Thursday, April 28, 2016

Famous Narcissists: Ernest Hemingway?

From a NY Times article, referencing Ernest Hemingway's intermittent way of getting back to good writing in his bloated later years:

Yet Hemingway was not a healthy man during the latter phases in his life. He was drunk much of the time; he often began drinking at breakfast and his brother counted 17 Scotch-and-sodas in a day. His wives complained that he was sporadic about bathing. He was obsessed with his weight and recorded it on the wall of his house.

He could be lively and funny, the organizer of exciting adventures. But he could also be depressed, combative and demoralized. His ego overflowed. F. Scott Fitzgerald, who endured a psychological crisis at about the same time, observed that Hemingway “is quite as nervously broken down as I am, but it manifests itself in different ways. His inclination is toward megalomania and mine toward melancholy.”

Even as a young man Hemingway exaggerated his (already prodigious) exploits in order to establish his manliness. When he was older his prima donna proclivities could make him, as one visiting photographer put it, “crazy,” “drunk” and “berserk.”

He was a prisoner of his own celebrity. He’d become famous at 25 and by middle age he was often just playing at being Ernest Hemingway. The poet David Whyte has written that work “is a place you can lose yourself more easily perhaps than finding yourself … losing all sense of our own voice, our own contribution and conversation.” Hemingway seems to have lost track of his own authentic voice in the midst of the public persona he’d created.

His misogyny was also like a cancer that ate out his insides. He was an extremely sensitive man, who suffered much from the merest slights, but was also an extremely dominating, cruel and self-indulgent one, who judged his wives harshly, slapped them when angry and forced them to bear all the known forms of disloyalty.

By this time, much of his writing rang false. Reviewer after reviewer said he had destroyed his own talent. His former mentor Gertrude Stein said he was a coward.

I went to a presentation today by someone that appeared to be a narcissist. He was old, and his mannerisms both betrayed pomposity and a deep insecurity and concern for whether he was being perceived as some great scholar or intellect. He combined an odd amount of name dropping with an awkward obsequiousness to the people who invited him to speak, calling one of them by the wrong name at one point in a case of trying to hard to endear himself and fumbling in the effort. But narcissists don't irritate me anymore. And I don't want to say I feel sorry for them, because I feel like that's it's own form of both (my) pride and (their) offense. But sociopaths and narcissists are an interesting comparison because both live empty lives, but the sociopath tends to embrace his with a nihilistic glee while the narcissist is afraid of his, like to look the shadow in the eye would cause him to lose all hope for a happy life. Just ramblings. 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Just a dick?

In what has become an impromptu series of "Sociopath, or just _____?" (e.g., sociopath, or just puberty? Sociopath, or just smart? Sociopath, or just depression? Etc., a reader wonders:

I'm well aware you get hundreds of emails from people who are desperate to become sociopaths, so they tell you how unfeeling they are and how they don't care about anybody. And after reading your blog for over a year a question began to fester in the back of my brain and I crave an answer. Why would people, at the slightest lack of empathy, jump to the conclusion that they are a sociopath? And the reason i bring this up is, i used to feel like them. At some point in my life i just decided, i love to hurt people, so i must be a sociopath. I now realize that i'm just a douche. I still enjoy seeing people crumble before me when i attack all of their insecurities at once, but I'm not a sociopath or a psychopath. But what i'm confused by is, why is it so hard for people to come to the realization that they are just dicks?


I think you may be confusing lack of empathy with sadism. Some people don't care about other people, but they have perfectly intact empathy. Other people know that they don't connect with people, and it looks (internally) and feels a lot more like what I would imagine autism would feel like. Their brain is not capable of processing empathy the most people's brains (apparently) do. They can pretend that those empathy and emotional connections things are going on, in fact, they can pretend so well that no one else suspects what's really going on.

