Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Parent to a sociopath

I finally got around to watching We Need to Talk About Kevin, the film version of the book of the same name, about a school massacre perpetrator and his mother. The story starts with the mother Eva becoming pregnant. She is ambivalent about motherhood. Her son Kevin does not respond to her mediocre attempts to bond or soothe. As he grows just a little older, it becomes clear that he is not normal, perhaps even deeply disturbed.

The film is no chronological and skips between before and after the massacre. Her life before was first young and exciting New York then a downgrade (in her mind) to a suburban estate with her growing family. Her life after is lonely squalor where she is the victim of all vandalism, violence, and sexual antagonism meant to, what? Shame her into denouncing her son? Some of the perpetrators seem to be family to the victims of the massacre, but others apparently are just looking to participate in socially sanctioned aggression and exploitation (her co-worker, after a rebuffed unwelcome advance, snarls "Where do you get off, you stuck up bitch? Do you think anyone else is gonna want you now?"). Her life is ruined. The second part flashes back to her early struggles with motherhood, then power struggles with her son, as evidenced in part by his refusal to be potty trained. In a fit of rage over him deliberately soiling his diaper after she just changed it, she throws him and breaks his arm. When recalling the moment later, he tells her "It’s the most honest thing you ever did. Do you know how they potty train cats? They stick their noses in their own shit. They don’t like it. So they use the box." After coming home from the hospital, he lies to his father about the broken arm, saying he fell off the diaper changing table. He then extorts his mother with the threat of exposure in order to get his way.

She is obviously not mother of the year, but who could be with a son so cold and apparently evil? That at least seems to be the suggestion of the first half of the film -- that there's nothing else she could have done better and we're supposed to feel sorry for her because she was unlucky enough to have birthed a demon. By the middle of the movie, we know what is going to happen, we are just filling in details. We get a little more realistic characterization of the son. The mother puts a cd marked "I love you" into her computer, which infects it with a virus (and all computers from her office connected to the network). She asks, why would you have something like this, what's the point? "There is no point. That's the point." She makes fun of fat people at a rare mother son excursion, to which he points out "You know, you can be kind of harsh sometimes."

Eva: "You’re one to talk."

Kevin: "Yeah, I am. I wonder where I got it."

Apart from a brief childhood sickness, when young Kevin cuddles with her while she reads him a book, their relationship is strained. Oddly, she is shown devotedly visiting him in prison, even though they hardly exchange a word. What's her motivation? Penance? Curiosity? Duty? Not love, is it? We also discover that although she lives a lonely, isolated existence, she has at least in part chosen this life (still lives in the same town despite the antagonism, avoids her mother's plea that she visit for the holidays). Finally, we see that her new home has a bedroom for him with all of his things, including his clothes that she regularly washes and irons to keep fresh. Why? On the second anniversary of the massacre she again visits Kevin in prison. He is about to be transfered to an adult facility. His head is poorly shaved. His face is bruised. He is not his usual confidently unapologetic self. She tells him he doesn't look happy. "Have I ever?"With their time running out, she finally confronts him:

Eva: Why?

Kevin: I used to think I knew. Now I'm not so sure. [pause]

Prison guard: Time's up.

They hug, Eva finally apparently reaching that place of love and acceptance for her son that had for so long eluded her.

I liked a lot of things about the film. There are some very accurate portrayals of sociopathic behavior. For instance, although Kevin never feels remorse about the massacre, he does show signs of regret -- an acknowledgment that perhaps he has miscalculated or misunderstood the true nature of life, including a sense of permanence of some consequences that many teenagers fail to intuit.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is the way it contrasts moral certainty (portrayed as ugly behavior) with self-doubt (portrayed as a sign of hope and the possibility of change). When the mother is at her most self-assured, Kevin hates her the most. It's only when she was weak enough to break his arm that he respects her for being honest. And Kevin's only redeeming moments are when he is sick and at the end when he is unsure whether the massacre was a good idea. These are stark contrasts to the moral indignation of the mother as she repeatedly tells her son off, the son as he repeatedly tells her everything is meaningless and that she is a hypocrite, the townspeople as they rally around to collectively dehumanize her (a small nod to the Scarlet Letter?), the husband who tells her she is a bad mother, etc. The problem with making these sorts of comprehensive judgments about a person are not that they aren't founded in truth, but that people naturally defy such pat assessments. They're simply too dynamic and life is too complicated (and subject more to chance than choice) to say with any degree of certainty that "so-an-so would never do something like that," or even "I would never do something like that." Moral certainty is often based in truth, but it denies so much more than it ever considers.

The film is also a true tragedy in that despite Kevin being particularly sinister and Eva particularly cold, there is nothing inherently wrong with either of these characters. Put in different circumstances, Eva could have been a wonderful mother and Kevin could have channeled his machiavellian traits to more pro-social activities that would have made an equal splash. The problems were in the way they interacted with each other. They were locked in a death struggle, a double drowning. In a desperate effort to ensure that the one would not unduly rule the other's life, they spent all of their time reacting to each other instead of just quietly going about their own lives. I see this with victims on this site too -- becoming so obsessed with making sure that someone does not unjustly assert their will on you that you allow your whole world to revolve around thoughts of the other person. They were both so focused on winning particular battles with each other, thinking that the sum of small wins would add up to a gestalt of victory. They did not consider the possibility that these might be Pyrrhic, or that sometimes when you win, you lose. Because neither Eva nor Kevin were willing to bend their vision of the world to accommodate other viewpoints, they were both eventually broken.


  1. If it had been me, after he had taken his sister's eye out, I would have dropped him off in Greenland and let the Eskimos deal with him.

