Monday, June 29, 2015

Why not forgive?

I have written before about Bonds that Makes Us Free being a good book about self deception. It's also a good book about getting over and not succumbing to the feelings mistreatment that we regularly experience. I've been listening to the author's talk about forgiveness, which definitely comes from his religious perspective but also from a philosophical perspective. One of the main points is akin to the Maya Angelou quote, “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.” He talks about how evil wants a response, it wants to turn you dark inside, that's the whole point of evil. And I think this is true, at least of true evil and not just the sort of banal evil that we see of people just having lost their way in a deep moral confusion. Like I would say most of the Nazi force type people and the prejudice and hate that we see daily is banal evil, in which people honestly believe that their feelings of hate are justified in the moment, no matter how impossible that seems to more rational minds. In other words, I think that most people have to be sort of tricked into evil by being fed a distorted reality often enough and persuasively enough (e.g. X are our enemy, we need to defend ourselves against X).

So we have two types of evil (1) true evil for the sake of being evil (super rare, think Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars) and (2) evil that comes from confusion, a true "they know not what they do," at least not the full extent of what they do and definitely not in that moment because they've been led down a path of self-deception and confusion about the actual nature of reality (think Darth Vader). And true evil wants you to respond in an evil way because that is its goal is -- to twist your heart and mind towards dark things. And banal evil people don't really know what they're doing and the worst you could say about them is that they have allowed themselves to become pawns in something deeply dark and destructive. So how should you react in the face of evil? The argument is that it does no good to return evil for evil, as religious types like to say. Because for true evil, that's exactly the response they're trying to get from you. And for banal evil, those people are just clueless pawns who think they're somehow in the right, and you're not likely to convince them otherwise.

When I saw the family of Dylann Root's victims extend him forgiveness, I was really impressed -- not that it was necessarily a courageous or morally right thing to do (although I'm sure it was), but that it just showed a lot of wisdom. Predictably, somebody didn't like that reaction. In a NY Times op ed titled, Why I Can't Forgive Dylann Root, Roxane Gay says "I, for one, am done forgiving." Why? Basically because the problems have been going on so long and white people just want to pretend the problems don't exist and black people forgive to survive but that doesn't help either because the problems haven't gone away. But when has not-forgiving ever helped? Did not forgiving help with Germany post World War I? Is not forgiving helping with the sky high number of adult American men in prison? Could there be peace in Northern Ireland without forgiveness? In the former Yugoslavia? Does anyone think the Hutus and the Tutsis should have kept at it in Rwanda? Or that the French Revolution was particularly effective in its calls for blood to atone for the past sins of the aristocracy? Do we really need to annihilate our enemies? Or nurse lifelong distrust and hatred of each other?  

I do not mean to dismiss at all people's pain or to condone those that wrong others. But nor does forgiveness come even close to doing either of those things. Forgiveness still acknowledges the wrong and the hurt, in fact forgiveness is only implicated and imported in serious cases of wrong and hurt. And when you have been wronged, there are basically two choices: forgive or don't. So for people to say that they're done forgiving is frankly shockingly anti-social, even to someone like me.

I know that I am not a good person and not a reliable source for moral judgment. But if even someone like me could understand why it is absolutely vital that we forgive each other, than that suggests to me that (1) there's really something to this forgiveness thing and (2) that there's hope for everyone else to learn why too.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Who am I

This is a little bit of a change up, from a reader who doesn't identify as sociopath but is not sure if she is quite normal either:

First and foremost, I would like to congratulate you on writing a gripping, thought-provoking and well-informed book. I finished reading Confessions of a Sociopath just five minutes ago and was impressed so much so that I felt the need to contact you immediately. 

I am an eighteen year-old studying English Literature at university. A friend who studies psychology gave me her copy of your book upon her departure back to the U.S after a year of studying abroad on the premise of my own mental health disorder(s). Thus far, I am unsure if there is a 'name' to my disorder, but I wanted to e-mail you regarding how much your book has helped me come to terms with my condition (or lack thereof).

Currently, my diagnosis is rather linear in accordance with the NHS' apparent lack of effort and empathy (oh, the irony); I have depression and anxiety. The first I was diagnosed with at the age of 11, the second 16, but on the premise of years of evidence indicative of the condition. For a while I was somewhat satisfied with the diagnosis - it largely covered the traits that were evident to myself and my nearest and dearest. Then, it became apparent to me that there was much more to my mental health - things that I had not only concealed from my friends and family, but denied knowledge of despite their prevalence in my life. 

