Friday, January 31, 2014

Sherlock: TV's favorite sociopath

BBC's Sherlock has started up again in the U.S. featuring many people's favorite fictional depiction of a high-functioning sociopath. Although Sherlock outted himself as a high-functioning sociopath in the first episode, not everyone was happy with Sherlock's apparent self-diagnosis. One of the more entertaining things has been to read people's explanations of how he cannot possibly be a sociopath, despite their hero worship of his brain and ability to analyze human behavior,

I can understand people's reluctance to acknowledge that he is a sociopath. After all, sociopath is a very dirty word and many people struggle with the idea that Sherlock is morally neutral, and that he just happens to be on the side of good. And so his fans tried to explain away his first reference to being a high-functioning sociopath, despite there being ample evidence to support his claim. And for a while there was nary a mention of the "s" word... tntil season 3, where he reminds people of his diagnosis almost every episode (search for the term "sociopath" in this wikiquotes article, but caution spoiler alerts). He chides his friend Molly for always falling in love with sociopaths, his best friend Watson for basically being attracted to sociopaths as well ("Your best friend is a sociopath who solves crimes as an alternative to getting high. That's me, by thy way."), and scares other people with it:

Perhaps Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock was not a high functioning sociopath (careful the link includes many inaccuracies about what a sociopath actually is), but BBC's Sherlock certainly seems to be one. And not just in the most obvious ways or overplayed ways like the video clip above. One of the more interesting ways he manifests sociopathic traits for me is how he interacts with his close friends.

For instance (spoiler alert), in one episode the three people he cares most about have their lives threatened by the villain (also a psychopath, but do psychopaths have a death wish?) Jim Moriarty. Missing from that threesome is the girl who has a very one-sided crush on Sherlock, Molly. And because Molly wasn't one of the three who was targeted, she was able to help Sherlock out of his bind. For her help, Sherlock rewards her with this statement: "Moriarty slipped up, he made a mistake. Because the one person he thought didn't matter to me was the one person who mattered the most. You made it all possible." How sweet, but how very sociopathic. When most people see things like "you matter to me," they mean that they feel a strong emotional connection. Here, Sherlock seems to imply something similar, but what he really means is that Molly mattered in his scheme in the very literal sense that she made it possible. In other words, his assessment of whether someone matters to him or not is what they are able to do for him. And for some people, that acknowledgement is enough. My closest friend is that way. She prides herself on being a very valuable friend to know, so that fact that I constantly seek her company is just an confirmation that I actually do find her to be very valuable. And that is what is valuable to her.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Psychopathy, autism, and pointing fingers (part 2)

Not surprisingly, some people found the call for greater understanding and more careful (and empathetic) use of the term and diagnosis of the disorder psychopath to be a bridge too far.

One person has suggested that the term is not ableist or any other -ist because it perfectly accurately describes people who are the bane of humanity and should be rightfully outed and oppressed lest everyone else should be oppressed. The evidence this person provides are google image searches.

The one for psychopath:

The one for autism:

See everyone! Psychopaths are all portrayed as old white males (never mind that autism is also portrayed as very white male)! They can't possibly be oppressed. The diagnosis can't possibly be misunderstood. But it is that very white/evil/male/oppressor portrayal that the original article criticizes:

"In radical communities working toward intersectional social justice, the figure of the psychopath is invoked all too often to characterize members of oppressive classes, especially when they are in a position of political power in addition to apolitical structural power."

Psychopaths, in other words, or merely those who share traits with psychopaths aren't these ubermensch who only oppress and are never themselves to oppressed because they are far too clever. Sometimes psychopaths are children. Sometimes they are people who were abused as children. Sometimes they are people from disenfranchised races (one study found that African-Americans were twice as likely as white Americans to be assigned this diagnosis) or low socioeconomic classes, circumstances that they had no control over. The unfortunate reality, as the original author argues, is that the actual use of the word psychopath to diagnose (typically people who are institutionalized) "is most often a tool for criminalizing poverty, blackness and brownness, and disability."

But some people think sociopaths deserve as much as we can throw at them and more. Proving the earlier point about people with a particular disorder disavowing any similarity or mistreatment of other disorders (e.g., arguments like "my diagnosis is misunderstood, not like these other people who really are monsters") :

When most people think of the word psychopath, they imagine Ted Bundy, Adolph Hitler, son of sam, Dexter, the zodiac killer, jack the ripper, brutal megalomaniac dictators.

For these people the label of psychopath fits perfectly. However we should actually be focusing more about the corporate psychopath, the CEO, the stockholders, the ruling class who show no empathy or remorse, who manipulate and ruin societies and economies.

Psychopaths are the people who oppress, they benefit from being psychopaths because they have no moral restraints whatsoever. That makes them oppressors, most of them are men, white and cis. Again, oppressors.

Erasing this label can only serve the psychopath, the oppressor and the ruling class.

We have to be able to tell people that the emperor has no clothes. To deal with these people we have to open our eyes to the evil they do, and label them for what they are, manipulative dangerous psychopaths. Only then can we hope to remove them from the places of high power, by shaking off our collective apathy and paying attention when someone calls someone out for acting psychopathic we take away their power to manipulate.

Your boss who takes credit for your work all while manipulating people to believe you are useless? Psychopath.

The person who abuses laws and rules to oppress people. Psychopath.

The person who uses bureaucratic excuses to deny needing people social services. Psychopath.

Your therapist who plays games with you, makes you jump through hoops and then still denies you real care. Psychopath.
Psychopaths benefit from being psychopaths, dont defend them. Call them out as the oppressors they are.

The thing that this proposal has going for it is its simplicity -- bad person = evil psychopath and deserves to be outted as such. I can't really criticize this proposal because the actual reasoning behind method of diagnosing and treating sociopaths is hardly any better.

The first author argues against the use of a label but rather just focusing on those who manifest certain behavior:

“My advice: Be precise in your language and say that oppressive structures are violent and manipulative. Say that those who abuse their structural positions of power act with reckless disregard for other human beings. Say that they are callous and unabashedly wielding the power that comes with their privilege.

But don’t call them psychopaths.”

