Sunday, February 28, 2016

Whole vs. wholesome

It's interesting to me that the word whole can mean such different things than wholesome. Wholeness is being exactly all of whatever one is. Wholesome has come to mean good, ethical, moral, etc. I think it's fair to say that society has a general preference, which is that it would rather people be wholesome than whole.

I was reading again a series of articles about Parker Palmer, articles that I know I had read before not more than 6 months or a year ago, but now that I've graduated to every other week therapy, I know exactly what he is talking about.

First, about the conflict between what society wants and what is best for the individual (to be one's true self, whole and complete and in the form that is the most true expression of one's "soul", whatever that means exactly):

For “it” is the objective, ontological reality of selfhood that keeps us from reducing ourselves, or each other, to biological mechanisms, psychological projections, sociological constructs, or raw material to be manufactured into whatever society needs — diminishments of our humanity that constantly threaten the quality of our lives.

(See above link for more on how we know that each person has a unique identity/soul.)

Why do we abandon our inborn identity in favor of a construct, made by society, and our parents, and friend, and ourselves and any other person who has ever had expectations of us to be or do a particular thing?

As teenagers and young adults, we learned that self-knowledge counts for little on the road to workplace success. What counts is the “objective” knowledge that empowers us to manipulate the world. Ethics, taught in this context, becomes one more arm’s-length study of great thinkers and their thoughts, one more exercise in data collection that fails to inform our hearts.

I value ethical standards, of course. But in a culture like ours — which devalues or dismisses the reality and power of the inner life — ethics too often becomes an external code of conduct, an objective set of rules we are told to follow, a moral exoskeleton we put on hoping to prop ourselves up. The problem with exoskeletons is simple: we can slip them off as easily as we can don them.


When we understand integrity for what it is, we stop obsessing over codes of conduct and embark on the more demanding journey toward being whole. 

Palmer tells of his own experience with this:

I lined up the loftiest ideals I could find and set out to achieve them. The results were rarely admirable, often laughable, and sometimes grotesque… I had simply found a “noble” way to live a life that was not my own, a life spent imitating heroes instead of listening to my heart.


My youthful understanding of “Let your life speak” led me to conjure up the highest values I could imagine and then try to conform my life to them whether they were mine or not. If that sounds like what we are supposed to do with values, it is because that is what we are too often taught. There is a simplistic brand of moralism among us that wants to reduce the ethical life to making a list, checking it twice — against the index in some best-selling book of virtues, perhaps — and then trying very hard to be not naughty but nice.

There may be moments in life when we are so unformed that we need to use values like an exoskeleton to keep us from collapsing. But something is very wrong if such moments recur often in adulthood. Trying to live someone else’s life, or to live by an abstract norm, will invariably fail — and may even do great damage.

What is the damage in this?

Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other. In the process, we become separated from our own souls. We end up living divided lives, so far removed from the truth we hold within that we cannot know the “integrity that comes from being what you are.”
Here is the ultimate irony of the divided life: live behind a wall long enough, and the true self you tried to hide from the world disappears from your own view! The wall itself and the world outside it become all that you know. Eventually, you even forget that the wall is there — and that hidden behind it is someone called “you.”

How an external standard of behavior, no matter how "ethical" or "good" is not a longterm, stable solution (substitute "vocation" for any other externally imposed restriction on behavior or self-expression):

If the self seeks not pathology but wholeness, as I believe it does, then the willful pursuit of vocation is an act of violence toward ourselves — violence in the name of a vision that, however lofty, is forced on the self from without rather than grown from within. True self, when violated, will always resist us, sometimes at great cost, holding our lives in check until we honor its truth. Vocation does not come from willfulness. It comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about — quite apart from what I would like it to be about — or my life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest my intentions.

What is the solution?

Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.

Do this even at the cost of ruffling feathers, of not conforming to what society demands, of being persecuted and hated for who you are, yes -- and speaking form experience, there really is no other viable choice.  

Friday, February 26, 2016

All men are created equal?

I was thinking recently about why I am oddly so tolerant. It's a great trait to have, particularly in the law when there are some clients with very very good cases who are very very bad people.

I thought one reason might be that we're just a little colorblind when it comes to social norms and morality. A very popular post for people finding this website is the one about love. A controversial segment in that post is where I say that sociopaths can often appreciate certain traditionally undervalued segments of the population at closer their true value than normal people do. I actually have forgotten why it's controversial. Maybe because some people make a moral judgment on that and think that I am arguing that sociopaths are out there doing good amongst the populace like some sort of superhero. But sociopaths are more like stock value traders or contrarians. The price of a stock is the price that the market values it (the price at which there are people both willing to buy and sell at the same price). But the value of a stock is based on how much the actual corporation is worth. It's quite possible to have a valuable stock that is underpriced, just as it is quite possible for society to undervalue a person. A sociopath naturally sees these areas as potential opportunities for arbitraging, or taking advantage of the gap in something's price and its value in another context.

