Friday, August 26, 2016

Famous sociopaths in history: Nancy Wake

From a reader (quoting extensively from other sources, not always notated in quotation marks):

I was recently reading about a spy in WWII named Nancy Wake, known as The White Mouse, and it struck me that this woman shows many of the classic traits of a sociopath. Im not sure if you have heard of her before, so here is a not so brief summary:

"The youngest of six children of Charles and Ella Wake, with the next eldest eight years ahead of her, she always felt a little isolated from the rest of the family, with the sole exception of her filmmaker father, whom she adored, but was devastated when, at the age of four, her father abandoned the family – an event believed to have sparked her rebellious nature and fearsome temper. The rest of Wake's childhood was spent waging a kind of guerilla war against her mother and, to a lesser extent, her siblings, which ended only when she ran away at 16."

With $300, she moved to New York and was soon working as a freelance journalist, which led her to Paris where she apparently led a wild life:
"She once described herself — as a young woman — as someone who loved nothing more than “a good drink” and handsome men, “especially French men.” She found work as a freelance journalist, and managed at the same time to live “Parisian nightlife to the full,” according to Mr. FitzSimons. By 22 this globetrotting Aussie/Kiwi was living in Paris, working as a freelance newspaper journalist during the day and  then rocking out at the hottest Parisian nightclubs after dark.  A tough-as-hell chick who could rarely be found without a double gin and tonic in her hand and designer cosmetics in her purse, Wake had a reputation for drinking hard, telling dirty jokes, and then getting a tall, dark, and handsome Frenchman pick up the tab for her. "

After being sent to Germany to interview Hitler, Wake developed a "deep, deep hatred" of Nazis and devoted her life to eliminating them. She married a rich industrialist, and together they helped rescue refugees, spy on Germans, and smuggle information across enemy lines. She used her charms to manipulate German soldiers:
"Against the suspicions of German guards manning the various checkpoints she had to get through, she regarded her beauty as her principal shield and played upon it to the maximum, openly flirting with many Germans. Using her charms and a native cunning, she was so successful with the Resistance that she soon graduated to taking groups of refugees - often downed Allied pilots or Jewish families - between safe houses until they reached the base of the Pyrenees, where other guides would get them across."

She was soon on Gestapos most wanted list, and after her husband was tortured and killed by Nazis trying to find her, she waged open war against the Nazis, leading a resistance movement of 7,000 men against them.

"In April 1944 she parachuted into France to coordinate attacks on German troops and installations prior to the D-Day invasion, leading a band of 7,000 resistance fighters.  Her chute got stuck in a tree on the way down, and when the local French resistance leader said some asinine thing like "I wish all trees grew such beautiful fruit," or something equally cheesy she gave him the finger and said (in perfect French no less), "Don't give me that French shit." In order to earn the esteem of the men under her command, she reportedly challenged them to drinking contests and would inevitably drink them under the table. But her fierceness alone may have won her enough respect: During the violent months preceding the liberation of Paris, Wake killed a German guard with a single karate chop to the neck, executed a women who had been spying for the Germans, shot her way out of roadblocks and biked 70 hours through perilous Nazi checkpoints to deliver radio codes for the Allies."

"With her coiffured hair and red lipstick, Wake was the epitome of glamour, but when she was dropped into occupied France she became a fighting force.
Even without a weapon, she could be deadly. During one raid she reportedly killed an SS guard with her bare hands to prevent him raising the alarm. "She is the most feminine woman I know until the fighting starts. Then she is like five men," one of her French colleagues recalled."

Despite the violent nature of her heroic deeds, she displayed no hint of remorse over killing.

"Afterwards she would declare: "In my opinion, the only good German was a dead German, and the deader, the better. I killed a lot of Germans, and I am only sorry I didn't kill more."

"Lady was ice-cold.
Known as "The White Mouse" by her German pursuers, Wake spent much of the war as an Allied operative in France, helping escaped POWs and others wanted by the Germans flee to Spain, running messages between the British military and French resistance — and, of course, choking the life out of various Nazis.

"I was not a very nice person," Wake said once, according to the Times. "And it didn't put me off my breakfast.""

"She returned several times to live in Australia, making unsuccessful attempts to get elected to parliament, but had an uneasy relationship with the country of her childhood, feeling unrecognised and underappreciated. This led her to refuse decorations from the Australian government; with characteristic bluntness, she said they could "stick their medals where the monkey stuck his nuts". In February 2004, she relented and was made a Companion of the Order of Australia.

