Monday, December 19, 2016

What's wrong with stigma?

One (I hope) good thing to come of the current political climate is that it shows the limits of stigma or social shaming in changing people or behavior. I've written before about this, but it's still very hard for me to understand why people do it or what they hope to accomplish with it. I can't help but thing it's just an evolutionary quirk that didn't get programmed in my own wiring because seemingly otherwise decent people will engage in outrageous and cruel behavior as long as their target is someone they perceive as being "bad" (in their opinion). 

From an Atlantic article entitled "How Stigma Sows Seeds of Its Own Defeat":

In “Too Much Stigma, Not Enough Persuasion,” I argued that the coalition that opposes Donald Trump needs to get better at persuading its fellow citizens and winning converts, rather than leaning so heavily on stigmatizing those who disagree with them. With Trump’s victory in mind, I wrote that among the many problems with relying too heavily on stigma rather than persuasion is that it just doesn’t work.

Noah Millman and Matt Yglesias have smart insights on the same subject.

And one of my readers, Maxwell Gottschall, has a useful coda that applies not just to opposing Donald Trump, but to the larger defense of the liberal project, the constitutional order, and republican government.  Sure, he acknowledged, wielding stigma is often ineffective. But even when it does work to achieve ends that liberals favor, like undermining support for racism or authoritarian demagogues, stigma achieves those victories in a relatively weak, dangerously tenuous manner.

As he put it:
Stigmatization of an idea, by design, intends to convert, not persuade, by bypassing reason and going right for our tribal desire to fit in. But I think the rarely noted effect of this conversion happening is that it robs the converted of the tools to persuade others going forward.  In other words, if you haven't been persuaded by the merits of a political idea, how do you persuade others? You can't without resorting to the same sort of stigmatizing argument. 
This, I think, at least partially explains the left's staleness over the past two years, and the cultural center-left elite's utter shock at the inadequacy of its invincible ascendant coalition. Stigmatization doesn't just turn off perfectly good people who aren't racists but supported Trump (as a blasé example). And it doesn't just make you complacent (which it does). I think it actively contributes to ideological rot.
The problem is that if social shaming is really an evolutionary quirk, all the evidence in the world about its inefficacy is not going to stop people from engaging in it.  The problem is not really in getting to see that stigmas can often often be unhelpful or destructive. Every side seems to have stigmas that they think are unwarranted or unhelpful (e.g. stigmas against gay marriage, having children out of wedlock). However, they also have stigmas that they think are absolutely necessary (e.g. stigmas against perceived homophobia, stigmas against having welfare babies). 

I'd personally love to have people stop stigmatizing things. That seems to me the cleanest, fairest, most efficient, and most beneficial solution. But that's like saying we should stop war. Given that's not going to happen, I guess the only thing left for us to do is to hide those parts of us that would be stigmatized or try to change minds? I honestly wouldn't blame anyone for doing the former. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Smartest person in the room

Sorry for the particularly slow posting and comment moderation, I've been out of the country.

I stumbled upon this video, I have forgotten where. It's from personal financial guru Dave Ramsay, but it takes an interesting turn from the personal as the woman seeks what she believes is financial advice and instead he gives her marital advice.

Dave Ramsay says that they're at an impasse not because of the consumer debt that the couple has, but because their world views are colliding. He talks about there being a respect meltdown where "he is the king of everything and your opinion doesn't matter." He says it's debilitating. "How do we get your husband on board, uh, we don't, until he decides he's on board with being your husband." "He's just doing whatever the flip he wants to do and the rest of you just exist around him." "You're trying to work around this elephant that's in the middle of your living room . . .  and you can't work around it."

I feel like this must be the experience of a lot of people who are in a relationship with someone with certain types of mental health issues (including a lot of people with personality disorders) who have difficulty validating or acknowledging the personhood of others. I know in dealing with some lower functioning people with personality disorders, they will insist on absolute autonomy -- the right to do and say what they want, when they want and not to be accountable to other people for their choices. Often there is a double standard because they expect other people to consider them and their preferences in making choices. They can be hyper sensitive to anyone having an expectation of them, that they show up on time or do what they say they're going to do or fix the problems that they've created for other people. They'll whine about how people are trying to manipulate them or control them, trying to micromanage their life.

Unfortunately I think that Dave Ramsay is right -- when someone believes that he or she is the king of everything and the rest of people just exist around him/her, a healthy, functional relationship would be impossible. Trying to help a relationship that is already there is also impossible unless the other person is really willing to start acknowledging the personhood and role of others in his or her life. 

Monday, November 14, 2016


One of my favorite comedy skits is this SNL version of the old Iconoclasts show with Bjork and Charles Barkley:

Perhaps the thing that people are most often jealous of, regarding a sociopath's life, is the way a sociopath doesn't care about so many things other people in the world care about. Or I should say more accurately, doesn't care about things in the same way that others care about them. Like I guess I care about money and power and things to a certain extent, but not in the same way that I see others caring about them. I don't identify with them, or feel like I need them to be happy, or get really worried about not having them. I have no emotional attachment to them at all. Of course this distance from the status quo rat race life that most people are so deeply embedded in they're not even aware there is an alternative, this distance comes with costs. Costs like not understanding why everyone else in the world is so stressed out or unhappy about certain things. Or maybe not being able to care enough to actually do something in certain situations (although I have such a low threshold for impulsively doing stuff, that I hardly need a reason at all to do something, much less to have an emotionally compelling reason to do it.)

I've been thinking about that a lot this past week or so, my ability to not care and what a relief that is as the world seems to get more and more farcical.

Also this poem:

she was not 
like everyone else,
simply because 
she didn't care
about things. 
instead, her heart
yearned for new places,
people, and experiences 
that would inspire her
to become greater 
in spirit, 
and live as freely,
as her heart loved.

Jose Chavez (?)

