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.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Quote: Day and night side

"However well we get to know the world it will always contain a day and a night side."


Friday, November 27, 2015

Selfish altruism and altruistic selfishness

This was an interesting article on David Hume's thoughts on altruism. First, he talks about how all altruism has an essence of selfishness:

All is self-love. Your children are loved only because they are yours: your friend for a like reason; and your country engages you only so far as it has a connection with yourself. Were the idea of self removed, nothing would affect you: you would be altogether unactive and insensible: or, if you ever give yourself any movement, it would only be from vanity, and a desire of fame and reputation to this same self.

He does not find this to be at all problematic (nor do I) because as he says: "The virtuous sentiment or passion produces the pleasure, and does not arise from it. I feel a pleasure in doing good to my friend, because I love him; but do not love him for the sake of that pleasure."

Yes, surely often that is true, but I don't think that is 100% the case. I think plenty of people do altruistic things not for the pleasure it gives them to serve someone that they love but for the pleasure it gives them to do any number of other things: appear good in front of others, get someone to owe them something, feel important or needed, etc. So, ok, old news -- altruism isn't as selfless as people sometimes pretend it to be,

But more interestingly perhaps for this crowd are his assertions, centuries ago, the oft heard (on this website) explanation for why would a sociopath ever choose to do something altruistic him or herself:

In the second place, it has always been found, that the virtuous are far from being indifferent to praise; and therefore they have been represented as a set of vainglorious men, who had nothing in view but the applauses of others. But this also is a fallacy. It is very unjust in the world, when they find any tincture of vanity in a laudable action, to depreciate it upon that account, or ascribe it entirely to that motive. The case is not the same with vanity, as with other passions. Where avarice or revenge enters into any seemingly virtuous action, it is difficult for us to determine how far it enters, and it is natural to suppose it the sole actuating principle. But vanity is so closely allied to virtue, and to love the fame of laudable actions approaches so near the love of laudable actions for their own sake, that these passions are more capable of mixture, than any other kinds of affection; and it is almost impossible to have the latter without some degree of the former. Accordingly we find, that this passion for glory is always warped and varied according to the particular taste or disposition of the mind on which it falls. Nero had the same vanity in driving a chariot, that Trajan had in governing the empire with justice and ability. 

In other words, if all altruism has an element of narcissistic or selfish pleasure, then vanity can motivate altruism as well as a love of virtue. Yes, ok Hume, I follow and I agree. Plenty of sociopaths love to do altruistic things because it appeals to their own vanity, a la "I can do this thing better than anyone else, so I will and earn the self-satisfaction/praise/honor/reputation/gratitude/etc."

The only off thing about Hume's thinking to me is that he follows that thought immediately with this non sequitur: "To love the glory of virtuous deeds is a sure proof of the love of virtue." What? Didn't you just finish telling us that the love of virtuous deeds can come from vanity? So maybe I misunderstand him, do I?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The morality of sociopaths, clueless, and losers

I have forgotten how I got linked to this (sorry twitter people or emailers!), but it is a further explanation of the Gervais Principle, previously discussed on this blog, in which the author discusses the relative roles of the losers, the clueless, and the sociopaths in a modern work environment. The author, Venkatesh Rao, makes clear that he is not necessarily talking about clinically diagnosed sociopaths, but the way he defines them does share a lot of overlap with at least a certain subset of clinically diagnosable sociopaths:

I originally characterized “sociopath” as will-to-power people. Let me add a few more characteristics.

First, sociopaths are driven by unsentimental observation of external realities, no matter how unpleasant. Second, they use the information they acquire through reality-grounding in skilled ways. Third, their distrust of subsuming communities and groups leads them to adopt personal moralities. Whether good or evil, the morality of a sociopath is something he or she takes responsibility for.

