Thursday, May 30, 2013
Benefiting from sociopaths
Yes, true, those that are harmed tend to be harmed in larger ways than the corresponding benefit of having someone open a door for you. But even the people who get harmed benefit from their interactions with a sociopath in a way. They have the choice of either wallowing in the role of a victim or of taking the opportunity to learn from the experience (and who better to teach you about yourself than a sociopath). It's a little bit like how surviving cancer can give someone a healthier outlook on life. Life is filled with challenges and suffering. We will never eliminate it, and there are a lot of unintended negative consequences when we try (see Taleb's Antifragile). Even when we do successfully eliminate bad things from our lives, we invent new reasons to be upset -- so-called "first world problems". When we overcome challenges, even when they come in the form of a sociopath, we come out stronger. If there was never any opposition to your worldview or no one around to exploit the sloppiest of your mental shortcuts or delusions about the way the world works, then your mind (and our society, think Rome) would atrophy the same way your muscles do when they're not used. Hitting the gym is hard and can even be painful, but the result is a stronger you.
A reader said something similar:
I just finished reading your book... And wow. I'm not a sociopath - I have very definite negative feelings.
Several years ago, I was "ruined" by someone I believe is a sociopath. A lot of what you described in the book fits her quite well, though she's never had (to my knowledge, at least) a professional diagnosis. Her manipulation and seduction of my (at the time) fiance wound up destroying my relationship with him shortly before we were supposed to get married. Now...well, if I still knew how to get in touch with her, I might thank her for what she did. She didn't do it out of the kindness of her heart, obviously, but I'm now in a much better and happier relationship with a new man, and while I've had difficulty trusting some people after that incident, my life is better than it had been before I met this sociopath.
It's hard being an empath, honestly. I'm a bit on the cold side of people without sociopathic tendencies; I can analyze cost/benefit and act on that. It's my preferred method of engaging with the world. But emotions can come into play, especially guilt and poor self-image. I live with a young woman who lets her emotions so fully control her actions that she has no life direction, no job, no ability to stay focused on any one thing for more than a couple months at a time (in the past year she's decided she wants to be a vet, a pediatrician, a pathologist, and now a specialist in herpetology so that she could work at zoos). Her ability to feel emotions is damaging to her ultimate well-being.
It's terrifying for us, to think about sociopaths who are good at manipulating and enjoy manipulating, because we lie to ourselves and pretend that we don't manipulate others and others aren't actively manipulating us. But that's not true. I know how to manipulate my husband into doing what I want. I don't always, but I have that power. And he knows how to manipulate me into doing what he wants. He doesn't always choose to do so. The difference is that in our viewpoint, sociopaths don't feel obligated to buy into and perpetuate that lie.
Reading your book was a very uncomfortable thing for me because you were so honest. But I learned a long time ago that the discomfort I'm feeling is because I learned to view the world in a slightly different way. I can't just sit back and pretend that sociopaths are nameless, faceless people out in the world. By putting your own voice out there, I was able to engage with you, the author of the book, and understand your unique self at least a little bit. I received a wealth of understanding from reading this book, and now I need to take the time to ponder.
Reading your book was a terrific, frightening, wonderful experience. I cannot think about sociopaths in the same way anymore. So thank you.