Friday, August 31, 2012

Volume and nuance of emotions

Once upon a time I was discussing music over lunch with a graduate school advisor. I mentioned to him that my biggest strength as a musician was having a highly tuned ear, being able to distinguish between slight changes in intonation that most people would not be able to perceive, much less know in what direction the pitch moved and by how much. Later in the conversation I asked him to repeat himself and explained that I have a hard time hearing in crowded, noisy places. He looked confused.

"I thought you just told me that you have good hearing."

I was about to explain when I saw him understand, "Oh, you have bad hearing, but it is nuanced." 

Yes! Exactly. I have bad hearing but it is extremely nuanced. In fact, sometimes I have wondered if my hearing became nuanced to compensate for my hearing being bad. 

I was remembering this story recently and thinking, maybe this is a good analogy for how I interpret emotional cues. People always wonder, how is it that sociopaths are so mind-blind about somethings but can be so uncannily perceptive about others. I've had a hard time explaining it myself. But maybe it is just this: that it's difficult for me to hear certain things and not others because they are actually unrelated in a way that is not obvious to the average observer. Maybe the emotional cues I am picking up on use a different sort of perception, like less empathy, more sheer observational skills. Or it's more something that can be learned with practice, like reading people's microexpressions

Or maybe it's hard for me to pick up on big picture things, like which emotion, and it's easier for me to pick up on small emotional nuances, like how that emotion is affecting a person's motivation in that moment. Maybe it's like Newman says, that sociopaths can do quite well with emotion as long as their attention has been directed to it (e.g. talking with a person one on one), but if there is too much background noise distracting, it will go completely over my head? 

I haven't refined the theory yet, but I feel there is something to it.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Recipe for psychopaths?

No specific recipe, says researcher Jennifer Skeem, whom you may remember as the one whom Robert Hare tried to legally silence. From

“There is no real recipe for psychopathic personality disorder,” she says. “The environmental factors are as ill-defined as the genetic factors, although antisocial behavior mixed with a history of punitive discipline, abuse and neglect seems to apply in many cases.”

On violence:

Psychopathy is not synonymous with violence, Skeem notes. In fact, she has found that psychopathic people often have no history of violent behavior or criminal convictions. 

“An individual doesn’t necessarily need to be physically violent or a common street criminal to have psychopathic traits,” she says. Researchers estimate that about 1 percent of the general population are psychopaths. 

Famous sociopaths?

Skeem points to Gordon Gekko, the unscrupulous financial executive played by Michael Douglas in the 1987 film “Wall Street,” as someone with all the signs of psychopathy. 

She cites Ponzi scheme mastermind Bernie Madoff and Enron executive Andrew Fastow – ruthless, detached individuals who showed little remorse for robbing victims of their life savings – as real-life examples. Psychopathic traits helped them quickly climb the corporate ladder yet ultimately led to their downfall. 

Good sociopaths?

Can such traits ever be used for good? Skeem notes that the bold, risk-taking bomb squad leader in the Academy Award-winning movie “The Hurt Locker” succeeded in a high-pressure environment thanks to psychopathic tendencies. Of course, some psychopaths do resort to violence and crime. But according to Skeem, youth and adults with high scores on measures of psychopathy can exhibit reduced violent and criminal behavior after intensive treatment, such as mental health counseling and drug abuse rehabilitation. “There is scant scientific evidence to support the claim of ‘once a psychopath, always a psychopath,’” she says.

One one size fits all, parting thoughts:

“Research on psychopathy has evolved to a level that it can greatly improve on the current one-size-fits-all policy approach,” Skeem says.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Possessions and exploits

I see relationships with people in terms of possessions or exploits.  Like the Greeks and their many words for “love,” I have my own brand of feelings and behaviors for both groups. The former is typically reserved for my family or people that I call friends.  For the possessions, I have a sensation of ownership.  Also gratitude.

The latter is for my seduction or other romantic interests. Seduction has traditionally been an all of nothing endeavor, at least I can't really control it. Seductions are like wildfires, I only get to choose the beginnings and then they take on a life of their own or flame out. So I don't typically do them with people I hope to keep around for longer than a few months. For the exploits, the pleasure is in gaining and exercising influence over them. I am never infatuated with my possessions, but I am for my exploits. And I can feel possessive over my exploits. I pursue them because they give me a thrill. Will I win them over, what might that look like? Success is valuable only to the extent that it is evidence of my power. As one blog reader said, “There really is nothing more amusing or exciting or fun than turning a smart, beautiful, resourceful person into a personal plaything.” It is a game, but I am not necessarily interested in the spoils so much as the maneuvering.

The distinction is well illustrated by the literary character Estella, from Charles Dickens's Great Expectations. Miss Havisham raises Estella to break men’s hearts in a form of vengeance for being jilted at the altar, and Estella willingly does so with everyone but the protagonist Pip, who is in love with Estella. Pip notices that Estella does not actively attempt to seduce him like she does with other men. He complains, and she reprimands him:

"Do you want me then", said Estella, turning suddenly with a fixed and serious, if not angry, look, "to deceive and entrap you?"

"Do you deceive and entrap him, Estella?"

"Yes, and many others—all of them but you."

Like Estella, I do not seduce my possessions because I don’t want to lose respect for them and because they’re unsustainable long-term. As one blog reader wrote:

You find it hard to not objectify people, however it’s important so you just try with a few people that understand who you are. All the rest of the people who don't understand you are fools to you.

I have had a few relationships that have begun as seductions and morphed into something more serious but they almost always end because they never feel like they knew the “real” me.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The cure: self-awareness

I was reading through some old blog material and stumbled upon this comment by Peter Pan that I thought was unusually insightful and helpful, regarding the antidote to a sociopath's machinations:

Honesty with yourself is indeed the cure, and that includes realizing that you were a victim, and that although your ex was an ass, you must ultimately take responsibility for what happens in your own life. You have to be willing to face and accept the truth, no matter how painful it might be, so you can use it to make rational decisions about your future and what kind of life you want to live. Then you'll be equipped to handle encounters with sociopaths without getting burned quite so badly, if at all. All a sociopath has to do to enslave you is find out what you refuse to accept, and screw with your head and heart so that you see a connection between what you refuse to believe and what he wants to hide from you. Sounds like a lot of mumbo jumbo, I'm sure, but I assure you it's very real. Think back to how you were manipulated, and I think you'll find that at the heart of every lie you should have caught, there was a link to something about yourself, or life in general, that you couldn't allow yourself to accept. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Canadian Psycho: Luka Rocco Magnotta

I'm sorry to be so late on this, but there is apparently another (?!) "Canadian Psycho" on the loose, but not really because apparently the Mounties actually did manage to get him into custody. (Am I doing ok with the Canadianisms?)  He is the murdering star of "1 ice pick 1 lunatic". As reported by

Aspiring model, self-professed bisexual porn star, hustler, small-time felon, palpable narcissist, dissected in recent weeks by profilers-for-hire as classic psychopath, the Scarborough born Magnotta — born Eric Clinton Newman, formally changing his name in 2006 — was obsessed with cosmetic surgery to alter the features he didn’t like and, reportedly, to look more like James Dean . What remained throughout was the signature sensuous pout, the bedroom mouth of a man described by a former transgendered girlfriend as actually a dud in the sack, disinterested in sex and woefully unskilled as amorous partner. Magnotta also, she claimed, hit himself compulsively.