Finally, and most importantly, sociopaths do not seek legitimacy for their private morality from the group, justify it, or apologize for it. They may attempt to evade the consequences of their behavior. In fact their personal morality may legitimize such evasion.  Equally, they may, out of realistic and pragmatic assessments, allow themselves to be subject to codified group morality (such as a legal or religious system), that they privately disagree with. So they might accept consequences they feel they do not deserve, because they assess attempts at rebellion to be futile. But in all cases, they reserve for themselves the right to make all moral judgments. Their private morality is not, in their view, a matter for external democractic judgment.

So yes, this entire edifice I am constructing is a determinedly amoral one. Hitler would count as a sociopath in this sense, but so would Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

In all this, the source of the personality of this archetype is distrust of the group, so I am sticking to the word “sociopath” in this amoral sense. The fact that many readers have automatically conflated the word “sociopath” with “evil” in fact reflects the demonizing tendencies of loser/clueless group morality. The characteristic of these group moralities is automatic distrust of alternative individual moralities. The distrust directed at the sociopath though, is reactionary rather than informed.

It then goes on to contrast this group, characterized by the members' personal morality, with the clueless and the losers:

The key here is that the clueless and losers often externalize their moral sense, into some sort of collectively (and ritually) adopted code, thereby abdicating responsibility for the moral dimension of their actions entirely. You don’t have to think about the morality of what you do if you can just appeal to some code (religious texts are the main kind, but there are others, such as Hippie or Joe the Plumber codes). The morality that they defer to is always a codified communal version of the views of some charismatic sociopath, but it is the abdication of responsibility, as a group, by the clueless and losers, that amplifies the impact of both the Hitlers and Gandhis of the world. Without this group dynamic, Hitler would have been a random local psycho, perhaps serial-killing a dozen people. Gandhi might have been no more than a friendly neighborhood do-gooder.

Which implies, by the way, that organized religion is incompatible with sociopathy.

This entire view can be disturbing to some of you, so take a step back here. What do you fear most?An evil group or an evil person? Read Shirley Jackson’s thoroughly scary story of group insanity, The Lottery. Watch Children of the Corn. Would you rather live in a town where there is a sole vampire terrorizing the population, or be the sole non-zombie in a town that has gone all-zombie? Ask yourself, who scares you more — Hitler or the mindless army he inspired? Would you prefer the tyranny of a dictator or the tyranny of an illiberal democracy, where a mob tramples over individuals? Dictators can be overthrown. Can an evil group culture be as easily displaced?

I don’t want to offer flippant and easy solutions to these age-old moral conundrums. I just want to point out to those who are equating “sociopath” with “evil” (modulo any semantic confusion) that morality needs to be looked at in more complex ways.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Different children and identity

An LDS person with two children on the autism spectrum asked me both about LDS reactions and about what sorts of things I would be careful about with my young people who are different (kind of, she asked something slightly different but I obtusely missed it and answered that question instead).

My response:

I've actually had mostly good reactions from other LDS people. I once had a relief society president in one of my wards flip out on me about it, but she tearfully apologized for it the next week, giving me a hug. When the book first came out, I read some amazon reviews, etc., and some mormons were a little down on that, said I couldn't really be mormon or had a terrible understanding of mormonism (and I'm sure I didn't understand certain things very well, and my understanding has constantly evolved, but isn't that true of everyone and do we usually judge people because of it?). I have had a couple mormon friends that may not keep in touch with me because of it, or maybe they're just busy and I'm imagining things. Overall the reception within the church has been much better than without the church. To the extent that things got a little ugly here and there (you probably know what I'm talking about), I can sympathize with what people thought they had to do. I think me writing the book put a lot of people in a bad position personally because it came as a surprise and they very naturally perhaps wondered if I am a practiced liar, what did they really know about who I am. They were stuck between feelings that they had to rush in to defend themselves or others or institutions against a perceived threat and the reality that I've always been basically the same person, pre and post book, I'm just much more open now.

If I had advice to give to anyone dealing with children who are different, it would be to try to be very careful to not damage their identity or suggest that they need to be any different than how God created them to be. My current (LDS) therapist says that the best way that we can worship God is to be precisely the being that he created in us. Questions of identity are tricky, of course, because sometimes we associate with attributes that are just coincidentally related to our socialization, experiences, etc. But I think that's all the more reason to be very careful with how we interfere with people's expression of their identities, because we never know what is truly core to who they are.

