Thursday, January 31, 2013

Gold star sociopath?

When people ask me for recommendations of what to read/watch to understand sociopaths better, I tell them, among other things, the film The Woodsman with Kevin Bacon. In it he plays a "recovering" pedophile who struggles with his urges as he tries to form a "normal" romantic attachment with a woman and stumbles upon another predator like himself. Un-acted upon pedaphilia was recently addressed in a Dan Savage column. when I read it, for "pedophile," I substituted "sociopath," for "sexual attraction to children," I substituted ...
Let's say, theoretically, I'm a pedophile.

I'm not stupid or evil, so I'm not gonna DO anything. I'm not even gonna look at porn, because the production of it involves child exploitation. I don't even look at kids in public places.

So what the fuck should I do? Chemical castration? But I haven't DONE anything and I don't plan to. Am I obliged to tell anyone? Good way to lose friends. Can I keep babysitting my friends' kids when they need a hand? After all, if I were into adult women, people wouldn't see anything wrong with leaving me alone with a couple of those.

What the fuck do I do? Live alone and hope Japan starts producing affordable sexbots before I'm too old to care?

You know, theoretically. If I were a pedophile.

Knows It's Wrong

"My heart goes out to people to whom nature has given something as powerful and as distracting as a sex drive and no healthy way to express it," says Dr. James Cantor, a psychologist and the editor in chief of the research journal Sexual Abuse. "Pedophiles are not the only folks in this position, but they are by far the most demonized, regardless of whether they have ever actually caused anyone any kind of harm."

My heart is going out to you, too. As I've written before, we should acknowledge the existence of "good pedophiles," people like you, KIW, who are burdened with a sexual interest in children but who possess the moral sense to resist acting on that interest. It's a lifelong struggle for "good pedophiles," and most manage to succeed without any emotional support—to say nothing of credit—whatsoever.

Unfortunately, science doesn't know much about pedophiles like you, pedophiles who haven't done anything, because the social stigma is so great that most nonoffending pedophiles never seek treatment. And what research has been done, says Cantor, isn't very encouraging if you're looking to free yourself from your attraction to children.

"There is no known way of turning a pedophile into a nonpedophile," says Cantor. "The best we can do is help a person maximize their self-control and to help them build an otherwise happy and productive life."

"It is true that a regular heterosexual man is not going to commit an offense against every woman he finds attractive. However, most women are capable of recognizing when an interaction is just starting to go south and of getting out of the situation. Most children are not. So although there is every reason to believe that there exist cats that can successfully be in charge of the canary, it's not a very good idea for the cat to be the one making that call."

"I wish I had better news," concludes Cantor. "I also wish that more people did good research on this so that one day I could have better news to give."
The money quote for me: "Unfortunately, science doesn't know much about pedophiles like you, pedophiles who haven't done anything, because the social stigma is so great that most nonoffending pedophiles never seek treatment."

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Seeing what you want to see

I studied economics for a time. I was introduced to behavioral economics and how the heuristics that help us deal with day to day problems can also frequently lead us astray. I had understood for a long time that people often self-deceived, but even I was surprised by the depth and breadth of the way we misperceive the world (me included). I learned the lessons of decisionmaking and rationality and tried to become more rational myself. I have since noticed that many of my friends who did fine understanding the concepts but lacked the humility or insight to see an application in their own lives.

My friend I mentioned earlier is a good example. He is so afraid of making a bad decision that he avoids making them until they are made for him. That or he waits until his fear and panic of making the decision cause him to take action, any action at all, but all in a fog of willful ignorance -- pretending that certain facts don't exist or (intentionally?) misrepresenting probabilistic outcomes in his mind. All of this is done in an attempt to shield himself from self-hatred or acknowledging certain basic truths about the world that he would rather ignore. I see this sort of ex post self-justification happen in the comments section of this blog from people who are doomed to repeat past mistakes because they refuse a sense of responsibility about their own destiny.

It's a good example of seeing what you want to see and the harm that can come from it. I actually advise people to not even form a belief if they can -- the temptation to anchor their future assessments or see all new information through the distorted lens of whether or not it confirms that belief is just simply too high.

Even if people get the probability correctly, they often don't understand what that means. It's one thing to say there's a 1% of getting caught stealing a mobile phone, but many people have trouble understanding that means if you steal 100 phones you will statistically get caught once. Instead they act as if anything less than 5% means never going to happen no matter how repeatedly they engage in it. Which is why I liked this recent article in the NY Times about understanding low probability risks. It's worth reading in its entirety, here's a teaser story:

I first became aware of the New Guineans’ attitude toward risk on a trip into a forest when I proposed pitching our tents under a tall and beautiful tree. To my surprise, my New Guinea friends absolutely refused. They explained that the tree was dead and might fall on us.

Yes, I had to agree, it was indeed dead. But I objected that it was so solid that it would be standing for many years. The New Guineans were unswayed, opting instead to sleep in the open without a tent.

I thought that their fears were greatly exaggerated, verging on paranoia. In the following years, though, I came to realize that every night that I camped in a New Guinea forest, I heard a tree falling. And when I did a frequency/risk calculation, I understood their point of view.

Consider: If you’re a New Guinean living in the forest, and if you adopt the bad habit of sleeping under dead trees whose odds of falling on you that particular night are only 1 in 1,000, you’ll be dead within a few years. In fact, my wife was nearly killed by a falling tree last year, and I’ve survived numerous nearly fatal situations in New Guinea.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Lifetime learner

I sometimes post favorite comments (sometimes not, if it is hard to reduce it to a quotable quote), but there were two in particular that I have been thinking about recently. One was from a reader who said that he observes his own behavior in order to interpret his emotions. I found that to be very interesting, and very true of my life too. When I was in secondary school I got very/acutely sick for a while. To me life felt normal, apart from dealing with pain and other physical symptoms of being sick, but after about two weeks my friends all stopped talking to me. I got better, but they still stayed away. I didn't know what to make of it. Since then I have realized that when I am sick or otherwise not feeling well, I can be very mean, short-tempered, even irrational without knowing I am doing it. Now when people start acting offended around me or I otherwise struggle to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships, I often (correctly) assume that I am sick. The same applies for a lot of my other "feelings," particularly negative ones. Frequently I am unaware of them until I find myself engaging in some irrational behavior or another (always my red flag). Only then do I stop what I am doing and take time to reassess what's really going on in my world.

Another commenter (aspie?) remarked on the definition of love, saying that he believed love is basically gratitude. Coming from an aspie, I thought this was hilarious because I don't think any neurotypical would describe love that way. It is, however, exactly the sort of thing that someone would say who has never experienced love the way a neurotypical would. Yes, little aspie, to the sociopath as well love feels a lot like gratitude and loyalty.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Successful and sociopathic

I thought this NY Times op ed, "Successful and Schizophrenic," had some interesting parallels. It tells the story of a law professor who was diagnosed as schizophrenic (I hope I'm doing the math right) in her early 20s. She was basically told that she would be living in a group home for the rest of her life. And she was actually hospitalized multiple times (apparently), but after her last stint at age 28 she was told that maybe she could get a job as a cashier making change part time. Instead she became a law professor and recipient of a MacArthur Foundation genius grant. Is she still schizophrenic?