I do not intend to diagnose myself as a sociopath, if that is what this e-mail seems to be indicating - I don't believe I am one. I have regular anxiety attacks and feel love and pain, and I have a strong moral sense of right, wrong and guilt, leading me to confess my wrong-doings on a frequent basis to those closest to me. However I am a compulsive liar - I lie to everyone about a plethora of things (strangely enough rarely about what I have done wrong), and I am inherently violent. I exhibit manipulation that aligns with that of a sociopath, although it is rarely anything beyond nudging someone if they stand in my way. I do not take pleasure in manipulating people if it does not benefit me or will effect them in the long term - not only due to the consequences, but because my moral compass does not allow it. However I frequently feel the rush and thrill of lying to someone, and of twisting situations into my favor. I have a thirst for knowledge and intelligence, and thrive off of the expression of shock and submission when I know something - anything - that someone else does not.

It seems to me that I am an awkward, semi-functional hybrid between an empath and sociopath, sprinkled with emotional disorders and physical ones, to boot. As of late I have been questioning my identity and worth to society due to these issues, and above all else, your book helped me to realize that there is progression towards understanding and awareness of the potential good that lies dormant within even the most seemingly hopeless of cases - for that I thank you.

And, finally, thank you again for reminding me and the crippled structure that we call 'society' that mental health disorders, especially those prevalent from birth, exist, but are not something to fear.

Thursday, June 25, 2015


Last night I was watching an old Saturday Night Live (Scarlett Johannson hosts) in which the Weekend Update correspondents were talking about the United States Supreme Court hearing arguments on the gay marriage case (at 28:25 left in the show at the above link). The one host starts discussing a Justice Alito question at the oral arguments, including one question about whether a group of two men and two women should also be able to marry. Coming from a religion that practiced plural marriage and not having the same emotional connections or knee jerk reactions to things that people see as fundamental moral issues (as opposed to just fairness, logical, or logically ethical issues), I was a little surprised by the answer.

"Well, Sam, I’m no legal expert, but they’d probably tell them “no,” because that’s polygamy and that’s illegal and also not at all the same thing. So let’s stick to the case at hand and not try to turn this whole thing into some kind of gay word problem. If the gay marriage train leaves Massachusetts at 3 pm, and the traditional-marriage train leaves Tennessee at 6 pm – it doesn’t matter, because look around you! Everyone’s already on the gay train! (Laughter, whoops, applause)."

The problem with the -- "we don't need to think critically about something if the majority of us already agree argument" -- is that (1) nothing should ever excuse the call to think critically about something, not religion or consensus or popularity or fear or anything else and (2) the herd is a terrible track record for making "right" choices when it abandons critical thought.

In other similar reactionary choices made without apparent critical thought, Apple has banned several American Civil War era military strategy games for their use of the confederate flag. As the producers of one such game put it:

We accept Apple's decision and understand that this is a sensitive issue for the American Nation. We wanted our game to be the most accurate, historical, playable reference of the Battle of Gettysburg. All historical commanders, unit composition and weaponry, key geographical locations to the smallest streams or farms are recreated in our game's battlefield.

We receive a lot of letters of gratitude from American teachers who use our game in history curriculum to let kids experience one of the most important battles in American history from the Commander's perspective.

Spielberg’s "Schindler's List" did not try to amend his movie to look more comfortable. The historical "Gettysburg" movie (1993) is still on iTunes. We believe that all historical art forms: books, movies, or games such as ours, help to learn and understand history, depicting events as they were. True stories are more important to us than money.

Therefore we are not going to amend the game's content and Ultimate General: Gettysburg will no longer be available on AppStore. We really hope that Apple’s decision will achieve the desired results. We can’t change history, but we can change the future.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

My friend the sociopath

From a recent comment to an older post:

I have been best friends, and occasionally romantically involved with
a sociopath over the last 10 years.
He is the father to both my children.

I have always approached our relationship with honesty in everything.
I do not project my needs on him. I see him for what he is and I accept it.
I am bipolar. His limited depth of emotion has never bothered me too
much. I'm used to it from everyone in varying degrees.
How he thinks and feels....That's just how he does things, it's him.

What makes our friendship work, is that we both understand and accept
each other for what we are. We find things to base our friendship on
that aren't the traditional source of "love".
I value him. I enjoy how he thinks, how me moves.
I enjoy how he challenges me to think 5 steps ahead.
I have things I am better at than him, so I still have some power in
our dynamic, but he still wins most of the time. and that's okay with

He enjoys how unpredictable and chaotic my emotions, and thoughts are.
He appreciates the effort it takes, and my mastery of reigning myself
in. Even when I control myself to the point that most people don't
recognize when I'm bothered, he still picks p on my subtle cues.
We both struggle with blending in. We both struggle with this weird
sense of detachment from reality, where normal people march around
like robots.

