someone for some reason, I don't feel anything but a vague satisfaction if they're reduced to tears, and later on I don't feel guilty. In the past I've even tried to feel guilty for using people like that's the reason they're in my life, but I can't think of another use for them. If they can't benefit me in some way, why would I want them around? Anyways, all of those attempts at true remorse have failed dismally. I can produce tears at will, muster up enough emotion to put it on my face and watch other people believe me, but it goes away immediately. I can lie so convincingly that sometimes even I don't know if I'm actually telling the truth or not, much less the person I'm lying to. And they flow so naturally, I barely even have to think. I don't discriminate, either - at some point in my life I'm sure I've lied to just about everyone I know. I get bored, also. Insanely bored. I try to find almost any way out of this boredom; it makes me feel like I'm stagnating or something horrific like that. I can just see the rust forming in my brain. Ugh.

What used to bother me is that I'm such a chameleon that I don't even know who I am, or what kind of person I am (aside from charismatic). I have so many masks, they help me ace interviews, make friends wherever I find people, and get authority figures to trust me immediately even when they really, really shouldn't. I've displayed such behavior since I was around five, as far as I recall. Sometimes it feels like I'm not even a real person, just a collection of interchangeable personalities and an unshakeable coldness that seems to form the core of who I am. And I feel like this should upset me greatly, but what I find concerning is that it doesn't. Shouldn't it? When someone asks me if I feel guilty, or if I want to apologize, I always feel like saying, "should I?" They seem to know who I'm supposed to be, but I don't. And I certainly don't trust their judgement. But you seem to have similar occurrences, based on what I've read in your blog. And if anyone would know what exactly is the reason for these little, um, quirks, I figure it would be you, dear sociopath (and that honestly isn't an insult, fyi).

Please assist on this soul-searching quest I find myself on, and inform me if my suspicions are rooted in real evidence or I'm seriously just a lunatic with delusions of sociopathy. If you've read this, thank you for your time. If not, well, I'm sure you're busy and have many things to be attending to, but you couldn't spare a single moment to help a semi-innocent girl with an identity crisis? Where is your humanity? Yes, that was a joke. I'll stop wasting your time.

I thought -- it's always hard to tell from an email whether someone is a sociopath or not, but there is nothing here inconsistent with sociopathy.  And actually she doesn't seem to care what the diagnosis is either way.  I give it a big "maybe."  Thoughts?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Famous sociopaths: Gesualdo

Having studied music, I was a little familiar with the madrigals of the late renaissance composer Don Carlo Gesualdo, but somehow missed his backstory as a psychopathic murderer until I stumbled upon this New Yorker article, which unfortunately is not available in its full text.  Here are selections from the abstract:

On the night of October 16, 1590, a palace apartment near Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, in Naples, was the scene of a double murder so extravagantly vicious that people are still sifting through the evidence, more than four centuries later. The most reliable account of the crime comes from a delegation of Neapolitan officials, who inspected the apartment the following day. On the floor of the bedroom, they found the body of Don Fabrizio Carafa, the Duke of Andria, whom a contemporary described as a “model of beauty,” one of the handsomest young men of his time. The officials’ report stated that the Duke was wearing only “a woman’s nightdress with fringes at the bottom, with ruffs of black silk.” The corpse was “covered with blood and pierced with many wounds,” 

Lying on the bed was the body of Donna Maria d’Avalos, the famously alluring wife of Don Carlo Gesualdo, the Prince of Venosa. Her throat had been cut and her nightshirt was drenched in blood. Interviews with eyewitnesses left no doubt about who was responsible for the murders. Gesualdo had been seen entering the apartment with three men, shouting, “Kill that scoundrel, along with this harlot!” The report ended with the observation that Gesualdo had left town. 

A prince being a prince, there matters rested. Yet Gesualdo paid a posthumous price for the killings. In the decades after his death, he became a semi-mythical, even vampiric figure, about whom ever more lurid tales were told. 

Gesualdo also wrote music, publishing six books of madrigals and three books of sacred pieces. He turned out to be one of the most complexly imaginative composers of the late Renaissance, indeed of all musical history. The works of his mature period—he died in 1613, at the age of forty-seven—bend the rules of harmony to a degree that remained unmatched until the advent of Wagner. There have been no fewer than eleven operatic works on the subject of Gesualdo’s life, not to mention a fantastical 1995 pseudo-documentary, by Werner Herzog, called “Death for Five Voices.” 

The origins of “Gesualdo fever” are not hard to discern. The lingering question is whether it is the life or the work that perpetuates the phenomenon. If Gesualdo had not committed such shocking acts, we might not pay such close attention to his music. But if he had not written such shocking music we would not care so much about his deeds.

Although, as the article notes, some scholars "reject[] the picture of Gesualdo as a 'violent psychopath'," he certainly has plenty to recommend him as one.  I know that these sorts of guesses about whether or not a historical figure was a sociopath are as ridiculous as the aspie's claiming that half the famous scientists from history had Asperger's.  But, I find Gesualdo to be a particularly fun historical candidate for sociopathy not just because of how well it explains his violence and flouting moral conventions, but also how well it explains the experimental aspects of his music, which have managed to sound utterly modern and cutting age in every time period.   The article continues from the above quoted selections in the abstract:

Many bloodier crimes have been forgotten; it's the nexus of high art and foul play that catches our fancy.  As with Gesualdo's contemporary Caravaggio, who killed a man by stabbing him near the groin, we wonder whether the violence of the art and the violence of the man emanated from the same demoniac source.  

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Song: Everytime you go away

I heard this song the other day out and about and thought that it was oddly applicable.  Every time someone leaves me, they do take a piece of me with them.  That's why I fight so hard to get it/them back.

Baby, if we can't solve any problems
Why do we lose so many tears?
Oh, so you go again
When the leading man appears
Always the same theme
But can't you see we've got everything going on and

Everytime you go away
You take a piece of me with you

Go on and go free
Maybe you're too close to see
I can feel your body move
But does it mean that much to me
I can't go on singing the same theme
"Cause you can't see we've got everything
Baby, even though you know that

Everytime you go away
You take a piece of me with you
You just don't care

Friday, April 27, 2012

Manipulation: movies and music

In a comment regarding aspies and auties, "jane" says:
Also, I've found that aspies can be made to feel an emotional understanding through music or movies. They do so love their movies.
Okay, yes, I think this applies at least in part to sociopaths too. We all know that music and movies with music are manipulative. Case in point, even though I am generally cold-hearted, I can frequently be moved by certain films, sometimes so much so that I have a crisis of identity and wonder, do I have the full spectrum of emotions after all? But it seems like not really, because only movies and music reliably trigger it. How do they do it? Tap into our primal psyches to produce some sort of behavioristic response? Like when our eyes water when we see other people's eyes tearing up? Or like how yawns are contagious? Do chimpanzees do the same? Does that mean sociopaths are closer evolutionarily to chimps than humans? Ha.