  2. A child sociopath doesn't need a parent's morality forced down his throat. He'll never swallow it, because it will never make much sense to him. Incentivization of good behavior and hard work would be effective. I was raised in such away, but then again, I never gave my parents much of a chance to teach me morality. I followed all the rules and always did as I was told.

    When people whose lives revolve around their experiences of affective empathy encounter sociopaths, they go haywire. They recognize that the other person has no emotions to share and are repulsed. Cognitive empathy is necessary in order to understand and properly interact with sociopaths. I think it's probably very rare for someone to have high levels of both affective and cognitive empathy. Having the former usually means the latter is unnecessary.

    I don't understand how someone could hurt a child. They're so pure. Even if they are being little assholes, their inner workings are so complex and interesting that it would be far easier to play to their desires than to try and force them to be obedient. The parent has all the power, how can such power struggles not end with both parties getting something they want?

    I never try to force people to share my opinion. Sure, I will try to persuade them, but everyone knows you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. I am pleased when people at least consider my suggestions, and I never get angry when they do not. In the end, it's their life, their decision, so why should I care if they take a different path from the one I suggest?

    1. It's hard to imagine someone hurting a child unless you understand that some parents have really poor boundaries and can not see their children as separate human beings, not just extensions of themselves.
      There is a ton of rage that happens when a narcissistic parent feels that the behavior of their child reflects poorly on their image, or simply gets in the way of doing what they want to do (examples- a child doesn't brush their hair and the parent assumes "everyone thinks I am a bad parent- how could you do this to me?" or the parent having to miss out on an experience because caregiving responsibilities get in the way (See entire Casey Anthony story)
      In my opinion, the narcissistic parent paired with a sociopathic kid is a tragedy waiting to happen.

    2. "I think it's probably very rare for someone to have high levels of both affective and cognitive empathy. Having the former usually means the latter is unnecessary."

      Cognition is always a plus. Is metacognition useless for you?.

      "I don't understand how someone could hurt a child. They're so pure. "

      I do understand it, I don't respect it. What I don't understand is that you think they are pure. You were not the one with bad experiences at school? They were pure?

      "how can such power struggles not end with both parties getting something they want?"

      Because those things might be incompatible, because those things might be unnacceptable for one or both sides,... like with adults but with more childish whims.

      "In the end, it's their life, their decision, so why should I care if they take a different path from the one I suggest?"

      As you know, we share that point of view about opinions.

    3. "It's hard to imagine someone hurting a child unless you understand that some parents have really poor boundaries and can not see their children as separate human beings, not just extensions of themselves."

      You can see children as separate human beings and still finding them utterly annoying.

    4. Metacognition brings out too much of my narcissism. Nobody is interested in how fascinating I find my own thought processes.

      It appears I am a hypocrite. I would strongly encourage my children to act prosocially. I would definitely use incentives instead of abuse, but I would certainly push them. Good point, Jessi.

    5. Well, I'm interested in your thought processes.

      I don't know what you mean with the "It appears I am a hypocrite". As a parent it would also be in your interest that your children don't get into trouble, so that they are prosocial.

    6. I also said I would largely allow them to develop their own moral compass. I'm projecting myself onto them by trying to ensure that they don't socially isolate others. I also wonder, would I force them to excel, or take up hobbies that are socially acceptable to my own peers? I'm going to be in a professional environment for most of my life, will the accomplishments of my children have an effect on my career?

      There are so many unknowns that I didn't consider. It's hypocritical of me to assume what kind of parent I would be, when surely circumstances will influence my parenting strategy. All I can really discuss is the kind of parent I would like to be. As the person I am, and the person I imagine myself to be converge, I will truly know myself. I am not there yet!

    7. There's another huge "x' factor- your child.
      They will change you as much as you change them- or more.

    8. I can't even comprehend what it would be like to have a kid. I've never put anyone before myself. I've always been the center of my own universe, so I don't know if a child would be my moon or my sun.

    9. I think your child would bring you delight (on balance). My hunch is that fatherhood would be unexpectedly satisfying to you because you would have more stake in a world you currently feel disconnected from. You may have little affective empathy, but your posts indicate that kindness comes naturally to you so I suspect that if you combined your kindness with your keen observation skills, you'd be a better than average father.

      The more you allow yourself to love your child, the more you enjoy being a parent. That which we delight in we tend to invest in as fully as we are able. The biggest question for you is not "moon" or "sun" but if you dare open your heart to being vulnerable enough to love a child without reservation.

    10. How vulnerable can I ever be? Anger breeds anger and hatred breeds hatred because of affective empathy. I see these things in people, but I do not respond by reflecting their emotions. I see love, the surrender of sanity to pure emotion and mindless adoration. I'm not sure I can convincingly fake such a display, but I've noticed that women show their love much more obviously than most men, so I go by unnoticed.

      Of course, I do mindlessly adore children. There are also women to whom I'm so attracted that they make me lose my shit. I'm not sure what to do about them. They really bring out the creepy in me.

    11. The women, not the children. Oh god. I'm perfectly adorable when I'm around kids, not creepy.

    12. If you don’t feel love I think the only thing that can make you a “good” parent is the possessiveness, which I think is a pretty extended behavior. The problem could come if the kid is so different from what you can like/interest you that the possessiveness bond would break and he would become an external liability. As a sociopath you would still probably use him to have a socially likable public image but you will neglect the kid and will just perform some minimal manipulation to make him behave up to your needs.

      Why do you actually want to become a parent if you don’t love? Just for the convenience of the public image?

    13. @Andy-
      Perhaps it's easier to be vulnerable to a child that you raise from infancy because they are utterly dependent upon you. Many friends I know say it's the deepest love they have ever experienced, probably because it is the only love they know that does not carry the threat of betrayal (in the short term, anyway).
      I said before that you'd be a better than average father. Scratch that. I'll amend that to saying I think you'd be a wonderful parent. A child would be lucky to have you in their corner.

