Sunday, November 30, 2014

Depression hurts

From a reader:

I've loved reading your blog. I stumbled across it 6 months ago and now I read it every week. It really is fascinating to me, even though I know I'm not a sociopath. I'm empathetic to a pathetic degree most days. I feel deeply, remorse is my middle name and I can't manipulate people very well.  

However, I've found an interesting side-effect of my depression is a distinct lack of feeling. Most people that I've known when they say they feel depressed they feel melancholy for no reason. I'm not in that category at all. 

When I get depressed, I feel numb, as in nearly nothing at all. It becomes harder for me to tolerate people, so I put on this mask to pretend that I'm alright. I keep it firmly in place, saying all the right things and making all the right facial expressions, but really I'm just trying to bide my time until my emotions "come back on," as it were. 

I know that my depression can be the dangerous kind. When I get too deep, as in too far away from my emotions, I start contemplating things with a more distant mind from morality. I've thought more than once that I could definitely murder someone in cold blood and not feel a thing. People closest to me notice the difference and say I get "colder." I act more selfish, in the sense that I'm putting myself before others which goes against my normal behavior. A close friend also mentioned that I am more honest, but in a mean way, that my filter kind of somehow dies with my emotions. 

When I was a teenager, I used to fall into depression more often than I do now. I would make a game out of it, sometimes kind of willing myself to stay numb for weeks because I knew it would give me an edge during certain periods of my life. But the game nearly made me kill myself once, so I never did it again.   

I'm strangely lucky that my depression is a minor form usually brought about by stress, so if I'm careful I can manage to keep my emotions. However, when I lose them, it's strangely liberating. I've often wondered if maybe there's going to come a day when I go numb and never get my emotions back. I know logically that's not how it works, but it's a strange dream/nightmare I've had since I was about fifteen or so. 

Every time I read about sociopaths and you share your experiences, I wonder if maybe I could've been one given the right trigger at some point in my childhood, or that I might become one if given the right circumstances. It's interesting and a little scary to contemplate, but your articles make me feel at ease with the idea more and more. 

I also think you're really brave for coming out and talking for sociopaths. I've met one self-aware sociopath a long time ago who told me that he didn't want to get killed for being what he was, but he knew if people found out about him they'd destroy him. I wish there was a bigger conversation about sociopathy, ASPD, and so on. I think that actually empaths and sociopaths could benefit from talking about it, since in the end we are all human but nobody is technically "normal." 

Please keep writing and keep the conversation going. I look forward to reading more soon. 

M.E. This is actually pretty interesting. Over the past year or so I have been sort of trying to do the opposite, to really try to amplify my feelings by concentrating on them and really indulging the "feel" of them -- like an emotional hearing aide. So I am more aware of my own emotions, even if I'm still don't necessarily experience other people's emotions via empathy. But if I get sick or otherwise overloaded, I also shut down the emotions and feel numb for a while. And I agree, it feels really great. My therapist doesn't allow me to stay there for long, he says it's counterproductive to what we're trying to ultimately accomplish, but it certainly is very useful for almost anything of practical importance, at least in my life.

Do you feel like your depression is actual depression? Or is it a byproduct of some other issue, like stress or prolonged frustration, boredom, etc.?


My depression has been diagnosed, so it's real, but it gets worse under certain periods of stress. Even good stress, like weddings and traveling, can hit me so hard and knock me into a numb state. I'm always aware it's there, though, like a nagging itch under my skin.

I understand that a lot of people suffer from depression and just depression and the depression is not a side effect of other issues or feelings, but I do wonder how often diagnosing someone with depression is like diagnosing someone with a runny nose (symptom), without really looking at the cause. 

And in terms of sociopaths, which of these depressions could they feel? The meaningless depression? The chemical depression? Other types

Friday, November 28, 2014

Corporate psychopath

From an NPR "review" of Jon Ronson's book "The Psychopath Test" (not really so much about psychopaths, more about psychological tests in general, unfortunately):
"Robert Hare, the eminent Canadian psychologist who invented the psychopath checklist, ... recently announced that you're four times more likely to find a psychopath at the top of the corporate ladder than you are walking around in the janitor's office," journalist Jon Ronson tells Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered.
Picture a psychopath and you might think of Norman Bates. But Ronson says successful businessmen can also score high on the checklist. While researching his book, Ronson visited the Florida home of Al Dunlap — known as "Chainsaw Al" — who as CEO of appliance maker Sunbeam was notorious for his gleeful fondness for firing people and shutting down factories.

"So I turned up at his house, and it was full of sculptures of predatory animals," Ronson says. "And he immediately started to talk about how he believed in the predatory spirit, which was word for word what Bob Hare writes about in the checklist: Look out for their belief in the predatory spirit."

But Dunlap managed to turn the psychopath test on its head, Ronson says.

"He admitted to many, many items on the checklist, but redefined them as leadership positives," he says. "So 'manipulation' was another way of saying 'leadership.' 'Grandiose sense of self worth' — which would have been a hard one for him to deny because he was standing underneath a giant oil painting of himself — was, you know, 'You've got to like yourself if you're going to be a success.'"
I see this rather frequently, accusing sociopaths of trying to twist bad behavior to look like good, flaws to look like superhero traits, and damaged brains to look superior. People who make these accusations must believe that sociopaths are villains by definition, but that's not an entirely consistent or defensible position to take. Neither are some of the other assertions I see most frequently:
  • Either we're 4 times more likely to be at the top of the corporate ladder than be the janitor (and so presumably resourceful enough to get those jobs), or we're so impulsive and evil to the point that we are all leeches on productive society.
  • Either 1 in 25 people (technically Americans) are sociopaths, so presumably some of them are your normal seeming co-workers or neighbors, or the only people who could properly be classified sociopaths are serial killers, people you would never meet, particularly not writing or commenting on a blog.
  • Either we're very talented chameleons who are able to hide in plain sight, or we're so obvious that anyone we date can immediately and successfully diagnose us.
There are many others, of course, but this post is already getting long. I don't mind people believing one thing or the other and broadcasting that belief loudly and frequently, I just ask for a little bit of rationality and consistency in those professed beliefs.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Black Prince: Empathy and ego

