Friday, December 13, 2019

Biases and natural experiments

I teach legal classes. I've done so in some capacity for almost a decade, so I've had a ton of teaching evaluations over the years. I just got done reading my teaching evaluations from this summer, mostly because I ask intuition when is a good time to read it, and if it isn't a good time I just wait until I get a confirmation that it is. So I had some time, caught up tonight on grading, and looked at them. Some were better than I thought they were going to be (my "boss" had emailed some concerns about them, which I responded to, but hadn't read the evaluations). I got like a 4.9/5 rating, which I don't know but guess is one of the highest out of all of the instructors at that particular institution. The other institution I knew at least one review was bad because when the boss emailed me, it said "the one is basically an outlier," so didn't worry. But there were actually two really negative reviews. One of them said "I don't know why she teaches here."

Of course I know that you can't please everyone and sometimes a teaching style that some people will like, others don't, etc. Some people want more assignments! They want me to be strict or to penalize them for things. I don't know, maybe they don't have a great internal locus of control and feel like they want me to police them, but I don't because it's their agency and they can use it to learn or not to learn.

But these two people for were really negative. One said "Frankly, I really don't see what she is doing teaching here." And: "Enough with the [review] games, stop being lazy and truly teach your students something." How often do these outliers happen? I find that there's either none, or about half the time there are 1-3 per class. And it's kind of an interesting social experiment, because they all take the same class. And the rest of them are saying things like the class is great and they love the review games, etc.

What is going on? Again it could be that some people don't like the format of the class or maybe they're jaded because I was giving them bad grades or because they learned things a different way and don't like my way (the practice of law is like music or art in that there are some basic rules of thumb to go by, but there's actually also a lot of discretion and "practice" in the discipline). Or maybe they don't like women or whatever. But you know what intuition thinks it is? Intuition thinks that some students google my name and see that I've written a book about being a diagnosed sociopath and they don't like that. And that knowledge colors their perspective of everything else they experience in the class. Suddenly I am lazy, not innovative for reviewing the material in a game show format.

Sometimes students will outright reference the book. Not surprisingly those evaluations almost always have a very poor view of the value of the class. My people know about the book and are still very supportive (one of the bosses did disability accommodation in a previous position and the other one is a baby boomer era gay woman, so I feel like they both get it better than your average person, and I'm lucky that way).

But even when evaluations don't explicitly mention the book, there can be weird comments like: "I felt that the instructor was ambivalent about our success and comprehension." That's a common one I see in conjunction with the comments about the book. I think they're trying to find a relevant reason to complain. It doesn't matter that I seem perfectly friendly and invested in their success, everything I do is seen through a lens of suspicion. Why did I choose to have them do group work? It must be because I'm lazy. That sort of thing. But interestingly students who don't seem to know about the book will mention that they loved the group work, etc.

You've probably heard the term "natural experiment". Like situations in life that just happen to have experimental qualities -- things like community programs that are decided randomly, e.g. based on a lottery system.

I guess my situation is not quite a natural experiment, because I'm sure it's not entirely random who decides to google me. I often think it's the people that especially like me and the class at first that are more prone to google me. But they all subsequently sit through the same class and come up with really different ideas about it. And with the people that know about the book, it seems to color their every subsequent interaction with me.

Have you ever taken those inherent biases tests? The ones that kind of play off your expectations, like the word yellow written in purple and you have to read yellow out loud? But for racism or for sexism? I feel like I am just as socialized as the next person to have inherent biases. Maybe it's seeing so many examples of bias or the way people's psychological make-up distorts their perceptions or seeing how normal deeply ingrained norms seem to the people I visit in my travels and how foreign they seem to me, but I'm basically a 3/10 for believing that I can rely on my own mental capacity to understand. I love to learn, but I just know that my understanding is so limited -- sometimes in really obvious ways like when I try to understand dark matter, and sometimes better like when I actually was able to understand how astronomers have predicted a ninth planet (not Pluto, which doesn't count, but a new planet we have never seen before based on the motion of other objects in our solar system). Also I think being in academia really jaded me in terms of relying on expert anything? Because I have met those people and they're just people. And like all other people they're like 7/10 driven by fear and self preservation. I see it in the sociopathy researchers who won't stick their neck out and go against the general tide and I see it in my students who take corporate jobs they hate and I see it in a million other ways in which people settle for something less than the truth that will set them free and their real life's purpose. 

