Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The sick and the dying (part 1)

A reader asks:

I would be very interested in knowing how a sociopath deals with illness and old age. I am an RN and have cared for many a sociopath in my day (without knowing it). As I mentioned in previous emails my father is sociopathic. He is now in his 80's and a very miserable person to be around. He hates the fact that he is growing feeble, like we all will/do but his behavior is not the norm.

There seems to be no way to interact with him that does not turn out be a disaster. If I show my empathy and caring, he finds something to put a wedge between us. For example, the last time, I tried to talk to him about his physical health he threw in my face my teenage years and how I was not there for him during a difficult time. He let me know that he gave up on me at that time and that he had no use for me. If I ignore his ailments, he gets angry because no one understands or cares. It obvious that he feels quite less than everyone else and he makes little effort now to communicate with others with the exception of his wife who has devoted her life to him. I have not seen my father in almost 4 years.

I am wondering what is the best way to deal with an ailing sociopath. When sociopaths are faced with life-threatening illness and require hospitalization, do they look for empathy from others? Do the games stop even then or do they continue to manipulate people with a feeling of enjoyment? How does a sociopath think, feel and behave in times of such extreme vulnerability such as a terminal or life threatening illness along with the perils of aging?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Thinking the impossible

I have been getting asked a lot what are the advantages (if any) of being a sociopath. I think one of them can be (in certain situations) that you tend to be a little delusional, megalomaniacal, and optimistic in ways that could make you a great entrepreneur, if for no other reason than you occupy a world that is not quite like the world everyone else does. Consequently, your world of possibilities is going to look a lot different than other people's.

Along those same lines, I really liked this passage from Debbie Millman :

Every once in a while — often when we least expect it — we encounter someone more courageous, someone who choose to strive for that which (to us) seemed unrealistically unattainable, even elusive. And we marvel. We swoon. We gape. Often , we are in awe. I think we look at these people as lucky, when in fact, luck has nothing to do with it. It is really about the strength of their imagination; it is about how they constructed the possibilities for their Life. In short, unlike me, they didn’t determine what was impossible before it was even possible.

Of course the downside is that you can also experience failures that most people would not think possible. But of course sociopaths are risk-seeking stimulation seekers that act as if they have nothing to lose.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Knowing truth

I have talked before about truth and how my own belief in truth makes me act differently than sociopaths who may not believe in any objective or knowable truth. I was reading a talk by LDS President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "What is Truth" and was reminded of the recent "discovery" that sociopaths feel empathy, that so rocked people's previous conceptions about sociopaths that I received over a dozen emails about it. President Uchtdorf first tells the story of the blind men and the elephant:

One of the men finds the elephant’s leg and describes it as being round and rough like a tree. Another feels the tusk and describes the elephant as a spear. A third grabs the tail and insists that an elephant is like a rope. A fourth discovers the trunk and insists that the elephant is like a large snake. Each is describing truth. And because his truth comes from personal experience, each insists that he knows what he knows.
It seems to be part of our nature as human beings to make assumptions about people, politics, and piety based on our incomplete and often misleading experience.
So often the “truths” we tell ourselves are merely fragments of the truth, and sometimes they’re not really the truth at all.

Sociopaths can be equally susceptible to such

I thought of this talk when I saw this comment posted on someone's Facebook status about Edward Snowden being a whistleblower.

Snowden is not a whistleblower. He took no advantage of whistleblower protections. none. Zero. Nada. Zippo. His goal was self aggrandizement. Which pretty much failed. He's a crook. And should have the courage to face consequences. But he's weak. And scared. And stupid. He's seeking protection from Russia, Venezuela, Cuba, and the like. He will be remembered as a crook. Which is what he is. I'm no fan of prism, but snowden is a delusional young boy. And a coward. Whistle blowing dies not equal exposing state secrets. Ask Manning.

Particularly this part of the talk:

The “truths” we cling to shape the quality of our societies as well as our individual characters. All too often these “truths” are based on incomplete and inaccurate evidence, and at times they serve very selfish motives. Part of the reason for poor judgment comes from the tendency of mankind to blur the line between belief and truth. We too often confuse belief with truth, thinking that because something makes sense or is convenient, it must be true. Conversely, we sometimes don’t believe truth or reject it—because it would require us to change or admit that we were wrong. Often, truth is rejected because it doesn’t appear to be consistent with previous experiences. When the opinions or “truths” of others contradict our own, instead of considering the possibility that there could be information that might be helpful and augment or complement what we know, we often jump to conclusions or make assumptions that the other person is misinformed, mentally challenged, or even intentionally trying to deceive.

Things said with such certainty and with such scant support (either about sociopaths or any other thing that people assert as "truth") remind me of the Bertrand Russell quote: "One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision."

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Psychopath treatment: a success story

This was an interesting email sent to Jon Ronson, author of The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, from a diagnosed psychopath who sought treatment (relatively successfully). Here are selections, links are mine and my comments in brackets:

Four years later, with sessions no less frequent than once or twice a week, I came out of therapy unrecognizable from when I went into it. 

Yes thearapy was transformative, though it is possible to overstate its impacts. I will always see the world through different lenses to much of the rest of the world. My emotional reactions are different, my endowments are impressive in some respects, not so in others, much like other people. 

It is also the case that, being ‘normal’ takes a degree of energy and conscious thought that is instinctive for most, but to me is a significant expenditure of energy. I think it analogous to speaking a second language. That is not to say I am being false or obfuscating, merely that I will always expose some eccentric traits. [I also find it to be taxing to interact with people legitimately because it's a very deliberate choice, a performance of sorts rather than a way of interacting that comes naturally to me.] 

So why am I writing all this to you?

Well, from someone who is both psychopathic and treated, there are many fallacies about psychopaths with which I am deeply cynical. Unfortunately psychopaths themselves do themselves no favors, as the label given to them plays into their ego over generously - ‘If we are born that way’ psychopaths reason, ‘then it is not wrong for us to be as we are, indeed we are the pinnacle of the human condition, something other people demonize merely to explain their fitful fears’. [It's so easy to think this way. It's so hard to acknowledge that the world might be a lot more complicated than you think it is, and people (everybody, really) a lot less stupid and a lot more valuable than you think they are. I had to be trained to see the world differently (by Ann, for those that have read the book).]

We are neither the cartoon evil serial killers, nor the ‘its your boss’ CEO’s always chasing profit at the expense of everyone else. While we are both of those things, it is a sad caricature of itself. 

We continue be to characterized that way, by media, by literature, and by ourselves, yet the whole thing is a sham. 

The truth is much, much more complex, and in my view, interesting.

Psychopaths are just people. You are right to say that psychopaths hate weakness, they will attempt to conceal anything that might present as a vulnerability. The test of their self-superiority is their ability to rapidly find weaknesses in others, and to exploit it to its fullest potential.  

