Monday, June 30, 2014

People pleasing

People are sometimes surprised to hear how much I "care" about other people--how much I want to "please" them. To them, that's the only explanation for some of my behaviors, e.g. when I go out of my way to help a stranger, or when I'm solicitous or accommodating just past the point of mere politeness and into the realm of generous and sincere. That's where all the real payoff comes, though. Anyone can be politely civil, in fact most people are. If you put forth just a little more effort, you're a standout and in a good way (if you're going to be a standout, and let's face, we all are, it should be for good things as well as bad--it muddies up the signal strength and will make some people doubt their assessment of you as "off" or "wrong").

For example, the other day I was set to have lunch with a professional associate (someone who handles some of my affairs) to meet another possible work contact for a sort of sales pitch. Although it was going to be a networking lunch, I had a friend in town (not in the industry) so I asked if I could bring him along. The lunch went fine, but we didn't talk as much about business as perhaps the new contact wanted. Afterwards I asked my associate, "Do you think she felt like she wasted her time? Should I follow up about XX?" My associate listened to me for a while and finally asked, "Why do you care what she thinks of you?", as if it was the strangest thing in the world for me to be asking all of these questions. The thing is, I wasn't going to necessarily follow up with this woman, and I certainly didn't care whether she felt like she wasted her time or not for her sake, I just wanted to know. I wanted to know to better inform my own behavior just in case I met her again. I wanted to know whether I should be expecting a phone call from her and on what topic so I could plan my response ahead of time to achieve whatever goal I decided on. I wanted to know whether in the future it would be wholly inappropriate to bring a friend to a lunch of that exact type. I wanted to know whether I came off as charming as I hoped I did. I just wanted to know so that if I decided to do something--to snub this woman, to waste her time, to insult her career choice and her business acumen, to be incredibly rude, to have wasted any sort of opportunity, to do the same in the future--that I would be making an informed choice, not bumbling blindly through a world of unknowns.

Knowledge is power, particularly information about a person. It's a very valuable service to be able to anticipate and meet other's needs, should you ever care to. I always like to have that option, so that's why I keep a mental dossier on everyone I associate with regularly. It may seem like "people pleasing", but I think true people pleasing requires you to want what's best for them.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Truly sickened

... is something that I feel like never happens to sociopaths, at least not the way empaths seem to use that phrase most. From a reader:

Have you heard about this story?

The first thing I thought when I read about this boy has severe ADHD or maybe some sociopathic traits.  I say the latter because I cannot imagine ever having the chutzpah or 'cunningness' to pull off sneaking on an airplane or stealing a car at 9 years old even if I wanted to.  What do you think?

As hard as it must be to raise that child right now, that kid is definitely going places.  

On another note, I subscribe to artist Miranda July's email thing, We Think Alone, that curates weekly emails from celebs and various 'important' people based on some sort of theme.  It's entertaining, but this weeks roundup of emails included one from photographer Catherine Opie that made me immediately think of you and your website (see below).  I'm guessing certain types of psychopaths (?) must be constantly getting emails like this.  

Anyways, love the blog and book. 

All best,

Catherine Opie email referenced above:

Dear C,

Let me first begin with the fact that this is a very difficult letter for me to write.  I am writing because I am very disillusioned as to who you actually are. Several of my friends have begun to question the reality of your foundation, as well as feeling that your pushing for meetings and more connections is very invasive.

This has led me to many questions and now to a completely distrustful feeling to your intensions.  I have gone through all the e-mails you have written me since we have started corresponding and it just doesn't all add up with the research I have done on who you are.  I actually don't want you to answer any of these questions.  I DO want to end all further contact with you, which includes you NOT coming to A's house for dinner on Thursday.  I have spoken with A about my concerns and she knows that I am asking you not to come. She thoroughly agrees with me.

 W let me know of her problems with you as well. I went through my past emails from you, and discovered I had originally been introduced to you by K. I talked to K today,and he has informed me that he severed all contact with you, and apologized to me for not informing me of this.  He also informed me that your name is not even G, but L.  I could dig further and probably find out more, but what I know is that any more access to me, my friends and my business relationships are now going to be protected. I want you to NEVER use my name in relationship to your foundation or anything else.

