Friday, January 29, 2016

Sociopaths in Television: Bart Simpson

Apparently Bart was diagnosed (wrongfully?) as a sociopath in a recent episode of the Simpsons, "Paths of Glory". Spoilers follow.

In a play off of Ender's Game, Bart is sent to a special facility with other sociopathic children:

As all the kids there have no reactions, an army general says that they're perfect to test U.S. Air Force Drone Simulators. Bart manages to destroy all targets, but later the kids are informed that they were actually controlling a real drone, killing real people. Bart is the only kid who gets worried about it, so he's diagnosed as being sane and is free to go back home.

It makes you wonder who is actually running the drones currently.

Also on television, in the BBC's "Call the Midwife," Season 4, Episode 3, the show explores how homosexuals were handled in the late 1950s, early 1960s in the UK, with some interesting parallels. for this audience First gay people are criminals. Second, they're thought to be degenerates. Third, if caught they either end up in prison or undergoing "treatment" to "cure" them, apparently most commonly either electroshock therapy or feminine hormone treatments for the men.

Dr. Turner:  You will be prescribed Stilbestrol by the hospital.  You will be allowed to take this, largely in the privacy of your own home, but you will be monitored to make sure you’re taking it.  There are other treatments. ECT, aversion therapy, but I’d say this is less brutal and more private.

Marie:  That’s all right.  You’re not funny about tablets, are you?

Dr. Turner:  They contain a form of estrogen, the female hormone.  It will stop your body from producing testosterone, which in turn will suppress your urges.

Marie:  But he’ll be all right, otherwise?

Dr. Turner:  Impotence occurs, as the testosterone reduces.

Marie:  We’ll already have our child.  Is that it?

Dr. Turner:  There may also be gynecomastia, development of breast tissue, there is often a loss of muscle and body hair.

Tony:  Dear God.

Marie:  Well, it’s not prison.  And that’s all that matters.

A parallel story line involves an infestation of rats, and the attempts of most to brutally kill them. One of the nun attempts to fight the brutality: "We are all God's creatures. It's just some are easier to love than others. It's the others that need us most.".

The end monologue talks about how important it is to have some place at which we can be truly ourselves despite the world's constant demand that we conform in some way or another:

A world is not just made of bricks and mortar, but of minds.  We can rebuild cities, paint beautiful facades, invent new ways of living.  We can protect all that we have.  But that place which we call home must be the place in which we are ourselves with no facade, no foundations weak below us.  Only then can we face outwards with our heads held high, playing the roles assigned to us with open, honest hearts.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

My boyfriend, the sociopath?

So asks a reader:

I, recently, had a boyfriend who I think is somewhat of a sociopath. He was in his late 20s when we were together and I was a little older. If I tell you the behaviors, can you let me know if its the case, and why he chose to carry on those behaviors, please? I feel unsafe and want to know what he may be capable of doing.
The behaviors are?
1. Burning of mosquito trap at a restaurant without telling a waiter it was bothering him and ask waiter to remove it. Then, raising his voice and speaking passionately to the restaurant manager about incident. Sharing the story saying he was not talking angrily. Saying what he did wasn't wrong.
2. Getting very angry and displaying aggression (from 0 to 7) after i discussed relationship challenges by raising his voice, tensing his face muscles while making anger gestures, changing his tone of voice to an accusative/authoritative one, adapting a defensive attitude, saying he wasn't angry, then saying he wasn't being disrespectful- that everyone who is angry talks like that. That it isn't normal to be angry and calm.
3. When I told him that he can tell me anything and be angry, as long as he communicated it to me calmly and respectfully, he would more-less calmly proceed to tell me how what I feel or my beliefs where not real. ( I eventually caught on to this like the 3rd time it happened and told him and he got drastically angry as well.)
4. I was feeling super bad, dizzy and nauseous once he was driving (he drove super fast- like a jerk and a tad reckless) and i told him i needed the ac full blast bc I was miserable. He turned it on and after 2 minutes turned the heater on. When I asked why he had done that, he said angrily, that he was freezing. (I thought, why not just take it for a bit if I was feeling so miserable, or why not close his vents.)
5. He smoked weed more than twice per day, drank at times when driving, talked too loud everywhere he went, showed poor social skills like politeness and manners, expressed hatred towards police and society, said he grew up rough and poor, lived with a weed dealer, and a couple who smoked weed daily and had a child,
6. suddenly changed plans twice because he was doing some "needed" shopping and found a restaurant at the mall that had a great deal on tequila shots so he had two, 7. said "I love you" like the after the fourth month- but continued raising his voice and talking disrespectfully when we talked about issues- instead of discussing them civilly and regulating his emotions. And He would ask if I was with sleeping with someone else during our beak ups.
8. By the 5th month, i told him I wouldn't listen as soon as he started raising his voice and being disrespectful and proceeded to direct my attention to my phone when he did, and he took it away from me.
9. He took my car keys twice after having had arguments where I "stormed out" (as he would say it) because I got tired of his disrespectful and inappropriate behaviors and reactions to our relationship issues which included him constantly interrupting, not listening, abruptly, not being polite or considerate, always being angry-wether it was road rage, anger towards me, anger due to jealousy of his roommate and wife and how privileged they are.
10. Telling people how to do things (even those who were older and more knowledgeable on the subject needed to accomplish the task at hand)
11. Going into the recovering room after i had surgery when he was not one of the visitors allowed, and he is aware of hospital procedures and protocols as we works in hospitals. When they asked him to leave and he was leaving, he said: "she (the nurse) cannot do anything, I have stuff on her).
12. The last week we were together, he was just mad at everything and everyone most times, he got in my space and yelled: "you bitch, you are crazy", "shut up"-all as he was driving fast, yelled at me in front of multiple people, reacted annoyed and frustrated with me when I talked or asked very simple things such as plans we had made.
13. There were a couple of times he was yelling and doing all of the angry behaviors i explained previously and i felt so hurt I started crying and he continued to yell. He would always apologize, but it didn't seem to be genuine- more like something to finish the argument.
14. He also usually tried to push my boundaries after I had made them clear to him. He would do this over and over when he wanted to get it his way like have me scratch his back.
15. He would talk greatly about himself. A lot more so than the average person. And would also talk about how he was done wrong, and treated bad, and how people tried to take advantage of him and manipulate him.
16. He was also very affectionate (not abnormally or inappropriately), and wanted to spend a lot of time with me, but was very inflexible when it came to plans,  not adapting to his surrounding environment or social situations, and overshared with people he did not know.
17. As far as criminal history, he evaded arrest at age 17, had a DUI at 24 while at the Air Force in Alaska, , again had a DWI at age 26.
18. He wanted to have a child with me even though we had only been together 3/4 months.
19. To end, when I found our he was impulsive and smoked weed daily, i suggested Adderall and he said he took it but would sell it every time he got a chance. He would also dip tobacco, smoke cigarettes, and take tramadol at times for back pain-allegedly.