But that is not to say that this aspect of a psychopaths world view cannot be modified. These days I see weaknesses and vulnerabilities as simple facts - a facet of the human condition and the frailties and imperfections inheritent in being human. [I've talked about this here.]

At the same time it is true that my feelings and reactions to those around me are different - not necessarily retarded - just different. It is the image of psychopaths as something not quite human, along with espersions as to their natures, that prevent this from being identified. 

So how to explain these ‘different’ feelings?

Well, lets look at what (bright) psychopaths are naturally quite exceptional at… We are good at identifying, very rapidly, extreme traits of those around us which allows us to discern vulnerabilities, frailties, and mental conditions. It also makes psychopaths supreme manipulators, for they can mimick human emotions they do not feel, play on these emotions and extract concessions. 

But what are these traits really? - Stripped of its pejorative adjectives and mean application, it is a highly trained perception, ability to adapt, and a lack of judgment borne of pragmatic and flexible moral reasoning

What I’m saying here is that although those traits can very easily (even instinctively) lead to dangerous levels of manipulation, they do not have to. 

These days I enjoy a reputation of being someone of intense understanding and observation with a keen strategic instinct. I know where those traits come from, yet I have made the conscious choice to use them for the betterment of friends, aquaintences, and society. People confide in me extraordinary things because they know, no matter what, I will not be judging them. [I particularly relate with this paragraph.]

I do so because I know I have that choice. After years of therapy I am well equipped to act on it, and my keen perception is now directed equally towards myself

Its true that I do not ‘feel’ guilt or remorse, except to the extent that it affects me directly, but I do feel other emotions, which do not have adequate words of description, but nevertheless cause me to derive satisfacton in developing interpersonal relationships, contributing to society, and being gentle as well as assertive. 

Such as statement might tempt you to say ‘well obviously you’re not a real psychopath then’. As if the definition of a psychopath is someone who exploits others for their personal power, satisfaction or gain
In the end, psychopaths need to be given that very thing everyone believes they lack for others, empathy; a willingness to understand the person, their drives, hopes, strengths and fears, along with knowledge of their own personal sadnesses and sense of inferiority…As it is, such cartoon, unchangeable, inhuman characterizations offers nothing but perpetuation of those stereotypes. 

Serial Killers & Ruthless CEOs exist - Voldemort does not. 

Overall I found his experience to be very similar to my own. He sought help at the beginning of his adulthood because he felt like he didn't have control over some of the things he thought and did. He was led through a paradigm shift by a trusted and wise individual (his therapist, my close friend) who first saw and understood him, then met him halfway and spoke his language rather than preaching at him in the foreign language of emotional morality. I don't think this is an easy process. His process took four years. Mine took about two, but of intense focus. I also know of a handful of people who have even gotten there on their own, though, so it definitely is possible. I actually hope that the book is really helpful that way, in terms of helping undiagnosed sociopaths to recognize themselves and also give them a message of hope. It's possible for sociopaths to train themselves to think and act in different ways. We will never be completely fluent or automatic in our empathy or moral reasoning, but with some accommodation we can be not only fully functioning in society, but successful and contributing members of society. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Sociopaths feel empathy (sort of)

Recent research suggests that sociopaths can feel empathy (or at least their mirror neurons light up as if they are feeling empathy) when directed to put themselves in the shoes of someone else. From the BBC News:

Psychopaths do not lack empathy, rather they can switch it on at will, according to new research. Placed in a brain scanner, psychopathic criminals watched videos of one person hurting another and were asked to empathise with the individual in pain. Only when asked to imagine how the pain receiver felt did the area of the brain related to pain light up. Scientists, reporting in Brain, say their research explains how psychopaths can be both callous and charming. The team proposes that with the right training, it could be possible to help psychopaths activate their 'empathy switch', which could bring them a step closer to rehabilitation. Criminals with psychopathy characteristically show a reduced ability to empathise with others, including their victims. Evidence suggests they are also more likely to reoffend upon release than criminals without the psychiatric condition.

I always wonder at this logical jump -- that a lack of empathy is the primary reason why sociopaths reoffend as opposed to, say, fearlessness, overoptimism, etc.? Maybe, but I haven't seen actual research on the issue, only idle speculation. The LA Times reporter, Geoffrey Mohan, takes this flawed line of reasoning one step further and suggests that only automatic empathy will do the trick:

But there is a substantial gulf between automatic empathic responses and those that result from cognitive control. Because a psychopath likely cannot be "trained" to summon up empathy to counterbalance manipulative and violent behavior, therapies would have to focus on embedding the process where it belongs: in the largely unconscious emotional regulating centers of the brain.

I disagree. I think sociopaths can be trained. I think that is the biggest implication of this recent research. And I think other research has shown that conscientiousness is the trait most strongly correlated with successful sociopaths vs. unsuccessful sociopaths. And what is conscientiousness but the acquisition of good habits, i.e. training. Plus, my own experience suggests that sociopaths can be trained. Readers of the book will recognize Ann as my trainer. So, it's an odd assertion to make, that sociopaths can't be trained. But luckily the researchers seem to share my view:

"From a therapeutical point of view, the big implication of our study is it does not seem to be the case that they have broken empathy per se,” Keysers said. “That would suggest that what therapies need to do is not so much try to create empathy in them, but try to make empathy more automatic and potentially do so by making the social cues of others more salient, so they will always be drawn into this empathy mode that they can activate when they want to.”

Especially given what we know of cognitive empathy being something we can practice.

So do I think that this is major news and will change the way we view sociopaths? Maybe it will change the common (mis)conceptions regarding sociopathy, but it is completely in line with recent trends in sociopathy research. For instance, Joseph Newman has a similar theory that sociopathy is largely an attentional issue, and that when you direct their attention to emotions (apparently even to the emotions of others), they experience them in relatively "normal" ways. The researchers of this current study agree:

Theories of psychopathy’s origins center around deficits in instrumental learning and attention. Keyser’s conclusions merge with those hypotheses. Of particular note were scans that showed abnormal activation in the amygdala, an area of the paralimbic system associated with emotional learning. Psychopaths may lack clues to the salience of social stimuli, an attribute shared to a certain degree with autism spectrum disorder. 

[I have often wondered if sociopathy is an autism spectrum disorder]

Psychopaths therefore may not be able to develop more complex structures of rules and morals, said Keysers.

“They don’t have this tendency that we normally have to be drawn into what the other person is feeling, and you can rephrase that as an attentional deficit,” Keysers said. “They simply don’t attend to what is going on with other people, automatically.”

So no, I don't think this is so different from what has been the recent trend in how researchers have viewed sociopathic empathy, particularly when you consider that sociopaths have always been acknowledged to have cognitive empathy, just not emotive empathy. Research suggests that cognitive empathy can be enhanced by attention directing exercises such as perspective taking. I have consistently said that sociopaths are able to put themselves into the shoes of another and imagine what it might be like to be that person, which possibly explains why we're so good at manipulation. Also, I have even experienced this type of focused empathy accidentally.