In videotaped interviews, he touches delicately at his face.

“A lot of people tell me I’m devastatingly good-looking.’’
“If I don’t have my looks, then I don’t have any life. My looks and my body are my life.’’

Estranged from family, he’d already been accused by animal lover groups of torturing and killing kittens, suffocating them in plastic bags, feeding them to snakes, and posting the evidence online. This would be textbook emerging psychopathic behaviour, characteristics evident early to one relative who told the Peterborough Examiner: “He’s a nut job. I did not trust him. Eric is the type of individual . . . I think he’s mentally ill. He has delusions of grandeur. He concocts stories that he tends to believe and they in turn become fact in his mind.’’

“I am a survivor of mental illness and I’m not ashamed of it. I went through a very traumatic childhood and in my teen years experimented with drugs and alcohol. At first, I thought this was the problem . . . it wasn’t. I am manic depressive and bi-polar. One day I’m normal, the next I can’t get out of my bed and then next week I want to conquer the world. Very confusing to someone who doesn’t understand.’’

Compulsively exhibitionistic, in thrall to himself, but no more than a cipher for most of an utterly superficial life, as insubstantial as a hologram. His only known object of interest was Luka Magnotta — when not calling himself Vladimir Romanov or Angel or K. Trammel, perhaps inspired by the ice-pick murdering Catherine Trammel character from Basic Instinct.

So many identities, shedding bits of himself, forensically, in the short period that he remained a fugitive at large — he’d professed, online, to being expert in disappearing — tracked first to Paris, where he made others uncomfortable in a bistro. French police found porn magazines and air sickness bags from his flight in a room where Magnotta had stayed before lamming it when Interpol publicized his name.

“I do not necessarily feel the need to redeem my reputation since the people that know me best will be more than happy to vouch for my honesty in conduct and I can provide many satisfied and loyal references if necessary.”

Magnotta was arrested June 4 in a Berlin Internet cafĂ©, where he’d been surfing the web, reading about himself.

Is he really a psychopath? Parts seem to fit, yes, but I actually would bet borderline over both psychopath and bipolar. Thoughts?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sociopaths in literature: Persuasion

The charming, social climbing, unreproachable Mr. Elliot from Jane Austen's Persuasion:
Mr. Elliot is a man without heart or conscience; a designing, wary, cold-blooded being, who thinks only of himself; who, for his own interest or ease, would be guilty of any cruelty, or any treachery, that could be perpetrated without risk of his general character. He has no feeling for others. Those whom he has been the chief cause of leading into ruin, he can neglect and desert without the smallest compunction. He is totally beyond the reach of any sentiment of justice or compassion. Oh! he is black at heart, hollow and black.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sociopath quote of the day: dragons

We have no reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors, they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abysses belong to us; are dangers at hand, we must try to love them . . . How should we be able to forget those ancient myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.

-- Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Sociopath 12 step program

Pretty funny:
1. We admit that we are powerless over our character flaw - that our lives have become unmanageable -- we like it that way.

2. We have come to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity -- but we don't care.

3. We have made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God or Society, as we understand Him/Her/Them -- if we trusted them more than we trusted our own judgement and responsibility.

4. We have made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves -- and have found nothing wrong.

5. We have admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being(?) the exact nature of our wrongs -- perfection.

6. We are entirely ready to have God remove all of these defects of character -- (assuming he put them there in the first place?)

7. We humbly [sic] ask Him to remove our shortcomings -- easy job, since there are few.

8. We have made a list of all persons we have harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all -- by getting out of their lives.

9. We will make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others -- (see number 8)

10. We will continue to take personal inventory and when we are wrong promptly admit it -- however, other people will surely take on this responsiblity for us.

11. We have sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out -- daddy replacement?

12. Having had this spiritual awakening as a result of these Steps, we will carry this message to other Sociopaths, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. (see also sex addicts anonymous)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Dialects and self-awareness

The other day I get in an almost fight with a Palestinian about my accent. He happens to be in my country for work and we met during a poker game with some mutual friends of ours. He asked about my accent and I said that it does not originate from my country of origin. He thought I was lying. More than that, I think he thought my refusal to own up to also being a foreigner was somehow a way to insult his own pronounced accent. When he started to get belligerent I figured I would just lie and gave him a fake backstory about a thickly accented grandmother that raised me with absentee parents, which seemed to satisfy him.

With that in mind, I found this Slate article to pretty entertaining, perhaps even a parable. It discusses the rise and spread of an American English dialect called the Northern Cities Shift, "NCS" and had this to say about the acquisition of regional dialects:

Children acquire language from face-to-face interaction with their parents and peers, and this learning is shaped profoundly by our desire to fit in. People wring their hands about the supposed disappearance of dialectic diversity for the same reason that such diversity is not, in fact, going anywhere: We cling to our specific identities and peer groups, and we defend our individual and regional idiosyncrasies when and where we can. Our dialects are often the weapon readiest to hand in that fight.

Did I not acquire my own regional dialect because I was not necessarily motivated by a desire to fit in, at least not as a very young child? Or because I never really identified with my peer group? The most unusual aspect of the NCS dialect spread, according to researchers, is how unaware the "shifters" are of their own speech patterns:

If news of this radical linguistic shift hasn’t made it to you yet, you are not alone. Even people who speak this way remain mostly unaware of it. Dennis Preston, a professor of perceptual linguistics at Oklahoma State University—he doesn’t merely study how people speak, he studies how people perceive both their own speech and the speech of others—discovered something peculiar about NCS speakers when he was teaching at Michigan State University. “They don’t perceive their dialect at all,” he says. “The awareness of the NCS in NCS territory is zero.” (Well, almost zero. The high point for NCS awareness may have come 20 years ago, when “Bill Swerski’s Super Fans” was a popular recurring sketch on Saturday Night Live.)

