Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Appealing to Cognitive vs. Emotional Empathy

From a reader:

Thoroughly enjoyed your book. I'm pretty sure you hit on the right conclusions in the closing chapters. I used to work with batterers and some violent offenders. Emotional self regulation and empathy tend to range along a spectrum. The highly emotional men (empaths - as you refer to them) that I worked with responded well to empathy. Men on the sociopathic end of the spectrum tended to view emotional displays of empathy as pathetic and useless. The sociopaths I encountered tended to be quite adept at "cognitive empathy" (the ability to model and predict behaviors from an intellectual perspective), but were blind to feeling. As a consequence, they didn't seem to perceive compassion or guilt. It took me a while to come to the conclusion that the soft, tender, vulnerable part of them just wasn't there in the same way as it often is in others. 

They were however exquisitely stunned to consequences. I learned very quickly to drop empathy as a psychotherapeutic intervention, and to focus on rewards, punishments and outcomes in their lives. They were quick to pick up the fact that kindness was often a far better long term strategy for getting what they want than cruelty. 

Pro social behaviors can be taught to children without a conscience. Parents and teachers just need to know what they are working with. I could go on and describe the manipulative games the sociopaths I worked with used to engage in, the special interest they took in manipulating their therapists, the telltale language they used to describe others, or how they game the system, but you already know these things. I liked working with them. I think I was a puzzle to them. Encountering someone who could be "touchy/feely", and who could abruptly turn off their empathy to confront them directly seemed to confuse them. I imagine that I was able to promote some interest and a sense of unease in knowing that I could see through them. Interesting people. Everyone's trying to make their way in the world.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Trust as Explained by Game Theory

This was an interesting page/exercise sent to me via Twitter applying the concepts of game theory to the generation and maintenance of trust.

People no longer trust each other. Why? And how can we fix it? An interactive guide to the game theory of trust: http://ncase.me/trust/

It takes like 20-30 minutes to complete. At first I was turned off a little by the arbitrary constraints of the game, but they end up dealing with that issue later on -- so patience pays off! I've seen these models before, but it was interesting to apply it more directly to trust. Also, I hadn't seen the addition of mistakes/misunderstandings into the model before too. That has already changed the way I view others and the world. For instance (this might not make sense until you do the exercise), a friend of mine recently had an Amazon package fail to be delivered. She assumed that it was some shady neighbors stealing the package and was going to stop having any packages delivered, even though she has had like 20 successful package deliveries so far. I encouraged her to keep trying until she has another package go missing, just in case there was a mistake or other one off occurrence that shouldn't necessarily change her game playing strategy. It's a risky strategy maybe, but in her case she has no other convenient alternative for package delivery.

Without really remembering, I had applied essentially the "Diamond Rule" to this game. I think this worked ok (and probably works better with actual people than bots?), but it is true that in a situation in which there is a mistake, it can also compound a mistake into a global loss.

There's that phrase "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me". But this game suggests a more optimal rule, when mistakes are factored in: "Fool me once, ok, I take it on the chin. Fool me twice, shame on you with punishment."

Monday, July 31, 2017

Narcissism pros and cons

A reader sent me this article discussing recent research on the pros and cons of narcissism in business leaders. According to the research, narcissism is good up to a point because it often gives people the determination, confidence, and drive to pursue difficult and risky tasks. At a certain point, however, people don't like dealing with the narcissist as a boss, motivation drops, and unchecked narcissism can lead to unnecessary and stupid risks and an personal agenda substituting for the broader group agenda.

The article uses Steve Jobs as an example. Being a raging narcissist facilitated his early development of Apple, but once the company achieved a particular size and needed to keep attracting new talent, it became a detriment. During his time away from Apple, he learned lessons in humility that helped him become an even better business leader when he returned to run Apple 11 years later.

Not only does the article/research do a good job of examining both the pros and cons of a trait that we often associate as being negative, it also deals explicitly with the idea that people's personalities are more fluid than many people give them credit for, otherwise how would Steve Jobs be able to learn humility:

“Even if you have a narcissistic leader, and in a sense it’s causing them to be less effective in certain ways, people can proactively practice virtues like humility and develop their character,” Owens said. “Over time, it will begin to stick and enhance their leadership effectiveness.

Also, I don't know why this did, but one thing that surprised me about people's reaction to the book was some people were really turned off by what they perceived to be my narcissism and some people were really turned on by what they perceived to be my larger than life confidence. For some reason, it tended to split along gender lines with women being much more likely to be turned off and men much more likely to be attracted to it. I wonder why?

Monday, July 24, 2017

Grains of sand

From a reader:

4 minutes ago I finished your book. Loved every page of it. Devoured it in 3 days I loved it so much. I've always been so intrigued by psychopathy and other behavioural disorders. I've thought for a long time that it's unjust to punish people for who they are and their genuine wants and desires. My opinion even extents to pedophiles and all the rest.. But it does leave me confused as I do feel hurting people is wrong (I am an empath). Irrelevant. Anyways.

On the last page you invited the reader to email you to discover your real name. I would love to know it. I had a suspicion too that you were perhaps a male? Throughout the book I kept thinking about your motives for writing.. In the conclusion you mentioned changing the world, suggesting that a motive was to end the stigma around sociopathy, in hopes for an easier future for you, 'in the light'? But was it also somewhat out of boredom, the need for a stimulus? Or not only a protection of yourself, but the possible protection of future sociopaths ("inclusive fitness theory"). Which gave birth to my final question below.

Final query: Can you empathise with other Sociopaths? You don't mention having a relationship with other sociopaths.. I don't know how that dynamic would go, do you?

My response:

I don't think I have empathy for other sociopaths, but for whatever reason I have always had a sense that there is not as much separation between us as some people think. What is bad for one group of people really is bad for all people. I have always intuited that, but used to come up with utilitarian reasons to justify that belief. Just in the past few weeks I feel like I have realized the underlying belief is that for each one of us, part of our identity is our individuality and part of our identity is we collectively make up the universe -- like how cells in the body are both individual and collective, or like how a beach is really just a collection of grains of sand. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sociopath's perspective on being in love

From a reader:

I’m a male sociopath in his late 20s, and M.E. has loaned me her pulpit, because I’ve been in love, which I know from personal experience that that’s not something entirely unique for somebody like me (I know at least one other outlier), so it may apply to some of her readers. And because, well, I asked for the use of said pulpit. And, of course, because she’s been gracious-enough and interested-enough to see where I might be going with this.

