Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Tween sociopath?

From a reader:

Hi. This may not interest you in the slightest, but I have a question.

I am only 14 years old. This statement probably has already made you roll your eyes, saying, "Ah yes, another special snowflake teenager."

But I can't go to any of my family for things like this. They won't understand it, and they'll get angry at me for me believing that I display some sociopathic tendencies.

Here are a few things about what I've noticed about myself:

To begin with, I can't think of a time that I have ever felt guilty, remorseful, or ashamed of any of my actions. In my mind, they are completely justified. There have been many times where I've betrayed a friend for my own personal gain, and I've never felt bad, because I am benefitting. I don't care. My closest friend for eight years has recently told me that she sometimes can't stand being around me, because I can be very two-faced.

I didn't feel bad. I apologized, of course, but I didn't mean it. I just didn't want to start drama. It'd stress me out, as I have school and other things to worry about aside from maintaining appearance.

I lie a lot. I don't do it to get out of trouble, but I want to see how far it can go. I want to see how much I can make someone believe something with just my expression and words. It's interesting. I want to see who can spot out my lies, and who can't. How to better myself. These lies tend to be rather extravagant at first, and then I use smaller ones to build up a sort of story around it, backing up evidence.

I'm very intelligent. I skipped a grade in school, and am now a sophomore in high school. My research on this subject says that most sociopaths are highly intelligent.

People who know me say that I'm very attractive in the sense that I provide a comforting aura. People find it easy to tell me things. I'm not much good at maintaining friends, per say, but I have strings of acquaintances who find me a good secret keeper.

I'm not good at branching out myself, and I feel that I have to conform to fit in with other people.

I have been working for the past year to pass up the one girl who may be top of my class, instead of me. I can't stand not being better than everyone. I have recurring dreams in which she's gone. I don't know how, but I do know that I take the spot that I rightfully deserve: first.

That may sound petty. Maybe it's a teenage thing to want to be the alpha dog.

The only person I know that thinks even a little bit like how I do truly believes that she's the most, 'damaged, mentally unstable, different' girl in the world. Last year, I called her out on all of her theatrics. She burst into tears.

I walked away. Hearing people cry is annoying.

I've never really romantically loved someone. Then again, I'm 14. What do I know of such things?

I'm not worried about finding out that I'm a sociopath - if I am one, and not just some girl with a strange personality and odd habits. It's just piqued my curiosity.

It'd be fantastic if you could tell me if these were things you struggled with as a child, and if you think I may be a sociopath.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Sociopath causation

One interesting thing about law school is learning what does it mean for something to have caused something else. We talk about it in different ways, the "but for" cause, the last clear chance, and we hear crazy hypotheticals like someone who has been pushed off a 100 story building, but as they are falling they get shot dead by someone on the 50th story and who is the one who caused the death (the shooter, the pusher gets off on attempted murder although they still get to benefit from the result they were seeking, i.e. death).

I thought this comment from an older post was an interesting analysis of the harm that sociopaths really cause in relationships:

I just thought of something that nobody here seems to have pointed out. Sociopaths are human, and like any relationship with a human it depends on attraction, chemistry, compatibility, shared interests, etc. Some people who are burned in these relationships where there was constant fighting, etc., probably would have had bad relationships with the person anyway, even if they didn't have this condition, due to lack of other things that would keep the relationship together. 

I'm sure there are sociopaths who have longterm relationships that aren't that bad. I'm not saying their behaviour is easy to deal with, but if you think of it as a sort of disability, there are all sorts of people dating others who have various kinds of disabilities. I'm sure also a lot of sociopaths might really like their partner or care about them to the extent they are able to and it's probably really hard for them to go against their nature to try to be someone they are not, to please another person. I think it must be exhausting to have to constantly act and pretend for the benefit of others and know you will never be loved and accepted if you let the mask slip and just be who you really are. Also not all sociopaths have this disorder to the same extent. Not every one of them is violent or commit crimes. I think you'd have to look at the quality of your relationship and interactions with the person as an individual and take it case by case. One size doesn't fit all.

Friday, December 25, 2015

The self-violence of conscience

This ("Against Self-Criticism") was an interesting Adam Phillips piece in the London Review of Books about the harm that conscience often causes in the bearer due to self-judgment. Excerpts:

Lacan said that there was surely something ironic about Christ’s injunction to love thy neighbour as thyself – because actually, of course, people hate themselves. Or you could say that, given the way people treat one another, perhaps they had always loved their neighbours in the way they loved themselves: that is, with a good deal of cruelty and disregard. 
‘The loathing which should drive [Hamlet] on to revenge,’ Freud writes, ‘is replaced in him by self-reproaches, by scruples of conscience, which remind him that he himself is literally no better than the sinner whom he is to punish.’ Hamlet, in Freud’s view, turns the murderous aggression he feels towards Claudius against himself: conscience is the consequence of uncompleted revenge. Originally there were other people we wanted to murder but this was too dangerous, so we murder ourselves through self-reproach, and we murder ourselves to punish ourselves for having such murderous thoughts. Freud uses Hamlet to say that conscience is a form of character assassination, the character assassination of everyday life, whereby we continually, if unconsciously, mutilate and deform our own character. So unrelenting is this internal violence that we have no idea what we’d be like without it. We know almost nothing about ourselves because we judge ourselves before we have a chance to see ourselves.