Although there's certainly bound to be overlap between empathy-impaired people and dicks, a diminished capacity for empathy is different and doesn't necessarily lead to enjoying exploiting people, or even just taking a special pleasure in your own agenda at others expense. So which are you? 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Borderline stigmatized

I keep realizing just how much borderline personality disorder is also stigmatized. I wonder even between sociopaths and BPDs, whether people who have experienced both may even be more anti BPD? But the parallels between the stigmas interest me, e.g. this review of a BPD memoir:

I've read a handful of books about borderline personality disorder -- or more accurately, how to cope with all the shit you're subjected to when a borderline person is in your life -- but this is the first one I've read by someone with BPD. I'm about 80% through. It's very good. I suspect that she's glossing over or omitting some of the more awful things she's done to other people. But it's well-written. It made me feel compassion, when my first reaction to a borderline is fury. Van Gelder describes how awful it is to try for years to get help, finally getting a wishy-washy diagnosis, and then to try to read about your diagnosis... only to find all the books and online support groups are for the non-borderline people. And it doesn't help that the diagnosis is so stigmatized that any health professional trying to help you doesn't want to give you the diagnosis in the first place. She was very lucky to find a job and a place to live, and to be functional enough that she could persist in seeking help. We need a system of mental health care that doesn't rely on people who have difficulty with their daily functioning to somehow be able to advocate for themselves, as Van Gelder was, and to have family members who are able to help them as much as her stepfather did. The way our society deals with the mentally ill is either a set of unreasonable expectations (if we don't understand what we're doing) or else just inhumane (if we do understand what we're doing).

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Quote: self-doubt

"I've never joined any organization—not even the ones I've organized myself. I prize my own independence too much. And philosophically, I could never accept any rigid dogma or ideology, whether it's Christianity or Marxism. One of the most important things in life is what Judge Learned Hand described as 'that ever-gnawing inner doubt as to whether you're right.' If you don't have that, if you think you've got an inside track to absolute truth, you become doctrinaire, humorless and intellectually constipated. The greatest crimes in history have been perpetrated by such religious and political and racial fanatics, from the persecutions of the Inquisition on down to Communist purges and Nazi genocide."

-Saul Alinsky

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Not sociopath, just smart?

From a reader:

Your blog has resonated with me for a while now. Despite not being a sociopath, getting an intuitive understanding of the illusion of free will can tend to make you more like one. Your recent post sort of illustrated the blind fact that was sitting in front of my face, why I, a fairly normal empathetic person, has no problem with manipulating people, especially if its benign.

When you see all of human desire, behavior and nature as a mechanism, even the most romanticized, idealized sensibilities start to become nothing more than  mechanisms.

At first, this might make someone depressed, as their idealistic illusions of meaning and purpose start to disintegrate. But, another thought can arise - that depression itself, that sense of emptiness, it's just a mechanism too.

Once you get there, you can start plugging into your instincts more rationally. Books like The Art of Seduction and 48 Laws of Power resonate with me. They wouldn't have in the past. My personality has become more Machiavellian, at least in the sense that I am much more keen on evaluating actions in terms of their consequences instead of ideals.


You sound like my friend. She sort of insists that I became the way I became because I was smart and so I naturally saw everything in terms of gears and levers to be manipulated to get what I wanted. I think it's because that's how she feels. She is probably currently in the depression state, because I think you're right, it's hard for meaning to exist at the same time that you are aware that everything can be reduced to simple mechanics. She has taken it a step further than just the belief that everything is simple mechanics, so it's even worse. Since she was a child, she's believed that she is *so* smart and *so* good at manipulating the gears and levers of people and the world that she fears that she controls everything, which because she's an empath, makes her constantly worry that she will mess everything up.

But when she says these things to me, I understand how different I am from her. Because it's not that seeing things in terms of gears and levers as a little kid made me a sociopath, it's being sociopathic made made me see the world in terms of gears and levers. So I never used to worry about things like meaning, because I never had it and then lost it. It was only after I tried to be less sociopathic that the question of meaning became a real issue for me.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Famous sociopaths: Taylor Swift (part 2)

I have never actually said that Taylor Swift is a sociopath,* but she I have said that she is a master of cultivating power. And she has been doing so since she was a teenager. So you draw your own conclusions...

A reader draws hers:

I have spent many hours on your site over the years and find it to be very informative. I was reminded of your page again (for the first time in a little while) after a discussion about Taylor Swift's behavior at last nights "Grammy's."

There is a small but growing number of people out there beginning to believe she is a sociopath. I am one of them. Would you consider doing a post about Miss Swift? I would love to hear your take on this along with any discussion in the comments.