But I also think there is another reason why some sociopaths may be this way is a related belief -- that all humans have value because it often is true and in any case it would be difficult to falsify. That is, assume that humans have value because a lot of people have had some value in the past and it's really hard to know ahead of time which are going to turn out to be fruitless. I think a theme of this is being expressed in this recent comment from an old post:

That actually bothers me in people, how easily I can see something from another's point of view, free of judgement and prejudice but other people can be so quick to criticize an idea just because they don't agree. They don't consider the possibility that they might be wrong but somehow the sociopaths that consider ideas as radical as Hitler's, Marx's or Stalin's on equal ground as democracy, freedom of speech and habeas corpus are the villains, for being impartial. People, jeez... 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

On killing (part 2)

A little bit of a follow up to this older post, from a reader:

I thought this interview was an interesting contrast to the videos of serial killers that are often discussed on the forum.

I've often said that the ability to take a life is really just a matter of motivation.  This guy had to face that choice because he was drafted.  It's clear that his conscience bothers him - but he has an interesting idea: "It's not that they don't deserve to have been born, but they don't deserve to keep on living."  I think in narrow cases, the death penalty is justified along these lines.  However, given the practical problems (i.e. the high rate of "innocent" people on death row), the cases are really quite few where it's justified.

On a more personal level, my father was a sniper in a revolution and on his death bed he worried that I might judge him for his actions ("I killed a lot of people.  I don't know how many; a lot.").  It was one of those rare moments when being...different as we are...maybe served a better purpose.  He knew that I didn't care - it didn't change how I felt about him (good and bad).  I think he liked that my response was that I wasn't qualified to judge him and I didn't care.  It seemed to give him comfort.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Average and unique

I thought this was an interesting NPR interview regarding what it really means to be average (is anyone really?) or unique (is anyone not?). Most of it is with regards to education, but the points made about statistics would seem to apply to general categorizations we make of people (e.g. introvert/extrovert), but also -- to the extent that all psychological criterion take into account the culture of those they are being applied to (pedophilia is not going to mean the same in a culture in which the average marriage age is 13, sadness doesn't necessarily mean your depressed if you are just expressing a culturally appropriate amount of grieving, criminality in one culture is entrepreneurship in another, etc.)  -- to the world of psychology.

Rose talked with us about his new book: The End Of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness.

The opening example you use in the book is that in the 1940s, when the Air Force designed cockpits based on the average measurements of the pilots, there were an unacceptable number of crashes. But when they went back and measured thousands of pilots, across 10 body dimensions, they found that zero of them even came close to the "average" on all 10. So they concluded that they had to redesign the seats and so forth to be adjustable to each person.

Body size is a very concrete example of what I call jaggedness. There is no average pilot. No medium-sized people. When you think of someone's size you think of large, medium, small. Our mass-produced approach to clothing reinforces that. But if that were true you wouldn't need dressing rooms.

So dimensions like height and weight and arm length and waist circumference ...

Yes, they're not nearly as correlated as you would think. Height is one-dimensional, but size isn't. People are jagged in size, in intelligence, everything we measure shows the same thing.

I'm going to quote a line from the book, said to psychologist Paul Molenaar, who is arguing for a greater focus on individual difference: "What you are proposing is anarchy!" How do you make decisions about people if you can't use statistics and cutoff scores and compare them to averages?

People feel like if you focus on individuality, everyone's a snowflake, and you can't build a science on snowflakes. But the opposite has been true.

It's not that you can't use statistics, it's just that you don't use group statistics. If I want to know something about my daily spending habits, one straightforward way would be to collect records of what I spend every day. To take an average for myself would be perfectly fine.

So you can generalize across time, but not across people?

We've got to let go of putting a group into a study and taking an average and thinking that's going to be close enough to universal insight.

Now we have something better. We have a natural science of individuality that gives us a surer foundation. We've gotten breakthrough insights in a whole range of research, from cancer to child development.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Sociopaths in Poetry: Keats' "La Belle Dame sans Merci"

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and pale loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
And the harvest’s done.

I see a lily on thy brow,
With anguish moist and fever-dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful,a fairy’s child;
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A fairy’s song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna-dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
‘I love thee true’.

She took me to her Elfin grot,
And there she wept and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.

And there she lullèd me asleep,
And there I dreamed—Ah! woe betide!—
The latest dream I ever dreamt
On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—‘La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!’

I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gapèd wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill’s side.