            I’m high-functioning. I blend. I excel, and I don’t draw suspicion. The medical parameters that define sociopathy by the prerequisite of pre-adult fuck-ups and missteps seems just as asinine to me as to anyone. Not screwing up or making mistakes before a diagnostic age doesn’t change who you are, or what you are; just means you can watch your ass. You aren’t a total idiot. Good for you. But kids are idiots, across the board, and at the end of adolescence, I met a girl.

            Started off pretty mundane, really. She agreed to go out. She got cold feet. I saw reluctance as a game. I successfully made her go out with me, and that was pretty much it, as far as I was concerned; I won. But she wanted to hang out with me the next day, and for some reason, I did too. We spent time together, and then she had to leave. Maybe because I wasn’t ready for her to leave yet, and because it wasn’t on my terms, but the absence made the heart grow fonder.

        After weeks of talking to another human being, every single night, for 2 – 6 hours at a time, I finally had a moment of clarity; I (still) forget what my mother looks like if I haven’t seen her in a week, but I actually miss somebody when I don’t see or hear from her. I might be feeling something for somebody. Faced with two options, instead of cutting and running, I went all-in, because this was the weirdest game of my life. Either I was wrong, which’d be a first, or else I actually had a shot of an emotional bond, which was also a first. So I bet it all, threw caution to the wind, and invested in whatever other bullshit poetic stereotypes I could think of. I even wrote her a poem and asked her to go steady with me; we both cried. Well, I shed one tear, but that was a personal victory.

        I attempted self-delusion. I’d read everything there was to read about sociopathy, ASPD, and about psychopathy. If I felt love, I must’ve been wrong; I couldn’t be a sociopath, by definition. But I still couldn’t make myself care about anyone or anything else, and I still gut-laughed when cripples fell, despite my best efforts. I grew to quietly accept that I was still an asshole, and she was just the one exception to all my rules: the one I didn’t get tired of, the one I didn’t want anything from but her company, the one I gave a fuck about even when it had no bearing on myself. The one I resolved to never manipulate in any way.

        I was happy. Not satisfied, like winning a fight, or getting my way, and not amused or entertained, but happy. It was fucking intoxicating. Addicting. Like nothing I’d ever felt before; I felt simple for ever doubting the empaths I saw with their dumbass little bliss, because I actually had it. And it was real.

        We were together for years. I joined the military, because I’d already had plans to kill people and not go to jail, and I wasn’t going to bitch out on plans I’d told others of just because of somebody else or their feelings, and still she stayed loyal. Finally, she broke it off, for her own personal reasons. I didn’t blame her. What’s incredible is that I still don’t. The only person I haven’t ever been able to be mad at, even if I tried, and rage is the one thing I’m truly good at.

        I imagined that I should be furious at how she could be so dumb to throw away one of the only times lightning struck and somebody like me felt love. I wanted to think her stupid for throwing away my complete, unfettered, and unchallenged love, because nobody could love her with the same focus I could. And her friends did.

        But I realized that the reason I couldn’t actually judge is because I don’t know. I can’t claim that. I have no idea how somebody else would love her, and maybe a normal man would be able to love her, and her family, and his family, and whoever else, and still be full of love leftover. Maybe somebody else would have room in his mind for all the love I felt and other loves, but without all the hate that I always have in me. Even if she could appreciate the statistical anomaly, I’d never tell her what I was, so it’s not like she could be culpable. And even if she’d known, if leaving me was what she needed, I actually just wanted her to be happy, for whatever fucked-up reason, far more than I’ve ever wanted myself to be happy.

        I’ve read, all my life, the “studies,” the bullshit, about how sociopaths aren’t capable of love. I’ve heard the “prognosis,” all of which end with the same recommendation: everyone who knows any sociopath should cut all ties and abandon them. I’ve even read sociopaths’ accounts of being in love. One described it as all-consuming, wanting to suck the air out of the person’s lungs. I think that might actually be the sociopath’s infatuation, but I’m not positive that’s love. When you don’t care about anything, the one thing you do care about can be intoxicating.

        But to actually love somebody, it’s selfless. When all you have is yourself, that’s dangerous. It’s addictive, it’s destructive, and it’s terrible. Love actually is all they crack it up to be. But if you don’t even love your family, if all you love is one person, it’s crushing, unrelenting, and as single-dimensioned as a fucking fairy tale.

        To say I love this girl more than myself isn’t that impressive. I couldn’t give a shit about my own personal well-being. If picking a fight or riding a motorcycle breaks up the monotony of the day, let’s roll the dice. But I can say that I was willing to grow old for her, and that I still dream about her, and both are equally horrifying.

        I’m proud of her for stepping away before I or my lifestyle scarred her, but I hate myself every single day for it. Letting her go without manipulating her into staying, every day that I don’t call her and worm my way back into her life, is the only selfless thing that I’ve ever done, probably my only “redeeming factor.” But I also live every day knowing that I could. Not contacting her seems to be the only “decent” thing I’ve ever really done. The voice that says I could tells me I’m a little bitch for losing the only game I actually care about anymore. And I live with the self-directed anger. The fact that I don’t is more proof to me that I actually do love her than any proof I ever saw while riding the high.

        I’m working on being as angry as I used to be, but instead of fueling fearless aggression that drives success, my apathy now tends to be a shitty little anchor tempting me towards comfort and complacency. I’m open to tips from anyone who’s been there before, to get back to where I was. I do not value this “personal growth.”