I've been reading The Black Prince, by Iris Murdoch. I thought this was an interesting reflection from the protagonist on having helped out his sister, whom he does not like, but feels that he must “do what one has to do,” and how that is motivated ultimately by a self-love:
That human beings can acquire a small area of unquestioned obligations may be one of the few things that saves them: saves them from the bestiality and thoughtless night which lies only a millimeter away from the most civilized of our specimens. However if one examines closely some such case of ‘duty’, the petty achievement of some ordinary individual, it turns out to be no glorious thing, not the turning back by reason or godhead of the flood of natural evil, but simply a special operation of self-love, devised perhaps even by Nature herself who has, or she could not survive in her polycephalic creation, many different and even incompatible moods. We care absolutely about that which we can identify ourselves. A saint would identify himself with everything. Only there are, so my wise friend tells me, no saints.
And one more about ego, the nature of being "good," and the role of "morality" (or at least "duty" or "habit") in a functioning society:
The natural tendency of the human soul is towards the protection of the ego. The Niagara-force of this tendency can be readily recognized by introspection, and its results are everywhere on public show. We desire to be richer, handsomer, cleverer, stronger, more adored and more apparently good than anyone else. I say 'apparently' because the average man while he covets real wealth, normally covets only apparent good. The burden of genuine goodness is instinctively appreciated as intolerable, and a desire for it would put out of focus the other and ordinary wishes by which one lives. Of course very occasionally and for an instant even the worst of men may wish for goodness. Anyone who is an artist can feel its magnetism. I use the word 'good' here as a veil. What it veils can be known, but not further named. Most of us are saved from finding self-destruction in a chaos of brutal childish egoism, not by the magnetism of that mystery, but by what is called grandly 'duty' and more accurately 'habit'. Happy is the civilization which can breed men accustomed from infancy to regard certain at least of the ego's natural activities as unthinkable. This training, which in happy circumstances can be of life-long efficacy, is however seen to be superficial when horror breaks in: in war, in concentration camps, in the awful privacy of family and marriage.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Identifying as a sociopath

This is a thoughtful article about, inter alia, M.E. The most "relevant" portions below:
Nevertheless, it is an interesting topic so I went looking for a sociopath and found one. Sociopath World: Inside the Mind of a Sociopath is a blog written by an anonymous self-proclaimed sociopath. Though it’s possibly a work of fiction, I believe that the person writing it truly does identify with the sociopathic condition. The blog has been active since 2008 and there are hundreds of posts. I have only read a few articles but what I have read has been well written. I can’t really characterize the author but there is an uncanny intellectualism and rationality to his or her writing. I would definitely recommend the blog as the autoethnography of a sociopath.

The self-identified sociopath does raise a few questions.

First, I want to say that I do not believe in black or white conditions. If I were a psychiatrist, I would hand out labels very sparingly. Probably all people experience schizotypal symptoms in their life and many have schizotypal tendencies but it’s insufficient to label them schizophrenic. Likewise, I believe sociopathy must exist on a gradient spectrum. What shade of gray makes you a full-blown sociopath?

I am ultimately wondering what the consequences of self-identification are? Labels are a way of making sense of the world so I suppose self-identification helps one come to terms with their self. Interestingly the comments on Sociopath World sometimes read like a support group for sociopaths. The idea that sociopaths (feel as if they) suffer from their condition is somewhat counterintuitive.
Of course, one need not identify as a sociopath to be one. I am only curious as to what the benefits of self-identification are. That said, I believe many people possess varying degrees of innate potential to be a sociopath.

We see a remarkable ratio of people willing to commit atrocities in obedience to authority in both life and in experimentation. In accord with activity theory, I believe there is a threshold in doing where we internalize our actions. The Milgram experiment combined with the Stanford prison experiment only demonstrates that normal people can be pushed beyond that threshold. Social influence needs not be that dramatic. The author of Sociopath World makes an astute observation of his or her own condition, writing

“After spending time with my family recently, I am more convinced that nurture had a significant role to play in my development into a sociopath. When people ask me whether I had a bad childhood, I tell them that it was actually relatively unremarkable, however I can see how the antisocial behaviors and mental posturing that now define me were incentivized when I was growing up — how my independent emotional world was stifled and how understanding and respect for the emotional world of others died away. Still I don’t think I was “made” into a sociopath, nor was I born one. I feel like I was born with that predisposition, that I made a relatively conscious decision to rely on those skills instead of developing others, and that the decision was made in direct response to my environment and how I could best survive and even thrive in that environment.”

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Worse than a psychopath?

From a reader:

I thought you'd appreciate this video.

The gist of it is that psychopaths are capable of more contribution to society because our self-centeredness is so efficient that "just for the sheer fucking hell of it, make other people's lives better."

Monday, November 24, 2014

Vive la difference

From a reader:

Two days ago I was looking for a book in the psychology section at the library when I noticed the tidy spine of Confessions of a Sociopath. I was struck by its whiteness, ingenuous font, and "ME", a combination of sensory impressions that piqued my curiosity. I checked the book out and literally devoured it in two sessions.

Your candid, at first horrifying, then thrilling and insightful memoir has literally overnight swept away all the doubt and consternation I've subjected myself to all throughout my life.    I'm 66 and that is just too long to suffer.  Where doubt recently held sway, confidence marches in.

I've recently been trying to rationalize some "inappropriate" mental states and ruthless actions, having learned as an only child that I should always feel guilty about my true nature and motives. It's so liberating to turn the corner and see myself from an entirely different angle. I am starting to understand and embrace my ability to manipulate, and now I can begin to appreciate many actions I berated myself for over the past  50 years!

My compliments to you, "Ms. Thomas", on your courage and most especially your spellbinding prose style that kept me turning pages all the while squirming in my seat. You wrote (p. 299) that you couldn't predict whether you had created the desired effect in your book. I can assure you that if your intent was to illuminate, educate, and garner acceptance for those of us who struggle to "fit into the norm" and keep failing, you have succeeded beyond what any writer might expect.

I am going to devote a fair share of the coming days to reading your blog -- and also buy a copy of your book.  Thank you so very much for your great service.. As the French say,  "vive la difference."  Sociopaths make the world a much more lively and fascinating place to live!

And I thought I should give an update post coming out, because I had a family get together recently and there were at least a few other family members that were considered to be more of a black sheep than I am and I had to laugh a little at that. I am not a pariah. Only one friend from before is no longer my friend. My family has been completely loving and supportive. Actually, for some of them, I now have the best relationship that I have ever had with them. And the crazy thing is that by living so openly, many if not most of my previous "temptations" are gone. I don't have a need to blow off steam or to let down my mask because I'm not really wearing a mask. I don't really live like a sociopath anymore. I may still think like one, that will probably always be my first language. But in therapy I'm learning to understand other languages as well. I can honestly say that I am much better off and much happier than I was before coming out, for what it's worth. I know that I've said before to others to never come out, never get diagnosed, because people aren't ready for it. But it turns out that plenty of people are ready. I'm sure I have limited myself in all sorts of ways because of it, but ultimately I feel like it has been worth it.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

An aspie's thoughts on sociopaths

A friendly Aspie named who knows actual sociopaths has been leaving interesting comments in old threads this week. On the post "Pretending to be Normal," Darien writes:

As an Aspie myself, I find this hilarious. (I cracked up at the "bla bla bla" bit.) It's so ironic that people pat us on the back all the time, and then talk about how sociopaths should all be thrown in the brig.

Aspies have empathy. It's just bit restricted. A) We often fail to realize when we need to be sensitive. B) Most of the time (thankfully) our empathy operates through a filter. (I suspect it's one of the reasons people come to me for help, even when I have no familiarity with the problem. I empathize, but I can detatch enough to look at the situation objectively, and help them to better contain/modify/utilize aspects of themselves and others, even those (such as jealousy) with which I am personally unable to relate.)
I like sociopaths. Not in an idealized way, but in the sense that I can relate to people who often can't relate. I know that it takes effort to learn those aspects of social interaction which seem silly or useless, and learn to mimic emotions and inflections and body language and the like. Learning to mimic empathy and normalcy can be fun. Testing out new techniques and tweaks, throwing in a new word here and there, to see how people internalize its connotations. Putting emphasis on this word instead of that one. I don't know quite how you guys do it, and of course everyone has their own system. But I like sociopaths because I understand the need to develop those systems, and study the things that don't come naturally. 