Also Jane says in response to my advocacy of neurodiversity rights for sociopaths:
I suppose I just feel that trying to put us on the same page as aspie's is the namby-pamby way out when there's much more fun to be had simply remaining unidentified rather than accepted as defected.
Too true, Jane. Particularly because if we, for whatever reason, needed to be "out" or part of an acknowledged acceptable neurodiversity "minority," we could just masquerade as aspies by toning down the charm, playing up the social awkwardness, and pretending to be obsessed with something bizarre like '80's action movie music scores. Right aspies?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

On selflessness

From a reader:

As a constant, I am aware of the fact that nobody means much to me as aside from what they directly provide. That actually doesn't sound terrible: while everybody tries to side-step the matter and down on the word "selfish," to be "selfish" is healthy. Normal people get a selfish pleasure out of the well being of those whom they care for. "Selfish" does not have to mean at the expense of others, only that you are doing it for yourself. If you feel good donating to charity, you are going to do it because you enjoy that. It is only when donating to charity makes you unhappy and you perform it as a perceived obligation that it is truly selfless (although, even then, you are probably donating for the personal reward of an afterlife, or for the personal reward of social approval). Can you imagine an atheist schizoid with better use of his money chucking it away instead? Where's the motivation?                                                                                 
But I don't feel bad when those presumably close to me suffer. I only choose to extend a facade of "are you alright?" because I fear that they will catch onto such and stop contributing to whatever it is that I keep them around for. How can I expect sympathy for my suffering or understanding when the root of my condition stems from the idea that I will never be able to reciprocate affection? What masochist is willing to love and attend to a brick wall? Perhaps one of delusion, but then, he doesn't understand, and can't even begin to entertain my honesty. So what can I say, except "I am sorry that this is how I am"? Even when I apologize for it, it is less because I feel bad that I hurt them, and more a wave of self-pity when I want something to preserve. I'm sorry. I can't help it.                                                                                                            

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sociopath - pain = no empathy?

A reader asked this very interesting question:

I learned in a psych class that living things (or mammals, at least), thanks to the magic of mirror neurons, do not distinguish signs of distress in another creature from their own distress. You mention in your one post that you have a very detached stance to pain. What if what we think of as empathy is tied directly to the perception of pain? What if sociopathy is not primarily a lack of empathy, but a greatly altered perception of pain both in oneself and in others? Would it be possible that if an empath's normal neurological responses to pain were tampered with, they would experience less empathy? Could the reverse be true for sociopaths?

I always like these sorts of explanations that somehow tie together different, seemingly unrelated aspects of sociopathy together -- e.g. so insightfully perceptive (enough to be exceptionally manipulative) but lacking empathy?  It's really an odd disorder, with a suite of traits that so consistently present amongst sociopaths and yet seem so scattershot.

One of my favorite unifying theories from a psychologist named Joseph Newman is the idea that sociopathy is largely an attentional disorder, where the sociopath is getting all the right input but is just not paying attention to them in the same way that everyone else is, so they are meaningless to him.

[One of my own pet theories is that a lot of the sociopaths traits (charm, manipulation, lying, promiscuity, chameleonism, compartmentalization, mask wearing, lack of empathy, lack of strong gender, racial, social, sexual or other identity) is largely attributable to a very weak sense of self.  I believe that all personality disorders share a distorted/abnormal sense of self, that that is essentially what makes them a "personality" disorder, and not something else.]  

I also like the one the reader suggested above -- that to the extent sociopaths do not feel things like pain the same way empaths do, the mirror neuron cues are just falling on deaf ears.  But I wonder.  A lot of sociopaths have complained that they have in fact felt something akin to empathy in isolated incidents, particularly if they happen to be feeling something similar at the same moment and happen to recognize that same emotion in others.  This seems to me to be more attentional, but I don't know.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Violence in movies

There is something about violence in movies that I find so appealing.  I'm sure part of it is that it is dramatized in all the right ways to thrill rather than cause any anxiety or harm.  I was thinking about that today on the way to work.  I was driving.  I thought, if you take some people seriously about what they say about sociopaths and loving violence and senseless destruction and power over people, then why is it that I don't cross my lane line to collide head-on into the auto approaching me?  Wouldn't that scare people?  That would be some good fun, right?  I would get to scare the other person half to death, maybe there would be some carnage or death, definitely I would make people "jump."  It's odd that sociopaths can manage to get where they're going half the time without giving into that temptation, right?

But it's not a wonder.  Actually, I thought that was a ridiculous thing to believe.  Except perhaps when we're acting on impulse, sociopaths are generally making rational, cost/benefit decisions in which we determine that the cost, e.g. of damaging our car and risking our own life and health, does not exceed the benefit of "making someone jump" in most situations.  And aren't you glad?  Can you imagine a world in which there actually existed a class of people that were not constrained in any way at all?  But of course it makes sense -- how could an existence sans any restraint ever be evolutionary advantageous enough to outweigh the obvious negatives?  I don't know.  Sometimes I wonder how people can believe the odd things they believe about sociopaths.  There's no logic, just myth and fear mongering.  

But it is true I do like violence when it comes cheaply, like in movies.  And I like this supercut.  I wish that it included some clips from Watchmen and Public Enemies, maybe some others that aren't springing to mind.  Favorite violent scenes, anyone?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sociopath quotes -- blindspots

In most cases, people, even the most vicious, are much more naive and simple-minded than we assume them to be. And this is true of ourselves too.

- Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Narcissists vs. Sociopaths (part 4)


Can Someone Really Be a Very Low Empathy Narcissist and Not Know It?

Yes! Narcissists won't often know much about their state. Just look at Bernie Madoff in this article -- he feels very uncomfortable about the idea that he might be a sociopath.  Sure, he knows he did a  bunch of bad things. But at the same time, he knows that deep down he's good inside. That's that typical narcissist self-deception; he's trying to avoid any shame, or even any awareness of shame.

Malignant narcissists will often do terribly cruel things to others. They'll tell themselves that the other guy had it coming to him. For a classic malignant narcissist, see this story.

Like Madoff, the malignant narcissist in that story, Raucci, thinks of himself as a very good guy. He really puts himself out for his friends. In a sense he's correct, and that should be the clue that he isn't a sociopath. Were he a sociopath, he wouldn't take other people (and whether they are with or against him) so personally.

Sociopaths aren't nearly as dangerous as narcissists. Narcissists get on self-destructive crusades, because it makes them feel good. Sociopaths avoid crusades, because crusades are expensive.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Narcissists vs. Sociopaths (part 3)


I'm Low Empathy. Am I a Sociopath or a Narcissist?

If you know you are low empathy, and you just don't care about others finding out, you are a sociopath.
If you do bad things, but think your empathy is just fine, but you've got a nagging fear that maybe there is something wrong with your empathy, but you definitely don't want others to find out - you are a narcissist.