The critic's response:

So, you don’t want us to use the word psychopath, but instead describe them as a psychopath instead? That wont change the reality that people will still use this in a racist and ableist way.

Yes, the only thing that can change the reality that people will still use "psychopath" in a racist and ableist way is if that term stops being a slur we hurl at our enemies or a scapegoat for all of the evil in the world and rather acknowledge what it as what it purports to be -- a mental disorder. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Psychopathy, autism, and pointing fingers (part 1)

This was an interesting article from an autistic activist who is also anti-ableism in all its forms about why psychopath is a too often misused and maligned term/disorder:

I have become used to being told that I do not have feelings, that I am innately incapable of relating to other people as human beings or having any empathy at all, that this is a core component of what it means to be autistic. I have become used to hearing this said constantly by so-called professionals, dramatically by television personalities, clinically by journalists and academics, and casually by friends, acquaintances, family. But I have never become used to the feeling of absolute devastation weighing somewhere deep in my chest each time I find myself on the receiving end of this accusation.

Empathy is what makes us human.

It’s no wonder that the idea of psychopathy is terrifying. If psychopathy means the inability to experience empathy, and empathy is what makes us human, then psychopathy is literally the dehumanizing condition. Psychopaths populate crime dramas, horror films, murder mysteries, and thrillers. It’s the casual diagnosis for mass murderers, serial rapists, and child abusers.

But it is also deeply personal, profoundly ableist and sanist, and rooted in a complex, interlocking web of structural racism, ageism, and sexism.

She draws connections to autism and sociopathy and criticizes those with disorders who distance themselves from other disorders for the sake of seeming more normal to the ableist:

In response to frequent claims in the media and by policymakers that autistic people lack empathy (and are therefore violent psychopaths), many people in the autistic community, including autistic activists, begin the process of disavowal.

“No, autistic people are nothing like psychopaths. We are more likely to be the victims of crime while psychopaths are usually victimizers.”

“No, someone who would shoot dozens of innocent children wasn’t autistic. That’s not autism. That’s mental illness.”

“An autistic person wouldn’t commit such horribly violent crimes. Only a psychopath could do that.”

If empathy is what makes us human, and autistic people are as human as anyone else, then we must have empathy. It must be some other kind of person who doesn’t experience empathy. It must be someone who is truly psychopathic. This is the logic path that afflicts so many disability communities. Disavowal of one another has become a way of life. Many autistic people routinely decry the use of the slur retarded, yet assert in the same breath that they aren’t crazy or mentally ill. 

I love this tendency amongst people to distinguish their own failings as being somehow more excusable than other people's failings, e.g. "my limitations on empathy are not as serious as yours," or "my impulsivity or violence is due to excess of emotion, not lack of emotion," or "I'm only violent when I'm misunderstood, but you can be violent based solely on opportunism."

For more on the problems of stigmatizing mental illness, either coming from within or without the mental illness communities, see also United States President Barack Obama.  

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How to maximize utility of socio relationship?

I thought this was a remarkably insightful comment, left July 7, 2013 at 7:56 AM

HOW TO BEAT A SOCIOPATH ... is the wrong question. If you're trying to beat, that means you're engaged in a competition, and non-socios tend to get revved up by their emotions during competition and thus will make it very difficult for themselves to "beat the socio", while the socio expends much less effort to pick at the non-socio's weaknesses.

Instead, the proper question for non-socios is "How do I maximize the utility to me of the socio relationship?"

In some cases, there may be no utility, so just terminate the relationship, or get out of it with at little damage as possible. In other words, you're in a hole, stop digging, don't try to beat or compete with the socio, just tend to your own needs. Do not feel sorry for the socio, or try to make the socio regret or repent, just leave. (If you can't control your own emotions, particularly to stop worrying about the socio, then you certainly aren't going to be able to control anyone else, including the socios, who are very good at control.)

If there is possible utility, then strictly enforce your boundaries, so the socio cannot damage you. Constantly assess whether you are getting enough from the relationship; do not worry that you are being selfish, trust that the socio is doing the same calculation for themselves, and will leave if they aren't getting what they want, so you can just worry about your own needs.

The tricky thing is to realize that socios imitate emotions to manipulate non-socios. If this satisfies your utility need, then great. Otherwise, realize that the socio has limits, and if you impose unrealistic expectations on the socio, you will just get burned.

It reminds me of this recent tweet:

Monday, January 27, 2014

Sociopath quote: self-justification

"Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons."

Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic Magazine

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Guest song: To Live in Your World

I don't remember her face
Or why I was there
I just remember feeling angry
Something made me hate her
I had to suffocate her
My common sense
Spoke of no consequence

But I want to live
I want to live
In your world
I am evil
I am brutal
So you say you must
Be rid of me
It frightens you
To look at me
'Cause when you do
What you see
Is a reflection of yourself
And your society
But I want to live
I want to live
In your world
For the man who steals
A piece of bread for his children
Shall we cut off his hands?
Yeah...that'll show him
For the man who speaks
His mind to the sentry
Shall we cut out his tongue?
Yeah...that'll teach him
I want to live
I want to live
In your world
This isn't justice
This is revenge
It doesn't work
It doesn't end
What of the man
Convicted innocent?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The natural born chameleon?

My friend recently told me, "I think it's funny that you are so impressionable, that you think of yourself as a void, because you are one of the strongest personalities I know. You are so distinctive and peculiar."

I could see what she meant. Everyone who knows me for longer than a few hours realizes that I am "quirky." I say all the right words and do all the right moves, but don't quite have the social fluency to seem completely normal. I can also be very lazy about maintaining a mask, particularly in low risk situations or with people who don't matter. Despite seeming distinctive and peculiar, however, I am still extremely impressionable.

Some of the psychologists that I have talked to via the blog have expressed surprise that I consider impressionability and the related weak-sense-of-self to be sociopathic traits. I don't know why they would be surprised. There must be some reason why we are so good at being chameleons, I always just assumed that it was instinctive, a symptom of who I am. Blending in has more or less been a reflex for me as long as I can remember, as it has been for most sociopaths I have known. For instance, this reader:
I moved a lot as a child. I knew how to adapt a fresh persona and ways to gain friends in an expedient fashion before I knew my long division. I also was obliged to lie, convincingly so, about who I was. For years I wasn't even allowed to use my own name and acknowledge where I was from.