We both have violent impulses with atypical motivations for not acting
on them. He finds violence to be inconvenient. I find it messy.
Both of us find those motivations to be much stronger than any guilt
we might have.

He grounds me when I get too whimsical.
I push him to strive for bigger, less obvious goals.
We both parent our children in a way that nurtures and challenges them.
They feel safe, but they are pushed to grow as people.

Even in bed we compliment each other.
He sometimes enjoys being violent, and I enjoy fighting him.
It's exciting to be challenged.

In everything, we push each other to think, to win.
And it's not clear very often who will win.

At the same time, I recognize what he is.
I know he needs space when he's bored.
I know when I am not entertaining enough for him, and I'm not offended
by it. Frustrated maybe, but that's just because I enjoy his company.
He always comes back eventually though. In the meantime, I am just
fine on my own. I don't like most people, and I prefer to be solitary
anyway. He is one of maybe three people, I actually want around.

Our relationship isn't built on love, it's build on mutual
understanding and acceptance. We work, because we've both decided that
the other one is acceptable as is. We don't demand more than the other
can give.
Anything else would be selfish.
To expect him to "love" me, would be not to know him at all.
That seems like a gross and lonely thing to do to him.
It wouldn't be fair.
He says he loves me, like one loves a favorite T-shirt.
I appreciate that.

TLDR; My motivation for being friends with a sociopath is that there
is mutual understanding and acceptance I have never gotten from anyone
else. He is him and I am me, and that's good enough.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

"I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup" -- a review

I dated someone that used to give me a lot of flak for saying that I didn't particularly like white people -- that I was being very racist by saying such a thing. At the time I defended myself. What I meant was that I didn't like the expectations that white people have of me -- to act a certain way or else I'm making a bad name for the rest for "all of us". I got the same vibe often from women and mormons for similar reasons. Sometimes lawyers? Sometimes people of my same generation or social class. Sometimes musicians. If there were ways that I didn't quite fit into my "groups", I felt some degree of conflict over it. In fact, I was thinking the other day about how the racism and other isms that seem to affect me personally the most (not surprisingly being born white and privileged) are the aggressive attempts to include me within a particular group and keep me behaving rather than any attempts to exclude me from anything. But how have I let that all affect me, is an interesting question to explore.

This article "I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup" was a very interesting article about the way people form group identities and what it actually means to be tolerant of someone who is different from you and how easy it is to deceive ourselves of our level of tolerance (myself included). I guess I realize now more than ever that the fact that although I am fine with certain hated groups like pedophiles (or it used to also include transgendered people back when there was still a predominant ick factor about them in society, does anyone remember that from about a decade or two ago?! It's crazy how fast the world is moving), that doesn't necessarily make me a particularly tolerant person. Because do I have a lot of love and tolerance for moral hypocrites and those that claim to have empathy for every group but none for sociopaths? No, obviously not, and I now see that as a personal failing of mine.

Worth reading in its entirety, here is just the beginning:

In Chesterton’s The Secret of Father Brown, a beloved nobleman who murdered his good-for-nothing brother in a duel thirty years ago returns to his hometown wracked by guilt. All the townspeople want to forgive him immediately, and they mock the titular priest for only being willing to give a measured forgiveness conditional on penance and self-reflection. They lecture the priest on the virtues of charity and compassion.

Later, it comes out that the beloved nobleman did not in fact kill his good-for-nothing brother. The good-for-nothing brother killed the beloved nobleman (and stole his identity). Now the townspeople want to see him lynched or burned alive, and it is only the priest who – consistently – offers a measured forgiveness conditional on penance and self-reflection.

The priest tells them:
It seems to me that you only pardon the sins that you don’t really think sinful. You only forgive criminals when they commit what you don’t regard as crimes, but rather as conventions. You forgive a conventional duel just as you forgive a conventional divorce. You forgive because there isn’t anything to be forgiven.

He further notes that this is why the townspeople can self-righteously consider themselves more compassionate and forgiving than he is. Actual forgiveness, the kind the priest needs to cultivate to forgive evildoers, is really really hard. The fake forgiveness the townspeople use to forgive the people they like is really easy, so they get to boast not only of their forgiving nature, but of how much nicer they are than those mean old priests who find forgiveness difficult and want penance along with it.