Naturally, not giving a crap about awards and stuff like that, Wake sold off her medals and lived off the money for the rest of her life.  When asked why the hell she sold a trio of Croix de Guerres, she said, "There's no point in keeping them… I'll probably go to hell and they'd melt anyways."
Wake found post-war life uneventful. "It's all been so exciting … and then it all fizzled out. I had a very happy war," she said. FitzSimons told Australian radio: "She was a woman who was always a hair-trigger from being in a rage … and that rage within her was wonderful during the war, [but] it could be problematic when the war was over. She was a force of nature."

"Her volatility and bursts of rage, which had been so effective in the war, did not stop with the peace. A lot about Wake was ill-suited to regular civilian life and she was keenly aware of it. ''After the war ended, it was dreadful because you've been so busy and then it all just fizzles out,'' she told The Australian in 1983.

"In an interview a decade ago, at the age of 89, Wake appeared to have lost none of her fighting spirit. "Somebody once asked me: 'Have you ever been afraid?' Hah! I've never been afraid in my life," she said."

"“I was never afraid,” she said. “I was too busy to be afraid.”

By most accounts, Ms. Wake never figured out what to do with her life after the war.

She settled, the best that she could, for being a homemaker for her second husband, a garrulous former RAF pilot by the name of John Forward, whom she had met in the mid-1950s and who took up a position as a mid-ranking executive with an Australian textiles firm. Generally, the two were very happy together and John came to cope with being with a woman who was only ever a hair-trigger away from high hilarity or high-octane fury."

Saturday, August 20, 2016

How to break up with a sociopath (part 2)

One of the more popular posts here (not a good sign for the enduring likability of sociopaths) is how to break up with a sociopath, in which I basically advocate to take the time-honored defensive tactic (in both the animal and human kingdoms) -- make yourself as unappealing of a target as possible. 

For whatever reason, this suggestion has been sometimes controversial. People wonder why it is up to them to act like a loser just to throw the sociopath off their scent. I don't know what to say to that, except that not everything in this world is fair and I'm just describing what I have found to work best. 

Here is a recent comment on that post with someone working the system with success:

I was finally able to shake my sociopathic boyfriend by becoming annoying, helpless and whiney about things that didn’t involve him in my life. (I am the most independent, self-sufficient person I know). At first, he was just angry, but nothing changed, he still wouldn't leave me alone, still tried to yank my chain all the time and hurt me. But after a while, me acting like I was a total hot mess got WAY too annoying for him. 

I made it seem that I was no longer playing the game with him, but I was far too preoccupied by other meaningless drama and problems in my life that had nothing to do with him. My health, my aging parents, my boring job……….he had no interest in those things.

Since he lacked the ability to care about when I was going through hard times, and also refused to help me (or anyone) in any way, no matter the situation, he got bored because I was no longer engaging with him, and I seemed like I was on the edge of reason because of other things.

He finally lost interest for good and moved on to other ‘marks’ that were easy prey. He’d check back in every once and a while to see if I was back to my old self whom he could get some sort of rise out of. And I kept up the “helpless, depressed, flighty, hot-mess” persona every single time.

I’m free now, but I know if he had ANY idea how I played him on that one, he’d probably kill me.

Here's another recent comment with someone else not doing what I advised:

After doing a ton of research, and actually finding THIS blog, I figured a lot of things out. And I ended things for good with him. I kept it as short and sweet as possible, but put back his own bad behavior on him, told him I no longer found this acceptable because of what it was doing to me, and told him I was done and I wanted him to leave me alone.

(After researching, that was the wrong thing to do, because a sociopath does not want to be called on their behavior or think anything is their fault, but MY self preservation took priority over his mind games! I was no longer concerned with if he was happy or if I was fulfilling his needs, I was trying to save myself.)

Now he's SUPER angry with me and obsessed with getting me (or rather, what i DID for him previously) back. Not that he wants to be nice or anything, but he's angry at me DESPITE how horribly he's treated me, that I no longer love him.

I think the reason he is angry and will not leave me alone is because I stopped the game. And he wasn't quite ready to stop. I think I took that "power" over the situation away from him by refusing to play. And that's what makes him SO angry and obsessive.

I don't get it. My mind doesn't work that way. He doesn't want ME. He doesn't love ME. He got off on the GAME. He got off on thinking he had power over me because I LOVED him.