Freud is showing us how conscience obscures self-knowledge, intimating indeed that this may be its primary function: when we judge the self it can’t be known; guilt hides it in the guise of exposing it. This allows us to think that it is complicitous not to stand up to the internal tyranny of what is only one part – a small but loud part – of the self. So frightened are we by the super-ego that we identify with it: we speak on its behalf to avoid antagonising it (complicity is delegated bullying). 

Like a malign parent it harms in the guise of protecting; it exploits in the guise of providing good guidance. In the name of health and safety it creates a life of terror and self-estrangement. There is a great difference between not doing something out of fear of punishment, and not doing something because one believes it is wrong. Guilt isn’t necessarily a good clue as to what one values; it is only a good clue about what (or whom) one fears. Not doing something because one will feel guilty if one does it is not necessarily a good reason not to do it. Morality born of intimidation is immoral. 
Just as the overprotected child believes that the world must be very dangerous and he must be very weak if he requires so much protection (and the parents must be very strong if they are able to protect him from all this), so we have been terrorised by all this censorship and judgment into believing that we are radically dangerous to ourselves and others.
The first quarto of Hamlet has, ‘Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,’ while the second quarto has, ‘Thus conscience does make cowards.’ If conscience makes cowards of us all, then we’re all in the same boat; this is just the way it is. If conscience makes cowards we can more easily wonder what else it might be able to make. Either way, and they’re clearly different, conscience makes something of us: it is a maker, if not of selves, then of something about selves; it is an internal artist, of a kind. Freud says that the super-ego is something we make; it in turn makes something of us, turns us into a certain kind of person (just as, say, Frankenstein’s monster turns Frankenstein into something that he wasn’t before he made the monster). The super-ego casts us as certain kinds of character; it, as it were, tells us who we really are; it is an essentialist; it claims to know us in a way that no one else, including ourselves, can ever do. And, like a mad god, it is omniscient: it behaves as if it can predict the future by claiming to know the consequences of our actions – when we know, in a more imaginative part of ourselves, that most actions are morally equivocal, and change over time in our estimation. (No apparently self-destructive act is ever only self-destructive, no good is purely and simply that.) Self-criticism is an unforbidden pleasure: we seem to relish the way it makes us suffer. Unforbidden pleasures are the pleasures we don’t particularly want to think about: we just implicitly take it for granted that each day will bring its necessary quotient of self-disappointment, that every day we will fail to be as good as we should be; but without our being given the resources, the language, to wonder who or what is setting the pace, or where these rather punishing standards come from. How can we find out what we think of all this when conscience never lets go?

I know plenty of people who have this relationship with their consciences. It's kind of sad but more disturbing.

And finally a fascinating support of different forms of expression and the interpretations thereof:

After interpreting Hamlet’s apparent procrastinations with the new-found authority of the new psychoanalyst, Freud feels the need to add something by way of qualification that is at once a loophole and a limit. ‘But just as all neurotic symptoms,’ he writes, ‘and, for that matter, dreams, are capable of being “over-interpreted”, and indeed need to be, if they are to be fully understood, so all genuinely creative writings are the product of more than a single impulse in the poet’s mind, and are open to more than a single interpretation.’ It is as though Freud’s guilt about his own aggression in asserting his interpretation of what he calls the ‘deepest layers’ in Hamlet – his claim to sovereignty over the text and the character of Hamlet – leads him to open up the play having closed it down. You can only understand anything that matters – dreams, neurotic symptoms, people, literature – by over-interpreting it; by seeing it, from different aspects, as the product of multiple impulses. Over-interpretation, here, means not settling for a single interpretation, however apparently compelling. The implication – which hints at Freud’s ongoing suspicion, i.e. ambivalence, about psychoanalysis – is that the more persuasive, the more authoritative the interpretation the less credible it is, or should be. If one interpretation explained Hamlet we wouldn’t need Hamlet anymore: Hamlet as a play would have been murdered. Over-interpretation means not being stopped in your tracks by what you are most persuaded by; to believe in a single interpretation is radically to misunderstand the object one is interpreting, and interpretation itself.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

On Morality

From a reader:

Recently read Joan Didion's collection of essays, "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," I recommend the essay titled, "On Morality." Reminded of your views on mob mentality and the impossibility of a collective conscience. Here's a link to the essay,

Cool quote, “I followed my own conscience.” “I did what I thought was right.” How many madmen have said it and meant it? How many murderers? Klaus Fuchs said it, and the men who committed the Mountain Meadows Massacre said it, and Alfred Rosenberg said it. And, as we are rotely and rather presumptuously reminded by those who would say it now, Jesus said it. Maybe we have all said it, and maybe we have been wrong. Except on that most primitive level—our loyalties to those we love—what could be more  arrogant than to claim the primacy of personal conscience?"