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Why bullies are bad for everyone

"In Germany, the Nazis came for the Communists and I didn't speak up because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Jews and I didn't speak up because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists and I didn't speak up because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics and I was a Protestant so I didn't speak up. Then they came for me … By that time there was no one to speak up for anyone."

 Martin Niemöller

Friday, October 14, 2016

Sesame Street on Empathy

I saw this interesting Sesame Street clip defining empathy. Curiously, they never define it as feeling what another person is feeling -- only understanding or imagining what another person is feeling. I guess we would call that cognitive empathy, perhaps even just perspective taking. If that is all that is needed, then I think each sociopath here passes the Sesame Street standard? If anything, it's the autism spectrum that struggles to perspective take?

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

An Introduction to Psychopathy

I am still surprised by the amount of disagreement about psychopathy, sociopathy, antisocial personality disorder, etc. that you'll get from any source -- academic, pop psychology, etc. With that small caveat (nothing is definitive), I found this article on psychopathy to be a good overview with academic cites (and links in the original). Here are some selections:

While it is past antisocial behavior that is particularly important in predicting future criminal activity (Walters, 2003), it is CU (callous unemotional) traits that are at the core of developmental trajectory associated with psychopathy (Frick and White, 2008). The disorder is developmental. It has been shown that CU traits in particular and the psychopathy more generally are relatively stable from childhood into adulthood (Lynam et al., 2007; Munoz and Frick, 2007). In addition, the functional impairments seen in adults with psychopathy (e.g., in responding to emotional expressions, aversive conditioning, passive avoidance learning, reversal learning, extinction) are also seen in adolescents with psychopathic tendencies (see later).
Psychopathy is not equivalent to the psychiatric conditions of conduct disorder (CD) or antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) as defined by DSM-5 or their ICD-10 counterparts. The diagnostic criteria for these disorders focus on antisocial behaviors rather than on etiological factors such as the emotion dysfunction seen in psychopathy (Blair et al., 2005). As such these psychiatric conditions describe individuals with difficulties in executive dysfunction (Moffitt, 1993), as well as individuals with symptoms stemming from CU traits. Consequently, individuals with psychopathy are a more homogenous group than those individuals meeting the criteria for CD and ASPD (Karnik et al., 2006). It should be noted, however, that DSM-5 includes the specifier for CD ‘with limited pro-social emotions,’ which stem directly from research on youth with CD and CU traits (Pardini et al., 2010; Pardini and Fite, 2010). Furthermore, the diagnosis of ASPD now includes components of psychopathy (APA, 2013). While the disorder of psychopathy will still not be equivalent to the DSM-5 diagnoses of CD and ASPD, there will be greater overlap in diagnostic conceptualization.

Psychopathy is characterized by an increased risk for antisocial behavior (Frick and Dickens, 2006; Hare, 2003). While several psychiatric disorders and neurological conditions, including CD and ASPD (APA, 2013), confer an increased risk of reactive aggression (Anderson et al., 1999; Leibenluft et al., 2003), psychopathy is unique in that it conveys increased risk for instrumental aggression (Frick et al., 2003). 

Interestingly, an article that was cited included this assessment of treatment options: "While treatment recommendations are currently sparse, recent work has shown that previous assessments of treatment amenability in this population may have been overly pessimistic."

Also, because I had to look this up too:
"A classic measure of stimulus-reinforcement learning is aversive conditioning -- the individual learns that a particular stimulus is associated with threat. Individuals with elevated CU traits show marked impairment in stimulus-reinforcement learning. Indeed, an individual's ability to perform aversive conditioning at 15 years has predictive power regarding whether that individual will display anti-social behavior 14 years later (Raine et a., 1996)."

Monday, September 26, 2016

Aspies also wear masks?

A reader sent me this video with the comment "aspie's do it too".

"I think we're all taught how to be normal at a very young age. . . generally we're expected to act like everybody else . . . the more practiced we are, the normal we see." It's not just sociopaths, it's aspies, and actually everyone else who has been socialized to act "normal" rather than behaving naturally.

The video discusses how mask wearing is a bit of an issue because it hides the underlying issues and needs of the person.

There's also an interesting reference to mask slipping when someone is past the point of being able to pretend anymore. She also discusses the issue of hiding aggression and other potentially negative behavior.

Another interesting remark, an aspie "It's not that we're terrible people . . . or trying to hurt them or offend them in anyway," but since the aspie is trying so hard to act normally, they get exhausted/drained wearing the mask and the aggression or underlying problems build up until they finally explode.

Also making a realistic plan before social occasions for acting normally and liking to spend time alone to rest.

Sound familiar to anyone?

Also, related?

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Acknowledging yourself

I got a lot of emails from people with sociopathic tendencies or other personality disorders asking me what to do about re-connecting with their sense of self. I kind of don't know how I did it, because it was mainly my therapist guiding me through it? But I thought that this article -- How to Become Yourself -- described it in a generally accurate way, particularly re the uncertainty and time and energy required:

Becoming yourself is hard. In theory it’s easy. You do it by looking very closely at the person that you’ve been, digging out bad behaviors by the root and by letting go of anything that holds you back. It’s hard because the You of Before will make a fuss, it won’t give itself up easy. It has gotten used to not doing the good and terrifying things that make life extraordinary. It wants to stay put, it wants to stay shadowed and safe and out of sight. Even once you’ve decided that you want to be different, want to be braver and more yourself, it doesn’t happen at once.

You take the first few steps and think you’ll just keep going like that until it’s done and you’re changed and everything’s better and you feel whole. But it’s not like that. You take a step, you pause. You agonize, try to go back the way you came–find the road blocked, find in some cases it’s gone completely and ahead is something you can’t yet contemplate going towards. You hang stricken in empty space, between states, between the way you’ve been and the way you’re going to be. Between almost-happy-but-not-quite-happy and beyond, to somewhere great, somewhere where it’s not necessary to ask Is this it? Is this all there is?