Although I fought my diagnosis for many years, I came to accept that I have schizophrenia and will be in treatment the rest of my life. Indeed, excellent psychoanalytic treatment and medication have been critical to my success. What I refused to accept was my prognosis.

Conventional psychiatric thinking and its diagnostic categories say that people like me don’t exist. Either I don’t have schizophrenia (please tell that to the delusions crowding my mind), or I couldn’t have accomplished what I have (please tell that to [University of Southern California]’s committee on faculty affairs). But I do, and I have. And I have undertaken research with colleagues at U.S.C. and U.C.L.A. to show that I am not alone. There are others with schizophrenia and such active symptoms as delusions and hallucinations who have significant academic and professional achievements.

There were also really helpful suggestions about how each person came up with coping mechanisms specific to their individual issues:

How had these people with schizophrenia managed to succeed in their studies and at such high-level jobs? We learned that, in addition to medication and therapy, all the participants had developed techniques to keep their schizophrenia at bay. For some, these techniques were cognitive. An educator with a master’s degree said he had learned to face his hallucinations and ask, “What’s the evidence for that? Or is it just a perception problem?” Another participant said, “I hear derogatory voices all the time. ... You just gotta blow them off.”

Part of vigilance about symptoms was “identifying triggers” to “prevent a fuller blown experience of symptoms,” said a participant who works as a coordinator at a nonprofit group. For instance, if being with people in close quarters for too long can set off symptoms, build in some alone time when you travel with friends.

Other techniques that our participants cited included controlling sensory inputs. For some, this meant keeping their living space simple (bare walls, no TV, only quiet music), while for others, it meant distracting music. “I’ll listen to loud music if I don’t want to hear things,” said a participant who is a certified nurse’s assistant. Still others mentioned exercise, a healthy diet, avoiding alcohol and getting enough sleep. A belief in God and prayer also played a role for some.

Sound familiar to anyone? The advice to identify and avoid triggers by explicitly structuring your life to avoid or minimize them? Exercise and diet? Sleep and sensory inputs? Religion (which always what I fall back on when my brain is sick)?

She goes on to talk about how some people pour themselves into a rewarding career. She warns about the conflation of symptoms and diagnosis:

Far too often, the conventional psychiatric approach to mental illness is to see clusters of symptoms that characterize people. Accordingly, many psychiatrists hold the view that treating symptoms with medication is treating mental illness. But this fails to take into account individuals’ strengths and capabilities, leading mental health professionals to underestimate what their patients can hope to achieve in the world.

She mentions that some people with autism managed their symptoms, sometimes to the point of eliminating them. She then closes with these thoughts that could apply equally well to sociopathy:

I don’t want to sound like a Pollyanna about schizophrenia; mental illness imposes real limitations, and it’s important not to romanticize it. We can’t all be Nobel laureates like John Nash of the movie “A Beautiful Mind.” But the seeds of creative thinking may sometimes be found in mental illness, and people underestimate the power of the human brain to adapt and to create. 

An approach that looks for individual strengths, in addition to considering symptoms, could help dispel the pessimism surrounding mental illness. Finding “the wellness within the illness,” as one person with schizophrenia said, should be a therapeutic goal. . . . They should encourage patients to find their own repertory of techniques to manage their symptoms and aim for a quality of life as they define it. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Mind sick

I have been mind sick since Tuesday evening. It's not quite the mental equivalent of a Windows blue screen, but it came on as suddenly and without warning just like a blue screen. It feels like I am actually sick with the flu, but that I only have the mental symptoms. Since it's happened, I've tried to stay home as much as possible and feed my mind the equivalent of simple and easily digestible food. Even writing this now is taking much longer than it should.

It typically happens at least once or twice a year. One time after I was very sick with the flu, it lasted off and on for several months, although usually it is gone within a week or two. Every time it happens, I am worried that my mind will be gone forever, that I am gone forever. Other than that, it's not all that unpleasant. I don't feel sad, maybe just a little frustrated sometimes when I'm trying to complete a task and can't marshal the correct mental resources. My emotions can have moments of higher volatility initially, but they usually calm down to base levels lower than average. I can be just as happy and susceptible to pleasure by simple things as I am normally. I think this is why I have never thought it was depression.

I have a strong family history of depression. My mother has been medicated off and on and each of my siblings experience it regularly to varying degrees of severity and length. Just last month I was talking to my brother about it. He is a lot like me, always trying to game the system, so when he gets depressed it's always a little surprising to me to see him so weak. It will come every few months or so for a few days. Random things can trigger it like the end of television series he enjoyed or a period of stress, but it just as often seems to have no trigger. I think he gets really sad, despondent even. The last time this happened I remember thinking, it's odd that I am the only one in the family who is not subject to bouts of depression.

And now I feel like this and for the time I wonder, is this my own version of the family depressive model? Seasonal depression? Why does it come and what makes it come?

Saturday, January 26, 2013


I thought this was an interesting video from illusionist Derren Brown about gullibility, via Brain Pickings:

"Somewhat counterintuitively, it’s the more trusting people that actually emerge as less gullible. They obviously get fooled, as we all do… but they tend to be very good at learning from those experiences where they have been duped, they tend not to generalize it over everybody and then to start being cynical about everything, which then makes them more effective socially."

"You create a false logic. You create what appears to be an A, B, C. . . . That's not about gullibility, that's about a certain grammar that people will follow. . . . We can't function unless we form those patterns . . . . It's better to have that false positive than a false negative. . . . We are hardwired to fall for that . . . . it's pretty much inescapable and ultimately probably positive."

I found this relevant for two main reasons:

1. A lot of people either write me or come on here and feel like an idiot for having bought into the "lie" that their sociopath spun for them. I don't think it's anything to be ashamed of, I don't know that it is necessarily a lie, and also I don't believe these sociopath slayer types who say that they are so skeptical that say they always spot sociopaths and beat them at their own game (whatever that means).

2. I actually think sociopaths tend to be gullible in surprising ways. That's why I think that feeding them false information, particularly about areas that are their natural blind spots like the emotional worlds of others, is effective. I know others have disputed this point with me before, but it at least works on me.

Friday, January 25, 2013

You will always be my son

From a reader:

So tired of explaining my son and trying to figure out the dark mystery he is but your experience reflects a part of who my son is. At three diagnosed with Asperger's. Had some classic traits but still didn't quite fit the mold. Socially inept, uncoordinated, wanted friends but was awkward and inappropriate. The boy's IQ is 150. Thought that coping with all the Asperger's problems as a single parent with no support would be as bad as it would get. Then at 15 he had a "psychotic break" in which I came home from work as a case manager for mostly psychotic schizophrenics to find my own son crying hysterically begging me to stay away from him because he was having possible instrusive thoughts, not sure, and the urge to kill me. I stayed in clinical mode as I tried to calmly take his hysteria down and brought him to crisis. The clinician, who I knew and didn't really like me, told me to take him home and he would be okay. Oh yeah, he also told the clinician that he wanted to rape me. No big deal. I could handle it. And I did. Horrifying and heartbreaking.

