Monday, October 21, 2013

The drama/static of our minds

From a reader:

I just finished reading your memoir and I wanted to take a moment to thank you.  I am a clinical psychologist and am continually interested in expanding my mind and understanding of the human experience.  Your book helped me think differently about sociopathy, empathy, logic and choice.  Many people (especially clinicians) would like to think that there is a firm line between those who are "personality disordered" and the rest of them.  This presupposes that they are perfectly ordered in their own personalities.  Why is it that we allow ourselves to be 'a little depressed' or 'have some problems with anxiety' but the notion that we may all be on a spectrum of orderliness to disorderliness in regard to personality is so challenging?  While I do not identify with any one personality disorder per se (other than general traits of cluster B), your worldview and approach to life resonated with me at times.  I believe that working within one's system of thought and affect instead of against the grain will yield greater results.  This is especially true when I apply this to the clients I see in my private practice.  There is a difference between the drama that unfolds in our minds and the behavior we choose to enact in the world.  I teach my clients to remove (emotional) judgment from choices and evaluate different paths according to the cost benefit ratio.

I asked what she meant about the "drama that unfolds in our minds and the behavior we choose to enact" and whether her patients push back when she tries to get them to be less emotional in their decision-making:

As far as my comment goes, everyone has dark thoughts; some are more willing to admit them.  I believe that having the freedom to fantasize and think about whatever you want is freeing and allows you to work out other issues.  I actively promote this with my clients and generally find that even the most violent of fantasizing does not lead to action for those that I see.  In fact, it usually has deeper, symbolic meaning.  I don't believe in judging anyone if I can help it - natural consequences shape behavior.  If one is generally an asshole to others, that person will find he or she has few friends.  If that works for that person, then great.  Otherwise, it's time to review one's strategies and weigh the pros and cons.  Personally, I draw the line at not encroaching on the rights of others (even though I would often like to and most of the time don't really care about the rights of people I don't know or who wouldn't affect me).  I do this because of the natural consequences of not doing so (i.e. having to deal with pissed off people, losing friends, legal issues) but also because I believe this sort of discipline keeps me mentally fit and in control.  

As far as taking emotion out of decision making, I usually give clients a logical reason for examining issues in a particular way. Emotion tends to act as static for our cognitive minds.  I look at it like two data streams - one leans towards facts and the other towards instinct.  Both hold good information but since emotion is processed by an older part of our brain and doesn't work with information in the same way, we can't rely solely on it as a source of decision making and is better used as an adjunct.  Clients tend to see what I mean so it's not a hard sell.


  1. Just popped in to say hi, and apparently... "first!" ;)

    1. Hey Alter :)
      How's life treating you?

    2. your email address doesn't work :(

  2. I see verification of the "social proof" principle espoused by
    Robert Caldini in his book "Influence."
    The other day, a gentleman posted here claiming to be a sociopath
    and "advertising " his web site. He's perfectly free to do that if it
    doesn't bother M.E.
    Yesterday, another poster "advertised" about their website.
    I bet both people mulled over the idea about telling about their sites,
    but it took one person, (Obviously, the sociopath) to make the first
    move. I've been following the blog for a number of mounths, and I've
    never seen people post about their sites. This is a perfect illustration of "social proof" in action.
    Did you ever notice when one person decides to engage in an activity,
    like raking leaves, others follow suit? The raking of leaves, is not
    usually an enjoyable activity but necessary. Once one person resolves
    to do it, others do it.
    I see that this is the reason why sociopaths enjoy so much sucess,
    in the beginning. They are natural risk takers. Many of life's spoils
    goes to them. They get "heady" on the power and then overreach
    like a crooked politician or someone like Bernard Madoff.
    Oh, by the way, to get a clue to someone's personality, try to break
    their name into sentences. This is called lexiconing and annagramming. Bernard Madoff "made off" with a lot of people's money, didn't he?

  3. Emotion tends to act as static for our cognitive minds. I look at it like two data streams - one leans towards facts and the other towards instinct.

    Static: The only way I seem to be able to grasp static is via futile emotional circles coupled with anger. Static in the sense that it tends to keep you in the state instead of helping you to understand what and why something is happening, especially in an argument with two fixed positions. We are not beyond using outright lies to support our positions in such an arguments. Yes that could be described as "static". Anger is a really bad advisor no doubt. It occasionally tricks you terribly.