What do you think? Did he have ASPD, NPD, or what? Should I be scared? We broke up almost 2 weeks ago. Will he want to I want to hurt me? I want to hear all your thoughts.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Lack of self-reflection?

A belief about sociopaths that I hear pop up quite a bit, including from some people who are somewhat inculcated in the field of psychology, is that a sociopath would never self reflect and wonder if they were a sociopath. I have always wondered what the source of that factual statement is? Does anyone know?

Also, I'm curious what the explanation would be if such a phenomenon were true. Are sociopaths then just very unself-aware? How is it that they are able to manipulate and read people if they can't figure out something so obvious as matching a series of diagnostic criterion to a list of basic personality traits? Or do sociopaths supposedly think too much of themselves to even consider themselves damaged? Because the thing is that I don't think I know of a single sociopath (including the thousands that have written to me and that I've encountered in other venues) who considers sociopathy to describe something bad/damaged, particularly not at first. They all seem to have, at most, sort of a gee whiz reaction, like -- there may be something to that, but who cares, that's just how things are -- or perhaps even more often -- well, of course, who wouldn't want to have those traits and be able to do these things? So I don't think the grandiosity prevents this type of self-reflection either because the sociopath doesn't see the label as conflicting with something great and remarkable.

In fact, it doesn't even require that much self-reflection to recognize oneself as a sociopath when you think about it. I think it's pretty obvious to us that we're different. And we certainly use particular traits often enough (daily) that even if we hadn't thought of it much before, if someone told us what manipulation was and then asked us if we were manipulative, we'd see that we are.

Even my down syndrome relatives are aware of their disorder, despite one being quite low functioning. Still, they don't lack the capacity to understand that there is something different about them from the other people they know. I know that they experience frustration with their difficulty in communication. I know that they understand that the lives they live are drastically different from everyone they see around them. And even though they have somewhat the minds of children, they are also keenly aware that they are adults, if for not other reason than their sexuality, or now the physical aches and pains of aging. And if they can figure something like that out, it seems almost crazy to think that sociopaths would categorically be incapable of doing likewise.

A reader mentions this issue among others:

I'm a 27 year old female, that has been doing some self reflection, because lately my views on things have changed over the past few months. A little of my background history, I was born with an absent father, although in my early years I didn't understand the situation, and in my teenage years I became angry because of my lack of a father figure I began to question my value. My mother was always a very good parent in my opinion and always tried her hardest to provide for me, also no abuse or violence in my family. In high school I was shy and consequently bullied. One day as I passing notes, I had written something that was read by a teacher, and subsequently I was escorted out of the school and taken to a Mental health facility for two weeks. I don't recall the contents of the note something violent in nature I suppose, but in any event I was treated for depression because I had also been cutting at the time. I was treated by a psychiatrist all throughout high school and after I graduated. On and off depression medication for years. Once I graduated, I began to participate in activities with others that I never did in High School because I was shy and withdrawn such as pot smoking and various sexual conquests. I must make a side side note on my activities, I never had any regrets with anything I've done, or still don't. I got involved with a man when I was 19, and he was 50 years old, not because I ever had feelings for him, but because of his infatuation for me, allowed me to use him for things. He bought me a smartphone, bought me alcohol, drugs, took me to really nice hotels to spend the night, and all I had to do was be intimate with him. I realize that he was using me as well. I'm positive he was going through a mid life crisis, but it never bothered me. He had a girlfriend at the time, but to me they weren't married, and I wasn't serious about him. In my mind I was learning something about relationships and people and gaining experience in how to deal with people. One story always entertained me, he didn't mind what I did to him, I guess he liked women who were very dominate in their relationships, so I pushed that. I suggested cutting him, so I could take his blood, he let me, I didn't like bloodletting in the end but I kept pushing, it was fun. I had a bike chain in my hand one night because I wanted to chain him up but I had an idea, I asked him if he thought I would hit him with it, he said something like he didn't know if I would, then I hit him with it. The next day he had a gash on his cheek and a huge bruise. When it happened I felt excitement not guilt, it was liberating in a way. Of course I feigned guilt and pretended that I was sorry, and all was forgiven. After awhile I eventually got tired of that relationship, but I guess I had taken it too far, and his girlfriend found out and had him end it. I didn't think twice about it. Eventually I grew out out of the party scene as I got older and I matured. I still had depression up until two years ago when it simply disappeared. I still suffer with minute anxiety which is manageable. I have to say the only times in my past I actually got upset was when I was wronged in some way, but I had depression during those times. But recently I have been "feeling"  especially apathetic. I don't understand why people are so emotional or empathetic, it annoys me when people are so fake when people tell them about their problems, I hate that I have to pretend to be sympathetic. I honestly have only two people I care about my boyfriend, and my Mother, the latter I would die for. Everyone else could die tommorow and I wouldn't care. I don't care about a lot of things, and people surrounding me always think I am just a very patient person, but I truly don't care. Based on the information I have given is it possible I am a sociopath? I am curious, but I also have read that sociopath's don't research who they are and don't care. I'm not worried, I am amused with myself, and am curious about the human mind, mine in particular. I would appreciate your insight. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale

Someone sent me their results from what looks like a personality test on this website:

My initial thought is this is not going to be legit, but I didn't take it. Has anyone else seen this?

Here's another ethically problematic video re tests:

Actually, the last link reminds me of my genius reality tv show idea. Let me know if you have contacts. :)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

It's not personal

The Godfather taught us that some things are just business, not personal. I've had to explain to a lot of people in the past few years that so much of what I do does not generate from any feelings of sadism or pleasure in the pain of others, but simple pragmatism/instrumentalism in which someone or something has just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I thought this recent-ish comment described something similar:

"to sit and smalltalk with other people about weather, for no other purpose than "to do so", does not fit the average psychopath"

Well it certainly doesn't appeal to me. I love having one-to-one conversations about interesting topics but I admit it's for the purpose of deepening my understanding and widening my views.

Here's another sign of (my) socio Christmas: I never buy presents to my friends/family. I say that it's because I don't like the stress and Christmas should be about chilling out etc but really I just don't see the point and don't want to spend my money on others – except for my clients, in which case I consider it a marketing expense.

I'm not bothered about receiving presents either. I think quite often people think that sociopaths are people that want attention and gifts etc but I'm the opposite. And anyway I think people often confuse sociopaths and narcissists. I don't like giving affection and I don't want it back. I also don't like being admired and it actually sometimes really irritates me if I get those kind of vibes.

I guess I'm the type of a sociopath who doesn't feel the need for other people but I don't feel the need to hurt them either. It just sometimes happens that when people annoy me for whatever reason I ignore them or dump them or dismiss them and do something that they think is hurtful. But its never for the sake of harming others but more like the people just get on the way of what I want. This wasn't meant to sound like me giving excuses, I'm just thinking out loud.

Another thing I thought here is that maybe this is just more what a sociopathic traits look like when they manifest in a female who is also introverted?

Monday, January 18, 2016

Evil wants an evil response

One of my mantras for the past year or so is evil wants an evil response (see here). But let me back up. One thing that has always bothered me about having my particular brain wiring is that despite craving power and control, it has traditionally been so easy to push me over the edge, lose my temper, make me angry. I get caught up in power struggles sometimes and make a bigger deal out of things than they warrant because I get ego hurt or my mind just seems to crave that particular stimulus.

But in the past couple of years of trying to find a better balance in my psychological and emotional life, the mantra helps me to understand that in having that reaction of anger against something that rankles me, I am at worst playing into my opponent's hands and at best losing control and perspective. There's actually a sort of suggestion in Mormon theology that enmity is its own sort of currency -- that you can stir up and use enmity to do plenty of momentous things that not even mountains of gold would do (think French Revolution or Hitler). And so our enmity often makes us pawns as well, and in fighting people that are filled with enmity, we're often just fighting pawns. (For some of you nerdier types, it's like when I tried to explain to my little relatives that Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars was leading both sides of the clone wars, but they couldn't understand how a war (every war?) could really just be fought completely by pawns against pawns, and of the same man.)

Martin Luther King Jr. (happy MLK Jr Day U.S.!) put it this way:

"The attack is directed against forces of evil rather than against persons who happen to be doing the evil. It is the evil that the nonviolent resister seeks to defeat, not the persons victimized by the evil. If he is opposing racial injustice, the nonviolent resister has the vision to see that the basic tension is not between the races… The tension is, at bottom, between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness…. We are out to defeat injustice and not white persons who may be unjust."

Or Marcus Aurelius:

"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."