When you speak of impressionability, that for me was sort of a survival tactic. America has many different cultural microcosms that vary so much, if they didn't speak English you'd guess it was a different country. I had to learn the local social norms and adapt to them quickly, and also their accents and local lexicon. Even more lizard-brain style mannerisms would be local, like specific body language gestures. In that case, I guess it isn't necessarily lizard-brain, but you understand.

I essentially spent years learning how to be other people. So much so, that I had no idea who I even was when I was allowed to be Me again. I still don't even know if I have a real Me. And it doesn't bug me, either, if anything, it entertains me.

I know for a fact that I did some very odd antisocial behavior, like practice emoting in front of a mirror, accents, etc. but when I was that age, I didn't realize that everyone came with their own emotional cheat-sheet, and I was the only one that had to study for the test.
When I read things like this or think back on my own early experiences, I wonder -- do we learn how to be chameleons? Is it learned behavior to subjugate who we "really are," perhaps as a survival tactic? And maybe after we've pretended for so many years we just forget who we used to be? Or are we born with our shapeshifting abilities? Maybe we're like liquids or gases, always taking on the shape of our environment. Because we do have some finite qualities, we just have no where near the rigidity of the typical empath.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Twitter mobs

Fredrik deBoer writes about the dangers of so-called "twitter storms" in his blog post "smarm and the mob". First he rehashes the story of Essay Anne Vanderbilt, and the subsequent moral judgments that various people made on that scandal. More important to him than the merits of people's suppositions about who-killed-who was the moral certainty to which they clung to their own beliefs, as if there was no possibility of being incorrect:

But I think the simplicity and force of that causal argument, whether explicit or assumed, is precisely why I’m still reading about it now. Because I think that’s what the Twitter storm needs; it needs to assert, in every situation, the absolute simplicity of right and wrong. To publicly state online that you are conflicted about any story that has provoked the mob into action is to risk the immediate wrath of the storm. It happened that, on the day the Jameis Winston case was blowing up, I watched the Ken Burns documentary about the Central Park Five. I thought about making the point that, perhaps, we shouldn’t rush to judgment when a young black man is accused of rape, given our country’s history on that front, but I didn’t dare. I knew the risks.

What people have built, on Tumblr and Twitter and Facebook, is a kind of boutique moral ideology that has one precept that precedes all others: the sheer obviousness of right and wrong. The very words “grey area,” in any context, have become anathema. The ideology of the Twitter storm is a kind of simple, Manichean morality that would make George Bush blush. They used to make fun of him, for that, the liberals and the leftists; his “you’re either with us or you’re against us” worldview was seen as not just illiberal but childish, a kind of moral immaturity that resulted from evangelical Christianity and neoconservatism and dim wits. Now, the shoe is so firmly on the other foot that the default idiom of the lecturing Twittersphere is a kind of aggressive condescension, one which assumes into its expression the notion that all right-thinking people already believe what the mob believes. It is on a foundation of this kind of moral certitude that all of history’s greatest crimes have been built.

That, to me, is the self-deception, a confidence game in the same way Scocca means above: a willful belief, among members of a social and cultural strata, in a kind of frictionless universe where putters can be made out of Stealth Bomber materials, or where all moral questions have long since been settled. It would be nice to live in a universe where there is straightforward relationship between good and evil and where all tragedies have accessible villains. But you don’t live there, and the notion that you do makes actual moral progress harder for us all. I would call that attitude smarm, myself. The problem is that the self-same people who were enamored of Scocca’s smarm essay– the ones who made its popularity possible– are the ones who make up the Twitter storms. And this has been my greater point about smarm: I find it a useful notion in a vacuum, but the mechanisms of internet culture makes me pessimistic about its actual use. As I said at the time: tons of the people who lauded that essay had, days earlier, gone gaga for BatKid. But BatKid was textbook smarm. It turns out that smarm, like so many other human faults, is easier identified in others than in ourselves, even when we are the ones who need to be indicted most of all.

And this is the problem for Scocca, and for us all: he’s a writer of great integrity whose ideas can only be spread with the will of a mob. I don’t blame him for not pointing out that the most influential purveyors of smarm are in fact the very people whose approval his essay required. I have many convenient blindspots to the comprehensive corruption of my present life. I just think that the altitude of his rhetorical station might need a little adjusting. Same message for him as for the Twitter mob: you can position yourself however you’d like. But we’re all down here in the grime.

For more on different moral universes, here

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The worth of souls

I've been thinking recently about the different ways that people value human life. From LDS President Dieter Uchtdorf on how God values human life:

Think of the purest, most all-consuming love you can imagine. Now multiply that love by an infinite amount—that is the measure of God’s love for you.

God does not look on the outward appearance. I believe that He doesn’t care one bit if we live in a castle or a cottage, if we are handsome or homely, if we are famous or forgotten. Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God’s love encompasses us completely.

He loves us because He is filled with an infinite measure of holy, pure, and indescribable love. We are important to God not because of our résumé but because we are His children. He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken. God’s love is so great that He loves even the proud, the selfish, the arrogant, and the wicked.

What this means is that, regardless of our current state, there is hope for us. No matter our distress, no matter our sorrow, no matter our mistakes, our infinitely compassionate Heavenly Father desires that we draw near to Him so that He can draw near to us.

Apart from being a reminder of the impossibly high standard that many religious people are meant to hold themselves to when tasked with loving their fellow man as God loves them (and the great chasm from that expectation to their actual performance), I think this represents an interesting alternative to valuing human life than what has become the fad of late: prestigious job, fancy house, and attractive significant other being the baseline indicators for success, with additional money, celebrity, talent, or power being the true distinguishing characteristics to lift one above the masses of mediocrity. I have been in all sorts of cultures, from where Porsches are considered wannabe striver cars to where owning a bike is the envy of the village, but no matter where you are or what criteria you are using people always manage to find some way to think that they're better than other people.