Now that's gone and it wasn't on his terms. I had no idea where the game ended and had a feeling the final part of the game was to destroy me. To see me fall apart. I refuse to do that. When I get to that point with a person, I cut and run. I simply cannot allow myself to self-destruct for someone who has done so little for me and who has hurt me so terribly. And in his mind, that's unfair. I didn't let him finish the game. THAT'S why he can't let go.

Your man didn't get to finish his game on his terms.

Nobody has to do anything they don't want to do, of course. But realize that you make compromises to keep the peace in your life all of the time. You may feel strongly about abortion (either way), or politics, or religion, etc. etc. etc. But most of the time you don't go around confronting people on these issues trying to get them to validate your own position, when you should know that they aren't likely to do any such thing and any attempts you make to do so will just lead to a heated argument. Likewise, you wouldn't argue with a three year old about what is their optimal bedtime. The easiest way to avoid a confrontation with a sociopath is not to make a big production out of breaking up with them because you find them to be unsuitable, but to make them think like whatever is happening is their decision and they are in control. Public Service Announcement over!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Bonding over bullying

I've been meaning to post about this Invisibilia episode for ages, and also saw this comment from a somewhat recent post that made me want to post it again, and finally have gotten around to it.

So the Invisibilia episode is worth listening to fully, at least the first half of it. It talks about a woman who has always been treated badly, bullied, and even villified, and she had no idea why. She's high functioning -- a doctor -- but she found social interactions to be very difficult. She describes the worst of many similar episodes of bullying:

The worst thing that ever happened was, I was at summer camp, and I don't know what I did. I have no idea. But they actually bound and gagged me and took me out of the cabin at night in the rain and put me outside, and it was just awful.

Here's why: "Kim's brain is not great at seeing emotion. When she looks out at the world, she physically sees all the things that most people see. It's just that much of the emotion is subtracted. Though for most of her life, she didn't realize that, and so her interactions with other kids could be difficult."

She undergoes TMS, transcranial magnetic stimulation, which some of you may remember from Wisdom of Psychopaths: "Basically in TMS you take this very fancy magnet, hold it to the scalp and send pulses through the skull to get brain cells to activate in a different way. They typically change for a very short period of time - between 15 and 40 minutes."

During TMS, she experiences for the first time an awareness of the emotional world, and realizes that this whole time she has been missing out on millions of emotional cues from the people around her. She says that she would have otherwise had no idea that such a world existed before, because she had always just believed that the way she saw the world was the way the world actually was (sound familiar to all of you out there?).

I thought the hosts had an interesting reaction to her realization that the world was different than she thought it was -- as if maybe she would have been better off not knowing. But she doesn't see it that way at all:

But even though TMS has not changed Kim's ability to see long-term, she says she's still happy she got it. She says she thinks a lot about one of the videos she was shown. In it, two employees were saying mean things to a fellow employee named Frank. And Kim says the first time she watched it before the TMS, she couldn't answer any of the questions the researchers were asking about it. But afterwards, she understood not only the video but also one of the big mysteries that had dominated much of her life.

KIM: It never made any sense to me as to why people would be mean to somebody else. Why would you be mean to somebody? And what I saw is that when the two employees were there and were talking together and then were giving Frank a hard time, the primary thing was not that they were trying to be mean to Frank.

The primary thing is that they were bonding, building a bond between the two of them. And it was simply the means to do it was to be nasty to Frank. And then I was like, oh, maybe that's what these kids were doing when they were bullying me.

SPIEGEL: It's much easier to live in a world which makes sense, where people are mean not just for fun but because they, like everyone else, want to belong and feel safe. Now that's the world that Kim lives in. 

This same phenomenon of bonding over bullying was referenced in the comment I mentioned above:

But I also made the experience, that the team spirit in a group is rising if there is a common "enemy/victim". Well it's at the victims expense but for the rest of the group and their friendships it is something positive... Anyway, I don't know if this phenomenon is also visible in a group consisting of various sociopaths.

The point of the podcast was that everyone has blindspots -- everyone has a certain viewpoint that by its very nature is limited. As much as Kim was blind to emotions and sociopaths are blind to morality, empaths are also blind to the random things they get up to -- like bonding over bullying. The key is to have just a little bit of intellectual humility to admit the possibility that the way you see the world may not be 100% accurate. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

What/when change is possible

My therapist often deals with bosses, spouses, church leaders, probation officers, etc. who inquire as to whether and how fast behavioral change is possible with someone who suffers from mental problems. He tells them that change is almost always possible, it's just not often possible in that moment. For example, someone who struggles with rage issues may be able to learn to control their temper through years of training and self knowledge and growth, but they may be completely incapable of controlling their temper in any given moment. He says that this restricted ability to control behavior, where mental hardwiring meets a deficit of willpower or skill level, is really hard for people to understand who don't suffer from similar deficiencies in those areas. First, it feels like the person is cheating, coasting through life on excuses while the rest of us have to try so hard. Second, it's difficult to understand how someone couldn't just be able to make a choice in that moment to do something differently, e.g. "just relax".