Friday, January 15, 2016

Compassion (victimhood) vs. agency (accountability)

I've noticed in law school that smart people with one viewpoint or ideology who surround themselves with people of an opposing viewpoint or ideology tend to be 3-5 years ahead of the general thought trend amongst the class of people who consider themselves educated (by that, I mainly mean people who read the NY Times, just because I am not sure by how else to refer to them).  Philosopher Martha Nussbaum is one of these types of people. As much as I don't often agree with some of her ideas (animal rights?), hers is a rare mind that understands not just the reasons that she believes make her right, but all of the reasons that others think she is wrong. Which is sort of reassuring in reading her work. In her book Upheavals of Thought, as excerpted by Brain Pickings, she discusses the interesting interplay and intersection between agency and victimhood. True to what I just described, she anticipates some of the backlash against the cult of victimhood (published in 2001! 14 years before college students begin protesting microaggressions, amazingly prescient), but argues that the backlash goes too far -- that although identifying as a victim could be a worryingly disempowering tactic for the would-be victim, we also can't deny that people are often hurt by the world in ways that they do not deserve:

Compassion requires the judgment that there are serious bad things that happen to others through no fault of their own. In its classic tragic form, it imagines that a person possessed of basic human dignity has been injured by life on a grand scale. So it adopts a thoroughly anti-Stoic picture of the world, according to which human beings are both dignified and needy, and in which dignity and neediness interact in complex ways… The basic worth of a human being remains, even when the world has done its worst. But this does not mean that the human being has not been profoundly damaged, both outwardly and inwardly.

The society that incorporates the perspective of tragic compassion into its basic design thus begins with a general insight: people are dignified agents, but they are also, frequently, victims. Agency and victimhood are not incompatible: indeed, only the capacity for agency makes victimhood tragic. In American society today, by contrast, we often hear that we have a stark and binary choice, between regarding people as agents and regarding them as victims. We encounter this contrast when social welfare programs are debated: it is said that to give people various forms of social support is to treat them as victims of life’s ills, rather than to respect them as agents, capable of working to better their own lot.
We find the same contrast in recent feminist debates, where we are told that respecting women as agents is incompatible with a strong concern to protect them from rape, sexual harassment, and other forms of unequal treatment. To protect women is to presume that they can’t fight on their own against this ill treatment; this, in turn, is to treat them like mere victims and to undermine their dignity.


We are offered the same contrast, again, in debates about criminal sentencing, where we are urged to think that any sympathy shown to a criminal defendant on account of a deprived social background or other misfortune such as child sexual abuse is, once again, a denial of the defendant’s human dignity. Justice Thomas, for example, went so far as to say, in a 1994 speech, that when black people and poor people are shown sympathy for their background when they commit crimes, they are being treated like children, “or even worse, treated like animals without a soul.”
If, then, we hear political actors saying such things about women, and poor people, and racial minorities, we should first of all ask why they are being singled out: what is there about the situation of being poor, or female, or black that means that help is condescending, and compassion insulting?

She discusses why she believes people are reluctant to acknowledge true victims, essentially an application of the just world fallacy (the belief that the world must be ultimately basically fair):

The victim shows us something about our own lives: we see that we too are vulnerable to misfortune, that we are not any different from the people whose fate we are watching, and we therefore have reason to fear a similar reversal.

One thing that has been interesting about being more public about having a personality disorder that is largely loathed by a large segment of the population is the lack of compassion. The truth is that the sociopath is its own type of victim. No one chooses to have a personality disorder. A sociopath is a victim of genes and environment that triggered those genes at such an early age that the sociopath does not even remember that time period. The sociopath likely was preverbal. The sociopath for sure was an infant, toddler, or small child. The sociopath lacked almost any control over what was done to him or her and certainly had no understanding about the consequences of those experiences, nor had any adequate coping skills or ability to have chosen to develop otherwise.

So the agency/compassion distinction is big with sociopaths, and really all personality disorders and a lot of mental health problems that are stigmatized. On the one hand, society really must demand a certain sort of responsibility for actions and conformity to basic rules of behavior (i.e. agency), even from those who have different brain wiring. Ok, but why do we have to hate people with different brain wiring? The agency/compassion distinction does not mean that they're mutually exclusive, right? Can't we both have compassion for people and hold them responsible for their actions? Or I guess a slightly different question is, can't we hold people responsible for their actions without necessarily blaming them for their actions? 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Getting played

From a reader:

As I'm most positive you receive countless emails on the daily in regards to a request of an assessment of an individuals sociopathic nature, it still didn't deter me from sending one on my own behalf, and do hope it isn't offensive in me asking for your opinion.

I'm a 21 year old female current senior in college, from a military family composed up my mother and stepfather. I have 3 step sisters and 1 younger half sister from my biological father (who is also in the military) and stepmother.

My parents divorced when I was about 5 after years of physical and verbal endless violent fighting. My father took custody of me, but after about a year lost custody due to be being physically abusive with me (I have no memories to confirm) I do remember being in a foster home until my mother gained legal custody.

My mother soon married my stepfather who is practically identical to my bio father.