    14. @ Jessi and Andy-

      Love is more than sentiment- it's attachment and investment in a life that is separate from your own. It doesn't always feel warm and fuzzy. It is the discipline to stick with another person when they are driving you crazy and to not run away because of in the moment emotions.

      Possessiveness is the opposite of love. When you try to own a separate being and squeeze its existence entirely into your own sense of the appropriate, you suffocate and destroy a being that has a life of its own.

      Parenting is an exhausting job because you are constantly balancing a child's need to be socialized into the culture he exists in so the destructiveness of ostracism can be avoided, while still honoring that child's individuality. It's something I wrestle with daily.

    15. There is a girl, a young mother of two girls. I absolutely adore her kids, and anyone who sees me with them thinks I would be a fantastic father. She's not married and has expressed interest in me. I don't know her very well, but her kids are awesome. I almost considered dating her, but even I am not so selfish that I would date someone because I like their kids. I think that would be too cruel.

    16. Mach, for me love is a sentiment. I will never use any discipline to stick with another person without that sentiment. I can't understand that people do that besides as a fear to change and loneliness. That's why for me parenting will not be a rewarding experience neither for me nor for the child, obviously.

      Andy, why do you like those kids? Why do you think they are awesome?

    17. I've known them since before they could crawl. I actually met one of them in the hospital the day she was born. They learn and grow more in a day than I do in a month, in a year. They are marvels of infinite potential. I am never happier than when I'm with children. I don't want to possess them, I want to play with them, teach them, and watch them grow.

      It's just a dream, though, so far out of reach that it always seems to lie just beyond the horizon.

    18. @Andy-
      I see children in your future :)
      The key is: find a partner for raising them that you can tolerate long term. You are wise not to lead someone on that you are not interested in.

    19. Yes, with so much liking for kids you should have children. I know a guy who has adopted a kid on his own. He looks like being quite happy.

      I have never seen a child as a marvel of infinite potential; I see the flaws of any adult but multiplied. Plus all they learn are things that I have learned long ago so I am never so annoyed and bored as when I am with children, which is something I reduce to the minimum for the wellbeing of both sides. I have also chosen to have childfree friends because they are the only ones I can identify with.

    20. ^^^Revealing.

      I'm closer to Andy's sentiments when it comes to children, only from a different angle. Children are wonderfully honest. Even the "bad" ones. They wear everything right out on their sleeves for everyone else to see. The "flaws" you see multiplied in children don't go away in adults. Adults merely learn to hide them, especially from themselves. From my perspective, growing up as it is commonly practiced equals becoming an expert liar.

      It's a good thing you don't have children. Again, if your inflexibility is truly representative of how you think, you'd deeply wound an innocent mind once you projected that inflexibility onto him/her.

    21. I respect your choice, Jessi.
      To thine own self be true. It is no small thing to know yourself, and apply that wisdom to life choices.

    22. "The "flaws" you see multiplied in children don't go away in adults"

      In many ways I agree. Still, I appreciate, for example, manners, which children don't have, and that make the interaction with adults much less irritating. I like honesty but not a constant flow of information which I am not interested in listening at all whether sincere or not. I feel also repulsed by the open exposition of those flaws, is like someone having an infection and showing you the suppurative inflammation. No need, I prefer to get some information through more subtle honest channels.

      I would not refer to kids as innocent minds, but my inflexibility is what you see. I don't have a negative perception of it though, I see it more as a useful strategy towards a wanted destination. There is a type of life that horrifies me and it's the life of sacrifices and excuses. I attribute that life to flexible characters that finish leading lives that they never truly wanted. I don't see myself though as a parent projecting my inflexibility towards my children, I rather see myself leaving them at foster care. I am pretty inflexible at not making efforts to persuade anyone ;)


    23. It's not so bad sharing a little about yourself, is it Jessi? I hope you can find someone with whom you can share the free, untethered life you desire :)

      Personally, I appreciate tethers. They keep me grounded in reality, responsible and reliable to myself and others. My dream is to settle down somewhere and build a life for myself and people I care about. I've never been much of a reveler or explorer.

    24. Free for me doesn’t mean untethered at all, means chosen and changeable if chosen, tethers. It is very important for me to have people I care about, but also to be able to get rid of the ones I don’t care about, so at the end I have only the tethers I feel a real emotional attachment too. It’s not about exploring it is about searching to find valuable people for me.

      I envision a fix group of people: like the family concept, very limiting; especially when children come in because you are responsible of them whether you like them or not. This doesn’t mean that I renew my friendships like I renew my wardrobe; this means that the ones who stay are the ones I like them to stay, and I am very happy to have some friends I dearly care of since I meet them long ago. This reminds the ideal, to always care, but if I don't, the best option for me is to accept it and move on.

    25. Ah, I think I understand. You don't want your relationships to be unconditional. That's a good way to remain strong and independent, and also to protect yourself from abuse. I don't want to be too invasive, but do you know someone who remained in an abusive relationship because they felt an unconditional attachment to someone?

    26. No, I don’t have anyone close who remained in an abusive relationship. I know relationships based on resignation though which is how I see most relationships based on theoretical “unconditional love”. I understand love as conditional and selfless. Conditional to how the person is.

    27. Yes, if I'd have had kids with my wife, I would have resigned to stay with her. I'm very grateful that I did not. I'll be more careful, more discerning the next time I enter into a long-term relationship. I hope.

    28. For someone who doesn't love, it doesn't sound that off. Finally it doesn't matter who you are with as far as you can have with her a convenient life, no?

    29. If I'm going to spend so much time with someone, I want them to have more...depth. She was very shallow. Very simple. Very boring.

