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").

43 comments:

  1. Not surprised either. Entrepreneurship is, by its very nature, a risk-taking activity. There is a real risk of failure with substantial monetary losses (and subsequent livelihood).

    I am curious if a tally has been made of those famous figures in history which exhibited substantial sociopathic traits, compared to a tally of those who did not. I suspect the numbers would be surprising.

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  2. This is a bit self-glorifying I think? I would guess there are plenty of people with all kinds of illnesses that have played all kinds of roles in life and could argue that they have used theyr flaws for theyr advantages? Actually, didn't Napolen Hill make a point out of making flaws into advantages? I don't think the idea is unique.

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  3. Doubtful if folks considered to be "great men doing constructive things" by a majority were in fact psychopaths, most likely such theories are part of the "superhero" Movie mythology surrounding sociopathic people. But yes, it s a spectrum condition filled with variations..

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  4. God "superintends" all events on the planet, including who the
    maladaptives are.
    The Bible says: "I (God) create the waster to destroy."
    I saw Ted Bundy's final interview last night, before he was executed.
    The women he killed had a preordained rendervous with him, just as
    J.F.K. had a preordained rendervous with Lee Harvey Oswald"s bullet.

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    1. So lets surrender the myth of free will and let this GOD lie of yours order our existence-yeah, lets all slide back into medieval dumbness.

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    2. The question isn't about glorification, it's about intrigue. As a sociopath, I am curious about sociopaths. I know that many people, including very popular/successful people, exhibit sociopathic traits. You can witness that in their behaviour and actions. I'm just curious how many assessably positive, such as a percentage of a given population. Current literature is all over the map.

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  5. Facebook hardly "revolutionized our lives". It's just another platform for exhibitionists with too much time on their hands.

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    1. These people who claim that they're using it to 'keep in touch' are only fooling themselves

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  6. Anyone who knows anything about Franklin and has read his writings realizes how absurd it is to speculate that he may have been a sociopath. As just one example, his "Thirteen Virtues" of how to be a better person. Is that something a sociopath would spend a lot of time contemplating and formulating? His writings reveal a lot of empathy for others, too, and emotion, particularly with regard to his estranged son. He devoted his life to the selfless cause of his country, often at great expense to himself.

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    1. A sociopath could easily engage in such behaviors, just that he would not be driven by emotion or empathy, just logic and a flat cold pragmatism.

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    2. Living as a sociopath is not that cut and dry. It is a common misconception.

      A sociopath can experience emotions. It's just much lower in intensity and range, and the situations which can bring it out are limited. An empath, however, can experience emotions in much greater intensity and scope, and the situations which can bring it out are not limited.

      A sociopath can do very morally good/beneficial things. They can also write empathically when needed. Writing something, such as the Thirteen Virtues, can be considered beneficial to society *and* himself (in reputation and influence). It also costs him little but time, thinking, and some ink and paper. Low costs, great benefit. It is in fact a win-win for both people who read it, and himself.

      As a personal example, I part-time teach and help people with physical and mental disabilities with their high school and university courses. As far as I assess it, it is a win-win. I benefit from reputation, great references and a good entry on my resume, and money. They benefit because they get support to advance their education and subsequent opportunities. I hold nothing against them (neither good or bad). I no more pity them than they pity me. I am no more using them than they are using me. It is not a zero-sum game - it is mutually beneficial. Neither of us loses a thing.