She a complicated woman. She's often described as "calculated" which is a term she hates. Apparently she told Kanye west that she approved of a song lyric he wrote about her, only to to turn around and publicly denounce him and play the victim afterwards (this all went down last month).

I like this article: because while it's definitely subjective and not objective fact, it does interestingly line up her words and behaviours with sociopath characteristics. Also if you google her interview with GQ magazine you can tell that the reporter throughout the interview seems to recognize these characteristics in her. 

You are definitely right, she's perfected her art! 

*And I wouldn't say anything about her other than that, honestly because she makes me a little nervous. She doesn't seem to have any boundaries as to how low she will go to get into a random fight with some nobody or shame some unsuspecting ordinary-man. She's reminds me a little of Putin in the same sense of seemingly indiscriminate life-ruining and potential for extreme pettiness? 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

What if sociopaths looked like foxes?

A reader sent me this link to a review of the movie Disney animated movie Zootopia, in which this question is at least impliedly asked:

There’s something inherently weird about the “talking animal” genre, especially once it gets seriously anthropomorphic. What if some people in real life were goats and others were alligators? Would you still feel the same way about crime policy and immigration? It raises all sorts of ugly questions, that don’t have proper answers—because in real life, people aren’t easily labeled as pigs, wolves, geese, or tigers. Art Spiegelman’s Maus pushes this weirdness to its limits, with its Nazi cats and Jewish mice—but he makes it clear these roles are not intrinsic, by showing one of the mice turning into a cat in one panel.

Minor spoilers ahead...

The “talking animal” story is, in some sense, a fantasy both about being able to identify someone’s character at a glance—the wolf is visibly not the same as the three pigs—but also, about people having an essential nature that cannot be changed. (That second aspect of the fantasy also helps explain astrology, personality tests, and a million self-help books that divide people into types.)

I think a lot of people naturally think that sociopaths are essentially a different species -- the foxes of the human world. And I think a lot of people would love to be able to recognize them right away for that. But is that an accurate viewpoint?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sociopaths on TV: The Girlfriend Experience

Public service announcement: a tv show about a female lawyer turned high class prostitute premiered today on Starz, with all of the episodes available at once. The character apparently gets described by others as a sociopath, and by the way its described, it definitely seems influenced by a sociopathic worldview. From the Rotten Tomatoes interview:

Rotten Tomatoes: What do you think is the correlation between office politics — or even the legal industry — and something like prostitution? Are you trying to make that comparison? Does the show have a specific point of view?

Seimetz: As dark and sort of moody as the show is, we’re not trying to say that this is bad — that the world is bad. Or good. We’re just sort of showing it and trying to draw conclusions as to how we act as human beings. In general, whether it’s law or business or prostitution, I think most interactions are transactional — whether it’s money or what somebody can do for you or how they make you feel. You want something out of an exchange from a human being in general in your life, right? And I think any business or any sort of part of your life is also about creating boundaries and knowing when a relationship isn’t good or isn’t benefiting you anymore.  Which I think, in the world of escorting, is sort of heightened, because there are these ready-made relationships that you step into and you’re immediately intimate. The expectation is to immediately become intimate with somebody. It’s this sort of heightened — or a much more dense — version of how we operate in society.
Rotten Tomatoes: Christine is referred to as a “female Ted Bundy.” She doesn’t seem to like people. Then it makes her question herself. Is she a good person, and what sort of character arcs can we expect from that personality type?

Seimetz: I don’t really know what a good person is. I come from a laundry list of extremely complicated human beings [laughing]. And so there have been moments where they’re not so great and there have been moments when they are wonderful. So I don’t know. I think what’s interesting is her feelings, in general. The conflicts that occur in the show are from the aspects of her personality where she is extremely unapologetic about how she feels. She has a flicker of a moment where she wonders if something is wrong with her — if she’s a sociopath. But that’s only because somebody said that to her. But really she’s like, “You know what? I really don’t care.” And she just keeps going. Most of the conflicts come out of that unapologetic nature of the female character, because in our society — and in television — we don’t see a lot of women who are unapologetic, or are sort of OK with how they are in life, and whether or not that meets everyone’s norm. She’s not struggling to understand herself — she already knows herself. She’s just discovering her superpower, in a way [laughing].
Rotten Tomatoes: When do we see the real Christine? Is it when she’s working, or out socially, or alone?