At 16 he said he had begun hearing voices but I knew many clients who heard voices and my son did not present as they did. He never responded to the voices which is something people are compelled to do. Didn't make sense. Two weeks later he vividly described a visual hallucination saying that cops were at the door with guns drawn. He seemed fascinated by it. I had heard 100's of accounts of visual hallucinations and they weren't as clear as his.  About four months ago after complaining to me daily that he was having suicidal thoughts and the urge to strangle me I saw the intent in his eyes one day. Did not know this child. He was not my son. Back to crisis where he was clear and said he felt "good" in waiting area but presented as the perfect psychotic, demeanor, body language, voice when being evaluated by the clinician. This time he was taken to an adolescent psych hospital 90 miles away. I almost collapsed a few times that day during the process. I was so drained from weeks of waiting to be strangled. My denial enable me to cope but every time he would surprise me I involuntarily jumped and let out a small animal-like yelp. My subconscious knew to be scared.

While he was in the hospital everything changed as far as my perception of this innocent victim of mental illness. He would call several times a day crying and begging me to get him out. Then his voice changed and he was quite in control stating with hostility and threat that I'd better get him out AMA. One particular visit turned the switch in me. As he sat across the table crying and begging again making outragious complaints about staff and other patients I shut down and did not react. This accelerated his determination and manipulative tactics. He couldn't believe that I was calmly countering all he said. 

Then he began yelling and tried to leap across the table to get to me. I told him now I could really see the hatred and how much he really did want to hurt me. Not done, he put his hands around his neck in an effort to show he would strangle himself. His acting abilities did not impress me. I had been through so much in an effort to help him to this point, now I felt taken advantage of and betrayed. He had shown signs before of switching in seconds from the tortured victim to an arrogant kid just screwing around. He didn't know I had witnessed these incidents. And the lies were always there. He is home and still has the thoughts and urges. I don't know him anymore. Now that he knows I have caught on no more coming to me for sympathy just an uncomfortable distance. Need help. There is a Forensic Psychiatrist in San Jose, Ca not for from us, Dr. Arturo Silva, who has a theory that Asperger's can turn into psycopathic traits as a teenager. Been trying to get in touch with him but not successful. I feel in my gut he might have answers that I need. Can you help?


I don't know if there is anything I can do to help. If he is a sociopath, you should appeal to his self-interest. It does not help him to harm you because you are willing to financially support him through college, or whatever else it is. It sounds like he is around 17. You might want to talk to him about how when he turns 18, you will still be his mother and will support him in anyway you can, but he will be considered an adult by society. Anything he does after that could have very long lasting effects for him. Give him some facts about the average life expectancy of someone his age. Perhaps you two could "volunteer" at a prison? He should be rational enough to be educated in these ways. And if you acknowledge how he is different without judging him, things should be able to get better between the two of you. Say things like, "you will always be my son." Give him a sense of permanence. Explain to him the meaning of the phrase "don't defecate where you eat." Have him read the book "Lord of the Flies" and see how he feels about it. If he's not a sociopath, I don't think these things will work.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Let's play doctor (part 2)

It's been a while since we've had an, "am I a sociopath?" post. I thought this one was interesting. There were several things that I really identified with and other things that I didn't as much (maybe you all can guess which is which), but who knows what that means.

Hey, I've just come across your blog and I relate to your thoughts. I'm a 16 year old sociopath girl. I've always known that I was different from everyone else, and about a year ago someone told me I was a sociopath. I didn't really know what that meant at the time and I spent a lot of time researching it. That person was dead on. I score a 29 on the Hare psychopathy checklist too. The post you had that has a representation of how a sociopath develops from child to adult is extremely accurate, however I only relate to the one about a male, not the one about a female. Let you know this, though: I am a very well-liked and somewhat popular person at my school. I'm sure people realize I'm not quite like them, but they are drawn to me for that reason exactly.

 I am not a violent sociopath, but I am indifferent to violence. I do not truly love anyone although I am attached to some people such as family friends but only for selfish reasons. I think if one of them were to die, i would get over it quickIy. I hate saying "i love you" to my family because I don't LOVE them.

I lie all the time, I enjoy manipulating people, I feel the need to be in control. I do not have empathy of any sort...

However, I've found that I do get angry. Do you get angry? People say that sociopaths don't have any emotions at all, but anger is an emotion.

Also, when you see violent movies or hear about shootings or murders do you feel anything towards the victims? I feel so aloof in my world of other teenagers  because I feel nothing at all. When I heard about the massacre of the children at Sandy Hook elementary school, I didn't care at all. Like at all. Today in my English class we are discussing slavery and before showing us this clip from a movie about the transportation of slaves in the Middle Passage, my teacher said "this is extremely graphic and hard to watch and it's very emotional..." Blah blah blah. When I watched it, the only thing I felt was interest in what would have gone on, I felt nothing for the slaves who were suffering incredibly. Everyone (including the teacher) was like crying and shit and i always find it fucking annoying when people show emotion. It's like this for everything, I only feel extreme interest about violence and crimes. I enjoy reading about all the different stories about all the serial killers and how they went about getting them alone and how they killed them. I would never or could ever do anything violent, but I love to read about it. Do you feel this way?

I am a very high functioning sociopath. I  am very intelligent (125 IQ) and I put on all sorts of masks and know how to behave in all the different social situations. I find it extremely exhausting though. It annoys me to no end and I find myself sometimes just not putting on a mask because its such a low risk situation. I need motivation to act like an empath and when I don't have motivation for something I would gain from acting, I just don't bother. Do you find yourself doing that?

I also am extremely impressionable. When I read a book or watch a movie/tv show where I really like the personality of a character, in the time period in which I like them a lot, I mix their personality with mine. It usually doesn't last long, and I'll find another that I like. People that I've known for a long time never know what I'm going to do or say because I am so impulsive.

Also, I'm attractive and I can have whatever guy I want. The whole game is getting them to like me and chasing them. When I win, and I always do, within a couple months ill get bored and dump them. Ordinary people are just so lame and boring and easy to manipulate.

I get bored so so easily and I have to live my life on the edge without explicitly breaking the rules. I get off on it.

It's a relief to be able to say this all to you because I can't say it to anyone else..


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Manipulation 103: interviews and presentations

I have a new theory of interviewing -- try not to answer any question without asking first one clarifying question. I think it's good for the interviewee because it gives you something to focus on apart from trying to gauge your own performance. It makes you think of the interview as more of a conversation, so there is less performance anxiety. It's effect on the interviewer is to force her to commit to actually wanting to know the answer, rather than asking a question and zoning out during your response. And it evens the power dynamic a little bit because the interviewer is not the only one asking the questions. It puts the interviewer on a small version of the defensive, because they're forced to explain what they're asking and question why they are asking the question in the first place. (I have a similar dynamic with one of my more distant relatives, a silly woman who has confessed to other relatives that I make her nervous because when she asks me a question, I pause and answer it carefully and in the meantime she has rethought whether it was important enough to have troubled me with it.) When I feel like I have to talk nonstop, I will frequently get out of breath and consequently get a tremor in my voice. Breaking up the interview in this way would give you a chance to catch your breath while you collect your thoughts.