Saturday, November 30, 2019


I had a dream five summers ago. It was during a little bit of a hiccup in my therapeutic progress. Due to external circumstances that were particularly psychologically trying, I was "going through it," as the kids say. I felt like I had lost the sense of self and inward sense of forward motion and direction from therapy. I was lost to myself again. But mixed in with these feelings was relief -- relief that I once again was detached from my own emotions. I went back to my old habits. I manifested weak sense of self, chameleon-esque behavior, but that particular version that I always liked to think was "being on my best behavior." In other words, I was doing stuff just to get along with society and being a little more careful than usual to follow rules or social norms in order to keep things smooth in my life. I was no longer choosing to do things primarily as a true expressions of my identity. I kind of went through periods like this cyclically. I would blow up my life, people would bail me out, and for a short period of time I would feel like I needed to clean up my act. But I didn't really know what that meant, so mostly I just tried to force myself to be what others wanted me to be. This particular time, because of what I perceived to be expectations of my religious faith (and my family, who shares that religious faith) that I live in a very particular way and out of my desire to not rock anybody's boat, I was ready to live a cloistered life of hermitage rather than keep trying to be more authentically myself in a flawed and imperfect way. This was probably the peak of me thinking that I should try in every way possible to fulfill the expected role of legit Mormon upstanding citizen, whatever the personal sacrifice.

That whole summer I was plagued by depression, anxiety, and bad dreams, which led to bad sleep. I started to see a neurobiofeedback guy, who my mother had heard about and wanted her two most troubled children at the time (me and my little brother) to see during the summer while my brother was home from college. I called him my brain doctor.

When the brain doctor first mapped my base level EEG brain activity, he was so tactful and gentle trying to break the news to me that I had abnormally low activity in the areas of the brain associated with empathy. And perhaps because that was such a blatant lack, he always wanted to spend out sessions working on empathy. I always wanted to work on my sleep because the bad sleep and bad dreams were making me a little miserable. As part of that concern for my sleep, he had me keep track of my dreams, which is I think why I remember this one so vividly. I wrote about it a little at the time.

A bad guy (or multiple?) are after me for most of the dream. There are these government agent looking men (dressed in black, sunglasses, assault rifles) that are my security detail. The main bad guy gets caught. For some reason, he has hands that are like just flat circles, like the shape of a thick hamburger patty or pancake -- like a skin and flesh mitt that has been placed over his hands or that his hands have been burned and deformed intentionally that way by whatever "good guys" got him (cops? government agents? a private group?). His face is also deformed and scarred. His lips have been fused together so he can't talk. I thought in the dream -- this is part of his punishment somehow for being bad, that they tried to neutralize his ability to do harm while still allowing him to exist. He doesn't get locked in prison, though. Instead, he gets locked in a walk in closet in a master bedroom suite of what sort of looks like my parents' house. I'm also staying in the same house in another bedroom off the same hallway. Time passes and the men and black and I go to check on the bad guy, but he's not in the closet. Then I notice bloody footprints on the carpet. I immediately know who caused the bloody footprints, another bad guy that has no skin, just exposed flesh. I understood no-skin guy to also be in that condition somehow as a result of the government men. Based on the footprints, no-skin walked in the sliding glass door, walked to the closet, let out pancake hands, and appeared to be still in the house somewhere. So basically the one bad guy let this other out and now they're both on the loose. That's when I woke up.

The dream was such a great example of my typical bad dreams at the time. That summer, being asleep felt like it was the only time in any given day that I didn't have control over my thoughts and feelings and I didn't like it. I didn't want to be asleep because it didn't feel safe. I was afraid of where my mind went.

When I met with brain doctor next, we talked about the dream. He seemed to already understand what this dream likely meant in the context of me, but was asking me questions to see if I would come to see what he was seeing: "Who are the bad guys, aren't they just you? . . . . Parts of yourself that you've disassociated from? . . .  And figuratively castrated or mutilated so they have no say, no ability to do anything? . . . Stripped of any identifying features or relationship to you? . . . They're not looking for you to hurt you, but to be reunited."

And in that moment I knew he was right. When I saw the dream in that light, it was not scary at all. I felt so sorry for the bad guys. So sorry for what I had tried to do to them, unknowingly. I realized very naturally and without having to be prodded that these figures were not to be feared and opposed, they were to be embraced.