From a reader:

First, I would like to say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading Confessions of a Sociopath; I was quite pleased to see that there are others out there with whom I can associate with on a certain level.  Though I don't know for certain that I can label myself a sociopath, I do know I experience emotion and human interaction in a slightly different fashion than most people around me.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Dealing with loss

From a reader:

I was wondering if you've written anything about how sociopaths deal with the loss of a love one.  I looked through the list of posts on the blog but didn't notice anything.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The dark side of self-awareness

From a reader:

After months of self-introspection and learning more about my personality, I picked up your book. I've never related to anything in my entire life until now. This is where I need your advice. My mask that I was able to put on and off without a moments notice, my ability to maintain equanimity in all situations at all times, and my perfunctory yet convincing ability to blend in have all been compromised. 

It's due to the fact that I've become self-aware and perspicacious of my abilities and my thought process. I feel myself slipping up now in social settings. 

Even my best friend is now treating me differently because I inadvertently blurted out how I manipulate everyone including him. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Psychopath boss

From a reader:

I'm and Empath, currently working for a sociopathic boss (female). Over the years, I've figured out that she is a sociopath. I finally found a way in to talk to her about it (wanting to help or whatever), and after a long "game" she fully admitted to me that she is sociopathic.

I've done a ton of research on the subject as I need this job for now and leaving simply isn't an option- I've done my best to avoid boring her, being useful but only when she needs it, and always loyal and consistent no matter how much she stonewalls or bullies me.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

More on ENTPs

From another ENTP who identifies as sociopathic:

The take on the relationship between INTJ and sociopaths was interesting and summed it up well. Basically, a sociopath is a thinker type that never developed much, if any, emotions. Some dumb psychologists try to pigeon hole antisocial behavior into one specific type, when our sociotype actually reflects how our traits manifest themselves. As an ENTP and high-functioning sociopath, I use and discard people, rather than constantly abuse their emotions. For example, instead of a piercing stare, I have a warm smile that grins wider when I confront someone. Like you, I rarely commit crimes and I am mostly positive to people around me. But instead of affecting people in order to gauge power, I do so because it's a game to me. People are toys for me to play with and I like my toys to be valuable. If I get bored with someone or a person doesn't want anything to do with me, I just stop talking to them and find new people to manipulate. Sure this pisses some people off, but would they rather I destroy people?

Anyway, I have studied sociotype to where most people are predictable. I can read their type and know how to manipulate them. I have even played chameleon and portrayed myself as another type, just to see if I could. I am curious if other personality types can offer their own interpretation of their tendencies. In fact, I bet some ENTPs do things differently from me. I think we might be able to find some similarities between personality type and sociopathic traits if we look into it.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Sociopath films: Barry Lyndon

From a reader re the movie Barry Lyndon:

i haven't watched this movie yet, but here's part of roger ebert's description: 

...observes a man without morals, character or judgment, unrepentant, unredeemed. Born in Ireland in modest circumstances, he rises through two armies and the British aristocracy with cold calculation.

sounds interesting!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


I sort of hate to pile on this random guy plucked from obscurity for our collective scrutiny, but he is an interesting case study.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Dealing with a sociopath

This recent comment from an old post was directed at parents of a sociopath, but I think is pretty good advice for any situation in which you have to deal with a sociopath, i.e. you can't opt out because they're a blood family member, co-parent, work associate, etc.

From what I know of this mum and that couple's ordeal over the years, is that if you have someone like that living with you or in close contact with you, try to stay back a step or two emotionally and psychologically.

Don't get tangled up in the stream of lies and the really clever, manipulative behaviour even if it is difficult. 

Start by simply not believing anything this boy says - that is a great help and when my friend realised it, it took a burden off her shoulders. 

There is no point in getting angry and upset over his behaviour - he will only use it to make you look bad - and no point remonstrating, reasoning or trying to point out his lack of morality. 

I suggest you very consciously and pragmatically set out to manage the situation and look after yourself. Don't lose your head. Don't get mad at him. 

Force yourself to accept what is in front of you and deal with it consciously and in a planned way. 

Don't try to convince your partner of your suspicions if he is resistant to the possibility, because he will probably not want to believe you and it will upset him and make him resent you.

Don't lock horns with this boy if at all possible.

If your partner does, just stand back. 

Be careful because he will try to drive your and your partner apart - from his point of view he will cause as much trouble as possible because then he can slip between the cracks and do what he wants while you two are thoroughly preoccupied with fighting with each other. 