      I am kind and patient with them while being accessible and useful in what needs to be taught. Am I being insincere? Not really. I do it because it maximizes their learning experience. I have received excellent reviews and many thanks from both the students and staff. I use that as a measure of my effectiveness, not from my point of view (as rational as I make it), but theirs. At no point during the entirety of the arrangement are they "taken advantage of". What's the point? It's already more than amicable for both of us, so there is no point risking it for even more. Sure I would like to get paid more (doesn't everyone?), however accounting for circumstances the cost-benefit is currently ideal. In fact, I was originally prepared to do it without being paid, and did not mind it. All the other benefits for me were sufficient after weighing what I would be putting into it. I even offered my boss to do it for free (an interesting slip of the mask - the offer was legitimate because I had already prepared myself to do it for free (it was a net positive for everyone), so I was sincere. It just came out, matter of factly. If she had taken me on the offer to do it for free, then so be it. I found that action to be a little ridiculous in hindsight and was momentarily irritated at myself, but was self-absolved when I realized that I just boosted my "nice guy" appearance. I find it strange how that happens.

      M.E. teaches Sunday School. She is under no obligation to do that. Even under certain circumstances where she might be socially obligated, she could have talked her way out of it. In many ways the situation is also similar to Benjamin Franklin's theoretical scenario (except she might not get money, though she might indirectly get "paid" on a religious level if she is sufficiently into her religion).

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    3. Whether Benjamin Franklin qualifies as a sociopath can be left to future historical psychologists to decide, but i would venture to say that his thirteen virtues is exactly what a high functioning sociopath would spend time and energy creating. A code to live by. (Whether one finds that he can live by his own code is another story). In the absence of an inborn guiding instinct, one must use his brain, his logical thinking to make his world a place he enjoys living in.

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    4. This website is full of unscientific garbage about what antisocial personality disorder is all about. You people are just either parroting the pseudoscience you've read or heard elsewhere, or are just making stuff up. Sociopaths are bad people, pure and simple. I'd say at least 80% of the world's pain is caused by sociopaths, and a good portion of the rest is caused by normal people who occasionally engage in sociopathic behavior. The mind of a sociopath is closer to that of an animal than a normal human. Sociopaths care nothing for others, period. It's all about self-survival.

      Franklin is one of my favorite historical figures. I've read and studied him and that's why it aggravates me so for someone to speculate that he may have been a sociopath. He was extremely selfless and altruistic. He is one of the least likely candidates in history to be a sociopath.

      This movement to "legitimize" sociopaths is disgusting. In an ideal society sociopaths would be exterminated like insects.

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    5. Interesting, if predictable, empathic response. It is at least articulate in its passion.

      One thing to note is that while there is a debate existing as to what a sociopath is, the conflict stems from how the word "sociopath" is seen and used. That isn't to say what you believe a sociopath is, is false. You feel it and can give multiple accounts and cite multiple events to support it (that is pre-evident).

      That being said, the usage of the word "sociopath" is fundamentally being over-utilized. It is, in part, due to how we use English. If I say the word "space", and I referring to the amount of free area I have behind my couch, or am I referring to outer space. Neither are both not just technically correct, but conceptually correct. Yet *how* we use the word can only be clearly distinguished based on the context of other words being spoken. However, unlike "space", which can be easily contextualized - because the duality has already been learned and readily accepted in common usage - the word "sociopath" has not. The root issue is often ignored, because it is not even considered, as each side has been trying to apply a singular definition to it.

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  7. I agree that Ben Franklin had sociopathic wiring, but I don't see a pattern of evidence suggesting a sadistic streak (although he may have pissed a lot of people off, he doesn't come off as deliberately cruel, ever).
    Ben Franklin is delightful, and a perfect example of why I don't believe in scapegoating this demographic. Our ability to make choices controls our destiny, and the biological determinists who'd have you believe that a baby born with sociopathic wiring is destined to be a serial killer are off the mark. Environment and behavior patterns interact with genetics throughout a person's life.

    One thing that we haven't talked about much on this blog is the role of emotions because the kneejerk retort is "sociopaths don't really have them". I disagree. They may experience them differently and may be flatter in their overall responses, but sociopaths do feel and are capable of making connections with others. They're just extremely independent in the sense that they don't let the negative opinions of others bother them- they are the least neurotic people you'll ever meet. They have a strong internal locus of control.