I could never view people as my equal or extend their surface of what I see beyond just a fleeting moment in my life. As I am a professional [athlete] and [public figure], currently on scholarship in college for [sport] as it is not NCAA. I've been forced into a team dynamic on a small campus for 3 years now and have since magnified my odd socializing Mannerism's that people describe as pull/push. They often say I either love or hate a person, there is no inbetween. That no one understands me, I'm just this large embodiment of mystery and the unknown scares people. That I'm emotionless and have a reputation as a whore.

I believe I encountered another sociopath on the team (if I am one) I have been diagnosed as borderline personality disorder, and I do get most my money from sugardaddies as I've cut family off since I was 16.

The other sociopath in my eyes has beat me, gained power over me, as we had sexual relations and he beat me to the cut off. I do not know how to overcome this as I am constantly infuriated and want nothing more than we snap his neck and watch his body go lifeless from my doing. In order to regain power I've made attempts to maneuver myself back into his life to only then destroy and break him, but he's left no openings since I made one mistake and slept with another guy on the team. All of our interactions since have been nothing but violent and cussing battles or complete avoidance. We have both built our close knit loyal Allies that take our side, do our dirty bidding, and be our eyes/ears when we're not around. The only opening I have now, is that he's failing on his side of manipulation, the team detest him for turning crude and openly egotistical. His allies have all dissipated but one, and that one has been heard bad mouthing him and has even made advancements towards friendship with me.

This has been my toughest conquest ever, and I can't decipher if the thirst for when I finally conquer him is love or is it the game of power still. So paired with the question of my state of being a sociopath, can two sociopaths make a great force? Do you see anyway I can conquer him or gain him as an ally? As he's proven himself quite valuable in my eyes.


If you are sociopathic, think yourself while you would react in that situation if you were he. Could you be persuaded by reason and logic? Even the temptation of uniting into one unstoppable force? Probably not because your interest in him is not rational, and your attempts to make it seem rational by suggesting that you were interested in him to increase your power dynamic are probably in accurate. He compels you because he compels you, the same way that you compel so many others. You were vulnerable to it in someway and he saw his opening, the same way that you are with others. Obsessive thoughts are not uncommon in personality disorders like borderline personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder. We are not immune from our own tricks.


You're right, I've never been on this side of the  game, he's won and will no longer allow for openings. Have you ever been overpowered? Ive even lost interest in the other targets and new targets to my toying and manipulation. Its the most constant unsettling feeling, every time I encounter him around campus and team events I always try to regain my power but it feels ineffective and I become more infuriated.


Buddhist people would look at us and think the advantage to is is a lack of sense of self, in the sense that we're not bothered in an ego hurt way about things that happen to us. Where you're at right now, that's probably your best bet?

POSTSCRIPT: Drafting this post, I just remembered a crazy crush/obsession I had on/with one of my students that I thought was going to be the death of me. I think I even posted about it at the time, that I knew it could suck me in and under. I also remember getting another inappropriate crazy crush/obsession on/with one of my classmates -- but only after I had graduated. That last longer than any rationality of it could have explained. I actually don't mind this feeling of being enthralled, it's exhilarating. But I think it's important to remember these moments -- what hold they had on you at the time, and how little you think of the person now (I actually had to search through my emails for like 20 minutes before I could actually remember who this person was). And even though I now remember the person and the situation and how much time and thought I devoted to it, I honestly can't even imagine how or why I felt anything like that. Attraction is such a mystery. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Seeing the tree

I've been thinking of some of the responses to the most recent post. My personal thoughts are that there will always be aspects of reality that are either difficult or perhaps even impossible for us to explain because of the limitations we have in terms of our limited awareness from moment to moment (limited ability to taken in all information without distortion), limitations in conceptualizing or rationalizing things (limitation on cognition in understanding the information we've received), and the inherent limitations of language (limitations in describing or understanding in a two-part communication). It's interesting the different ways that different cultures attempt to conceptualize, rationalize, or verbalize certain types of experience. I do not denigrate these attempts simply because the use a language to describe them that is not my own and does not jive completely with my experience of reality or what I think I know about reality from my education or other sources.

For example, I was recently exposed to some of the writings of self-described shaman Malidoma Patrice Somé. Short and sweet account -- he was taken from his African village while still a boy and educated in a white man's Catholic boarding school. When he was finally able to come back, he had lost most of his language and way of thinking from the village. The elders decided he had to go through the rites of becoming a man. One of his tasks, of "seeing" a tree, gives him great difficulty. One of the elders remarks:

Whatever he learned in the school of the white man must be hurting his ability to push through the veil. Something they did to him is telling him not to see this tree. But why would they do that? You cannot teach a child to conspire against himself. What kind of teacher would teach something like that? Surely the white man didn't do that to him. Can it be that the white man's power can be experiences only if he first buries the truth? How can a person have knowledge if he can't see?

Frustrated, he keeps at it for all of that day and into the next day. Finally, he sees the tree for the essence of who it is, such that becomes enraptured, consumed by it in a way that seemed pure and profound, an overwhelming love.

"My experience of 'seeing' the lady in the tree had worked a major change in the way I perceived things as well as my ability to respond to the diverse experiences that constituted my education in the open-air classroom of the bush. This change in perspective did not affect the logical, common-sense part of my mind. Rather, it operated as an alternative way of being in the world that competed with my previous mind-set — mostly acquired in the Jesuit seminary.