I could say more, but I am truly sickened.

 Catherine Opie

Yeah, a very difficult letter for you to write. It's funny how easily people are sickened by people. I'm sickened by Catherine Opie. Not really, but I wonder if she realizes that there are worse things in this world than to have someone use your name to make a name for themselves. In my opinion, people are way to hung up on the idea/possibility of being used. Who cares if you were used? Basically it is just a damage to your ego? Because even in the best of relationships people use each other? I don't really get it, obviously, and I don't really want to.

Btw, for those that tie their sense of morality to religion, how Jesus handled being blatantly used:

And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, which had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any,

Came behind him, and touched the border of his garment: and immediately her issue of blood stanched.

And Jesus said, Who touched me? When all denied, Peter and they that were with him said, Master, the multitude throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me?

And Jesus said, Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me.

And when the woman saw that she was not hid, she came trembling, and falling down before him, she declared unto him before all the people for what cause she had touched him, and how she was healed immediately.

And he said unto her, Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sociopathic Sense of Time

From a reader:

There's a phenomenon that you've probably noticed - things in the past don't seem important or real. This trait allows you to land on your feet, adapt to changing circumstances, etc.

Other people may find it disturbing. Some murderers murder their spouses and then immediately remarry. Partly the sociopath is just doing what he wants to do (get married), but also his sense of time is different - it is difficult for him to conceive that others will get bothered that the sociopath has moved on so quickly. Maybe he cries once, feels a little sorry for himself (for losing the wife) and then he's done and ready to move on.The empathy deficit explains the inability to anticipate what others will think & feel about the sociopath's actions, and the fear deficit means that to the extent he thinks others might notice and care, he doesn't care enough to change his behavior.

It occurred to me that this might explain a phenomenon that some have noticed: a sociopath will act antisocial one moment and then basically act as if it happened long, long ago. E.g. you argue with family ferociously and then 10 minutes later ask them for a favor.

I think some might talk of a "sense of self" - the self occurs in the present, in the form of thoughts about who one is. The sociopath is too busy doing stuff to pay attention to thoughts like, "I've been pushing things to the limit and should slow down before I piss them off."

I recently encountered this with a woman. I broke up with her and said I wanted to be friends. A week or so later it sounded like she was OK with socializing. I interpreted that to mean she was all done processing her feelings, so I asked for a favor. That led to her getting upset. To me, it just seemed like it was long ago, and apparently she'd worked it all out, so it was OK to ask for a favor. I also assumed, like me, that if we were friends, she'd follow whatever code of behavior she follows for her friends. Of course that's absurd - she follows her feelings. In any case, I couldn't possibly imagine how touchy she was going to be about this issue, or I never would have asked - because why would I irritate a friend? That's against my habits.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Song: Bette Davis Eyes

Her hair is Harlowe gold
Her lips sweet surprise
Her hands are never cold
She's got Bette Davis eyes
She'll turn her music on you
You won't have to think twice
She's pure as New York snow
She got Bette Davis eyes

And she'll tease you
She'll unease you
All the better just to please you
She's precocious and she knows just
What it takes to make a pro blush
She got Greta Garbo stand off sighs
She's got Bette Davis eyes

She'll let you take her home
It whets her appetite
She'll lay you on her throne
She got Bette Davis eyes
She'll take a tumble on you
Roll you like you were dice
Until you come out blue
She's got Bette Davis eyes

She'll expose you, when she snows you
Off your feet with the crumbs she throws you
She's ferocious and she knows just
What it takes to make a pro blush
All the boys think she's a spy
She's got Bette Davis eyes

And she'll tease you
She'll unease you
All the better just to please ya
She's precocious, and she knows just
What it takes to make a pro blush
All the boys think she's a spy
She's got Bette Davis eyes

She'll tease you
She'll unease you
Just to please ya
She's got Bette Davis eyes
She'll expose you, when she snows you
She knows ya
She's got Bette Davis eyes

Monday, June 16, 2014

Reading people

I liked this comment from a while ago:

Being able to read people to an irregularly deep degree isn't exclusively the province of sociopaths and headcases, they're just the poster children because there's something about the juxtaposition of understanding and predatory apathy that appeals to sheep. Sort of like why people are fascinated by the myth of the vampire, as long as it can be tamed and made 'comfortable' to their understanding of the world(*coughTwilightcough*).

