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. 


  1. Why do they now refer to people with mental "disabilities" as consumers? I dont know iff that is a strange label trying to uplift ppl so they feel more powerful and in charge of their wellbeing, as opposed to a victim powerless.

  2. People do believe in the validity of labels for good or evil. Once
    a person is tarred, it's virtually impossible for to get his/her
    reputation back.
    It's been said that a lie about a person can speed around the world
    faster then the truth. Especially now, in this social media age, people
    will believe any falsehood they hear about another, particuarly if it will
    make them feel superior to the other person. There are 3 good films that
    touch on this topic: 1) "You Only Live Twice" (1937) Where the actor
    Henry Fonda plays an ex-con who wants to reform but won't be allowed
    because of his "rep." 2) "The Mark" (196?) with Stewart Whitman about
    a child molester who's secret is revealed, and the recent "Doubt" about
    a priest under suspiscion about abuse from a witch haunting convert.
    (Myerl Styreep.)
    They say, "words hurt harder then a fist." It goes with the garbage in
    garbage out analagy. I know parents who suffered physical abuse who think
    it's perfectly O.K to "just scream" at thier children because after all,
    it can't as bad as hitting. The trouble is, when you relie on your mouth
    in this way, you don't know when to stop the beratement. The results
    can be worse then physical abuse.
    The bottom line is there IS a way to raise above human difficulties. The
    following 4 orginazations contain all the information you need to have a
    contented and joyful life. They are: "New Life Foundation," (Located in
    Arizona.) Krishnamuriti Foundation of America, Ennagram insititue, and
    Associates for Scripitual Knowlege (Located in OR.) You don't even have
    to look anywhere else if you want to know truth you'd only be wasting your time. (The mystic OSHO was also knowledgeable, but he got corrupted
    by easy acessibility to sex and wealth.) All the intelectual rigamorole
    is NOT the answer. Typical theopathy has always been a flop. But by
    absorbing and applying the truths of the above orginizations you can have
    a contented life.

  3. < license to do ill and body to thrill

  4. Why do people seek temporial pleasures? Only to cover up thier fears and
    There are two chief ways to do this: activity and accquistion. We keep
    ourselves distracted so we won't notice how scared and confused we are.
    And we accquire new and better "toys" to thrill us at least for a time.
    You've seen the programs about the hoarders who's houses are filled with
    junk. Or people who keep more animals then they can care for.
    Why do people live this way? Simply because they know no other way.
    If a person knows a more convient way to live, do they purposely hurt
    themselves? I think not. No spiritually astute person KNOWINGLY hurts
    I suppose the bonne fied sociopaths will begin to abandon this web site
    because they are more concerned with temporial thrills and living life
    in the fast lane. In today's day and age it's no big thing to tap a few
    words on a consoul at 8am and be in the thores of animal passion with
    someone at 8pm.

  5. If Jamie gets to publish racist images, then sexist images are allowable, at least for today. Equal time.

    My favorite from the above link is where the wife is getting spanked for not "store testing" for fresher coffee. Of course, spanking probably is ho-hum for those of you who prefer to choke your significant others (ahem-Jamie-ahem).

  6. Hey JaMiE,

    I watched the video you embedded in your 7/3/13 post. Through the blur I thought I detected an Ayn Rand hairdo. I must say, that is quite an improvement over the Suzanne Sommers look you sported previously (perhaps Three's Company isn't Dr. Phil's fav show?).

    May I ask about what is up with your speaking affectation? So you actually go into job interviews using that and get offers? Just when I think you cannot get any weirder, you up the anty. Take that as a compliment: you're entertaining, even if you actually are a misguided narcissist rather than a true 'path.

  7. Portrait of the Sociopath as a Young Woman:

  8. The ever-so-slight smirk... she's like 27 yrs old and she's positive that she's got everything figured out. What I'd do for a time capsule...

    1. i dont think if seems everything is figured out at all. the blog was entertaining for her, but also educational for her. She gets to see herself through the eyes of smart people. There are smarter people than she here.

  9. I am so glad I did not switch to the new forum. It was fun for a while but then, it gets old. They have the intelligence level of high schoolers.