Seimetz: I think that’s up to the viewer to decide. Part of the allure of what we wanted to do from the series is for the viewer to constantly question who the real person is. Whether Christine is herself when she is doing her law stuff or if she is herself when she is with her clients, I don’t think any one personality is that simple. I like to say that I am myself no matter what, but I don’t treat the clerk at the grocery store like I do my mother. I feel like we’re all playing roles every time we make a transaction or every time we are in social settings. Not that we’re all completely changing our point of view, but we are all sort of playing a certain part that participates in whatever is convenient to the situation.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Paradigm shifts

I hesitate to write about this because it's both probably too personal and too random for anyone to relate to. But I hope there is a more meta thought about changing paradigms and what that actually means that can translate via the too specific story.

Recently, I was out with a sort of former seduction target turned long time friend, who has over the past few years retreated more and more from life. We met up randomly and by chance with a third, a stranger. The night with the third turned into hijinsky fun, the stuff of silly comedies with an undercurrent of sexual energy. The stranger skilfully flirted equally with me and my friend, keeping an amazing balance. Whenever my friend would withdraw, the stranger was there to draw my friend back in. It made me think -- this must be exactly how polyamorous relationships work. I've had multiple relationships going on at the same time, but never the same relationship with multiple people (sad!), so it was fascinating. It made a lot of sense too. Whenever there is a weak relationship between any two of the three, that weak pairing needs to be shored up with one on one connection between those two. And although I wasn't really that interested in either one by themselves, but there was something about the combination that was charming to me -- seeing them through each others' eyes.

The stranger ends up too drunk to drive home, but everyone has a car and everyone is far from home. It came down to a coin flip, but eventually it gets decided that my friend will drive the stranger home and crash there for the night, to come back in the morning to retrieve the third car. Of course they hook up, but I was surprised that they didn't come up for air for several days.

I'm genuinely happy for my friend, because I feel like it's an end of retreating from the world. And my world paradigm told me, "say you're happy for them both and then back away." But then I had this crazy thought just pop in my mind -- if I back away, this relationship will fail. Why? My mind reasoned, as if on its own, based on my observations of what I knew about them (I had tried to set the stranger up with other random strangers that night, so the stranger told me what to look for) there were at least a half a dozen ways in which my friend failed to meet the stranger's expectations. But I did meet those particular criteria. Same for what my friend is looking for -- so many things the stranger failed at, that I happened to meet. And there was also a half dozen ways that I failed to meet what each of them were looking for in ways that they matched for each other, most importantly that I was actually looking for a romantic relationship with either of them.

I had these thoughts in what felt like a moment of clarity for me, like seeing a math problem a different, better way. My mind told me that the optimal thing to do in terms of their relationship wouldn't be to adopt the societal paradigm of don't-be-a-third-wheel paradigm, but to continue to fill each's needs in the way that their new partner couldn't or didn't want to.

Again, you can imagine what happens here. I try to explain this to my friend, just to see if the idea rang true to my friend too. But it sounds too crazy, doesn't it? I mean, clearly I'm just jealous, anyone would think. Another friend told me in an IM conversation re the situation "i think you struggle a lot with things not being about you and it's something to work on." At first I wanted people to understand, wanted to explain how this was not about me this time or about jealousy.* And I did try to explain to my friend, until I realized -- this is my paradigm, and it is the truest I know, but it is not anyone else's. Neither one of them owe you any understanding of your paradigm and they certainly don't owe you adopting yours as their own, even if you believe that your paradigm would benefit them more in this situation.

Because as much as my concept of the self has been flexible, it has traditionally driven me literally crazy when people have denied a truth that seemed so self-evident. I've often fancied myself a sort of Galileo, preaching the truth of my righteous paradigm to the blind who will not see. A defender of truth. But after this recent experience, I understand that the truth is not necessarily always relative, but that in certain circumstances the truth hardly matters. Someone else's beliefs and/or their ability to have their own beliefs matter much more than any attempt at objective truth. And after I had that paradigm shift about third wheels and polyamory so suddenly, I wonder what paradigms of mine are next to shift? Finally, I see that I need to figure out a better way to allow my paradigms to shift in the future without upsetting others who aren't ready/wanting/asking to shift theirs.