A lot of people have experienced this frustration with me over the years,. Recently, though, I've had extensive experience with it myself from someone else who has a very entrenched personality disorder, but also has started suffering from major depression symptoms. For various reasons, I am to a large extent responsible for this person and must interact with him various times a week. And every week there is some new flavor of dysfunction going on in his life, despite a comprehensive cocktail of medication and weekly therapy. This week, it's an inability to get out of bed for anything but work. He is already suffering pretty serious health consequences from a lack of exercise, for which he is taking another set of medications. All of his doctors, mental and physical health, tell him to keep trying to exercise. He knows that it will improve not just his physical health, but his depression as well. He knows that he enjoys getting out and walking in nature. But it is just very difficult for him to do it, so difficult that he doesn't quite go to the trouble of trying. I have a very tough time relating to this, and after years of dealing with nearly limitless levels and varieties of dysfunction, my frustration levels can get pretty high.

The crazy thing is that I would have never had this experience at my most sociopathic self. There would be a snowflake's chance in hell that I would have continued to deal with someone like this for longer than a few weeks, maybe a few months in exceptional circumstances. So I've never actually had to confront this type of frustration at someone's inadequacies. The one great thing that has come out of it is that I now have much more cognitive empathy and understanding for what people have to deal with on the other side of the mental health problem equation -- the people without the seemingly intractable problem, but still have to deal with it on a regular basis.

But I think of a parallel -- my grandmother, who suffered a stroke and had to undergo a sequence of physical therapies. She did get better over time -- better bladder control, speech, decreased paralysis, etc. There were also some things that she didn't get appreciably better at -- lack of inhibition, sense of decorum or propriety, respect for the privacy of others, demonstrating an adult level of patience, and certain types of emotional regulation. She had in many ways the mind of a child to her death, but I bet that even in those things she could have seen further improvement -- too bad she didn't live 50 more years to reach that point in her trajectory.

And I know that as much as I have improved over the past few years -- almost no manipulation, more in touch with my emotions, stronger sense of self and identity -- there are still things I probably won't ever be able to do -- affective empathy, strong emotional theory of mind, understanding subtle emotional cues, conforming more closely to social norms and expectations, etc. Or maybe I will, it will just take some future brain surgery and/or 50 years of training. We'll see. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Avoiding seeing red

My peacemaker brother was telling me today about some of the weird things he'll do, like park his car somewhere else after he's done pumping gas but needs to go inside the store for something, because he's worried that people will be put out or upset, or a handful of other weird things like that they seem almost overly considerate and polite, or maybe abnormally concerned about upsetting people. I actually identified with the general theme of his behaviors, though. I also try to avoid conflict, but not because it I fear confrontation. I explained to him that it's more that I worry about losing control in situations in which someone might try to confront me about something. The classic example is the DC metro worker story from the book. If someone tries to correct me or shame me about some behavior of mine, that is the most predictably reliable way to make me see red. This is a weakness, as it has big potential negatives for my social capital and clean criminal record, and there are essentially no advantages. So I've noticed that as I have gotten older, I've gotten increasingly more polite and considerate in an attempt to reduce the number of situations in which this might happen.

I thought this recent comment was interesting, along the same lines, with another good potential suggestion for avoiding them:

My rages have dissipated to very rare status the older I have gotten. Might happen to you too. Seems to be the norm according to research. A good way to deal with them is to recognize when you are triggering, keep a journal if you must. Then when you see/feel a trigger coming on step back from the situation, acknowledge it, control your breathing, try to break your focus. The focus break is important since we achieve that hyper focus state and when we reach that BAM in the zone. See if there are any physical triggers too. Low on nicotine or blood sugar drop, dealing with too many idiots in short period of time, frustration, and physical pain like you mentioned. I hit the trifecta day before yesterday and almost went off but I knew what was causing it and managed to clear my triggers before i did to much damage. On an amusing note I appear to have inadvertently trained the people I work with to spot my triggers and they will take a look at me and send me out to have cigs and food when I present symptoms. This benefits everyone. If you can train people around you to be spotters like this and let give you some detox moments then you can usually avoid the meltdown. 

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