I'm not suggesting that people stop judging others -- that's for them to reconcile with their own personal beliefs. I just think it's telling to see the different standards the people use to judge themselves and others. I thought the video below was an interesting perspective that happens to be very counter the majoritarian view -- so much so that I imagine many people assume she feels this way just because she does not rate high on attractiveness herself (sour games?). Her view: "I never want to get into this place where I feel like what I look like is more important than what I do . . . . Being beautiful is not an accomplishment." I especially liked the part where she compared humans to how other animals look: "It's absurd when you waste too much time on it, when you look at the perspective of being part of this kind of silly looking species on this planet in this solar system in this universe that is huge and contains life forms we haven't even encountered yet and that are completely foreign to us."

But what is the sociopathic angle to all of this? Maybe that sociopaths also sometimes get judged according to standards that they feel are arbitrary or silly? And if you can see some absurdity to the way that many people value human life, maybe you can better understand how sociopaths feel about adhering to seemingly silly and arbitrary things like social norms? Maybe to let the people know who write to me to tell me, "get your life together and establish a legitimate career" or opining that what I have done with my life is "wholly insignificant" that my value system for the worth of a life is probably a little different from there's? And that's ok. I'm glad some people love their middle class lifestyles because they stabilize society and pay into the welfare coffers for the rest of us bottom feeders. Or maybe I am setting up a pity play -- trying to trigger an emotional response in people who read this in order to promote more tolerance as part of a desperate ploy to prevent further legally sanctioned prejudicial treatment of sociopaths?

Or maybe I've just been thinking about this because it seems like our transition from consumer culture to information culture has made us all connoisseurs and critics of "content," including the people that populate our lives. But I'm not sure that most people enjoy being the subject of other people's scrutiny. Nor could you really say that everybody is fair game, if fair is something you believe in. Because I don't remember asking to be born, much less born the way I am and I can't imagine that most people do/did either. And yet there is such a temptation to become an amateur critic of the humans we encounter. But what a dim view of humanity to believe that there is any morally sound and unbiased basis for sorting people out according to value, ranking something so unknowable as the human soul according to such superficial criteria as "our 'riches' and our 'chances for learning.'" Because out of all of the wonders of this world, humans are the most amazing to me. I guess that's why I like the Mormon doctrine on this point: "Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God".

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Famous sociopaths: Benjamin Franklin?

So suggests a reader:

Of course, I read the book, and though I was, myself, a mental health professional, learned a great deal about sociopathy. In my day, before the functional MRI, there was no certainty that it was the functional structure of the brain that determined the behavior. Nor, that despite the 3-4% incidence in the general population, that many, if not most, are socialized, like "M. E." or Jimmy Fallon, and very likely, Benjamin Franklin, for that matter.

Not all sociopaths do evil things. I stated that Franklin might well be one, based on his risk-taking behavior, his disrupted familial relationships, his legendary charm, his promiscuity, and his need to go from one activity to another.

The risky behavior: the man signed the Declaration of Independence, an invitation to hanging. Also, he nearly electrocuted himself during the kite experiment. I'm sure that there were others examples that escape me for the moment.

  • Disrupted family: Franklin had a hostile relationship with his son throughout their lives. He was also a very poor husband, and for all practical purposes, he acted as if he were a single man.
  • The charm: Thank the lord for this and his genius. He got Louis XV to bankrupt France to support us against Britain during the Revolutionary War. It was the French fleet that bottled up Cornwallis at Yorktown, after all. AND: that bankruptsy was a proximal cause of the French Revolution that transpired just a few short years later.
  • The hyperactivity: Again, thank the lord, and his genius, for his myriad inventions. Off the top of my head: a musical instrument that he called the Harmonium, the Franklin stove, bifocal lenses, the harnessing of electricity, etc.
  • The promiscuity: His love life is one of legend, continuing well into his old age!

The error is to think that all sociopaths are alike. Sociopaths differ from one another based on the presence or absence of other pathologies such as paranoia (Stalin) or Schizophrenia (Hitler) or combinations thereof. Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are certainly sociopaths, yet their risky behavior was channeled into developments that have revolutionized our lives! Perhaps, we have advanced to where we are today because of  constructive sociopaths like these! Not every sociopath is a Jeffrey Dahmer or a Pol Pot!

I'm not entirely surprised at the suggestion that Benjamin Franklin could have been a sociopath, especially since studies have shown that entrepreneurs have several sociopathic traits ("The Dark Side of Entrepreneurship").

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Soft sociopathic traits

A lot emails that I receive from people describing their sociopathic traits strike me as being not quite placeable (nothing inconsistent with the diagnosis, but nothing really suggesting it either). This one seems to share a remarkable number of the "soft" sociopathic traits -- not quite in any textbook or diagnostic criterion, they are still traits that show up remarkably frequently in the sociopaths I have come to know. These soft traits include things like sexual fluidity, the particular instrumental way that charm is used, the obliviousness to certain things and hyper awareness at others.  From a reader:

As I’m sure since the subsequent publication of your book you receive these types of emails and attempts at correspondence daily, I will attempt to make this little stab at conversation short and sweet. Just a footnote here, I have no desire to exploit you and this is not an attempt to parallel our experiences. I suppose I am contacting you to relay some experiences of mine and perhaps receive some feedback.

My friend recently proposed the term, “sociopath” to me in passing conversation. I laughed off his name calling because I reasoned with myself: I grew up in a loving, stable environment, I have always had friends and significant others and I’ve always been keenly aware of my significance to them. I am not some brooding psychopath. I will admit here that I was unaware of the difference between “psycho” and “socio” and incorrectly found them mutually exclusive. However, the term “sociopath” sizzled in my brain for quite some time and I decided to delve into studying this alleged “disorder” and try to either self-diagnose or abandon the subject completely if it wasn't applicable to me. I reevaluated nearly every memory I can tap into and here’s just a sample of the conclusions I've come to:

By the age of 18, I had been arrested for assault, theft, and possession of criminal tools, vandalism, and a negligible complicity charge. At the various times of these altercations, I always was able to weasel my way out of the worst possible consequences. In my family’s eyes, I was a merely a victim of circumstance of hanging around the “wrong crowd” or being “scared, anxious” to be going away to college. At the time I think I believed those explanations myself. I have been in several altercations and what I refer to as “battles” with my family members often resulting in periods of estrangement with them.