*I've never been looking for love. I've never felt like that was true, at least. I've been attracted to people plenty, and I'm certain that I've wished in some way for them to reciprocate the intensity of my feelings, but even that has been oddly not a big deal to me. If it's not a straight seduction in which their passion for me are the "points" I'm scoring in some sort of game with myself, I've always been more into my own feelings for someone I care about than caring exactly how much they care back at me. Maybe this is why I have only experienced very pale shades of jealousy in my life, because what I want most are my own feelings of passion, not someone else's feelings for me. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Favorite masks

A reader asks which of my masks do I enjoy wearing the most:

I've been reading your blog since about 4 years now and it helped me to understand myself more. I'm now 17 years old and recently took a look at the different roles I've played so far. And I kinda figured out my favourite one.

When I identify someone as an Über-Empath, I get close to them to tell them my dirty little secret. Extra trust points for me. I'm a sociopath, you know. But don't tell anyone, because people are soooo prejudiced and it's so horrible to always hide. In Germany, the prejudice-card is like a royal flush in poker. You'll win everyone over. They always keep their mouths shut. Then I play the "good sociopath". Yes, I can read people, I can manipulate them, but I want to use that gift for good, make everyone feel better because I, the great hero can see what bothers them. But this darkness inside me is so damaging, c'mon pity me. I didn't choose this.

Oh, the tragic anti-hero. The good sociopath. It's so cute, how they believe in what they say. "No, you're not a monster, I know you. It's not your fault that your brain is wired different. Let me hug you, my brave little soldier."

Another role is the tortured artist. I'm so depressed, so damaged. Pity me. Love me. And I can do whatever I want, because "I didn't mean it, I'm mentally ill, I'm so sorry". Of course, this got me in a bit of trouble, cause tortured artists need therapy. One fucking therapist noticed my sociopathic side. But things are going well, I'll fuck up their diagnosis. Some signs of bipolar here, a little borderline there, with some other symptomes of this and that and they won't be able to puzzle anything together, but everything will suit my good old tortured artist. Messing with therapists is kinda funny.

As for other roles, I have a genius, sophisticated, well-mannered character and then well, my flexible one, always at the beginning, miss Charming.

Do you have any preferred roles? I'd love to see something like that on your blog. You may refer to me as Umbra.

My reply:

I've gotten away from roles in the past year or two. I'm not playing roles because I'm not thinking of people's reactions or manipulating them or even really calculating outcomes or consequences to the things that I do and say. But I'm trying to think what my favorite ones were. I had a charming one for social occasions that was pretty good, but sometimes it took a life of its own and turned into what my friend called "the hulk", presumably because at a certain point it was as if I couldn't control it and everything seemed sort of outsized and bizarre to any onlookers. Once I tried "perfect couple" role. There was a guy that was just the right sort of American boy charm, just the perfect tall but not too much taller than I was, and with enough hair and face contrasts that we really complimented each other. More than that, I think we looked different enough that we didn't seem like we were narcissists dating another version of ourselves, like perfect romantic comedy opposites attract (but not too opposite, just charmingly different). I was surprised how much fun that one was to play. I like unassuming genius too, I probably play this one the most still, because whenever you're smart people sort of demand that you act unassuming about it (particularly if you're a woman and particularly if you're not an actual genius like a Marie Curie type but just a bumbling otherwise relatively normal looking and acting person). You know, although I don't try to consciously play roles anymore, it's interesting to see how much of each role still manifests itself in my behavior. I think that means that there's less made-up fiction in each of my roles than I would have thought at the time. More real me than I would have imagined at the time.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Needing things to go a particular way (part 1)

The reader's response: 

I agree that it would be magical thinking to say that you can think your way out of any emotion at any given time. But if you're already familiar with how the undesirable emotion is resulting from your processing of the situation through a lens of beliefs, you can attempt to eliminate the feeling if you can identify the belief underneath.