  3. Eva was an adult, albeit a deficient one. She had a gentle husband who provided a home and a relatively balanced and comfortable environment. She brought a helpless needy child into this world. As a mother, she was his most critical source of nurture and alignment. But she easily chose to indulge her own superficial needs(her cheesy map wallpaper) over the personal sacrifices needed to deal with the requirements of his special condition. She and Kevin cannot be regarded as equals in their struggles to cope much less so in any competition for survival.

    What other resources does an infant have when instead of nurture, it is sabotaged by a primary care giver, except to develop and draw upon selfish auto reptilian instincts? I'm not a believer in karma but this story is perhaps as good as any to ascribe something akin to social causality.

    1. @ Gag- I agree with you mostly on this, but also have sympathy for Eva. Raising a child (even an easy one) requires a lot of selfless behavior. But most kids give positive feedback and the parent is rewarded for being selfless. Eva had none of the positive reinforcement and constantly felt like a failure. Had she given birth to a compliant daughter, the daughter might have resented Eva at points, but it is unlikely that the worst of Eva's parenting instincts would've come to the surface.
      Our culture would do well to understand that not all children are created equally. There is so much shame that these dysfunctional dyads face that only adds to the downward spiral. The mental health initiative (June 3, I think) ME referenced speaks to providing more supportive, preventative care- a big part should be considering the mental health of primary caregivers of at risk children. Putting money into programs like this would be very cost effective when you consider the incredible costs of jail.

    2. If to raise a child requires a lot of selfless behaviour that you are not going to provide it, don't have a child.

      Not having those kids would even save more money than to put money into programs.

    3. Jessi-
      You live in a world of "what should be", not "what is".
      Most people who are too screwed up to be parents have personality disorders that make them feel they would be excellent parents. I doubt any of them would listen to your advice.
      Once children are born, they exist. The question is: pay now? (preventative measures) or pay much more later? (court fees, decades of incarceration)
      My hunch is that the sociopathic mindset would embrace utilitarian ethics here and opt for the former in a general sense- not because of their own parent child interactions but because they'd like to avoid interacting with someone else's sociopathic kid down the line.

    4. "what should be" is the whole point of a proposition, like the propostion for a program for kids with PD, you proposed which it is not "what is" but what you think it is "what should be".

      In my "what should be" I would consider that parents with some types of personality disorders are discouraged to have kids, for example by making them pay by themselves those programs you are talking about.

    5. The practical realities of identifying personality disorders and then preventing them from having children are much greater than offering support to overwhelmed parents. In a democratic society, penalizing someone by not letting them be parents because of a subjective diagnosis would be an impossibility.

    6. To discourage is not to penalize. And to make people responsible for their poor decisions is a reality in a democratic country.

      Let me improvise an example, if a kid is detected with some type of PD, which happens in school environment, he is sent to a psychologue who also requests the parents to pass a psychological exam. If they have some types of PD, they have to pay for the program of their child otherwise they get economical support for that program. This would make people consider being checked for PD before they have a kid.

      I say "some type of PD" because it should be defined the PDs that pose a problem for raising kids first.

    7. Did I read about involuntary sterilization of mental health patients and Mexican immigrants in the U.S. here or somewhere else?

      With rising healthcare costs and the decreasing price of whole genome sequencing, a utilitarian society could develop where abortion of children with severe genetic defects becomes compulsory. It's already being practiced voluntarily with the aid of genetic counseling. It's entirely possible that sociopathy has some strong genetic linkage, and sociopath children could be aborted before they are born. Given the intense stigma directed at sociopaths, they would be ideal targets. Eugenics is already on the rise, but now such choices concerning who deserves to live or not are based on objective scientific facts.

      If you learned early in pregnancy that you were carrying a sociopath child, would you choose abortion?

    8. “a utilitarian society could develop where abortion of children with severe genetic defects becomes compulsory. It's already being practiced voluntarily with the aid of genetic counseling.”

      This is a controversial subject. To begin with it is not the same that something is compulsory or if something it is voluntary. I think that if someone voluntarily chooses to have children with severe genetic defects they should be responsible to provide the extra care those children need. The real ethical problem here is, in my opinion, whether it is good for those children to be born.

      If you learned early in pregnancy that you were carrying a sociopath child, would you choose abortion?

      My answer doesn't brings much to the subject because I don’t want kids, and I would choose abortion in case I will learn I am pregnant anyway.

    9. In an ideal world I would require anyone who wanted to be a parent to pass psychological tests and financial background checks to ensure that they would be capable of supporting this child.

      In the real world I would go for the preventative measures, putting kids with PDs into programs to help them.

    10. Even in an ideal world, I think it is up to the parents to pass those tests but it is also up to them to take the consequences.

    11. As a woman who is firm in my pro-choice stance, I would NOT abort a sociopathic baby if I believed I had the necessary support to raise him/her. As a single mother of four I can say definitively I do not have the support structure to raise any more children, so it's not a practical reality for me.

      Hypothetically, though, If I had the support, I might even prefer a child like this because I respect a strong will and tend to rely on analysis and self discipline pretty heavily. I believe sociopathic wiring is morally neutral, and very often accompanies brighter than average individuals, so being the one to help a child like this discover their place in the world would be a honor, not a liability.

  4. “ life is too complicated (and subject more to chance than choice) to say with any degree of certainty that "so-an-so would never do something like that," or even "I would never do something like that." “

    There are some things in life that are subject more to chance than choice but others aren’t. And in “I would never do something like that” in a concrete context , is not chance that prevails but choice.

    “Moral certainty is often based in truth, but it denies so much more than it ever considers.”

    The fact that all the truth is not known does not imply that nothing true is known. For example, maybe it is more morally correct that I give my money in a donation to an ONG that saves lives in Africa than that I pay taxes next year, but it is crystal clear that to kill my neighbor to get his cash is not morally correct.