I'll give you a quick example of what I think to be bad interference. My 5 year old nephew is differently minded. One of the things he does (did) is pull the front part of his hair, particularly when he was thinking analytically (which he loves to do). It drove his mother a little crazy, so she buzzed his hair. I talked to him about it, and he seemed really sad, thought it would take forever for his hair to grow back, and also felt like it was a punishment or because he was bad for pulling his hair. A week later he told his mom, "See, I pull on my lip now like this [demonstrates] because you cut off my hair. And if you cut off my lip, I'll just do this with my ears [plays with ears]." It wasn't accusatory, and it wasn't critical of her. He just realized that there was a reason why he did the things he did, and that they were so important to him that he had already come up with another contingency plan if he lost the ability to do that thing.

My therapist on this topic says that even things that aren't closely associated with identity, like pulling on hair ticks, can still implicate identity in dangerous ways. He says that although things like certain types of anxiety can and should be confronted in people's lives, if you try to get a child to do it at too early of a stage, it will not only affect the anxiety but the child's other aspects of core identity. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

An sociopath's online journal

A reader writes:

I'm writing because I've recently come across your book and have found it mind blowing.  Particularly so, because it reads as if you are peeling back layers from my mind on every page. You have articulated things I have thought but not been able to express. I also was accused of being a sociopath by someone who had come across one before. I also let it go but felt offended. I am a black, 27 year old who has done pretty well but seem to have hit a wall in my life. I only came across your book by chance and I've not put it down since. It has inspired me to also write an online journal anonymously. I am not sure if I am a sociopath but many of the qualifying traits reside in me perhaps to a lesser extent than yourself. The journal has made me reach into my childhood to find out what is "wrong" with me so to speak.

An excerpt:

I do not think I am a bad person but I can do bad things. Most people tend to like me when they meet me. I genuinely care for people without always feeling any form of emotional compulsion towards them. I'm a generally smiley person, i know it encourages people to let their guard down. I love breaking ice, whether between my teeth or between myself and another person. It's exhilarating. I also have a penchant for the extreme. Though I admit I'm actually scared of most things I do, there is something that draws me to it. The sense of danger, the adrenaline, the suspense and the anticipation of conquering it. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Extreme empath child?

From a reader:

Enjoy your blog as always.

This video of a little girl with an extraordinary capacity for empathy is doing the rounds.

(I worry about the intentions of the woman who filmed it but that's another story.)

Monday, November 16, 2015

Seeing the world as an extension of ourserlves

This was an interesting comment on an old post from someone who identifies as narcissistic, but actually became self-aware and got better:

Everything I've read about narcissism says leave them alone...I was physically abused as a child and had a series of crises (death of the parent who abused me, failed relationships etc)

Now I can remember how I slowly died and became an unfeeling shell.

For 20 years of my life I lived the life of a narcissist..compartmentalised life..using and abusing everyone and everything..A part of me knew it was wrong but it was a very small part of me..For the most part there was an unfeeling emptiness that I hid very well.

I got married and had 2 children..compartmentalising allowed me to have something that remotely resembled a marriage on the surface.
But nothing filled the hole till I decided to try spiritual practise...even that was narcissistic in its nature..I felt that I was better and knew more than anyone.

I had an experience..I guess you could call it a spiritual experience..After the experience I slowly started feeling again..It's taken 7 years so far..I ve learnt to take leaps of faith..and I've taken many..Every leap revealed something about myself to marriage began to crumble..and I recently took another leap because I could not deal with it..Nothing helped...and something snapped in my head..The pain was gone..All of a sudden..I'm ok on my wife is a person my children are their own beings...I don't know if this is just a phase..We put labels on things we don't understand thinking the labels are reality..forgetting that we've just collected a set of traits...grouped them together and put a label on the group. 