"My visual horizons had grown disproportionately. I was discovering that the eye is a machine that, even at its best, can still be improved, and that there is more to sight than just physical seeing. I began to understand that human sight creates its own obstacles, stops seeing when the general consensus says it should. But since my experience with the tree, I began to perceive that we are often watched at a close distance by beings we ourselves cannot see, and that when we do see these otherworldly beings, it is only after they have given us permission to see further — and only after they have made some adjustment in themselves to preserve their integrity. And isn't it true that there is something secret about everything and everybody?"

Is his version of a tree more or less real than most people's version of a tree? Each version is obviously affected greatly depending on what sort of narrative each person uses to explain their lives (see last post). To me, the interesting thing is not so much who is right, but how different each version could be and yet with certain advantages and disadvantages of each in terms of functioning in the world.

I once posted about how schizophrenia is dealt with in native tribes differently than we do. This shaman also has a different view of mental illness from the traditional western one:

In the shamanic view, mental illness signals “the birth of a healer,” explains Malidoma Patrice Somé. Thus, mental disorders are spiritual emergencies, spiritual crises, and need to be regarded as such to aid the healer in being born.

What those in the West view as mental illness, the Dagara people regard as “good news from the other world.” The person going through the crisis has been chosen as a medium for a message to the community that needs to be communicated from the spirit realm. “Mental disorder, behavioral disorder of all kinds, signal the fact that two obviously incompatible energies have merged into the same field,” says Dr. Somé. These disturbances result when the person does not get assistance in dealing with the presence of the energy from the spirit realm.
In the shamanic view, mental illness signals “the birth of a healer,” explains Malidoma Patrice Somé. Thus, mental disorders are spiritual emergencies, spiritual crises, and need to be regarded as such to aid the healer in being born.

What those in the West view as mental illness, the Dagara people regard as “good news from the other world.” The person going through the crisis has been chosen as a medium for a message to the community that needs to be communicated from the spirit realm. “Mental disorder, behavioral disorder of all kinds, signal the fact that two obviously incompatible energies have merged into the same field,” says Dr. Somé. These disturbances result when the person does not get assistance in dealing with the presence of the energy from the spirit realm.

This is obviously a different view from western thought. The western world might explain this by saying things like, people who struggle have more empathy for others who might be going through struggles themselves. I'm not sure which explanation is more correct, but it's interesting that they're so deeply engrained in the different cultures, a cultural blindness that limits one's ability to see or appreciate the different perspective.

I did like this open-mindedness regarding mental illness, though. Similarly:

“Just as we came in this world alone, so we remember alone.  The elders who facilitate our act of remembering do not mind what we remember as long as we do exactly what we are supposed to do, according to our true nature.”

For a ton of related quotes from him, see here.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

PNSE as treatment/experience

From a reader regarding something he found helpful in terms of relating to himself and the world as a personality disordered individual (ASPD/NPD) -- something called PNSE:

You might want to check out this guy's work:

Here is a writeup:

So my own experience, having done the practices and had a PNSE, is that it doesn't solve the morality and impulse-control stuff. The experience has made me happier and more functional, but if you're hoping to find a cure for the "my life blows up every 3 years", this won't be it.

There's a bunch of interesting stuff - one thing that's clear is that mainstream psychology is quite parochial. Eg you've mentioned stuff that sounds a lot like "depersonalization" in the way you relate to your body. It partly explains you who (and I) - if we have a good reason - can get naked and do things that normal people would find terribly shameful. Anyway, depersonalization is a common aspect of PNSE, but it is also the sort of thing that mainstream psychologists (or even garden-variety spiritual teachers) would frown upon - unless they've had that experience for an extended time.

Here is a summary of Jeffery Martin's work - in an interview:

He mentions neurofeedback, which I remember you mentioning.

And then his description, which I asked for:

Jeffery Martin studied something he labeled PNSE - "religious experience", "mystical experience" across various faiths/communities and practices. It included Christians, Buddhist meditators, etc. What is PNSE - persistent nonsymbolic experience.

Most people aren't that happy. They're always thinking about things, typically in a self-referential way, and those thoughts color the rest of your experience. By the time you've reached this sentence, you've probably thought something like, "I'm happy, this doesn't apply to ME", "why should I continue reading this? I'm bored." "What was that noise?", etc.

Most peoples' lives is dominated by thinking. They don't notice it. Thinking is symbolic (words) and typically self-referential and negative. E.g. "I'm fat", "I'm bored", "I'm not doing this well", "I got a smaller piece than him." Thinking gets them to do stuff. It also colors how they relate to information - you tell me anything and I'll be thinking "do I really need to pay attention to this?" and "is this going to make things better for me?"

The typical person has some story about himself or herself. Nobody can see the story - it just exists in peoples' minds. As a social nicety, we "go along" with peoples' stories. The typical person takes his story very seriously, despite the fact that the story usually makes them unhappy. Rather than feeling joyful and grateful to have the life that we have, we typically nurse grudges, fear the inevitable, get sad about our personal failures, etc. None of those stories are real; there's just whatever is happening right now. And they happen automatically - when and what isn't up to the you that experiences them. If you are sitting around experiencing your unhappy thoughts about you and your life, that's what is going on now for you, but that doesn't make the stories real, true, etc.