Things I would like to see explored further:

  • Is this sort of empathy different from mentalizing?
  • Can anyone empathize with things they haven't yet experienced or the experiences of others that are dissimilar to them (e.g. white people don't empathize with Trayvon Martin as much as African Americans do)?
  • What is the relationship between this attentional empathy and being moved (manipulated into feeling your own feelings in response to stimulus?)

So this is good news for sociopaths and our fight against the stigma, but knowing how much some people blindly hate sociopaths, my guess is that this is eventually going to be used to argue that sociopaths are just being lazy or opportunistic when they choose not to empathize.

As a side note,  apparently in the Netherlands psychopaths have access to the insanity defense? "Keysers and his team were given access to offenders who committed violent crimes, such as rape and murder, but who were found not responsible due to a psychopathy diagnosis." Sort of not surprising for the Dutch

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Sociopath quote of the day: principles

I like persons better than principles, and I like persons with no principles better than anything else in the world.

-- Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Interview with a seducee (part 4)

(continued from here)

I didn't think too much about it when I got home. I remember thinking just one or two times thinking about the whole night in general and remember afterward telling people that I hadn't been talking to you anymore, but it was specifically, it was really when we were going to get those cables. You had driven and we were in the parking garage area and we had to get into an elevator to get into the store, which I found odd. All of the sudden there was a lightness and a comfort between us, and maybe it was a newfound comfort in someone that you've kissed or shared enough conversation or time in one day that we're able to coexist in the same store or the same location with a lightness as opposed to all of the awkwardness of times past, that was very refreshing and exciting.

We were talking about this person you were dating long distance and also this other person who you told me about with whom you felt there was something going on there, something less than a relationship so far but that person was going to go to see you play and was either more interested in you than you wanted, but essentially you were sharing with me the parameters of having to balance three people at the same time and that that was a little bit more, perhaps, than you had anticipated at the time. I remember distinctly feeling at the time that I was no better or worse than them and certainly wasn't competitive with them. I either stand on my own or I don't. I wasn't taken aback in any way by the idea that you were either dating other people or you weren't, it was more the fact of the matter. But I remember, just by the way you were characterizing those people, thinking about how I would be characterized and thought of myself in terms of an explanation to someone else through your words and cautioned myself when I noticed even just standing in the elevator that I wanted to be physical with you, to touch you, kiss you, push you against the wall and kiss you, and show that physical sexual aggressiveness because of an intensity I was feeling. I knew that had to be controlled because whatever feelings I was having had to be tempered by the fact that it didn't appear that there was anything sustainable about whatever this was.

[regarding different sides of m.e.] I wouldn't say you seem like you have been different persons, I realize I have said that a lot in this narrative, but for me it's more those first impressions that you take from someone -- all those assessments that we make about people based in that blink and we roll from there and they either end up proving or disproving initial theories. I don't feel like you morphed into some different person or character so much that I had made different assumptions about you, and that's not even to say that your actions in one particular instance proved or disproved those assumptions, it just felt as if it was an out of character experience based on those assumptions. I don't know if the narrative sounded negative, I hope it didn't. I tried to be honest about what I felt in the situation, but I wouldn't be talking to you tonight if I thought that you had been disingenuous with me and showed all these different characteristics that had you as angry, liar, etc. If I thought those were actual aspects of your personality, I don't think I would still be in contact with you.

My biggest frustration with you is openness, transparency. I wish you would be more open with me, even if it was blunt or harsh. I guess because you don't tell me everything I assume there are lots of bad things that you aren't telling me; I feel like you are holding things back, calculating. You're just more reserved about things, I guess. That's probably smart, to approach things that way, be more protective of yourself. And I'm the opposite, this verbal diarrhea thing. At first, I probably should have never been as open to you, but by now I'm convinced that we've shared enough experiences, whether you can add them up on one hand or not, that I do have an idea of who you are. I don't have a problem sharing myself with you. I can't ask that you return that, but I feel that particularly where it feels the most confusing is that there was such an awkwardness about that email and us being together, there were these awkward moments for me and I guess I think that nothing is ever entirely clear but I just wish that this was a little more clear. Can't that just be the case? I just remember you saying things like "I thought about what it would be like to date you," and what goes through my mind when I hear that is that you've thought about the possibly of (1) dating and being with someone like me and (2) whether that would be a secret relationship, because I think of you as a plotting and calculating person, because you wouldn't go through any decision making process blind, so I was trying to think about what you would even think about to make that sort of statement to me.

You know, I still wonder why. Why the manipulation?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Female sociopath

Female sociopaths are more hated than male sociopaths? I stumbled upon this post on LoveFraud from Lianne Leedom, psychiatrist, sociopath victim, and author of "Just Like His Father?" She also infamously threatened her child with going to "the dark place" as a punishment when he had an incredible phobia of the dark. Let her never be accused of being too soft on sociopaths (including her own son), she has plenty of vitriol and anecdotal evidence to spew about female sociopaths:

There is something inherently more repulsive and unbelievable about a female sociopath. Women by nature are preprogrammed to learn empathy and care-taking, the antithesis of sociopathic behavior. Indeed, one of the best indicators of sociopathy in a women is seen when the woman fails to care for her own child. It would seem then, that we would all be revolted by a female sociopath, so why do men become victims?

My own theory, which has been corroborated by many men who have written to Lovefraud, is that men accidentally fall victim to sociopathic women when they have sex with them. You see, normal men experience bonding just like normal women-especially when the sex is good. The sex with a female sociopath (I’m told) isn’t just good, it’s better than most mortal men have ever hoped for. Once hooked on the female sociopath, men become victims just as much as the women who become hooked on the male sociopath. Many male victims feel ashamed and emasculated. But, take heart guys, she actually preyed on the more masculine side of your nature, your enjoyment of sex!

So there you have it feminists, women who aren't natural care-takers are repulsive and revolting (because women are preprogrammed to learn empathy and care-taking), and it's a little shocking that men fall victim to them (because men are pretty clever, otherwise), but easily explainable because these women are obviously whores. Apparently most women either aren't good at sex or don't like it, so it's easy for sociopathic women to ensnare men with sex. But guys don't take it as a threat to your masculinity that she ultimately denied you ready access to sex because she's just a whore. Did I say whore? She was probably just after your money or something anyway, because that's how whores operate, and she's clearly a whore.

Leedom's focus on the female sociopaths is almost entirely on their ability to raise children, please their man, and/or extract money or privileges for sex. If this is not the definition of anti-feminism, I don't know what is.