    Reminds me of this:

    Fact: Though we truly have these feelings, they are not necessarily true feelings. More likely I'm angry because I'm misusing you, not because you are misusing me.”

    "More likely", I have no way to look at this statistcally. ;) But maybe I should read Warner's book. But yes, occasionally. There may be a trace that does not quite fit "righteousness". "Holy anger"?

    Two data streams: I used a different term, but not a bad way to put it. Slightly more up to date than my own way to put it. ;)

    At the risk of reading this incorrectly: I somehow learned hesitatingly to differentiate between emotions/sensations. Thus I would connect instinct with the fact that we take in a much larger amounts of data than our conscious awareness suggests, it is also a big store. My first experience suggesting it: I saw something without being aware I did or what it was, since my attention was focused somewhere else at the time. All that entered was a vague feeling/emotion I should go back and check out whatever it was that pulled me back.

    But it can be also be a vague feeling that challenges your conscious decision, I learned to pay closer attention and consider my decisions, if that happens.

    1. OK, it feels, I maybe was supposed to add this type of "data stream" under: "emotions connected with facts" (human), versus purely "instinctual" (animal) emotions, evolutionarily older and thus bad.

      In other words the "positive data stream" cannot be based on the evolutionary older "animal brain parts"? Or instinct. Not sure though.

      The problem is that animals occasionally have a far better perceptions than humans. Couldn't they ultimately rely upon perceptions and the real too. If the smell and flee from fire they rely on something pretty real. Instinct or fact based perception.

  4. guy walking to to a librairy to study finds a space next to a girle asks here can i sit next to you?
    she sais really loud: "no i won't have sex with you"
    guy turns red and everyone is look at him he finds a place in the back
    later the girle come to him and whispers i studie psychology i know how to minipulate
    he sais really loud :500$ that's way to expensive
    everyone is looking at here and her face turns red
    he wispers the girle i study law i know how to make someone look guilty

    1. not bad, thanks. No doubt a little comic relief would help around here too. ;)
      Do you accidentally a more free flowing humorous imagination by accident?

    2. Do you accidentally have. In case it did not pop up automatically in context.

    3. I could be fat and dumb or thinner and smart........

      Which should I choose????

  5. I fit the description of a sociopath, but I am not a sociopath. I was nearly diagnosed as one, but I am not one. If this what I read about in M.E.'s book and blog is sociopathy, then we are all sociopaths. I can't believe that is true. Those who are not what sociopathy describes, are in my opinion in many cases just weaklings. They are not empaths, they are dumbasses overrun with emotion. Besides there are too many weirdoes out there that go by as normal. Isn't this just a part of it?

    Would like to tell you guys some Viking history. The name 'Viking' may really be a popular mislabeling, not all went on to these Viking raids making them Vikings, but they were all a part of a millitarized society that claimed any free able man to be a soldier expected to bear arms, and be able to fight with them. The old norse people tought theyr kids warfare and weapon handeling from they were 5 years old. The greatest honor for any man was to die in battle, and the way in wich he died was the most important factor in his life. The word between men that carried his name forward after his death was more important then the life he lived while living. This warrior culture embraced killing of ones enemies, but also richly rewarding ones friends. Thus sociopathic behaviour, it behooves the individual and sociopathy opens up for the ability of bonding within one group in contrast to the psychopath. You were actually expected to kill anyone who served you an insult, or be socially outcasted as a 'niding,' a dishonoured weakling. This extended into the two dueling rituals called Holmgang and Einvig.

    It is clear and obvious that a large poluation once cultured the lack of empathy towards ones enemies. Where they all socipaths? I don't think so. They were what many of us surpress in us daily.

    One good contrast displays how the rules have changed, but raises the question if we have really changed as humans; Viking berserks compared with todays norms. These men or any given man able to display great fierce, fearless aggression was seen as gifted by the Gods. It is disputed if the berserks were on drugs to achieve this aggression(mushrooms), but many historians claim that they in at least many cases were not influenced. Stories tell that the berserks could be so geared up by aggression that they attacked trees, bit theyr shields and even killed each other while waiting for the battle to start. These men were greatly respected for theyr aggression, while we in contrast today view male aggression as a sign of sickness and maladaptation to society.