And it's true, people get creeped out when they hear how a sociopath operates. But they pat us Aspies on the back. There are a lot of differences, but we do a lot of the same things.

(As a side note, it is perfectly possible for someone to be both an Aspie and a sociopath. But it's very rare.)

So basically to sum it up, I love this post. It made my day.

From "Sociopaths: Pitiable?":

No one is worthy of pity. Pity is a ridiculous sentiment. It's not at all the same as caring. It's a way for people (obviously not socios because they don't need to do this) to make themselves feel better about not actually doing shit to help someone. People say "oh I'm so sorry," or hand a dollar to the homeless man, and say " I did good, I care," and then casually ignore the fact that they could be doing so much more, but aren't. I have no respect for pity and I've never experienced it. I care when I care, I empathize when I empathize; but if I don't, then I don't, and I'm not going to drop in a dollar just to make myself feel better.

That little rant over, I typically know when my socio is manipulating me, but he (usually, at least) is not untruthful even then, because he knows I know and I'm fine. Manipulation is in his nature, plus I'm sure it's mildly entertaining. I do feel badly for him sometimes, for instance, when he hasn't slept for days; but even when something's wrong I usually have to dig it out of him. 
That holds true for the other ones I know as well (for the most part.). So I'd say no, there's not much of a pity act, although our relationships are a bit atypical because I am aware of their personalities and how they function. 

Additionally, I don't find this blog to be manipulative. It's a place for people with a working understanding of one another to speak and discuss and be able to be open about nature and motives; and for non-sociopaths to maybe come and learn something. 

This is an old post and I'm no brilliant speaker. But I like to throw my opinion out there sometimes.


As a side note, as much as I have opposed the unadulterated Aspie promotion and villifying of sociopaths that frequently happens, I also frequently fall prey to aspie love. I find them to be frequently charming. Their insights are often priceless and although they are not generally known for having a good sense of humor, they are often hilarious. For what it's worth, I do feel a kinship with them and find them to be a welcome respite from the fake world in which we are both forced to pretend.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Sociopathic statistician

From a reader:

It's rather unfortunate the average (mean, median, mode - take your pick) person has a misrepresentation of what a sociopath is. Shows like Dr. Phil portray sociopaths as these destructive manipulative people. What people don't understand is that anyone can be destructive and manipulative and so the idea they want to convey is that people who are willing to be this type of person is a sociopath.

My ex girlfriend recommended your book saying that the author constantly reminds her of me and a lot of the thoughts in the book closely resemble my thoughts. To me, the concept of sociopath is more like a six sense. My mind feels like it unconsciously works out many details of social situations and addresses why things work the way they do. In any given social situation, I know how a person is going to greet me and what they will say next; I know how they expect me to react etc. It's like a strong adaptive skill. 

It's like if my mind knows how to build classification/regression predictive models with high accuracy. I am unsure if it's because I observe a lot of data or if my mind is better at utilizing observed data, but everything seems second nature.

Nothing about this is inherently manipulative or evil like what people tend to think. Because of this, I've kept many many many thoughts to myself which has made me lose confidence. 

I agree completely about the predictive models. Maybe you would like this small discussion about it. But what do you mean by losing confidence?


What I meant by losing confidence (and I realize I was vague) is because of a general idea but I'll use the word sociopath as an example.

I am a doctoral candidate in applied statistics. In the years I have contributed to academia, I have built up a good reputation in the department. This is through hard work and my unique contributions over the years. Let's pretend that one day they all woke up with the idea that I am a sociopath. Their definitions of sociopath may vary, but I can imagine it would irreversibly damage my collective reputation around the department. I am still the same person as I ever was, but what their idea of a sociopath is, I would say the average faculty member would have a negative effect on my reputation. I'm missing information on whether or not I'd still be able to complete my degree, but being a person who focuses on patterns a lot (especially how people interact with objects and people around them), I'd be able to detect these little changes. I've already seen what happens to average people in similar situations and expect it to be similar if this were the case with mine.

This idea is more general. If I was in a conversation with a random person not in academia (even people in academia would fit this) and told them I am a doctoral candidate in statistics, they would be under the impression that I am a glorified average calculator and pie chart maker. This similar idea applies everywhere, people believing wrong ideas and it's not hard to convince someone that a wrong idea is a right idea. I read /r/statistics and many partially wrong answers get upvoted and praised (and even some completely wrong answers also fit this) and no one bothers to correct the wrong information. I can speculate why this happens so often; with examples of social media where, things that are commonly shared people will inadvertently believe it's true. An example of a picture that was shared at least a hundred thousand times of what appears to be a guy making his dog drink vodka from the bottle. One quick google search and the very top result states that the picture was misleading and not true. However, collectively the online social environment probably ruined this guy's life.

So when I meant that I had lost some confidence, it was in the ability for a large amount of people to independently analyze an idea. I may be slightly biased since from the moment I wake up, my brain never stops thinking to the point where I'd say my best hobby and skill is being able to think things carefully. I realize many people don't have similar interests, but it feels like we are collectively moving away from intelligence and there isn't significant effort to get that point across. Which normally I wouldn't mind anything how another person is, but if the average is collectively driving down everyone, it just feels like a lost cause.

But there are more thoughts of mine; I'm not sure how much of the above I stated I completely agree with. I generally see how the other person responds to get some insight on that.

Friday, November 21, 2014

17 Books for People Who Hate People

Beyond the obvious appeal to ego and desire to self-promote, I thought this BuzzFeed reading list was possibly the most fitting reading list I have seen targeted to this particular audience. 

Btw, the BuzzFeed staff must be filled with... Borderlines? Sociopaths? Car salesmen? How are they so able to discern and fill people's secret points of vanity and predicting likes/dislikes that people aren't even aware of themselves? However they acquired it, they have an impressive skillset.

I feel like the thing that drives a lot of people's willingness to share something widely like these, and consequently the key to virality, is the feeling that they have really been seen or known for who they are as a person in a way that they don't regularly encounter. "I'm an introvert!" "I'm a brony!" "I'm Blanche from the Golden Girls!" And it's a great way to share ourselves with the world in a way that doesn't seem explicitly egocentric, because this thing we're sharing is of general interest enough that even the people in our circle that don't care to know these personal facts about us may see something of themselves or a loved one in what we shared. Because as personal as these things feel to us, there are also obviously other people who feel the exact same way (at least, presumably, the author). Every listicle ("You know you're from a small town if . . . ") or online quiz gives us a label and a sense of belonging. It's funny, when I was first doing book publicity, everybody from the publishing house was almost entirely focused on there being as big an initial splash as possible -- thought it was absolutely essential to get random members of the television watching, radio listening, magazine reading public to buy and read the book and gawk at it. Which was fine, and if that is what it took to get the book published and out there, great. But I actually wrote it (and continue to write this) for my real target audience of anyone who thinks this way too. Or someone intimate enough with the members (or the traits) of that target audience to want to dip their toe into this mental world. And if people's continuing emails, tweets, instagrams, etc., regarding how they feel about the book/blog are any indication that the target audience is actually being reached, that's something that I'm pretty satisfied about. Everyone is selling something in this world, maybe. But if I could do even half as well as BuzzFeed at providing people some measure of self-understanding, including the understanding that they may be part of a larger group of people with very similar experiences and worldviews, I'd feel like I had accomplished something worthwhile.