I haven't had the chance to use this tactic in an interview yet, but I have had the chance to use it in some recent presentations to midsized audiences. Within the first few minutes, I try to ask the crowd a question and ask for a show of hands or field specific responses if people volunteer. It immediately cuts the tension and instead of a dynamic where people feel like they can sit passively and judge my performance, I am requiring them to engage with me. If anything, they focus their judging efforts and attention on their own selves with worries that I may ask them to engage in a way that they will not be prepared for or that they might mishandle.

During the question and answer sessions I follow any questions with my own clarifying questions. I pin them down. I don't give people the chance to retort "that's not what I asked," or "you've misunderstood me." Once I am clear as to what exactly they're asking, I say things like, "that's an interesting question." I want to seem friendly but I also want to establish the power dynamic that I feel worthy and competent to assess the merits of their questions -- a teacher/student dynamic. They are happy for the praise, happy that I have granted them my approval, and so are less inclined to speak ill of me later.

Of course these tactics can't make something if there's not anything there, but they have been very useful in helping me perform my best, particularly in situations in which people are likely to underestimate me.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Choosing the better part

I have been thinking a lot about the meaning of life. I recently had a conversation with a friend who is going through something of a midlife crisis. He was dissatisfied with his expat job so he quit and moved to an expensive city with a renowned singles scene. He had saved up a ton of money over the years of working long hours and thought that the key to his life's happiness was now to focus on his personal life. Old habits die hard, though, and once he got to the city, he quickly became lonely and depressed. He was even less happy than he was at his old job. Why?

It's an interesting sort of puzzle and I found myself being drawn in to try to figure it out myself. My first thought was that his old job gave him a sense of purpose. The more I talked to him, though, the more I thought it must be that his old job gave him a sense of status and superiority -- he complains about not flying first class anymore, not having preferred "status" with his airline and bank, and he talks all of the time about his degrees from very fancy schools, as if that should be all that is expected of him in life.

The other day he announced to me that he had solved the riddle of his unhappiness with the help of his therapist -- he "needs" to make a lot of money. Not to spend the money, he assured me (he lives a Spartan existence), but for the security. He assured me that his need wasn't any different than these people who feel like they need to spend a lot of money (why the need to legitimize?) and all he wanted was to have enough money so that he could pay people for life's necessities rather than relying on informal social contracts.

"Do you think there's also a sense of validation that you are worth a large sum of money?" I asked. "Or do you think there is some value in social contracts apart from the services or gifts you might receive? Do you think it might be better to just believe that people can be lovely and so it is no great shame that you are just the same as everyone else?"

He's a smart guy and a sceptic (not at all spiritual) so I focused on studies that have shown that one of the factors most correlated with life satisfaction are the number and quality of interpersonal relationships. He replied he is not most people, though, arguing that he is an introvert and that it is "really hard" for him to interact with people and consequently he doesn't like to. Then we talked for a bit about the difference between being true to the person he is day to day versus where he wants to end up in 20 years. Specifically, if he does become rich enough to replace social contracts with monetary ones, there will be less of an incentive to make or maintain relationships. Gradually that will become more and more true until he will (all the while acting completely rationally regarding his day to day preferences) end up 20 years from now with few connections to the human race. And is that where he wants to be?

I was reminded of a scripture that I never understood until recently. Jesus comes over to Martha's house for a meal. Mary, her sister, sits at his feet and is instructed by him until Martha complains, asking him to admonish Mary to help her with the preparations. Jesus rebukes her and says "one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her." The implication is that Mary's focus is properly on the eternities while Martha is focused on preparing a meal that will soon be forgotten.

I used to not be able to think of my future except in terms of probabilities. I think this is true of a lot of teenagers, but it took me a long time to outgrow it -- not really until my 30s. Studying music helped -- having to plan ahead and invest in myself for a long term payout. I learned a lot more when I picked up gardening during an extended period of unemployment and self-introspection (basically when I started the blog). I learned that success (at least in my garden) was the product of dozens of small things that I did daily and even if did those things, catastrophe might still strike in the form of a frost or animal interference. Gardening was good for me to internalize both a sense of long term cause and effect and the knowledge that just because I put in the work didn't mean everything would necessarily turn out fine. If things worked out, I was happy. But I also learned to be happy that I had taken the chance, even when I didn't get the results I had hoped for.

I love beets, but I loved that garden more for what it taught me about myself and the world -- that I am like a garden, in a very Candide "we must cultivate our gardens" sort of way. And that I may be tempted to indulge in hundreds of impulses a day, but that I too can choose the better part that will lead to a more lasting life satisfaction. (And still have the immediate satisfaction of feeling like I'm choosing better than most.)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sociopath quote: success

The library is full of stories of supposed triumphs, which makes me very suspicious of it. It's misleading for people to read about great successes, since even for middle-class and upper-class white people, in my experience, failure is the norm.

-- Kurt Vonnegut, from Hocus Pocus (1990)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sociopaths vs. schizoid, etc.

This clever anecdote was send to me by a reader, originally appearing here.
If you really want to know who you are, just ask yourself "Why am I doing this and what do I want out of it?"

If your answer is, "I don't know, does it matter?" you're a schizoid.

If your answer is, "I want to rule the world, or at least a portion of it," you're a psychopath.

If your answer is, "I am scared," you're an avoidant.

If your answer is, "I want attention...I want them to love me," you're a narcissist.

If your answer is different every three hours you're a borderline.

Personality disorders are only confusing when you think in terms of behavior. But any good psychologist knows, all behavior originates from thought. What is the overall theme of your thoughts? Simple.

Friday, January 18, 2013

You are what you eat

I am very impressionable. I am so impressionable that the self that I call mine seems to be no more than a hodgepodge collection of everything I have thought, everything i have experienced, everyone I have been around. I used to be very reckless in my youth with what I did, what I chose, what I thought. I wanted to try everything and everyone, wanted to know what else was out there in the world. Everything I did changed me, though, for better or for worse. I didn't realize it at the time, and didn't really realize the extent of it until relatively recently. That thought has made me more circumspect.

I feel like this must be true of non sociopaths as well, but maybe to a lesser extent. Maybe they just don't acknowledge the inherent fluidity of the self? It's interesting to me to think that my body is made up of everything that I have eaten. There is literally nothing about my body that I haven't ingested at one time or another -- not my brain, not my heart, not my lungs, not my eyes or teeth... it's weird thinking that I am made up of cheeseburgers.