According to Preston, most American dialect regions are oblivious to their quirks, but NCS speakers show a particularly striking lack of self-awareness. In one experiment, shifters were asked to write down a series of words, some affected by the NCS, some not, but all dictated by someone with an NCS accent. The expectation is obvious: Shifters should ace this test. But, amazingly, NCS speakers frequently did not understand their own speech. When they hear the word cat in isolation, for example, they seem to flip a mental coin to decide whether the speaker is talking about a common pet or a folding bed.

In a separate experiment, Nancy Niedzielski, an associate professor of linguistics at Rice University, told 50 NCS speakers that she was going to play a recording of a speaker from Michigan saying the word B-A-G, which she spelled out for them. She then asked the test subjects to identify whether the signal they heard sounded like byag (the NCS pronunciation), bag (the “standard” pronunciation), or baahg (a vaguely British pronunciation). Not one of the 50 subjects said that they heard the NCS pronunciation. “There’s just an incredible deafness to the local pronunciation,” Preston says—adding that the reason, in his opinion, is clear. “They believe that they are standard, normal, ordinary speakers, and when they’re confronted with evidence to the contrary, they reject it. They reject it in their daily lives, and they reject it even experimentally. They don’t even understand themselves.”

For me it's hard not to see parallels between these NCS speakers and your typical empath: oblivious to their own behavior, unable to see parallels in their behavior and those of others, unable to even understand the fact that they are failing to understand something that is relatively obvious to others. When people talk about sociopaths being able to see right through them I usually think, yes, but a lot of this stuff is obvious if you're not caught up in that particular flavor of self-deception.

But I'm glad that people think I speak with an accent to the point that they won't even believe the truth about me. It just makes it that much more easier to obfuscate. I guess people will just believe what they want to believe, right?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Song: Katie Cruel

When I first came to town,
They called me the roving jewel;
Now they've changed their tune,
They call me Katy Cruel,
Oh, diddle, lully day,
Oh, de little lioday.

Oh that I was where I would be,
Then I would be where I am not,
Here I am where I must be,
Go where I would, I can not,
Oh, diddle, lully day,
Oh, de little lioday.

When I first came to town,
They brought me the bottles plenty;
Now they've changed their tune,
They bring me the bottles empty,
Oh, diddle, lully day,
Oh, de little lioday.


I know who I love,
And I know who does love me;
I know where I'm going,
And I know who's going with me,
Oh, diddle, lully day,
Oh, de little lioday.


Through the woods I go,
And through the bogs and mire,
Straightway down the road,
And to my heart's desire,
Oh, diddle, lully day,
Oh, de little lioday.


Eyes as bright as coal,
Lips as bright as cherry,
and 'tis her delight
To make the young girls merry,
Oh, diddle, lully day,
Oh, de little lioday.


When I first came to town
They called me the roving jewel
Now they've changed their tune
They call me Katy Cruel
Oh, diddle, lully day,
Oh, de little lioday.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Biological origins of empathy

Hopefully people aren't sick of reading about empathy by now, but I recently found this interesting Wall Street Journal article discussing how animals possibly feel (or don't feel) empathy, including humans.  First the article discusses recent studies on animals that suggested that animals have altruistic traits. Initially this animal altruism was claimed to be related to empathy, but it has since been downgraded to being merely "pro-social":

In one, scientists at the University of Chicago put two rats in an arena, one held by a restrainer, the other free. They found that the free rat learned to "intentionally and quickly open the restrainer and free the cagemate." They interpreted this result as "providing strong evidence for biological roots of empathically motivated helping behavior."

In the other case, Drs. Hollis and Nowbahari themselves did a very similar experiment with ants. They found that ants were prepared to rescue fellow ants held in a nylon snare and showing obvious distress. Just like the rats, the hero ants would chew at the restraints (though not if the victims were anesthetized or from different colonies or species). Happy to describe such behavior as "pro-social," they did not go so far as to attribute empathy to the ants. There was no reason to think that the hero ants were motivated by a wish to alleviate the suffering of the victims. More likely, they possessed a self-interested instinct to help get a co-worker back to work.

How does this differ from humans? Humans would probably behave in similar ways if we put them in similar situations, but is the psychological motivation different?  Adam Smith seems to think so:

In his 1759 book the "Theory of the Moral Sentiments," philosopher Adam Smith argued that empathy (he called it sympathy) was motivated by the capacity to imagine being another person. "When I condole with you for the loss of your only son, in order to enter into your grief, I do not consider what I, a person of such a character and profession, should suffer, if I had a son, and if that son was unfortunately to die; but I consider what I should suffer if I was really you; and I not only change circumstances, but I change persons and characters. My grief, therefore, is entirely upon your account, and not in the least upon my own. It is not, therefore, in the least selfish."

The article concludes that either we think that rats are capable of this Smithian imagination (which the author concludes is absurd), or we assume that animals must have different motivations than humans.  OR!!!!  And this was what I was thinking this whole time, but the author finally admits at the end a big OR to this whole thing is that maybe humans don't have the psychological motivations that they think they do. Maybe the humans are doing things for the same reasons as the rats: "Can we be so sure it is fellow-feeling rather than instinct that drives us to our virtuous as well as our vicious actions?"

If we are really the empathy equivalent of rats, maybe we invented empathy to give ourselves a nice story. In other words, maybe humans give a positive spin on their "choices" after the fact, the same way they do with free will (or should I say, free won't). I feel like I just discovered the necessary plot device to make the Matrix IV relevant.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Lighter sentencing for genetic predispositions

This NY Times article discusses new experimental evidence that suggests that when judges (not juries) sentence criminals for whom there is evidence of genetic predisposition to violence and crime (in this experiment, psychopaths), they give lighter sentences than they otherwise would:

The new experiment focused on sentencing by judges, not jury verdicts. It found that neurobiological evidence reduced judges’ sentences by an average of about 7 percent for a fictional defendant convicted of battery and identified as a psychopath.

In the study, three researchers at the University of Utah tracked down 181 state judges from 19 states who agreed to read a fictional case file and assign a sentence to an offender, “Jonathan Donahue,” convicted of beating a restaurant manager senseless with the butt of a gun. All of the judges learned in their files that Mr. Donahue had been identified as a psychopath based on a standard interview — that is, he had a history of aggressive acts without showing empathy.

