I was talking with a socio reader about the possibility of someone developing a foolproof method for identifying/diagnosing sociopaths (e.g. brain scans), and what that would mean in terms of our own sense of self and identity:
You know, I have given a lot of thought over the last year about whether this sociopath label really does fit or if I am trying to make it fit when it really doesn’t. As we both agree, in the end it doesn’t really matter anyway. The value of the exercise for me though, was conceptualizing my life experience in an entirely different but ultimately much more enlightening way. That is what matters.
I think the people that say that you and your readers are not sociopaths are right and wrong. They are right to the degree that people like us are indeed not like the prison/institutionalized population. Obviously. They are wrong to then surmise that the label has little to no direct link to what is referred to the suite of behaviors collectively referred to as sociopathy. Everyone assumes all sociopaths must look exactly like the ones in prison and if you don’t, the label can have zero relevance to you (or me). That assumption is based on a lack of research as well as a lack of independent thinking. I know. Even as I don’t wrap myself up with that label or identify all of myself with it, I nevertheless recognize it’s utility. I don’t have to say any of this to you. I’m preaching to the choir.
Bottom line for me anyway, is that I wouldn’t be shocked to discover that my brain looks normal. It really could be that those psychopaths whose brains look different are different in precisely those ways that gave rise to behaviors that landed them in prison to begin with. It might go back to the whole primary versus secondary psychopath distinction. The primaries may be the way they are because of their brains while the secondaries may be the way they are because of social/childhood issues. Maybe you and I would fall under the secondary category. Who knows? Although I do think it would be interesting to have more scientific research done on this, research involving an entirely non-institutionalized population of would be sociopaths. There would be many correlations between the two groups I’m sure (prison verses non-imprisoned), but I imagine there would also be some interesting and maybe even startling differences. While we’d share traits like a relative absence of conscience, low empathy, shallow emotions, an aptness for deception and manipulation, grandiose sense of self, etc, all the traits that set us apart from the psychological average, there might be some very important reasons why you and I aren’t in prison while the prototypical sociopaths are. Has there been any research done in this particular area?
Having said all of that, an exciting possibility that the naysayers brings up is that maybe we are so different that no one has thought of a label for us yet. Maybe we aren’t sociopaths at all. Maybe we represent undiscovered country, psychologically speaking. Who knows?
In any event, finding out your brain looks perfectly normal wouldn’t change a thing about your life experience up to this point, would it? It would be like a homosexual (I like using homosexuals as examples) discovering that his brain looks precisely like a heterosexual’s would. So what? Would that knowledge change him into a hetero? Would he suddenly start liking women? Would the results of this scan invalidate everything he’d been through his entire life? Would he have to force himself to like women because a brain scan indicates that his preference for men may have more to do with how he grew up and less to do with his genes and hormones? I don’t think anyone would seriously suggest that other than the religious fundies. I think it would be similar for you (and for me). Ditto for Hare’s checklist. I have already surmised that I wouldn’t score high enough on his list to justify labeling me as a Hare psychopath. I’m guesstimating that I’d get somewhere between a 22 and 26 tops and in the US, you have to score 30. What would it mean to have that guess proved right if the test was administered to by Hare himself? Not much.
I asked myself why I did the verbal diarrhea thing with this response. It’s because your email struck a chord. I spent so many years trying to be normal. I kept thinking that if I found my calling or found my true love (that was back at the beginning of my search phase, in my early twenties… my ex-wife quickly disabused me of that fantasy), found god, found spiritual enlightenment, I would then be full of all those emotions I lacked. I thought it was the absence of these things that created the absence, the vacancy, I saw within myself. That’s what movies and books and TV and my family and friends all told me in one way or the other. I was stupid and blind enough to believe them. It wasn’t until a few years ago, when the search began to look like the dead end it was, that I finally started giving up hope. During that winding down period I had my “wow, I have went about my search in an entirely self centered way” insight. You know the drill, seducing, manipulating, then abandoning once I discovered that the other person or persons didn’t have what I was looking for. I hadn’t thought of it that way at all up until that moment of insight. I suppose that in a very real sense, I discovered that I was a bit of an emotional vampire. A year or so later, I found your blog and for the first time, someone else had my experiences. Someone else knew what I had gone through because they had gone through life in a very similar way. Even down to the moment in your childhood when you knew something had changed and that you couldn’t go back! I’d never told any of my closest friends or family that, yet you’d been through it yourself! Finding out my brain looks normal wouldn’t alter any of that. Not one single bit. In fact and if anything, it would only deepen the mystery. If we can’t point to any specific neural distinctions, then what the hell created the differences? Why do I not understand guilt on an emotional level after all these years? Why are my emotions so superficial? Why don’t I have a stable sense of self? Etc.
Ok, I’ll stop now. You just got me thinking for a bit, that’s all. What would it mean to you to discover that per your brain scan or per Hare’s checklist, you can’t possibly be a socio/psychopath?
It's funny, how we're always going on about self-awareness and self-knowledge, trying to ferret out or at least understand any delusions. Sometimes I wonder if so much self-introspection can actually create delusions, though. I know how easy (sickly easy) it is for me to compartmentalize and have one part of me trick the other part. I've done it in the past and lived lies for years. Am I currently in the middle of a delusion? Is everything I think I know about who I am and what sort of world I live in completely delusional? Including being socio-leaning?
Sometimes I think to myself, if my life depended on it, would it be easier for me to prove that I am a sociopath, or that I am not. Interestingly, I think it is my "sociopathic" traits that would make either scenario seem about equally likely or unlikely. There does seem to be something to it all, though, something consistent between me and other people that find me at this site, although I'm not wedded to the term "sociopath." Sometimes it's creepy what I discover in common with those who email me. Whatever I am, there must be a lot of others like me.