People want to know why sociopaths have a hard time letting go sometimes. Some of it may be the thrill of the hunt, the sting of defeat, or vindictiveness. I think for me it is mainly because everyone that has ever been close to me has become a part of me. Like that Paul Young song, every time they go away, they literally take a piece of me with them.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


A reader recently asked me if a sociopath could be socialized not to act like one. I responded:

Maybe this analogy will help you understand what he probably means by being socialized. He is like a wild animal that just happens to have been tamed. I have an aunt who loves having wild animals as pets. Currently it's wolves. She fancies herself a bit of an animal trainer and it's true that the wolf essentially acts just like a dog would. I don't know anything about wolves, but I do know that it is illegal to have a wolf as a pet where she lives, presumably because there is something different about the vis a vis dogs, e.g. they are less domesticated and more dangerous because although they're behavior in that moment is socialized, there's still a greater likelihood that they will act like the wild animal that they are. One of my friends said that being in any sort of relationship with a sociopath is like having a wild, exotic pet. If stories like the lady getting her face chewed off by a chimpanzee or the entertainer who was attacked by his own white lion disturb you or make you think--that person was an idiot to ever trust that animal--maybe being in a relationship with a sociopath is not for you.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What is truth?

I think one of the biggest distinctions between different sociopaths is if they believe in truth or not. Freud said, "A man who doubts his own love may, or rather, must doubt every lesser thing." I feel like this has been true in my life. I grew up watching my narcissist father give overblown displays of emotion. Consequently, it was not only hard for me to take any displays of emotion seriously, it was hard for me to credit the very existence of those emotions in other people. It took me a long time to recognize the inner emotional worlds of others -- it was hard for me to even think certain emotions outside of my personal experience were legitimate and existed in the world. And once you doubt something as big as that, I think it is easy to, as Freud says it, doubt every lesser thing.

And it's easy to live that way. It's easy to assume that the world and society is just one big collective delusion and nothing you do matters. But it's also hard to live that way. Why would I want to live in that world? Oh, for sure there is freedom. And that must seem like it would be great to people -- to be able to live in a world in which you absolutely couldn't care less? But what is the point of freedom -- freedom to do what? Why choose between one action and another if nothing I do matters? Once you get past the initial evolutionary pleasures of dopamine responses in the brain, or you get accustomed to them, what more is there? I'm sure it's great and I don't mean to be too down on it. It's just not my personal preference, given the choice.

And believing in meaning and truth constrains my behavior in a way. I can't believe there is truth and then act in total disregard for it all of the time -- there would be too much cognitive dissonance. Or it would devalue truth to me -- how important is truth if I could ignore it so easily and often? But I can imagine that if you were sociopathic and did not believe in an objective truth or any sort of grander meaning to life, then your behavior wouldn't be constrained in those sorts of ways. Maybe you wouldn't be as conscientious because there would be nothing to measure your behavior against.

Pontius Pilate asks Jesus Christ, "Art thou a king then?" Christ replies, "Thou sayest that I am a King. To this end was I borne, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth: every one that is of the truth heareth my voice," to which Pilate retorts, "What is truth?" Christians, including Francis Bacon in his On Truth, criticize Pilate for his lack of faith -- Pilate, not believing any particular thing, was able to order the crucification of a man based solely on the whims of the crowd. Nietzsche, on the other hand, praises him for his uncommon wisdom and that the statement is "the only saying that has any value" in the New Testament.

I feel like there are some sociopaths who would respect Pilate -- choose that path -- and others who would rather not. I don't think there is anything about sociopathy that compels or exalts one position over the other. But if you do think like Pilate, you're probably more likely to act like him, which is why I think that sociopaths who question the existence of objective truth behave differently than those who believe in truth.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

How to spot a liar

A reader sent me this interesting and relatively short Ted video about how to spot a liar.

She mentions two "rules":
1.  Lying takes two -- person who lies and person who chooses to believe the lie. "Everyone is willing to give you something for whatever it is you're hungry for. If you don't want to be deceived, you have to know what it is that you are hungry for." Lying fills in the gap between our wishes and our fantasies.

2.  We're against lying, but we're covertly for it. It has evolutionary value to it. Babies will fake a cry. Trained lie spotters get to the truth 90% of the time, everyone else 54%.

There was an interesting discussion halfway through about how an honest person vs. a dishonest person would deal with being confronted. This one was interesting, if anything, in learning how to lie better. Falsely accused people are furious throughout the interview, not peppered here and there was a rational detailing of events.

Lying is an interesting thing to me. I don't really think about it that often. I don't think of people as liars or truth tellers. I don't even generally think of things I have said as lies or truth. I think it's probably because I have a deeply relativistic sense of the truth. I understand more than most people perhaps that everyone has their own different reality, including me. I don't think most of the "lies" we hear or say from day to day are intentional, but just reflect the "liars" distorted view of the world. I understand that for the most part, it is difficult if not impossible to determine an objective Reality in any given circumstance so I take everything with a grain of salt. Or I take it on faith perhaps, but always with a healthy dose of doubt that will trigger when new information becomes available to me, in a Bayesian updating sort of way. I assign a likelihood of accuracy in my mind, like whether my parents are actually my parents is 98% likely to be true, based on what I know about them and me. Or sometimes a long story someone has told me is 80% true, true in some parts and not true in others and it isn't exactly clear which is which. I am sometimes (often?) wrong in my assessments. And it is true that sometimes people are intentionally But when someone has gamed me, I'm often delightedly surprised that they have managed to do it. It makes life more interesting to think that anyone could be trying to trick you at any moment, but most of the time it's not true or the stakes are so low that it just seems like the sort of toll we have to pay to live in a world of collective delusion.

Which is not to say that we shouldn't learn people's tells, because we can learn so much about a person from the way they see the world, whether they are aware of their deceit or not.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Brain scans

From a reader:

A friend sent this to me and I thought you would be interested. It's about the mainstream acceptance of neuro imaging, and some of the potential pitfalls that I was not previously aware of.

Here are selections from the article:

Fancy color pictures of brains in action became a fixture in media accounts of the human mind and lulled people into a false sense of comprehension. (In a feature for the magazine titled “Duped,” Margaret Talbot described research at Yale that showed that inserting neurotalk into a papers made them more convincing.) Brain imaging, which was scarcely on the public’s radar in 1990, became the most prestigious way of understanding human mental life. The prefix “neuro” showed up everywhere: neurolaw, neuroeconomics, neuropolitics. Neuroethicists wondered about whether you could alter someone’s prison sentence based on the size of their neocortex. 
Fancy color pictures of brains in action became a fixture in media accounts of the human mind and lulled people into a false sense of comprehension. (In a feature for the magazine titled “Duped,” Margaret Talbot described research at Yale that showed that inserting neurotalk into a papers made them more convincing.) Brain imaging, which was scarcely on the public’s radar in 1990, became the most prestigious way of understanding human mental life. The prefix “neuro” showed up everywhere: neurolaw, neuroeconomics, neuropolitics. Neuroethicists wondered about whether you could alter someone’s prison sentence based on the size of their neocortex. 
The real problem with neuroscience today isn’t with the science—though plenty of methodological challenges still remain—it’s with the expectations. The brain is an incredibly complex ensemble, with billions of neurons coming into—and out of—play at any given moment. There will eventually be neuroscientific explanations for much of what we do; but those explanations will turn out to be incredibly complicated. For now, our ability to understand how all those parts relate is quite limited, sort of like trying to understand the political dynamics of Ohio from an airplane window above Cleveland. 
Which may be why the best neuroscientists today may be among those who get the fewest headlines, like researchers studying the complex dynamics that enter into understanding a single word. As Poeppel says, what we need now is “the meticulous dissection of some elementary brain functions, not ambitious but vague notions like brain-based aesthetics, when we still don’t understand how the brain recognizes something as basic as a straight line.”