If you don't feel any shame when you get caught, you are a sociopath.
If you feel shame when getting caught, you are a narcissist.

If you do bad things because you are on a crusade, you are a narcissist, or a malignant narcissist. Decide between the two alternatives based on how cruel and impulsive you are.

If do bad things because it is good for you, and don't mind if others know it (except when it gets in the way of you winning) you are a sociopath.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Narcissists vs. Sociopaths (part 2)


A few points:

Narcissists are addicted to admiration.  Despite looking down on everyone else, they crave admiration from others. They fish for compliments. They strive to accomplish things to win the admiration of others.

Sociopaths don't need admiration from others. They crave power.

Shame is the uncomfortable perception that one's "self" is bad, and doesn't live up to a societal standard. E.g. you steal something because you want it. You don't feel guilt because you don't think your stealing was bad (you have a different sort of conscience than normal people). Then you get caught. If you feel uncomfortably exposed, that feeling is called shame. Sociopaths don't feel shame. Narcissists feel shame very often, but may be completely ignorant that they are feeling shame.

Narcissists are generally unaware of their thoughts, feelings, how others perceive them, etc. To stay comfortable, they deceive themselves about their shortcomings, by ignoring their own constant thoughts of inadequacy, and ignoring any resulting feelings of shame.

Sociopaths know that they don't have strong emotions. They know they fake emotions to fit in. They don't care about the feelings of others, so they don't feel shame.

Narcissists make great cult leaders. Many founders of businesses (e.g. Steve Jobs, Bernie Madoff) are narcissts or malignant. They will generally explain that they are on a quest to change the world for the better.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Narcissists vs. Sociopaths (part 1)

A narcissist writes about the differences between sociopaths and narcissists, from a narcissist's perspective:

In "The Sociopath Next Door", Martha Stout describes several varieties of "sociopaths". They have the following traits - let's call the people with these traits sociopaths:

almost no affect (very shallow emotions) - with compensatory faking of emotion to fit in
selfish & manipulative
don't bond with other humans
think they are awesome
treat life like a game (don't take their own lies too seriously)

Some sociopaths have ASPD traits too. So in addition to the "sociopath" traits listed above, they:
take offense easily
love retaliating
are impulsive
tell stupid lies
they don't fear punishment, so they tend to get in trouble repeatedly
don't take criticism from others personally
are glib and superficially charming

In one sense, sociopaths are like selfish, immoral robots (cool and rational). The sociopaths with ASPD traits are hotheads.

Some people assume that if someone behaves immorally and without concern for the welfare of others, he fits the above pattern. That's too simple. There are some very low empathy people with a different pattern. We'll call them narcissists.

have shallow emotions
are relatively unaware of their emotions and thoughts
are full of shame and controlled by it (but mostly unaware of it)
believe their own lies
are selfish and manipulative
fantasize of being rich, attractive and powerful (but may be relatively unaware of this)
love to hear positive things about themselves
deep down, dislike themselves tremendously
deceive themselves about their strengths and weaknesses
create a false "self" and spend a lot of effort getting people to admire it
are hypersensitive to criticism
don't make realistic plans
are glib and superficially charming

Some narcissists have ASPD traits too (take offense easily, love to retaliate, are impulsive and sadistic), making them "malignant narcissists".

Note: we're calling them "sociopaths" and "narcissists" - but other people might just call them "sociopaths" (because they are both very low empathy) or even "narcissists" (because they both treat others like objects). Even medical personnel who specialize in these people don't agree on terms.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I, Psychopath

I don't know if I've posted this yet.  It's the most probably the most well known documentary on this topic.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

On cheating

A sociopathic reader wrote on various topics that I may feature from time to time.  This one was regarding cheating:

Love can be a profoundly intellectual marvel. It is not possible to be barren here, unless you have no values whatsoever. Anyone can recognize that a human is copacetic, pleasant, and that he or she contributes to your pleasure. Anyone can love. My real dilemma is settling down and staying hooked.

I've tried to propose open relationships, and, for a time, did everything I could to avoid the “girlfriend” label, but people are fairly predictable, and, since I do aspire to have a few of them like me, they tend to choke on that toxin.    

I don't get why I have to stay with one man or woman. Even if I love him or her to death, I hunger for more, if only to make them interesting again in terms of how I feel.

It's easier now then it used to be. Before I came to concede that I was never going to connect with another emotionally, I'd get irate when I could not, and would leave for another in the pursuit of fresh passion. Presently, sex is casual, and I don't expect to be wrapped up in the ones I am with. When I decide to cheat, as they put it, it's because I am searching for an absorbing way to pass the hours, and exploring is an effective method of occupying my attention. It's never an insult against the others, and I wish I could kill their jealousy.

In the meantime, I hold that I am entitled to my privacy, and it's nobody's business who else shares a bed with me – not even the business of those already in it. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Violence: sociopathy vs. autism

With the anniversary of the Columbine massacre comes renewed media interest in psychopathic killers on the rampage. Okay sure, some killers are psychopaths. But psychopaths are not the only sometime-violent members of the empathy-challenged club. Ann Bauer recounts her struggles with a particularly violent autistic son who had to be institutionalized. Under the sub-headline "For years I thought of his autism as beautiful and mysterious. But when he turned unspeakably violent, I had to question everything I knew."
His destruction was utterly senseless yet brilliantly thorough: He submerged his computer, stereo and iPod in water; threw puzzle pieces and Styrofoam cups into the toilet and flushed them, plugging the pipes literally dozens of times a week; and urinated on every square inch of his room: bed, walls, floor, closet, everything but the ceiling and that only because he had not (yet, I suspect) figured out how.

When I asked him why he did these things he would say, eyes narrow like a night creature, "I don't like being caged."
. . .
[W]hen I showed up at the group home that morning, he was drinking coffee and pacing and still not dressed. I went into his room, took some clothes from the closet, handed them to him. And hinting at what he was about to do only with a small sigh, as if to say, "I've had enough," my son picked me up and threw me across the room.
. . .
Secretly, as if committing a sacrilege, I searched online using keywords such as "autism" and "violence" and "murder." What I found was confusing. There were roughly a dozen recent articles about heinous acts committed by people with autism and Asperger's syndrome, but each was followed by editorials and letters written by autism advocates vigorously denying a link. There were a few studies from the '80s and '90s, but the results -- when they showed a higher rate of violent crime among people with autism -- appeared to have been quieted or dismissed.

On the other hand there were, literally, thousands of heartwarming stories about autism. A couple of the most widely read were written by me. For years I had been telling my son's story, insisting that autism is beautiful, mysterious, perhaps even evolutionarily necessary. Denying that it can also be a wild, ravaging madness, a disease of the mind and soul. It was my trademark as an essayist, but also my profound belief.
. . .
Back when Andrew was in junior high school, my mother had a friend whose adult son had only recently been diagnosed with autism. He'd been dysfunctional since childhood, failing at school, unable to make a friend or keep a decent job. At 35 he was still living at home, collecting carts at the local grocery store, and taking anticonvulsants (Tegretol was the unofficial treatment of that era for outbursts) to control the violent urges he'd been having for 15 years.