But no. In my experience, people dislike being understood because there's always a chasm of difference separating the person they project themselves as being from the person they really are. A man I know, to pull an example from my hat, wants to be seen as suave, genius in his chosen field of study, worldly but still passionate about geeky things, a great gentleman with regards to women, etc. He doesn't want to be regularly acquainted with someone who sees him for the flaws he so desperately ignores or explains away underneath the exterior projection. They always want to project those flaws on you if they're afraid you understand them: I've had problems in the past with one specific group of my friends who has known me a long time and also is aware of at least some of my aptitude for reading people's patterns to an uncomfortably accurate degree. I've only ever had this problem with this one group, but reliably, whenever I would be seen as getting close to a member of the group, certain individuals would go out of their way to 'poison the well' so to speak and cast doubt on me, belittle me, or do whatever it took to keep that person away from me. Had I ever displayed malicious intent towards any of my close friends? Nah. I hadn't used them and discarded them, screwed them over, or done anything socially or morally unacceptable to them. But nonetheless they would cast me as a coward, deceiver, 'weird', and so forth as a means of isolating me because they feared me, and that I would bring their whole game crashing down if I got too involved. That's the conundrum I found myself in, with them: I made certain that they respected me, but as Machiavelli so famously made into an axiom, the only way to do that reliably is fear if you can't elicit love.

I think it ties into that primal instinct of 'us and them', where 'us' is the people playing the game 'by the rules', so to speak. The rules are that people want to feel good, enjoy humor and having their ego scratched, and make memories with other people that they can point to, whenever they want to reminisce about how awesome they are. Anyone who doesn't play the game, or who plays it differently, is 'them'. That includes people who see that most of the game is bullshit posturing, If you expose yourself as someone who doesn't observe a particular set of rules, the traditional social response is persecution and isolation. That's how groups maintain themselves, from street gangs (where the persecution usually comes in nine millimeters) to the social elite.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Letter to a sociopath

From a reader (written but never sent to her sociopathic acquaintance):

I know you from your eyes? Every time we stare at each other for longer than usual, and you ask me 'What are you thinking?' I reply 'Nothing.' And you never believe me. But really I'm telling the truth. Seriously- I'm not thinking, I'm feeling. I'm feeling your cold stare. Feeling your calculation. Feeling that question coming up. 

What I see are two curious eyes, trying to read me. I suppose the look on my face is not something you can decipher. It's something new, something you've never seen before. All this, I know because I feel you.

And I love you, no matter how much YOU love ME. I'll probably never know for sure, even though you say it sometimes. All that I can know for sure is what my emotions are telling me. And they're not just some random butterflies in my stomach. It's something much bigger than that. I'm pretty sure it's dedication. Dedication towards a very special person, with lots and lots of potential. And I want to help cultivate that potential. 

At the same time, I want to keep on learning from you. Every day my eyes open more and more. You have no idea. The fog that is caused by my emotions, be they positive or negative, keeps disappearing in front of my eyes. I can see now, the outside world. When I touch a table, I know it is there. I've started keeping track of people and their habits, however small, because apparently that helps a lot. I'm learning to pay attention to any thoughts of suspicion I have, I used to ignore them altogether. I'm learning to see the world exactly as it is. 

And this is coming pretty naturally to me, because that's who I am. An actress. A mirror. I can easily BECOME you. I won't hurt or disappoint you because then I'd hurt and disappoint myself. Your pain is my pain. 

When I'm performing on stage for example, I don't merely recite my lines and make gestures and face expressions to go along with them. I become that person. The character in the play borrows my body, and the lines just pour out of my mouth, like they're coming out of nowhere. 

All this will maybe help you understand what I "think" when I look into your eyes.

And- with all the patience I can gather, I want to try to answer any other question you might have. Why? So you can understand ME easier, and other people as well. It would become easier for you to make me happy-- Both of us would end up happier! Symbiosis: a natural process. 