    1. How interesting. Thank you for sharing this.

  10. I have recently been involved in a sociopaths mindfuck/game for a few months. It was the textbook " idealize, devalue, discard". The only problem is, that it was I who did the discarding. I could see that he was getting bored with me and on the verge of discarding but, perhaps stupidly, jumped in and discarded first and also exposed him to a couple of people. If it is just a game, can I expect him to just move on to next person for entertainment? Or is he likely to seek revenge?

    1. if the narcissism is high expect the move on.

      i not, expect nothing if there is no use for you, or play if you reaction seems to fill a thrill.

      If he is mostly psycho, feed him through a cage with whatever floats his boat (...sadism, play, allowing him to ruin your reputation, getting new bf to think you have aids ) and run back and forth for a while until he tires of you. Otherwise he will bludgeon you to death in your bed while your animals and children watch.

  11. Thanks for your feedback anonymous 9:33AM. Nah, I'm pretty sure he's not a psycho. I'm certainly no psych, but in my estimation, I would say he's a highly narcissistic sociopath. His premature declarations of love and adoration threw me off and made him come across as invredibly insincere. Combine that with his absurdly ridiculous lies, and all I saw at the time was a damaged insecure man. However, this was also appealing and he definitely had me dancing to his tune, especially when I was sleep deprived. But when I stepped back, I knew something was wrong. I'm glad I ended it And was able to expose him but was a little afraid that he might seek
    revenge. This is unlikely by the sounds of things, however I will remain alert and notify appropriate authorities in the meantime. Would this be sensible?Orr viewed as antagonistic by a narcisstic sociopath?

    1. make it inconvenient for this individual to physically hurt you. If this individual is indeed a sociopath, they will be able to turn their emotions off and from you, making a long term obsession that ends in violence highly unlikely. However, if your ex is a malignant narcissist then you can expect a much bigger fight because you have wounded a carefully constructed ego. The more you have "outed" this individual, the more anger there is towards you.
      As long as this individual was already tiring of you (as you say) and others parties would raise suspicions if something "accidental" happened to you and your ex knows that he could expect to be questioned, then it's likely that your ex is already in pursuit of his next victim, and has locked all memories of you away from consciousness.
      What would put you in danger is to continually seek to engage this individual. You need to recede from his consciousness. Follow your instincts on this one. If your gut tells you to sleep at a friend's house, trust it. But don't live in fear. Your ex has a lot to lose by acting out.

    2. Thank you Machavellianempath. I am hoping that I haven't put myself in any danger? You are right, too many people know for him to risk doing anything silly. I have no intentions of EVER speaking to him again. Just want him gone.

    3. You'll be fine.
      And now you are wiser...

  12. Do what I do, Do whatever the fuck you want.

    You don't have to be a sociopath to act that way, just secure and not afraid of the big bad wolf.

  13. Thanks anonymous 5:51pm. I am secure and have no regrets about ending things or exposing him. However, I also want to be sensible and ensure that he is out of my life for good.

  14. I have also been diagnosed with BPD - perhaps making me an ideal target for a narcissistic sociopath. But I too was all over his " idealize, devalue, discard " game as I am also very experienced in doing this to others. Just can't be fucked fighting with a sociopath, as I know I will lose. However, I'm pleased he walked into my life. I find you "sociopaths" very intriguing and LOVE reading your posts.

    1. Well Hello. Is ye slummin for another bad boy m'lady?

    2. Would prefer to just observe from behind the safety of my computer screen. Fuck you very much :)

    3. Hi. may I ask you about "idealize devalue and discard" I did/do that, too.
      I am not officially diagnosed with bpd but i have too much of the criteria to ignore.

    4. Sure, what do you want to ask?

    5. i didnt realize to what extent i did it. i think was interested in how you perceive yourself when it s happening.

  15. It is merely a challenge - stemming from boredom. My motive is to manipulate and control using emotional displays ( not real emotions ). I have learnt that although this may work with most men, it is futile with the sociopath. How do you perceive yourself when engaging in " idealize, devalue, discard" ?


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