    This only becomes problematic when external institutions and authorities try to impose their agendas on a sociopath. (not to say that this is always unreasonable because laws make civilization possible). Of course- any time child abuse comes into play, esp random, brutal, chaotic violence that is inescapable you'll see a bad result in terms of adult personality- sociopathic or otherwise. But most budding sociopaths don't come from that background.

    As for more "normal" upbringings- my sense is that if a sociopathic child is allowed to do his own thing with minimal interference, a nonconforming personality will develop. That personality is unlikely to be overly hostile even though they may experiment with unsavory things like torturing animals. (newsflash- probably 50% of kids bully either pets or younger siblings- a kid doesn't have to be sociopathic to experiment) But if a sociopathic child is forced into the mold of a good little empathic soldier, that's where things get ugly. Being forced to conform is what makes little morally neutral sociopaths go bad.

    The book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" by Amy Chua details a parenting style that completely strips her children of individual agency in order to create little Ivy League attending prodigies. The idea of a sociopathic child getting a parent like that sends shivers down my spine. That's how a white collar psychopath is born.

    But back to Ben Franklin- he's obviously extremely intelligent and likely had sociopathic wiring- but he was able to develop in an environment that wasn't trying to squash his will. So while his adult personality may've lacked what we'd think as scruples, he was largely benign and even benevolent in his dealings with others because he never developed a streak of aggrieved hostility at having been over controlled and asked to deny his true nature.

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    1. Well said. And I think a good example of someone trying to impose onto a sociopath is the way Dr Phil tries to undermine ME-its not a successful approach to take-and may induce a rage that will find some kind of unpleasant outlet down the line...

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    2. It was sensationalism on Dr. Phil and the people involved in his program at work. She has a professional diagnosis, which anyone can see in its entirety from the first few pages of her book.

      The sensationalism may also be due to one thing he got caught on, which was that he was fooled by the external behaviour. Or maybe it was intentional all along on ME's part as an act of misdirection and defusal. Or maybe it wasn't ME there at all, since ME is essentially anonymous. Whatever the case, saying something "is not" with little evidence is ridiculous when compared to saying something "is" with significant evidence.

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  8. Dont know much about Franlkin-but sure the UK has its equivalents. The interesting thing is to find what elements coalesce into making creative psychopaths-as opposed to the destructive or self defeating varieties. For my part I can see the general benefit and evolution and development of the species as a sounder basis for my 'ethos' than more personal concerns, which I view in a rather disinterested perfunctory manner (The dull monotony of quotidian existence.). Whether this sense of a greater good or over arching destiny to advance humanity is a significant factor in creative psychopathy is maybe an area that could exercise historical psychologists (if the field even exists!).

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    1. A "creative sociopath", as you define it, would in reality probably not develop a sense of greater good or over arching destiny. Not an authentic one anyways. The significant actions necessary to achieve that would require a level of actual selflessness that would not be reasonably accepted by a sociopath. The only achievable scenario would require extreme orchestration and constant manipulation over a very long period of time. Assuming theoretically the orchestration and manipulation could be realistically done (and assuming the sociopath had enough patience and willpower without spontaneously giving up and doing something else), the time required would be too long. To achieve that would realistically require multi-generational involvement. Assuming again that you died only from old age, it would be completely out of your hands once you died. Logically the only recourse would be to implement a self-sufficient system (don't think necessarily a computer, but a literal "system") that could function autonomously without any input from you that could operate until the goal was achieved.

      All of this being said, I have no problem assisting the development of the species at a realistic level, so long as I get something sufficient out of it. I can act selflessly, but I am not selfless.

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    2. Your use of the word authentic intrigues me-it is a two edged arguement-do emotions give authenticity or cloud it, and your use of the word 'system' makes me think of a nervous system, a replacement or analogue to the sociopathic one with its strange perplexities...a goal worth achieving, and an area that highlights the vast importance and benefits to the whole of humanity by dealing with this subject-sociopathy is the gate through which humanity might glimpse a whole new method of existing...or am I going off on one again? Grandiloquent traits, anyone?