As for time, I will not pay attention to it, because a process of symbiosis could last a few seconds, a few hours, a few weeks, a few years, a few centuries, or until death does apart the participants in that process. I'd prefer the latter of course, but then again, whatever has to happen, will happen. So I don't want to pay attention to time. Staring into your eyes feels like eternity anyways. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Logic and labels

From a reader:

Hello M.E.,

I just finished reading your book and really enjoyed reading it.

I find you to be interesting and likeable. I think that I could definitely be your friend :).

I respect that you are trying to educate people about sociopaths and point out that all humans are more similar than they are different.

I have experienced an excessive sense of guilt and was diagnosed as having OCD, with my obsession being guilt.

I am doing a lot better now and feel very stable. It interests me to read the perspective from an individual that doesn't feel guilt. And I am happy to learn from a variety of perspectives. I believe that human beings are all selfish, whether we are sociopathic or empathic, and I also agree that people fall upon a spectrum. What I most believe, however, is that being empathic does not equate with good behaviour. For example, I rationally believe that I should be vegetarian because of how abused the animals are. However, empathically I don't feel a sense of guilt after eating meat, so I continue to eat meat despite my intellect knowing that it isn't right. Therefore, empaths can often do things that are wrong, or that they know are wrong, simply because they can avoid the guilt/remorse response within themselves. If sociopaths often operate from a rational morality, they may make decisions that empaths won't because empaths are relying on their feelings to dictate their behaviour in particular situations. I know that this is a generalisation, but it is something that I thought about when reading your book. There is no righteousness in being empathic, and just because I am highly empathic doesn't mean that I am not selfish. 

There's a gift in your state of existence and your unique journey, just as there's a gift in mine. We both have things to teach ourselves and others. We both have the opportunity to enrich lives. By spreading greater awareness of sociopathy, you are enriching lives and helping many to feel less ostracised. In doing that you're acting in a way that many would assume to be contrary to sociopathic behaviour - you're helping people. But I'm aware that sociopaths do good and bad, just as empaths do good and bad. People are people.

But what was maybe most interesting part of the exchange for me was talking about how the reader's open-mindedness and sexual orientation might play out together. I said: "It's interesting that you are gay and seem to not be caught up as much in "sheeple" thought, for lack of a better word for it -- i.e., you seem to be more openminded and self-aware than most people. Do you think there is a connection there?"


I don't think being gay has anything to do with being open-minded. There are so many gays who are judgmental of other LGBTI individuals. Many gays actually reject gender-queer and transgendered people. That is upsetting for me because I love all my queer brothers and sisters. 

It is interesting. One of my friends was gay, now transgendered and pretty much disowned from his previous gay community. Of course there could be a lot of reasons why that happens, but I've found that to be true of mental illnesses too: "ours is ok, but these other people are really sickos". I think it's funny when people argue that marriage equality does not include the right to marry as many people as you want. Because, why not? Could it be that people come up with their beliefs/convictions first and then later convince themselves that there are logical justifications for those convictions? 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Ego depletion

Why people (sociopaths and non), despite their best intentions are unable to always do the right thing? From Wikipedia (with accompanying sites to relevant scientific research):

Ego depletion refers to the idea that self-control or willpower draw upon a limited pool of mental resources that can be used up. When the energy for mental activity is low, self-control is typically impaired, which would be considered a state of ego depletion. In particular, experiencing a state of ego depletion impairs the ability to control oneself later on. A depleting task requiring self-control can have a hindering effect on a subsequent self-control task, even if the tasks are seemingly unrelated. Self-control plays a valuable role in the functioning of the self on both individualistic and interpersonal levels. Ego depletion is therefore a critical topic in experimental psychology, specifically social psychology, because it is a mechanism that contributes to the understanding of the processes of human self-control.
Conservation hypothesis
The conservation hypothesis is a partial explanation of ego depletion. It suggests that there are two sorts of depletion:

  1. When one is completely depleted and unable to self-control.
  2. When one is not fully depleted, but partly. Still, one reduces his self-control efforts to avoid complete exhaustion.