Because these websites and their editors have gotten pretty precise. I am really almost daily impressed. At first when they were targeting the general population I thought, old hat. Now, though, they are targeting the craziest little niches and really speaking to them in a way that is almost preternaturally omniscient. Anthropologists will have such rich primary sources to draw from when they study this culture. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Dark matter

Some minor health issues have had me thinking recently about diagnoses of exclusion. There are certain things that we can never prove, we can only prove that they must exist because there is an observable effect with no other explanation. Certain stomach viruses are diagnoses of exclusion, so is love and religion/god. Along those same lines, a reader asked, " is it possible for a sociopath to be self aware when there is no self construct?" I responded:
Your question is interesting and implicates what it means to know anything about oneself. Whenever I write things that would be considered autobiographical about myself, I always wonder -- is this the truth? Is this what actually happened? I'm sure everyone feels this way to a certain extent, but I wonder if my weak sense of self combined with my ability to hyper-compartmentalize makes me even more susceptible to those effects. I often question the objective veracity of my reality -- I acquired that habit a decade or so after I went on a self-deception binge that ended very poorly. If I'm not careful, I am just as likely to hide certain things from myself as I am to hide them from outsiders, like Hyde hiding things from Jeckyl, or more modernly Tyler Durden and the Narrator. This may be why it is commonly said that sociopaths are not aware enough to even wonder whether they are sociopaths (although clearly the oft heard suggestion that "if you think you might be a sociopath, you aren't one" is an exaggeration).

It is true what you said about the difficulties of being self-aware without a self construct. A lot of it is indirect observation, I think, like how we know that there exists dark matter in the universe not because we can see or measure it directly, but because we can see its effects so we presume it to be there. I guess that is how society knows that there are psychopaths among them as well -- we typically stay hidden, albeit in plain sight, but you can certainly see our effects.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Recovering sociopath

From a reader:

My sociopathy is certainly not mild. I understand the unquenchable thirst for sex. There were times when I'd have sex with three different women in 12 hours, on a weekday for no reason other than I could. Women who knew and hated each other--just for the kicks. I understand the admiration and obedience they offer when given the powerful combination of multiple orgasms and sweet nothings whispered in their ear. Invest 20 minutes writing a heartfelt poem and they'll cut you a key to their house. Walk in and explain how much you've missed them any time you're feeling horny and understimulated. Neither ditsy college girls nor educated, successful women are safe from the skills born from our predatory instincts. Such things feed our equally unquenchable egos; perpetual lust, with clever justification via logic, science, and the nature of humanity. It's just how we are built, we say. Now shut up and let me control you.

Such behavior lost me the woman of my dreams... someone who not only loved me true, but knew and accepted me on the deepest level for exactly what I was, and sacrificed much just to make me fit into her life. Ironically, yesterday was the 4th anniversary of the last time we spoke. I've not had sex in years, and I won't. I'm waiting for her to come home.

If she was so accepting, then why did she leave? Why were my tendencies not acceptable as a lover? Because sociopathy is a way of thinking, not acting. We are blessed to choose exactly who and what we are. It makes me sad to see so many I identify with using silver tongues to live in self-enabled denial--believing that "right" and "wrong" are just words with meanings that vary as opinions do. What an ugly truth to see it is an empath's world, and we are the outliers for a reason. Regardless of neurobiology, everyone should wake up with the intent to make the world we share just a little bit better. Sleeping around benefits none but oneself, and is far from being healthy. If anything, those born with poor impulse control would benefit more from practices of restraint and humility. It's human, even if we don't feel human at times.

In the end, we are people first and sociopaths a distant second. She taught me that. As a former kleptomaniac, pyromaniac, pathological liar, sexual prowler, and selfish exploiter with a closet full of masks and memories, I can say that my life is now infinitely better. People love me now, even if I don't quite know what that means. I don't need to understand love to understand it's important to be on either end.

I'm still a sociopath and live a stimulating life that suits me well. I simply chose to be a good person, too. As it turns out, both are possible. 

Your long-time, silent reader,

Telos, 23

P.S.: Thank you, M.E. Never found myself until after I found you.

No more damage

I found the logic of this old comment to be interesting, especially "Empath's aren't some poor victim who are preyed upon for no reason, they are one of the main reasons sociopaths develop into what they are.":

Firstly, the example you gave is a little extreme, considering most sociopaths don't mess someone up to the point where they are committed to a mental institution. In fact, the average sociopath does almost nothing to distinguish him or herself from the general population, in order to blend in. Unless you have a low amount of self control or deep uncontrollable desire to see others hurt in the most dramatic ways, usually the sociopath does no more damage than those overly empathic people who jump from high to lows, fighting with their spouse regularly and creating a chaotic household. The only main difference is the sociopath adds a more elegant touch, creating the same amount of drama without people often realizing something is happening 

I do agree that rape does have a high emotional impact, and perhaps that was not the best example for me to use. But most emotional pain easily heals over physical pain, when we look at the average individual. Now don't get me wrong some people take emotional pain more severe than others, but when does responsibility fall on the victim? Eventually the victim needs to overcome their emotional pain, otherwise they become what? a drain on society? someone who can't work or uses up government resources because they couldn't handle a breakup? I'm not saying their emotions should not be taken into account, but there should be a limit on how much emotion is too much emotion, and when someone is simply letting themselves be the victim. 

"The only reason, I guess, that you don't acknowledge the permanence of emotional damage is because you haven't looked back at your victims." 
Not true, I've looked back on my "victims" but I don't see them as victims, they were companions that provided me with the stimulation I required at the time, did I possibly do things that upset them? Yes, did I lie and manipulate them so they would like me more, who doesn't lol. But if you look at the overall picture they always received more positive than negative during the relationship, and if they can't handle themselves after the relationship was terminated, that is not my problem, I did my part when it was expected of me. 

Lastly, " Just because people are naturally emotionally vulnerable, why does that give you the right to violate them, emotionally or physically?"

The same reason why it's right that we sacrifice animals for food, survival. Empaths might view sociopaths as pure evil but sociopaths are just people trying to survive (for the most part, some are just fucked up like regular people). If a sociopath doesn't learn to lie and manipulate from a young age they are instead isolated from society, people call them names, tell them they are messed up, pump them full of drugs. Empath's aren't some poor victim who are preyed upon for no reason, they are one of the main reasons sociopaths develop into what they are. Things like lying and manipulation are necessary to live a somewhat normal life, it's only natural that if you start at a young age, by adulthood you are pretty good at it. Besides I'm sure you remember being a child, if you did anything weird it negatively effected your entire childhood, now imagine telling friends, parents, or teachers the thoughts of a five year old sociopath, good luck living a decent life after that. All I'm saying is from a young age (for a sociopath) it is survival of the fittest, and that's a game that he or she won't lose.