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    3. It's not a question of either empathy or sociopathy granting authenticity, at least not in the context I was referring to. In this case, it comes from the literal definition of being "not copied or false".

      The literal definition of system also applies in this case in how I was using it of "a regularly interacting or interdependent group of items forming a unified whole".

      As for being a goal worth achieving, even in my "black heart" (to coin ME's usage) I believe it is. That being said, I don't have the willpower to try it (properly).

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    4. I tend to view things from a baseline-and that would seem to be the physical functioning of the nervous system-(after all are not all other systems simply echoes of this? Always desperate to make its presence felt in the external world?). I still have serious difficulties with the whole concept of authentic-which may speak volumes on my relationship with my nervous system-maybe its straying into philosophy, but all things are echoes of other things-the tintinnabulation of cells-whether their cacophony is deemed appropriate or otherwise in the world of the manifest seems to be a question of perspective.
      A black heart is after all a heart-is there comfort in that?

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  9. Must one who is pleasure-seeking and intelligent be labeled a sociopath? BF's behavior could be described as risky, but don't forget that he was successful in his endeavors. I think you have to earn the 'path' in sociopath. Why are we aware of the fact that sociopaths exist? They make blunders. They take risks based on narcissistic grandiosity, and when they realize their armor is as thick as air, they're already bleeding and trying desperately to pick up the pieces of their ruined lives.

    Does BF share characteristics with sociopaths? Sure! However, don't let the romanticism of sociopathic cunning, charisma, and libido blind you to the fact that sociopaths are invariably identified by and caught for their mistakes. Great men neither earn nor deserve the label of sociopath.

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    1. Hey Andy! I've missed your perspective!
      I think sociopathic brains do have the "path" in that certain biological differences predispose them to antisocial acts, even if they never manifest these tendencies (or never get caught manifesting them). In many ways, they are a bit like a loaded gun with the safety off- whether or not the trigger is ultimately pulled determines their actions- where other brains have more inhibiting mechanisms to prevent antisocial behavior.
      Biology isn't destiny- but it isn't nothing either. I'm a believer in recognizing the inherent vulnerability in a young brain with sociopathic wiring and carefully monitoring the "fit" with the environment to avoid the worst parts of this brain to get triggered via repeated bullying experiences (whether in the home or in school, this is dangerous because it produces a hostility/rage that is far more likely to be vented on undeserving parties than you'd see in a neurotypical child who would be more likely to internalize these feelings)

      Knowledge is power- and I think that having a sound understanding of both the positive and negative potential for personalities like ME and James Fallon will benefit society as a whole. Labeling 4% of the population "bad seeds" is very fatalistic and eliminates the possibility for the potential Ben Franklins of the world to emerge.

      Until we stop scapegoating people with sociopathic wiring, we are less able to interact in a positive manner because they learn quickly to hide the fact that they think differently. If the stigma is removed, however, there's the possibility that empaths and sociopaths can have more of a win/win way of relating to each other instead of the current fear/control based stalemate we currently manifest by simply trying to jail all sociopaths.

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    2. That is not exclusive to sociopaths. Everyone, empaths and sociopaths, is judged by their accomplishments and mistakes.

      Sociopaths can be successful in their endeavors. That's not a theory, that is a fact. The author of this blog is one. The author of this comment is also one. We exist as proof of it.

      Great men (ie. significantly accomplished individuals who performed a significant societal good) can be sociopaths. The misperception is due to the very nature of what you understand a sociopath is. That is not entirely your fault - it is a label you learned from other people's misperceptions of sociopaths before you.

      To be a "great man" requires three components: significant perceived behavior, a significant act (one or more), and time. Each component can be accomplished by a sociopath. It happens everyday commonly at a lesser level from sociopaths. The only added requirement from the sociopath is to place more effort into amplifying perceived behavior, invest effort into accomplishing a significant act, and the willpower to let it grow into fruition.