It’s like in werewolf movies, one self is not big enough to hold the other, more monstrous self. In your case it’s not a monster, but a bigger and more lethal you that comes bursting out of its old way of being. Don’t be afraid of this. It’s okay to be lethal in the ways you fight for your life. Be lethal in your demands for joy, respect, progress. Step out of what is used up and useless, be lethal and unmoved in your certainty that there is peace ahead. But how to get there?
By slowing down
We end up in so many shitty situations by not thinking things through, by not recognizing the pull of our own toxic behaviors or the tell-tale signs that someone is bad news and won’t to leave us better than when they found us. Take a minute. Follow the map back. In the past you did this, then this, then this, and ended up here, without anything. Nod like you’ve discovered something, even if you’re just as confused. Decide in the future to buy a new map, and mark with an X places where you are celebrated. Where you’re safe and happy and strong. These are the places most worth visiting. Go to them as often as possible.

By learning to be by yourself and for yourself
It seemed clear growing up that the only way to experience love was to surrender to it. Put up your hands and step off the edge. Be consumed, or else you’re not doing it right. Be captured, or else what’s the point? Be eaten whole by it. Two life changing heartbreaks down the line and I’m starting to think it isn’t true. Because good love’s not a dinosaur. It’s an exchange of light, it’s two people doing right by one another again and again and again until the last time they speak. That’s what I think anyway and I’ve seen at least two cartoons on the subject.
By being better
You cannot be a better, gentler you until you start doing better, gentler things. I don’t mean you have to brush a unicorn’s hair or tuck a snake into bed. But you do have to tread more lightly through your life. You have to make calm and brave decisions about what you would like to happen and you have to take the appropriate actions to make those things most likely. Life is a choose-your-own-adventure. Will I be something? Answer yes. Will I end up where I’m supposed to be? Answer yes again, with as much conviction as you can manage. Will I be happy? Answer yes for the last time, as loudly as possible. But it’s haaaaaard. I know. But not forever. It will be easier. Eventually you’ll forget the way it was–the old ache of it; your heart quiet in its bed, your dreams dragging behind you like a tattered parachute. It will be good. You will be good.

I am aware that most people have either done this or have put off doing this for all sorts of reasons, so I am not sure who the target audience for this post is. But for those of you who have put it off but are still considering doing it, maybe just a quick endorsement from me that it's difficult and it's uncomfortable and even painful to own certain parts of yourself, and things often get uglier and more sideways before they get any better. But it is a really stable, safe, happy, and powerful place to be. There's a sort of confidence in knowing that you're living a life of integrity that is even more powerful and secure than the confidence the sociopath manifests in not caring about anything. (See also Montaigne on this subject) So it's worth it, in my opinion. Although if you do try it, I think it's best to be super committed to it, otherwise you might end up in a worse off position. 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Good seduction?

I was talking a friend recently who was having a little bit of relationship trouble, specifically a little bit of a lack of reciprocation in interest with a new paramour. My friend is (for various reasons) the type to value being straightforward and direct about things -- the type to bemoan the gamesmanship of modern love, e.g. waiting to respond to someone, not appearing too interested, etc. "Don't wait to text back" are the sorts of platitudes you sometimes see in sappy and misguided social media posts, as if it is so brave and honorable to text someone back right away rather than trying to doing them the favor of making them desire you more than they thought they could ever desire another human being.

This has been a topic that my post-graduating-from-therapy-self has been thinking about for a little bit now -- what role does seduction or other types of potentially "good" manipulation have in healthy relationships? Because my first thought when my friend was telling me this story was maybe my friend needed to read the Art of Seduction, or Dangerous Liaisons, or get any sort of game for the sake of the paramour and for the good of the relationship. Because seducing and game aren't necessary always insidious. I've said it before, and even after dropping most manipulation from my emotional daily vocabulary I still believe it -- everyone wants to be seduced.

I asked me friend, "what is it you like about your paramour"? The answer: mystery, and the charming way the paramour goes about doing things in which everything feels like a pleasant surprise. It's the little things, so little that my friend was almost reluctant to tell me because it seemed silly. Things like giving up your reserved parking spot and parking on the street for the other person, working some connections to get into a hip new place, taking care of everything -- planning, paying, and otherwise trying to anticipate and then meeting another person's needs and wants. In the "old days" they called this "wooing", but they could have called it seduction because what it is at its heart is trying to induce feelings of love, affection, or desire in another person. It's manipulation, but it's not "bad" manipulation, and by that I mean it's not at all unwanted (in a consensual romantic relationship, stalking is another story).

I'm not saying to lie or pretend to be someone other than who you are not to get someone to fall in love with a fantasy. But there is nothing deceptive about (to go back to the earlier example) waiting a reasonable amount of time to text someone back in order to heighten the recipient's anticipation and pleasure when they finally do hear back from you. There is nothing deceptive about encouraging mystery and a sense of discovery between each other rather than dumping all of your personal information and baggage on during the first few dates. It's not whether people deserve or don't deserve honesty, it's that people don't really want honesty in that form in this arena. Maybe that's controversial to say, and certainly there would be plenty of people who probably truly do (anti-seducers, for one). But most just say they want the honesty. What they end up choosing is to be swept off their feet by someone who keeps them guessing, by someone who mixes a bittersweet and puzzlingly compelling blend of frustration and satisfaction in their interactions. Romantic love feels better when it's a bit of a challenge and involves a healthy amount of guesswork and angst. I don't know if it's absolutely necessary to use actual seductive skills to achieve this result, but it's certainly one of the most reliable and effective ways. It takes quite a bit of effort to seduce, and at least some skill. Consequently, there seems to be much more demand than supply for seduction. The fact that everyone wants to be seduced but there is such little actual seduction happening suggests that seducing someone, particularly seducing well, is one of the nicest things you could ever do for another person. Don't you think?