The case files distributed to the judges were identical, except that half included testimony from a scientist described as “a neurobiologist and renowned expert on the causes of psychopathy,” who said that the defendant had inherited a gene linked to violent, aggressive behavior. This testimony described how the gene variant altered the development of brain areas that generate and manage emotion.
The judges who read this testimony gave Mr. Donahue sentences that ranged from one to 41 years in prison, a number that varied with state guidelines. But the average was 13 years — a full year less than the average sentence issued by the judges who had not seen the testimony about genetics and the brain.
“But then those who read about the biological mechanism subtracted a year, as if to say, ‘This guy is really dangerous and scary, and we should treat him as such, but the biological evidence suggests that we can’t hold him as responsible for the behavior,’ ” said James Tabery, an assistant professor of philosophy at Utah.
This mixed result — added punishment for the defendant’s being identified as a psychopath, tempered by empathy for his having a possible genetic predisposition — provides a good illustration of what legal researchers call the double-edged sword of biobehavioral evidence. On one hand, a biological predisposition suggests that a person is likely to be dangerous in the future and should get a longer sentence; on the other, it implies a lower threshold of responsibility. The evidence could cut either way, depending on the judge.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


I have encountered some truly extraordinary people recently, and that's got me thinking about what it means to be ordinary vs. extraordinary. I have always been successful at whatever I have done, and I've always had a healthy opinion of myself, but sometimes I wonder if I have somehow squandered my potential. I think most people do. I have a lot of talents that I feel could be used to do something extraordinary, if circumstances necessitated it. But I also don't really feel like carving out a piece of fame for myself just for the sake of carving out a piece of fame. If I was to achieve really great, fame worthy things, I think I would be more a Wellington responding to a Napoleon, not a Napoleon determined to alter the course of human history. I think I like day-to-day living too much to choose such a distinguished life. Perhaps the least sociopathic thing about me is that I really really like people. They fascinate me, they amuse me. I have frequently dedicated myself to some plan or another for a time, collecting little achievements as I go, but if I have aspired to anything beyond conquering these little obstacles of life, it is to be a sommelier of people. A gourmand of the human condition. I appreciate humanity, but I'm set apart. Or at least that's been my M.O. for the past decade or so. And for me to be as ensconced in humanity as I am requires concentration and dedication that doesn't allow for much else.

Still, the spectre of extraordinary haunts me, sneaking in in little ways. As I recently wrote a friend:
I need to pour my energies into more productive things and stop indulging myself all the time. I feel like emotionally I am frequently tempted into eating the equivalent of [fill in the blank food allergy]. I know it will make me sick, but I do it anyway because it is there and I don't want to deny myself anything. I don't know why, I have always been bad about saying no to things. I think I worry that otherwise life will pass me by. I have a friend who says things like, "everything we do changes us, we should be careful about what we do." I think you think the same way, like when you told me not to sic C on K. Maybe you thought it was wrong, but your strongest arguments for me were your concerns over how it would change me. Would I be like a shark who has acquired a taste for human blood? Would I eventually have to be put down? I don't want to trade self control for mere experiences. At least, I should be very careful whenever those are the terms of the exchange. I have a scarcity of self control as it is.
I believe I have made the right decisions so far. I believe I have been correctly walking the fine line between doing things for experience, glory, fame, amusement or whatever, and not doing things because they will change me for the worse. But I understand the temptation of becoming extraordinary. I feel the allure daily. But I agree with this quote from a film about an extraordinary musician and her ordinary sister: "If you think that being an ordinary person is any easier than being an extraordinary one, you're wrong."

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Immune to insecurities

I am dating someone who has loads of insecurities, body image issues, career dissatisfaction, etc. The insecurities are not to the point that they're annoying, they're just there and in ways in which this person readily accepts about themselves. The whole thing is actually pretty attractive to the sadist in me. But it has also gotten me thinking about what it means to be insecure. See, I don't think I've ever been insecure. I know it sounds absurd. It’s not like I think that I am the best at everything. I am well-aware of my many failings. I guess it’s just that they don’t bother me, and I certainly don’t identify with them in this bizarre, fixated way that I often see people do.

I was talking to my friend about this, because she often suggests that I am overly secure with myself. We had the following conversation:

M.E.: I think you're the one that's really made me realize that I am basically not insecure about anything

Friend: If anything you're oblivious

M.E.: Oblivious?

Friend: To others reactions or positions which in turn insulates you and makes you immune

Very insightful, I thought. I do seem to have the ability to be targetedly oblivious to things. I know in the abstract that there are people who hate or judge me, but I probably wouldn't be able to name specific people. Is this the origin of my confidence? Is it really because I don't care what people think, or that I think they're wrong, or maybe that I just am blind to others disapproval.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Learning by analogy

I think almost completely in terms of analogies.  Maybe you all have noticed.  I use them all of the time on the blog to explain things.  My mind naturally focuses on the relationships between things rather than the characteristics of the things themselves.  It's how my information is stored in my head, which means that I experience the world differently from people who don't do this.  Different things are obvious to me that aren't so obvious to others.  An analogy (again!) would be a bookshelf.  If you organize it alphabetically by author, you'll focus on that, if you organize it on subject matter, you'll focus on that, and if you organize it by color... the bookshelf will be more aesthetically pleasing.

When I encounter something new, I immediately start spinning through the universe of possible analogies to it, like a safecracker hunting for the right combination, or a picklock feeling for something similar enough to fit, at least in all of the ways that are important (functionally).  I'm one of those annoying people who are always talking about how similar music is to mathematics.  And now that I've been taking calculus courses in my spare time, I think of everything in terms of limits.

I don't know when I started doing this, but I learn this way almost exclusively.  Anything else is the equivalent of recreating the wheel.  What it means as a practical matter is that I either pick up on things extremely quickly, or I'm a complete idiot -- a very flat learning curve, punctuated by sharp inclines.  I am particularly horrible at following directions.  When I eventually do learn something, it's basically because I have finally cycled through enough possible analogies to have hit on the right combination.

This one aspect of my personality has probably affected my life and personality more than any other one trait, even probably more than my sociopathic tendencies.  In fact, it's sort of odd that I have never mentioned it before, I guess because I thought that it didn't have anything to do with sociopathy so why write about it here.  But now I sort of wonder if this type of thinking is more common amongst the sociopathic population than the empathic population.  Perhaps, for instance, because sociopaths are naturally obsessed with power and manipulation, the relationships between things take on a prominence and focus in the same way that there are allegedly many more words for snow among Inuit tribes?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Theory of empathy

This may sound completely idiotic, completely obvious, completely redundant, or all three, but reading people's responses to the post on using babies to teach empathy, I thought maybe for the first time I have a theory about what empathy is:

  • Empathy is you feeling an emotion you have previously experienced in response to seeing someone else experience something that looks similar enough to remind you viscerally and poignantly of your own experience.  In a way, you are re-living the previous experience, not necessarily feeling what the other person is feeling.  
  • Empathy requires some degree of attention to the emotional cues of others to trigger your recollection of your own experience.  
  • People who are particularly observant of or in tune with the emotions of others and people who have had a greater breadth and depth of emotions are more likely to feel empathy. 
  • To the extent that sociopaths seem to lack empathy, it may be attributed to the fact that they are both (1) relatively oblivious to social cues and that (2) they have a different emotional palette that is triggered less frequently by the emotions of neurotypicals.  
  • Sociopaths do have infrequent feelings of empathy when the stars align and the sociopath is both paying attention to the cue and has previously experienced the emotion himself.  