    “Because neither Eva nor Kevin were willing to bend their vision of the world to accommodate other viewpoints, they were both eventually broken.”

    I completely disagree. So, this means that if Eva would have bent her vision of the world to accommodate Kevin’s vision they would not have been eventually broken? What do you propose that they plan a Sunday massacre together to share their accommodated viewpoint while celebrating family bonds?

    One has to bend their vision of the world to accommodate in it only one thing: the truth.

    The truth can come, obviously, from someone but someone might also be completely wrong and then a person with the willingness to bend, would be push to a vision of the world which is more wrong that the one he had initially. Bad deal.

    If Eva and Kevin were eventually “broken” is because they didn’t accept there was no battle to be won, they had two irreconcilable visions of the world. Point. So, they could accept their differences and live together, if living together was worthy for both, or if living together was not worthy for one of them, then take different paths.

    So the problem is actually to try to change others viewpoint, so the solution doesn’t pass through bending to someone’s view, but to acknowledge the differences and take action.

    1. Truth is subjective. Different people have radically different truths. It doesn't matter what the case is there will be somebody out there who believes it is the truth.

    2. Truth is not subjective, it is elusive, but objective. The fact that people can consider to be true something different, does not make the truth subjective, makes people right or wrong.

    3. I agree with Jessi here. Truth is objective. Subjective "truths" that differ between people are better labeled as opinions.

      Claiming to know the objective truth of most situations, though, requires absolute faith in one's own mind. Minds are fallible, thus claiming to know truth requires faith, and faith requires that the truth be unknown. Truth, then is unattainable and we must accept that each person's subjective perception of reality is as good as any other.

    4. I suppose there are some absolute truths, like the laws of physics. For the most part though I believe truth to vary between people. Most truth is in fact opinion, at least in my own opinion.

    5. Facts are objective.
      Truth is the perception and interpretation of a collection of facts.
      It is impossible to remove the bias of the perceiver from the facts that are perceived.
      Therefore: truth is subjective.

    6. I guess we think differently about truth. I think it exists outside of perception as an objective measure of reality. A lot of people think they know the truth of what occurs around them, but nobody can perceive reality perfectly. Reality does not change depending on who perceives it. Or does it?

    7. ahhhh.... if a tree falls in a forest- does it make a sound?
      We land on opposite sides of this question. From where I see it:

      Reality is multifaceted, and dependent upon perception. Only facts are singular.
      Truth? an abstraction we call upon to rule in/out the validity of a perception when we feel a need to make a value judgement.

      My truth: I tend to divide my perceptions/experiences into 2 categories- those conducive to creating/maintaining life, and those that destroy life or otherwise cause it to decay.

      But hey- that's just me- a former fundamentalist Christian who got very sick of people throwing their perceptions of morality in my face- so I try to keep things more simple these days. What the hell do I know? ;)

    8. I agree with Jessi here. Truth is objective. Subjective "truths" that differ between people are better labeled as opinions.

      Claiming to know the objective truth of most situations, though, requires absolute faith in one's own mind. Minds are fallible, thus claiming to know truth requires faith, and faith requires that the truth be unknown. Truth, then is unattainable and we must accept that each person's subjective perception of reality is as good as any other.

      ^Truth, beautifully stated. :)

    9. I don't know if reality changes based on WHO observes it, but I do know that physics states that reality changes based on it being observed. Also I challenge you to come up with any "truth" that there isn't a group of people who have a different "truth" for.

    10. “Truth, then is unattainable and we must accept that each person's subjective perception of reality is as good as any other.”

      The truth is not unattainable; it is elusive many times to us. And “each person's subjective perception of reality” is not as good as any other since the truth is objective and therefor a subjective perception can be closer or farther from the truth.

      Claiming to know the objective truth on a situation can be right or can be wrong, it depends whether what the person says to be the objective truth it actually matches with the truth. A person can be right once and can be right most of the times. How probable this is it’s something else.

      “Truth is the perception and interpretation of a collection of facts”

      Hahaha. Well, in that case I hope it is for you very clear that I what I say is the truth. Point. No complaints anymore. Jesus…

      Truth is the reality neither its perception nor its interpretation.

      Andy, your scientific background is many times more reassuring than Mach’s empathy...

    11. That statement has nothing to do with empathy, Jessi.

      "Truth" is an overarching concept that includes more than facts- it includes memories, perceptions, interpretations. What makes it forever subjective is that by definition, we include some things and exclude others. What we experience as truth very often is a narrow set of facts that we have strung together (while (often unintentionally) excluding those facts which weaken our "truth".

      That is why I am incredibly leery of people's "truths". They leave little room for paradox, mystery, and revision once we doggedly attach our minds to the idea that they are absolute.

      If there is a truth it is simply this : existence or nonexistence. Everything else is open to interpretation.

    12. I live my life in a state of perpetual doubt. It is the only way to remain open to new paradigms. My truth is also simple: I know nothing.

    13. "Truth" is an overarching concept that includes more than facts- it includes memories, perceptions, interpretations."

      The truth is the reality and we use our cognitive abilities to acquire it. Whenever I use the term "truth" that is what I am refering to, the reality, I am not referring to the "experienced, perceived, interpreted, remembered... reality".

      So I am using this meaning of the Merriam-Webster dictionary

      Truth :
      a : the property (as of a statement) of being in accord with fact or reality.

    14. That definition of truth matches my own. Immutable laws of the world are fact and therefor truth, if it can be logically argued however it is subjective truth. Most things held to be "truth" are in fact subjective.

    15. not to open a can of worms... but there's a huge difference between the existence of objective truth and the ability to ascertain what it is...