What about other aspects of a female sociopath? My guess is that they can be very successful in their careers. Not only would they have the same potential advantages of male sociopaths (ruthless, fearless, power-hungry and ambitious), but because they don't fully identify with their gender, they might be less influenced by some of the defeating (and self-defeating) "lessons" that young girls are taught about a woman's place in the world. They wouldn't be socialized to want particularly things and not others like a lot of women seem to be. Also they might not readily seem themselves as a victim (as society is so quick to portray women), but rather someone who acts and accepts responsibility for herself, empowered? We really don't know what female sociopaths look like in general because there has been next to no research done on female sociopaths. But it's very disappointing to see bald stereotypes perpetuated such little obvious personal slant and moral prejudice by someone claiming to be a medical professional and expert on sociopaths. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Practical empathy

This was an interesting video about the relevance (possibly revolutionizing effect?) of empathy in our society. The video discusses the difference between affective empathy where you feel what another person is feeling, and cognitive empathy, which is about perspective taking or "stepping into somebody else's world."

An interesting assertion was "We make assumptions about people. We have prejudices about people which block us from seeing their uniqueness, their individuality. We make we use labels and highly empathic people get beyond those labels by nurturing their curiosity about others." Do people make assumptions about sociopaths? Do empathic people choose to go beyond those labels by nurturing their curiosity about sociopaths? And if so, is this a net good or net bad?

The video tells the story of how George Orwell tried to nurture his curiosity about the under privileged classes by going on an "empathy adventure", "tramping" about London in disguise, to understand what it felt like to be in the lower classes -- literally putting himself in the shoes of another.

The narrator also discusses the possibility of having empathy not just on a personal level, but on a grander scale -- political, national, religious, etc. As an example, he tells the story of the English abolitionists who got former slaves to share their experiences as slaves, which movement eventually led to the illegalization of slavery.

The narrator talks about how traditionally people try to empathize with the downtrodden, but argues that we should be more adventurous in who we try to empathize with and to focus on more practical and strategic purposes of empathy, e.g. empathizing those in power because "only then are we going to be able to adopt effective strategies" for social transformation. Similarly, he thinks the gap between what we know about climate change and what we do about climate change is also due to a lack of empathy, particularly individuals failing to empathize with people on the other side of the world and people who have yet to be born.

The thing I found interesting about this video was that (1) it was very practically and not morally based analysis of empathy and (2) although the narrator only made the distinction once, he basically was only talking about the practical usefulness of cognitive empathy. I don't think that means that affective empathy is never useful, but it has its limitations in time and space. For instance, it's difficult to say that you are feeling the emotions of people you have never met and know nothing about. Similarly, it should be impossible to say that you are feeling the emotions of people who have yet to be even born. And yet we can feel cognitive empathy for these people by trying to imagine what it might be like to be them. If we exercise our cognitive empathy by putting ourselves in their shoes like George Orwell did, our perspective will broaden and we will get greater insight into not only the institutions of the world that we live in, but also perhaps some insight into our own selves. The good news is that anyone with theory of mind can practice cognitive empathy, including sociopaths, who actually do it perhaps better than most.

More on trying to gain more awareness of our own minds:

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Unleashing our power of seduction

Seduction gets a bad rap, as argued by Chen Lizra in her TED talk "The Power of Seduction in Our Everyday Lives."

The goal of her talk is to get people to see seduction as a valuable life skill. She thinks everyone can learn how to seduce, particularly when they start young. She talks about how the term seduction has been so sexualized that most people do not think that it could be a positive skill set. People think that seduction is a less honest or acceptable form of influence. People who have been seduced feel like they have been manipulated. Men are given more leeway to seduce and when it comes to work and seduction, people immediately think that you are sleeping your way to the corner office. These negative aspects of seduction are not inherent in seduction, but rather is neutral -- seduction can be used for all sorts of reasons, according to Lizra she uses it to be "classy" and "add to it" her sense of loyalty and integrity. At it's most basic, it is power. "Seduction is about charm, connection, vulnerability, pride, self confidence, and appeal."

Seduction formula

  1. Desire -- knowing what you want and having the courage to go after it. "Keeping the maybe alive is a skill of presenting potential possibilities and then fueling them with desire. It's about learning where the emotional buttons are and then triggering them." The key is to look for what the other person is missing, then give it to them, and it's almost impossible for someone to say no to that.
  2. Confidence -- Our self image is formed at an early age and is deeply affected by environment, e.g. since there is no advertising in Cuba their self image is not distorted. "Cubans grow up feeling intense pride and self confidence no matter what body size or shape they might have." Because, it turns out, that there is no objective beauty and to the extent we enforce particular standards of beauty we have allowed ourselves to be influenced into doing so by external forces
  3. Body language -- "It makes it really easy to seduce and be seduced because you know what the other person is feeling."
  4. Arousal -- You must "wake up in them the desire to give you what you want and lure it out." "You must give it your undivided attention in the moment." Fearlessness is key, because then a "no that was a maybe turns into a yes." 
"Everyone has the power to seduce in them" "Seduction is a skill no matter how you look at it. You can call it wooing, persuading, winning someone over, charming, it doesn't matter." The key is to "build the connection that gets you what you want." 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Is Twisted's Danny Desai a sociopath?

Twisted, an ABC Family teenage murder mystery drama along the same lines as their Pretty Little Liars, has a potential (likely?) sociopathic teenage protagonist -- Danny Desai. It's so likely that Danny is a sociopath that the original working title for the show was "Socio" and the abbreviation gets thrown around at least once an episode, along with plenty of accusations that he is a sociopath from his teenage peers, some amusingly framed in amusing pop culture references to The Good Son, The Bad Seed, and We Need to Talk About Kevin.

The show begins with Danny, now sixteen years old, having just been released from juvenile detention for having killed his aunt when he was eleven years old, starting high school with his former peers. In the pilot another girl gets murdered and Danny's past history (and the convenient timing of the second girl's murder) make him a prime suspect both in the eyes of the police and the townspeople. But perhaps the show comes closest to acknowledging that Danny is a sociopath when his mother goes to visit his court ordered therapist:

Mother: "So, how's he doing?"

Dr.: "Well, he's a smart young man."

Mother: "Yes he is. Dr. Reidy, I'm sure that you've heard of some of the hateful words people have been calling Danny... monster, freak, sociopath..."

Dr.: "I wouldn't let it get to you Mrs. Desai. It's a heightened time."

Mother: Oh I know, but as a mother, how should I respond to people calling him that. [Pause] I'm not being clear. What are the signs that someone is a sociopath, so that I can explain why Danny isn't one?"

Dr.: "Most sociopaths don't murder anyone, but they do exhibit glibness, superficial charm, an easy ability to lie."

Mother: "Right."

Dr.: "Let's see, what else, they love risk, they don't consider consequences, they have a talent for imitating human emotion -- grief, joy. It's never real, but they're good at making you believe it is. Is that helpful Mrs. Desai?"

The funny part is that Danny actually did murder someone, along with exhibiting all of the other traits of a sociopath that his therapist mentioned. But his mom stands by him, even after having her suspicions about his sociopathy essentially confirmed. She even helps (she thinks) him cover up another possible murder.