Each one of my relationships throughout high school and my young adult life ended with a bang. The first ended in me cheating and spreading a rumor that my boyfriend had essentially taken advantage of me sexually. The second ended in cheating on my part as well and in a fiery battle with her parents that ended in a restraining order against me. The third was almost identical to the second. During these relationships, I would always befriend my significant other’s circle of friends and more often than not they all ended up liking me more than my girlfriend/boyfriend. I never felt particularly attached to my boyfriends or girlfriends, I always felt like, “well, I’m young, I don’t have to care about them or take these relationships seriously.” I have always identified as a bisexual. I like the differences between sexes and have never been able to adequately identify with one or the other. I am sexually fluid. This has always stirred confusion with those who have been in relationships with me and I've often heard they feel threatened by everyone around me, male or female.

Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I was considered above average. I was and still am an avid reader and consider myself to be fluent in many musical instruments. I excelled in every activity I tried, guitar, drums, English, horseback riding, swimming, and softball. Music became somewhat of an obsession for me and I have become integrated in an underground community of musicians. I won several awards in academics and was able to attain a generous scholarship to a school I couldn’t otherwise afford. My family is exceedingly proud of me and I have always known I was the “favorite” to my various grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

I began waitressing at a small diner at the age of 16. I charmed my way into the hearts of many customers who still contact me after transferring to a different store several hours away. I consider myself to be the ideal employee, by befriending upper management and kissing a little ass I am mostly free to do as I please without consequence. However, I have managed to get approximately 5 people fired and dozens written up.  

You’re probably wondering why I failed to pick up on these things earlier or even realize how “abnormal” I am. The only explanation I can come up with is that maybe that’s just how the emotional and physical world naturally occurs in my mind. My “normal” is just maybe a variance on the society’s perceived notion of normalcy. I could go on forever but again, I am lazy. I realized rather quickly how much I assume the role of “sociopath” by textbook definition and although I have statistically come into contact with many sociopaths, you are the only one I have found to be formally diagnosed and have a way to contact.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Sociopaths on television: Fringe

From Fringe (spoiler alert, the observer characters are an advanced future race of humans that have evolved in such a way to replace emotions with rational thought):

Observer: But you ascribed meaning to something that was not there. You saw what you wanted to see. You believed what you wanted to believe, because that's what your emotions do. They ascribe meaning to something that is not there. They fool your perception as to what is real. A dog does not smile, no matter how many times your kind might think it does. . . You blame us for her death, but it is irrelevant. She was here, now she is simply not here.

Human: You're wrong about emotions not being real. My feelings for her are very, very real.

But that's not quite the point that the sociopathic observer is making, is it? He never said that emotions don't exist (i.e. are not real). He just said that they obscure one's perception of reality, which I think most people would agree with? I have seen people make similar statements as the human before and I always wonder what point they're trying to make. What does it mean to them for feelings to be real? For instance, if you were having a hallucination of a dragon and I told you that there is no dragon, you might tell me that the dragon is real. And I guess in a way you would be right be the dragon exists in your hallucination, and what does it mean for something to be real? But from my perspective and from the reality that most people share, there is no dragon. And if you persist in obligating me to acknowledge your hallucinated dragon as being "real" because it is real from your perspective, then you must equally acknowledge that the dragon is not real because from my perspective it is not.

It reminds me of this tweet:

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Put 'em down

This currently has 150K plus likes on Facebook?

I'm having a hard time following this argument. Is it because certain types of human life are more valuable than others?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

"I knew I was different when I was a child..."

I thought this comment posted here on July 7, 2013 at 9:42 AM was a good compliment to the recent posts on being told you're a sociopath:

I absolutely knew I was different when I was a child. My parents and all the "adults" I knew were emotional beings. I could not understand why they were so dramatic. I could not understand why they yelled, hugged, cried and talked about their feelings. It was bizarre to witness and I could not relate. Nor could I relate to my emotional siblings and classmates.

As an adult, I have to remind myself to hug my relatives when I see them or else they get quite cross. I comply to avoid their sad eyes, questions, and messy emotions.

I was strong willed as a child and learned to be deceptive to avoid punishment. And, of course, for the thrill of having "pulled one over" on authority figures.

I was always the schemer and the ring leader in pranks. I reveled in my ability to shock and bother others. I was always the calm, calculating one of the group. To this day, I never panic. I don't worry about social norms. Nor will I have them forced upon me by people I couldn't care less about.

Granted, there are places where I am no longer welcome. I guess those people never got the joke. Just because I thought it was funny doesn't mean they did.

I've been told by others that I am a cold person but I disagree. I can feel some emotions but usually think they are a waste of time. Who wants to float in an emotional cloud? I just want to have fun. I am the life of the party. I am a thrill seeker. Is there anything wrong with that as long as I do not physically harm others?

I learned at 2 years old not to harm things. I caught a butterfly and wanted to kill it, so I did. I stuffed it in a soda bottle and filled it with water. I watched it struggle and become still.

I didn't feel remorse about killing it but did regret that I would no longer be able to enjoy the beauty of its fluttering from flower to flower. For some reason, it seemed very important to me to remember that lesson and so I did. I may mess with your head and your heart but I will not physically harm you unless you attempt to harm me.

I had a boyfriend hit me, probably because he couldn't control me. Besides, I'm small in stature and seemed like an easy victory. I responded with a ferocity that alarmed him just enough to give me the advantage. I am very proud of the physical scars he bears from that encounter.

A message to empaths: Leave us alone and mind your own business. You cannot "fix" us and we do not desire your pity unless we can use it to our advantage. If engaged, we will win. We always do.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Vampires vs. zombies

Vampire movies and television are a guilty pleasure of mine. I like them because I think there are fun parallels to my own life. I watch zombie movies or television because I think there are fun parallels to the way everyone else lives their lives. That's why I enjoyed this article in the New York Times so much, "My Zombie, Myself: Why Modern Life Feels Rather Undead."
A lot of modern life is exactly like slaughtering zombies.

IF THERE’S ONE THING we all understand about zombie killing, it’s that the act is uncomplicated: you blast one in the brain from point-blank range (preferably with a shotgun). That’s Step 1. Step 2 is doing the same thing to the next zombie that takes its place. Step 3 is identical to Step 2, and Step 4 isn’t any different from Step 3. Repeat this process until (a) you perish, or (b) you run out of zombies. That’s really the only viable strategy.