And this is why I sojourn here,
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

John Keats

Monday, February 15, 2016

Raised right

From a sociopathic identifying reader about how, growing up, her parents actually allowed her to be who she is:

I've been reading your blog for some time now, in addition to reading your book when it came out, and love how you take things on, in a way that reads quite a bit how I would do it. I'm a sociopath as well and found much  in common with you.

Growing up I was different from early on, I didn't cry like other girls, didn't get upset by the usual things, though on the other hand my patience would wear very thin for a young girl and along with it my ability to tolerate waiting and such. Beyond that I did well in school and did usual stuff like dance lessons. One thing that set me apart from other girls, indeed kids in general, was that I was able to observe people and pick up on how they talked, who paid attention to who and what attention was paid to who. 

Owing to my achievement at school, I did well without even really trying, my lack of emotional meltdowns and my ability to talk to those older than me and offer up things a girl of 7 or 8 wouldn't ever be expected to, an interesting but very advantageous thing happened. I was seen as being grown up for my age and what's more because of that not just a good girl but a girl who couldn't do any wrong. After all if I'm so smart and so grown up then I must know so well how to behave. So even before I ever actually created my outward mask to show people, one was put upon me. 

And this is where the issue of environment comes in even more. I grew up in a well to do suburb and since it was fairly settled down people it's the sort of place where not only do you know your next door neighbor, you know the neighbors across the street etc. So it was a place where people just socialized a lot which fed my observing. Also it was a place where at least among the adults everyone was fairly smart and most had degrees to match. Being that smart people who generally like their lives and what they do like to talk about what they do and what they like, I found another benefit. No matter how far my questions about things went, no one ever thought it too out of place. 

So I was in an environment where a fair bit of my early sociopathy didn't stick out or raise any eyebrows. Also since I was decided to be a good girl, I had it very easy getting away with things. Get a kid to do something and they get caught? Saying I told them to do it would just get them in more trouble. After all I would never tell someone to do something bad. Of course I seized on this and made the most of it. Even when a few times I'd get asked about something, no one ever doubted I was speaking the truth when I said I had no idea about it. It never occurred to anyone I was lying through my teeth. 

Now the other issue is, my parents. They had me quite young, indeed not only were they not married, they were barely dating. However as luck had it they found they were an ideal pair for each other. Even if I came along well before either expected being a parent, there were no negative consequences for me. Unlike some I never experienced neglect, abuse or anything that would show a sign of being a trigger of my sociopathy, as far as anyone could tell I was just born this way. I also never experienced any sort of lack of stability early on. My parents' parents made sure everything was taken care of and any help my parents needed was always there. 

As for my parents they found themselves with a daughter that wasn't a challenge exactly but was different. They noticed my lack of crying and getting upset about usual things but given I appeared otherwise normal they just figured I grew out of it.Though eventually they noticed that I wasn't just not getting upset at usual kid stuff I wasn't reacting emotionally to much of anything. But they figured it probably just a matter of adjusting. After all a 6 year old can't be expected to really process some sad news story on TV. Also I wouldn't appear to get as outwardly excited about things like Christmas and I didn't seem to have much feeling to saying things like "I love you".

Then as my ability to observe people became more and more apparent and with it my ability to engage people in ways beyond my years they did start thinking I was deeply different. There was also my lying but since it was on the level of telling a friend my mom said I could come over, well doesn't every kid do that? Then eventually my mom pieced together a few things and realized I was not just different but different in ways that were not exactly usual. Namely by watching my reaction to a few things, some that happened in person others that I saw on TV, she recognized I not only didn't feel bad for people in pain, I seemed to enjoy it. Indeed during one relevant TV news story she asked why I was smiling and I said I liked it, that it was cool. At this point you'd expect mom and dad, who was told, to promptly flip their shit. Their smart and grown up for her age daughter isn't just different, but at 8 she's showing signs of no empathy, no remorse and sadism. But they didn't, since I wasn't hurting people actively well let me be and just address things if need be.

Then there was, at 9, my swearing which was handled by saying that if I promised to only do it at home I could do it. Plus there was my total lack of sense for any social boundaries, I had no problem not only talking to anyone but just coming up to someone and asking whatever I wanted. Also owing to all my observations of adults I questioned a lot about how things work and are ordered. That  came together to make me rather displeased with the idea that at 10 I had to somehow dress my age, why when I'm aware of things as I am do I have to try to act and dress like someone I'm not all the time?