According to this view, when people feel depleted, there might still exist a reserve store of energy to be used in extreme, high priority situations that could be encountered in the future. This can be adaptive to the extent that expending any more resources at a given time might render an individual fully depleted of their resources in an unexpected situation requiring self-regulation or other self-monitoring behaviours. The existence of a spare reservoir of mental energy ultimately explains why various motivators can buffer the effects of mild or moderate ego depletion. In a state of low resources, an individual lacks motivation to exert any more energy, but if motivation is presented, there are still extra resources that can be used up. Thus, ego depletion could be conceptualized as a psychological constraint necessary to safeguard precious resources that might be needed in emergency situations in the future. Under mild depletion, people still have a small amount of energy left in their "tank", which they do not have access to under normal circumstances.

Is this why all of my worst examples of losing self-control have happened while traveling and being thrown together in ungodly situations with total strangers?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Sociopaths and transgendered?

Although I don't agree with the ultimate conclusion, there was something refreshingly honest about this recent commenter's beliefs:

Sociopaths don't follow the platinum rule, because although people do want a doting boyfriend who wants the best for them, they don't want a sociopath who studies them, pretends to be a soul mate while ruining their life.

a sociopath is a bit like a tranny. sure i like a woman who likes to dress up and act womanly. but a man that dresses up like a woman and acts womanly, perhaps goings so far as to get breast implants or even a dick removal and fake vagina constructed? that is disgusting, creepy and alarming, even if the tranny works out more, diets harder, wears higher heels and better outfits. even if that tranny sucks cock like a champ, or fucks -with that fake box - like a pornstar, I'm in the "kill it with fire" camp, because I'm having some fear/disgust emotions related to the dishonesty of it all.

a tranny is not following the platinum rule by dressing up, sucking and fucking like a pornstar and getting awesome hormone therapy and surgery. the way you know that is that such people routinely get killed for tricking dudes into bedding them.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

What for criticism?

Apart from the rumored "covetous sociopath," I have not found sociopaths to be critics as a rule. They don't adhere to social norms and so often don't have much purpose for upholding the status quo or enforcing rules against other people. I think that sociopaths can be a terrible blow to one's self esteem or ego. People often become aware of facets of their personality that they didn't realize existed. But again, it's not because the sociopath is trying to make them swallow the bitter pill of truth. The sociopath isn't truth police. If they appear that way in one context, perhaps they are the equivalent then of a corrupt cop who uses his position to advance his own interests. Full disclosure -- I don't like to be the subject of fault-finding. Is there some better way to help people develop into the best person they can be, if that were to be our goal? When a sociopath is trying to pull out the best you in the seduction phase, does he do it through criticism, even so-called honest criticism (could there be such a thing? perhaps theoretically, but rarely can someone put aside their own ego so far removed from the content of their speech that the criticism doesn't drip with the critics' personal issues rather than the reality of the situation). No, oddly enough, people don't respond well to criticism, perhaps apart from the short-lived effectiveness of the pick-up artist's "negs", which quickly cease to be effective and become instead annoyingly presumptuous and insulting. Especially from people who apparently feel the pain of others (empathy), I'm amazed at how tearing into people has become the sport and spectacle that it has.

People are down on the devoutly religious for a lot of things, but this is one reason that I am glad that most people have a belief in the soul, an idea that we are all connected, and a realization that none of these little problems matter in the broader scheme of things.  From an LDS/mormon church leader, since deceased, President Gordon B. Hinckley:

[T]here is a terrible ailment of pessimism in the land. It’s almost endemic. We’re constantly fed a steady and sour diet of character assassination, faultfinding, evil speaking of one another. 

The negative becomes the stuff of headlines and long broadsides that, in many cases, caricature the facts and distort the truth—at least the whole truth.

The snide remark, the sarcastic gibe, the cutting down of associates—these too often are the essence of our conversation. 

I’m asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we still our voices of insult and sarcasm, that we more generously compliment virtue and effort.

I am not asking that all criticism be silent. Growth comes with correction. What I am suggesting and asking is that we turn from the negativism that so permeates our society and look for the remarkable good in the land and times in which we live, that we speak of one another’s virtues more than we speak of one another’s faults, that optimism replace pessimism.

When I was a boy, my father often said to us, “Cynics do not contribute, skeptics do not create, doubters do not achieve.”

Let me urge you to desist from making cutting remarks one to another. Rather, cultivate the art of complimenting, of strengthening, of encouraging. What wonders we can accomplish when others have faith in us. 