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. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

W.H. Auden: False Enchantments

I found this quote from W.H. Auden to be thought-provoking:

The state of enchantment is one of certainty. When enchanted, we neither believe nor doubt nor deny: we know, even if, as in the case of a false enchantment, our knowledge is self-deception.

All folk tales recognize that there are false enchantments as well as true ones. When we are truly enchanted we desire nothing for ourselves, only that the enchanting object or person shall continue to exist. When we are falsely enchanted, we desire either to possess the enchanting being or be possessed by it.

We are not free to choose by what we shall be enchanted, truly or falsely. In the case of a false enchantment, all we can do is take immediate flight before the spell really takes hold.

Recognizing idols for what they are does not break their enchantment.

All true enchantments fade in time. Sooner or later we must walk alone in faith. When this happens, we are tempted, either to deny our vision, to say that it must have been an illusion and, in consequence, grow hardhearted and cynical, or to make futile attempts to recover our vision by force, i.e., by alcohol or drugs.

A false enchantment can all too easily last a lifetime.

I feel like sociopaths deal in the currency of enchantments all the time. It's essentially what I mean by seducing someone -- to enchant someone, to put them under a spell. But, I also think (using Auden's tautology) that not all of my seductions involve a false enchantment. I know they don't, because many of them have led to life long friendships.

And as Auden's quote applies to this type of seduction, I think that whether or not something is a true or false enchantment often has more to do with the person being enchanted than the person doing the enchantment or the nature of the enchantment. I know myself that I have had hopeless crushes or obsessions on people that were not instigated at all by the person and reflect more a projection of my own ideals or idealizations on to the person. And actually, I think this comports with Auden's own experience -- that most of his early erotic encounters involved a gross inequality between the partners, either between age or intelligence, but were initiated because Auden had constructed in them a sort of idealized "Alter Ego", as he called it. It wasn't until his relationship with Chester Kallman until he found an equal, that he finally considered the relationship a marriage. So, yes, the sociopath is the one facilitating the enchantment (I don't think the sociopath can actually generate it out of thin air, consider the anti-seducer). But the sociopath has not control over whether there is a false or true enchantment.

That said, I get emails all of the time from someone who is under the throes of a false enchantment that has lasted much too long for their preference.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Ok to hate

This was an interesting interview with the author of " Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance, the Yale Law School graduate who grew up in the poverty and chaos of an Appalachian clan."

The interview is mainly about the appeal of Trump to the lower class white demographics.

Interviewer: I’m not a hillbilly, nor do I descend from hillbilly stock, strictly speaking. But I do come from poor rural white people in the South. I have spent most of my life and career living among professional class urbanite, most of them on the East Coast, and the barely-banked contempt they — the professional-class whites, I mean — have for poor white people is visceral, and obvious to me. Yet it is invisible to them. Why is that? And what does it have to do with our politics today? 

J.D. Vance: I know exactly what you mean.  My grandma (Mamaw) recognized this instinctively.  She said that most people were probably prejudiced, but they had to be secretive about it.  “We”–meaning hillbillies–“are the only group of people you don’t have to be ashamed to look down upon.”  During my final year at Yale Law, I took a small class with a professor I really admired (and still do).  I was the only veteran in the class, and when this came up somehow in conversation, a young woman looked at me and said, “I can’t believe you were in the Marines.  You just seem so nice.  I thought that people in the military had to act a certain way.”  It was incredibly insulting, and it was my first real introduction to the idea that this institution that was so important among my neighbors was looked down upon in such a personal way. To this lady, to be in the military meant that you had to be some sort of barbarian.  I bit my tongue, but it’s one of those comments I’ll never forget.  

The “why” is really difficult, but I have a few thoughts.  The first is that humans appear to have some need to look down on someone; there’s just a basic tribalistic impulse in all of us.  And if you’re an elite white professional, working class whites are an easy target: you don’t have to feel guilty for being a racist or a xenophobe.  By looking down on the hillbilly, you can get that high of self-righteousness and superiority without violating any of the moral norms of your own tribe.  So your own prejudice is never revealed for what it is.

I thought it was interesting, the observation that there is some tribalistic influence to look down on others. And it looks like hillbillies are to white liberals as sociopaths are to neurotypicals (and even non neurotypicals love to hate, I guess). But unlike hillbillies, there are plenty of sociopaths in the government and places of power and influence. So there's that I guess. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Quote: Destruction

"Construction and destruction alike satisfy the will to power, but construction is more difficult as a rule, and therefore gives more satisfaction to the person who can achieve it.”

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Trolling IRL

This was a pretty funny description of someone messing with people for the "puerile desire to get on other people’s nerves," as she describes it (I thought only sociopaths find pleasure in messing with people?).

She describes the game thusly:

All you do is stonily deny any knowledge of a person or cultural touchstone that you should, by virtue of your other cultural reference points, be aware of. These will of course be different for everyone, but my favorites include:

Žižek, John Updike, MORRISSEY (only for experts), Radiohead, Twin Peaks, David Lynch in general, Banksy (only for streetfighters), Withnail and I, Bauhaus (movement), Bauhaus (band), Afrika Burn, the expression “garbage person,” A Clockwork Orange, Steampunk (this one is really good), Jack Kerouac, “Gilmore Girls,” Woody Allen, the expression “grammar nerd,” the expression “grammar Nazi,” cocktails, bongs, magical realism, millennials, Cards Against Humanity, trance parties, bunting, many comedians, William Gibson, burlesque, the Beats, The God Delusion, sloths, anarchism, Joy Division, CrossFit, “The Mighty Boosh,” and Fight Club.