Every zombie war is a war of attrition. It’s always a numbers game. And it’s more repetitive than complex. In other words, zombie killing is philosophically similar to reading and deleting 400 work e-mails on a Monday morning or filling out paperwork that only generates more paperwork, or following Twitter gossip out of obligation, or performing tedious tasks in which the only true risk is being consumed by the avalanche. The principal downside to any zombie attack is that the zombies will never stop coming; the principal downside to life is that you will be never be finished with whatever it is you do.
This is our collective fear projection: that we will be consumed. Zombies are like the Internet and the media and every conversation we don’t want to have. All of it comes at us endlessly (and thoughtlessly), and — if we surrender — we will be overtaken and absorbed. Yet this war is manageable, if not necessarily winnable. As long we keep deleting whatever’s directly in front of us, we survive. We live to eliminate the zombies of tomorrow. We are able to remain human, at least for the time being. Our enemy is relentless and colossal, but also uncreative and stupid.

Battling zombies is like battling anything ... or everything.

“I know this is supposed to be scary,” [a friend] said. “But I’m pretty confident about my ability to deal with a zombie apocalypse. I feel strangely informed about what to do in this kind of scenario.”

I could not disagree. At this point who isn’t? We all know how this goes: If you awake from a coma, and you don’t immediately see a member of the hospital staff, assume a zombie takeover has transpired during your incapacitation. Don’t travel at night and keep your drapes closed. Don’t let zombies spit on you. If you knock a zombie down, direct a second bullet into its brain stem. But above all, do not assume that the war is over, because it never is. The zombies you kill today will merely be replaced by the zombies of tomorrow. But you can do this, my friend. It’s disenchanting, but it’s not difficult. Keep your finger on the trigger. Continue the termination. Don’t stop believing. Don’t stop deleting. Return your voice mails and nod your agreements. This is the zombies’ world, and we just live in it. But we can live better.
I say that this is how everyone else lives their lives, but my life is remarkably similar. Someone asked me recently why do I seduce people, why do I play games, what's the point? I guess I wasn't aware there was some other choice for how to live your life other than find things that keep you engaged and entertained. But yes, empaths play one version of this game, and I guess we play another, and you can say that one is about love or emotions and that is somehow better than having it be about power and winning, but is it? Seems like a matter of personal preference.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

How to Manipulate People

This was a good Lifehacker article on how to manipulate people (quick read, worth reading in its entirety). The following are the headings from the article along with my thoughts on each suggestion:

  • Emotion vs. Logic: Appealing to emotion rather than logic in manipulation is a little bit of a no brainer. Not only do most people respond better to emotion than logic, irrational people often best (only?) respond to fear
  • Overcome Trust Issues and Heal Doubt: Building trust with your target is often critical, see number 2 here (does Lifehacker read this blog? or have a sociopath on staff cluing them in?)

Also, beware the anti-seducer, for they cannot be manipulated.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Being told you're a sociopath (part 2)


As I asked myself these things, another realization came to me.

I was born with severe astigmatism. We know now, that I hadn’t been able to see much of anything for the first years of my life. But back then, nothing was out of the ordinary. I thought I was perfectly normal and so did the people around me. It wasn’t until I started reading, writing, and watching TV. My parents noticed how I would sit right up to the screen, and burry my nose in the paper to read or write. Still, I was completely oblivious. My world was the blur that it had always been. Then, one day, my mom picked me up early from school and said we were going to the doctors. On the way, she asked me if I could see. I told her that of course I could. She stopped by a red octagonal sign and asked me to read what it said. I told her it didn’t have any words on it.

I got glasses a week later and I’ve been wearing them ever since.

The point was that I didn’t know what my mother meant when she asked me if I could see before I got to wear glasses and truly see the world for the first time. I didn’t think that the world could be anything other than what my eyes had always told me it was. Nothing could have suggested otherwise because I had no idea what the word “see” really meant.

Which is what I think happened with the word “sociopath.” How could I have connected the dots and seen such a thing in me if the word had no meaning for me? Only now, years later, do I look back and laugh at all the times I would get into social pitfalls and awkward situations because I had no clue what was wrong with the people around me. I see now it was me. I would focus, like you, on all those little moments when I had convinced myself I was normal. Back then it was the world that was different and full of crazies.  

Reading your book was like a revelation. That mask of normalcy you speak of, only now do I realize how hard, how draining it had been to keep up pretenses for so long! But because I had never really considered it a mask at all, having it fall now became this boulder crashing off my shoulders. Every smile, every forced emotion, was like I was trying to pick up that boulder and toss it back on me.

Granted, I’ve been slowly getting my game face back on. It’s been getting easier to regress into the comfortable routine I had so mindlessly gone through for years, but I know I can never be the same. Just like seeing the world through glasses for the first time, clear and definite, I have now seen behind the curtain of my own self-deception.

Whether an actual doctor will diagnose me as a sociopath I don’t think I will ever know. I have no intention of going to a therapist or talking to someone about this and, even if I am ever forced to, I’ll lie my way out of it with a clean bill of health.

The only person that will probably ever hear this story, or know what I have gone through for the last few months, is you. I had to tell someone, and you were the only one I knew I could tell. I don’t need confirmation from you about what I am, although your opinion would be much valued. Like I said in the first paragraph, just a reply would be nice so I know you are real and not just a book and a website.

It's interesting how similar this story is to my own story and others that I have heard. The first time I really thought about what the word sociopath meant, I was in my early twenties. I was doing a summer internship with someone who became a fast friend. It was very similar to the class about Evil -- she was very interested in theology and Mormonism, so I told her all of my opinions on morality and she told me I really should consider the likelihood that I was a sociopath. When I looked up what the word meant, I immediately recognized certain aspects about me, but there were other things that didn't seem to quite fit. I didn't really identify with the label right away, or at least I had my doubts. In the five years or so after that informal diagnosis and before my official diagnosis, however, I became better able to assess not just my own behavior, but to better understand the behavior and motivations of empaths. There were many things I shared in common with empaths, particularly superficial similarities. But I slowly started to realize that even though I often had similar behaviors to empaths, my motives were very sociopathic. And seeing things in that way was very similar to having my vision of myself and others suddenly coming into focus. 