Another good quote from the link:

Of course you will say that I do not have the right, even if I had the power, to inflict that unreasonable conscience upon you; nor do I want you to inflict your conscience, however reasonable, however enlightened, upon me. (“We must be aware of the dangers which lie in our most generous wishes,” Lionel Trilling once wrote. “Some paradox of our nature leads us, when once we have made our fellow men the objects of our enlightened interest, to go on to make them the objects of our pity, then of our wisdom, ultimately of our coercion.”) That the ethic of conscience is intrinsically insidious seems scarcely a revelatory point, but it is one raised with increasing infrequency; even those who do raise it tend to segue with troubling readiness into the quite contradictory position that the ethic of conscience is dangerous when it is “wrong,” and admirable when it is “right.”

You see I want to be quite obstinate about insisting that we have no way of knowing – beyond that fundamental loyalty to the social code – what is “right” and what is “wrong,” what is “good” and what “evil.” I dwell so upon this because the most disturbing aspect of “morality” seems to me to be the frequency with which the word now appears; in the press, on television, in the most perfunctory kinds of conversation. Questions of straightforward power (or survival) politics, questions of quite indifferent public policy, questions of almost anything; they are all assigned these factitious moral burdens. There is something quite facile going on, some self-indulgence at work. Of course we would all like to “believe” in something, like to assuage our private guilts in public causes, like to lose our tiresome selves; like, perhaps, to transform the white flag of defeat at home into the brave white banner of battle away from home. And of course it is all right to do that; that is how, immemorially, things have gotten done. But I think it is all right only so long as we do not delude ourselves about what we are doing, and why. It is all right only so long as we remember that all the ad hoc committees, all the picket lines, all the brave signatures in The New York Times, all the tools of agitprop straight across the spectrum, do not confer upon anyone any ipso facto virtue. It is all right only so long as we recognize that the end may or may not be expedient, may or may not be a good idea, but in any case has nothing to with “morality.” Because when we start deceiving ourselves into thinking not that we want something or need something, not that it is a pragmatic necessity for us to have it, but that it is a moral imperative that we have it, then is when we join the fashionable madmen, and then is when the thin whine of hysteria is heard in the land, and then is when we are in bad trouble. And I suspect we are already there.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Lack of self-awareness leads to transparency

Bruce Lee (via Brainpickings) asserts:

We can see through others only when we see through ourselves.

Lack of self-awareness renders us transparent; a soul that knows itself is opaque.

I find this to be true. I think it's particularly well illustrated by one narrow facet of life. If you look at an infant, it is almost not self-aware at all. It lives every thought, every feeling, every bowel movement as if it is not being observed, either not even by its own self. Eventually it becomes a child, but there is still a lack of self-awareness, things that are not even on its radar. The child picks his nose, it throws tantrums, it does all manner of things that are considered ridiculous or at least transparent by its observers. It is not aware that it is being judged for these acts. It does not see any ridiculousness in its actions.

You see this in adults all of the time too (every adult, every person, including me). Maybe it's the couple that doesn't seem to understand that the way they fight in public shows that one or both have a rigid interpretation of gender roles. Maybe it's someone's championship of Donald Trump as someone who "tells things like they really are" at an office holiday party that suggests that their vision of the world is one of relative intolerance. Maybe it's the over defensiveness someone gets over a particular issue that suggests that this is a sore spot. 

But I really wonder, if Bruce Lee is correct, is it just that people like that seem transparent to others because they're not as adept at hiding those particular traits (or don't realize that they probably should be hiding those particular traits)? Is it just about the breach of social norms that make these people seem transparent to me and others? If so, that makes Bruce Lee seem less wise. 

But I think it is more than that, there's more to it than just noticing the violation of social norms. Because today I saw a young teenage girl in Christmas performance spring up to the stage and back down with the same sort of exaggerated springing body movements of a very excited three year old. It was definitely a violation of social norms. I thought that most people in the audience would identify that sort of behavior as immature. But it also had such a purity, such a lack of affectation to it -- as if she was self-aware, just not social norm aware, and just being true to herself and whatever it is that she wanted to do in that moment with regard for keeping up appearances. And she didn't seem transparent to me. She still seemed opaque. So it seems like it's not just about knowing what masks to wear to hide our true selves? But also, how is it that sociopaths are so good at reading people? Is it that they are more self-aware than most? Or perhaps more self-aware of the role of cultural expectations in which they live?

Another thought from Bruce Lee describing a problem that a lot of people experience, and for sure I see it in personality disorders that have a tendency to create a false self and have weak self-awareness (e.g. narcissism):

To become different from what we are, we must have some awareness of what we are… Yet it is remarkable that the very people who are most self-dissatisfied and crave most for a new identity have the least self-awareness. They have turned away from an unwanted self and hence never had a good look at it. The result is that those most dissatisfied can neither dissimulate nor attain a real change of heart. They are transparent, and their unwanted qualities persist through all attempts at self-dramatization and self-transformation.