My parents' reaction was to deal with me as not what I should be but who I was. Instead of trying to impede me or try to get me to be what I wasn't they just let me be. Mom agreed that yes having rules that apply to every girl my age like they were all the same was silly. So she'd let me get clothes that maybe weren't "age appropriate" and then take me out wearing them. Sure some people might give her looks, but she would rather be who she felt I needed instead of who someone else might think she'd need to be.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Probably puberty

I've been trying to get to some of my very old backlog of emails from almost two years ago. It's interesting because most people no longer care about whatever they wrote me about (e.g. my sociopath boy/girlfriend/boss/ex/parent/etc.) Some of the most interesting replies, however, are coming from people who wondered if they weren't a little sociopathic themselves. (By the way, I have stopped opining myself on this question from people -- I don't feel like I'm anywhere near a credible source, but I realize that most people who ask me do not have access to professional psychological help so I figure we can try to help a little by crowdsourcing our experiences. I know some of you hate those posts. Sorry, but as long as I think it helps people to figure things out even just a little bit, I'll probably keep posting them, as it is literally the least I could do. Compromise? You can skip reading them and I promise I won't have my feelings hurt?)

Probably not surprising to most, there's a good portion of these am-I-a-sociopath people that no longer wonder because they no longer experience those tendencies. To put it perhaps too broadly, it was just phase. I actually have been enjoying hearing back from these people because I think it helps put things in perspective for those people who are currently where they were almost two years ago.

For example, from a reader in answer to my question if he would still like a substantive reply from me:

Haha no it's all good. Long time passed, lessons learned. To be honest, I just wanted to be different and the label of sociopath was a good excuse at the time. I realized that I'm not a sociopath, I'm simply amazed by the sociopathic type. I learned that I'm fixated with welcoming the unknown. I find a melancholic beauty in things considered taboo, immoral, dark, forbidden and sadistic (such as death and dying). Even though a sum of people consider me to be a source of emotional comfort (I get really deep really fast and find out things, that some people tell me they don't tell people), I enjoy watching people suffer in almost anyway possible but! It tends to be a win win thing. so what I'm doing isn't considered wrong even though sometimes I do question my own motives but! You don't need to be a sociopath to feel comforted by death. But thank you kindly for replying haha I'm a little surprised that you did

PS. I'm in the process of acquiring a degree in psychology (feel free to tell me to fuck off, feel free to not reply) but if I ever have to write a paper on sociopaths, mind if I send you some non-relative to this conversation questions?

PPS. It probably was puberty.

Good luck to all of you out there trying to figure it out. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

More on PTSD

From a reader, written to me previous to the other PTSD inquiry, for a second set of thoughts:

I started reading your blog a few days ago (ordered your book as well) and it's been really helpful. Not sure how many random emails you get or how happy you are to reply to or publish them on the blog, but I'm giving it a shot as this is something I've been trying to get some information and/or reflections on for a long time. 

So I'm not diagnosed with ASPD (never been assessed), but this last year the pieces have started coming together and I'm pretty sure I'm a sociopath with narcissistic tendencies. I hate admitting it but eventually I suppose you have to look at the evidence. I've tortured animals. As a kid I had a list of people I was going to kill and I knew exactly what doing that meant. I've spent my entire adult life exploiting and manipulating everyone around me for professional, monetary or sexual gain. I'm a sexual sadist and have put people in hospital for kicks. I've seen the blank look in people's eyes when they think it's all over and it's the hottest thing I've ever seen. Got a pretty standard history of drug, sex and adrenaline abuse. Don't really know how many people's lives I've ruined, but some of them are in therapy now. Just putting all of this out for factual reference. I never felt bad about doing any of these things and never really considered myself a bad person. I suppose on some level I knew what I was doing was wrong, but it's hard to make morally correct decisions when the wellbeing of other's doesn't feel relevant. I just did what I wanted and didn't really think about whether it was right or wrong.

So that's the background. Eventually it all blew up in my face when I messed with the wrong people. Was almost killed and had to literally flee the country and start a new life. Before that, these people made sure that the life I had was completely ruined. Everything I'd been built up like friends, work, networking etc vanished and everyone I thought I had under control started seeing me as a monster. And then I was abused and mindfucked by people who were way better at it than me. Ended up a total wreck, got diagnosed with PTSD. And suddenly I started feeling guilt, which I'd never really felt before. Eventually I learned that it was just regret, or at least I think so. Example: I hurt two different people in the same manner. I get away with the first one, so I don't feel guilty. I suffer consequences for the second, so I feel some kind of regret that my brain interprets as guilt. Does that make sense? I also suddenly started caring about what people thought of me or how they saw me. Nowadays I'll actually feel bad if someone dislikes me, which makes no sense as I never used to care. I'm suspecting it's the trauma. My brain interprets anyone who dislikes me as a potential threat. I may be mostly fearless but being abused and almost killed isn't something I want to repeat. My brain works a bit like this: Person dislikes me = gets others to dislike me = mob mentality = I'm dead. It's fairly irrational, but then I suppose it happened once so it could happen again. 