Important stuff to remember when we read articles promising that psychopath brains are X or Y, explaining Z.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Earthly delights

From a reader:

This detail from Bosch's curious painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights, reminds me of a dangerous lady whose favourite painting it is. The penetrating beak, the huge mouth, the underbelly being feasted on by hommes moyens sensual who are on their way to self destruction and especially the grasping hands. She is a sociopath or psychopath making a successful career in a big tobacco company. 

The picture she says is "as much about contemporary New York as Holland centuries ago". She has stared for hours at every detail trying to imagine the story behind each figure and to learn as much from it as she can, because sociopaths are only interested in knowlege they can use. 

Everyone in the painting is suffering or will suffer as a result of their weaknesses, except the pitiless satanic creatures who efficiently administer the punishments and are enjoying their task. Victims, the lady is convinced, want to be victims. 

The Satanic agents are the only pure figures, although possessing, one supposes, all the deadly sins themselves.  They are evil yet not corrupt, are in fact incorruptible. They are sociopaths, in fact, who are curiously inhuman. They seem, like the lady in question, oddly to transcend their nationality and social class and even their sex.

I would be informative to know what the painting means for her but all she says is, 'How enjoyable it is to be eaten'. 

She also tells me only bad women are attractive. 

Saint Augustine said
Since love grows within you, so beauty grows. For love is the beauty of the soul. 
St. Augustine was right but he was playing on the opposing team from the lady and he was talking about beauty not sex appeal. 

Cesare Pavese had a germane point when he said it was only possible to love without reservation a completely selfish person because only a completely selfish person will always remain objective and not alter to please you. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Psychopaths more attractive?

Sort of.

A study led by Nicholas Holtzman and Michael Strube at Washington University in St. Louis found that people with personality traits known as the "Dark Triad" -- narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy -- were better than others at using clothing, makeup and hairstyles to make themselves look attractive, Scientific American reported Tuesday.

They had people take diagnostic tests and took photos of them both in their normal clothes/make up and plain clothes:

Researchers found that in the first group of photos -- in which subjects wore their own clothes and makeup --subjects who scored high marks for the Dark Triad were typically rated as more attractive than subjects who scored low marks for these traits. This was also true of subjects who scored highly for psychopathy alone.

However, in the second group of photos, in which subjects were forced to wear plain clothing and no makeup, there was no correlation between physical attractiveness and "dark" personal traits.

As Julie Beck of PopSci writes, these results suggest that "mean people are just as ugly as the rest of us, they're just better at fooling everyone into thinking they're hot."

Is that what it means to have a good personal sense of style? You're just "fooling" people? Sounds like sour grapes to me.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The art of the reparative gesture

From a reader:

As a long-term reader in psychology I thought you might be interested in Donald W. Winnicott’s material (from 1950s) on the subject of empathy. Have you read it? His articles are pivotal to understanding why some people develop a sense of concern, and others don’t- it’s a developmental acquisition of the first 2 yrs of life and he elaborates in precise detail how that happens.

It’s a cogent, convincing and rarely researched facet of psychopathy today but an alternative to genetic explanations.

Two chapters from the book The Maturational Process and the Facilitating Environment:

- Chapter 1. Psycho-analysis and the sense of guilt
- Chapter 6. The Development of the Capacity for Concern

He has numerous other material on this topic but these two will provide an intro if its of interest.

The basic idea is that a sense of guilt/concern is built in developmentally from about 6 months of age to about 18 months. It works like this:

Baby/todler shows aggression daily- eg. biting, screaming, kicking legs, squirming, non-complying, etc. Mother gets pissed off, shows it, and walks out of the room. Baby/toddler begin to get a sense, on each occasion, that they hurt the object that brings them food and cares for them. Kid then -maybe after half an hour, makes a "reparative gesture" when he sees mother again, such as smiling at her, laughing, offering her his rattle to hold or whatever. Mother accepts reparative gesture, and this happens thousands of times in a year of child's life. Through all this the child gets built-in a sense that concern about his ruthlessness and his agressiveness, and of the impact of it on the world around him. In later life the 'reparative gesture' becomes the common 'contributing into society' in a thousand altruistic ways- but underneath that 'contributing in' is the desire to appease over and over again the feeling that one is atoning for recently past wrongs  or perhaps for future wrongs..... all of this is unconscious and built in since infancy.

Now, with psychopathy the child basically doesnt get to play out the cycle of aggression-guilt- reparative gesture. His mother might have died at the beginning of this developmental period, or she may be clinically depressed or otherwise self-involved to the degree that she can't participate in the cycle. Or another option is that the mother for personal reasons cannot accept the child's reparative gesture and so the kid doesnt build-in the sense of concern. He grows up with no sense of concern. 

Its like learning language, is age specific developmentally speaking. If you miss it, you miss it. BTW, the developmental period during which all this takes place is called 'the depressive position' 

Winnicott seems to think a sense of concern may be discovered later in life, but I find it doubtful.

It's interesting because my mother was both very self-interested and clinically depressed while I was growing up. But I also feel like I have come to understand (perhaps through intuiting the principles of multi-stage game theory, in which there are few long-term gains for blatantly ruthless strategies) and apply reparative gestures, at least with those closest and most important to me. Is that what he means by discovering a sense of concern later in life, do you think?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Seducing too well

Everyone wants to be seduced. There are risks to seduction, but the person being seduced is almost always willing to take them—the allure of seduction is too strong. What people don't usually think about are the risks to the person doing the seduction. There are hazards to seducing too well. It's like building a fire: there are a lot of types of fires you can build, from slow-burning, red-hot coals, to flashes in the pan that burn quickly up and quickly out. The type of fire you never want is one that gets so big you burn down your house.

Seductees are subject to the whims of seducers, but seducers are subject to the emotional outbursts and vagaries of seductees, which can often be much worse. If the seducer maintains control over the seductee, these outbursts can often be reigned in. Logic can and will prevail. Seduce too well, however, and terrible things can happen to both sides. Who do you think gets murdered more frequently? Seducers or seductees?

Even if you are not getting killed, there's the risk of major emotional fallout when you seduce too well. People can get so into you that it cripples them. They lose touch with reality. They become a walking ball of emotions ready to spew at anyone who gets near them—your family and friends, your landlord, your neighbors. If they get jealous, you're toast. How will you ever get rid of them? They are unstable, and any attempt to separate from them will likely include you on the collateral damage list.

I recently over-seduced. Part of the problem was that we met once, then didn't meet again for a month or more. Letting that much time elapse is tricky. It's like throwing a match on a wood pile and walking away. When you come back your fire could be thriving, or it could be dead. I planned the activity to be "strong" enough that even if the fire had died out, I could still revive it, thinking I could later temper it if it seemed too much.