        This isn’t a tale of redemption; I never stopped treating people like the social commodity they are before, during, or after being a mutually loving relationship. This isn’t a bitch-session; if I had to do it again, knowing what I know now, I’d still do the same, because that high was indescribable. And it isn’t advice, because I’m not “better” for having been through the experience. If you have the chance, do whatever you fucking want. These are just words, and one solitary account. If you’ve been through the same, you aren’t alone. If you haven’t, you’re in the majority. But the concept that a sociopath can’t feel love, under the right circumstances, real, selfless love, is utter bullshit, and I’d beat to death anybody that tried to argue. And I wouldn’t even feel bad about it.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Monster's Children

From a reader:

So I was wondering if you'd take a look and possibly review on your blog.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XD1SLM8

Monster's Children

The Queen of Order and the Trickster gods originally formed an alliance to defend against the dreaded beast they called the Monster. That alliance was dashed with the Monster’s defeat. The war that erupted with the alliance’s dissolution has ripped the land apart for millennia. With recent defeats the Tricksters face an unpleasant truth. They need the help of their most malicious and feared member. They need Spider and her Chosen to win this war.

Jamie is the newest Chosen of the Spider. Having spent her childhood struggling to fit within society, Jamie has been set free from hiding behind masks. As she learns to contend with the power within her so to must she come to terms with her feelings for her alluring teammate Nettle. 

Jamie and her team must discover what makes them so special before they fight against those that would bring Order to a world meant to stay wild and free. Most importantly she must learn what it means to be a monster’s child.

Jamie is noted by one reader as a “Psychopathic Power Ranger that stabs her way through obstacles leaving a trail of bodies.” 

Another said about her team, “This is what Captain Planet and the Planeteers would look like if they had a lust for blood and each other instead of charity work.” 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Happily dating a sociopath

A reader shares how (through fits and starts) she has found success in maintaining a romantic relationship with a sociopath.

After some earlier history, I’ve now been dating A. for 13 months. I have grown a lot in that time and honestly we are now at a point where the level of intimacy is quite enough for me. There is a level of trust between us that I wouldn’t have anticipated; in fact that exceeds anything I have known. He is responsive to me.

I wanted to share some of the features of the dynamic that I believe have been helpful.

Firstly, I learned from interacting on Sociopath World that sociopaths want to be treated fairly, just as anyone does. They are social organisms and must solve all the same problems any social organism faces. From this point, I developed an hypothesis that control-seeking behaviours such as manipulation are a strategy for creating a safe and predictable environment.There were lots of data points I used when coming to this hypothesis, not least of which that it’s a common strategy amongst primates!
  
Referring to our previous history, I'd always had a gut-feeling that A. hadn’t intended to hurt me. He had said as much. He also had ample opportunity to truly injure me (for example, by ruining my reputation at work) and he had refrained. I think the truth of this sat in my mind for a long time, burbling around with all sorts of dissonant conceptions and questions. Coupled with the life-changing positive effects our earlier interactions catalysed, I was driven to understand who this creature was. In this process, I reimagined my conception of the human condition and human sociality in general (that's another story.)

I eventually created two operating hypotheses:

He needs to feel safe and elusivity is his preferred strategy. 

This view diverges from standard interpretations that sociopaths / psychopaths seek power / control for it’s own sake. I believe that idea to be flawed as a blanket rule as it didn’t fit my observations andbecause there is too much overhead for that to be an end in itself. Control / power seeking is a means to an end. What problem does it solve? It aims to create predictability. 

He wants exit routes, freedom from being pinned down. He prefers to meet on his terms, when it suits him, where he can manage the interaction. In other words, he wants the interaction to be predictable for him and less predictable for me. I make sure to call him on his behaviour if he is unfair in attempting to achieve this aim.

2. Neither of us intends to hurt the other: we simply have different strategies for managing risk.
He appears to accept this view.

I’ve deemed it worthwhile to invest in the relationship. This means interpreting him generously, in alignment with both operating hypotheses. I can see he doesn’t ever want to overcommit himself or be in a place he can’t back out of. When he says I have a beautiful bum, it actually means he rather likes me. It’s difficult for him to say that, but I can recognise his intention.  When I said I was glad I’d met him, he said “yes, you’re right.” It meant he was also glad. He speaks by code and metaphor. Even this is extremely direct in my experience of him and I want to honour that. I know he can’t be vulnerable.

Investing also means making an effort to offer him safety, to predict and provide for his needs. This takes all sorts of bravery and intuition, but he rewards my efforts and reciprocates. He listens and responds - perhaps not to the degree I have requested, but again, I can see he is doing what he can.
Loving him thus becomes a very practical matter of respecting each other’s needs, allowing each other space to develop our own safety and to maintain our independence. I am blown away that he responds to me. The process helps me both learn about my own needs and actually be empathetic toward him. I must also be bold in asking for what I need.

This is not to say it’s easy. He is still cold and aloof. He’s very cold and this drives all my fears to the surface. They rise to choke me; which provides an opportunity for me to address them.
Additionally, it’s incumbent on me to take the risks entailed in relationship growth.

It’s my experience, however, that the risks are worthwhile. He makes efforts and that is beautiful to me. It’s healing elixir. That he isn’t too perturbed when I panic teaches me that there is space for me and I probably don’t need to panic. It gives me the opportunity to realise I am an adult, no longer the comfortless child I was. I am learning to see his efforts and recognise them. This means I am finally letting someone in. 

I think when he feels safe, he’s happy to let me feel safe too. He cares. I read the other day that when a sociopath is controlling you, he might love you. I think I am experiencing his love, although I don’t feel controlled. The connection is safety: I think a sociopath can love when he or she feels safe. 

Intent counts hugely.

This reminds me a little bit about what one of my friend says about me -- that I don't always do a great job at being a friend, but she can tell that I am trying and that is what matters most to her.

Monday, June 19, 2017

When Your Child Is a Psychopath

A reader writes:

I’ve been keeping you in mind, particularly since lately I see more and more nuanced discussions of psychopathology cropping up. Paul Bloom’s ‘Against Empathy’, though I haven’t yet read the full book, is a particular point of interest for me. But I found out today that The Atlantic had published this article very recently, and I wanted to share it: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/06/when-your-child-is-a-psychopath/524502/

What stands out for me in this situation is the fact that the girl, Samantha, is adopted; I know that children who have been abandoned or through the foster system face greatly increased hardships in their development, which is something I find deeply troubling on a social level. It seems to me that whatever harmful antisocial traits Samantha has may have been exacerbated by past trauma, even as early as her infancy.