I suppose what I'm looking for is any insight into the connection between sociopathy and PTSD, and how this might influence one's emotional spectrum through "false" guilt or self-consciousness. My ASPD friend claims sociopaths can't be traumatised, but I'm skeptical. My life doesn't make much sense if I can't simultaneously have sociopathic traits and be traumatised, because there's evidence of both. I'm 28 and female if that's relevant. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Famous sociopaths: competitive eater Jason “Crazy Legs” Conti

From a reader, with this update "FWIW, since sending this to you, I did a stint as a nude model. It allowed me to get over the idea that I - the thing emailing you now - am my body":

I was reading this article about competitive eaters:

Conti sounds remarkably talented, lazy, deviant, Machiavellian, charming and grandiose:

Conti is an eater with a background unlike any other. The 41-year-old Belmont, Mass., native graduated from John Hopkins University in 1993 as a three-sport athlete and went on to work an array of post-graduation jobs including bouncing at bars, window washing, donating sperm and posing as a nude model for art classes...

“Well, for one thing you get to live a bit of a rock-and-roll lifestyle,” Conti said. “Traveling, partying, groupies; it all comes with the territory.”

Wait, there are competitive eating groupies?

“Oh yeah,” Conti said. “It helps when you’re on television in a bar in a tiny four-antenna town.” Wisconsin, for example, is a great place for groupies, he said.


Conti shares this sentiment. “I’ve gotten to perform in front of troops stationed overseas and bring some amount of happiness to them,” he said. “I’ve seen the top 32 competitive eaters in the world shut down the all-you-can-eat buffet at the Luxor in Vegas. I’ve made a lifetime of memories through all of this. Auntie Mame once said, ‘Life is a banquet and most poor fools are starving to death.’ Well, if you’re a competitive eater that is far from the truth.”

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Graduating to every other week therapy

I've never been to summer camp. The closest I got to the experience was sixth grade camp, when as an 11 year old I went up to the mountains (snow! cold!) with all of my classmates for a week. I still have so many vivid memories of it. Everything I know about recognizing constellations I learned there, camp songs, a love/hate relationship to the hot dog, making snow survival shelters (we surely would have died if actually required to live in ours) and what seemed to be the startling amount of trust and freedom I enjoyed in leaving my family and any real responsible adult supervision and running amok in the mountains with a 15 to 1 ratio of camp counselors (barely more than children themselves) to children, and with knives and other sharp tools. Even though it was just a week, I came back from camp a changed person. Not to say that the person I was before was bad or even that I needed to change in that particular way in order to mature. Nor to say that the person I changed into was any less me than the person before. It's hard to describe the sensation, but whatever it was I was ok with it because for whatever reason I still recognized the person I became.

I recently graduated from every week therapy to every other week therapy. The change was precipitated by me reaching and maintaining a certain level of awareness and understanding about myself, other people, and the world. I feel the difference, but I also don't feel that different. I recognize who I am. I just feel more proficient, like if I had always been only a music sight reader and then finally learned how to play by ear, or vice versa. And naturally I understand the world in a more fuller and richer way, simply because now I engage with it in more ways than I did previously. Everyone has a blindspot. That was always my special talent to know growing up. Now I know better my own.

The most interesting development has been my more nuanced view of self. How is it that I am the same person I was as a too-aggressive child, a manipulative teenager, a scheming young adult, a risk-taking 30 something, and now someone who has graduated to every other week therapy. But even odder to realize is that during the periods that I was "truest" to "myself", those were when I was most engaged and satisfied by life, no matter my financial situation or family situation or anything else that may have been weighing me down in the world at large. It turned out it wasn't the fact that I was born/made a sociopath that caused most of my problems. It was actually my ill-informed adaptations to the world that I had picked up along the way that made my heart shrink and blacken. Some of you will understand what I mean and I apologize for not being able to explain better, but it was the societal emphasis and rewards based almost solely on appearances, end results, and bottom lines that created all of the wrong incentives -- versus a focus on the process over the outcome and learning through making mistakes = ok and understanding that society will (and must) adapt to you sometimes, it can't always be you adapting to it, and how to know when is when and what is what. Self-awareness about my sociopathic tendencies didn't make me better, it made me worse as I came to internalize how unpalatable that was in society. That's when my behavior became so aggressive, passive, hollow, desperate, and impotent. That's when I started wearing masks basically all of the time. Sayonara to my sense of self. I may have hurt others a little less but it was accomplished by hurting myself much more. Because I could always fit square pegs into round holes, even if it got a little ugly and I got dirty doing it. And it felt like that was the solution -- that was what was being asked of me as part of my faustian deal to make things go down easier for me, to avoid having to deal with any negativity or fall out based on anyone's disapproval.