I don't know that I've ever experienced such a profound paradigm shift, or at least not so quickly or as obviously as in that moment.

That was the day that I finally gave up on trying to distort myself to fit some concept of what someone else wanted me to be. Because I saw it for it was, mutilation.

And I stopped having bad dreams after that because I realized that the things I feared had nothing to do with uncontrollable external forces and everything to do with me being wrong about what was best for myself and unwittingly self inflicting pain and attempting to live in a world of delusion rather than just seeing and accepting things as they really are.

For a while I was very deliberate about making sure that all parts of me found easy/daily self expression, even if it was just playing cheesy wedding music gigs or watching terrible movies. I wanted to regularly acknowledge and find expression for every aspect of who I am, never silence or disempower.

I think this is something that every body deals with (but especially the personality disordered). I really wish I could find this reference, I want to say it was Ta-Nehesi Coates, but he was describing how he saw his African American daughter gradually grow from being almost completely unaware of her African American status in the eyes of society, to gradually recognizing it, to gradually distorting her true self in response to the expectations -- either in defiance or compliance. We all distort ourselves a little bit. But it is not a good thing. It is the worst thing we can do to distort our essential identity. We shouldn't be doing it for any reason, not for any purpose, and never to please any person. But since we all do it, the good news is that we can re-integrate those parts of us that get lost along the way. We can re-familiarize ourselves with the aspects of our own selves that we have lost touch with. As someone recently told me going through a similar healing process: "I feel more like I have a way of thinking that is like my old self and my new self."

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Sociopath Poetry? For the Nefarious

For the Nefarious

From a recessed hollow
Rumble, I unearth as a creature

Conceived to be relentless.
Depend on me to hunt you

Until you find yourself
Counting all the uncorked

Nightmares you digested.
I will let you know the burning

Endorsed by the effort of
Matches. And you will claw

Yourself inward, toward a
Conference of heat as the steam

Within you surrenders, caves
You into a cardboard scar.

Even what will wreck you
Are your mother’s chapped lips.

Even to drip your confession
Of empty rooms. I know about

Your recipe of rain, your apiary
Ways. Trust me to be painful.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

A Week in Interior Alaska for $500

I had such a great, cheap trip to the Alaskan interior that I thought I would share some tips.

First of all, why so cheap? First, hotels in Alaska tend to be quite expensive for what they are. Second, I wanted to go on this polar bear tour that was almost $2000, just for one day. But on the other hand polar bears aren't going to be around forever maybe? Also I had learned some cheap travel tricks and wanted to challenge myself to use them. And I didn't want out time there to be limited by how much money we were spending on hotels.

I flew into Anchorage on a late Wednesday night and slept in the airport rather than leave or rent a car earlier. My new sociopath friend Arthur turned me on to this strategy -- save money by taking really early flights or really late flights and just sleep in the airport. There's even a website, The general rule is as much as possible be on the inside security side, because the sleeping and other opportunities usually exceed that of the public side of airports and with less harassment from cops, etc.

My goal was to not spend a single night in an actual lodging, and we actually did make it the whole week sleeping in the car, which was a lot of fun. Alaska is a great place to do what a lot of people call boondocking, or dry camping, or sleeping in cars. The only place that has any sort of limitations on it is in Anchorage, and there are plenty of places just outside Anchorage to stay. You can sleep at rest stops. You can sleep at pull outs. We slept at a Wal-Mart twice. I suggest picking a place that already has someone there for safety or if you need to jump the car or something in the morning. For showering, we showered at campsites at places that we were already going to, like Denali National Park, and we paid $15 each to go to the Chena Hot Springs Resort just outside of Fairbanks, which had showers. (At Denali the technical rule is showers are just for campers, but we had a reservation snafu with them and the showers were empty and $7 so I didn’t have qualms about it.)  I guess you can also often find showers at laundromats. Dry cabins or dry camping is an Alaskan phenomenon and it is well suited for it.

That morning I woke up, brushed my teeth, and picked up my rental car. I had booked a car originally for the week for something like $450, but I got free cancellation and just kept that browser tab open on my laptop to periodically check if prices went down. Every time they went down, I re-booked another car. I got supplier's choice because I figured I was probably going to book a small car anyway, so I had nowhere to go but up. Me and my traveling companion hit the jackpot when we got a minivan. We were really hoping for anything on the big side, SUV etc. But worst case scenario we had brought this off of Amazon:

The reviews suggest that it doesn't last long, and it started dying the last night of the trip. I never did get a chance to use it like it's mean, i.e. in the back seat of a car. But it was about the size of a twin bed plus 20%. Not a full size mattress, somewhere in between. You could probably sleep two people (and some reviewers suggested that they did), but they should be small-ish people who don't mind being all up on each other. In any case, we didn't end up using it this way, just as an inflatable mattress for sleeping in the back of the van.