When people have a PNSE, they have, for an extended period of time, a different way of relating to their thoughts, especially their thoughts about themselves. They might have fewer thoughts or they might not seem important. The experience is like an extended "flow" experience. There are several different types (locations) of PNSE, they aren't all the same. Some people might report a constant sense of divine presence (or connection to nature). Others might not. Pretty much all of them report that they are less neurotic; well-being is high. People typically make sense of their experience in the context of their religion (if any). E.g. Buddhists would make sense of it in terms of Buddhism, Christians in terms of Christianity.

Regular flow experiences are profound - e.g. people get addicted to sex, rock climbing, shoplifting, etc because when they do those things, they have to focus and they temporarily get relief from their thinking (symbolic experience). Drugs and alcohol can also provide relief from thinking.

The typical "mystical experience" is like a flow experience, but on steroids. Christians talk about the holy spirit entering in them (e.g. "God ran my life, not me"). Here's a Scientologist (at 12 minutes in) talking about his experience:  In addition to feeling joy there might be a noeitic sense -- "THIS IS IMPORTANT". It is the sort of experience that gets people to give their money to a cult - as Jason Beghe did after he had that experience. These sorts of experiences often lead to people diving in, trusting other people, giving them money, etc.

Why is it is important? Imagine your whole life you've been obsessed with your career, competing with your peers and so on. You're unhappy because nothing is ever enough. If suddenly you stopped thinking about that and you had an extended period of time where thoughts about your personal story (you deserved more, they betrayed you, you got ignored) didn't cross your mind, you'd be a lot less miserable. If it kept on happening, you might realize that all along you'd thought you were one thing (a person competing with others) but that story wasn't true - it didn't define you - just because it kept crossing your mind. If also you don't feel connected to your body in the same way, it would seem profound.

So when they look at the brains of psychopaths and meditators, they sometimes find similarities -- the psychopaths, when they are doing tasks are focused. There's not a lot of thinking unrelated to the task. Perhaps this is why psychopaths don't get bothered about wrecking their lives, or those of people around them - they don't ruminate. They keep busy. When I read your piece here - - recently it occurred to me that that might have happened; your thinking (about yourself) might have increased. I remarked that maybe you've got more of a sense of self, and hence more problems - which fits Martin's research: when people do practices that fit them, they get results quickly - e.g. a week. When they do practices that don't fit, they typically get more neurotic/unhappy. That "sense of self" (the thinking) can wax and wane, along with it the happiness/unhappiness.

People have a lot of beliefs about PNSE. Eg Many Buddhists seem to think a person post-PNSE wouldn't be immoral or unkind. Martin didn't find evidence of that - if you are a dishonest person, you'll probably be dishonest after your PNSE.  I've had a PNSE and I'm still amoral and selfishly impulsive.

Christians (and other religions) tend to emphasize what Martin calls location 3. There's a sense of divine presence and high joy. If people move from location 3 into location 4 (which can happen randomly), the joy goes away along with the sense of divine presence, and they can get freaked out -- because their subjective experience isn't aligned with what their religion says is supposed to happen. E.g. it looks like something like that happened to mother Theresa: That can be really confusing; say you believe Galatians 5:22, and you did have a lot of love and joy (and a sense of divine presence - "walking with the Lord") - but one day it goes away completely. You might think you did something wrong.

There's a bunch of other stuff Martin found - e.g. arousal (excitement) fades, even if people are still experiencing PNSE. Some methods work better than others. Some religions only incorporate some of the 6 practices they found that worked; be born in the wrong tradition and you probably won't have a PNSE.

My own experience - I've had a PNSE. I suspect Martin would classify mine as location 4 (although I guess I experienced some other locations). Location 4 fit with the practices I'd done (meditation & self-inquiry) and my subjective experience: noticing over and over again that I don't control my thoughts, feelings, etc -- they just happen, moment-by-moment. It isn't clear how I get my body to do anything, say anything, etc - I might think about it and it does it. Or more typically I just notice my body doing stuff after it has started. I definitely don't feel identical with my body. There's a sense of not being contained within a body - similar to what Jason Beghe describes in that video above. I've noticed that my unhappiness always seems related to thinking about "me" and the world or other people - and these thoughts are automatic. Even if I do something well and experience the feeling of pride, it feels mechanical -- there's the noticing I did something well and then perhaps a warm feeling washes through my head, along with the thought that I should try to avoid letting it show. I've seen psychologists use the word "depersonalization" to talk about this stuff. I suspect I'm less narcissistic and more sociopathic; I don't believe my story. I hold my opinions lightly. I don't care as much about my accomplishments (or failures) - they aren't me, nor up to me. And to the extent I do or don't care, that's not up to me either.

After having had my PNSE I wanted to make sense of it. I really liked Martin's evidence-based approach. A lot of what he discusses fits my personal experience, so I give it more weight. One thing he talks about it is that someone might have a PNSE in location 4 and then not have anyone to talk to about it -- not even your spiritual teachers, who might be in location 2. They might be freaked out if you talk to them about your experience; they might think things have gone way off track. This is like being a psychopath; if you are honest with people about how you experience reality, they can get bothered, blame you, etc. because what you're saying sounds so inhuman.