Thoughts?  It's primarily based on Newman's work with sociopath emotions and attentional issues, but I wonder if I am misunderstanding what empaths (or sociopaths) feel.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Guest song: Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head

As your body floats down Third Street
With the burn-smell factory closing up
Yes it's sad to say you will romanticize
All the things you've known before
It was not not not so great
It was not not not so great
And as you take a bath in that beaten path
There's a pounding at the door
Well It's a mighty zombie talking of some love and posterity
He says "The good old days never say good-bye
If you keep this in your mind:
You need some lo-lo-loving arms
You need some lo-lo-loving arms"
And as you fall from grace the only words you say are

Put your hand inside the puppet head
Put your hand inside the puppet head
Put your hand inside
Put your hand inside
Put your hand inside the puppet head

Ads up in the subway are the work of someone
Trying to please their boss
And though the guy's a pig we all know what he wants
Is just to please somebody else
If the pu-pu-puppet head
Was only bu-bu-busted in
It would be a better thing for everyone involved
And we wouldn't have to cry

Put your hand inside the puppet head
Put your hand inside the puppet head
Put your hand inside
Put your hand inside
Put your hand inside the puppet head

Memo to myself, do the dumb things I gotta do
Touch the puppet head

Quit my job down at the car wash
Didn't have to write no-one a good-bye note
That said, "The check's in the mail, and
I'll see you in church, and don't you ever change"
If the pu-pu-puppet head
Was only bu-bu-busted in
I'll see you after school

Put your hand inside the puppet head
Put your hand inside the puppet head
Put your hand inside
Put your hand inside
Put your hand inside the puppet head

Put your hand inside the puppet head
Put your hand inside the puppet head
Put your hand inside
Put your hand inside
Put your hand inside the puppet head

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Conversation with a friend

Friend: Aren't you ever worried that this site will keep you from getting any government jobs?

M.E.: I don't ever want a government job. They're going to find out about me anyway, and I don't want to be the poster child for some political scandal.

Friend: Ha, probably better that way, particularly for someone who can't smell a lynch mob from 10 cm away.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Moral codes, boundaries and food allergies

I think empaths' brains work differently than mine. There are certain things that they consider sacrosanct that I just think are normal, or even silly. Luckily I was brought up in a religious household, so I learned that some invisible things actually mean a lot to other people: love, patriotism, god, goodness, etc. I learned that the general rule to avoid unwanted conflict is to respect those beliefs in others, even though they do not mean anything to me. This is sort of a hallmark of a modern, civilized society. When we walk into holy buildings, we remove our shoes if that is the custom even though the god of that temple may not be our own.

That is what we are socialized to do, but there is some debate regarding how much respect we should give other people's beliefs. For instance, if you believe cows are sacred, I'm fine with your boycotting beef, but your beliefs won't stop me from eating a cheeseburger in front of you. If the average person is willing to take off his shoes in your temple but eat a cheeseburger in front of you, what will he do about your belief that abortion is murder or your beliefs that the female labia is dirty and needs to be cut off or the vagina stitched up to ensure the purity of the woman? What is legitimate?

To me it seems like random line drawing: sodomy between two consenting adults is legitimate, sodomy between an adult and a child not legitimate. Public nudity is wrong, but so is a woman covering up from head to foot. There are reasons, sure. I have heard reasons. But many empaths will criticize dolphin slaughter while eating animals raised in deplorable conditions. (By the way, stop eating octupus. They are very smart, precocious creatures.) How do they reconcile this? What makes them freak about one thing and be so permissive about another?

I am a very tolerant person. I attribute this to my sociopathy. Unlike empaths, who are so hard-wired to believe whatever their culture has programmed them to think, I can look at something from a blank slate point of view. I guess this is also why I'm a libertarian -- I don't believe that my ideas are so right that they should be imposed on others, even if those other people disagree. In other words, I am as skeptical about the beliefs I hold as I am about the beliefs of others. And I don't play favorites like empaths who say, "Imposing my beliefs on others is fine because mine are supported by (fill in the blank pet reasons: science, religion, logic, tradition, etc.), but you can't do the same because your beliefs are only supported by (fill in the blank hated reasons: science, religion, logic, tradition, etc.)." So I trend away from imposing my beliefs on others, and I don't necessarily think that one basis for beliefs is better than another. That doesn't mean I don't respect people's beliefs, though. To keep the peace and as a courtesy to others that I expect to be reciprocated, i will almost always take off my shoes when walking on someone's sacred ground.

Does that make me not a sociopath? Ha. Well, the process of how I do it sounds at least Aspergian. How do I know when to take off my shoes? It's like discovering a food allergy. Maybe you eat something at a restaurant and get sick. Other people from your party ate the same thing and did not get sick. Maybe you just caught a flu bug, you think. A few months later you eat something else and get similar symptoms. The symptoms seem the same, but you don't know what could be the common ingredient. You keep collecting info, eliminating this, eliminating that, keeping a mental log of what you could possibly be allergic to. It is clear to you by now that even though you cannot see what is making you sick, can't even identify it, there is certainly something wrong because you keep getting bad reactions. Maybe your boss periodically gets angry at you in the same way. Maybe your spouse can't stand to be around you when you are like _____. I am in those types of situations all the time -- people are mad at me and I have no idea why. chances are, though, I am encroaching on someone's moral code and/or sense of personal boundaries. I have learned that either I keep doing the same thing and getting the same adverse reaction, or I figure something else out. otherwise I'm in for a world of hurt, because it's like a moral/personal boundary minefield out there. Right aspies?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Guest quote: Family Guy

“I'm not saying I like pain, but I'm not saying I don't like it either.”

Stewie Griffin

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Using babies to teach empathy

A friend sent me this older NY Times article about teaching at risk youth empathy by exposing them to and asking them to consider the well-being of babies.  Why this works, no one knows for sure, but it seems to trigger in them a natural inclination to help altruistically, also shared by primates:

We know that humans are hardwired to be aggressive and selfish. But a growing body of research is demonstrating that there is also a biological basis for human compassion. Brain scans reveal that when we contemplate violence done to others we activate the same regions in our brains that fire up when mothers gaze at their children, suggesting that caring for strangers may be instinctual. When we help others, areas of the brain associated with pleasure also light up. Research by Felix Warneken and Michael Tomasello indicates that toddlers as young as 18 months behave altruistically. (If you want to feel good, watch one of their 15-second video clips here.)