Find someone who is crazy about Morrissey, and pretend you have no idea who that is. It drives people nuts. I don’t know why, but it does. Just kidding, I know exactly why, because I myself have been on the receiving end of the Žižek Maneuver. This girl I had a bit of a crush on told me she had never watched “Twin Peaks,” and it damn near killed me. The reason I had a crush on her in the first place is because we liked so many of the same books, and movies, and music. How could she have never watched “Twin Peaks?” Was she messing with me? How? It did not for a second occur to me that she just hadn’t got round to it. My immediate response was to believe that she had deliberately not watched it in order to get on my nerves. When she told me later that of course she had watched “Twin Peaks,” my eye started twitching.

This is the beating heart of the Žižek Game: the disbelief that something you care about has failed to register on the consciousness of another. The agony of suspecting that someone has looked at Slavoj Žižek’s Wikipedia page and thought “I do not need to know about this man.”

But I thought the most insightful observation of playing this, or really any other game or interaction with another human being, is that you can never be afraid to look stupid:

Your success in this game depends on your ability to cope with people thinking you are dumb. This is so important. Adolescent conditioning—I grew up in a city with a strong surf/skate subculture of people who like to get extremely high—means that I am not only comfortable with people thinking I am dumb, I actually lean into it. I pretend I’ve never heard of Roman Polanski all the time. I do not falter, and neither must you. Your opponent must never have the satisfaction of looking down on you. When they begin to scoff and roll their eyes, because how could you have never heard of the Weimar Republic, you must simply smile and shrug your shoulders. If you look abashed, your opponent has won.

Too true. In the law, it's hilarious to me (and looks terrible to jurors) for lawyers or witnesses to work hard backpedaling on some point in order to save face or pretend like they know what's up. I don't know why we care so much what strangers think of us, but most people do. You absolutely can exploit this. And if you can gain all sorts of situational advantages by refusing to let other people's opinions change who you are, what you are doing, or what you believe about yourself or the world. They don't call it "confidence game" for nothing. Good luck!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Famous (?) sociopaths: David Wood

A reader sent this to me, and for the first couple of minutes I had no idea why and thought it was going to be a discussion of religion, and part of me wanted to give you this video without telling you where it's going so you could have the same experience of being surprised when this guy just starts talking about what it's like to grow up with mental health problems that largely remained undiagnosed. He talks about being diagnosed as ASPD and launching in this discussion of feeling like he was socialized/brainwashed about morality, so begins to just start doing wrong things all of the time as a reaction to it. And of course, after the first 8-10 minutes or so, it does get into religion topics, mainly criticizing Islam and radical Muslims. But the first part I think some people might relate to, not realizing that your brain is wired differently, and so just acting as if what you're doing is normal and right and obvious.

I wonder if he still identifies with being ASPD, because then another example of a religious sociopath. I wonder how his Christian followers feel about that?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Context is everything

A little related to the last post, Mormon small children around the world were given this interesting pseudo ethical (but mostly practical) dilemma recently:

Ask the children to imagine that they are alone on a raft in the middle of the ocean. They discover that they must lighten their load because the raft is riding low in the water. They must throw overboard all but two items of their supplies. From the following list, ask them to choose the two items they will keep:

Life jacket

First aid kit

Chest filled with gold

Fishing pole, fishing tackle, and bait

Case of one dozen bottles of fresh water

Two-way radio

Box of emergency flares

Large can of shark repellent

At this point you may be wondering what the moral punchline is going to be. For me, I thought for sure it was going to be about getting rid of the chest filled with gold (by the way, the relative weights of a chest of gold and life jacket do not seem equivalent)? Or maybe something more of a stretch, like the importance of having a two way radio to God or something?

For some reason the answer was unexpected to me.

List the choices on the chalkboard, and ask the children to explain the reasons for their choices. The choices in this activity should pose a dilemma. Point out that choosing would be difficult because they would not know what would happen in the future: they might sink and need the life jacket, become thirsty and need the water to drink, become hungry and need the fishing pole, encounter sharks and need the repellent, need the radio to seek help, get hurt and need the first-aid kit, need the flares for a nighttime rescue, or get rescued in the next few hours and wish they had kept the treasure.

I thought it was an interesting illustration about how the value of things depends on context, and how I was sort of ignorant to assume that there would just be a set hierarchy of usefulness to nonusefulness based on the limited information given. Maybe you were like me and your brain raced to figure out what the "right" answer would be too, given what you think you know about survival. Like many of you likely prioritized water over food (fishing pole), because you can survive longer without food than water. But I've read Unbroken, so I know that there's actually a decent chance of getting fresh water from the rain, which would naturally collect in the bottom of a typical raft. And if the two way radio was in range of help, it makes most sense to keep that. Who cares if you get a little thirsty or hungry in the few hours that it might take to be rescued. Also, who cares if you're hungry or thirsty if sharks come right away, so in some ways shark repellant is most necessary. But if the whole idea is either to facilitate speedy rescue or to survive until rescue comes or you've drifted to safety, it's really not clear what would be more valuable without more context. But still my mind had an impulse to think that there was a "right" answer, or at least "righter". I was surprised that the punchline was -- it depends.

But I think I also can understand a little better now the perspective of people who think that there's really no use for sociopaths in the world, such that we can and should just eradicate them all. Those people must feel the same way about sociopaths as the way I almost instinctively felt about the chest of gold in the raft. Because the gold seems to me to be so obviously useless to that situation, I would have probably thrown out the gold without a second thought. But the lesson makes a good point -- what if you were rescued in a few hours. You'd wish you hadn't.

I think it's similar with sociopaths. Some people might see the world in a particular way that would make sociopaths seem an obvious detriment with no countervailing benefit and almost just automatically think it would be best to get rid of them. But sociopaths can be extremely useful in certain contexts, e.g. life or death situations where something dangerous or morally questionable needs to get done quickly and effectively -- war, espionage, natural or man made disaster, but even smaller things like car accidents, impending street violence, taking risks in business, having the mental fortitude to try something and not be afraid of failure. Sociopaths are like the gold, or maybe more like the flares, in the sense that they don't seem as immediately useful as we've been conditioned to see the other items, but sociopaths would truly be your tool of choice in certain situations.