"You think he's better now," my mother's friend once said as we watched a young, laughing Andrew out the window, playing tag with his brother and sister in my parents' backyard. "But wait 'til he's older. Then you'll understand. "

I hated her and was furious that she wished for our downfall -- also that her dumb, psychopathic son had been given the same label as my beloved child. Autism had become oddly fashionable; my mother's friend was wealthy. Clearly she'd gone "diagnosis shopping." My son, I vowed, would be nothing like hers.
. . .
The chairman of Trudy Steuernagel's department rose at her memorial service to proclaim, "Autism doesn't equal violence." And this probably is mathematically correct: Autism does not always equal violence. But I do believe there may be a tragic, blameless relationship. Neither Sky nor Andrew means to be murderous -- of this I am sure -- but their circumstances, neurology, size and age combine to create the perfect storm.
. . .
Mine, I decide, must be in part to break the silence about autism's darker side. We cannot solve this problem by hiding it, the way handicapped children themselves used to be tucked away in cellars. In order to help the young men who endure this rage, someone has to be willing to tell the truth.
I don't believe auties and aspie's are bad any more than I believe sociopaths are bad. I'm just saying that we have a lot more in common than anybody would like to admit, a fact that may be surprising given the choir-boy image auties and aspie's have in society compared to the soulless demon image that sociopaths have. If the neurodiversity movement embraces sometime-violent auties and aspies, it should include sociopaths as well.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Quote: War = deception

All warfare is based on deception.
When able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.
Hold out baits to entice the enemy.
Feign disorder, and crush him.
To know your enemy, you must become your enemy.
-- Sun Tzu, the Art of War

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Love sick? Or sick love?

I have often voiced the opinion that empaths who chronically fall in love with sociopaths do so not despite but because of their sociopathy. Many readers have vehemently disagreed. Why? What is so scary? Is it because I'm suggesting that sociopaths are actually loveable? Or is it disturbing to believe that individual people -- not just society, business, and evolution -- find sociopathic traits worthwhile and attractive? This reader and lover of sociopaths has enough self-awareness to realize she is attracted to sociopaths for who they are:
I find myself attracted to "sociopaths" again and again, or at least people who have all of the defining traits of sociopaths. Often these people are drug abusers or alcohol abusers. I do not know what the allure is, except perhaps to live vicariously through people who seem to take what they want out of life. Many of them are incredibly good looking, which makes me wonder if the attention they are getting from their physical gifts helps cultivate this addiction to power that they have over others, since they get so much attention. I am a bit of an attention whore myself, so I understand it and always (foolishly?) admire it in people who are better at it than I am. I am not some hapless creature who is going to get pregnant by one of these creatures, but I thoroughly enjoy the energy they give off and like being around it. So many people I know are sad sack depressives, I get sick of their constant whining, but I am guilty of it myself sometimes but also more strongly identify with manic or hypomanic folk that are also hypersocial. I realize that I am often a pawn, and I play the part I am supposed to play, with the sociopath often not realizing I have any more depth than the part they have assigned to me. (which is generally sweet hapless thang whom they take advantage of sexually) I do not mind this, as I have a very masculine attitude towards sex and am happy with arrangements that are primarily sexual. I can socialize and go to the movies with my friends, and then have my sociopathic lover come over later that night. The domination is annoying, as it always has to be on their terms, that is my only beef with this kind of arrangement with this kind of person, but men are generally horny enough that i hear from them just as I begin having withdrawal symptoms. All of my friends are like "you'll never be able to have a normal relationship with a guy like that", but then I look at their boring arrangements, how they are often pining or having a crush on someone else, or going on antidepressants from lack of stimulation in their lackluster long term relationships, and I just have to ask myself- why are the kind of arrangements I enjoy so taboo? Why is everyone telling me all the time that I need to find someone 'normal' and be in a "healthy" relationship? Jealousy! I think people are jealous of this kind of excitement.. As long as one braces themself for the ride, and realize their part in the game, it can be deeply satisfying to be involved with such people. While they may technically be nutjobs, I so much prefer to be around an exciting person than a sweet dullard. I just find these type of men more masculine. I don't need a man who is as touchy feely, wishy washy and as insecure as myself. Yuck. I have a number of male friends who say to me "you deserve better" but their idea of better is themselves, like they would "treat me right". I'd rather be a pawn of an incredibly attractive bastard than worshiped by some tepid "nice guy". These nice guys wouldn't act any differently if they were much better looking or as fearless as the sociopathic types they despise and tsk-tsk.
Good use of the phrase "tsk-tsk."

Friday, April 13, 2012

Natural born killer?

A reader sent me this "military essay on sociopaths and their utility," specifically the disparate impact that sociopathic soldiers have in a time of war:

A natural killer is a person who has a predisposition to kill—he enjoys combat and feels little or no remorse about killing the enemy. These men have existed throughout the history of warfare, and their feats have often been hailed as heroic. They constitute less than 4 percent of the force, yet some studies show that they do almost half of the killing. These men rarely distinguish themselves before the moment arrives to pull the trigger. It is only after the smoke has cleared that the full impact of their accomplishment is seen. It is important to identify natural killers before combat, because these soldiers are both a vital asset and a potential liability—correctly positioning them in a unit can turn the tide of battle. To better understand the importance of identifying these soldiers, one should understand what makes soldiers kill, the characteristics of natural killers and their battlefield capabilities and limitations.
A temperament for killing exists among some human beings. Marshall, in identifying the battlefield fighters, said, "the same names continued to reappear as having taken the initiative, and relatively few fresh names were added to the list on any day." A post-World War II study by R. L. Swank and W. E. Marchand proposed that 2 percent of soldiers were "aggressive psychopaths" who did not suffer from the normal remorse or trauma associated with killing. I use the word suffer because when the job of the soldier is to kill, those fettered by their conscience are suffering while doing their job. We tend to shun the concept of the willing killer because it offends our kinder sensibilities, but a controlled psychopath is an asset on the killing fields. Those who possess such a temperament are natural killers and many have served this country well. The problem lies in identifying these individuals and positioning them where they can be most effective.

How to identify them?

The natural killer is most likely not a first-born son. Later sons are generally more aggressive and have less fear or anxiety in dangerous situations. An Israeli Defense Force study of its officers from 1961 to 1966 showed that "first borns" were more anxious than "later borns" and that they generally sought less dangerous positions in the military. Later borns were more likely to volunteer for combat and had a better chance of encountering terrorists on patrols. A study of Korean War fighter plane aces found that first borns engaged the enemy less and were more anxious about flying. Family position also seems to relate to assassins. Almost all American assassins have been later sons—John Wilkes Booth, Charles Giteau and Lee Harvey Oswald, to name three.15 Later borns, by virtue of being routinely dominated by their siblings, ultimately feel less fear during stressful situations. They also feel the need to prove their worth over their siblings and more quickly accept dangerous challenges.