And a parting thought that seems to reference the external control fallacy that got referenced in this post on cognitive distortion:

There is a powerful craving in most of us to see ourselves as instruments in the hands of others and thus free ourselves from the responsibility for acts that are prompted by our own questionable inclinations and impulses. Both the strong and the weak grasp at the alibi. The latter hide their malevolence under the virtue of obedience; they acted dishonorably because they had to obey orders. The strong, too, claim absolution by proclaiming themselves the chosen instrument of a higher power — God, history, fate, nation, or humanity.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The cruise ship story

I know this post is going to sound random to most people and morose to some people and everyone can agree it probably belongs in the category of navel gazing. But there is one story (probably not true, because I think I heard it at like a cousin's graduation or something) that I have heard that inexplicably haunts me. In fact, I'm surprised I have never said anything about it because I feel this strange compulsion to re-tell it to people, like the movie The Ring (which I thought was such a great metaphor for so many things in life, by the way).

The story: some lady wants to go on a cruise, but she is not financially well off. So she saves all of her money for years and finally has saved up enough to go. But she doesn't have a lot of money to spend on the cruise, a budget of $20 a day. So she figures she'll just bring along some food with her (saltine crackers and cheese) to save money. Now for whatever reason, this story makes me cringe. Because I haven't even cruised before, but my impression is that the standard cruise is all-inclusive. Some more upscale restaurants may charge additional fees, but at least the entry-level restaurants meals are included in the price of the cruise ticket. And of course this is true of the cruise in this story, except the lady doesn't realize it. Instead she has a great time, participates in the activities and goes to the different locations. The last night of the cruise she decides to treat herself and dine in the restaurant. She orders whatever she wants and she loves it. At the end of her meal, she waits for her server to bring the check. After a while, she flags someone down and asks for her bill. The server, surprised, tells her that there is no separate cost for her meal, it's included in the price of the cruise.

I feel like I should tell my therapist this story because maybe there is some deep seeded psychological issue behind the story for me (read here for a similar real life experience). Or maybe I should email my brain doctor, because he's good at dream interpretation and this seems similar. But I actually thought about it again tonight possibly in connection with the reason I keep thinking about it -- I thought about it in relation to my general lack of attachment to life or this world. I've simply never found life to be that compelling. Kind of like a tv show that maybe I might find myself stumbling upon on Netflix and watching the first season or so, but ultimately not getting that caught up in it. Like I don't hate it, and I like it well enough to sit through it and enjoy it, just not enough to keep wanting a bunch more of it. It's oddly a family trait. My brothers would also say that they welcome death, or at least that they have no fear or dread of it and that it will have elements of release or relief to it. (One of my sisters-in-law used to complain about it, worry that it would mean that he would abandon his kids by not trying hard enough to survive a disease or other injury. Interestingly, now she feels the same way about take-it-or-leave-it life and can't remember how she ever could have felt any other way, so maybe it's contagious). But even though I've always had a friendly stance towards death, I think I've always wondered if I wasn't just eating saltine crackers and cheese in my closet of a room rather than dining at the all-you-can buffet. And I think that more than anything else has been a secret wish or hope of mine. But I feel a little funny admitting that now because I've been in therapy with a great therapist for over two years now and have made a lot of reconnections to emotions and letting go of some of the more problematic personality disorder thinking patterns, have actually started finding fulfillment in my career, have better relationships with my family the last few years than I had in any other few year span in my life. But if anything, I feel even less thrilled about life than I ever have. Maybe it was the cutting back on the shenanigans. Maybe feeling my emotions more really and deeply is making me overall less satisfied with life. Or maybe I thought that I'd have found the way to the buffet by now if it existed, but the fact that I'm still here eating cracker sandwiches suggests that maybe this is it and I have to get better at appreciating what I have? I don't know, it's kind of hilarious because I feel like for the first time I am starting to have problems that only normal people have, but I haven't yet learned all of the coping mechanisms that go along with them.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Gaslighting or cognitive distortion?

From a reader:

i am in a 7 year long relationship with a sociopath. he does not call himself a sociopath, but does joyfully brag that he is a full on crazy person & that it will be the reason he will be a millionaire, world leader, famous etc. he is very controlling and emotionally abusive, but also tries his best to be kind to me and show positive emotions. i will not be leaving him as most would suggest i do. i own that i am in an unhealthy relationship, and that i will feel more pain from leaving him than i will from staying with him. we both work to be happy as hard as it is. we argue a lot which is expected when a sane person is trying to have a successful loving life with a crazy person. the arguments stem from his cruelty, dishonesty, drunken blackouts to the smallest nothing that i can't even believe it caused an argument. one thing is constant though, every argument turns him vicious. screaming, threatening, punching holes in walls, breaking up with me (with no intention to do so) the works. he will say and do things, then a moment later, vehemently denies having said or done these things and calling me delusional or a lier. he seems so convinced that these things did not happen or were not said, he acts offended and hurt and very angry that i would accuse him of these things. possibly because he's said them in heated un warranted anger, then realizes how crazy or cruel he sounded and is embarrassed. i don't know the reason, but its surely not that he doesn't remember these things, he knows they happened. it is impossible to resolve an issue when the whole discussion turns into me working like hell to get him to admit what has just happened. knowing that they happened and that he is trying unsuccessfully to manipulate me does not resolve anything. many women in abusive relationships roll up in a ball and submit. that would reduce the frequency of the disagreements. however i do not do that. i fight for myself and what is true, and how i should be treated in a certain way. i definitely match him in battle, though its exhausting and feels foolish to entertain.

 i really am striving to have a productive situation that i can live with and be happy. this can not happen if i can't find a way around the habitual gas lighting. any advice would be appreciated.