    16. I don't understand how we could possibly disagree on this issue when I agree with this statement 100%, Mach.

  5. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/13/magazine/can-you-call-a-9-year-old-a-psychopath.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    In an earlier thread, the above link to a 2012 NYT article was mentioned- called "Can a 9 year old be a psychopath?" What is interesting to me is that the son and mother were engaged in a nasty power struggle there as well. Obviously, "Kevin" is fictional, but I can't help but see the connection between controlling parenting of a kid who is wired sociopathically and eventual destructive acting out.

    Having grown up with an incredibly rigid, controlling religious background, I saw a lot of good little robots, and then a few very angry kids. There is something incredibly toxic about a parenting style that can not see a child as anything other than an extension of themselves when paired with a temperamentally difficult child. It is this dynamic, (in my opinion) more than any other that creates antisocial personality disorder. It's toxic for the parent, the child, and all who interact with both.

    Instead of scapegoating the child as a "bad seed", I think that once a relationship with a primary caregiver becomes consistently adversarial, it would be in everyone's best interest if respite care was a voluntary option provided by the government. I'm not talking about surrendering a kid like this to foster care where things could go from bad to worse- rather, that state governments have protocols established to determine if an at risk child/home situation meets a set of criteria that merits the family receiving assistance the same way families can receive state funding for autistic kids.

    I am not suggesting that kids like this be "shipped off"- simply that the negative feedback loop between the child and primary caregiver be interrupted. Part of the available funds could go to supporting the parent through therapy/continuing education/respite care options so the caregiver can avoid reaching the point of becoming punitive after getting into a battle of the wills with a sociopathic child.

    ME talks about her father in a way that makes me concerned that this element of control was present in her upbringing as well- and given the many gifts she has, I can't help but wonder if things might have turned out differently if she had not been subjected to an authoritarian father and had not been a victim of neglect.

  6. I have a question I was coming to ask before I read this article. I am asking with my heart, not my head, so please give me grace.

    I cut off contact with my parents about 4 months ago. She gaslighted me over a small incident but her gaslighting was such that there was no place to go with it because it was so twisted.

    Father's Day was hard and my birthday will be hard but my question is this.

    My mother is a therapist, as many of you know. Her mantra for her whole life was that she has changed. That is her big carrot to pull you back in. She has changed. She has changed. She is not the same person who was insensitive, hurt you, whatever.

    Well, after all her years of being a therapist and seeming genuine regret for how she was. (She has cried to me and asked me to forgive her) Could it be that she has not changed in the core of her personality or did she change?

    1. Oh that is a tough one. And one I struggle with too on a personal level.
      I have limited contact with my parents because I get so depressed after interacting with my mom for any length of time.
      There is no "right" answer here. My experience has been that it's a lot easier to change superficial behaviors than the underlying attitudes that drive those behaviors. Your mom sounds a lot like Brenda's mother on the show "Six Feet Under".
      You have my sympathies.

      Monica, now that you are an adult, you are responsible for your own well being. That means you need to decide what course of action allows you to function best. You do not "owe" her a second chance. If you desire to seek healing and keep trying, that is admirable, but you should never be pressured into a relationship just to make her feel better. She failed as a mom. It's up to you what comes next.

    2. You know which mother she is more like? The mother in the Gilmore Girls, but Brenda's mother is right too.

    3. I'd say Monica let her prove to you that she has changed. And let her work out what form that proof should take. You don't need to move a muscle here. As Mach said, it's up to you what, if anything, comes next.

    4. Thank you Anon 6:05
      That is a comforting response. I thank you very much, dear one.

    5. I'm not your biggest fan but this is genuine advice. I would recommend seeing if shes genuinely changed but always keeping in mind that it is exceptionally rare for a person to change who they are in their cores. Keep at arms length to avoid getting sucked in or hurt.

    6. @ Khan- I responded to you this morning back on the "not as good as you think you are thread"- with a few more questions, should you have an interest in answering them.

    7. To answer your questions its a bit of both.

      Medicine appeals to me for control, killing appeals to me for the affliction of pain and for control. Destruction of life doesn't hold as much appeal for me, I have never harmed or killed an animal for instance. Not even burned ants with a magnifying glass. It's mostly about the infliction of pain and control. I like the look of fear in someones eyes when you hurt them.

      Secondary appeal of medicine is that I also enjoy helping people. Meddling in the lives of others appeals to me, even if its positive its another expression of control.

    8. This comment has been removed by the author.

    9. (sorry- I hate my typos- restating)

      Forgive me, please, if I seem like I am splitting hairs in making distinctions here, but I have another question.

      Is it the fact you have rendered something alive permanently still that excites you- or- is it the terror you perceive before life is extinguished that excites you? Your comment above suggests the latter. I am wondering, then, if the actual result of the act of killing (death) is beside the point for you.
      If that is the case- would it be possible to chase this thrill in other ways that do not result in a permanent loss of life?

    10. It's the terror and fear that excites me. But I have yet to come up with a way to chase that legally and safely.

    11. My fantasy is to chase someone through the woods with a knife. You don't have to kill them if they run at a fast enough pace.

    12. I've mentioned I don't possess a desire to harm animals, its not that the idea repulses me like it does some people. It just doesn't interest me. Animals lack the ability to fully comprehend what you are doing to them, also shooting something isn't personal enough. I always think of using my knife.

      Chet, I fantasize about very similar things. Hunting a person would be even more exhilarating then simply assaulting and killing them.