Does anyone else have a similar story?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Being told you're a sociopath (part 1)

A lot of people ask me, do sociopaths know that they are sociopaths? I have always said yes, or at least that they usually know that they're different even if they're not quite sure what to label that difference. But I also think that young sociopaths often underestimate exactly how different they are from most people. From their perspective, the main differences they notice are how people make irrational emotional choices or how people do not use their brains as efficiently and effectively as the young sociopath does. What they don't necessarily realize is that other people are making similar assessments about them and their behavior. Perhaps other people notice that the young sociopath makes hyper rational choices, or that the young sociopath seems emotionally detached. In other words, young sociopaths often spend much of their time watching and studying the behavior of others, but sometimes they themselves are being observed and classified, perhaps by people that actually know what a sociopath is and are able to identify the observed traits as being sociopathic. I thought this story from a reader was a great illustration of how a sociopath feels about being told they are a sociopath:

I am 18 and an undergraduate freshman, and my story begins when I took a Philosophy class titled EVIL. I took it because it struck me as an interesting way to go about taking care of a GE requirement. And indeed, it was interesting, just not for the reasons I thought it would be….

As we started really dissecting the nature of evil, morality, conscience, guilt and regret, I began to notice things I had previously not even bothered to acknowledge. I began to disagree with my professor's black and white view on many concepts. I began to receive strange looks from classmates who always left the lecture hall with teary eyes and heavy hearts. An older woman sitting next to me eventually confronted me and suggested that I stop commenting to the class as it seemed I was offending her and other people with my, as she put it, “complete soullessness.”

I didn't understand what the big deal was. I had never had any real problems with what I said to people. I could be fun and sarcastic and usually everyone just loved to be around me. And now, for the first time, I felt exactly like an alien failing at disguising herself as a human.

One day, my professor asked me to stay after class. He asked me about my views I had expressed in lecture, so I clarified the way I had always thought of the nature of evil. He went on to ask me about more personal questions, like my attitudes towards friends and family… so on and so forth. For the first time, I didn’t know what to say. No one had ever asked me about my thoughts on these things so I said what I thought was appropriate. Finally, he  asked me if I had any history of mental health or violence. I told him, honestly, that I didn’t as far as I knew.

Then he brought up one word. He asked me if I knew what the word ‘sociopath” meant. At the time, I thought the word only existed in movies and TV dramas. A romanticized adjective to describe the Hannibal Lecters and the Dexter Morgans. As far as I knew, it had no practical meaning in everyday life. I told him as much.   

He confessed that he had been talking about me with one of his psychiatrist friends. It turned out he had actually invited his friend to sit in on a few of the lectures. He said that his friend had confirmed what he had already suspected, that I exhibited some traits of Antisocial Personality Disorder. (He didn’t use sociopathy the second time, but I learned later through research that they mean basically the same thing.) He suggested that I go see the school therapist or immediately seek some other form of professional help.

Hearing that from someone was like having water thrown on my face. I didn’t know what to say, or how to respond, how to act. So I didn’t say anything. I just thanked him for his time, told him I’d consider it, and left. I started doing meticulous research after that I learned that APD or sociopathy was a very real thing… and that the criteria of diagnosis hit very close to home for me.

And that’s when I stumbled across your book.
Reading through it opened my eyes in ways I wouldn't have ever guessed were possible. It was exciting and…fascinating, to have this previously fictional world open up to me and suddenly become very real. I wasn’t afraid or that shocked even. I was curious. I had to know more. And your book offered me insight that I wouldn't have never gotten otherwise. I could relate to most of what you wrote. I saw your writing and through it saw myself in a new light.

Which is what brings me to here and now. I don’t know if I really am a sociopath or just messed up in the head. Part of me really doesn't care. I am what I am. Others may have had issue with me in the past but I have never had any problems with myself. However, part of me also can’t help but be suspicious. I can look back at my life and make all the excuses I want for things I barely remember doing but that doesn’t change who I am now. If sociopathy is genetic then I don’t know where I would get it from because no one in my immediate family (that I know of) is anything like me. Is it like a switch, a mutation, a genetic malfunction, that can just happen from time to time? I don’t know.

The only thing I ask myself is how I could have gone through my life without the thought ever even entering my mind. I mean, from your book and from what most research says about this, you should know in your childhood years. But I didn’t have a normal childhood where this would have become immediately apparent. I was off, certainly. I was weird and creepy, sure. But was I really that weird, and that off?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Creating boundaries, finding outlets

A few of my socio readers have asked how to get to be higher functioning, particularly about controlling some impulses and knowing when it's ok to indulge others. Here is what another reader said:
For me it is a little different. I have a natural talent for art and I use this as a way to explore my impulses and desires without acting on them. My boundaries, sadly, are not that current. As long as I don't get caught, nothing truly stops me. There is a voice in my head that constantly reminds me of what I should not be doing, due to my possible loss in freedom, but most of the time this voice goes ignored. I can say that having a hobby, something that satisfies even for a brief moment, can aide in a form of control. My need to kill and destroy is kept in tact by an obsession I have of collecting objects that have to do with death. I study criminals, watch violent educational programming, and read as (well as collect) reading material on past crimes, violent fiction, and the like. Instead of killing animals I collect the road kill, and macerate the parts to keep the bones. I buy taxidermied creatures, and have photos of x-rays. I keep my urges under wraps by indulging what I want through Internet, books, art, and programming, everything, and I mean everything, besides the actual murder. The criminal television is the most helpful because more than half of the time at the end of the program the criminal is caught. Shows like "Law and Order: SVU" touch nearly every form of sexual perversion you can think of, so seeing it gives me plenty of joy for that moment. In "reality based" programming I hear the thoughts of the detectives, and learn that they are pretty clever and instinctive when it comes to what to look for. Regardless of what they are personally, they still get the job of capture and punish complete, and I get the point, and a tinge of hesitation.