This was something that I didn't know, that we are programmed to help.  The clips are fascinating, for instance this first one, where the researcher drops a clothespin just out of his reach.  The 18 month old child crawls over to the clothespin, picks it up, works himself to a standing position so he'll be tall enough to give the researcher back his clothespin, which he does (to his own apparent delight).

I wouldn't necessarily call it altruism, though, at least not from my superficial understanding.  To me, the impulse seems rooted more in a drive for efficiency (am I projecting my own thoughts here?).  In each of these videos, the toddlers help out in a task that obviously requires cooperative effort for success -- a situation in which it is obvious that someone needs help with something, for instance opening a door when someone has their arms full.  Without the toddler's help, the door never gets opened and that person never gets to their location, or they do so with much greater cost in terms of time and effort.  By helping the researcher, even where there is no immediate promise of reward, the toddler is still engaging in value maximizing behavior that he can hope to benefit from in kind in the future.

This is clearly an evolutionarily advantageous trait, particularly to help out within a particular group or tribe of people.  It expands the our ability to consolidate resources in order to scale particular operations.  Just like the modern legal fiction of a corporation allows us to pool resources (via stock purchases) to create business entities that no one of us could finance independently, a natural inclination to participate in cooperative tasks promotes the overall well-being of society, which improves our own lives.

Maybe I'm reading too much into all of this, but I've always wondered where my compulsion for efficiency comes from, which will override almost any other impulse.  Could it be related to this?

It could also be that the toddler is just trying to pull his own weight, starting to realize that he is a suck on social resources, and wants to avoid getting left in the jungle to die.  Which is actually a risk for us all, in some ways.  So be good everyone!  Or else!

Friday, August 10, 2012


People mistakenly assume that because sociopaths don't empathize, they don't have emotions. I've never heard of a sociopath not having emotions. I do think that sociopath emotions are frequently shallow and stunted, childlike even, but how many people do you know who are emotionally stunted and are not sociopaths?

And what are emotions anyway? They're at least partially contextual -- they at least partially originate from the stories we tell ourselves. If you have "butterflies in your stomach," you could be nervous or excited depending on your interpretation of your situation. And there are certain emotions that exist in some cultures that don't necessarily exist in others, e.g. saudades in Brazil or the intense aspects of shame in Japan. Are emotions just an interpretation of the body's evolutionary fight or flight reactions? Are emotions only releases of adrenaline that we interpret as anxiety? Or endorphins that we interpret as satisfaction?

One theory of why we dream suggests that dreams are the result of our brain trying to interpret external stimuli during sleep. For instance, if we are cold, we imagine that we are walking through snow. Our subconscious concocts a story to explain things we are sensing during our sleep -- trying desperately to make random and incomplete sensory inputs fit into whatever fictional scenario we have literally dreamed up. Are our emotions the same? Are we just interpreting sensory inputs? Making up explanations that support the stories we tell ourselves?

Do we ever wake up?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Sociopaths on television: Pretty Little Liars

I started watching the television show Pretty Little Liars (don't judge me, I was sickly sick all weekend and didn't have the stomach for anything more substantial).  I haven't seen that many episodes, but from what I've seen, the pretty little murder victim Alison seems like a bit of a female teenage sociopath.  I'm too lazy to look up with a better example, but here is at least a typical example of an exchange between her and her friend:

Ali: I made you Spencer.  I made all of you.  Before me you were just some goody goody in plaid who did whatever mommy and daddy told her to.  

Spencer: You're so full of yourself.  You think that just because you brought us together you can treat us like puppets?

Ali: But you are.  Don't you see that?  You don't exist without me.

She trades in secrets like they were the most valuable things on the planet, and in her hands they really are decent weapons, keeping everyone else around her on their toes and doing her bidding.  Her friends frequently remark on how ruthless she was.  She's also cunning.  After police arrive at a fraternity party that she and her friends crashed, instead of trying to sneak away in an attempt to avoid getting caught for underage drinking, she walks right up to a policeman and asks him to take them home.  She explains her chutzpah thusly: "The bolder the move the less anybody questions it."

She's manipulative, but everyone still loves her, which is a dynamic that is actually explored in an interesting way on the show.  Even after all that her associates learn all sorts of bad facts about her after her disappearance (death?), they still self-confessedly love her and admit that their lives will always bear her imprint.

In rehearsing a school play, "The Bad Seed," her friends are discussing some of the moral issues in the play, including the question of whether people are born bad or made bad.  One of the characters remarks, exasperatedly, "I'm having a hard time figuring out who's evil and who's just naughty."  The same goes for the show.  It's not clear who anybody really is and the characters that are the most well-meaning are often the characters who do the most dastardly deeds -- much worse than the actual sociopath herself.  So in that way it is true to life.  But it also makes us question, should people get a pass because they're being naughty rather than evil?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Wisdom of Psychopathy

Another book recommendation, this time with audio clip:

I was reading an article on Scientific American’s website today, when I noticed an advert for an upcoming book entitled The Wisdom of Psychopathy, Kevin Dutton author. This one isn't coming out till October.

I looked the book up on Amazon just because and I also came across another upcoming book called Almost a Psychopath. This one is being released at the end of the month. As always, I thought you might be interested. 

I Googled the title of the book and came across this audio program ("The Psychopath in Us All"). I believe it's about 25 or 30 minutes. The first part is standard fare, all the stuff you’ve read about before. The second part, which starts at about 10:20, features Dutton. I was gratified to hear him voice something I’ve said on your blog numerous times over the last few years: it makes sense to think of all personality traits as existing along a spectrum, from extreme to moderate to barely there. Psychopathic personality traits are no exception. Then there’s the little chestnut I used in the subject line. Very self-helpy. Unleashing the inner psychopath is a universal dream of mankind.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Almost a psychopath

From illustrious reader Daniel Birdick, regarding the book Almost a Psychopath: Do I (or does someone you know) have a problem with manipulation or lack of empathy?, in which people are apparently psychopathic without necessarily rising to the level of diagnosis:

I skimmed through the the Almost a Psychopath book. They adhere to the Hare definition of psychopathy and then label the "almost psychopath" as someone who behaves like a diagnosed psychopath, only less so. Very scientifically precise, no?~
This spectrum issue reminds me of the 2nd James Fallon video from one of your recent posts. Here this guy is, with the DNA and the brain of a serial killer, yet instead of becoming a murderer he instead becomes a neuroscientist. He is clueless about the impact of his own behavior on others up until the point when he sees the results of the brain scans, although his family is completely unsurprised by his discoveries. So, by virtue of his utter lack of caring and his genetic and neurological makeup, can we call him an almost psychopath? Or does the absence of antisocial or criminal behavior (relative to diagnosed psychopaths) indicate that he is not at psychopath at all, in any way that matters? Some, like good old Dr. Robert, base their notions of psychopathy entirely on what does or does not happen on the inside. The Hare checklist on the other hand is behaviorally based, with a few exceptions. I think the checklist assumes, to paraphrase the ultimate paragon of passivity, that you shall know a tree by its fruits. What you experience on the inside only matters when it expresses itself on the outside. I am inclined to agree. What you do matters more than what you don't feel. So what if you feel callous and unemotional on the inside. What matters is how you actually treat people. Right? Why then all the blather about empathy and emotional responses to social faux pas, like guilt and shame? Is it the whole authenticity thing? I find that to be another red herring. What self are we being authentic about? Where is this ghost in the machine and why won't it show up on a PET scan? Is it really "virtuous", whatever the hell that means, to be honest and admit that you don't give a flying fuck about whatever sob story some clueless twat wants to lay on you, or is it in fact more moral to pretend to care by aping the right facial expressions and body language?
Went on a bit of a rant there. Anyway...

Monday, August 6, 2012

Managing a sociopath: cold war analogy

I gave this advice to a reader recently, and couldn't remember if I had said anything like this on the blog yet:

I think the best way to handle a sociopath is to treat it like a cold war. You never want there to be open hostilities, always want there to be plausible deniability. The threat that the sociopath imagines in his mind will be worse than any actual threat you could pose to him, so insinuate and never be explicit about your capabilities. You might want to try to draw him out into making incriminating statements. Don't do anything with those statements, just let him know that you have and keep all of his communications with you. Don't let him know that until you have stuff from him that he would worry getting out. That is about the best you can do -- fish for information, then remind him you have this information.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Brutally effective

From Narcissistworld:

I recently watched a fascinating video on psychopaths, which describes psychopathy in terms of attention.

In a nutshell, psychopaths don’t pay attention to the same things that normal people pay attention to. E.g. take a cat: when it sees prey, it focuses its attention on catching the prey. It ignores pretty much everything else. Psychopaths are similar; when they are focused on getting something they ignore other information (the feelings of others).

Narcissists are hypercompetitive. When they compete, their attention focuses on what it will take to win; they marshal all the mental resources they can to that task. Notably unimportant: how others feel.

One fascinating exercise (see the video) asks subjects to focus on images, and ignore the words written on the images. The psychopaths do great at that task; they are able to focus their attention narrowly and keep working towards their goal. In some high-stakes circumstances the psychopaths will outperform normal people, who will break down and lose.

A bit how men can’t understand why women want to talk about feeling so much, psychopaths have a hard time understanding why normal people are so disinclined to be brutally effective. To a psychopath, things are crystal clear. One “benefit” of being analytical, low-empathy and morally utilitarian is that one can arrive at simple and brutal solutions and see them through.

It's funny how consistent this mentality is amongst sociopaths.  Everyone comes in different shells, different races, different genders, and sometimes even when I know someone is a sociopath I will just start seeing them as that shell, like I do with everyone else.  But they're not like everyone else.  They're singular.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Ennui and hating people

A lot of people wonder if sociopaths ever suffer negative emotions.  The truth is that they do (and usually in response to ennui or hating people) but they soon forget about them.  Here is an example of an email sent by a sociopath to a reader during one such moment:

and this rain, for once, put me in a very bad mood. i don't know what it is about today but i am feeling unusually "alone", and today in particular it is getting to me. i needed to write, i needed an audience to get this out, what exactly i am getting out, not too sure.

i want to ask you random questions but the point would be to get some answers, and i am sure that the chances of getting any are scarce. the people in my life are so disappointing, and i don't think they are doing anything wrong. it's so hard to tell when i am the way i am.

nothing is interesting me anymore. nothing is challenging me, and even at my job where i moved up rather quickly and playing all sorts of games with people, there is no substance. i want this life to have substance, and it isn't good enough. i don't think i am depressed, but overall i am just annoyed that this is it. i can't be more than i already am, personally anyway. i can and will get the money, the power, the position that i want, but then what? in a way i am sick of everything coming so easily for me. why try at all when everything is just handed to you?

it has become more apparent that as time goes by i have to become more secluded to keep my sanity. working with people truly enrages me, and i feel myself losing it all over again. perhaps if this was a sunshiny day i would be all good. maybe it's about that "rag" time, who knows.

i need to be near people that don't enrage me, but that is so hard to come by. you don't enrage me per se, but i also need substance. what to do.....oh what to do.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A personal SW journey

From a reader:

With the retro posts I've been looking back at some of my old posts and comments in the sociopathworld archives.  I've been baffled by some of my posts, and many have brought me to the point of laughing out  loud. Ah, so young, so naive. I can't help but muse to how my mind worked when I first came to sociopathworld and the stubbornness with which I persisted. And today I realized, I remind myself of so many people who come in here now. Misguided, misinformed, or holding onto presumptions. I was younger, admittedly, which I use as an excuse to myself for what silly ideas I held, but it made me think of the benefits of staying at sociopathworld.

When I arrived at this place, like many people on here I was questing for my identity, sifting among labels, and identifying with every ailment. I'd call myself a sociopath. Then I deviated from that and just sort of accepted I wasn't sure what I was, and I didn't care. I was battered around like so many mice in a cat's paws, but I was delusional and resilient, and able to see the value in the many perspectives in this place. I'm still wandering around in search of answers, feeling something like a lost child, as if I never grow. And yet when I see the progress I have made in my understandings and my beliefs, I feel I have grown more than I would've imagined possible on first coming to sociopathworld.  I look back and see how much I have changed in what I know and understand by the damage I have taken and persisted through. It's as if I've gotten to the top of a path and looked down at the hill I've climbed, and I feel suddenly shocked I've made it so high and far. The coldness of this place has helped me to move past so many silly ideals I was clinging to. "Good triumphs over evil, in all things! The system works for you, and is there to protect you... and mainly, it works! God will protect you! Martyrs are good people! Drug dealers are bad!" It's like a dream the rest of the world lives in that one day you just wake up from.  So many beliefs have been shattered, not just by this place, admittedly, but this place has really helped me to understand and move past these beliefs. I've come to see the world more realistically, and grown past the childish values instilled in me by an idealistic world. I can see so clearly my faults, and the things I must move past. Ideas I would never have dreamed were a hindrance I now see as a weight, tainting my perspective, and blinding my actions. 