    Have we become more empathic as a result of Christianity taking a strong grip on great parts of the world and directing evolution away from loner warrior traits? Or maybe we have just become a victim to changing social noms that do not fit the average male(thus we have not changed)? Men have evolved to be what they are over thousands of years of struggle that did not allow empathy its great place, before suddenly now. Thus many men are are prone to aggressive behaviour that send them to prison, and as we all know, prisons are over represented by the male population.

    These men, and myself, we are all just human individuals. A variety of humans that has evolved in times were our traits were wanted. That is atleast my personal temporary conclusion for the time being. When we die in battle, I imagine we leave soft men not able to fight home with our wifes to take care of them and our children, thus they got theyr place too(rant).

    1. Vikings were psychopaths, this was what propelled them forward? To my knowledge these upperclass elite-warriors were just like any other noblemen in other societies. And they did not wear helmets with horns, that´s a myth many US citizens seem to love. And most folks in ancient scandinavia were poor peasants. Hardly a sociopathic Eden!

    2. "Vikings were psychopaths, this was what propelled them forward?" - They can be described as sociopaths or psychopaths, but I don't believe they were any different from what we are today.

      As I commented; "It is clear and obvious that a large poluation once cultured the lack of empathy towards ones enemies. Where they all socipaths? I don't think so."

      "To my knowledge these upperclass elite-warriors were just like any other noblemen in other societies" - Might be to some extent true, but all european societies at that time were not militarized, meaning that the extent of this warior mentality was not as broad and extensive in society as in the old norse societies.

      "And they did not wear helmets with horns, that´s a myth many US citizens seem to love." - glad you stated that. For the record, my text does not disagree with you :)

      "And most folks in ancient scandinavia were poor peasants." - I am not aware of theyr abilities as farmers, though this comment interests me. Could you please explain how they were poor peasants, and what information you lay as grounds for this perception of theyr farming skills(which is really a must in discussions)?

      "Hardly a sociopathic Eden!" - Again, what is the information you use to come to this conclusion. I would say any warior society that upholds lack of empathy and forwards brutality is a good step in the direction of a sociopathic Eden. Not only the old norse societies did this, bit I would say that warrior societies were the entire free male population is supposed to be fierce skilled fighters (and thereby murderers) is a good jump into the attempt of your denied sociopathic Eden.

      After all, many of the stories of the saga heros, and kings from wich we lay alot of our historical escavations were not empathic nice men. Theyr violent and brital acts were in many cases upheld as proof of strength, wich correlates well with what a medieval warrior society would be like.

      Please, again, in comments and discussions, reasion, logic, sources and explanations, not just blind statements!

    3. Folks residing in the lands of the vikings (as I do) surely knows one or two things about the past? Most folks just were poor as hell and ate "sill" (salty fish) and were no more warmongering than their neighbours. Neither better or worse than roman armies or spartans. The image of vikings as a rowdy band of loveable "sea-bikers" seems to have been planted in many americans mind, and I must say that this somehow fits in some strange way. No scandinavian politicians refer to "olde norsemen", this is almost forbidden since its been linked to right-wing politics (which is garbage, vikings were no "white power" heavy metal band, they assimilated themselves with the cultures they encountered)..

  6. Funny. That s what therapists do. They get you to dissect yourself so much so, evejtually you say thank you very much, and now that i have paid off your house for you and i have no more emotions, i guess we, re done..

  7. I do not think Christianity killed sociopaths. I think that evolution weeded out some sociopaths and now we have fewer of them in society.

    They still serve a purpose as long as we have war, greed, and capitalism.

    1. Agreed. But do you agree that a Christian society with empathy and humanistic values (at least on the exterior) will make it harder for a sociopath to "make it" in society? They can't bluntly do whatever they want any more, now they would have to hide and be careful of theyr decisions in alot greater degree then if they were embraced as "strong men" in a more cold bloded society that embraces such behaviour. You kind of lay other grounds for natural selection.

  8. No. I disagree. Not everyone is a Christian.

    Circumstances and culture help determine morals.

    I just watched the Walking Dead. Everyone who is a human survivor, has to turn into something akin to a sociopath, just so they do not become zombie food.

    Doesn't matter if God is around or not.

    1. Agreed. Today not everyone is a Christian, but in europe and the american settlements, people were by time very religious. If you spoke against the church, you were simply burned on the stakes. Times were different then.


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