Any of your readers doing meditation, prayer, etc might want to look and see what can happen if they happen to hit upon a practice that works for them, or if they just happen to experience a shift of consciousness. When it happens to people randomly (which it does), people tend to think they are going crazy. If they go to psychologists they likely won't be understood - which reminds me of my own experience telling psychologists about my impulsiveness, amorality, habitual manipulation, lack of empathy, etc.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Out of sync = red flag

Someone tweeted this TED article to me and I retweeted it, but also thought I would give my thoughts: "This is how our bodies betray us in a lie". The main idea is:

When we are being inauthentic — projecting a false emotion or covering a real one — our nonverbal and verbal behaviors begin to misalign. Our facial expressions don’t match the words we’re saying. Our postures are out of sync with our voices. They no longer move in harmony with each other; they disintegrate into cacophony.

The article is pretty interesting. It talks about how most people focus on the words when they're trying to determine who is a liar or not, but body language is a much better determinant. They did studies that found that people with brain hemisphere issues that make them less prone to focus on language do better at identifying liars than people with brain hemisphere issues that don't.

And this passage:

Presence manifests as resonant synchrony. Presence stems from believing our own stories. When we don’t believe our stories, we are inauthentic — we are deceiving, in a way, both ourselves and others. And this self-deception is, it turns out, observable to others as our confidence wanes and our verbal and nonverbal behaviors become dissonant. It’s not that people are thinking, “He’s a liar.” It’s that people are thinking, “Something feels off. I can’t completely invest my confidence in this person.” As Walt Whitman said, “We convince by our presence,” and to convince others we need to convince ourselves.

... makes me think of my own life experiences. There are so many weird things that happen to me, like my school nurse detaining me for suspicion of drug usage, or getting detained by security officers, getting interrogated by building maintenance personnel, or any number of weird situations. I have had two really weird situations like this in the past few months, being told that my "story doesn't add up" and basically be one or two steps away from having the cops called on me for nothing. I was talking to a family member about it who said that these people are all just picking up on a vibe from me that seems a little off, like I'm a person of interest or a sketchy character -- I'm triggering some evolutionary level warning system in their brains. I do think this is true, but I always wondered what their warning system is or what it is about me that triggers it. Now I wonder if it's not his asynchrony between my body movements and words that comes from being a naturally sort of inauthentic seeming person.

Also regarding all of this being hard work:

Simply put, lying — or being inauthentic — is hard work. We’re telling one story while suppressing another, and as if that’s not complicated enough, most of us are experiencing psychological guilt about doing this, which we’re also trying to suppress. We just don’t have the brainpower to manage it all without letting something go — without “leaking.”

A lot of people wonder how I could be basically an introvert while being sociopathic. The reason why is because it is so draining to have to project a particular image while constantly monitoring how that image is being received and making small adjustments accordingly. I've gotten a lot better about just being myself (had to have a better sense of self before that was even possible, so it's not like everyone can just choose to do that whenever they feel like it). Even that takes a little bit more effort, though, because I'm still not really used to it. And I don't love people in general. So introvert.

Friday, January 1, 2016

On the outskirts

I remember being teenage age or maybe early college and hearing for the first time that homeless people aren't necessarily homeless because of some personal failings of theirs, but just that their particular society has excluded them out of necessity. The reasoning is that any society develops in largely arbitrary ways -- valuing certain attributes and devaluing others, having certain types of traditions or laws and rights or not. (Jonathan Haidt has done a lot of work on these different moral universes). If the entirety of humanity spans such a wide spectrum of variation, it's basically impossible to construct a society that could incorporate and use absolutely everyone's strengths. There will be winners and losers and any structure that you could come up with, but a lot of the selection of winners and losers is influenced by chance -- in obvious ways in our modern western society like owning property that turns out to have gold, being born to rich parents, being able to bilk naive natives out of their land by trading them worthless trinkets, etc. but also in less obvious ways like your culture being one in which ownership of land is recognized (or not) or in which gold is considered valuable (or not) or parental wealth is able to pass to children via inheritance laws and tradition. People are always going to slip through the cracks, even though it might have been just as likely that another society would have developed instead in which the losers and winners would have flipped flopped (I think of somewhat examples of this in the French Revolution and the Cultural Revolution and which cultural values, priorities, and legal entitlements were changed basically overnight).

I agree with the theory now, but I wonder if I would have come to the same conclusions by myself. I also wonder, do most normal people understand this to be true? That so much of our life successes and failures are determined by forces beyond our control? That the winners only get there by climbing over the backs of others? Or is it more difficult for them to step outside the structure of their cultural paradigms to see how precarious, unpredictable, random, and likely inequitable their status in society is. 

But this is what I thought about when I saw this somewhat recent comment:

Structure, society, uniformity, they serve a purpose. They aren't for everyone, and I think specifically work better for people who's fear sensors are in working order (over working even?) in order to give a sense of structure and stability, in a somewhat chaotic world. The problem with the structure is that it alienates otherwise good people who don't believe in the structure. Which I don't think there's anything wrong with believing (or not believing) in the structure. 

Is that what this is about?

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