Even if Danny is not a sociopath, it's an interesting exploration of a teenage boy living with the stigma of having murdered someone (or at least having been convicted of murder), and how he deals with that (spoiler alert, by alternating violent outbursts against his enemies and charming himself back into the hearts of his already smitten followers), and how his friends and family deal with it (almost unwavering support). That he is such a likeable character (unambiguously so if Twitter is any indication) suggests that the millennial generation (the audience for this particular show) might be the first generation to really accept and even embrace sociopaths in their own lives. So, that's hopeful.

Friday, July 19, 2013

More on cruelty

Keeping in line with yesterday's post, from The American Conservative, "The Walking Boy", a true story about one man's experience being a boy-racist because he hung out with racist friends and he couldn't help himself?:

All I can say in my defense is that I never hurled a stone at him, or shouted abuse. But I stood by, many a time, as others did those things, and I neither walked away nor averted my eyes. I never held anyone’s cloak, but then I was never asked to. I watched it all, gripping a rock in my hand as though I were preparing to use it — so that no one would turn on me with anger or contempt — and I always stood a little behind them so they couldn’t see that I wasn’t throwing anything. I was smaller and younger than the rest of them, and they were smaller and younger than him. In my memory he seems almost a full-grown man; I suppose he was eleven or twelve. 

We called him Nigger Jeff. I have never doubted that Jeff was indeed his name, though as I write this account I find myself asking, for the first time, how we could have known: I never heard any of the boys speak to him except in cries of hatred, and I never knew anyone else who knew him. It occurs to me now that, if his name was Jeff, there had to have been at least a brief moment of human contact and exchange — perhaps not even involving Jeff, perhaps one of the boys’ mothers talked to Jeff’s mother. But we grasp what’s available for support or stability. It’s bad to call a boy Nigger Jeff, but worse still to call him just Nigger. A name counts for something.
Sometimes I would be playing alone in my yard, and would look up to see Jeff walking by. My heart would then buck in my chest, but he never turned his head to acknowledge my presence. At the time I wondered if he knew that I never threw rocks at him, that I didn’t curse him — for, if my memory is not appeasing my conscience, I avoided that crime as well. But now I realize that he neither knew nor cared about the individual members of our cruel impromptu assembly: with rocks in our hands we were just mobile, noisy impediments to his enjoyment of some of the blessings of life — friendship, comfort, safety — but when unarmed and solitary we posed no threat and therefore, for Jeff, lacked significant substance. He kept his eyes on that day’s small but valued prize, and kept on walking. 

Why didn’t I throw rocks at him? Why didn’t I curse him? Well, obviously, because I felt sorry for him. But not sorry enough to walk away, or to turn my back on the scene; and not nearly sorry enough to stay a friend’s hand or demand his silence. I was young, and small, and timid. I saw one valid option: to stand as a member of the chorus, grasping the rock that was the badge of our common identity. There’s no point now in trying to distinguish myself from the others. But I can’t help it.

First, is it really true that "Nigger Jeff" is better than "nigger"? Arguably worse, right? Because it's both acknowledging his humanity (that he is a human boy with a name) and in the same breath saying that he is a lesser form of humanity. I myself prefer less personal, nameless insults, but maybe I'm not typical that way.

This sort of bullying is not unique to just children, but adults can be equally childish about it. Mainstream media trades in it, despite all of their recent anti bullying talk. One of my friends was recently remarking at how it's amazing that Lindsay Lohan has put up with all of the abuse -- for the past 10 years or so there have probably been no fewer than five negative articles/posts/tweets per day about her. And Lindsay Lohan is not even the most hated human alive, not by a landslide, but apparently she just happens to have a particular suite of personality characteristics that make her a perfect storm for gossip? Bullying, really. But let's argue for a second that she brought it on herself (should that matter?). But when do you finally leave someone alone? Does that give people moral carte blanche to engage in shaming and other ugly behavior about her personal life? But no one really questions their right to do so, I hadn't even noticed it myself until my friend mentioned it. And why are people so eager to engage in ugly behavior in the first place that they're looking for socially "legitimate" opportunities to throw stones?

The American Conservative story reminded of the creepy Shirley Jackson short (fictional but not so far-fetched) story, "The Lottery." Someone gets chosen completely randomly to get stoned, but that doesn't matter -- once the person became marked, everything was fair game because they had the sanction of the group.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Senseless violence

Under the headline "Teenagers arrested for decapitating homeless man, playing soccer with his head":

Two teenagers have been nicked for allegedly decapitating a homeless man before playing soccer with his head. The pair, who were said to have taken a dislike to the man before killing him, then allegedly left his head in a bin.

"Allegedly" played soccer with his head, The Sun clarifies:

The suspects could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted of murder. A spokesman for Russia’s Investigative Committee later cast doubts on reports that the teenagers had used the head as a football. He said a “full picture” of what had happened was still being established.

Humans are capable of every sort of barbarism. Why? Beth Johnson

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Children = creepy monsters

I have often said that sociopaths are not difficult to understand, they're basically four year olds in an adult's body. They manipulate like four year olds. The world revolves around them like four year olds, but they can also be genuinely interested/curious about the people and things around them like four year olds. They can be surprisingly naive about certain things and tactlessly blunt. They don't have a great understanding of their own emotional worlds or the emotional worlds of others, nor do they have great emotional regulation. They will throw tantrums, sometimes violent, and they can sometimes be hard to reason with, but they still rationally respond to incentives. Four year olds can be incredibly cruel and devious. They can also be very creepy, as illustrated by this BuzzFeed article, "The 13 Creepiest Things A Child Has Ever Said To A Parent," from a longer reddit thread.

Worth reading in their entirety, some of my favorites include:

  • "I'm imagining the waves of blood rushing over me."
  • "I was tucking in my two year old. He said "Good bye dad." I said, "No, we say good night." He said "I know. But this time its good bye.""
  • "My 3 year old daughter stood next to her new born brother and looked at him for awhile then turned and looked at me and said, "Daddy its a monster..we should bury it.""
  • "Death is the poor man's doctor."

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Freudian look at psychopaths?

This was a sort of interesting, Freudian influenced approach to explaining psychopaths that may resonate with some of you, J. Reid Meloy (author of "The Psychopathic Mind: Origins, Dynamics, and Treatment") with subsequent commentary by Donald Carveth. He is a little bit more on the Hare side of his understanding (i.e. not too sympathetic), but it is a pretty decent overview of some of the more famous studies of sociopaths.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Famous sociopaths: George Zimmerman?

So George Zimmerman. I get that some people think that he is a soulless sociopath who stalked Trayvon Martin like a predator might stalk his prey (especially since he didn't show the proper remorse?). Or maybe he just made a bad judgment call. Because I think everyone agrees that there are times when killing is "good" or efficient, e.g. death penalty, police using deadly force, or war. Moreover, many people can imagine a situation in which they themselves would kill (preschool class hostage situation?). And I think a lot of people think that this wasn't an efficient kill, but let's think about why. First we have to think about how to value someone's life.