Anyway, if you’re so inclined, please read it, and I hope you can take away something useful from it!

Incidentally, concerning the earlier stuff I mentioned about anime - have you ever heard of PSYCHO-PASS (yes, the title is in all caps)? It’s a speculative science fiction series specifically about psychopathy and preemptive judgment in criminal justice. You might find it interesting.

One of the more interesting things for me in the article was this paragraph on low resting heart rate (mine is always just barely hitting 60 beats per minute):

Psychopaths not only fail to recognize distress in others, they may not feel it themselves. The best physiological indicator of which young people will become violent criminals as adults is a low resting heart rate, says Adrian Raine of the University of Pennsylvania. Longitudinal studies that followed thousands of men in Sweden, the U.K., and Brazil all point to this biological anomaly. “We think that low heart rate reflects a lack of fear, and a lack of fear could predispose someone to committing fearless criminal-violence acts,” Raine says. Or perhaps there is an “optimal level of physiological arousal,” and psychopathic people seek out stimulation to increase their heart rate to normal. “For some kids, one way of getting this arousal jag in life is by shoplifting, or joining a gang, or robbing a store, or getting into a fight.” Indeed, when Daniel Waschbusch, a clinical psychologist at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, gave the most severely callous and unemotional children he worked with a stimulative medication, their behavior improved.

And regarding the ineffectiveness of punishment or bad experiences in terms of modifying behavior:

Faulty brakes may help explain why psychopaths commit brutal crimes: Their brains ignore cues about danger or punishment. “There are all these decisions we make based on threat, or the fear that something bad can happen,” says Dustin Pardini, a clinical psychologist and an associate professor of criminology at Arizona State University. “If you have less concern about the negative consequences of your actions, then you’ll be more likely to continue engaging in these behaviors. And when you get caught, you’ll be less likely to learn from your mistakes.”
***
This insight is driving a new wave of treatment. What’s a clinician to do if the emotional, empathetic part of a child’s brain is broken but the reward part of the brain is humming along? “You co-opt the system,” Kiehl says. “You work with what’s left.” 



The article also talks optimistically about the possibilities of treatment, with this caveat:

No one believes that [the boys in treatment] will develop true empathy or a heartfelt moral conscience. “They may not go from the Joker in The Dark Knight to Mister Rogers,” Caldwell tells me, laughing. But they can develop a cognitive moral conscience, an intellectual awareness that life will be more rewarding if they play by the rules. “We’re just happy if they stay on this side of the law,” Van Rybroek says. “In our world, that’s huge.”



Sunday, June 11, 2017

White Nationalism as Drug Resistant Bacteria

I want to argue yet again not only is shaming hypocritical and cruel, it's ineffective. Recently, I started to think of the rise of white nationalism as a drug resistant bacteria and shaming as the overused antibiotics that have led to the rise in white nationalism. I saw an Saturday Night Live recently hosted by Aziz Ansari where he asks people to start pretending not to be racist again.



It makes (obliquely?) an interesting point -- did all of the policing of political correctness, enforced by social shaming actually change people's underlying attitudes about race, class, privilege, etc.? Or did it just cause people to be quietly prejudiced and bitter about the shaming attempts?

A character from The Mindy Project recently remarked "Every white person’s greatest fear is being called racist. It’s their equivalent of actual racism." And I have noticed that white people do seem to feel quite oppressed and like they are being unfairly treated by being called racist. For instance, I had a conversation recently with a close family member of an older generation about political correctness and asked him what about it was so upsetting to him. He said that he didn't even believe that people who enforce political correctness even believe in it or care about the people they're allegedly trying to protect. He thinks it's just a way that people put other people down, for the same reason that anybody ever tries to enforce a social hierarchy against someone else -- a selfish desire to feel superior.

I tried to explain that anything can good be used to advance bad purposes (speaking of which, I'm watching the Handmaid's Tale). I just had a conversation with a friend whose non-Mormon husband was raised in a Mormon community -- wasn't invited to any of the block parties, wasn't allowed to go to anyone's houses for sleepovers, no one cared to communicate with his family at all until his mom got sick and they started trying to aggressively proselytize. I'm sure those Mormons felt like they had scriptural support to justify their exclusion.  But I'm also pretty sure it's all reasoning post-hoc, that is they decided how they wanted to act and took otherwise neutral or good principals and twisted them to fit their preconceived notions. It's why so many people hate organized religion (see again the Handmaid's Tale), which is the point I made to my Mormon relative who hates political correctness. In fact, it's a problem that has been specifically addressed many times in addresses by the church leaders to church members, including most recently this reference to my favorite topic of shaming by President Dieter Uchtdorf:

During the Savior’s ministry, the religious leaders of His day disapproved of Jesus spending time with people they had labeled “sinners.”

Perhaps to them it looked like He was tolerating or even condoning sinful behavior. Perhaps they believed that the best way to help sinners repent was by condemning, ridiculing, and shaming them.

Perhaps the current adherents to shaming believe that the best way to get people to change is by condemning, ridiculing, and shaming them. Perhaps the shamers of the world truly believe that they're doing a good thing, rather than doing what my relative believes political correctness police do -- putting others down so that they can feel relatively more superior. Perhaps they choose to intentionally inflict harm on others for the sake of some higher purpose, thinking that the world will be a better place because of it, rather than the obvious natural result of their actions -- increased antagonism, hurt, distrust, pain, hypocrisy, etc. But even if shamers' intentions are to create more positivity and good in the world, it doesn't work (or works so seldom that the aggregate effect is failure). Because even if you are right when you try to correct someone, there's a psychological concept called the "backfire effect" that makes you confronting someone with those facts extremely ineffective -- it most often leads to them becoming further entrenched in their beliefs. Sort of like drug resistant bacteria becoming more beefy in response to increased use of antibiotics. This Oatmeal page has a great explanation with citations to further reading/listening on the backfire effect.