Look for the good and build on it. There is so much of the sweet and the decent and the good to build upon.

I do not suggest that you simply put on rosecolored glasses to make the world look rosy. I ask, rather, that you look above and beyond the negative, the critical, the cynical, the doubtful, to the positive. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Could I be?

A reader engages in self-introspection:

I grew up with an overwhelming sense of being separate from other people. It’s still something I feel to this day. I studied psychological conditions from the time I was a teenager in an attempt to put a label on what made me not like everybody else. I always dismissed antisocial personality disorder because I’ve never done anything criminal, I don’t torture animals (in fact I generally like them), and I’m definitely not promiscuous. In fact, most of the time I can’t be bothered enough with other people to get into anything that leads to a romantic or sexual situation.

For a long time I thought I must have Asperger’s. My brother had it, so I figured I must as well, and I’d somehow stayed below the radar. But that wasn’t right because unlike my brother who has difficulty relating to other people and getting them to trust him, I’ve always been good at gaging other people’s emotions and figuring out what makes them tick. Whenever I take emotional quotient tests I score at the far end of the bell curve. So it’s not that I don’t see other people’s emotions, it’s just that most of the time I think they’re ridiculously stupid.

I can’t stand interpersonal emotional drama because most of the time it’s highly avoidable, and the results are always so predictable. I just don’t have the patience for it. I also detest social niceties and only use them when I have to, to put others at ease. I’ve been called manipulative my whole life by my mother. I guess I am. As a child I used to practice saying things to people and predicting exactly what their response would be, just to see if I could get it right. I usually did. It was a game. Say or do A and watch people react with B. I’d deliberately say something to plant an idea in my friends’ heads, and watch them carry it out. I still do both things. It’s pretty automatic now. I also have a knack for becoming a different person for different people based on their likes, dislikes, personality etc. Whatever their personality is I mimic and reflect it back at them.

Sometimes this gets me into trouble. Most recently I chased someone for almost six months until they liked me back. As soon as I had them I completely lost interest. No longer felt any attraction. In fact they repulsed me, everything about them irritated me. When they finally called me out on my distance and lack of desire for a meaningful relationship I was so irritated by the fact that they’d actually called me out on my behavior. I absolutely hate it when people see through my outer nice girl persona. It’s probably the thing that makes me the angriest. So I called it off. It just takes so much energy. And if I’m honest, I’m sometimes disturbed by my lack of a sense of self. No baseline personality, beliefs, dislikes, likes etc that I can discern. No ability to truly believe in anything.

My emotions have always felt cold and somewhat muted. I feel like I must have them. I get happy, I get sad, I get annoyed etc. But I feel like my responses are so much less powerful than everybody else’s. I used to think that everybody must be faking their exaggerated emotional responses to things. Part of me still thinks they must be. I just can’t fathom being that emotionally engaged in something that doesn’t directly affect me. In high school, when the tsunami happened in Thailand I remember shocking a friend. She was going on about how sad it was, and without thinking I told her that while I could see that it was a sad event, I personally didn’t really care because it had absolutely no bearing on my day to day existence. Maybe I’m just pragmatic, but I’ve never felt particularly moved by distant tragedy. But I am fascinated by it. I like watching traumatic situations unfold. I don’t know why I just do.

But I do care about certain people. Namely immediate family with the exception of my father who is useful insomuch as he provides financial security. If my mother and siblings died I’d be devastated. They’re the only people who raise that sort of emotional response in me. Friends and acquaintances I’ve dropped without problem. I’ve deliberately played people against each other, though not with the intention of hurting them. I’ve actively tried to sabotage work relationships between people I don’t like. And I have actively fantasized about killing people who cross me. I wouldn’t go through with it though. I also try to live by the rule of do unto others as you would have done unto you. I think it’s a good one for judging what you should and shouldn’t do to people. But I think these are things that all people do. I think I just do them with more self-awareness. Whether that’s a byproduct of intelligence or emotional detachment I couldn’t say.

I’m still not convinced I’m a sociopath. I always just chalked my issues up to a somewhat dysfunctional upbringing stunting my emotional development. Maybe that is a sociopath though. But how could I be a sociopath and be able to have strong emotional attachments to my family?