I won't lie and say this hasn't made my temptations worse at times. Other than entertainment, I watch this form of programming to figure out what they did wrong, and how I would have done things differently to get away with it. Once I come up with a list of what they did wrong, I replay the act in my mind, committing the crime myself. In a fantasy it is always easy to assume I can get away with it, but one never knows until they try. The key is to never let it get to that point, repeating the words told to me by some associates of mine. Their words made sense.

Another thing I do, if the decision to go through with any impulse is still rampant, is to go through a mental list of pros and cons. I only get through this if I catch the impulse, which is something I am currently working on. On the rare occasions where I do catch them, I get irritated and anxious if I don't act. I can either do what I need to to calm this feeling, or walk away from it, and calm myself down. My laziness usually causes me to go through with the more damaging approach.

Example. There is a girl at my school right now that I am more than close to taking out violently. She is obnoxious, mentally deficient, cowardly, and her constant rhetorical questioning, instead of shutting her trap and listening, leaves me more than livid. Her existence does not contribute anything worthy to this planet. Even her look boils my blood, and there will be a point where my smart ass remarks towards her will not suffice. She used to sit near me, but I know she senses my distaste for her, so she has moved, which has helped. I spend half of the class daydreaming on ways to take her out instead of listening to the teacher. At first my fantasies seem more than pleasant, heavenly in fact, and in moments like this I forcibly question myself.

What will I really get out of this? Will this joy I may experience last long enough? What if this only makes my urges worse? Will I keep having to kill in order to get this euphoric feeling? Will I become a slave to my impulses to destroy? How long until I get complacent? What if I get caught? Where is my future if I do this?

My answers: Pleasure, possibly joy, who knows, find out. Who knows, find out. Deal with it when it happens. Possibly, is this a bad thing? Yes. Not that long. I may get caught, I may not. Prison, but once at the end of the road, who cares what the future outcome is.

Sadly, even after a list of logical reasoning and questions, most go ignored, but the main thing that always sticks out with me is the slave issue. I do not want to be a slave to anything or anyone, and if I fail to control my urges, I will, ultimately, become a slave to my desires. I will be living a paranoid life of never ending dissatisfaction because I'm being controlled by my need to destroy. Not fun.

Sexually my intentions are cruel. I indulge in them for the most part, but I make sure the people involved are, to some extent, willing. I frequent S&M conventions where you have people who want to be humiliated and punished, and though a little more controlled, this has helped. The fact that there is an audience helps a lot too. Being a secretive person, having an audience ruins my chances of completely acting out. Prostitutes are too dangerous to even bother with, as they are nobodies that can easily go missing, if not already, and make the temptation worse. They allow anything to be done to them, and because I don't value much of human life as it is, they would only make it easier for me to disrespect them. The people I have hurt and humiliated through sex wanted it, and what kept me from crossing that line was to constantly remind myself that I don't want to become a slave to this.

The boredom? Something I will just have to suck up and deal with, like everyone else. I don't have any successful methods for this as of yet. I still use art, but lately the drive to fulfill a finished piece isn't happening. I have some assignments that are time consuming, but after a certain amount of time, usually two and a half hours, I need to do something else. I go on spontaneous shopping sprees buying things I don't need just to do something, but being around people acting so foolish only causes my mind to race all over again with violent thoughts. I have medication that I am not taking because it leaves me awake for days even though it is supposed to make me drowsy. Not much aide in this category, tee-hee, sorry.

Is this a reverse psychological way of teaching me how to control myself, by having me write down my methods?
You sly devil ;)

If you were, in fact, clueless as to what went on here, and this wasn't a positive manipulation of yours, then I take back the credit I gave you. Have a grand day, M.E.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Ethical sociopaths?

Can sociopaths be ethical? A certain type of ethical, certainly. But before we talk about potential sociopathic limitations, this NY Times article ("In Life and Business Learning to be Ethical") about the issues with ethics that almost all of humanity shares:

The problem, research shows, is that how we think we’re going to act when faced with a moral decision and how we really do act are often vastly different.

Here’s just one of many examples from an experiment at Northeastern University: Subjects were told they should flip a coin to see who should do certain tasks. One task is long and laborious; the other is short and fun.

The participant flips the coin in private (though secretly watched by video cameras), said David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern who conducted the experiment. Only 10 percent of them did it honestly. The others didn’t flip at all, or kept flipping until the coin came up the way they wanted.
[W]e need to be more aware of the ways we fool ourselves. We have to learn how to avoid subconsciously turning our backs when faced with a moral dilemma. And then we must be taught how to challenge people appropriately in those situations.

“When people predict how they’re going to act in a given situation, the ‘should’ self dominates — we should be fair, we should be generous, we should assert our values,” said Ann E. Tenbrunsel, a professor of business ethics at the University of Notre Dame who is involved in the EthicalSystems website. “But when the time for action comes, the ‘want’ self dominates” — I don’t want to look like a fool, I don’t want to be punished.

“Our survival instinct is to want to be liked and to be included,” said Brooke Deterline, chief executive of Courageous Leadership, a consulting firm that offers workshops and programs on dealing with ethical situations. “We don’t willfully do bad things, but when we’re under threat our initial instinct is to downplay or ignore problematic situations.”

Sociopaths may not have the same set of ethics (or issues implementing ethics -- our survival instinct is not so much to be liked and included), but it's also possible for sociopaths to have a personal preference about how they wish to act, even if it is just a personal aesthetic as opposed to be a moral code. Webster defines ethics as many things, including "a guiding philosophy". Maybe for sociopaths that would look something more like utilitarianism or "the diamond rule", as opposed to a saint's altruism and golden rule, but even criminals have codes.

At the heart of any choice to ascribe to a set of ethics, whether empath or sociopath, is a belief that your choices matter -- that you and others around you are affected by everything you choose to do. You don't have to believe in right and wrong to understand that you are what you eat. And I wouldn't want life any other way. What would be the point of making choices if they didn't matter? And if you believe your choices matter, it's only natural to ascribe to some sort of "guiding philosophy" about how to make those choices. So yes, sociopaths can and are ethical. Could sociopaths ever be considered more ethical than empaths? 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Sociopath fortune cookie

"Modesty is the art of enhancing your charm by pretending not to be aware of it."
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