A natural killer has been a fighter for much of his life. Frequent fighting as a child does not mean the individual was a bully. Rather, he chose to respond to stressful situations with aggression. Arthur J. Dollard concluded that aggression is the result of frustration and this is a normal human reaction. The sociopath, also referred to as the undercontrolled aggressive personality type, has low internal controls against violence and will resort to aggressive behavior unless constrained by rigid external controls. Such a person can be conditioned to not respond to frustration with external aggression. Thus, if frustrated by a Drill Sergeant’s control, the undercontrolled personality type will refrain from direct aggression and look for another target for his aggression. The military provides ample displacement outlets for this aggression in the form of physical training, field maneuvers and weapons ranges. It is the perfect environment for a sociopath to excel.

The natural killer is an aggressive athlete whose physical makeup allows him to excel at contact sports. Combative sports provide long-term training in aggression while acting as a short-term catharsis or safety valve for aggressive individuals.19 An Army-funded study of Korean War veterans discerned differences in the characteristics of fighters—those who took aggressive action in combat—versus nonfighters—those who were hysterical or nonresponsive in combat. This study, conducted by the Human Resources Research Office (HumRRO), concluded that the fighters had been more active in contact sports such as football, boxing or hockey. It also concluded that fighters had a high masculinity factor or outdoors adventurousness about them. Their body types were larger; on average they were an inch taller and eight pounds heavier than the nonfighters. They were rugged individuals who had channeled their aggressions through contact sports.

Another discriminator for identifying natural killers is their socio-economic background. Natural killers usually come from a middle or upper class background. The volunteer military has had the luxury to pick and choose those who will be allowed into the service, and we exclude those with criminal records. Sociopaths follow a "cheater strategy" to obtain what they want. The lack of a social conscience allows the sociopath to cheat without remorse. Consequently, those who find themselves in the economically disadvantaged lower class will resort to crime unless placed in a highly controlled environment. In other words, a sociopath from a depressed economic background will most likely have a criminal record, and under today’s standards, he would not be able to enter the military. Thus, natural killers in the US military will most likely come from a middle or upper class background.

Sociopaths are generally extroverts. One reason for this is the inheritance of a nervous system that is relatively insensitive to low levels of stimulation. Individuals with this physiotype tend to be extroverted. They also have lower than average levels of adrenaline and seek experiences to heighten this. Extroverts and sociopaths are less affected by threats of pain or punishment, and they have greater tolerance of actual pain or punishment. Both sociopaths and extroverts will approach a situation that most people will avoid. These factors were confirmed by the HumRRO study conclusion that fighters were extroverted, spontaneous and relatively free from anxiety.

The natural killer has above-average intelligence. Like sociopaths with no economic resources, those without above-average intelligence end up in jail. Therefore, sociopaths in our military are usually intelligent. The HumRRO study found that the intelligence quotient (IQ) of fighters was, on average, 13 points higher than nonfighters’. The study subjects were all infantrymen and the mean group IQ was only 85, 15 points below the national average of 100. This indicated that less intelligent men were sent forward to fight, but within that group, the more intelligent ones were better fighters.

Additionally, the natural killer has a caustic sense of humor that relies on sharp wit and biting sarcasm. Such hostile humor acts as a tension-discharger, a relief valve. While we normally associate humor with friendly behavior, laughter itself is a primarily aggressive behavior. Laughter is usually directed at someone and is infectious, with the unspoken agreement being to "join in or not be part of the group." With aggression as the underlying theme, the natural killer enjoys humor.

Sound like anyone you know?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

About me? (part 2)

I responded:

This is very interesting.  I also never fill these sections out (or the offline equivalent) if I can help it.  Sometimes I'll put one or two things there, just to not seem like a total creeper.  I try to avoid any personal information.  Part of it is intentional -- less is more when the purpose of those types of sites is for people interested in you to stalk you, when really I want them to have to go to the source to get what they're really looking for.

I'm actually going through a period of particular ambiguity in my personality.  When I'm actively engaged in something, it's easy to sort of define myself with whatever I'm doing (like defining myself as a diver).  It helps me to function to be able to think of myself in a particular role -- I'm so-and-so's plus-one, I'm in charge of this Acme project, I'm X's mentor, or whatever.  Thinking that way helps me to focus on the performance.  Have you ever seen a television show in which one of the actors seems to have forgotten he's on screen?  And drops character?  I've been caught doing that a few times.

Even when people are naturally attracted to "me," i.e. I have not intentionally targeted with a version of me tailor made to them, it's hard to know what exactly that means.  Is it my strength?  My humor?  My solicitousness?  Unflagging support?  If I don't know what it is they like about me, I don't know what to keep doing.  It can be very disconcerting.  I feel like I'm being interviewed for a job and I'm not really sure what all the job entails.

At times like these I feel like an engine with the clutch disengaged.  I am nothing, but potentially anything.  Like a discus, I could be sent me off in any direction, but ultimately it doesn't feel like it matters where I go or where I came from.  I guess this is freedom.  It also makes me a total anti-consumer.  I don't feel at all defined by my belongings or my socio economic status.  It's nice to run in the rat race only whenever I feel like it, not because my successes/money define me.  But I also can't really force myself to do things I don't want to do.

Here's a BPD blogger (and SW reader) describing a similar thing for borderline personality disorder.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

About me? (part 1)

A reader asked me this interesting question:

The more I meditate and the more detached from my emotions I become, the harder I find it to be, to describe myself to people.

I begin to feel as if a personality doesn't exist for me and is dependent upon the moment and what's going on.

And because of this, I constantly find it impossible to put anything in my "About me" on facebook. Almost anything I can think of seems to have some reason behind me not wanting to put it, or mainly I can't find any reason to put anything there... mainly because I don't have a scenario that I wish to set up with words describing myself, which I don't even know how to do. If this makes sense? There's no problem to be solved so how should I portray myself to the world in my about me? I can't be the only person with sociopathic tendencies to have this problem. I literally find it impossible to describe myself to others, because I feel anything I could say would be lying, other than, who I am depends on the situation and the person I am interacting with. It's like how sociopaths have trouble with stable personalities on personality tests.

I would be very interested in reading what you have to think about sociopaths describing themselves, in places such as an about me on facebook.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Original thinker

I was reading a New Yorker article (here is the abstract) about the Dutch artist/sculptor/engineer responsible for Strandbeests ("beach animals"), Theo Jansen.  He had an interesting quote that made me think about what a benefit it is to the individual and society to be able to think in an original way:

Mine is not a straight path like an engineer's, it's not A to B.  I make a very curly road just by the restrictions of goals and materials.  A real engineer would probably solve the problem differently, maybe make an aluminum robot with motor and electric sensors and all that.  But the solutions of engineers are often much alike.  Everything we think can in principle be thought by someone else.  The real ideas, as evolution shows, come about by chance.  Reality is very creative.  Maybe that is why the Strandbeests appear to be alive, and charm us.  The Strandbeests themselves have let me make them.