Think; if a neurotypical sees the world through a lens of "There is no right and wrong, or good and evil, those are man made concepts that do not exist in nature, and they are a means of control. Rights don't exist either, they are imaginary, we made them up. Emotions are, simply put, biological functions that helped the survival of a stage of our species but at this point are obsolete and nothing but harmful, even though at times they (especially the mammal/herd animal instincts like shame) come with a sense of 'meaning'. The duration of your life is the only time you will enjoy rewards and suffer consequences, your conscious experience will not exist after you die."
How can you expect this total non-sociopath to feel guilt/remorse/shame, or fear in his deathbed after a life of 'wrongdoings'?

"There is no greater purpose to this existence, it is futile, it is at best a form of entertainment and I don't mind tapping out if I get bored" would be another one to make it all seem meaningless, thus making any moral judgement irrelevant and unimportant, and the lives' of oneself and others unattached to some sort of sacred value.
Don't you think just remembering this one would make one a let less of a neurotic in general?

BUT (I think I'm speaking for non-socios here, I might be wrong):

Let's say, before the person had those said beliefs, since early childhood he/she were raised to believe in something vastly different than that, like most people are. When he does something that makes sense to him but goes against a certain norm, he has to think his way out of, let's say, shame.
Especially if people react. A number of them, at the same time. Yikes. 
Because he's hardwired with the instinct of shame, and shame was already previously programmed to fire at types of situations like this, he will probably feel shame while knowing/thinking that it's irrational. 

But you can't just stop feeling something just because you know it doesn't make sense, that would be too good to be true. Of course the feeling isn't rational, it's a fucking feeling. Still, After recognizing the feeling and wanting to get rid of it, there will still be some thinking work to do to eliminate it in my experience, that's my point.

For me it was a challenge to identify beliefs on most of my past issues (social anxiety, OCD, 2 nonsense phobias) as they were easy to recognize as irrational even to the person who has them, and no part of it I could connect to anything. But at this point I can confidently say that at this point I can easily eliminate mild anxiety, shame and mostly anger (The ego-hurt at least. you know how when the bus driver acts entitled and disrespectful to you, and you just have to find a way to not punch him in the throat and insert your thumbs into his eyes because at that moment it looks like a very reasonable risk to take?) .

Still, fear is different I think, it's more deeply rooted than anything else. It's probably the first emotion that ever came to exist and I don't think one can think its way out of fear as a feeling, but maybe with sufficient recent exposure to fear-evoking situations or an exceptionally trained prefrontal cortex it could be fought. As long as fear is not sabotaging one's decision or performance, I think it's fine to feel it somewhere in the background.

Am I depressed? I think it's my own cognitive bias that I don't think about my mood when i'm in a good mood, but I'm recently realizing that I tend to live 4-5 days beautifully and 4-5 days terribly. Not that I'm bipolar or anything, I just have a great relationship with drugs and a less faithful one with sleep. Being in the zone so hard that refusing to sleep and failing to take a break and just functioning for hours more, and then having a sleep deprived crash landing for 12 hours in the afternoon does not sound like consistent depression to me. 

I loved your last paragraph, that's a belief I haven't even questioned, or regarded as a belief till now.
And yes, you can publish it. 

(Also, you didn't miss sarcasm, Bill wasn't being sarcastic, it's just that Bill is a normal dude with a temper, and when he calls himself a psycho he mostly means 'psychotic'. 
Irrelevant: I got stung by an exotic insect while writing that last sentence.)

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Needing things to go a particular way

A reader asks me about this selection written by another reader that I featured in a recent post: "I have learned that with happiness, comes sadness... and to not block either emotion. Emotions are like yin and yang and you cannot have one without the other."

I had heard that one before, and I'd absolutely disagree with the yin and yang portion. I've had the, opinion, that feelings are without meaning and importance, but the positive ones feel good so I focus in on them, and the negative ones don't feel good so I think my way out of them as much as possible. If we are to maximize pleasure and minimize pain, that system seems to be the most efficient. Or maybe that's what I do because of the general lack of good stuff in my life for right now and the following few months due to the responsibilities and obligations that come with having future goals, as well as the anxiety of the ambiguity my future holds.
What's your approach to feelings currently, every-other-week therapy person? (Asks a rather depressed reader, I guess.)