I thought that last paragraph was particularly interesting, especially, "my wife is a person my children are their own beings". My current therapist (and I apologize, I haven't had the time to verify or source this assertion) says that all of the cluster Bs suffer from a common ailment -- that they fail to see others as separate individuals, but rather perceive them to be an extension of themselves. Apparently we all start that way as infants, seeing mother and world as all being the same "us/I". Eventually as a toddler we expand our reach a little and realize that there can be a distance between us and mother, that we are our own autonomous self, and that psychological development allows us to see our true place in the world: that we are one of many people who also have separate identifies, inner worlds, volition, likes and dislikes, and finally that we all have separate realities and to challenge someone else's reality and assert ones own instead can be as violative to that person's personhood as rape. I've always thought that attitude was particular to narcissism, or at least not shared by sociopaths, who seem to very well understand that everyone is different, which is why we can both seem so tolerant and skilled at manipulation, because we see and target people's individual predilections. But my therapist believes that this is common (or perhaps even necessary) in an ASPD diagnosis. I do admit that in my most antisocial, I disregard the personhood of the people around me. But it's not because I have an inability to see them as anything other than just an extension of myself/universe. I wonder, is this a possible distinction between the classic sociopathic diagnosis versus the DSM's ASPD? Can any other sociopathic leaning individuals or people that know sociopaths speak to whether this trait is shared not just in ASPD but the broader sociopathy?

Saturday, November 14, 2015


From a reader:

I'm an 18 year old female and I just wanted to thank you for your book. I brought it when out with my boyfriend one day as it caught my eye, but as I started at the beginning of your story, I couldn't help but notice so many traits that I associate with my own personality. I'm not sure that I would 100% label myself as a sociopath, some of the emotions I experience feel too real and even from a young age I have been quite compassionate, or at least I have come across that way. I did however find myself relating to a lot of the manipulation and self interest and appreciation that you speak of, surprising since I can be so caring and thoughtful when I want to be. Since reading your book, I've come to acknowledge and accept parts of me that I was unsure or wary of previously, and it has helped me to understand that although I may not be a classic 'sociopath' that I do have a lot of the traits which are associated with the label. Your honesty has helped me address issues with friends and family, in particular with my boyfriend, that I previously had no idea how to go about. I'm not expecting a reply or for you to tell me your identity, I just wanted to let you know how you've helped me and probably many other people who are not as normal as they make out to be. Thank you.

My response: Thanks for this, I sometimes feel that people get hung up over the label and whether or not they fit exactly in the diagnosis of sociopath, when the label seems to hardly matter in terms of people understanding who they or other people are. I think labels and descriptions can be really helpful, but particularly since there is no real consensus on what makes a sociopath, are sociopath and psychopath the same thing, are they separate or related to antisocial personality disorder, are they a disorder at all or a personality type a la machiavellianism, etc., along with the tendency that people have to conform to what the believe to be the expectations of them, people might take care with how much they identify with or rely upon a label for their self-knowledge.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Religion and sociopathy

From a reader:

We corresponded a few months back about your sister.  I've been following your blog on and off since and having read your book I know you take your religion seriously.  I've found myself returning to my own religion and am beginning to realize how accurate it's world view and message is.  Sociopathy does not exist as defined by psychologists.  A default lack of empathy (or diminished capacity) should yield indifference, not pleasure at other people's misfortunes (not to mention deliberating causing the misfortune, especially when the victim has been generous to you).  

I'm not proselytizing but I'm certain if you read the Qur'an you'll find answers to any and all questions you may have that remain unanswered despite years of therapy, research and experience.  The website below has three English renderings.  Worst case you'll just become familiar with a book believed to be divine by a quarter of humanity.

Best of luck.


Ok, I downloaded i to my Kindle.

I do feel like Islam is a beautiful religion. I visited Egypt and Jordan years ago and saw some Mosques and was half tempted to convert right there.

I sometimes wonder whether our connection to our religions feels so good because we are recapturing a little that sense of identity and connection to the universe that is otherwise so sorely lacking. What do you think?