It actually doesn't sound like he is gaslighting you so much as that he is delusional. He doesn't sound self-aware. A lot of people with personality disorders suffer from a belief that their reality is objective Reality, their truth is objective Truth, no matter what evidence to the contrary is presented to them. There's someone like this in my own life. For him, he doesn't believe that he creates reality per se, or that he controls reality in any way. He actually believes that there's an objective reality that he cannot control and that everybody's experience of reality is different, but he believes that his experience of reality, for whatever reason, happens to be unfailingly accurate to the objective reality. (I feel like this belief is also related in an odd habit of his to believe that he is not making choices in his life, but that he is just fulfilling a predestined course of action in direct reaction to things he has no control over. Conveniently, this means that he is also not responsible for anything he does, because he is never able to choose any other choice then the one he chose. The logic is very Sam Harris to the illogical extreme with a side of hindsight bias -- i.e. if he is the person he is, and if the person he is had a mind that naturally thought the thoughts that naturally led to that particular action, it must be that he had no other option or choice but to engage in that action. This link calls this an external control fallacy.)

But all people with personality disorders often (always?) suffer from cognitive distortions (I do too, of course because I am personality disordered, although I have gotten a lot more aware of it and consequently hopefully better). See this link for common examples of reality distortion, also here. The problem with this particular trait in a relationship is that it can have the same effect as gaslighting because this stuff is truly through-the-looking-glass crazy making. You will feel like you're losing your mind because your boyfriend's reality is so different from what you perceive to be reality and he is so insistent about it being true. I think that being in this type of situation could make anybody crazy, and it certainly historically has made plenty of people crazy. I myself feel like I have taken a small detour to crazy town when I talk to people who present with this trait. Sometimes it is particularly maddening, e.g. when the person says things about me, my profession, my philosophical or spiritual beliefs, or other things that I identify more closely with than others. I doubt that you'll be able to handle this constant onslaught to your sanity without incurring significant damage to your psyche or without intensive therapy. For something related, you could look up videos or writings about verbal abuse, which has a similar effect on people.

And further thoughts for the blog audience:

This issue is particularly relevant right now because I've been seeing a lot of this on here recently. It's a variation of what I tweeted recently -- there are a lot of uses for reason, but changing people's cognitive distortions is not one of them. I have tried a million times to reason with people in my life who suffer from cognitive distortions, but I have never been successful. All I have seen work is extensive therapy by someone incredibly qualified who is somehow able to teach them to first recognize that they aren't happy with the way they deal with the world, second want to figure out if there's something they could be doing better, third identify specific patterns of negative beliefs (i.e. cognitive distortions) in their life, fourth get them to consistently detect instances in which they do this, and possibly finally (and by this time they probably don't even need it because they've already reached the right conclusions themselves) -- reason.

The person I know with the belief that he is the only one consistently seeing reality for what it is just recently confessed to me that he now recognizes that just because he feels something doesn't mean that his feeling necessarily reflects reality. (The first link calls this "emotional reasoning": "We believe that what we feel must be true automatically. . . You assume that your unhealthy emotions reflect he way things really are — 'I feel it, therefore it must be true.'".) Wow, that's amazing. If he can get there, there's hope for everyone, but not likely via well-meaning others trying to show them the error of their ways by trying to rationalize with them.

Why is it that we can pass by someone crazy on the street or on a bus or train and just mentally give them a pass but the seemingly normal people with cognitive distortions drive up our blood pressure and drive us crazy too? Maybe because the crazy person is obviously crazy, so we just write off their crazymaking behavior without internalizing any of it. But the more you learn to recognize cognitive distortions in others, the more they become obviously crazy too, which hopefully leads to less craziness in you. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Myers-Briggs and the Forer Effect

A reader sent this video about how Myers-Briggs is not at all well accepted in the psychology world but is highly popular outside and why:

But to say that the types are "totally meaningless" seems an exaggeration. If (1) about half of the people who take the test multiple times get different types and (2) it fails to predict success in various jobs and (3) it's really only so popular because it gives positive results (you're courageous, you're sensitive, e.g.) and it simplifies our world and satisfies our brain's desire to find patterns and categorize, that in my mind doesn't equate to meaningless. But is it more popular nowadays to say something outrageous and absolute, or has that always been in?

The interesting thing to me is that there isn't more gaming of the Myers-Briggs if it is so popular, if it is supposedly so popular with employers and so meaningless.