And by the way, the way you tagged the Bill Burr video surprised me. You can probably easily see that he is not at all an actual sociopath, far from it actually. 
Anthony Jeselnik is probably the only sociopath comedian I know of, if he is one. He's at least as 'sociopathic' as I am, and openly calls himself one at occasions. You'd probably enjoy him if you haven't heard yet. (Spotify/Netflix)

My response:

Ha, for whatever reason I am bad at detecting sarcasm. I didn't really know who Anthony Jeselnik was before you mentioned him, except I was vaguely aware he dated Amy Schumer. I could see sociopath, and he's the type that also probably likes to see the sociopath in others as well.

As to the second part, I don't think you really can think your way out of negative emotions. I think you can avoid them, but they kind of stay there? Like no rational person would think that you can just ignore having to file your taxes and that by you ignoring it, the obligation to file your taxes would disappear too. I don't know why exactly this magical thinking is easy to believe with regard to emotions. Maybe it's possible to never notice an emotion, like those women who don't feel fear (, but even with those people, it appears that their body registers the emotion, and some place in their brain does, just not their conscious selves.

Have you ever remembered a situation associated with a negative emotion and felt the emotion again? If not, maybe you're much better at eliminating negative emotions than I am, but my guess is also no if you're depressed. If yes, this suggests again to me that ignoring the negative emotion does not actually eliminate it, but rather just forces it deeper into the subconscious, but still very active and possibly affecting everything you do.

For me, my every other week therapy approach has been to change the beliefs underlying a lot of my emotions. My most common belief along those lines was "I need things to be a particular way to [feel good]" Feel good could have meant a lot of more specific things over my lifetime -- feel happy, or feel satisfied, or get good sleep, or whatever. And then if you're this way and if things don't go that particular way, you not only don't feel good, you feel like you don't control your life and maybe even that no matter what you do you won't ever be able to ensure that you'll live a life of feeling good more often than not. And you're right in a way, because no one can guarantee or ensure that things will go a particular way. But if you learn to feel good without things going a particular way, that's a trick worth learning.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Changing our minds

I was talking with my transgendered friend about this review of a 1999 or 2000 Lifetime type movie about a high school girl coming out as gay, and how it seemed as anachronistic as Mad Men, even though it was just 16 years ago. Back then, the news really would have spread like wildfire and a gay high school student really would have been dropped by countless friends and ostracized by many more in his/her community. Even five or more years ago, this was pretty much the reaction to the transgendered community. It's crazy how quickly and dramatically things have changed. But how did something go from the vast majority of people agreeing one thing (gays/transgendered people = bad) to the vast majority of people agreeing the opposite thing?

The first time I encountered this was one night I remember watching Saturday Night Live with Will Farrell's George W. Bush threatening to come after Osama Bin Laden to avenge the 9/11 attacks. I remember being surprised by how supportive the audience was, given that W. Bush was not at all a popular President (he, for instance, did not win the popular vote). People loved the fact that he was an gun-toting Texan when it meant that he was going after someone almost universally reviled. Even the fact of W. Bush's record for executions in his home state of Texas got cheers. Suddenly, it seemed like a really great idea to show no mercy, and to act now and think later. No many months after, the United States had started the ill-considered Iraq War. And years later, people wondered how people could have been so stupid, how W. Bush could have done such a thing -- but he actually had wide support, at the time.

Perhaps this is almost too obvious/tautological/stupid to say, but although widespread change must eventually reach the majority, it does not often start there. Writer Rebecca Solnit put it this way:

Ideas at first considered outrageous or ridiculous or extreme gradually become what people think they’ve always believed. How the transformation happened is rarely remembered, in part because it’s compromising: it recalls the mainstream when the mainstream was, say, rabidly homophobic or racist in a way it no longer is; and it recalls that power comes from the shadows and the margins, that our hope is in the dark around the edges, not the limelight of center stage. Our hope and often our power.

I understand this, but thing that has always bothered the sociopath in me is the collective amnesia that everyone experiences. No one admits, I used to be homophobic but then I realized I was wrong. Instead there is rampant hypocrisy. There is no humility. There is no healthy skepticism of their feelings of moral certainty. The moral certainty just shifts beliefs, from anti to pro or vice versa. 
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