Oh yes, don't give him any ammunition at all, because he will talk about you. He will re-frame everything that happens to make him look like the victim and be aware that he will tell lies about everything and everyone. 

Stay back and stay calm and don't ever let your emotions take over when you are dealing with him.
That's all I can tell you from the many many well-intentioned mistakes my friend made. 

I am so sorry. However, if this is what you are up against and I do hope you are wrong - take comfort in the fact that you have several years to work out a strategy before he really starts to get going. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Trial and error

A reader asks:

Hi I read some of your book and blog entries and I figured I'd reach out a bit.

I don't know 100% if I'm a sociopath but there are signs. I feel nothing towards my mother or sisters. Not hate or love, like or loathe, just, well nothing.

I can't hold a relationship because I'm a pathological liar and i don't feel love.

Do I have to fake it my whole life? Can I not feel at all? Will I ever? Is there a treatment out there somewhere that will make me feel like a human being and not some empty shell?


I just want to know how to stop this pain. I feel so lonely. Like I've got nothing to live for.

I have not felt direct distress as a result of my particular mental make up, but it certainly has distressing elements (emptiness, lack of sense of true meaning in life, lack of connections to others, etc.) to it or puts me in distressing situations (funny, then, that I still would not identify as feeling direct distress from it?). I get this question or a variation of it all the time. From personal experience, I think you can get better but there's not necessarily one way to go about it and no guarantee of success. I've written a little bit about what has helped with me, but it's been a matter of trial and error. For instance, I may have difficulty with wanting to control people and situations and using the bluntest of instruments. That doesn't go over well indefinitely, so I learn how to indirectly influence something via gardening. For some reason that really helped me to relax my death grip of control. I didn't know how to not manipulate, but my therapist got me to see how not to: (1) realize that you have a natural preference of choices regardless of what effects that choice might have on others, (2) act according to that natural preference and disregard the predicted effects that it will have on others. It is actually impossible to be manipulative if you follow that easy formula, and once you have learned that skill, maybe you start eventually factoring back in the effects that choice will have on others (sort of a cold turkey approach that would make a great comedy movie premise, a la Liar Liar).

But I don't mind compiling a list of helpful topics, giving my take (if any) or others take on them (if posted on this post in the comments or emailed to me with the trial and error subject line) and then leaving the comments open for future helpful ideas? What would be a good list of topics of most common issues that sociopaths might face in trying to establish a more stable manner of existence? I'd also look for helpful book recommendations (and a quick description of why) or helpful films and other media. Then I can make a page, "Resources for Sociopaths" or something. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015


Not really apropos of anything in particular, but I liked this article about how people struggle with the concept of falsification:

In Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, he tells the story of an English psychologist Peter Cathcart Wason, who came up with an “ingenious experiment to demonstrate our natural tendency to confirm rather than disprove our own ideas.”

Subjects were told that they would be given a series of three numbers that followed a certain rule known only to the experimenter. Their assignment was to figure out what the rule was, which they could do by offering the experimenter other strings of three numbers and asking him whether or not these new strings met the rule.

The string of numbers the subjects were given was quite simple:


Try it: What’s your first instinct about the rule governing these numbers? And what’s another string you might test with the experimenter in order to find out if your guess is right? If you’re like most people, your first instinct is that the rule is “ascending even numbers” or “numbers increasing by two.” And so you guess something like:


And the experimenter says, “Yes! That string of numbers also meets the rule.” And your confidence rises. To confirm your brilliance, you test one more possibility, just as due diligence, something like:


“Yes!” says the experimenter. Another surge of dopamine. And you proudly make your guess: “The rule is: even numbers, ascending in twos.” “No!” says the experimenter. It turns out that the rule is “any ascending numbers.” So 8-10-12 does fit the rule, it’s true, but so does 1-2-3. Or 4-23-512. The only way to win the game is to guess strings of numbers that would prove your beloved hypothesis wrong—and that is something each of us is constitutionally driven to avoid.

In Wason’s study, only 1 in five people were able to guess the correct rule.

And the reason we’re all so bad at games like this is the tendency toward confirmation bias: It feels much better to find evidence that confirms what you believe to be true than to find evidence that falsifies what you believe to be true. Why go out in search of disappointment?

Monday, June 1, 2015

Aspie wisdom

From a recent comment to an old post:

If a cat got a thorn stuck in it's paw, and you knew it didn't care about you, you should still take the thorn out if you consider yourself kind. I don't think your kindness should depend on whether the cat cares about you or not, especially since it's the cat's nature. ~ I'm an aspie... 
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