I don't know why I thought this was relevant.  I guess because sociopaths minds are so different than most people.  I think their minds, thoughts, and behavior can seem charming because of their uniqueness.  Sociopaths can have the innocence of an ingenue or the ruthless of the most determined predator.  There's something sort of refreshing about their brutal approach to the world.  And when we live in a world where "everything we think can in principle be thought by someone else," it might be nice to be around someone who is an entirely different "someone else" than you are.

Monday, April 9, 2012


A reader sent me this interesting article discussing how most of the individuals diagnosed with "antisocial" disorders, including oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, anxiety disorder, also happen to be anti-authoritarian.  The argument the author makes is essentially that the psychology professionals doing the diagnosing may overly value submissive attitudes based on their own path towards becoming credentialed:

Gaining acceptance into graduate school or medical school and achieving a PhD or MD and becoming a psychologist or psychiatrist means jumping through many hoops, all of which require much behavioral and attentional compliance to authorities, even to those authorities that one lacks respect for. The selection and socialization of mental health professionals tends to breed out many anti-authoritarians. Having steered the higher-education terrain for a decade of my life, I know that degrees and credentials are primarily badges of compliance. Those with extended schooling have lived for many years in a world where one routinely conforms to the demands of authorities. Thus for many MDs and PhDs, people different from them who reject this attentional and behavioral compliance appear to be from another world—a diagnosable one.

I have found that most psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals are not only extraordinarily compliant with authorities but also unaware of the magnitude of their obedience. And it also has become clear to me that the anti-authoritarianism of their patients creates enormous anxiety for these professionals, and their anxiety fuels diagnoses and treatments.

I agree completely about the credentialing process.  I have even noticed the slightest tendency amongst sociopaths to sort of reify credentials into something that actually means something.  I don't know why they do this.  Maybe for the same reason I follow traffic laws?  It's just often easier to follow things that you may or may not understand...?

The only F word that I would hate to be called is fascist.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Coachella: Where's M.E.?

I noticed that at least one person who reads the blog or follows me on twitter is going to be at Coachella this year, a music festival held in the California desert.  I will also be there during the first weekend (next weekend).

I thought it would be fun to play a little game of "where's waldo?"  Here are the rules.  You wear a SociopathWorld t-shirt, or write in permanent felt pen on your person/clothing.  I will do the same.  If I see you, I will come up and introduce myself to you and (if you want) tweet a photo of you.  If you're not sure it's me, call me by my initials, I will respond.  I'll even tweet some photos of where I am, if I'm planning on being there for 30 minutes or more (I know how overburdened the mobile network gets there) and/or try to accommodate requests to be at a particular performance (requests can be made in the comments section of the blog beforehand or via twitter to @sociopathworld the day of).

I'm excited!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Emotion + Apathy = ?

Sociopaths do a lot of heartless everything.  What would you call one who can't tolerate wrong doing, to the point where they get very upset?  A reader writes:

I'd like to hear your opinion and the opinion of your readers on something I've been realizing lately. It seems to me that I am a very unique person, and anomaly. I seem to be a borderline sociopath, capable of feeling at both ends of the emotional spectrum. I've always been extremely intelligent, viewing the world in countless ways and expressing opinions that often earn contempt from my peers, simply because they are too narrow minded to understand my views. As such, have had trouble connecting to people around me, with most of my friends being simply people who pass the time. I've always thought that people were insufferable, cruel idiots, and yet, I am genuinely charismatic and enjoy the company of people. (The ones I can tolerate, anyway) I've only ever met one person who I thought of as my equal, and she was just as intelligent as me, which I found strange, as I thought that anyone with my level of intelligence would naturally be a logical sociopath, but she wasn't even close to one. 

When I am around people I care about, I am one of the nicest people in the world, and will go out of my way to help them, so long as my own needs are met first. However, when I'm around people I hate, or I here about criminals in the news, I am filled with a burning rage, and often fantasize about torturing and killing these people. If I ever had to kill someone for the right reason, I don't think I'd hesitate or feel even a shred of remorse. I have very strong morals, but I'm also flexible with some opportunistic actions, and I don't believe that any action is inherently evil. Rather, it is the circumstances and intent behind the action that are relevant. 

I believe that sociopathy is human nature, as all children act like sociopaths before they are taught to care for others, and while my mother made attempts to teach me empathy, my logic took over and made me ask "Why care for those who don't show me the same respect?" I don't go out of my way to manipulate people, but when I find it necessary, it is usually fun. I have my own very strong personality and I don't act with different ones as most sociopaths do, but I have a great understanding of the human mind and how to manipulate it. It just seems that, while the main focus seems to be total, emotionless sociopaths, I have an almost perfect balance of emotion and apathy, and I was wondering if anyone has ever encountered something like this before? And what do you think?

M.E.: This is interesting. I think a lot of people who are very smart naturally gravitate towards a more open minded, amoral, even pseudo sociopathic mindset. There are exceptions of course, like your intelligent friend. I think the thing that makes me least think you are a sociopath is that you want to kill criminals that you hear about on television. Why would you have such a strong reaction, if not moral outrage?


I agree. If I were truly a sociopath, I wouldn't have such a strong reaction to crimes and immoral actions. It seems to me, then, that borderline sociopathy is a natural by-product of intelligence. In a situation like mine, it seems like it would be incorrect to even label it as a mental abonormality; rather, it is just another worldview that the common, narrow-minded empath would label and 'wrong,' as uneducated societies have always done to those who are different.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Confronting a sociopath

A lot of people ask me, how can I confront a sociopath?  There are a lot of ways, but you should also be aware of what the sociopath feels when confronted, basically confused and unaffected or very, very angry.   Here's how one reader described it in a comment:

When people yell at me, I am confused first and foremost. Bursts of strong emotion take me completely by surprise, and it takes a second or two for me to regain my wits. After that brief moment, my brain immediately kicks into high gear to analyze the situation: Why are they yelling? What are they saying? Have I done something deliberately to harm them recently or ever? Have I done something they could indirectly assume as harming them?

When someone calls me out, manages to look past my charming and pleasant mask and react negatively, it puts me into a very cruel and cold state of mind. It constitutes a threat of the highest order, a threat to my carefully maintained persona, and I treat it as such.

If I decide it is my best interest to passively accept whatever retribution/apology they demand, I do so with the utmost affected sincerity. If I can ignore it, I do, and their subsequent nagging is a mere minor irritation. In the rare occasion that continued contact/antagonizing on their part could compromise my peace, I strike back. I use everything I've learned about their insecurities, their weaknesses, their fears, and I break them. I hurt them so deeply and thoroughly that they are either frightened away entirely or too cowed to ever attack me again. I take great, great pleasure in doing so--oftentimes, to preserve my peaceful existence in the public eye, I have to hold back. It feels good to break others. Very good.