Maybe it's their net benefit to society minus their net cost in terms of raw production/consumption. Several years ago one of my friend's mother died after a lengthy illness. I could not help but notice what I thought were efficiencies in this situation, with all of her stuff being divided up amongst her children.

Maybe we are more generous and we just look at production, so lifetime earning potential. For someone like Trayvon Martin, who was on his third suspension from school of the academic year at the time of the killing, maybe $1M and change? And I don't know much about Zimmerman, but he was living in a gated community, so maybe twice that (although he was 12 years older than Trayvon)?

Or maybe we think a better method of valuing life value of a statistical life ("VSL"). This is calculated by looking at how much of a monetary premium people require before they engage in risky behavior, like being an underwater welder. Using this valuation, the value of Trayvon's life would be significantly greater, probably closer to $10M than to $1M. And when you put it that way, it's hard to think that Trayvon's killing was worth $10M. Because let's guess that the risk of Zimmerman dying from the altercation was 20% (which I think is pretty generous). And when Zimmerman shot the weapon, risk of Trayvon dying was something like 40% (also generous to Zimmerman)? So now we have an expected loss of $4M for an expected savings of $2M (assuming that Zimmerman's life is roughly worth the same as Trayvon's). Not a good deal. So there turns out to be a huge social and personal cost to killing particularly as the standard of living has risen, which is maybe why we have see a big decrease in killing over the past 100 years? (See, even sociopaths know that killing is bad).

So yeah, Zimmerman seems to have exercised poor judgment. But once it got to the choice of pulling the trigger, didn't he probably just do what "felt right" in the moment? But this is the problem with empaths confusing objective assessments of the right/wrong thing to do with their own personal feelings on the matter. Because unless you believe the stalking sociopath theory of George Zimmerman, isn't he just a guy like you who acted on his feelings and turned out to be "wrong"? And his intentions were good, right? That should count for a lot? So no, I'm not surprised he got off because he did something that normal people do every day (well-intentioned acting on his gut), and if that were wrong than everyone would be wrong.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Empath song: Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood

I was listening to this song the other day and thought it was a perfect example of the sort of self-justifying stories that empaths tell themselves about how they're not really "bad people" even though they admit that they do bad things.

Baby you understand me now
If sometimes you see that I'm mad
Doncha know no one alive can always be an angel?
When everything goes wrong, you see some bad

But I'm just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood

Ya know sometimes baby I'm so carefree
With a joy that's hard to hide
And then sometimes it seems again that all I have is worry
And then you're bound to see my other side

But I'm just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood

If I seem edgy
I want you to know
I never mean to take it out on you
Life has its problems
And I get more than my share
But that's one thing I never mean to do

Cause I love you
Oh baby
I'm just human
Don't you know I have faults like anyone?

Sometimes I find myself alone regretting
Some little foolish thing
Some simple thing that I've done

Don't let me be misunderstood
I try so hard
So please don't let me be misunderstood

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sociopath quote: hiding in plain sight

Every one sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are, and those few dare not oppose themselves to the opinion of the many, who have the majesty of the state to defend them.

-- Niccolò Machiavelli

Friday, July 12, 2013

A rose by any other name

As a follow-up to the sociopathy = criminality? post, this selection from Martha Stout's Sociopath Next Door on whether culture plays a role in creating a sociopath, or even more interestingly, "curing" one:
Apparently, cultural influences play a very important role in the development (or not) of sociopathy in any given population. Few people would disagree that, from the Wild West of the past to the corporate outlaws of the present, American society seems to allow and even encourage me-first attitudes devoted to the pursuit of domination. Robert Hare writes that he believes "our society is moving in the direction of permitting, reinforcing, and in some instances actually valuing some of the traits listed in the Psychopathy Checklist—traits such as impulsivity, irresponsibility, lack of remorse."

In this opinion he is joined by theorists who propose that North American culture, which holds individualism as a central value, tends to foster the development of antisocial behavior, and also to disguise it. In other words, in America, the guiltless manipulation of other people "blends" with social expectations to a much greater degree than it would in China or other more group-centered societies.

I believe there is a shinier side of this coin, too, one that begs the question of why certain cultures seem to encourage prosocial behavior. So much against the odds, how is it that some societies have a positive impact on incipient sociopaths, who are born with an inability to process interpersonal emotions in the usual way? I would like to suggest that the overriding belief systems of certain cultures encourage born sociopaths to compensate cognitively for what they are missing emotionally. In contrast with our extreme emphasis on individualism and personal control, certain cultures, many in East Asia, dwell theologically on the interrelatedness of all living things.

Interestingly, this value is also the basis of conscience, which is an intervening sense of obligation rooted in a sense of connectedness. If an individual does not, or if neurologically he cannot, experience his connection to others in an emotional way, perhaps a culture that insists on connectedness as a matter of belief can instill a strictly cognitive understanding of interpersonal obligation.

An intellectual grasp of one's duties to others is not the same attribute as the powerfully directive emotion we call conscience, but perhaps it is enough to extract prosocial behavior from at least some individuals who would have behaved only in antisocial ways had they been living in a society that emphasized individualism rather than interrelatedness. Though they lack an internal mechanism that tells them they are connected to others, the larger culture insists to them that they are so connected—as opposed to our culture, which informs them resoundingly that their ability to act guiltlessly on their own behalf is the ultimate advantage. This would explain why a Western family by itself cannot redeem a born sociopath. There are too many other voices in the larger society implying that his approach to the world is correct.

As a tiny example, had Skip [previously mentioned sociopath in the book] the American been born into a strongly Buddhist culture, or Shinto, would he have killed all those frogs? Perhaps, or perhaps not. His brain would have been the same, but all the people around him would have maintained that respect for life was necessary. Everyone in his world would have been of the same mind, including his wealthy parents, his teachers, his playmates, and maybe even the celebrities he saw on television. Skip would still have been Skip. He would have felt no honor for the frogs, no guilt if he murdered them, no repugnance, but he might have refrained from doing so because his culture had unanimously taught him a lesson, something on the order of proper table manners, about how to fit in—a lesson that his perfectly good intellect had mastered. Sociopaths do not care about their social world, but they do want, and need, to blend in with it.
I'm curious whether Dr. Stout believes that the Shinto version of the sociopath Skip would still be a sociopath. In other words, if Skip's brain is the same, if Skip is still Skip and wanted to kill those frogs but refrained from cultural/spiritual beliefs or influences, does he remain a sociopath? Is a sociopath his behaviors or his thoughts and inclinations?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Being open about mental illness?

I was watching a television show where one of the characters is applying for college. She had been suffering mental health issues, including a brief hospitalization. After getting rejected from schools, her counselor blamed it on her admissions essays. Particularly, he took issue with her discussion of how she  successfully made it out of the institution. He calls it overshare, she says that she is just being honest and that this is her greatest source of pride. He argues that it's not the fact that she struggles with a mental illness that is necessarily the bad thing, but in this current climate of mass shootings, schools would not be willing to take a chance on anyone who admits to having a mental disorder. In other words, it’s fine to have a mental disorder, but it’s quite another thing to admit to it.