  7. "We Need To Talk About Kevin," is the "primer" on TRUE sociopathic childeren.
    According to psycharists, all TRUE sociopaths expreience CONDUCT DISORDER.
    These symptams occur pre adolesence. They might wet the bed, set fires,
    torture animals, terrorize "normal" family members etc.
    The movie shows how parents are in denile. An escalating number of events
    usually has to occur before the parents realize they have a problem on their
    hands. They usually hope "It's only a phase." Even when it's not a phase,
    they keep hoping the problem will "disapear."
    Finally the parents are reluctantly forced "mull over" action about the
    boy's future. Sociopaths are not dopes. The boy overhears them speaking
    about him and knows that now is the time to strike. This happens very
    frequently with sociopathic outbursts, like shootings.
    Many sociopaths have "stressors" that tip the balance. Adam Lanza's
    mother was about to change his living arraingements before he went
    beserk. It was a bit late in the day as the idiot attempted to "bond"
    with him over guns. You should also research about a boy named Kip Kinkel
    who was very simular to the Kevin character.
    This brings me to the purpose of this letter. IF conduct disorder is a
    predictor of sociopathy, how does one explain the many seeming sociopaths
    that DON'T show it, the same age as "Kevin" did? For example, Casey
    Anthony never set fires or tortured small animals. She seemed normal
    in all respects until Cindy forced her forced her to give birth. Casey's
    behavior was not atypical of a young adult's until after the pregnancy.
    I think Casey's behavior was more typical of histrionic personality
    disorder. I recently read a book titled "Personality Disorders" I don't
    remember the aurthor but the book did have a very distorted face on the
    cover. The man gives an example of a histrionc: The person is usually
    female, the pathology asserts itself around the 20th year. They are
    exhabitionist, attention seeking. The person is a single mother, who
    keeps her child on the shelf and shows her off (Like a pet) to impress
    people like Casey did. Hare said that female psychopaths exhibt conduct
    disorder, so can someone please settle the matter for me: Casey Anthony
    sociopath or not!

    1. Make friends with the paragraph break.

    2. I agree that Casey was probably not sociopathic. I would guess narcissistic or histrionic but I don't have enough info to judge for sure.

  8. Kevin also seemed to possess a latent attraction to Eva. Notice that in the end, only she and he are left. His regret is probably partly due the the sense of complacency and "what now?" he feels after he has what he wanted. I would guess that sociopaths aren't keen with the feeling of something being anticlimactic. I think he realizes that he could have taken cleaner measures for such a simple goal (having her complete devotion and attention. He also realizes that he can't really see her much while incarcerated, so reflecting upon his choice(s), he might conclude that he was being impulsive. I'm pretty sure in the book Kevin is not heterosexual. How common of an archetype the Oedipal, yet queer little boy is. I gathered that he harbored a secret inner self with deep-seated turmoil beyond his antisocial tendencies, which were actually the traits he allowed to be the most candid.

    But being slow to toilet train and masturbating in front of one's mother/having power battles with her is also quite Freudian, as I believe this film/book were intended to hint at--down to the self-fulfilling prophecy aspect. For instance, Eva was so worried that she'd be a poor parent that in spite of all her efforts and caution, she was.

    1. I haven't seen the movie, so I can't comment on the content of your post. I can, however, let you know that I greatly appreciate the high quality of your writing. You even used "deep-seated" instead of "deep-seeded", which is a mistake I would have made at your age. Flawless.

  9. Agree, his appearance does seem sexually ambiguous.

    What cleaner measures are there for a child with a serious emotional condition to communicate his needs when dealing with a mother with narcissistic, bpd or bipolar tendencies?

    I wish there was more in the movie about how his interactions were at school and with his peers. There's also a lot going on for someone approaching 18 outside of family.

  10. Haha, I appreciate that, Glass.

    I can't say, GagReflex, but I do think (at least in the movie, didn't read the book)that Kevin ultimately felt that after the shock value of his act wore off he had nothing of lasting value.

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. Soon after I met my husband's son I knew something was off about him. I knew if I married him, I'd have my hands full with his children who were neglected and drugged by their mother. He now has full custody of them. In the first few months of caring for this young boy full-time I witnessed behavior from a child like I had never seen before. My reactions towards him were driven by fear and anger. Fear he'd never change and anger that I was left to clean up the mess his parents helped create. I went through several different assumptions about what could be off about him. I was determined to help him. It wasn't until after I saw him display certain character traits that I thought sociopath.I saw him throw our puppy across the yard when he was only five. I've come into the room to find him dragging our dog by its hind legs. Other violent behaviors like punching me in the face and randomly hitting and kicking other kids. His rage would be set off because of small things like not getting enough ketchup. The rage and tantrums would last for what seemed like an eterinty. But once he stopped it was as if it had never happened. Those things were unpleasant and definitely took their toll on me. But the worst and most disturbing was when I'd have talks with him abouthhis behavior. He was completely clueless about why it was wrong. He would say he wasn't sorry and didn't care if he hurt us. I used to joke to my husband that if he ever finds me stabbed to death, it was his son. Because of my stubborn streak and immaturity I handle the situations all wrong. I was going to teach him how to be a caring and kind boy if it was the last thing I'd do. I felt like I had to save him. Once after he did something that I had asked him not to do I tricked him by having him tell me which of his toys were his favorites so that I could take those ones away as punishment. But after I told him what I was going to do he only responded with,I don't care. He was so calm and I was going nuts trying to break him and get a reaction out of him. The joke was always on me. It went on like this for several years until someone suggested I look into aspbergers. After I did some research I decided I was going to give him this label in my mind and use the suggestions for parents that the aspberger experts gave online. They suggested to treat these types of children as puppies that need to be trained and are rewarded with only positive words, actions or small treats. I told his father about this and he followed my lead. Its been almost a year since I changed and in that time my stepson has changed immensely. He still has outbursts and still seems to be confused when he's hurt someone but he's much more pleasant to be around. And so am I. I no longer feel desperate to change him. Only help him and love him. It took me making a change. Next month he will be officially tested for aspbergers. Maybe he'll still stab me in my sleep but if he does, I won't take it personal.

  13. Be careful.
    The level of hostility you describe isn't consistent with Aspberger's syndrome.
    Also know- your continued level of investment is heroic and he is blessed to have such a caring individual in his life.