Also, my brother (who has apparently been living under a rock for a decade or more) had just discovered the test recently and was making everyone in my family take it, but only after I had predicted everyone's types with uncanny success. Could it be that what the Myers-Briggs is testing accurately is less someone's personality and more their deepest desires and insecurities? It doesn't seem obviously that way if you just look at the questions, but the whole administration of it seems to invite it -- people answering questions about what they think and want? Could it be that the Myers-Briggs is getting at underlying beliefs and desires in a sideways way the same way that a Freudian slip or dream analysis might reveal unconscious motivations and belief systems? For some reason I kind of feel well, because the same part of my brain that I use to guess people's type is the same one that I use to read people (i.e. observe desires, longings, and areas of potential vulnerability in another).

I know I've said a lot of douche-y, particularly megalomanical and uneducated things in this post, and this is the last one I promise, but how is it that people don't know what their type is before they take the test? Do they not have any level of self-awareness that they need to be told these things about themselves?

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Personal resilience

I really enjoyed this comment from the previous post, particularly this analogy to a sore tooth:

Sociopaths love power. When you (even in the context of healthy boundaries) say "ouch" it's kind of like announcing a sore tooth to a tongue. For reasons unknown to all of us, when a tooth is sore, we feel compelled to continue prodding that tooth until the soreness is somehow resolved. A sociopath is like the tongue here- compelled to nudge and explore for pain almost reflexively. 
When you have figured out the genesis of the sore tooth within yourself then you can seek a more appropriate outlet for resolving what is making you feel sore, rather than alerting your tongue to a situation it is not equipped to heal, only to antagonize. 

Paradoxically, your withdrawal makes you ten time more desirable to the sociopath and they will do whatever they can to re- engage with you (if you were actually as desirable to them as you led yourself to believe). 

If they don't chase after you, maybe you were simply ensnared by their flattery (no shame in that, just see it for what it is). More flattery won't make you feel better. Just addicted and then the sociopath will begin to feel your hunger for a certain sort of feedback and will be transformed into the tongue that can not leave the poor sore tooth alone. 

So you have a sore tooth. Know it, own it, and heal. It's not the sociopath's job to be part of the process. On the other side, the sociopath may be there or they may not. But you have solved your problem without making the sociopath responsible for your pain. This exercise will increase your personal power in all future actions immeasurably.

But I think this analogy has broader applications beyond relationships to sociopaths and to relationships or interactions with anyone -- this almost compulsive need to want to keep poking, keep probing, and in the analogy the involvement of another person, trying to come to some sort of solution or understanding with another person. The whole process doesn't seem overtly harmful or negative, and it's so easy to justify to ourselves as just exploring the pain we feel, perhaps identifying the pain. But even when that happens, why is it that we seldom feel any sense of relief at that knowledge but perhaps an even more heightened obsession and focus on the problem that only serves to magnify the pain and discomfort. Or maybe this is just what I tend to do... :)

I feel like this is related -- I have noticed a western societal trend (that has probably always been there but is perhaps being accentuated in my mind due to my own personal change) from an internal locus of control attitude to an external one. Pieces of "evidence" I see for it include the reactions to the student protests of this fall, such as this NY Times piece arguing that calls for students to become more resilient are really attempts to sweep injustice under the rug and shame the victims. But becoming resilient is not (necessarily) merely a necessary evil that society would rather force on select individuals rather than addressing underlying problems. It is a universal principle that helps everyone to a more satisfying life, from the highest to the lowest of the global socioeconomic classes, from the most privileged to the least, in every aspect of life.

Resilience, they way I think it is being used in these contexts, is the ability to self-regulate one's internal sense of well-being despite obstacles or aggravations present in one's environment. And everybody wants more of it. The number one trait people seem to envy about sociopaths is the ability to remain so unaffected by what others think of them or the fearful or stressful things of life. Isn't this a type of resilience?

The alternative to internal self-regulation is to try to enforce your standards and conditions for happiness on everyone else and the entire outside world. I too would like it if my boss never made me his personal scapegoat. I too would like it if loved ones never did anything insensitive or unkind or if there was no such thing as sexism or senseless violence or a bad day in the stock market or any cavities in my teeth. I know some of you put cavities in a different category of things that I supposedly can control (I have unusually thin enamel, hardly ever eat sugar, and floss religiously, so I don't know how that works out in formula of personal accountability) and someone perpetrating a crime of violence against you is in a polar opposite category of things you can't control. And some people probably think I am ignorant or shameful to deign to include them all in the same category. And I have no desire to suggest that these harms are equal or related or that is not more worthy of moral reprehension than another -- I'm not making any attempts to whitewash or sweep things under the rug, but...

And this is possibly the best life tip that I can give you from my sociopathic heart, if you look at either the teeth or the victim of violent crime situations from a purely utilitarian viewpoint that is focused less on some abstract concept of justice and more on pure self-interest of what is ultimately best for you, I think that you will find that treating them both (and any) situations with an internal locus of control focus will result in more personal peace, joy, and happiness to you than to ever need to seek someone's complicity, cooperation, reciprocity, shame, guilt, or acknowledgment of your hurt (particularly someone who is otherwise unwilling to do so) in order for you to feel better.