And unlike this survival hypothetical, there's no reason to want to go around killing sociopaths (or even preventing them from being born through genetic screening or whatever). Because unlike the survival hypo, we can keep everyone in the boat. And you know the old saying, better to have something and not want it than to want something and not have it. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Who can shoot to kill?

A reader sent me this interesting video (a little bit timely) about what type of motivations (or what type of person) you need to be to shoot to kill, at least in war. I would like to see a similar explanation of what it takes to kill outside of a wartime, soldier situation.

My thoughts on the video:
1% of fighter pilots accounted for 50% of kills
of people who shot to kill, 2%

Most men can't make good snipers because most men cannot kill someone who is not trying to kill him.

I love the part at 8:40 about Che Guevara being a really nasty, brutal person, and why people are executed from behind. If you doubt this a little, you should read about what he did in Africa. Why is Che such an acceptable person nowadays?

10:30 are the people who can shoot to kill, either because they're psychopaths and don't recognize fear in others, or because (according to this guy) out of love and the desire to protect the people you love. I think that may be true, but I think there might actually be a bit of an overlap between the two groups.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Different lives, different incentives

This is largely unrelated, except perhaps to the extent that it suggests that normal people often suffer from a lack or failure of not just affective empathy for those people that are considered different from them or are considered too remote to somehow trigger an empathetic response, but also cognitive empathy. People apparently have a very difficult time imagining what the lives of other people must be like.

From the Washington Post, "The big problem with one of the most popular assumptions about the poor", a discussion first of the infamous marshmallow experiment, in which child participants were asked to forego the instant gratification of one marshmallow in order to earn an additional marshmallow. The study participants were followed into adulthood and there was a correlation between ability to wait for the second marshmallow and general success, as society typically defines success. Also correlated, poverty and eating the first marshmallow without waiting. But why? Are they poor because they're impulsive? Or are they impulsive because they are poor? From the article:

The realization has sparked concerns that poverty begets a certain level of impulsiveness, and that that tendency to act in the moment, on a whim, without fully considering the consequences, makes it all the more difficult for poor children to succeed. But there's an important thing this discussion seems to miss. Poor kids may simply not want to delay gratification. Put another way, their decisions may not reflect the sort of impulsive nature we tend to attribute them to.

"When resources are low and scarce, the rational decision is to take the immediate benefit and to discount the future gain," said Melissa Sturge-Apple, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester who studies child development. "When children are faced with economic uncertainty, impoverished conditions, not knowing when the next meal is, etc. — they may be better off if they take what is in front of them."

In some ways, this uncovers a broader problem with how we perceive the actions of people who live very different lives than we do. We brand certain actions and choices as mistakes, when they might simply be developmental adjustments necessary to cope with their environment. For those who don't worry about their next meal, because they never had to, choosing a marshmallow now instead of two marshmallows in a few minutes, all things equal, could only be the result of impulse-driven folly. For those who do have to worry about the next meal, passing up food now for the promise of food later is the misguided move.

Thursday, June 30, 2016


I actually really like the Velveteen Rabbit story, also the Little Prince, which both touch on this idea of there being a "realness" that is particularly "real".

From a reader:

I found your book incredibly thought provoking. As someone who considers himself the functional opposite of a sociopath, I read it out of a curiosity and desire to understand the mental processes of someone so different from myself. Though I study psychology and consider myself fairly open-minded about different mental states, I did have some stigma surrounding sociopathy simply because of the sensationalized media portrayal that I have grown up with. My perspective was certainly challenged.

            I have never read a book that felt like such an interactive experience. You were up front about your manipulation, but I still found myself constantly challenging and questioning your intentions, determined not to let you get the best of me. Just when I would start to feel superiority for your callousness, you would express vulnerability. Just when I started to sense weakness, you reminded me of my own. In the end I accepted defeat in largely seeing your point of view, but I did so in a way that felt satisfying. I realized that, though it was all very calculated, that didn’t mean your intentions couldn’t be genuine.

What struck me most were not the differences, but the similarities between your cognition and my own. This makes me think that, in some ways (but certainly not all), emotional sensitivity acts as a buffer to disguise the empath’s selfish actions, allowing personal justification. It simply provides an extra step that allows me to feel as if my actions are not entirely performed out of self-interest. For example, when I sense weakness in a person, I make it my goal to try and help them in this regard. I speak with them directly and admit my own vulnerabilities, I emphasize their strengths and I compliment them in front of others. I pride myself on being the type of person that will continue paying attention to the original speaker if they are interrupted in a group conversation, or open my body to allow someone into a circle. Though this may make me feel like a ‘good person’, it is all about manipulating how others see me, in turn bolstering my self-perception.

I know that I am an empath because when someone else is in visible pain, it bothers me deeply. As a child I would get deeply upset when a character would be injured or die in a movie. But none of this is selfless. I feel inclined to help somebody in pain because I have the ability to see their pain as my own. In helping them feel better, I help myself feel better. I have no delusions about this, it just seems that, for better or worse, my self-interest better lines up with conventional conceptions of ‘moral goodness’.

These similarities that I felt to your cognition make me wonder how much of it is actually a result of your sociopathy (I know that you were consciously making a generalized distinction in order to highlight your point).  I feel that much of the likeness can be explained by other traits, such as situational awareness and introspection. All people act selfishly, but amazingly some people have very little awareness of it at all. I think I was finding familiarity in your knack for logically articulating your thought process. So it seems like, as a generous over simplification, sociopathy is ‘normal’ cognition without the added step of emotional processing. This emotional processing certainly has downfalls (you were very clear about this), but the upsides are what I find myself curious about.