So if shaming doesn't work, is it just cruelty for the sake of being cruel? Is it just twisting otherwise good concepts to advance oneself in a social hierarchy to the detriment of someone else?

Saturday, June 3, 2017

4 Stress-Management Techniques for Anxious Kids


Image via Pixabay 
Approximately 50% of mental illness symptoms begin by age 14, even if parents or kids don’t immediately recognize the symptoms. Even if you don’t suspect your child has a mental health condition, you may worry about how much stress he experiences. Stress can have a major impact on the body, especially if it remains untreated for a long period of time. The stress-management techniques below can help alleviate childhood anxiety, whether you’re parenting one of the 17.1 million kids with a psychiatric condition or simply helping your child cope with temporary stressors.

Talk it Out

Sometimes a vent session is all your child needs to recover from a stressful experience. When your child is worried about something, encourage him to talk about what’s wrong. Academic stress, peer pressure or bigger issues like moving to a new school, can all have a big impact on a child’s mental health. Ask open-ended questions that encourage discussion, such as, “Can you tell me what happened at lunch today?” or “I haven’t seen Emily over here lately. What’s new with her?” This gives your child the option to give you a detailed explanation of what’s happening rather than resorting to a one-word response.

If your son or daughter hates talking about uncomfortable topics, give them a journal. Encourage them to jot down anything that comes to mind, good or bad, each day. Consider setting aside quiet time for journaling before bed or first thing in the morning so that your child gets in the habit of jotting down their feelings. If your child struggles with spelling or doesn’t know how to read, have them draw pictures instead. You can also give them a stack of old magazines and encourage them to cut out pictures that they like or relate to so that they can paste them in the journal.

Create a Checklist

Not every episode of anxiety has a specific trigger, but some anxiety attacks stem from a fear of the unknown. You can help mitigate this type of concern by having your child create a checklist that details how to react in a stressful situation. You can create different checklists for common situations or develop one basic sheet that applies to any issue.

Keep the checklist as concise as possible while still covering everything that your child wants or needs. This prevents the checklist from becoming an overwhelming to-do list that adds - rather than alleviates - stress. Kids who can’t read can draw pictures to help them remember what to do when they’re stressed. You can also take photographs of different things, such as your child taking deep breaths or coloring in a notebook, for the checklist.

Practice Breathing Exercises

When anxiety strikes, encourage your child to take slow, deep breaths and focus on his breathing. Have him close his eyes so that there are fewer distractions, and ask him to breathe through his nose rather than his mouth.

You may have seen adults count to 10 or even 20 during deep breathing sessions, but high numbers can be difficult for kids with limited attention spans. Start by counting to 3, and increase to 5 or 7 over time if you feel your child is ready. Have your son or daughter take a deep breath, hold it for the count of 3, and exhale for the count of 3.

Perform Visualization

What’s your child’s favorite thing to do? Is there a special place he loves to visit? When stress strikes, have your child close his eyes and picture his desired destination or activity. Have him incorporate all of his senses during his visualization exercise. If he’s on the beach, he should smell the ocean and feel the warm sand beneath his toes. If he’s pretending he’s eating his favorite meal, he should smell the food and think about how it feels in his mouth.

Remind your child that he is in control and nothing bad can happen during his visualization. The weather is nice, and everyone is happy. There are no tornadoes, spooky clowns, or anything else that may terrify your child.

Coping with anxiety is difficult at any age, but there are ways to effectively tackle worries. Encourage your child to try the techniques above next time an episode of anxiety occurs so that he can find much-needed relief from the situation.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Cool headed

How many can relate?

video

My source: https://twitter.com/holdmyale/status/863725509674496001/video/1

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Trickster's path

A reader has published a book, with this description:

About the Author

Alcibiades Anon is the pseudonym for a highly functioning sociopath that likes to hear himself speak even while remaining silent.  Anon has spent a lifetime exerting his influence over the world and now, as he gets older, he had a whim to teach his thoughts to the young sociopaths around him.  The ongoing knowledge and tools he wishes to impart are his last great gift to humankind.  Anon often rambles and dreams and loves a good tangent but the quality of his lessons are apparent for those that can see them.   Anon dreams of a world where he and those like him do not need to hide what they are, while believing even in that world he would likely remain hidden.

Description of the Book.

The Trickster’s Path is one sociopath’s attempt to understand himself and others like him.  The Trickster’s Path uses the theories of experts and other sociopaths to describe what exactly a sociopath is.  The Trickster’s Path goes further to break the different areas of sociopathic tendencies into attributes.  Anon uses those attributes to describe how he has remained functioning in the world he finds so alien.  The book rambles and takes multiple tangents as Anon self discovers what he and those like him are.  The Trickster’s Path is an honest portrayal of one person’s attempt to understand himself and deal with the world around him.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Resconstructing ourselves

A reader gives an update on the child with reactive attachment disorder (RAD) who was featured in the documentary, Child of Rage, discussed previously on this blog here. I always avoid using her name, but you can read the details on the link (and it's always a little shocking to me that they used her name in the "documentary" featuring her, a minor, in what seems a pretty exploitative way, showing her actual therapy tapes? How did her parents allow this?).

There is a happy ending! She recovers from the reactive attachment disorder in a big way and becomes a happy and contributing member of society. The link for the update on her life is here. The quick summary is she is a nurse, she seems to still have a good relationship with her family, and she seems like just a normal person living a normal life.

As I was looking for the documentary I stumbled upon some other child mental disorder documentaries that seemed just a little less exploitative, and then finally a clip of a "news" show interviewing a young, attractive teacher that got busted for sexual relations with a 14 year old student. She was saying that it was a mistake and she had done it because of a troubled past, including mental illness, but scrolling through the comments -- every single person continued to vilify her. Out of the millions of views, not a single one would accept her apology, either as being sincere or as her being capable of change or worthy of forgiveness.