I understand the logic of the external locus of control mentality. If someone hurts you, and if they could only stop hurting you, you could stop being hurt. But if you can develop coping strategies for your teeth problems or your diabetes or your cancer or your other perpetratorless act of nature type harms, you should be able to do likewise for your issues that come from the misdeeds or shortcomings of people. And in resolving them independently without the need for others or the world to adjust or fix itself before you can be ok again just streamlines the efficiency of the process and is likely more efficacious because you don't have to worry about enforcing your rules on others. (Not to say that people shouldn't have boundaries, obviously they should. But if people respecting and adhering to your boundaries 100% is the only that you can feel ok in the world, then that is a precarious position to be in.)

This is already way too long, but I feel like I have not done a good enough job representing how useful the trait of resilience is, so a quick story that I also feel is related somehow. This morning as I was sitting on a bench in a public place, a man dressed as a monk came up to me and shook me down for a donation to some far away temple that was allegedly being restored. I gave him money, as I always do when asked (I don't really have an attachment or any feeling toward money itself, only to what the acquisition or lack of money can sometimes represent, so I always do give money out of politeness). The other people he accosted after me refused him. Maybe they didn't have money, or maybe they weren't interested in his temple or opposed his religious beliefs or something, but I wondered if some of them didn't give because they were worried about being scammed. I thought to myself, I do not experience any psychic or emotional harm in being scammed, at least not like this. And I felt very fortunate for that.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

When and why to let a sociopath know they've hurt you

From a reader:

Hi M.E., I would love your opinion or insight on this, if you have time.

One of my friends is a high functioning, non-violent sociopath. I love him, and even though I'm an empath, I share a similar mindset with sociopaths. I kind of understand the neurobiology of sociopathy, so I don't get caught in moral reasoning regarding right and wrong doing--I don't even believe in free will, and see human interaction within the context of evolutionary game theory.
But, I do realize that reminding myself of that is not easy at times, and removing my skin from the situation to see what's really going on requires an effort.

Also, rationalizing and understanding doesn't change the fact that I want to feel cared for, so I sometimes get a bit sad when he is indifferent and inconsiderate.

He is not abusive, I don't feel exploited, in which case I would just move away.

We engage in interesting conversations and I know he enjoys being around me. He always ends up next to me on social gatherings and I notice his eyes on me when he thinks I can't see him, which I find flattering even though I know he wouldn't give a fuck if I died.
I really appreciate the fact that he is open about his shallow emotions, he doesn't lie about his feelings.

It's difficult for me to figure out the best way to let him know that I care about him but I feel kind of hurt sometimes (not often, though).

What kind of dynamic do you think works best to maintain a healthy friendship based on your own experience? Do you think it's a good idea to let him know when I'm upset? Tit for tat? What kind of response, if any, would have a positive impact on you?

Thanks for reading, I love that you are also open about your inner life and that you're trying to make this world a better place for a minority that also deserves to be understood. We all need love and compassion.

(I'm not a native English speaker, so I'm sorry about any mistakes.)


What would be your motivation for telling him when and why you are hurt? That would be really helpful in letting you know if it's likely to be successful. Because if you're trying to tell him that you're hurt in order to provoke an emotional or empathetic response, you are likely to just become more hurt at the lack of response. He's probably unable of meeting your needs on that point.

But if you are just trying to give him feedback, like conditional behavioral therapy feedback, then he probably would appreciate the extra information for his data mining efforts. This is not as true for sociopaths, but when people are criticized without their invitation, they often react poorly and defensively and don't end up internalizing the criticism. So it's as if the criticism had no value, even a negative value because now they trust you less for having attacked them and been disloyal (in their minds). Even with sociopaths, it's probably best practices to ask permission to give them feedback on your experience of them. Also it is probably best practices to wait until you are not feeling particularly emotional about the situation (which is actually more important when dealing with sociopaths).

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Famous sociopaths? Gabriele d'Annunzio

From a reader:

Sociopath song?:

Historical sociopath?:

From the link, headlined under "THE SEX-OBSESSED POET WHO INVENTED FASCISM":

D'Annunzio was a thrill-seeking megalomaniac best described as a cross between the Marquis de Sade, Aaron Burr, Ayn Rand, and Madonna. He was wildly popular. And he wasn't like anyone who came before him.

“You must create your life, as you'd create a work of art. It's necessary that the life of an intellectual be artwork with him as the subject. True superiority is all here. At all costs, you must preserve liberty, to the point of intoxication," d’Annunzio writes in Il Piacere, an ambiguously autobiographical novel published in 1889. "The rule for an intellectual is this: own, don't be owned.”

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The allure of seduction

From a reader:

Hi, M.E.

I just read this article and was reminded of how socios seem to be very much into seduction.

Is this how you guys operate?

What do you guys look for in a "relationship"? Power over the other person? Access to resources (e.g. money, status, etc)?

From the link (oddly enough written by Elizabeth Gilbert, of Eat Pray Love fame, which just goes to show that anything can be normalized/mainstreamed? Or that people love redemption stories or something?):

Seduction is the art of coercing somebody to desire you, of orchestrating somebody else’s longings to suit your own hungry agenda. Seduction was never a casual sport for me; it was more like a heist, adrenalizing and urgent. I would plan the heist for months, scouting out the target, looking for unguarded entries. Then I would break into his deepest vault, steal all his emotional currency and spend it on myself.