I know a lot of people will take issue with whether emotional wounds heal easier than physical. As far as generalizations go, most are wrong and this one seems particularly suspect. But I do think it brings up an interesting issue. A lot of people ask me whether labeling people sociopaths makes them act out more because now they have a justification or an excuse for their bad behavior. But I think you could say similar things about "victims". Some people seek after the victim label, or if not quite that, they make the utmost of it once they feel they have it. I've been reading Victor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning" in which he advocates that people find meaning and purpose in their unavoidable suffering, quoting Nietzsche for what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. He also says that suffering is like a gas -- it expands to fill up whatever container it happens to be in. So even a little suffering can seem unbearable to some in the right circumstances. I understand all of that.

But I also know that the way we think of an experience puts a distinct spin on it. For instance, I have a friend who injured one of his joints in a work related accident a couple of years ago. He complains about the pain all of the time. I have another friend who similarly injured his joints several years ago engaging in athletics. He only sometimes mentions it. It could be that the injury and pain level are vastly different between these two. But I can't help wondering whether the distinction is more that one of them feels like a victim, always acted upon instead of acting, while the other considers his injury almost a badge of honor -- that he is active and athletic enough to have these sorts of injuries.

Is it possible that victims of sociopaths could redirect their thinking to consider their injuries a badge of honor? That only people who take risks in life and trust and love to the extent that they do would even sustain such an injury? See also "The Agency Moment". 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Attached (part II)

A reader updates us on whether he was forming genuine emotional attachments to things and people:

I wrote to you a year ago about my efforts to resume a prior persona. I questioned whether vigorous application of myself to my reality would result in forming the same kinds of emotional connections that empaths form.  You wondered if I just grew attached to these people like I would a good pair of tennis shoes.  After a year of having resumed this life, I have to confess that you were right.  Just like I prefer to hang certain pieces of art in my living room, I prefer to adorn my life and surroundings with a certain group of people.  I've lost some of them this year already through social attrition and even death, and honestly, aside from the initial sense of disruption, I haven't been moved much by those losses.  At the end of the day, I just prefer how these people, this location, this life, accessorizes me.

The greatest surprise that I faced was assuming that the relationships would have existed in a kind of stasis.  I walked back into this life with bridges that I left fairly unsinged, and was met with varying levels of resistance--from passive aggressiveness or social avoidance to outright anger.  Conversations that were run of the mill the last time I was here were met with hostility or annoyance.  All because I had transitioned to a different place in life.  It actually was kind of funny, the ego-stroking and strategically timed "emotional conversations" that were necessary to resume my place in the social pecking order of these groups.

My efforts at resuming this life, and the long route I took reminded me of a past conversation.  Right around the time I was making this transition, I was talking to a friend who's clearly like me (whether she realizes exactly what she is or not).  I told her that she and I are like canines while most people are sheep.  But we have a choice.  We can be wolves or sheep dogs.  My transition back into this life, with its surprises about people's emotional buttons, certainly tested my resolve as to which role I wanted to fill--whether to rampantly exploit emotional buttons to get what I wanted through the shortest path possible, or to take the difficult and more patience-testing path of simply allowing them to come around on their own with only gentle nudging.

I wish I could say that I did it because it would have felt wrong to take the shortcut.  The power I feel when I push emotional buttons actually would've felt better in the short-term.  But I like to keep my pets happy.  Makes life more interesting that way, and helps me "attune" myself to more prosocial behaviors so that my act is seamless.  But I have to admit to myself now that if I lost any of these people I'd just find a replacement.  But at least I'd water it and feed it and if it came down to it, kill any wolves that wanted to eat it.

Friday, November 14, 2014


I've been getting quite a few inquiries about what sort of mental health diagnosis I think that Lou Bloom, the protagonist in the film Nightcrawler, might have. I'll try to stay general about personality characteristics and not specific about plot so as to avoid spoilers, but also apologize that consequently this won't make sense unless/until you see the show. The good news is that the show is worth seeing.

So, I'd love to hear other people's thoughts because mine is just a guess, and not a very educated one, but I thought autism spectrum with antisocial traits? There's actually a strong hint of narcissistic personality disorder as well, but mostly in his seemingly selective obliviousness to the needs and feelings of others and the way he prioritizes his own needs above all else. But my (albeit limited) experience with people with ASD suggests that they too come off as selectively oblivious.

Bloom clearly has difficulties empathizing, both cognitively and emotionally. It's not clear whether he can't tell when he creeps people out, or he can but chooses to ignore it. On the one hand, it appears to be the former because if he could help it, why wouldn't he be less creepy? Especially if it would make his life easier for him. On the other hand, he says things, especially later in the movie, that suggest that he just doesn't care to wear a mask for the sake of others. Also, there are plenty of times when he is very smooth, especially when he is committed to playing a particular role rather than trying to be a more sincere version of himself. This is especially true when he has just seen the "right" behavior modeled to him, e.g. the job interview situations with him on both sides of the table, also when he first begins his "career".

I think the thing that shocks the average view the most about him at first is his instrumentalism. He does not have ethics or even really pretend to have them (at least not until ethics both become necessary for his survival and are properly modeled for him to imitate). He is a clever tactician, but part of it seems to be based on luck or mimicry rather than planning things out several steps ahead. Some viewers may notice that his most elaborate set-up had several ways that could have left him unacceptably vulnerable, if things had not gone just so. Perhaps he would have relied on his ability to improvise solutions and have dealt with those issues if/when they came, but it gives him the overall impression of him just being a huge risk taker rather than a mastermind. He is super cool under pressure. He doesn't seem to express much emotion, except the negative, anger based ones. He does not seem to have a moral compass at all. He behaves in antisocial ways that would have him likely scoring as ASPD or high on the PCL-R.

Some of the most entertaining and thought provoking parts of the movie are when he has taken a concept that has been very intentionally soft-pedaled to him (e.g. if it bleeds it leads) and acted very literally and unapologetically on it. For instance, people may be aware of (and passively supporting) the mass euthanizing of animals at animal shelters, but people get quite upset still when they actually witness an animal being harmed (see also, eating meat). Bloom does not understand or at least acknowledge in his actions these very fine distinctions that are frequently drawn. But it's not that Bloom seems to misunderstands the concept or the nuance, he just feels no need to sugarcoat what is, not justify his actions to himself or others, nor otherwise try to whitewash exactly what he does and why he does it -- what prurient interests he is trying to supply.