What I really want to ask is whether you experience moments of heightened or superior consciousness—moments that feel entirely genuine. I am not quite sure how to articulate these moments, other than to call them more ‘real’ than the rest of life. Many of them come in the form of human connection, which it seems you probably don’t experience in the same way (though you hinted a bit at something like this in regards to your niece). This can take the form of a communal experience, an absorbing conversation, or even simply eye contact that evokes a powerful sense of mutual understanding, if only for a second. It can happen in other ways too. For me it might be coming over the top of a hill and seeing the sun through the trees, laying in bed and being utterly absorbed into the beauty of a song, or looking out in wonder over a city at night. You spoke of ‘epiphanies’ in your book, but these are not quite the same. I can only describe it as a powerful welling up of nondescript positive emotion, often taking me by surprise. I am very curious if you ever feel anything that can relate to that. Or, if you say that you can ‘tune in’ to certain emotions, maybe you can create it intentionally? For me, these moments make the downfalls of empathic life completely worth it.

I know you must be a very busy woman, but I would be very curious as to whether you could relate to these moments of ‘realness’ for lack of a better term.


I have moments when I feel, what I call "raw", as if more of me is exposed -- like a wire stripped of its insulation. I'm not sure if that is similar. I also have moments of ecstasy that give me shivers, like beautiful music or art. There are also moments of intense connection that I feel with people, e.g. if I have seduced them. Do these sound like what you're describing?


Yes, that actually doesn't sound too far off. It sounds like maybe your experiences are no less intense, but maybe a bit less specific in terms of a clearly defined emotion? Maybe your brain still produces these emotions in response to your experiences, but the deficit is in the connection between your emotional centers and your frontal cortex. Anyways, thanks so much for responding, and feel free to use whatever you like on your blog! I would be honored.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The nature of who you are

From a reader:

I felt it appropriate to pass some praise your way about your book. I must admit I haven't finished the book, but have found the sections I've read so far explain more about the way I think than any discussion with another human I've ever had.

I'm a student at University and don't have many years of history to draw on but upon reading your book I found myself internally matching my experiences to yours and looking for any obvious connections, and I have to say I don't think any other person has quite achieved being able to explain what it's like in my mind. The egocentric writing style exactly how I would approach a book explaining my experiences that could be considered dark or disconnected from normal human emotion.

Your mention of the gaze of a sociopath was an interesting point to me. I've had numerous individuals inform me about the creepy, cold and intriguing nature of my stare during conversation. And then when you mentioned boredom I totally understood what was meant. I find myself avoiding boredom because boredom is my idea of hell. I make it my life goal to do things that allow me to avoid boredom. I find being bored only leads me to want to be more deceitful and underhanded in nature, which risks my social standing with people. A thing that has benefits for me!

The discussion of games, and the use of manipulation because it is merely a tool are things I've said and used many a time to aid my success in different endeavours. I was recently called callous and cold for informing my friends that a friendship is defined by how useful someone is to me and how useful I am to them, a lack of use on either part indicates the termination of a friendship. Throughout relationships I've found it hard to relate to the other person's feelings, and have turned to infidelity numerous times and haven't experienced guilt from the act. I always felt my desire is my priority, and that if one person isn't interested then I must solve the problem myself.

Violence has been a part of my history that I hideaway the most, for it's the section I feel that normal people will be the most disgusted and terrified of. Not all because of things I've done, but also because of the ideas of things I wanted to do to someone in anger. But stopped myself because it would hinder me more than benefit me. I don't recall ever stopping myself because of a thought about the other person. For the life and existence of the other person is of little interest to me. And your early discussion of morality where you highlight the line 'survival of the fittest'. This is a line I use commonly to describe the nature of how humans should live their lives. I'm of the firm idea in my mind that survival of the fittest is how we got here, and if it manages to allow for the evolution of humans it can damn well allow for the further evolution into greater successes. And there within your book, I could see someone understanding my argument.

These few things are what cause me to have to mask my inner self around everyone. But it is your book that made me realise specifically the nature of the person I am. I spend my days passing off lies about my personal life and experiences to remain grounded with in a group, constantly keeping a watchful eye on the others around me to see if their term of use has expired. But within this email to you I feel I've been more unshielded than I've been to close friends. It is because you have opened my eyes that I must thank you. I wish there was more of a community where discussion of these experiences could be held, my curiosity is now piqued. There is so much more I could say but I feel it matters not to the message of this email.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Quote: no stupid bad men

"A good man can be stupid and still be good. But a bad man must have brains."

--Maxim Gorky
Russian Writer

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Rodents have empathy?

Researchers did a follow up experiment to some earlier rat empathy studies and found that rats were willing to help other rats even to their own detriment, but only if they had some prior familiarity with the particular strain of rats, e.g. an albino rat being bunk mates with a black and white rat. If they didn't have any previous experience with that strain of rat, they would not help. Or according to the Washington Post: "The creatures aren’t born with an innate motivation to help rats of their own kind, but instead those with whom they are socially familiar."

The rat empathy thing is interesting because it suggests an evolutionary advantage to empathy, not necessarily a "humans are special snowflakes of the animal world" reason for empathy. The articles discussing the findings use an interesting choice of words that accords -- they call the rats actions "noble" and other such language. This helps explain to me a little more why the fetishism for empathy, that people are biologically pre-programmed not only to engage in empathetic acts, but that they are also pre-programmed to find those acts appealing in the same sort of way that they crave sugar or find others attractive or not based on their pheromones.

Another interesting idea is that with all of these studies with animals and empathy (see also prairie moles), the animals will not act with empathy unless they are familiar with either the particular animal in need (spoiler alert, but see for example Ser Jaime's actions in recent Game of Thrones episodes) or at least someone of the same breed. It's like what they say about gay people or mormon people or any other people that a lot of people often have a hard time understanding or being ok with -- you just have to know one or two of them personally in order to humanize them to your own self.