We flew into Anchorage because it was cheaper than Fairbanks and gas is cheap in Alaska, plus we wanted a scenic drive. And we ended up going down to Kenai Fjords National Park on a very beautiful scenic drive on the Kenai Peninsula.

Being there at the very end of August was  little bit key because that's the beginning of Polar Bear Season, the end of National Park or boondocking season for Denali (unless you want cold and rainy), Grizzly Bears go into a nonstop eating pattern in preparation for hibernation, there were beautiful fall colors that were changing by the day, and there were Northern Lights.

I'd suggest doing the Tundra Wilderness tour in Denali and trying to sign up for a Ranger led hike (you can only sign up in person 1-2 days before the hike, so consider being there for 2.5 days to accommodate this schedule. Buy bear spray on your way up on a Fred Meyer. We also got sleeping bags for $10 on sale there after spending the first night shivering under the thin blankets we had packed and wearing nearly all of our clothes.

Chena Hot Springs just north of Fairbanks is a great place for seeing the Northern Lights. I would set an alarm for every hour and if you see anything, stay up because they can grow a lot brighter and disappear pretty fast. Fairbanks is supposed to be one of the best places in the world for Northern Lights do its latitude and number of clear, starry nights.

A good low key activity between Northern Lights viewing nights is Fairbanks' Pioneer Park and the salmon bake there:

Fairbanks Ice Museum is cheap and surprisingly fun to play with the ice sculptures.

If you can swing the Polar Bear tour, I really recommend it. It's really expensive, but they call up ahead of time to see if there is any bear activity, so you're almost guaranteed to see them. Also you get to fly over Northern Alaska and get up to the Arctic Ocean. If you want to do it on the cheap, the place they go is called Kaktovik and Ravn Air flies there, but they're notorious for leaving passengers stranded, so give yourself an extra day. I believe there is only one inn there, that is also the only public eatery, so pack snacks or plan on eating that the whole time. I think a local tour company is, and they can help you arrange stuff. The nice thing about the package tour I took is that everything ran seamlessly.

I would pass on the Dalton Road. Looked totally boring from the air.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Seeing wolves during Yellowstone Shoulder Season in Lamar Valley

In the third week of September, I was in Yellowstone and thought I would share some travel tips and thoughts.

Traveling to Yellowstone in late September is pretty far into shoulder season, but I had hoped the weather would hold up. The weather was good while we were there, but because it had snowed the weekend before we got there, many of the major campsites had been closed just the day before we arrived. I had been monitoring the supply of campsites online for several days prior to that, but hadn't checked the night before, so wasn't aware about the campsite closures until we arrived when we and dozens of others were all scrambling for the same few available sites. Campsites are pretty important in Yellowstone unless you want to stay in their lodges, which at least for our dates would have been several hundred dollars a night. So our first day in Yellowstone was us driving through the park with no phone reception and campsites not updating their availability on the few times we could log into the website. None of the camp hosts or rangers were helpful. No one seemed to know what was going on. We almost came up completely short when we got kicked out of a campsite that someone said they had reserved with a camp chair set up in the site, but another camper overheard our predicament and offered to share his campsite with him and his wife who were just planning on sleeping in their truck and had extra space. Thanks so much to the couple from Maine who so generously allowed us to share their site.

My first suggestion for Yellowstone then is that if you plan on getting campsites that are first come first serve, even during late shoulder season, book a reserved campsite for your first night and try to get to your campsite of choice definitely before 10:30 a.m. (and even sooner if you can swing it) to be sure you get a site. Because it takes at least an hour from anywhere outside in the park to get to any of these first come first serve campsites, everyone that's already in the park will have a competitive advantage. My second suggestion is that apparently some National Park Service campsites require a tent, so if you can make friends with an RV person and you have a tent, you could maybe arrange to share a space to your mutual benefit.