The thing is, every character in a Hollywood film is going to be a caricature of whatever they're attempting to portray. So it's not too useful to analyze this character in any serious way in terms of an actual mental health diagnosis. Still, I thought it was an interesting portrayal of what might be thought of as a psychopath who perhaps was not socialized early enough to have been fluently normal seeming (home schooled psychopath or psychopath raised by aspies?), or someone on the autism spectrum who is particularly obsessed with self promotion (not like selfie generation promotion, but in the driven, career centric way) and power. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Serge King on Power

A reader sent me this, which I thought was interesting especially because it discusses the different flavors and nuances of power. When I say that sociopaths enjoy power, a lot of people think of one or two, or even just a few different types of power (usually the kinds that they themselves covet or have experienced). I didn't realize this was such a popular misconception before. For instance, in the book I talk about ruining people. A lot of people thought this was destructive or sadistic. To me it was just a particular flavor of influence:

Power and Purpose by Serge Kahili King

The essence of power is influence. It is that which enables you to be effective at doing what you want to do, to get the results intended, to move others to help you, and it is that which affects the power of others even when it is unintentional. Everything has both active and passive aspects of power. A flower has the active power to grow, blossom and reproduce. It may also have the passive power to give food to a bee or pleasure to a human, both of which enhance its active power to grow and reproduce. A human may have the active power to perform a certain task. He or she may also have the passive power to inspire other humans by that performance.

There are several kinds of power: 
1. The power of energy (as of the elements, strength, emotions, vibrations). 
2. The power of favor [ability to give or withold] (as of money, position, prestige, affection, punishment, protection, pleasure, etc.). 
3. The power of intimidation (threat or act of violence or loss, emotional manipulation, etc.) 
3. The power of knowledge (as of skill, information, wisdom). 
4. The power of authority (as of self-confidence, or confidence in one's access to another power). 
5. The power of focus (as with decision, determination, motivation, desire). 
6. The power of belief (as with assumptions, attitudes and expectations).
Power, however, is meaningless without a purpose, and no purpose can be achieved without power. The larger the purpose, the greater the power, but it doesn't work the other way. You can't accumulate tremendous power first and then set about applying it to a great purpose. It is the purpose that expands the power.

. . . . Most have also encountered two major problems based on a misunderstanding of power.

The first problem is the false association of power with control. This error is very common, and is the main reason so many people are afraid of the whole concept of power. Actually, control is just a technique, and not a very good one, for exerting influence. Control requires the threat or the fact of punishment to be effective, and the response to that is always fear and anger. Therefore, the use of the control technique sets up a natural resistance to its use. If you look at the surface of a situation the control technique may appear to be effective, either in a family or a police state, but the underlying resistance is constantly working to undo it. Even if the situation lasts for many years, the control technique will produce a very poor record of achieving the desired results.

The second problem is the use of power against something. Now, exerting influence induces change, and the universe has a built-in resistance to change that helps to keep it from falling into chaos. In all of existence we can see a constant interplay between the forces of change and resistance to those forces. We also see constant attempts to reduce resistance in order to make change easier, such as the path taken by molten lava, the shape of a raindrop, the structure of a palm frond, the strength of an elephant, the streamlining of an airplane, and the altering of a lifestyle. Very rarely do we see power used consistently and purposefully to get rid of something, except among humans. Some people are not satisfied with developing their own religious or political system; they have to make theirs the only one by destroying the others. Some people do not want to compete; they want to eliminate the competition. Some people do not want to cure cancer or heal the drug problem; they want to make war on them. The use of power to willfully oppose, subdue or destroy another power generates tremendous stresses which reduce the effectiveness of both.

"Power over" and "power against" are very inefficient uses of power. A far more efficient use is "power to." The former are inherently destructive, while the latter is inherently creative. Sometimes the difference is as subtle as an attitude, but the effects can differ vastly.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Seducer's Diary

The Wikipedia synopsis (spoiler alert):

Written by 'Johannes the Seducer', this volume illustrates how the aesthete holds the "interesting" as his highest value and how, to satisfy his voyeuristic reflections, he manipulates his situation from the boring to the interesting. He will use irony, artifice, caprice, imagination and arbitrariness to engineer poetically satisfying possibilities; he is not so much interested in the act of seduction as in willfully creating its interesting possibility.

Søren Kierkegaard from the Diary of a Seducer:

I once knew of a girl whose story forms the substance of the diary. Whether he has seduced others I do not know... we learn of his desire for something altogether arbitrary. With the help of his mental gifts he knew how to tempt a girl to draw her to him without caring to possess her in any stricter sense.

I can imagine him able to bring a girl to the point where he was sure she would sacrifice all then he would leave without a word let a lone a declaration a promise. 

The unhappy girl would retain the consciousness of it with double bitterness because there was not the slightest thing she could appeal to. She could only be constantly tossed about in a terrible witches' dance at one moment reproaching herself forgiving him at another reproaching him and then since the relationship would only have been actual in a figurative sense she would constantly have to contend with the doubt that the whole thing might only have been an imagination.

I also like this idea of people loving, but loving in two entirely different ways. Consequently, although neither is lying or otherwise misrepresenting themselves, there is still a gross misunderstanding:

The tragic is that the two lovers don't understand each other; the comic is that two who do not understand each other love each other. That such a thing can happen is not inconceivable, for erotic love itself has its dialectic, and even if it were unprecedented, the construction, of course, has the absolute power to construct imaginatively. When the heterogeneous is sustained the way I have sustained it, then both parties are right in saying that they love. Love itself has an ethical and an esthetic element. She declares that she loves and has the esthetic element and understands it esthetically; he says that he loves and understands it ethically. Hence they both love and love each other, but nevertheless it is a misunderstanding.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Quote: Brutality

"In my opinion, it is you considerate, humane men, that are responsible for all the brutality and outrage wrought by these wretches; because, if it were not for your sanction and influence, the whole system could not keep foothold for an hour. If there were no planters except such as that one," said he, pointing with his finger to Legree, who stood with his back to them, "the whole thing would go down like a millstone. It is your respectability and humanity that licenses and protects his brutality."

― Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin

Monday, November 10, 2014

Song: If loving you is wrong

Two sides to extramarital affairs? From her monologue:

But I ain't worried about it, 'cause I found out that when a man starts tipping away from home, somebody at home has fallen down on the homefront.
That's because when those women marry these men, they have a tendency to take advantage of them.
They forget about all the sweet things they say to get them, that they have to keep on saying them to keep them. 'Cause you got a whole lot of women out there these days just like me who will tell a man anything in the world he feel like he might want to hear. 
I know, 'cause I've gone with a married man and last New Year's Eve, I was lonesome as a naked figure.
But, J1, the man came on in like he was supposed to.
And I don't mind waiting that one day, 'cause anything worth having is worth waiting on.
So when the man came in, J1, I was right there waiting on him to tell him all them sweet things I know his wife hadn't told him over the holidays.
And you can think of a whole lot of good stuff to tell a nigger when you're by yourself.
So the minute my man came in the door, J1, I start laying it on him.
I said oooh, baby. Oooh, baby. Oooh, baby. My baby.
You're the sweetest thing I know. Yes you are.
You dim the rainbow's glow. Yes you do, baby.
There ain't no power, no power, no power on this earth
To ever, oh, oh Lord, separate us, baby,
'Cause you are my sunshine, 
My only little sunshine.
You are my sunshine, my sunshine,
And I love you, baby.
I can't help but love you, baby.
I love you, baby.
I couldn't give up if I wanted to.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Highly motivated

One of my relatives started a job as a teacher's assistant at a grammar school. She talked to me about how there are two students in the class that she believes are clearly attention deficit-disordered. Why? Because they don't pay attention in class. It's not that they're not smart, she says, because when she gets them to look at the particular paragraph or reading material they're studying, they can answer questions about it. I asked her why she thinks that means that they *can't* concentrate or focus on the material versus that they *won't*. She looked at me a little as if I was either being daft or difficult, making a distinction without a difference, in her mind. But I think it is often an assumption that people make in educational contexts, that if someone isn't doing something that we expect most people to be able to do, it must mean that they can't rather than they won't. Oddly, when it comes to behavioral things outside of that context, people frequently make the opposite conclusion -- that because someone isn't doing something that everyone else "ought" to be able to do, it must mean that they can but choose not to for some perverse reason.