      It is far less incredible of a task than you think.

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  10. At first when I saw that the reader had mentioned Jimmy Fallon I thought of the comedian. I realize they were referring to James Fallon, but from that point on I had a feeling I might be questioning the remainder of the essay as well. There are numerous rumors about Benjamin Franklin, including that he had Asperger's, and/or that he was a homosexual or participated in homosexual behavior. Not all sources claim that Hitler is a sociopath, by the way, and Stalin was know to be anything but charming. I wouldn't be surprised if much of Franklin's curiosity is attributed to his intelligence. Intelligent people are often curious, and back then there were plenty risks to everyday life. The extra risks people such as Franklin took then make things easier and sometimes safer today. A lot of the founding fathers had long term planning in mind, which is not a sociopathic trait.

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  11. Sometimes they do get caught exhibiting them, 'behaving and acting irrationally'. It's rare when the mask slips, but when it does, and a couple people witness that, it's evidence of mental illness, crazy behavior. Granted, much of the time they are hyper rational.

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  12. Hollow folks perhaps can be "neutral" (if belonging to other departments than the Standard 1A model). But to look for psychopaths risking their skin or doing huge efforts for the sake of his fellow men..nah! Don´t think so. The grand fellows surely seldom were saints, but hardly ever had those beady eyes radiating with eerie suppressed rage in them. Adolf is an exemple of how somewhat famous hollow men end up in the end: isolated, hated and with their walls caving in due to non-constructive behaviour.

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  13. I know this is old news but what was the real reason for ME Thomas to , indirectly , reveal that her real name is Jamie R. Lund by going on Dr. Phil? For sure, she is intelligent enough to know that someone would recognize her - donning a blond wig just isn't enough.

    She may or may not sell more books/get more attention now when everybody knows who she is but I doubt it is good for her career as a lawyer. And it cannot possibly be good for her private life(will any man really want to father her kids now that she told the world about her view on raising children)

    Now, it is easy to understand why a narcissist would do something like this and she does seem to have some narcissistic traits but she definitely has at too much self awareness and introspection to be a full blown narcissist...So ,why did she do it?

    And, what have the reactions been? Rumor has it that BYU tried to get her fired but again that is just a rumor...

    Jamie, was it worth it ? I am just curious .

    I realize there is probably more to this than meets the eyes but that is exactly why I am writing this- to get some answers.

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    1. Do you have a question or comment that is relevant to the blog post? It is obvious that you posted this to make yourself feel good. The attempt agitates and inflames at a level that will direct attention to you and what you have said by all empaths who read it, and it will come from their response posts. The questions you have written are rhetorical, and are not actual questions. This is by design. You have no interest in the substance of legitimate answers. What you are attempting to do is provoke a specific kind of response that will give you a thrill, based on commentator feedback (for your argment, and more intensely a thrill infact, from the expected defense by others). The response will come based on this premise:

      1) You anticipate your first post will go unanswered by M.E. Which is fine to you, because you don't want one (which after reading this sentence you will think and then say openly that you do infact welcome one, because of what I just said). In any case, your original plan was to use her lack of a reply as leverage by posting again. You have always intended on this. This will only come after at least one person posts a reply on this comment thread (not originally including this one, but you will be tempted to defend yourself openly).

      2) Assuming a continuance of the original plan, your intention is to respond to at least one defensive response, most likely the first one. You will not continue to respond and inflame if the empathic argument does not end up being sufficient, though you believe it would before you even started writing. However, if it does provoke a significant response, you will respond to one more. Maximum of two more. In any case, your interests lie in the comments of other people. Especially regulars you found in previous comments. Those stimulate you more.

      3) You will stop after a maximum of 3 replies. Because at that point, there is no more to be stimulation to be gained.