I think you phrased it almost perfectly.  For the past few months I've been battling depression resulting from heartbreak.  I was betrayed by my own father, brother and closest friend (who was also my love interest).  No one knows what I felt and why I feel I was wronged.  All of them are less intelligent than I and apparently lack insight so they mistook all my favors for manipulation.  I've been depressed in the past and easily recovered from medication rather quickly.  This time around it has been a mental jihad - I've been fighting to decide whether I should give up being a nice guy who's always screwed over and care about myself only.  What led me to God was the fact that I could NOT - no matter how hard I tried - keep my integrity while prioritizing myself.  I swear it was as if I had only two options: be a "good" person and stay depressed / lonely or become apathetic and be happy by causing others suffering along the way to material success.  No matter how hard I tried I couldn't knock myself out of it.  If you knew me personally you'd know how strong my resolve & self-control once was.  Then all of a sudden I had a mysterious experience while driving once.  I've been ruminating about the same thing for months but this time it felt like it wasn't me who was talking to me but literally something outside which imprinted its message directly in my heart.  Since that day I've been coming closer and closer to true faith.  I read the Qur'an and I understand the verses which once read like some lunatic having a go at poetry but now they so much sense I can't help but cry so many times I read some of them.  

The Qur'an asks a reader to approach it with humility.  Be objective and try to not have any bias - one way or another - when approaching it.  For me, the combination of objectivity (or as close as I could be to it) and watching a youtube series on the life of Muhammad ("seerah of Muhammad") did it.  I could not convince myself that this man was a liar.  I'd bet my life he genuinely meant what he said.  Of course he could still have been deranged / deluded etc but it begs the question: "do deluded people end up doing what Muhammad did"? He united an unknown tribal "civilization" spread over 1 million square miles into countless tribes in a period of 23 years and immediately following his death these very people - people with no history prior to this point, no significance whatsoever - conquered almost all the ancient civilizations from Spain to Western India in under 100 years.  Imagine an outsider - an alien civilization examining us from the outside.  I doubt they'd look at Muhammad's accomplishments and say "the only explanation is what some people who never knew him and live hundreds of years after him have said: he's deluded." 

Lastly, I also realized that he was dealing with classic psychopaths / sociopaths but most of those same people ended up becoming some of the greatest people in history.  You can look up figures like Umar and Khalid bin Walid - their impact on the world is documented in western sources as well as muslim sources.  Besides the history, my own personal experience in dealing with family and friends has shown me that sociopaths are not incapable of empathy - they are just unlikely to do so until they see a victim of theirs forgive them knowing full well what was done to them.

On a little bit of an aside, I've been really interested recently in learning how the 12 step programs use the concept of God/higher power and religion/spirituality in really instrumental/pragmatic ways, as being an essential element of a successful program. I've watched some friends who were never at all spiritual or religious have to figure out some way to integrate that as a primary driver in their lives. Why, I wonder, is this true? 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Empathy's role in defining otherness

From a reader:

I've begun to take your advice on "getting people to my side", as you called it, by coming out to them. I decided to tell my oldest, and whom I consider my only close friend, about me being a sociopath. He's an incredibly empathetic person, and upon telling him it was almost as if he had lost that ability with me. Like he was no longer capable of empathy or understanding with me because it was such a shock to find out his friend had been lying to him. Even after a decade long friendship (even I'm surprised it's lasted that long) he nearly ostracized me simply for who I am. One of his defining features is that he hates lying, and it's one of the reasons why I told him. He is maybe the only other person I respect, other than you M.E., so telling him became an easy choice. Although, it took him almost four weeks to finally begin accepting it; he nearly hated me up until that point. 

All that got me thinking: was the cause of his negative reactions from his empathy? Was is strong moral compass and empathy the source of his inability to connect with and understand someone who lacks those things? Is empathy the reason people like me, or the gays, or anyone else considered "abnormal" by those with a "moral high ground" get ostracized and alienated? All I want is to be myself publicly without scorn from the people around me. Will this society change in its own, or do we have to make it change?