It reminded me of this old comment:

There was a peer-reviewed article in "Social Cognition" where a study showed something that will surprise a few naysayers. Here's a quote from the author's abstract:

"When the others were described as in-group members, participants higher in psychopathy showed greater concern for those others. This indicates that the lack of concern for others produced by everyday psychopathy is due to a lack of motivation to care about others, rather than a lack of ability to do so."

Believe it or not, but high-functioning members can show concern for others. They just need a reason for it. Ironically, the study was conducted on university undergraduates (though in truth, it is common for research universities to use the student populace as guinea pigs).

In case anyone is interested, the article is called "Understanding Everyday Psychopathy: Shared Group Identity Leads to Increased Concern for Others among Undergraduates Higher in Psychopathy." by Arbuckle and Cunningham in the journal called Social Cognition (October 2012).

But here's the thing I thought about when talking to my relative the teacher's assistant -- do we fault children for not being motivated to learn any more or less than we fault them for a hardwired lack of ability to focus? They live in an economically disadvantaged area. They likely won't have the resources to do much of higher education. Or even if they did, there are people with college and advanced degrees that have lower paying jobs than their parents do. Why be motivated to learn about the different Chinese dynasties? If there is a reason to learn that, then surely the child could be convinced eventually to learn. Similarly, do we blame the sociopath who doesn't care enough to show concern for others if no one has ever shown him why he should care? Who is going to go to the trouble of trying to convince him?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

In love with a sociopath (part 1)

From a reader:
The more I read [your blog] the more reassured I became that the person I am in love with is a sociopath. I have known this person for 7 years, and during these years I was constantly fascinated by him, the way he manipulates people into satisfying his needs, the way he quickly rises up the career ladder, the way he sometimes in an instant lets go of any particular relationship, and the way he never takes responsibility for anything but rather blames the people around him. I have always noticed how people start out by loving him, turning him into an idol, a God, they worship him, but within time every single one of those people ended up hating him. He has constant affairs with women, and each time he claims he is in love (however short lived). Women in his life come and go but I'm the constant. I don't understand why. He said he considers me one of his best friends, however my feelings for him are way stronger than simply friendship. That fact that I love him annoys him a lot, he hates any form of emotion or weakness on my side.

I have learned to accept him for who he is, although sometimes due to my more emotional nature I lash out at him demanding change, I try to explain to him why sometimes I feel alienated by him, or that I simply need more attention, usually these types of conversations end up in a fight, because he is unable to see my side of the story. I understand that it's something that he will never be capable of. However we have managed to keep this friendship running for 7 years. I have invested a lot into this relationship, and yes I willingly putting myself into the position of a victim. I fully accept this. He is a great person, and I am very attached to him, however due to his constant change in behavior I often fear that I will lose him. His attention may turn to somebody else in a blink of an eye, and keeping him in my life (even if only as a friend) gives me a strange feeling of adrenalin (a bit selfish here). He has the power to crush and mend my world in a split second, the high and lows that he puts me through are incredible, although it sometimes exhausts me, but as I said I willingly put up with it. It's my choice to stay friends with him. I'm not going to give up on him simply because he is slightly different from the rest.

I'm not here to complain, I am here to try and better understand him, so that I can further adapt better. So the question that I want to ask is: if sociopaths have no attachments, why won't he let me leave?

There were times when I was very close to abandoning this friendship and each time I would make that decision he would pull me back. He does threaten me sometimes "if you show your emotions one more time I will never talk to you, and this friendship will be over", however he has never actually done it, which means he doesn't really want to let go either. Maybe he takes pleasure in observing me, observing how I'm struggling to keep this friendship running. Or maybe deep down he feels alone, and I'm the only women who loves him for who he is and not for the mask that he puts on for the rest. His true reason for keeping me in his life doesn't matter, as long as I'm in it. I'm just curious of what the reason could be.

He can be very caring for me, and very sympathetic, and he can be very supportive when I'm going through a difficult time, he would constantly call me to check up on me, and than suddenly he would become all cold. Almost as if somebody had pressed the "off" button -- I can cry my eyes out, and reach out for his support, and he won't give it, and it would seem like he doesn't care at all. However, I'm the only person who was ever invited to his family home, the only person with whom he has kept in touch for 7 years, and he protects me (ex: when we would be driving with friends, he would tell me to sit behind the driver because thats the safest place in the car). So what does he feel for me, if he actually feels anything?

Part II and Part III 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Love thy enemy

I liked this quote from Ender's Game:

In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it's impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them –"

"You beat them." For a moment she was not afraid of his understanding.

"No, you don't understand. I destroy them. I make it impossible for them to ever hurt me again. I grind them and grind them until they don't exist."

Thursday, November 6, 2014

My real shape is change

From a reader:

Dear M.E.

While torching my life for like the fifth time, just to enjoy watching it burn to the ground, I kind of started asking to myself ¿Why I do this? ¿What am I?. I peeled layer after layer of lies, that I often tell to myself and believe it, and, in the end, where I expected to find something, there was nothing that I could grasp.
And at this point I had this dream. A high tech company trying to hire me for obscure reasons. It turns out that they have this alien being imprisoned in a fortress building from whom they have been extracting advanced technology. They take me to the core of this bunker, and there it is, an unknown naked woman inside a sort of incubator. I approach it, and suddenly it is no more an unknown woman, but my dead girl of years ago. Ok. I think, this is some kind of a telepathic metamorph that is trying to mess with my emotions, but it's not gonna work, and I realize why they want me to meet this being, because I am a sociopathic scientist, immune to its power of manipulation. We sustain a dialog that I don't remember, but at some point I ask it ¿what is your real shape? The alien looks at me with an expression as not understanding the question, but suddenly its face lights and, with a smile, it tells me "my real shape is change".

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

On tolerance

I thought this was an interesting Malcolm Gladwell quote on tolerance:

What we call tolerance in this country, and pat ourselves on the back for, is the lamest kind of tolerance. What we call tolerance in this country is when people who are unlike us want to be like us, and when we decide to accept someone who is not like us and wants to be like us, we pat ourselves on the back… So when gays want to be like us and get married, we finally get around and say, “Oh, isn’t that courageous of me, to accept gay people for finally wanting to be like us.”