    My advice?
    Don't get into a power struggle with this child. He is not your son- therefore- not your responsibility.
    The positive reinforcement track is a good one.

  14. @1:21
    I've never met anyone like her other then her so I honestly can't say whether or not you'd all irritate me to the same degree. And it's not so much the self referencing that gets me as the incredible naivety, and the seeming total inability to pick up on my dislike unless I am flagrant about it, and I prefer subtlety. Honestly I'd enjoy her more if she was a bit less obtuse.

    AnonymousJune 17, 2013 at 1:48 AM
    For me, being obtuse and displaying a sort of naivety is related.

    I think it is a way to annoy people like you. I have an NPD friend who gets enraged when i play that game with him..

    AnonymousJune 17, 2013 at 7:38 AM
    how different is obtuseness from subtlety, Sevvack Kahn?

    ( I don't mean to irritate you. That was yesterday.)

    sevvack khanJune 17, 2013 at 9:41 PM
    subtlety is intentional, the way she is behaving is not.

    Hi Sevvack

    i hope you will continue with me.

    what is unintentional subtlety? can you give me an example or create a different scenario?

    She is the type to push so that you come out and say it plainly to her face how and why you dislike her? it seems she does not like subtlety, then?

    1. Asperger's has a P in it.

    2. She doesn't even pick up on subtlety. I don't know if you've ever had any kind of long term friendship or relationship with someone with borderline autism but its like that for her ability to pick up on social cues. However she displays far to much empathy for her to be autistic.

      She doesn't push to make you plainly say to her face how much you dislike her, she genuinely just doesn't realize it. When you tell her she is terribly hurt and cannot understand why you don't like her.

    3. Let me get this straight. You don't like her and you hint subtlely to her that you dont like her, and then you get more irritated with her when she displays naivety about your hinting. Is that right?

      I'm asking you this because I want you to consider that this girl knows precisely how you feel about her. -There is a person here who has done this thing with me for years right here in this community.

      As an empath, I can pick up on when a person is irritated by me. and if they do subtle hinting that it is me, not only can see it very well, i see this as an invitation to make myself into their personal rash. It is routed in anger. It isn't personal, it is just compulsion.

      Do you want to get her to stop following you around irritating you?

    4. Empaths hate dishonesty.

    5. No, I know her fairly well and she genuinely can't pick up on it. As I said its like autism, she is a great deal like her boyfriend, my friend, only she has even more trouble with social signals and is actually empathic, which he is not.

      Her behavior in this manner caused her to be ostracized and bullied throughout her school career, her life was made miserable by her peers through most of her school life. This is part of why I know she doesn't fake it. The other part is that I've known her for years before she started dating my friend, and though I rarely interacted with her I noted her behaviors and personality type.

    6. Her behavior in this manner caused her to be ostracized and bullied throughout her school career,

      Is SHE aware that it is this precise behaviour which caused her to be bullied?

      Did she give a shit she was being bullied? Did she shrug it off like bullying was no big thing??

      Clearly she doesn't care if her bf is empathic, so why would she care of some dumb school mates were?
      Why did they bully her? Because she was clueless as to whether or not someone liked her or not???

      Maybe she didn't give a fuck.

      Sounds like a fucking dream personality to me. If she doesn't care about the bullying, that is.

    7. well, no i have not knowingly been around anyone with mild autism for a lengthy period. I imagine it is like having cotton in your ear, though.

      Do you know those lovely people with Williamson syndrome? They are so full of love, it is hard for me to imagine they would think the world has cruelty in it. They break my heart. I wish I had never seen or absorbed cruelty. it seems like a dream come true.

    8. sorry, i meant williams syndrome


    9. She genuinely believed that people made fun of her because they were jealous because that's what her mother had told her. The bullied her because she was socially inept, strange, projected and air of vulnerability, and wore her hair down to her ankles. Children are cruel and ostracize whoever is different.

      And she didn't shrug off the bullying, it always hurt her deeply. Especially as she can't seem to understand why anyone would want to hurt her. She is utterly unaware that her behavior is what caused her to be bullied and when this was pointed out to her she didn't believe it as she couldn't understand how it could be true.

      No, I can't say I have ever met anyone with Williams syndrome. I come from a city of only a few thousand and in my high school there were few enough people with mental disabilities to count on two hands. From the wikipedia article though they sound sweet. True innocence has always amused me.

    10. I am not sure if i identify or empathize with this girl.

      i understand the will to hang onto innocence. But you seem angry with her. I don't understand the anger.

      I remember being around clueless kids in school who wanted my friendship. i was always slightly disappointed if they were in my face with admiration/attention because i thought they wanted something from me..I wasn't exactly angry. I was annoyed that the more careful i was with them that i would then have a shadow, so i had to limit my attention. I did not have an interest in being their friend but I was kind. Some, I thought, got used by a teacher. They had a will to please and flatter and be too giving to people undeserving. But i think it made them feel important.

      I have a feeling that one of my HS email pals may have williams syndrome.Idk. I just put it together, actually. He had a crush on me and i was nice to him.. He is the cutest, sweetest fellow but physically the most susceptible to bullying you could ever imagine. You could barely hear him when he spoke and he always walked close to the walls down the hall. He can't get the job he went to school for now, probably because he is so socially weird.

      I found out recently he has a Nazi memorabilia collection ! wtf. But I'm not exactly shocked.

  15. I watched the same Goddamn movie and would have sworn Kevin was autistic not a sociopath. Eva is probably a narcissist. I thought the point of the movie was watching two people locked in a power struggle that don't seem to understand that they are so much alike.

    Of course if I had to write a one line review of the movie it would be "bitch's be crazy," and I certainly don't intend to watch it again.


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