But now I wonder, what to say to everyone? How do I respond to people who email me? How can I communicate this adequately to others so that they won't make the same mistake -- won't wait until there are decades of barnacles of garbage encrusting them, until they finally cease being recognizable to themselves, before they realize that who they are is not a problem that needs fixing. I want my little relatives to know this, you all, anyone who also will wonder about the meaning of the lyrics to Landslide or wonder what does it feel like to keep living (and most paradoxically keep changing) after you feel like you've finally discovered who you really are. To know how to resonate with this life, both so maddeningly static and so dynamic. And to learn what one must never, never sacrifice, even just to get by, even if it seems like that is what is being required of you to do. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Mr. Robot's reduction of people to patterns

I started watching the tv show Mr. Robot. I have never done much programming. I guess the closest I have come is working in Excel, which I have done since I was a tween, and maybe some basic coding that they you used to teach youngsters back when computers were much simpler in a way (does anyone remember DOS?).  But I really did enjoy it. I enjoyed the predictability and the knowing that if you pulled this lever you got this result. I even enjoyed trying to pull a lever and getting the wrong result, because it was just a puzzle to solve -- a puzzle that I knew had an answer just waiting for me to discover. It's no surprise I often thought of people that way too, and so does the main character of Mr. Robot.

The anti-social protagonist hacks everyone he knows to find out all about them. It gives him the illusion of knowing people. He says that he is very good at reading people. And he is in a way, in the sense that so many normal people are terribly predictable -- looking for love in all the wrong places, etc. But I have also seen other real life people, particularly with personality disorders, similarly attempt to reduce people to patterns and predictions and it seems ridiculously sysiphean to me -- often by the time you recognize a pattern, the person or situation has changed and your data is stale. Moreover, to my eyes, they are clearly less successful and accurate with it than they believe themselves to be. And so in maintaining those beliefs that (1) people can be easily reduced to knowable patterns and (2) that they have successfully reduced people to those said patterns, those types appear a little delusional to me. (I'm sure that I am the same with my delusions.)

With all of that said, I still think there is something very useful and often powerful about being able to recognize the patterns in the people around us (even if it will never give us as clear a picture of each other as we might fool ourselves into believing).

A reader gives a similar math analogy:

The environment in which I grew up was certainly governed by physical violence. This enviornment, however, had a steadily balanced input from both sides of morality/ethics: at school was the common child's play, at home was my father's emotional instability brought on from too much drink, at the gym was the overzealous, self-righteous police. Through my Grandparents, at home, I received a clearer understanding of an ethical/moral constitution for a Family man. From the gym I was able to glean between the Warrior's code of conduct (almost Nietzschiean in its focus on self-control  and discipline), and the police offered the legal ramifications of societies expectations. Through these I was able to become Nietzsche's Child, Campbell's Self Revolving Wheel, where, in his Discourse of The Three Metamorphoses, I compiled my own codes; allowing me to adapt to whatever the environment I found myself expected. For me, this was a mathematical puzzle; just as language is an algebraic formula wherein the values are interchangeable and the formula remains the same.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

PTSD and sociopathy

A reader recently wrote about the connection between sociopathy and post traumatic stress disorder:

I think I had post-traumatic stress disorder for two years. Your book however is the closest I have ever felt to being understood. In which case is it possible to be a sociopath for two years of your life? Or are the two related? I hadn't seen any similar links on your blog but I thought I'd share my story in case there are others like mine.

I am not sure if you can learn to be a sociopath, or if I have been one my whole life, or, indeed, writing this, I have been "cured". I had a happy childhood as an expat only child. Life was exciting, I was loved. I 'think' I used to be empathetic..I was always very concerned with people's problems, but it's hard to tell if it was curiosity and wanting to solve the puzzles in their lives or because I was upset by their hurt. I hated criticism, but because I was never wrong, not because I ever felt I had done wrong. To me, other children were nice, but rather stupid and didn't interest me much. My favourite games to play I would role play as a successful adult. I was quite quiet, perceived as shy and unassuming, and I constantly felt underestimated - a secret I saw to my advantage and loved. Aside from this, I feel I was a normal-ish child. I had more interest in over-achieving at school and being the best than of dealing with my peers, I enjoyed company when I had it but was quite content to be left alone. Perhaps had I grown up with siblings as competition my attitude would have been different.

As a teenager I was quiet but popular, seen as smart and sweet and liked by everyone even though I feel nobody really knew me. Through travelling I had learnt at a young age to adapt, to blend in, to make new friends. I found girls brought too much drama and needless emotional turmoil to my life and I didn't understand their mind games or fake attitudes, so my friends have always primarily been boys. I like that when they had a problem with each other it would be addressed with a hit to the face and be forgotten the next day. I hate unnecessary emotions. I also have a great disdain for violence, more because that also inevitably leads to gossiping emotional drama than because of the actual violence. I would have no qualms punching someone in the face given the opportunity and would greatly enjoy it. I was always the "peace keeper" breaking up fights in the playground. Most people saw me as the sensitive soul doing a good deed. I am in fact incapable of watching a fight and not being involved, I would have loved being hit by one of the bullies only to be able to beat him until I was restrained, but, primarily, I loved my power. I loved how ballsy I felt as a small framed girl being able to stand in the face of someone the rest of the school cowered to, I enjoyed making him feel weak, I enjoyed knowing that he couldn't hurt me physically or emotionally.