I don't know the answer to his question. I wish I did, and I'd love to hear people's thoughts on it. Here's my attempt to give some sort of response:

I wouldn’t say that empathy itself leads to this, but I think that the illusion that empathy often gives can lead to this. By that illusion I mean that I don't really believe that empathy is as functional (and certainly not as flawless) as people seem to report experiencing it. Maybe I'm just overly cynical, but I wonder how often people are accurately feeling the same feelings that someone else is feeling. The whole concept seems really foreign and almost absurd to me, like a superstition of a culture to which I don't belong. It seems like such magical thinking to even believe that the common belief of empathy exists. But I think a lot of people have an unexamined faith about it. It feels very real and true to them, so they have no reason to doubt it, or question its failure rate like I do. And it is that faith in empathy, I believe, that contributes at least in part to people treating otherness as they do. The empathy gives them the illusion that we are all connected (or at least the ones that they feel connected to). It emphasizes and validates that sense of connection -- proves it to be true, in a way, to the person experiencing the empathy. The empathy helps people to feel like others are a part of them in some way, because that's how they experience it -- they believe they feel the joys and hurts of another, so how couldn't they be seen as a part of them? But if you can't empathize with someone or they can't empathize back, that sense of identification and connection isn't there. If anything, it's seen as a threat -- not just to the person, but to their whole group of people they do identify, e.g. all white people, or all males, or all gay people. 

I was recently reading an article about the rise of polygamous unions and the calls to have these unions legitimized as the marriages that they functionally are. The arguments in favor, of course, are very similar, even identical, to the same sex marriage arguments. But is there widespread support? No. Why? I think at least in part because those people are seen as other, they're difficult to empathize with. I identify as ambisexual, or at least sexually fluid. I read media sources targeted at gay audiences, especially now as I continue to try to build a stronger sense of self and identity and integrate all facets of myself in the process. They do not support polygamous relationships, not even same sex ones (perhaps especially not those, because they "make a bad name" for the community that has been so successful in normalizing as of late). 

I had to laugh because I recently saw an article lauding a woman for being a gay woman in science with Asperger's. She is quoted thusly: "While I’m not trying to push my ideas on anyone, I’m happy to know there are people that might look at me and feel more comfortable about being themselves." Good for her, and I really mean that. I am so pleased to see other marginalized groups gaining recognition, acceptance, and even accommodation and appreciation for their special needs and attributes. This is not sour grapes but just a fact: no group I am part of would laud me for what I am. No group would not even openly acknowledge me as being one of them. 

As a society, I do think that we want people to feel more comfortable about being themselves (google Mr. Rogers "It's you I like"), but still only if they fit certain acceptable categories, albeit an ever expanding list. Certainly you can't be open about being attracted to children still, nor being diagnosed as a sociopath. That's fine, I understand that's how things are and I actually fully expect things to change with that respect in my lifetime (how could they not? transgenderism was taboo only a decade ago). But I do wonder what role empathy plays in all of this.

(And just to clarify for those who might misinterpret, I don't mean that we have to accommodate all behaviors just because someone is wired differently. Rather I think that we shouldn't keep people out just because they are wired differently if they're able to conform their behaviors as needed. For example, I strongly support increased understanding and acceptance for pedophiles in the sense that I believe that they can't help who they are and that if it was possible for them to be more open about their condition, they could possibly get better help and fewer children would be harmed as a result. I feel the same about sociopaths. No one is advocating for special treatment. But demonizing or ostracizing someone who comes out as a sociopath is compounding the problem, not helping. Yes, the sociopath probably misrepresented him or herself by not revealing that he was a sociopath, but is it really fair to punish them for that evasion when this is how people react to the truth?)
Join Amazon Prime - Watch Over 40,000 Movies


Comments are unmoderated. Blog owner is not responsible for third party content. By leaving comments on the blog, commenters give license to the blog owner to reprint attributed comments in any form.