      4) After reading this post, you will either respond in a pseudo-rational but impassioned defense, or not post at all. If I would take a guess, it would be the former.

      *) Incase you were curious, M.E.'s response would mentally equate to "whatever". Because she saw the same thing.

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    2. Edit: Technically it became a maximum of 3, in anticipation of a response from my posting. But without my post, it would have had a maximum of 2 unless an extraordinarily impassioned argument ensued.

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  14. ^there's nothing wrong with going public or /staying hidden. And if she decides to have children - I applaud her for writing her experiences in books, her blog, interviews etc. (I'd look up to my mother for familiarizing herself with any condition that the doctors gave her..plus breaking the stigma.) It means her children have the upper hand of knowledge to overcome. She's familiarized herself and others about the pathology of the disorder- and the positives of sociopathy. If it actually is a disorder - I question. Its genetic wiring and environment. She is intelligent and will make a great mother. Sociopaths have strong connection to family. Especially immediate family. And her husband/partner or father of her children will be kick ass and educated on aspd.. I'm sure of. All this narcissistic labelling is just crap in my opinion. It's like the new hype. The professionals already gave her the diagnose of aspd. Whatever her label - she's who she is. And accepts it. And works with it. So YES it was very worth it !

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    1. Can't find my shoes tonight. Lol. Who took my shoes...my snazzy shoes disappeared, gone :( my gmail won't open on phone tonight.

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  15. A lot of you need to go read up about what antisocial personality disorder really is. I read a lot of self-descriptions on here that don't sound much like APD (and why you would want to bear the label of sociopath when you are not is beyond me). I'd recommend the Mayo Clinic's content on the disorder for starters.

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    1. True, with one important note. The collections of traits should not be taken either as exclusive or all-potent.

      And in the end, to filter out (un)intentional self-bias, self-diagnosis needs to be verified by professional diagnosis. Even if you trust your self-diagnosis entirely, an outside perspective is invaluable. Even if you are a 100% prototypical sociopath and possess hyper-rationality and are detached, then with that alone it just makes sense to get a second, independent data source.

      This is why, for example, outside of objective medical diagnostics (eg. blood, x-ray, MRI, etc.) a physical condition is considered by not just symptoms (what the patient feels) but also signs (what the doctor sees). In psychology, this is even more important.

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  16. Hitler did not have schizophrenia.

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  17. Ah, sociopaths. Our new favorite mental health fetish. Are you smart, unconventional, successful, and have annoyed a couple people in your life? You might be a sociopath!

    So BF had above average intelligence, a rocky family life, high libido, and diplomatic skills in a time of war. Nothing that you list is remotely diagnostic of sociopathy. If you have some evidence that he led a life devoid of or incapable of any empathy, then you might be one to something.

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  18. No Franklin was not a sociopath maybe a psychopath at times, after all one of his housings had " people buried under it, unquote "sociopaths", Dr. Frank hmm.
    Think it might explain more to the point, other than business kept him away from his family, the poor me's and need attention can get foggy.
    But still I wonder why someone willing to grow and excepting that responsibility, would be labeled as such, as to not taking time out for others not willing to grow?
    Too many following of rules of the few, with no brain activity of others, makes a perfect enviroment. Benjamin of the 21st, watching the bankrupting of no conscience.
    Spells can be broken, and spells are costly.

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  19. You spelled bankruptcy wrong. If you're going to be so wordy, edit your writing before you publish it. It's difficult to take seriously someone writing something intellectual when there are spelling and grammatical errors. Otherwise, you had interesting concepts.

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  20. Without a name 10/10/2014. You divulged OCT in your bank account. Because of the sociopath fees charged by banks, you are now overdrawn at the entertaining comments bank. As a result, you will be forced into involuntary bankerrupturerapturecy. Please keep your hands in plain sight, put your face against the wall, and put your hands behind you while I attach the cuffs.

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