One of the special pleasures of writing this blog and reading what people comment is seeing another sociopath describe almost exactly what something feels like for me.  I think this comment illustrates this supremely.  


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Choosing victimhood (or not)

From a reader:

You've helped me a great deal in the past when I was having to deal with my ex-husband. Your advice is golden and we're on good terms probably because you have showed me through your site exactly where he is coming from. We now get along better than we ever did when we were married.

I've been working with a psychologist who specializes in personality disorders and I talk to women who have been involved with sociopaths. Largely they are very unwilling to step out of the victim's role, which I think is the only way to recover from being taken for such a ride. I think much of the damage they suffer from has come from having someone torn out of their life so harshly. The unanimous advice when it comes from recovering from a sociopath is "run and don't look back".

This way of approaching the situation creates either a victim or something to be chased, neither of which seem productive to anyone involved.  The small few willing to try a new route and learn about this way of thinking benefit greatly whether they remain in contact with their sociopath or not. Unlike those who readily accept the victim's mentality, they learn a new value system and can appreciate in themselves what the sociopath saw in them. They learn to once again value the person and not reduce them to a label like what goes on at the lovefraud website.

I always encourage women to keep their sociopaths in their lives if they think they can handle it. This involves accepting them for who they are and not expecting typical reactions or relying on areas that have previously been problems (I will never again count on my ex-husband to be on time with his payments or expect that he will not cheat on his current and future spouses). I've never seen a sociopath "get fixed" (I personally don't think anything is broken) but I have seen the positive effects of having someone who understands and can help re-direct potentially dangerous energy.

I completely reject that sociopaths don't have feelings, I think they have more intense emotions than empaths because they are entirely their own, not diluted by whatever else is around. It is harder to create an emotion entirely from scratch than to just pick up on someone else's and add to it, so these true emotions are much more rare. If you allow a sociopath to be himself, you get to be part of all of this. This is one of the reasons I prefer to be around such company. I think it's entirely possible to create a mutually beneficial relationship that will be unlike any other.

This approach is almost always rejected by the doctors I have talked to, despite huge success I've had in my own life and in my field research. I've been told this is too dangerous, that I'm still being taken for a ride if I think "these people" have anything to offer me and that no good can come from such relationships. I do not think I can have any effect working with psychologists and therapists because I'm going up against a whole establishment and have no credentials, the only thing I have is a very open mind.

Do you think this approach, changing your perceptions to change your relationship is progressive? I realize that most will not want to be close to someone who has hurt them but for the ones like me, nothing can be more healing or enlightening. I value your opinion more than anyone in the entire field and I would love to know what you think the most effective method of being able to help people would be if you approve.

Thank you for everything you do, you have helped so many and you are among my favorite people in the world for doing it.

M.E.: I think you are spot on. I think the advice that specialists are giving to sociopaths and people involved with sociopaths is rubbish (for the most part). It's too bad that there are so many basic misunderstandings about the nature of sociopaths. And I agree with you that sociopaths have a unique perspective that can actually be beneficial to people who ar able to understand and appreciate it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


As someone who has used a similar relationship analogy in the past, I was pretty impressed by this comment from this post.

She is a car that has almost completely run out of gas. The gas is energy. Depression is having no energy. 

"But I keep filling her tank up with gas!" you say. Unfortunately for you, her engine nearly kaput. Fuel leaks everywhere, the sparkplugs are bad, the throttle is loose, and despite all that gas your pouring into the tank, she's lucky if she can get a mile further down the road.

All of these things are fixable, and but you're going to have to completely rebuild the car, and since you have a budget, (in your case, the amount of time you can stand to hang around her) it's going to take awhile. 

Here's how to use the car analogy to help you stay sane while dealing with someone who is, by definition, a drag. Say that she has a habit of not looking you (or anyone) in the eye. She stares at her nails, she stares at her feet, she stares out the window, but her eyes are unfocused and you know she's not actually staring at anything. This is a big habit for depressives, because by not looking at anything we don't have to care about anything outside ourselves, and therefore we can protect ourselves from any further emotional pain. It's our primary defense mechanism. So how to fix this? In car terms, the headlights are out, which is maybe why the car looks like it's been inadvertently offroading a lot. The only thing to do is to replace them. Imagining your friend as an inanimate object may seem inconsiderate, but empaths get much less worked up over inanimate objects than they do with people, so it's much easier to not take what she does personally, which is essential if you're going to be dealing with a depressed person much of the time. 

So now that you have a mental defense in the form of an analogy, how exactly do you go about repairing your friend? You basically train her like a dog into certain habits. Punishment won't work, because I guarantee you nothing you can do to her is worse than what she's already doing to herself. So the two big tools in your repair kit are going to be distraction and reward. When you notice her starting to get that introspective "I'm going to beat myself up for no good reason" look, distract her. Research on the internet for things that are excellent distractions. If she's distracted, she is focusing outside herself and can't slip into full-on "I hate myself" mode. The second is reward. Whenever she does something- no matter how small- that is in the direction on forming a habit to combat her own depression, reward her. It doesn't have to be anything fancy- a smile or a sincere complement will do. With these two tools, you can slowly warp her worldview into a more positive tint. 

I think that this is actually really helpful for people who are less empathic (and everyone maybe).  It's still cause and effect, sort of, but just a different project than maybe you thought you were working on.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Anxiety vs. fear (part 2)

There was an interesting article in the NY Times about the difference between fear and anxiety a little while ago.  Here is how they described it:

You are taking a walk in the woods ― pleasant, invigorating, the sun shining through the leaves. Suddenly, a rattlesnake appears at your feet. You experience something at that moment. You freeze, your heart rate shoots up and you begin to sweat ― a quick, automatic sequence of physical reactions. That reaction is fear.

A week later, you are taking the same walk again. Sunshine, pleasure, but no rattlesnake.  Still, you are worried that you will encounter one. The experience of walking through the woods is fraught with worry. You are anxious.

Human anxiety is greatly amplified by our ability to imagine the future, and our place in it.

What is the difference between anxiety and fear?

Scientists generally define fear as a negative emotional state triggered by the presence of a stimulus (the snake) that has the potential to cause harm, and anxiety as a negative emotional state in which the threat is not present but anticipated. We sometimes confuse the two: When someone says he is afraid he will fail an exam or get caught stealing or cheating, he should, by the definitions above, be saying he is anxious instead.
The automatic nature of the activation process reflects the fact that the amygdala does its work outside of conscious awareness. We respond to danger, then only afterward realize danger is present.

Every animal (including insects and worms, as well as animals more like us) is born with the ability to detect and respond to certain kinds of danger, and to learn about things associated with danger.  In short, the capacity to fear (in the sense of detecting and responding to danger) is pretty universal among animals.  But anxiety ― an experience of uncertainty ― is a different matter. It depends on the ability to anticipate, a capacity that is also present in some other animals, but that is especially well developed in humans.  We can project ourselves into the future like no other creature.