But what is the signaling power of discussing mental issues (not just disorders but depression, suicidal or violent thoughts, etc.). Does the willingness to vocalize these thoughts mean that you are particularly bad off? Or particularly likely to act on them? Or particularly unstable? Possibly, because if there is a social norm of never discussing these issues, then you are certainly violating this social norm and people who violate social norms are often written off as being dangerous and anti-social. On the other hand, what is the origin and purpose of the social norm? Do we think it’s particularly harmful for people to express these thoughts? That perhaps by voicing the thoughts, they move one step towards acting on them? Or is it simply that we find these thoughts distasteful, the same way we know we all defecate, but it’s highly inappropriate to discuss one's irritable bowel syndrome in public (which perhaps explains all of the commercial advertisements addressing highly embarrassing bodily dysfunctions? People can't talk about it so you have to reach them directly?). But a major reason why we don’t talk about defecation is because we have natural visceral reactions to it (the same way we gag at the smell of vomit). Why such a strong reaction against bad thoughts?

I watched Silver Linings Playbook recently and thought it was a great portrayal of the sorts of internal and social struggles that people with mental illness deal with. Once these people get their disorder under control, what do they have to look forward to? Working minimum wage at a fast food place or mowing lawns? Living with their parents and other family members for the rest of their lives? Certainly not attending university or getting a good job, not without both omitting their mental health struggles and coming up with a plausible explanation to explain a résumé gap. So no, the struggle/stigma with mental illness doesn’t stop after treatment success. And how does society benefit from perpetuating the stigma? Maybe they can more plausibly lie to themselves that their school or place of employment is free of whackjob crazies. They’re not, and the ones that are there are probably the ones who never sought treatment -- which is more dangerous?

Of course all of this goes double for sociopaths. Crazy people are just sick, but sociopaths choose to be that way. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

External vs. internal limitations

I try not to let my diagnosis of being a sociopath define me or change me. One of my friends told me, I think wisely, "I wish that you had never heard of the word sociopath, that you just lived your life without knowing that there was a label for what you are." Labels can be very limiting and I wouldn't want to ever be frozen, without making any effort to grow and develop as a person.

One of my favorite stories of not falling prey to percevied limitations involves the filming of the opening shot of Sunset Boulevard:

For the opening shot of William Holden floating face down in the swimming pool, Wilder wanted a shot from below that would show both the body and the police and photographers standing at the pool's edge.

They tried putting the camera in a waterproof case and putting it on the bottom of the pool, but the quality of the shot was not good. Then art director John Meehan had the idea of putting a mirror on the bottom of the pool. That didn't work either because the water created too much distortion. But Meehan reasoned that because cold water distorts less than warm water, if he could chill the water enough, they could manage. Although extremely uncomfortable for actor William Holden, they got the shot.

The thing is that if the artistic choice was up to Meehan, he probably would have never thought to do that shot because it wouldn't have been within the realm of possibilities for him. That's the problem with growing up -- the more we learn about the way the world works, the less original our thoughts. It was only Billy Wilder insisting that the shot be that way that made Meehan even bother to go through all possible solutions -- if only to prove to Wilder that it could not be done. But it could. And it is one of the most iconic images in all of film.

I often wonder what my personal limits are, if any. Mormons have a teaching that the purpose of life is that all things might fulfill the measure of their creation, people, animals, plants, planets, everything. Mormons also believe that God "created every man different from his brother" and that institutions thrive when "when we take advantage of this diversity and encourage each other to develop and use our talents to lift and strengthen." The basic idea is that we are to be our best selves, whatever that self happens to be. But could most people say with absolute certainty that they even know who their best self is? Where is the proper line drawn between realistic and loving self acceptance and a desire to be "good" in one's own opinion versus the opinions of those who love you? Sometimes I think to myself, God must have created me differently to fulfill a different purpose than other people. But could I really be more normal than I think? Could I grow a conscience? Or practice empathy enough to the point where I too can feel what others are feeling? If I self-identify as a sociopath who will always be flawed in certain ways with limited opportunity for change, would that be a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Bad but redeemable?

In the NY Times review of the book, Jon Ronson wrote that I simultaneously humanized and demonized myself. Some of my friends and family are a little upset that I didn't focus more on my "good" traits in the book, I think partly because it makes them look a like idiots for choosing to like me. Most people do not focus on their bad traits -- their every bad thought and motivation. Most people carefully craft a persona that they present to the world full of flattering photographs taken from the right angle and lighting and a résumé that shellacs over flaws and imperfections. I didn't want to whitewash myself or the traits of sociopathy. But I was also hoping to not convey that I thought that having the label "sociopath" meant I was all badass and there's nothing anyone can do about things. There actually are a lot of things people can do about it to make my life miserable and it's not too absurd to think that eventually all sociopaths really will be locked up or otherwise isolated from general society. But I was hoping to show that despite having some negative or potentially dangerous characteristics, there is still some hope for everyone, sociopaths and non. Because if someone as unlikeable as me can manage to be work and be loved in my own way, then it suggests there are ways to properly integrate sociopaths into society in pro-social ways.

Along those same lines, from a reader, Sarah:

From what I can tell, you're a clinical douchebag who deserves the Nobel Prize.  This kind of blows my mind, makes me slightly uncomfortable, and also boosts my faith in the survival of the human race.  Congrats.

I've just finished your book, and frankly, I'm not at all certain that "you" actually wrote that book or, if you did, whether any of it is factual or not.  But if it's a scam or fake, it's a great one, and if it's true -- if you actually do exist as an ethical, self-aware sociopath -- you've done all the "normal" and "abnormal" humans on the planet a great service by writing a memoir.

I'm an empath who has a visceral revulsion towards sociopaths, narcissists, and sadists (not that these are the same categories, but there are some similarities.)  I've had my personal run-ins (even been almost "ruined" by one), and I've witnessed well-paid sociopaths royally fucking up our economy and society.  So I wasn't inclined to like or respect you at all when I started reading the book.  

And there are certainly some things you describe that make me want to puke, or beat the shit out of you.  However, this desire to slap you across the face, which waxed and waned as I read, made me realize that even I have sociopathic traits, and that everybody else does, too.  No matter how guilt-ridden, emotional, and attuned to the feelings of other people we empaths are, everyone sometimes wants to exercise their power, take advantage of weakness, or feel in control of their environment.  My desire to hit you emerges solely from a wish to demonstrate that I am tougher, smarter, and more powerful than the Biggest Bitch in the Room.  If that's not a sociopathic impulse, I don't know what is.

So, speaking for the empaths (as I'm sure many have done before me), thanks for drumming up some self-reflection of the type I generally avoid.  I attend to myself carefully in many ways, and am quite aware of various weaknesses.  It's just that I usually frame my weaknesses as a surplus of love and squishiness, rather than a surplus of power-hunger or calculation.