If you're interested in wildlife, I suggest asking rangers and even approachable tour guide operators or people who look like they've been here at least a few days early and often where the best places and times are to see wildlife. The last night we were camping there, a camp ranger told us that you can see wolves in Lamar Valley pretty predictably for the first few hours after sunrise (she said until about 9:00 a.m.) My understanding is that the wolf parents are coming back from an evening of hunting, reunite with the rest of the pack for some family fun, and then find some place to sleep. My ranger said that this is as much of a guarantee to see the wolves as you can ever make with wildlife. She said that if you don't see the wolves on the main road going through the valley, Highway 212, (if you're coming from most places in the park, you can make your destination Pebble Creek Campground and it will route you through Lamar Valley), you should drive up the little road associated with the Slough Campground. We had other places to be in the morning, so we never did go up to the valley in the morning to see the wolves, but I wanted to let other people know so they could plan better than we did.

Also in Lamar Valley are many herds of bison and people also report a lot of other wildlife sightings in this area. But get here early for wolves (or people suggest getting here in the late afternoon for other wildlife sightings).

Some thoughts on wolves, both here and in other national parks in the United States. If you haven't had a chance, maybe take a look at this video on how wolves can change the shape of a river.

I was in Alaska's Denali National Park this past August (beautiful, and I may do a quick follow up post with tips for traveling there) where the rangers dutifully told us that the National Park was established not for the highest mountain in North America (Denali aka Mt. McKinley) or for the Grizzly Bears or the moose or caribou or other myriad animals that we might be more familiar with, but rather to protect the Dall Sheep, which were being over-hunted in the early part of the last century. As such, the numbers of Dall Sheep were being carefully watched and in the early years of the park's history when there was a decline in the population, the common wisdom was that something needed to be done, and that something to be done was to start culling the wolf population -- the sheep's major predator. At the time the National Park Service thought of themselves as needing to be the caretaker for preserving nature. Since predators were considered destructive, no one really thought about preserving them. Instead, their elimination was favored. In fact, famously and as portrayed in the How Wolves Change Rivers video, they were eradicated completely from Yellowstone National Park for these and other reasons related to Yellowstone's rancher and farmer neighbors.

Young scientist Adolph Murie opposed any such wolf eradication measures in Denali. He did a decades long study of the Dall Sheep population and discovered that the wolves actually helped the sheep because the wolves would prey on the very young and the sick or injured, and as a result the strength of the herd as a whole was stronger and had access to greater resources per capita. This is pretty well-accepted science and even common knowledge, but at the time it was revolutionary and very counter-intuitive.

I hope that you have heard the Yellowstone wolves story before. If you haven't, the video is good on this point and I won't belabor it except to give you the TLDR: ecosystems are a lot more complicated and interdependent then we think and consequently to mess around with one part of it for the supposed benefit of another part of it is to play with fire. Despite this, while I was in Denali, a tour guide gave another example of people wanting to completely eradicate another animal -- mosquitos -- not realizing that they are major pollinators in the region for the flora as well as being a food source for larger animals.

The interrelatedness of everything is a great point and I think has a lot of really valid applications to the idea of a society with sociopaths versus without sociopaths. I think the benefits of sociopaths, like the mosquitoes role as pollinators, might be less obvious than some of the alleged harms, like the mosquitoes bites and disease carrying abilities. The outsized influence of the more obvious effects versus the ones that are less obvious to us may people to erroneously assume they'd obviously be better off without sociopaths and that there would be little harm to society from their removal.

This time listening to these stories at both parks, however, I was more struck with how absolutely certain people were about the wolf situation. Adolph Murie was ridiculed and maligned for much of his career. I learned in a fireside ranger talk that when wolves were re-introduced to Yellowstone in the 1970's, the U.S. government solicited public comments and got more participation in that debate than any other public comment program up to that point in U.S. history. My European friend who was with me was flabbergasted that American's seemed to care much more about this than any other political topic. To me it's just another illustration of the things we know and don't know, including there are : (1) things we think we know and do know, (2) things we think we know but don't know, (3) things we don't know and realize we don't know, and (4) things we don't know that we don't know.

I think our global society would vastly improve if everyone was just a little more open-minded and intellectually curious without constant appeals to authority or expertise to shutdown a conversation and stifle new ideas. And this applies as much to sociopaths who think and talk about sociopaths as it does normal people who think and talk about sociopaths. What we don't know vastly exceeds what we do know, and we would do well to show a little more intellectual honesty about that.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Killing Eve, Mad Chat, and The Hidden Brain

I've written about Killing Eve before. Here's a clip a reader sent in which she discusses the boredom and emptiness she feels.