I know that the urge to ostracize and shame others runs deep in humanity's evolutionary past, but (and I've said this literally dozens of times before, including the penultimate post) society's willingness to let self-righteous feelings to dominate their rational capacity and/or empathy to continue to persecute people for something that they did or said in the past... I just struggle to understand why it's still such a problem, and one that is rarely discussed as such. As much as you hear about anti-bullying campaigns, there seems to be an unspoken understanding amongst most people that bullying is absolutely ok if the person you're bullying is a bad person. I hear even intelligent people whom I respect defend the shaming and the shameless poor treatment of their fellow humans for real or imagined wrongs. What society does with its social undesirables is basically one step away from tattooing them with their convict number and hounding and persecuting them through the rest of their lives.


But I sometimes think, what if we talked about more examples of recovery and more stories of people being dynamic and capable of change, maybe we could educate the evolutionary impulse a little so it's not so prone to mob mentality and see our fellow humans a little more accurately -- people that weren't really the same person decades ago and won't really be the same decades from now. Like NPR's Invisibilia piece on the myth of the static personality featuring the story of Dan, a rapist turned good guy: "I'm forever going to be a criminal," he says, "which I'm not. I've become a completely different human being at this point." "I have to atone for my crime. But I realize now I'm just paying for someone else's debt. The person who committed the crime no longer exists." How can we adjust the way we deal with people who we don't want to associate with (for whatever reason) so there can still be an appropriate level of accountability or precautionary measures while also more accurately reflecting the dynamic nature of who humans are?

"Maybe we're not thinking right about who we are and what we could be," says Walter Mischel [author of the famed marshmallow study]. "People can use their wonderful brains to think differently about situations," Milgram says. "To reframe them. To reconstruct them. To even reconstruct themselves."

(The Invisibilia piece oddly excepts sociopaths from this ability to change, assuming the myth of sociopathy to be incurable without questioning it as most do. But baby steps.)

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Baby Boomers = generation of sociopaths?

I have expressed my prejudices re baby boomers before (i.e. generation of narcissists), but someone wrote a book about how they're sociopathic. From the Huffington Post:

In his new book, A Generation of Sociopaths, writer and venture capitalist Bruce Gibney puts forth the controversial hypothesis that baby boomers ― specifically the large subset of white, middle-class boomers ― are, both individually and as a group, unusually sociopathic. Gibney cites mental health data showing boomers have significantly higher levels of antisocial traits and behaviors ― including lack of empathy, disregard for others, egotism and impulsivity ― than other generations.

As a result, boomers have used their substantial voting power to create a society and government that don’t work very well. Or, as Gibney puts it, boomers’ “private behaviors congealed into a debased neoliberalism.”

The author regarding the impact of boomers' dogged self-interest:

There’s obviously been a substantial deceleration of economic growth. The Great Recession arguably began in 2001 and we’ve never entirely recovered ― so that’s 16 years of lost opportunity. 

The second big thing on the economic front is the intergenerational passing of burdens, and the most salient one is the debt. Gross debt to GDP 40 years ago was 34 percent, and today it’s around 105 percent. It’s projected by [the Congressional Budget Office] to exceed the World War II highs by the early 2030s. When boomers start taking control and influencing policies, the policies get worse on the debt, so that now we haven’t seen these levels of debt in more than 70 years.

There are consequences to these levels of debt. ... But that’s not really relevant for the boomers. This is not their problem and they have not been serious about it. The debt wasn’t discussed as a serious issue during the 2016 presidential election, but Social Security was ― because we know that this program is going to be partially insolvent by 2034. And this is the only thing that Trump and Clinton could agree on: Social Security ― untouchable. Medicare ― untouchable. These things are sacred. They couldn’t even agree where to stand on the stage together, and they agreed on Social Security.  

People who know me personally know I rarely pass up an opportunity to take potshots at baby boomers. It's not even the selfishness that gets on my nerves, because really everyone is selfish. It's the delusional self-aggrandizement. Boomers all think they're self-made success stories, just because they happen to have been born perfectly timed to profit from one of the biggest economic booms in known history. As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats, but a lot of boomers credit their success to being a particularly skilled captain. I think it's great (for me) when these people apply that hubris to their trades in the stock market, but it generally makes them boorish dinner companions.

Sociopath, though? No, I stick by my initial assessment of narcissists. I'd like to think that the average sociopath is much more self-aware than the average baby boomer.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Rationality of Tolerance

Even when I was little, I had a healthy skepticism for people's professed moral positions. Maybe I just didn't understand (and still don't) the nuances of morality well enough, but to me most people's moral codes seemed horribly inconsistent and regularly skewed to their own self-interest or to the care and benefit of those closest to them. Of course now we have social research cottage industry about the darkside or limitations of empathy. Also, it seems more obvious (at least to me) when there's been a regime change, and the same people who decried the dubious tactics of the previous ruling class adopt the same in order to augment and perpetuate their own power.

Religion, often the seedbed of social moral norms, often has some of the greatest hypocrisies, or at least religious people often act far from what they profess to be their moral obligation to others. I have most experience with Mormons and the LDS faith, so that is where most of my experience is with this as well, and it's such a stumbling block to the church's efforts and to members' experience with the church that they've been doing a social media campaign addressing differences and loving others unconditionally.


But the judgment and rejection that some experience in the LDS church, I believe, is just a reflection of broader societal problems -- writing entire groups of people off as being less worthy of care, being quick to disenfranchise others, judging people harshly based on one singled out aspect of their personality or one single event in their life, etc. None of it is really a rational way to behave, but I see otherwise perfectly rational people try to rationalize these feelings all the time, and even dig in when challenged about them. Mob mentality seems to reign much more powerfully now than I remember at any other point in my lifetime.

I know I've written about tolerance before, but I just see stuff like this and think that empathy seems so limited if it still allows this sort of behavior to happen (and often encourages or is the source of this sort of in/out group thinking). Whereas, think about how much better the world would actually be if people were able to withhold judgment and instead seek to understand and appreciate each others' differences or even just leave each other mostly alone, but try to allow a place for everyone to develop and express their unique talents somewhere in someway in this world. Just because that was not how we were evolved to think, in our tribe-first primitive social brain mentality, doesn't mean that it's not the best way to think now. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Playing a trump card

A reader recently explained why he bothers staying within the lines:

I find it strange, as I do not hide I am a sociopath. People ask why I am the way I am, and I tell them. I get the response aren't you afraid people will try ruining you?