Regarding that Nobel: if even a shit like you turns out to be not so much a shit as a regular human being who happens to function at the far end of a mysterious spectrum, then maybe we all have something pro-peace/pro-social to offer.  I absolutely love the suggestions you make for helping sociopathic kids, and I honestly believe they would not go amiss if applied to any young human who is different in some way.

Thanks, asshole.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Labels = license to do ill?

I have been asked recently about whether I think that there is any danger that people will falsely self-identify as sociopaths and then use that label as an excuse to behave poorly. I think that labels definitely do affect the way people behave. David Dobbs wrote about how schizophrenics are treated in North America nations versus African nations, suggesting that because the disorder is considered more of a temporary aberration in some African cultures (as opposed to the sense that it is a full blown disability in western nations), African schizophrenics are more high-functioning. The theory is that western schizophrenics aren't expected to act normally so they don't, at least not as often as African schizophrenics. Of course I'm sure there's a lot more going on to explain the difference, but there is still a lot of power to a label.

So I think this is a legitimate concern, often acceptance of a label leads to better behavior through the process of reappropriaatinon. An academic article, "The Reappropriation of Stigmatizing Labels: Implications for Social Identity" describes the process:

Given that to appropriate means “to take possession of or make use of exclusively for oneself,” we consider reappropriate to mean to take possession for oneself that which was once possessed by another, and we use it to refer to the phenomenon whereby a stigmatized group revalues an externally imposed negative label by selfconsciously referring to itself in terms of that label. Instead of passively accepting the negative connotative meanings of the label, the speaker above rejected those damaging meanings and through reappropriation imbued the label with positive connotations. By reappropriating this negative label, he sought to renegotiate the meaning of the word, changing it from something hurtful to something empowering. His actions imply two assumptions that are critical to reappropriation. First, names are powerful, and second, the meanings of names are subject to change and can be negotiated and renegotiated.

It's probably obvious why reappropriation or a label is appealing to members of a stigmatized class of persons:

Stigma, according to Goffman, is an attribute that discredits and reduces the person “from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted one” (Goffman, 1963, p. 3). Social stigma links a negatively valued attribute to a social identity or group membership. Stigma is said to exist when individuals “possess (or are believed to possess) some attribute, or characteristic, that conveys a social identity that is devalued in a particular social context”. 
Being stigmatized carries with it a number of burdens. First and foremost, stigmatized persons are disadvantaged in terms of opportunities they are afforded and the outcomes that they achieve. Overt and covert prejudice and discrimination can deny the stigmatized entry into elite stations in life, from education to jobs to housing.
Stigma, like categorization (Wittenbrink, Judd & Park, 2001) and stereotype threat (Steele & Aronson, 1995), is context-dependent (Crocker, Major & Steele, 1998). Thus, an individual may be stigmatized in one context but not in another context. In different cultures and in different times, groups such as the overweight or gays have not been burdened with stigma. Instead, these features are or were considered normal, or, in some cases, desirable (Archer, 1985). Intellectual ambition may be lauded in one context (e.g. classroom) but derided in another context (e.g. fraternity) or by another group (e.g. disadvantaged inner city youths). It is the variability of stigma that intrigues us. It suggests that what is considered stigmatizing is socially constructed and, in the end, malleable. In the case of stereotype threat, a social category label takes on negative connotations within a particular context. One approach to decreasing stereotype threat, and thereby to reduce the potentially performance-constraining effects of stigma, is to frame the task as non-diagnostic of underlying ability (Steele & Aronson, 1995). An alternative approach, which is the focus of this chapter, is to transform the connotative meaning of the traits that are linked to the social category, revaluing them positively. Reappropriation, typically in the form of self-labeling, is one strategy that attempts to revalue social identities. Reappropriation and other socially creative strategies are possible because of the situational, socially constructed, and thus malleable nature of stigma.

How and why reappropriation?

Where “queer” had connoted undesirable abnormality, by the fact that it is used by the group to refer to itself, it comes to connote pride in the groups’ unique characteristics. Where before it referred to despised distinctiveness, it now refers to celebrated distinctiveness. Reappropriation allows the label’s seemingly stable meaning to be open to negotiation. In addition, the defiant act of reappropriation may attack the negative evaluations of the denoted group. By refusing to perceive “queer” as demeaning, in-group members make it more difficult for out-group members to gain recognition for their own display of superiority, thereby undermining one of the functions of prejudice (Fein & Spencer, 1997). The ability of reappropriation to deprive outgroup members of a linguistic weapon is nicely exemplified in an episode of The Simpsons. In this episode, Homer becomes angry with a gay character for using the word queer to describe himself, yelling “And another thing. You can’t use the word queer... that is ourword for you.” This example emphasizes that implicit in the concept of reappropriation is the idea that language is an ongoing process of negotiation, a power struggle over the connotative meaning of symbolic referents. As such, self-labeling can serve to diffuse the negative connotations of the word. Further, by reclaiming names formerly soaked in derision, an individual exerts his or her agency and proclaims his or her rejection of the presumed moral order.

In successful reappropriation, an alternative vision is presented that does not necessarily change the underlying denotative meaning of a concept but transforms the connotative evaluative implications. In the case of “queer,” reappropriation implies that deviance or abnormality is itself not necessarily a bad thing, thereby promoting a celebration of diversity. Through reappropriation, the implication of distinctiveness in the term “queer” was not disputed or challenged, but rather the evaluative meaning that it connoted was transformed. Via reappropriation, the group asserts that it is still unique, or exceptional, but that exceptionality is positively valued. The distinctiveness of the group and the label is maintained, but it is simply the negativity that is challenged.

The rest of the article details a model of misappropriation. But yes, there is a very real danger to labels, both in people self-identifying strongly with a label and possibly the normalizing of certain behaviors via reappropriation of the label. Those are the natural consequences of labels. But, they are not necessarily bad consequences, particularly when the label has been overly stigmatized and the reappropriation of the term allows the label to reflect more truthful connotations as part of a larger cultural re-evaluation of the stigma, as well as allowing the stigmatized group to reintegrate themselves into a society that is seeking to exclude or subjugate them.

But don't sociopaths deserve their stigma? If you look at the core personality traits of a sociopath, they are not necessarily negative, but neutral or even positive -- charm, confidence, fearlessness, etc. As the article mentions:

Traits often take on different connotative meanings when placed in the context of the in-group versus the out-group. For example, intelligence when describing Jews (when they are an out-group) may be interpreted negatively as conniving. With regard to group-based evaluations (Brewer, 1979), loyal may be considered positively when describing the in-group, but take on negative connotations, such as clannish or exclusionary, when describing the out-group. Galinsky and Moskowitz (2000) presented traits in the context of the in-group and the outgroup and asked participants to rate the favorability of each trait (cf.Esses & Zanna, 1995). Traits were rated less favorably in the context of the out-group, even when the assignment of traits did not differ. 
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