I don't think I've ever deliberately tried to manipulate people unless they've crossed me. I don't get a thrill out of manipulation because I find people's emotions such a nuisance and because ultimately, I like being seen as a nice person and don't want to unravel my own reputation. I am an exceptional liar and mid-teens realised I revelled in playing the murderous, sultry villains in drama "acting" was in fact just a subsection of my inner self.

It takes a lot to make me angry. But when I am a shift occurs in my mind and indifference becomes cold, malicious hatred. I don't have an exceptional regard for myself (probably a result of abusive tendencies and relationships with other sociopaths in an attempt to prove myself I was "normal"), but I know I am a survivor, I know I am pretty and flirt with almost everyone, I am charming and, when I am doing something I love, incredibly intelligent. I have never viewed people with malice, rather with a kind of nonchalance. I enjoy unravelling the ins and outs of people's stories and personalities, not because I will use that in a game against them, but because their self-discovery is my game. I enjoy working out people before they've even began to work out themselves. I think the way I view myself is much the same way I view other people. I have always been hyper introspective, I like to be the best, including at understanding myself, and perhaps that's when I start to runaway, when people start to get to high up the scale of understanding me, and I'll do something "out of character" (which for me really is all just a part of my character) and push them away.

I have very high sexual needs, so I suppose it has always seemed more pragmatic to have long-term relationships to satisfy this. For this reason I haven't been able to engage in any same-sex relationships as I experimented with as a child (I try to be faithful these days, except when seeking revenge). I like that men can be manipulated with just the raise of an eyebrow. I am a nice person and am good at adapting to being the perfect partner. Most of my relationships have been littered with arguments, "you're too independent", "you don't seem to even care", "you have too many male friends", "you never talk to me", "why didn't you ask for my advice"?! I get annoyed when people take my easygoing nature and uncomplicated pleasantness for granted. I am nice because it is convenient for me to be so and I enjoy the rewards of affection I get in return. When people confuse being nice with naivety or stupidity I see red. Perhaps this is why I surround myself with other suitable suitors that I claim are just innocent friends. I like people to know I have replacements lined up so that they treat me better. I also like people to flirt with when my current partner is being too emotionally needy. I find over-emotional pathetic.

So far perhaps my story sounds bland, I am potentially mildly sociopathic but I am not interested enough in the consequences of creating emotional havoc to indulge in any tendencies. Or perhaps I am just an incredibly laid back person, an intelligent and independent only child.

However, when I was sixteen my father was diagnosed with brain cancer. I was very close to my dad and my mum so this hurt me, a lot. My whole life became a soap opera, which I hated. I pushed myself even harder with my studies and did everything to try and make my dad happy and to make our lives as normal as possible. I hated anyone coming to our house, I felt insanely protective of our tiny three person bubble and anyone trying to burst that. I felt like if I allowed my emotions out I would be giving into them indefinitely and wouldn't succeed, so I would tell myself I was being pathetic and the emotions would fade out after about 5 seconds. Eventually the emotions just stopped. I don't remember when or how but I just stopped feeling. I was calm and composed, I would work on limited sleep and little food, since eating bored me and sleep seemed a waste of time. I spoke to almost nobody. I chose when I would go to and walk out of school. At the beginning I got a thrill out of concocting the most elaborate lies to bunk off but by the end I enjoyed that I could just get away with it. I would go home and work alone, I found my peers stupid and painfully immature and didn't think there was anything a teacher could teach me that I couldn't teach myself. I went home to avoid my incredible urges to punch someone in the face or throttle someone just to wake them up to reality, let them feel real pain and to be able to enjoy the lack of emotion I would have in doing it. I would imagine strange occurrences in my head where I would be able to exert my heightened coldness to undo people. I know I could have killed someone and would have enjoyed it.

About a year after my fathers death I began to get a few emotions back. I remember reading a joke and feeling shock when I remembered how to laugh. Gradually over four more years other emotions have come back to me. During a brief encounter with a counsellor (I was more intent on unravelling her than letting her in so I gave up) I was told I had had post-traumatic stress. Nobody ever diagnosed me at the time, but it seemed a reasonable evaluation and one I had considered several times before.