Sorry — you don’t get points for accepting someone who wants to be just like you. You get points for accepting someone who doesn’t want to be like you — that’s where the difficulty lies.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Secret identity

I'm trying something new. For the past couple months or so I've been back in hiding. This is different than what I have been doing for the past decade or so, which is to be relatively open with people. If I haven't used the actual word sociopath (except for family and just a handful of others), I've been pretty out about what type of person I am. I would read quotes like this and think, yeah, I want to live this way:
The art of life is to show your hand. There is no diplomacy like candor. You may lose by it now and then, but it will be a loss well gained if you do. Nothing is so boring as having to keep up a deception.
-- E. V. Lucas
See, I had a history of self-deception. And I was always worried that I would backslide into that self-deception and become like a fool narcissist, whom I just personally cannot stand. So in part because I realized how easy it is to lie to myself, and in part because I was so self-assured I enjoyed telling people what I was and still being able to mess with them, I was largely transparent. Of course that doesn't mean I never lied -- I would doubletalk my tongue out. I would never volunteer information, would spin story after story just to see what I would get away with. But sometimes, maybe if someone had figured things out or just so I could get away with more bad behavior, I would sometimes come clean.

I just don't believe it anymore. I used to always think that I would eventually tell people that were close to me. Now I think -- what's the point? If they aren't an idiot, they'll pretty much know who I am without me telling them or giving them the keywords to punch into Google. If they are an idiot, then it wouldn't really help to tell them anything anyway.

There's basically no upside to telling people now that I'm not worried as much about self deception (I have you all to keep me honest with myself) and I don't care as much about "proving" myself, to myself or to others. Call it laziness, or agedness, or shadiness, but that's where I'm at.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Karma and dismissals

I feel like I'm experiencing a bit of karmic whiplash. I myself have been having to deal with someone with a personality on a daily basis, even being responsible for this person's welfare to a certain extent.  Let's call her Lola. I feel like I am getting more of an understanding of why people hate sociopaths so much. I kind of understand the source of the feeling behind comments like "Even if inherited..THEY KNOW RIGHT FROM WRONG." Because the thing is that it is quite apparent that Lola knows right and wrong. To a certain extent she understands cause and effect -- drive under certain conditions and you will lose your license, fail to file a tax return and you will get audited. But she keeps doing these things. The next year she fails to file a tax return or the next month she is getting pulled over again and fighting to keep her license again.

Other family members have given up -- "if she wants help, she needs to learn to help herself." And the thing is all of these things are true, and she is low functioning. But the low functioning causes the behavior to be so bad, rather than the the behavior causing her to be low functioning. Even if it seems like she knows right and wrong and seems to be acting with free will and making wrong choices, it's more like when a pet dog is naughty and gets in the trash even though he knows he shouldn't rather than a normal personal with all of his faculties knowing right and just choosing wrong. But this is incredibly hard to understand, even for me. She says things like, "I don't want you telling people I have a disorder because then they will blame things on the disorder." Ok. But you do have a disorder. And they most likely will be quite correct in blaming things you say or do on the disorder. I don't really understand (because it is not in my personal experience) how can someone both be sort of ok in admitting that they have a disorder, but then in denial that the disorder is actually affecting their emotions and behavior and that they aren't 100% the captain of their destiny. But that dual belief is also part of the disorder.

In some ways I am one of the best positioned people to deal with her because I have my own experiences of knowing that I am expected to act or think or feel a certain way but never being able to close that gap between expectations and reality, not for lack of trying. And I have been thinking a lot about the idea of how it is very difficult for us to believe something that we have not experienced ourselves, particularly if it seems so far outside of our experience. Some people will admit that there are things that exist even though they don't understand how they could. Others are more prone to tidy dismissals. I thought of this in reading this quote from Jeanette Winterson:

The fashion for dismissing a thing out of ignorance is vicious. In fact, it is not essential to like a thing in order to recognize its worth, but to reach that point of self-awareness and sophistication takes years of perseverance.
An examination of our own feelings will have to give way to an examination of the piece of work. This is fair to the work and it will help to clarify the nature of our own feelings; to reveal prejudice, opinion, anxiety, even the mood of the day. It is right to trust our feelings but right to test them too. If they are what we say they are, they will stand the test, if not, we will at least be less insincere.

She's talking about understanding art, but I think her thoughts have interesting parallels to dismissing anything out of ignorance:

When you say “This work has nothing to do with me.” When you say “This work is boring/pointless/silly/obscure/élitist etc.,” you might be right, because you are looking at a fad, or you might be wrong because the work falls so outside of the safety of your own experience that in order to keep your own world intact, you must deny the other world of the painting. This denial of imaginative experience happens at a deeper level than our affirmation of our daily world. Every day, in countless ways, you and I convince ourselves about ourselves. True art, when it happens to us, challenges the “I” that we are.

A love-parallel would be just; falling in love challenges the reality to which we lay claim, part of the pleasure of love and part of its terror, is the world turned upside down. We want and we don’t want, the cutting edge, the upset, the new views. Mostly we work hard at taming our emotional environment just as we work hard at taming our aesthetic environment. We already have tamed our physical environment. And are we happy with all this tameness? Are you?


The solid presence of art demands from us significant effort, an effort anathema to popular culture. Effort of time, effort of money, effort of study, effort of humility, effort of imagination have each been packed by the artist into the art. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014


From a reader:

I am almost at the end of your work. I assume most of the story was true ( although you made reference to snow in Southern California). The story of you dad punching the holes in the door was quite disturbing. I would imagine you have many stories this severe from childhood.

My observation is that you have the tools to be more successful in your career and life. I am a physician but not a psychiatrist. The premise of the book is that you are a sociopath. I think you might also have antisocial personality disorder. You have likely researched this given your intelligence.

Have you ever considered therapy? Maybe you are happy with your life. From your academic acheivements you could easily be a full partner at a large firm or a full professor of law.

I can from a damaged childhood too. I know how hard it can be.

Take care.

From M.E.:,-116.8919775,14z/data=!3m1!4b1

Yes, I have considered therapy. I've actually been seeing a therapist for the past year or so. He intentionally doesn't tell me what he is doing so I don't thwart his goals and make it a power struggle, and so I would guess that 80% of our sessions are misdirection on his part, which makes for an interesting therapy dynamic. But therapy has been really helpful. I feel like I finally learned how to not be manipulative. I think people always assumed that it was a choice with me, but I really had no idea how to not be because I didn't feel like I had a default choice that I would make just for my own sake, rather than as an attempt to manipulate somehow. So I always just chose things with other people's preferences in mind instead of my own. Does that make sense? I'm not entirely sure how I started recognizing that I had my own preferences. And now when I don't want to be manipulative, I just do those things. I completely ignore the outside world and just try to figure out what is my true desire, rather than thinking of the effect my choices will have on other people. The probably sounds selfish, and maybe eventually I will get to whatever happy medium most people have on this, but right now I just feel doubly skilled to be able to not only manipulate when I want to, but stop manipulating when I want to. 
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