Though it seems daunting, and extremely harsh upon first entering sociopathworld, the value of the honesty you will receive at this place is something you will not be able to get from anywhere else in the world. The lies you will here in response to the questions you ask will weigh your decisions, and though you will be blissful, you will be ignorant. And if that is a price you are willing to pay, than leave when the people here tell you what you don't want to hear. "He's cheating on you", or "he doesn't care about you" or "you're not a sociopath" or any other number of typical answers to typical questions. Wanting to believe the fairy tales you've been told your whole life doesn't make them any truer. But lingering among the wolves will show you how to use your talons in the harsh world outside. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Our sociopath gets interviewed (part II)

Question 3: Do you consider everyone who is exposed to your tricks as sheep, or are there different types of sheep in your eyes? (People who deserve to be manipulated, who deserve to be hurt, who deservs respect.)

Answer: I think sociopaths view empaths the same way vampires are typically portrayed as viewing mortals. Obviously we think we are better, but there is something charming about empaths. Some can be very innocent and pure like children, which is a novelty. Also, there is sometimes a longing for the simplicity of the life of an empath. Maybe I was evolutionarily meant to rule over others, but having greatness thrust on you is sort of a drag. There's a lot of pressure. I sometimes feel like those rich kids in the '80's movies who dream of just having a normal life. Of course my fondness for empaths does not always keep me from playing tricks on them. There are some absolutely delicious moments in my memory banks from when I've brought sheep to their knees, completely dehumanizing them largely for sport. In those moments, it's impossible not to see the sheep for what I have made them: a weakling, a shadow of a human being. But I give special treatment to sheep that I am fond of, or believe in, or admire, or am grateful to. Singling some sheep out for protection like this is necessary if you want to follow the rule of not defecating where you eat. But I do take a special pleasure in taking out asshole sheep, small-time bullies and crooks, bigots, and the small-minded. Those people serve no purpose that I can see.

Question 4.:What/who does the sociopath respect?

Answer: Ah, respect is a tricky word. I don't know if i feel respect very well. I may admire people who are able to cultivate power, but I don't respect authority figures. I admire religions and cultural institutions that are able to captivate their audience so completely in the sense that I want to learn from them, emulate them. I also admire people who do great things, the courageous, the innovators. I will "respect" competent people in a certain way because I will generally not interfere with their world--I let them do their own thing undisturbed. And I am entirely devoted to efficiency, although that doesn't really fit the term "respect" either. I feign respect and deference when it seems like it will help me get what I want, particularly in dealing with petty tyrants.

Question 5. Do you have a sense of the future? Like dreaming and planning about your next job, your next spouse, your next source of glory? Or is it just about now?

Answer: I don't dream about the future so much as scheme. Everything I do is more about what is the best use of my time right now then it is deferring to some future enjoyment of the fruits of my labors. People sometimes do a double take when they find out I'm a sociopath--they think sociopaths are supposed to be irresponsible financial leaches with never a thought for tomorrow. In contrast, I have always been very interested in making money and have taken advantage of many investment opportunities. But this isn't because I dream of a better tomorrow. Oddly enough, those investments feel like instant gratification to me. I get a good deal of pleasure and satisfaction from them because I know I made the smart choice and am gaming the system by finding above-average yielding investments. Of course the smart choice is only smart because those investments will eventually make me piles of money, but I feel like I have already received my payoff in making the choice at all.

I will sometimes put a lot of time and effort into a big set up for a game, usually a seduction, but the glory for me isn't in the end result but in the execution. If my target gives in prematurely, I would be disappointed. Once a seduction target is seduced, they just become a liability. It is only while they still save some shred of self-respect that they make a suitable companion. So that too is more about the moment than about some deferred day of glory. And I typically don't look for marks or plan for them--they find me.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Our sociopath gets interviewed (part I)

As I mentioned previously, I get a lot of flack from attributing every aspect of my personality to my disorder (and i mostly do think that it is a disorder, as much as i would love to believe otherwise). I've tried to do better at just presenting who I am, leaving it open to interpretation exactly what about my descriptions should be taken to represent me personally and what can be abstracted to apply to sociopaths in general. In answering the following questions from a reader, then, I do not claim to speak for all sociopaths, but instead express what I have personally experienced and observed:

Question 1: I have two sociopath friends who frequently engage me in power struggles. What surprises me in both of them is, even though they are pattern-breakers, they have a pretty obvious attack pattern which becomes very predictable after the 3rd-4th attack. You just have to wait a while and pretend to become a victim, pretend to lose until it is revealed. What do you think about this pattern? Are sociopaths able to surprise other people but not prone to surprise themselves? Do they believe that they have consistent behaviour? Would breaking their pattern disturb them in any way?

Answer: Interesting observation, and congratulations for performing so well against sociopaths. I think that we in the sociopath community would like to think that all sociopaths are clever and good at what they do, but the truth is that many of them are stupid, and those are the types who usually end up in prison for taking unnecessary risks. It's true that sociopaths think differently from empaths; this can give them the advantage of surprise in a fight, particularly if their identity as a sociopath is unknown. Despite their reputation as being outside-the-box thinkers, however, sociopaths don't seem to be particularly adaptable. Their general strategy is to focus most of their efforts on attack, little on defense. That mixed with a tendency for overconfidence can leave them vulnerable to surprise attacks, particularly by clever defensive players like yourself. I have been duped before in a manner similar to what you describe (victim pretending to be weak until my guard is down, then asserting dominance), and it was very disturbing. I myself have used shamefully simple tactics on other sociopaths I know, like flattery, so you would think i should know better. (By the way, flattery works shockingly well on sociopaths.) But in general, sociopaths seem to not realize that their own tricks can be used against them. Like the two con men in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels falling into the trap of their "victim," sociopaths can get so caught up in the hunt that they forget they can also be hunted.

Question 2: You don't feel much, but what makes you feel? Does losing a game make you feel, or the death of someone, or a kiss?

Answer: Feeling emotions = loss of power/control, so I try to be very judicious about how and when I feel emotions. Interestingly, I think that to compensate for the lack of feeling, I have super sensitivity to sensory stimulation. Music, good food, beauty--simple things can lead to debilitating waves of pleasure, even shivers of ecstasy. In terms of emotion, there are certain emotions that I feel very well, and others not so much. Instead of frustration, I usually feel anger; instead of love, gratitude; instead of happiness, pleasure or satisfaction; instead of remorse or guilt, regret; instead of sorrow, disappointment. I have a different (more limited) emotional palette than most people, particularly those of my same socioeconomic and cultural background. In terms of what makes me feel, I get angry when a friend cries because I have hurt them. I feel grateful when I hear my mother's voice. I feel pleasure when I am kissed, satisfaction when I have played a game well, regret and disappointment when I have played a game poorly or have betrayed myself. When I lose someone, I feel their lack in same proportion to how I felt their presence before.
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