I can now say that I have the majority of emotions that I had before my dads illness, I "feel" as well as logically calculate that I am happy, and I am very much in love. I care about my friends and invest a lot of time in them and enjoying their company. I trained in architecture, but, learning I couldn't be the best quickly enough or earn enough money, I switched to international development. Most people think I am a saint, they don't understand that I do what I do because I'm good at it, I like helping people for my own sake and I'm one of the few people capable of finding logical solutions to over-emotional disasters. I've been through enough I can be clinical in disaster analysis. I hope that I can undo the incompetency of previous development failures and I like feeling like I am perceived as a "good", intellectual person..even if I don't perceive it myself as "good", I just think I'm highly competent at helping people, mainly because most of the time I can detach from empathy. This said, there is this part of me that still switches beyond indifference, if I find someone pathetic, if someone angers me, if I'm caught in the wrong mood, my brain switches from feeling like I care, beyond indifference, to wanting to hurt them. In those moments the most important people in my life mean absolutely nothing to me. I would of course never say any of this to them, but these are the questions that interest me:

1. Is post-traumatic stress just a branch of sociopathy? Or am I just one or the other?
3. Does everyone have sociopathic tendencies under extreme conditions as a built in survival mechanism or is it just a few of us?
4. Under different circumstances, at what point or if ever would i have shown sociopathic tendencies?
5. Have I really been able to undo the extremes of my sociopathic post-traumatic stress and go back to the extent of my emotions before they cut off? Will I be able to learn new emotions? Will I ever forget how to "switch off"?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Sociopath or no?

From a reader:

Im a newbie to your website and im obviously interested in psychopathy. (Short mark: english isn't my mother language, so i hope you'll understand what im trying to say...) Theres always a question that keeps repeating inside my brain: Am i a psychopath or what am i? Ive done a lot of research about this theme and whenever i read something about sociopathie and psychopathie i can identify me with it. But it seems like im a mix from sociopathie and psychopathy. I DO feel pain or fear. And i have feelings. But im not as impulsive as a normal sociopath. I always know what i do and if it wi have bad consequences for me. What im sure about, is that i have no guilt or conscience. I do things because i want it and if my actions are affecting anyone in a bad way its their problem. As a kid i painted always dragons, never a knight or flowers and so on. I liked the 'bad guys' more than the good normal people. I like dirty dark things. Also im a big fan of killers in movies or other cruel heartless men. I was a wonderful kid. Friendly and open-hearted. As i loved a girl i was able to focus only on her, seeing no other person around. There were meaningless. But i still was a normal and influencing person. It was always easy for me to insult people. In school i often have played roles and  copied the personality of others and i was able to feel and act like them. But i still had strong feelings and had empathie. I will never forget the day we were at a journey in school and i read a book, all were silent and only listening to ME. But then there were things happen and changed me. In a  short version: I got depressed for a time. Began to hate the world and myself. Then i overcame it at some point. I became more selfish and confident. Slowly i lost empathie and became colder. At first i didn't recognized but when i read an article about psychopathie for the first time i saw it. I fit in it. I engaged in researching about all kinds of disorders. I felt good when i was able to find myself in the diagnosis. Time passed by. I sometimes felt intense emotions but they changed pretty fast. After an hour my view was completely turned around. I never knew if these feelings are real or not. They were so instabile (does this word exist?). Whenever i destroyed something important from my parents, it doesnt made me feel guilty. I only was angry because i must say something about it or excuse for what i did. I did it because i wanted to and nobody has the right to try to make me feel sorry about it. I enjoyed to do bad things, it gives me adrenaline and helped me to overcome the feeling of boredom. I did what i wanted to do. In the eye of chaos i felt best. I can't describe it. Next i found out that i can control easily every impulse that i had. I would try to explain in detail what i mean but i don't know the word in english for it. However. Then i tried to control my feelings. It was easier then i thought. Since i found out that i can control everything within my head i no more experience mood changings. If i recognize it, i bring myself to stay cold and let the feeling pass by. If my mother is in tears im tired of her and see that my opinion about her is right. Shes only a piece of dirt. I have better things to do than hear her annoying sounds. I worked on the feeling of fear and can now turn it into the feeling of joy. They have much in common. Its amusing. The only feeling i can't control is pain. But im on it. I enjoy my dark side. I thought sometimes about comitting crimes. I would do if there would be no consequences. Im sure i would enjoy it but there are these little consequences... I don't want to go to prison. When im with other people i everytime fake feelings and act normally. But lets go back to the beginning. For psychopaths its typically to don't know fear or sadness but i do. I can control it, sure, but i do feel it. Now after i told you the story of my life i would be glad if you can help me figuring out what and who i am? Can you help me bringing light in the question if im psychopathic or sociopathic or what i am? If you have questions feel free to ask. I would really appreciate it to know what i am.
Thanks for reading and good wishes, 
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