If the man was already involved in a committed relationship, I knew that I didn’t need to be prettier or better than his existing girlfriend; I just needed to be different. (The novel doesn’t always win out over the familiar, mind you, but it often does.) The trick was to study the other woman and to become her opposite, thereby positioning myself to this man as a sparkling alternative to his regular life.

Soon enough, and sure enough, I might begin to see that man’s gaze toward me change from indifference, to friendship, to open desire. That’s what I was after: the telekinesis-like sensation of steadily dragging somebody’s fullest attention toward me and only me. My guilt about the other woman was no match for the intoxicating knowledge that — somewhere on the other side of town — somebody couldn’t sleep that night because he was thinking about me. If he needed to sneak out of his house after midnight in order to call, better still. That was power, but it was also affirmation. I was someone’s irresistible treasure. I loved that sensation, and I needed it, not sometimes, not even often, but always.

What do you all think? For me I think it is for that and also to create that physical high that your body rewards you for, the intoxication of infatuation. There's also a sense of intimacy about it. And what is intimacy if not a high degree of influence over another person?

Friday, December 4, 2015

No psychos in psychology?

A sociopathic identifying reader whom I had previously had a conversation with recently sent me this update:

I was recently released from my graduate program in psychology, more than halfway through my program. I assure you that I was not released due to low grades, I don't struggle in that area. I was released due to flat affect. They felt that I didn't make a good fit. After being told of my release of the program, my professor grew frustrated because I didn't react much to the news. I didn't feel like becoming self-destructive or venting. I had already gotten on good terms with a professor from another school who will transfer me to his program. I made friends with this professor for this reason. Is that manipulative or just smart thinking? When my professor was telling me about my release from the program he looked concern for my well being. All I could do was stare at him and think what it would be like to bite his lips off his face in front of the other professors. This reminded me of an excerpt in your book. Just thought I would share. 

I don't know why, but I was a little shocked and pretty disheartened to read this. I guess in some ways it makes sense, particularly if you assume that all sociopaths will cause harm -- it's not a matter if if, it's when and who and how. But is that assumption really warranted? (By the way, I just recently got an email from a secondary school student doing research into what makes sociopaths want to kill. Good question, except it's almost as nonsensical as asking something like what makes black people want to kill? Or even more starkly, what makes men want to kill? See here, here, and here regarding the very lopsided statistics regarding gender/race and propensity to commit violent crime.) There are people with autism that study and contribute to the greater understanding of autism as well as helping others with autism. There are people who are schizophrenics who do the same. Is there really no room in psychology for psychopaths?

When I asked him if I could let people know what happened to him here, he indicated that he was concerned that some would assume that psychology must be filled with evil psychopaths, so gave this explanation as to why he was interested:

As far back as I can remember, there has always been an appeal to power and saving lives.  I have specifically chosen to work with the traumatized.  Sitting across the room from someone with PTSD, is pure fantasy for me.  It's like a fairy tale. A wounded bird has been put before me, and I have the power to step on it or fix it.  Of course I fix it, because it's something that friends and family were most likely not able to do.  In return, I set it free to take its place back in the environment. Because of me, I have ensured survival for its offspring.  I have given the tools and psychoeducation so that one can cope and participate in life.  It will be passed on through nurture and eventually become part of its nature.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Epicureanism = religion for sociopaths

I have been really into the famous stoic Marcus Aurelius recently. Part of trying to become more aware of my emotions means that I am suddenly sometimes swimming knee deep in terrible emotions, without any practice dealing with any of it or making sense of it. Marcus Aurelius has been a good way to get more zen about things. Quotes like:

"When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own — not of the same blood or birth, but of the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions."


"The only thing that isn’t worthless: to live this life out truthfully and rightly... patient with those who don’t.”

In a similar vein, a reader rights about the appeal of Epicureanism for sociopaths:

This one is a long read, but I think you'll enjoy it.

Apparently Machiavelli was an Epicurean. Epicurean philosophy: materialist, rational, pleasure-oriented and pro-social. It is very different from Catholocism/Christianity.

Personally, Stoicism appeals to me more. It is basically the same philosophy, but with more emphasis on self-control in all situations. But if you are happy and full of joy and wonder, it is a lot easier to be nice.

If you always remember that you've only got right now to live - and that you'll be dead forever - that makes it a lot easier to be nice to oneself and others.

A selection:

Anyone who thought, as Lucretius did, that it was a particular pleasure to gaze from shore at a ship foundering in wild seas or to stand on a height and behold armies clashing on a plain—“not because any man’s troubles are a delectable joy, but because to perceive what ills you are free from yourself is pleasant”—is not someone I can find an entirely companionable soul. I am, rather, with Shakespeare’s Miranda, who, harrowed by the vision of a shipwreck, cries, “O, I have suffered / With those I saw suffer!” There is something disturbingly cold in Lucretius’ account of pleasure, an account that leads him to advise those who are suffering from the pangs of intense love to reduce their anguish by taking many lovers.
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