My response is always the same. I am high functioning because it supports the lifestyle I have. If someone takes that life away from me I don't have to care anymore. Do you want to be the person I focus on first?

It makes me laugh a little to read that because there was this guy in the first couple years who found out who I was. I had found out who he was first, back when I wasn't deluged with emails every day (sorry for the late/nonexistent replies everyone!!!) I just googled his email and got a few hits for hacker forums, etc. So I mentioned it to him in my reply, not to freak him out, but just because I found his situation to be interesting and wanted to understand it better. Whatever his diagnosis was (I think he finally settled on schizoid), there was a bit of paranoia in there, and he made it his life's mission for the next 9 months to figure out who I was -- tit for tat. He was successful, not because of anything I did but because of a little slip-up that someone that I knew did in a comment on the blog. After that, he was about two steps away from blackmailing/extorting me. One of the smaller reasons for doing the book and trying to stay in a "glass closet", in which a lot more people would know my identity, was getting out from under this guy's thumb. And sure enough, this was his response after the book came out:

I see you have been outed. It was difficult at times, but I kept your identity a secret for a very long time. Please, return the favor by deleting all emails to/from me, if you would be so kind. If and when your new-found popularity causes problems for you, I would prefer to have as little involvement as possible.

I replied "I have no idea what you're afraid of. ;)" That's the problem with secrets and shaming as leverage -- people only take the hit once, and if they manage to make a comeback, you're in a very vulnerable position. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Legitimate form of life

I tweeted this article about how Oliver Sacks conceives as difference not as a disability, but as a different set of abilities, but I wanted to share some more thoughts on it.

Maria Popova writes:

A voracious lifelong reader, Dr. Sacks had grown enchanted by the H.G. Wells short story “The Country of the Blind,” set in an isolated society where blindness prevailed for three centuries and where a lost Western traveller finds himself the aberrant one, afflicted with sight. Drawing on the Wells story, his own childhood experience of visual migraines that temporarily blunted his color perception, and his neurological work with a painter who had suddenly become colorblind, Dr. Sacks bridged two of his great literary and intellectual heroes — Wells and Darwin — and wondered whether there might exist, not in fiction but in geography, a real isolated culture where total colorblindness — or achromatopsia — had become a basic condition among the population.

Because such mutations are most easily contained in cultures isolated by sea, he reasoned that if such a society existed, it would have to be on an island. After tracking down the appropriate colleague to ask, he was surprised and thrilled to learn that one such island did indeed exist — Pingelap in the Caroline archipelago of Micronesia, where total colorblindness had been coloring the genetic pool for two centuries.
***
Like all genetic deviations from the mean, colorblindness on Pingelap had emerged due to a formidable brush with randomness. In 1775, a typhoon decimated 90% of the people living on the island. Most of the remaining survivors eventually succumbed to a slow death of starvation, so that of the one thousand islanders only twenty remained. Several centuries earlier, the original settlers had brought to Pingelap the recessive gene for colorblindness, but because the population had been large enough, the odds of two carriers marrying and the gene manifesting in their children had been fairly low. Now, with a tiny but fertile group left with no recourse but inbreeding to repopulate the island, the recessive gene suddenly flourished into growing domination and total colorblindness was soon a common condition.



Oliver Sacks writes:

Colorblindness had existed on both Fuur and Pingelap for a century or more, and though both islands had been the subject of extensive genetic studies, there had been no human (so to speak, Wellsian) explorations of them, of what it might be like to be an achromatope in an achromatopic community — to be not only totally colorblind oneself, but to have, perhaps, colorblind parents and grandparents, neighbors and teachers, to be part of a culture where the entire concept of color might be missing, but where, instead, other forms of perception, of attention, might be amplified in compensation. I had a vision, only half fantastic, of an entire achromatopic culture with its own singular tastes, arts, cooking, and clothing — a culture where the sensorium, the imagination, took quite different forms from our own, and where “color” was so totally devoid of referents or meaning that there were no color names, no color metaphors, no language to express it; but (perhaps) a heightened language for the subtlest variations of texture and tone, all that the rest of us dismiss as “grey.”

Sacks brings a colleague, Knut Nordby, who happens to also be colorblind, and experiences the island very differently than Sacks:

For us, as color-normals, it was at first just a confusion of greens, whereas to Knut it was a polyphony of brightnesses, tonalities, shapes, and textures, easily identified and distinguished from each other.

The world wasn't just tailored made for the colorblind, the colorblind people also seemed to have a unique advantage over their counterparts:

The achromatopic children seemed to have developed very acute auditory and factual memories… [They] were oddly knowledgeable too about the colors of people’s clothing, and various objects around them — and often seemed to know what colors “went” with what… We could already observe in these achromatopic children in Mand how a sort of theoretical knowledge and know-how, a compensatory hypertrophy of curiosity and memory, were rapidly developing in reaction to their perceptual problems. They were learning to compensate cognitively for what they could not directly perceive or comprehend.

The best part of the video is at 2:55 where he tells the story of them asking how the colorblind could even tell when a banana was ripe, since they couldn't distinguish between green and yellow. They brought a green banana, and they sort of contemptuously thought -- this illustrates our point, they can't tell this banana is green. But the banana turned out to be ripe. They explained -- you're narrow minded, you would have said this banana wasn't ripe because you would only be focused on color, but they were focused on everything else about the banana -- texture, smell, etc. Similarly, a lot of people who rely on empathy have a hard time understanding how those without it could make the same sorts of judgments or choices for which the empaths rely on it so heavily. Not only can we make the same judgments and choices, we sometimes can get there more accurately without the empathy, because the emotions are not clouding our moral judgment.

The video continues, we do stigmatize people because people have characteristics that put them in conflict with others, but once the population has a large percentage of that type of person, they just seem normal. I think of the debate I got in with someone about which is more dangerous -- maleness, or sociopathy. In my mind there's an easy argument to make for maleness. If you took a female empath and made her a sociopath, she would be much less statistically likely to be a violent criminal than if you made her into a man. That's just the statistical difference between males and females in terms of propensity towards violence. But of course no one seriously advocates for the elimination of men from the human race. Since they are so prevalent, we think of their violent tendencies as being rather normal.