What implications does this have for sociopaths, if everyday sociopaths stay hidden forever? Will people never learn to show empathy to them?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Sociopath for a day

I thought this was an interesting experience, from a comment from a recent post regarding a temporary experience of not feeling (or not feeling connected to) a sense of empathy:

One day I experienced something that I'm convinced was close to clinical psychopathy. It was at the same time as lots of physical and nervous system symptoms as well, so I know it wasn't 'just psychological' or 'emotional' also felt very physical. 

It's hard to describe, but I'll try because I've never written about it before and it may ring a bell with someone somewhere, who knows. It was similar, I suppose, to my 'emotions cutting out' experiences, but much, much more extreme (so it didn't really feel similar at all). It felt REALLY weird - I suppose as weird as taking a mind-altering drug of some kind or being severely intoxicated - but it wasn't like any of those. (just as weird/abnormal as them). 

It was one day, on which I woke up feeling like this:

I had no 'me' sense whatsoever - I wasn't 'me'. I was a person, but there was no 'me' feeling about it. And I had 'lost my bond' with everyone - that's distinctly how it felt. I was aware of all this but couldn't 'care' or be worried or afraid because I was incapable of all those feelings - any of the feelings that normally belonged to my personality, that made me 'me'. I was TOTALLY cerebral. 

It was the most interesting experience I've ever had, in terms of an education in what was possible, how different 'experience' could be - I was experiencing something I couldn't have conceived of with my usual imagination. It actually felt very 'clean', simple, 'pure' in a way - immensely calm and clear... totally - but not like a calm version of 'me', just calmness itself - totally empty, void of any feeling (emotional, not physical). I hadn't even been aware of 'having bonds' with anyone until this experience, when one of the most obvious things, that struck me first, was that they had gone / that was gone. 

It didn't horrify or sadden me, because I was incapable of all that, but it 'concerned' me cerebrally because I saw that if someone very 'close' to me were to phone, I would have to act. I knew that could act whatever I needed to, that it was all absolutely easy (also very alien for my personality, because of my normal compulsion and liking for being open and genuine and 'natural'). At some point the thought occurred to me 'I wonder if this could be what psychopathy is like' - in those days I knew next to nothing about it and had no interest in it, but was aware that it was about 'something being missing' and that thought brought it to mind. 

I automatically thought to 'test' it by mentally envisaging the sort of thing associated with psychopathy - the worst sort of crime associated with it - was I capable of it? (something I simply couldn't do now, which is why I'm not elaborating or describing it - I literally can't contemplate or let myself mentally envisage it, and couldn't have done before this experience, or at any time in my life except for this day). As a mental experiment, having no emotional qualms, or capacity for any, I asked myself, could I commit X - and realised I could, because EVERYTHING WAS THE SAME, without any emotional 'value' attached to it - with that part of me missing, that function not operating, NOTHING effected me, there was no 'meaning'- everything was the same, it was a landscape without difference, without emotional difference, without meaning difference. I was as equally capable of one thing as another, they were all equal - just actions, that I was disconnected from, because 'I' wasn't there, there was no 'me'. 

But what I also observed - what was part of the same observation - was that neither did I have any desire to commit anything - everything was equal in that sense too, no 'value' attached. I had absolutely no impulse to do anything like the example I thought of - it was neutral, everything was neutral - and knew I wouldn't, that I was in no danger of doing anything unwanted, I simply wasn't interested. This is why, when I read sociopaths here explaining that the absence of empathy does not in itself produce - or even have anything to do with - sadism, etc - that the two have essentially no connection with one another, I know exactly what they mean and have no difficulty believing them, I know they are telling the truth. But they are trying to explain something which is simply outside the experience of normally 'emotional' people, so I also see why others can't comprehend it, can't compute it. I'd never have been able to do so without that experience that gave me a glimpse into such a different possibility of experience.

I then tested it again by picking something else which would be one of the last things I'd ever contemplate (or be capable of) doing ; Could I run up and down the street naked? Ye - it would mean literally nothing to me. No fear, no excitement, no anything - nothing was producing any kind of emotional response or 'meaning' in me internally. 

It was a fascinating and very eye-opening experience. I realised that all these things are emotional functions, and that if emotional function becomes impaired or drops out, this is what is left. Cerebral function alone is a very very different experience. It is not IN ITSELF bad, good, or anything. Bad and good are emotional entities, they belong to that side. It doesn't 'exist' in the cerebral side, which is all I was experiencing that day. The only trace of 'personality' I could detect at all - and it was tiny, and not really anything like my normal 'composite' personality in any way - was the very slight feeling now and again of what I'd imagine a playfully mischievous seven year old boy feels like - that's the best way I could describe it. But even that wasn't strong enough to influence or impel me in any way. I simply got on with doing my income tax return, as it was the day before the deadline and I had no choice. 

To my amazement, I was better at maths (calculations) than I'd ever been in my life - the absence of emotional 'reluctance' (huffing and puffing and grumbling) that normally goes along with it for me (which, again, I only became aware of by its unusual absence this day) made it ultra-easy, straightforward, and made me remarkably efficient. I was getting this right first time, for the time ever! 

The only real difficulty I experienced was towards the end of the day when I came to fill out the tax return online and discovered that I couldn't process the meaning of written language - I could read the words fluently, but after reading a paragraph I had taken in no meaning from it - I couldn't tell you what it had actually said, or meant.

It was the weirdest thing. But it showed me what is possible when parts of the brain are being effected or prevented from functioning normally, and the fact that it could reproduce what I am sure was something very close to clinical psychopathy, I found extremely eye-opening and interesting. (I woke up the next day normal, by the way. The 'me' feeling was back and I've had it ever since).

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