The second complication was that during that particular night I was tired and sick and could only bring myself to ask probing questions. I came across as mysterious, intense, and interested. After the night, I was almost immediately assaulted by phone calls and SMS messages. The fire I built had gotten out of control—this person was obsessed with me. I thought about just writing off the seduction attempt as a loss, but I'm a scrapper so I hung in there. I replied, but not frequently. I made and canceled plans. I used my illness and the holidays as an excuse. When we met again, I spoke straightforwardly about the seduction, in a way to keep the person both flattered and interested, but not seriously interested in me.

It was worth it, I suppose. I mean, it's like watching a movie where you already know the ending—the movie may still be good (hopefully it's a good movie), but the thrill is gone. And I'm constantly worried about over-seduction relapses because people are into people who can seduce so well, then talk intelligently about it afterward. So overall, not a complete success...

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Sociopath quote: self-knowledge

The aim of life is self-development. To realize one's nature perfectly - that is what each of us is here for.

-- Oscar Wilde

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Sharing is caring?

Are sociopaths happier for being selfish?  Probably:

Although we are taught the benefits of kindness and altruism, it seems we are happiest when simply told to pursue our own self-interest.

Researchers found the key to contentment is feeling we have no choice but to be selfish.

In contrast, the study, carried out by psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania, found that those who actively choose a selfish path usually have to battle with guilt.

They speculated that because we're taught as children that 'sharing means caring', if we make a decision out of self-interest, we often feel bad for prioritising ourselves over others.

But that frequently means we forego the things we know will make us happy.

That's odd, why would being unselfish not make us happy?

Monday, January 7, 2013

What exactly is psychopathy?

A reader sent this interesting article from one of our favorite researchers, Jennifer Skeem, whose previous attack on the PCL-R caused Robert Hare to take her to court and delay the publication before it was eventually released. The article is sort of an interesting primer on psychopathy and summary of the most recent research. She has her own ideas about the correct delineation of psychopathy that seems reasonable. First she discusses why there are so many ideas about what exactly sociopathy is:

As we will discuss, many of the controversies surrounding psychopathy stem from fundamental disagreements about its basic definition, or operationalization. The scope of phenomena encompassed by the term psychopathy has varied dramatically over time, from virtually all forms of mental disorder (psychopathy as “diseased mind”) to a distinctive disorder characterized by lack of anxiety; guiltlessness; charm; superficial social adeptness; dishonesty; and reckless, uninhibited behavior (Blackburn, 1998). Even contemporary conceptualizations of psychopathy contain puzzling contradictions. Psychopaths are often described as hostile, aggressive, and at times revenge driven (N. S. Gray, MacCulloch, Smith, Morris, & Snowden, 2003), yet they are also characterized as experiencing only superficial emotions (Karpman, 1961; McCord & McCord, 1964). They are impulsive and reckless, yet apparently capable of elaborate scheming and masterful manipulation (Hare, 1993). They can rise to high levels of achievement or status in society, attaining success in business and public life, yet present as criminals whose behavior is so poorly thought out and lacking in regard even for self-interest that they occupy bottom rungs of the social ladder

Given these contrasting depictions, it is scant wonder that some experts have concluded that the concept of psychopathy, as commonly understood, is disturbingly problematic: a “mythical entity” and “a moral judgment masquerading as a clinical diagnosis” (Blackburn, 1988, p. 511), “almost synonymous with ‘bad’” (Gunn, 1998, p. 34), “used by the media [to convey] an impression of danger, and implacable evil” (Lykken, 2006, p. 11). In the words of William and Joan McCord (McCord & McCord, 1964), two influential figures in the historic literature on psychopathy, “the proliferation of definitions, the tendency to expand the concept to include all deviant behavior, the discrepancies in judgment between different observers——these pitfalls in the history of the concept—— are enough to make a systematic diagnostician weep” (p. 56).

She then (optimistically) asserts that all is not lost, that sociopathy is a thing and we can figure out what that thing is through careful parsing of the literature and empirical evidence. First she dispels some myths:

  • Psychopathy is synonymous with violence: "However, psychopathy can and does occur in the absence of official criminal convictions, and many psychopathic individuals have no histories of violence."
  • Psychopathy is synonymous with psychosis: "In contrast with psychotic patients, psychopathic individuals are generally rational, free of delusions, and well oriented to their surroundings"
  • Psychopathy is synonymous with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD): "The difference arises largely because measures of psychopathy include personality traits inferable from behavior, whereas measures of ASPD more exclusively emphasize antisocial, criminal, and (to a lesser extent) violent behavior."
  • Psychopathic individuals are born, not made: "Contemporary understanding of the pervasive interplay of genetic and environmental influences in determining behavioral outcomes of various kinds argues against the likelihood that any psychiatric condition, including psychopathy, is entirely 'born' or 'made.'"
  • Psychopathy is inalterable: "some recent empirical work has emerged to suggest that personality traits in general, and psychopathic traits more specifically, undergo change across major developmental transitions"

The article is quite long. I will probably keep going back to it over the next month or so and perhaps sharing things that I learn here.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Trolls and mob mentality

This was an interesting article on modern "journalism" (in scare quotes just to include forms of non-professional media, like blogs, and non-traditional subject matter like how-to articles). Specifically it discusses how modern media purveyors (in an increasingly competitive bid to capture scarce readership) are taking a page out of the playbook that internet trolls have been using for over a decade now in order to more deeply engage (or enrage) their audience.

I think that direct, strategic assaults on readers’ self-conception have only recently become a deliberate technique. To me, Slate’s “You’re Doing It Wrong” cooking columns are the epitome of the trend (“you make pumpkin pie with condensed milk? you’re an asshole”), and represent a more dramatic divergence than one might first think from the counterintuitivism the brand is known (and gently teased) for. But examples are everywhere.

The opposite dynamic seems to work nearly as well: people love to be told that they’re great just the way they are. I think this is the lens through which one should view much of Gawker Media’s output, from their shaming of racist teens on Twitter to their outing of Violentacrez the Reddit troll. The moral judgments underlying these articles aren’t wrong, which makes them very hard to argue against. But the public performance of those values is clearly about flattering the sensibilities of the audience — “gawker” is exactly the right word for it. When the formula works, there’s an element of triumphalist mob mentality to the proceedings. To me, at least, this often seems more odious than the pathetic and easily-dismissed troll’s gambit.

In some cases, a single article can benefit from both strategies, simultaneously trolling and flattering. Usually this involves an attack on a cliched straw-man — the NYT’s recent piece on hipsterism fits the bill, as does this Philippic by Jill, er, Fillipovic. You can count on some portion of the audience to angrily recognize themselves as the ones being caricatured, and another portion of the audience to pat themselves on the back for participating in the shaming of that imagined subclass. Everybody wins, except for the part where they’ve just demonstrated themselves to be petty, provincial rubes.