While anxiety is defined by uncertainty, human anxiety is greatly amplified by our ability to imagine the future, and our place in it, even a future that is physically impossible.  With imagination we can ruminate over that yet to be experienced, possibly impossible scenario. We use this creative capacity to great advantage when we envision how to make our lives better, but we can just as easily put it to work in less productive ways — worrying excessively about the outcome of things. Some concern about outcomes is essential to success in meeting life’s challenges and opportunities. But at some point, most of us probably worry more than we need to.  This raises the questions: How much fear and worry is too much? How do we know when we have skipped the line from normal fear and anxiety to a disorder?

And of course the line between fear and anxiety is not always clear either.

I thought that the article made an interesting point about the human ability to predict the future.  It's odd that I have cast myself in the part of oracle in my life -- an amateur fortune teller.  I guess it's because I thought it would be powerful to know the future.  I've gotten better over the years to the point where now every time that I get burned in a prediction it's been because I've failed to take into account how truly unpredictable other human behavior can be.  The more burned I become, the more reluctant I am to stick my hand in the fire.  I can't decide whether that is a good thing or a bad thing.    

Monday, April 2, 2012

Anxiety vs. fear (part 1)

I used to be really reckless, like trying to pass big lorries at night in a blizzard, getting run off the road, rescued by the police, dropped off at an out of the way petrol station, immediately flagging down another lorry driver, and hitching rides the rest of the way, picking up my auto on the way back.  Things always worked out for me because I had nothing to lose.  I was willing to ditch my auto on the side of the road because I didn't care much if it got ruined or stolen.  I didn't have any sense of a comfortable life that I was trying to protect.  I was willing to go lower and lower to get out of scrapes.

My friends often ask me now what happened to that person they used to know.  Now, for whatever reason, I can get very anxious in crowds.  The last time I was in New York, I insisted on riding in taxis, much to my friends' chagrin.  I couldn't stand the thought of going into the underground filled with swarming people.  You could say that I felt anxious about taking the subway, particularly with holiday crowds and the possibility of mob mentality taking over.

The change happened very quickly, about 3-5 years ago.  At around that time I had gotten the H1N1 virus and was sick for many months with secondary infections.  My immune system got so worn down that I could hardly be around anyone without picking up whatever germs they had and getting sick again.  I think it was then that I started to see everyone as a potential threat.  And for the first time I realized how vulnerable I was.  My health turned out to be something that I couldn't beat or cheat.  I wasn't myself at all.  It was disturbing.  Ever since then, I can get anxious.

More than the flu, though, I believe that I just happened to have gone into the elbow of my exponential shaped learning curve.  For the past decade I had been forcing awareness, probabilities and the assessment of risk into my conscious mind so much, I think eventually I just got so good at detecting and accounting for risk that I am just overly aware of things that most people choose to ignore.

I will give an example of what I mean.  When I drive long distances, to fight my ADD tendencies, I make myself hyper-aware.  If I closed my eyes, I would be able to recreate the exact scene in front of me, where every automobile is, a projection/guess of where they'll be a second from now or 5 seconds from now at their current speed, taking into account people entering or leaving the roadway, constantly aware of even the slightest possible outcome and constantly refreshing that information with Bayesian updating.  It makes me a safer driver, but it also puts me on edge.  I get a little Funes the Memorious about it.

Now that I've forced myself to be so hyper-aware of risk and probabilities of future occurrences, I feel like I cannot un-see them.  If there are a lot of things going on, it almost overloads my system.  Although I can predict rational human behavior, humans are not consistent and when they deviate from normal behavior it's usually when the stakes are highest, making the potential collateral damage to me high.  And now I have more to lose -- more money, a more stable life, a career, a relatively stable set of close associates.  All these figures get crunched in my head and make me aware of a million different risks, which added together are not negligible.  And that awareness gives me the symptoms of what is probably best described "anxiety," even though I used to be completely oblivious to all of it (or didn't care).

I may still seem reckless, particularly in circumstances in which people are irrationally afraid and I am relatively unfazed.  I still like excitement in my life; I tend to seek out new and potentially dangerous experiences.  But as I have aged, I have admittedly retreated into more a life of the mind in which my excitement and thrills come more from mind games or intellectual pursuits where the reward/risk ratio is high.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Shaming (part 2)

I have written before about shaming here and here.  A reader responded with this email:

This is the malignant narcissist again.

I'm exploring the shame/sociopathy thing. I thought you might have some thoughts on it.

I was hungry and tired as I shopped at a big-box discount store. There was just one counter open. I wanted to check out. There weren't any customers in line. Then I saw two fat women pull up with their cart to the counter, ahead of me. They were starting to unload. It was clear it would take a long time for them to put the contents of their cart on the belt. I decided that I just didn't want to wait.

The belt was quite long - there was a 10 foot gap between the women unloading their stuff and the clerk. Rather than wait behind them or ask them if I could go ahead, I impulsively ran up to the cashier (10 feet ahead of the fat women) and handed her my stuff. She started to ring me up.

After a few seconds, the women behind me figured out what had happened. They wound up taking their stuff off the belt and moving to another clerk (also fat). They complained to themselves and the clerk about my behavior. As I heard them talking, I started to feel a bit ashamed.

As I left, one of the women I'd bothered said, "thanks for the chivalry."  I said to her, "you're welcome."  I was feeling nasty. Perhaps in the future I'll take a tip from you and giver someone like her a rage-filled glare.

When it was all over, I was a bit shocked at how selfishly I'd behaved. But then I realized, I didn't feel any guilt. I still don't - I don't figure that I did anything wrong. I didn't want to wait behind the hippos as they unloaded their stuff.

 If I'd done something illegal, they'd have called the police. If I'd done something against the rules of the store, the store personnel would have done something - but they did nothing. In the end, all that happened was that I was rude and some fatties got some ruffled feathers. I've broken laws in public before. Sometimes people say something to me about them. When that happens, I tell them that if they don't like it, they should call the police. In the same vein, if the women don't like what I'm doing, they should call the police or talk to the store management.

Later I reflected on things. My action was a bit unfortunate. Perhaps I should feel some guilt about the action (I don't). I do feel a bit like a bad person - but only because they called me on it. Had they not noticed, had they been blind or had I been anonymous, I just wouldn't have cared.

I figure this case is an example of why people assume sociopaths are a danger to society. If everyone acted the way I do, our civilization would fall apart.

I responded: I am usually am not full of rage unless I feel like I have been attempting to comply with the strictures of good social behavior and people still give me a hard time about things.

I very much identify with this thought that if you weren't called on it, you wouldn't feel badly at all.  Although I am starting to wonder more and more if neurotypicals also identify with this feeling and it's not unique to the "dark triad".  Shall we publish it and see what they say?

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