Sacks puts it this way:

There is a sort of critical level, so that if a tenth or a quarter of the population have some condition, it has to be accepted as a legitimate form of life and won’t be marginalized and, sometimes, won’t even be noticed.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Virtues of Cold Blood

Sam Harris interviews famous anti-empathy researcher and author of the book "Against Empathy" Paul Bloom in his podcast. They start with the basic premise of Bloom's book, that most people see the benefits of empathy as being too obvious to even warrant any sort of justification, although the perceived value of empathy is highly suspect, and get into several other related areas.


The first hour or so goes into the limitations of empathy and our understanding of empathy. Bloom says that he is very careful to refer to what is essentially affective empathy, that is feeling the way someone else feels. He is also careful to distinguish between this and a general theory of mind (or the ability to imagine the feelings of others and why they would feel that way) and other sort of warm and fuzzy concepts like compassion, selflessness, social adroitness, sensitivity to the needs of others, etc. It turns out that when you isolate empathy as a concept and a personal characteristic, it actually doesn't do much at all. In fact, Bloom mentions at the end of the podcast that there have been meta analyses of studies done in which there is no apparent correlation between someone's degree of empathy and how nice or good of a person they are. In fact, they specifically mention someone's capacity for empathy and research done regarding the validity of the PCL-R which indicates that empathy does not really predict any sort of behavior, either good or bad behavior. Instead, other traits like past behavior and low or high impulse control do.

What empathy does accomplish is to make people susceptible to certain cognitive biases that lead them astray in their moral reasoning. This is discussed in probably the most relevant (and best) part of the discussion in the last 27 minutes or so, where Bloom addresses the question that many have raised to him -- ok, maybe empathy isn't the panacea that some claim it to be, but there's nothing wrong with it, is there? He mentions a few ways in which it can be very harmful. For instance, he argues that empathy is the reason why people will get so riled up over certain atrocities to the point where they want to commit other atrocities, e.g. a costly and violent war. Empathy is also the thing that will make those same people argue against the war that they voted as they hear stories of the collateral damage the war is causing. So essentially, high empathy people are just easily pushed from one extreme to the other with carefully selected personal stories that are designed to tug at heartstrings.

Empathy can also be highly irrational. For instance, he argues that in certain countries like India, the child beggars are almost all associated with huge criminal enterprises that exploit and even sometimes intentionally maim the children for financial gain. When people give money to these children, they're facilitating these efforts. Bloom tells the story of relating this to someone on a radio show, to which the woman responded essentially "but I like giving to children -- it makes me feel good. I feel connected to them". His rejoinder -- it depends on what you want, if you want these children's lives to be better, then don't give to them.

The first and last parts of the podcast are good. In the middle, they go off on this really random tangent in which Bloom seems to be contradicting his own argument. Specifically, Bloom argues that he wouldn't want to feel an expansive universal love, the type to which many buddhist meditation practitioners (such as Sam Harris) seek to achieve. Bloom explains that although love may not have limits, everyone has limited time and resources to spend, and if Bloom loved everyone, maybe he wouldn't spend as much time and effort on his own family. The argument is so odd because he is essentially arguing that the feelings of preferential love are necessary for him to behave in this way that he has prioritized for himself, i.e. preferential treatment of his family over starving orphans in Africa. But this is almost exactly the argument that empathy proponents make about empathy -- that it is a useful or necessary emotional tool in getting to a desired outcome of good behavior. Bloom's position is that empathy is not necessary or even that helpful because rational behavioral constructs and choices are much more efficient at achieving the desired outcome of moral behavior. But if one can just think their way to moral behavior, how couldn't one think their way to giving preferential treatment to their family, despite loving the whole of humanity equally? Oddly he doesn't seem to see any contradiction there. Am I just imagining one? Another odd thing, he basically kills his own argument by arguing that rational thinking (e.g., in this situation, utilitarianism) could easily come up with his desired outcome of preferential treatment to his family because it is more efficient for him to feed his own children than orphans in Africa. Still, he doesn't budge on his position. Does anyone have any insight into this? It truly makes me think less of him and his arguments and academia in general, so if someone has a better explanation for what he is trying to say, I'd love to hear it.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Vulnerability

I was reading this passage by David Whyte on vulnerability and wondered, do sociopaths experience vulnerability ever?

Vulnerability is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without, vulnerability is not a choice, vulnerability is the underlying, ever present and abiding undercurrent of our natural state. To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature, the attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to become something we are not and most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others. More seriously, in refusing our vulnerability we refuse the help needed at every turn of our existence and immobilize the essential, tidal and conversational foundations of our identity.

To have a temporary, isolated sense of power over all events and circumstances, is a lovely illusionary privilege and perhaps the prime and most beautifully constructed conceit of being human and especially of being youthfully human, but it is a privilege that must be surrendered with that same youth, with ill health, with accident, with the loss of loved ones who do not share our untouchable powers; powers eventually and most emphatically given up, as we approach our last breath.

The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability, how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance, our choice is to inhabit vulnerability as generous citizens of loss, robustly and fully, or conversely, as misers and complainers, reluctant and fearful, always at the gates of existence, but never bravely and completely attempting to enter, never wanting to risk ourselves, never walking fully through the door.

I think the answer must be that they do in fact experience vulnerability, in the sense that this in this life no one or nothing is invulnerable. I think to the extent that they feel it, it must be like so many of their feelings -- dull and contextless and over just as quickly as the experience that produced it is over. There are probably exceptions. I certainly have felt a little... traumatized? I guess is the word I am thinking. Gun shy? After some of the more serious setbacks I have experienced, I have experienced a more pronounced awareness of my vulnerability in the world -- a lack of ability to predict, to control, or to deal with what's happening to me. So yes, definitely a situational awareness style awareness of vulnerability in the sense that we're all mortals. And what about an emotional vulnerability?

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