I definitely do this, in real life and on the blog. I am sometimes annoyed by how effective it is, when used by people who are challenging my own interests. I have a friend who considers himself a professional troll, and I sort of respect the artistry of it when I see him create antagonism and xenophobia out of no where. But perhaps because I am actively and daily aware of the fragility of the social fabric and the potential fallout from disturbances, I still worry about mob mentality. We fight so hard against "rogue" nations having nuclear capabilities, but in a lot of ways this is a much bigger vulnerability.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Different children

Selections from a NY Times book review about children with unique issues:

Andrew Solomon’s enormous new book, “Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity,” is about children who are born or who grow up in ways their parents never expected.

Mr. Solomon explained that “Far from the Tree” took 11 years. It stemmed from a 1994 article about deafness he wrote for The New York Times Magazine. In the course of reporting it, he said, he realized that many issues confronting the deaf are not unlike those he faced as someone who was gay. 

A few years later, watching a documentary about dwarfism, he saw the same pattern again. Eventually the book grew to also include chapters on Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, disability, prodigies, transgender identity, children who are conceived during a rape and those who become criminals.

Mr. Solomon said he included criminal children after deciding that society’s thinking on the subject hadn’t really advanced very much, even while it has on autism and schizophrenia. “We still think it’s the parents’ fault if a child becomes a criminal or that something creepy must have gone on in that household,” he said. He included the children of rape because he discovered that their mothers shared a lot with all the other mothers in the book. “They feel alienated, disaffected, angry — a lot of the things a mother feels about a child with a disability.”

This kind of commonality, he went on, was something he discovered only while writing. “Each of the conditions I describe is very isolating,” he said. “There aren’t that many dwarfs, there aren’t that many schizophrenics. There aren’t that many families dealing with a criminal kid — not so few but not so many. But if you recognize that there is a lot in common in all these experiences, they imply a world in which not only is your condition not so isolating but the fact of your difference unites you with other people.”

“Forewarned is forearmed,” he said. “Some things, on some scale, go wrong in everyone’s life. I think I have perfectionist tendencies, but I know you can’t go into parenthood thinking, ‘I’m going to love my child as long as he’s perfect.’ Rather, it should be, ‘I’m going to love my child whoever he is, and let’s see how he turns out.’ ”

I wonder how many parents can say that about criminal or sociopathic children -- that they appreciate the experience of raising a child with those unique difficulties and that they love their child no matter what. Still, it is a nice, aspirational thought.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Professional sociopath

I lawyer friend of mine sent me this article about how Kevin Dutton claims in his book, "Wisdom of Psychopaths" about professions that psychopaths are particularly well-suited for due to their "Seven Deadly Wins," "ruthlessness, charm, focus, mental toughness, fearlessness, mindfulness and action."

Dutton says some professions attract people with psychopathic tendencies, and lawyers are second on the list. The Post quotes one successful lawyer who spoke to Dutton. “Deep inside me there’s a serial killer lurking somewhere,” the lawyer says. “But I keep him amused with cocaine, Formula One, booty calls, and coruscating cross-examination.” 

Dutton developed his list of the top psychopathic professions through an online survey last year, he told in an interview. “Any situation where you’ve a got a power structure, a hierarchy, the ability to manipulate or wield control over people, you get psychopaths doing very well,” Dutton said.

Formula One, booty calls, and coruscating cross-examination? It's a little hard to take that guy seriously. Here are the other professions:

1) CEO

2) Lawyer

3) Media (TV/radio)

4) Salesperson

5) Surgeon

6) Journalist

7) Police officer

8) Clergyperson

9) Chef

10) Civil servant

I love the "civil servant" one. In fact, it's tempting to think that every civil servant I have had to interact with has some personality disorder or another.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Practicing self-control

More on self-control! A reader sent me this video about self-control that is sort of obvious at the beginning but gets interesting near the end. Obvious points are that self-control correlates with "success" in life and that some people have lower self-control than others.

The project is getting people all hooked up to an EEG machine monitoring their brain activity, particularly the region of the brain associated with self-control. Participants get real-time feedback on whether they are using that part of the brain and are asked to utilize it even more. They figure out through trial and error whatever it is that allows them to engage that part of the brain until they can do it on command. Participants in this project show less self-control fatigue than the control group.

Money quote: "Self-control is not a magical, metaphysical phenomenon. Self-control is a tangible, physiological process that we should be able to intervene on."

This is interesting because my main advice to people when they ask me -- how can I improve my self-control? -- is that I am not sure that you can improve it and for me it is largely just a matter of avoiding situations that might tax my self-control. Of course the participants didn't seem to actually improve their base-line level of self-control, just diminished their self-control fatigue, but still it suggests that there may be hope.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Impulse control

A reader asks "I was wondering how you direct your impulses? Naturally control would of been poor so I figure it is best to attempt to direct impulses in a more creative manner. However I do wonderfully at it I was wondering if you had anything you did in particular."

My response:

I don't know if I have necessarily gotten better at directing my impulses. I like to think I have, but I think largely my impulse control has come more from being very careful about not putting myself in situations in which I know I'll have problems. I sleep 10 hours a day. I take fish oil and eat dark chocolate all of the time. I try to treat my brain nice. When I travel, I spend money on small conveniences so I won't get frustrated or over taxed. If that doesn't work and I still get angry, I will close my eyes and try to flood my mind with awareness of sensory inputs -- try to feel every inch of my skin, what's touching it, hot or cold, listen to every sound, feel the pull of gravity, all of the things that you generally ignore in day to day life.

What I can sometimes do is direct inclinations into proper channels before they become impulses. I try to always have at least one active seduction going on to scratch the itch that is my desire to mess with people. I try to get caught up in professional exploits to satisfy my need for dominance. I will spend a day in bed alone to satisfy my need for laziness and just "being myself."

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Child sociopath? Surviving Newtown

One of my associates told me the story of the one child who survived the Newtown massacre when everyone else in her class died. How? By playing dead, aided by the blood of her classmates. She waited until everything had died down and then got out of there, in fact she was apparently one of the first people to leave the school. How was she capable of accomplishing this incredible feat? God, says some Pastor.

In an interview with ABC News, Pastor Jim Solomon said the girl laid among her 15 other classmates covered in blood until she felt it was safe to leave, "She ran out of the school building covered from head to toe with blood and the first thing she said to her mom was, 'Mommy, I'm OK but all my friends are dead."

Her quick decision truly shows her wisdom and ultimately saved her life. The Daily mail reported that she was the first person to run out of the school building, "Somehow in that moment, by God's grace, [she] was able to act as she was already deceased." Pastor Solomon added, "What did she see in there? Well, she saw someone who she felt was angry and somebody who she felt was mad. "He continued, "How at 6 and a half years old can you be that smart, that brave? I think it's impossible outside of divine intervention. She has wisdom beyond her years."

Now, I'm not saying it wasn't God, and I'm not saying that she is a child sociopath... But she behaved in a way that you would expect a child sociopath to also behave -- keeping her cool, calm and clear headed under pressure, exploiting an opportunity without little regard for her fellow students, all while seemingly knowing exactly what she was doing. Just another reason why having a child who may be a sociopath may not be the worst thing in the world.
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