Killing Eve was also featured in a recent episode of the podcast Mad Chat here. In it they interview Sarah Kay, who had done the sociopath themed episode of Sincerely, X. I think you can sign up for a free trial to listen to it here because it's behind a paywall.

The Killing Eve podcast references a lot of the Sincerely, X concepts, including the ups and downs of empathy and what it makes to be human. For instance, one fictional psychologist in Killing Eve has a quote about how most people when they think of sociopaths think: add violence, add coldheartedness. But what people should really be doing is subtracting everything that makes a person human. The podcast host and guest on Mad Chat do a good job pushing back on some of the portrayals of sociopathy or other mental illness in the show.

The Killing Eve podcast has a transcription.

The Hidden Brain is a sometime favorite of mine. Another sociopath friend of mine likes it because it explains some of the things about humans and how they're influenced, etc. that she's intuited but gives her the science. She liked a recent episode on empathy, but I didn't like the guest that they had on. Nor did I like the supposed example they used of the dude getting shot by paintballs. I just think it's a lot more complicated and whenever people try to simplify and give the same tired platitudes about the importance of empathy, I start feeling a little like I'm getting conned. The guest is a Stanford professor, and I guess I didn't empathize with him because I thought almost all of his takes were tired and even disproven by researchers like Paul Bloom, author of Against Empathy.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Tourniquetting identity leads to weak sense of self

From a reader:

I was reading your blog, specifically the post titled “Seeing things as they really are”.

On the topic of weak sense of self. I’m really curious as to how that affects people and sociopaths in general. (I would love to read a post specifically on that topic.) I was listening a song by Charles Manson called “My World” which actually mentioned his weak sense of self or lack of ego. (I’m not necessarily sure what the difference between a sense of self and an ego is) Charles Manson was considered either a psychopath or sociopath.(they never really specified, constantly using the terms interchangeably) If you don’t know about him, in a very small nutshell he was claimed to have grown a following, a cult. And then was claimed to use that cult to kill some famous people. He has also been in and out of  penitentiary's his whole life. He himself claiming that the penitentiary was his father. You should really check out his interviews, many are available on YouTube.  

On a separate matter, if you ever get the chance head down to Kentucky. Me and my friend would love to sit down and talk. I suspect myself to be sociopathic, no idea of if i am or not. I’m not going to get a diagnosis mainly because of the negative effects that can occur. But basically before preschool in daycare i made my best friend that we’ll call Sam. We both had a very  similar up bringing and have always stayed friends. About a year ago we both started researching about sociopaths, for some reason we were both naturally drawn to this. And when I say we both started researching this i mean that we were doing this separately from each other, not know that the other person even knew about the subject. And one day it popped up in a conversation some how and we both confessed. But what’s really amazing about that is that we both started researching around the same time and came to the conclusion around the same time. 

You mentioned that you’re trying to learn more about other sociopaths. I can’t say for sure that i am one, but you can make an assumption off the info that i give you. I’d like to know if i am one. Not because of the thought that “oh I’m a sociopath and I’m callous and blah blah so I’m better” but rather that I’m just very curious. Referring to a weak sense of self, i believe that i have one. People always tell me that you gotta find yourself, i guess mainly because I’m the age of 18. But i am confused by that statement because why do you need to find it in the first place? Aren’t you already yourself? And can’t you just be whatever you want? One thing I’ve said before is that “you can’t be something you’re not if you don’t know what you are.” 

Who am i as of now? I’m 18 and male, and i see the whole world as an opportunity to exploit. I feel that you can do anything that you can do. I’m a very kind and popular person. I have many friends that i got to for if i need something. I have both meaningful and meaningless bonds with my friends and family. I’m nice for one because it’s beneficial in the long run and two because it gives me a challenge for something to do when I’m bored. Which I am a very very bored person. I drive fast, take hard turns and used to drift (until i had to buy new tires ) if i could i would get a motorcycle. I play with fire a lot (or so my friends say) although it’s a lot less than i used to. But i do a lot of thrill seeking activities. I love art, dancing, and science/engineering. I draw abstract concepts of my mood and thoughts. I used to dance a lot being in on a competitive dance team that’s been to Vegas. And i build things all the time, my latest project being an electric bike so i don’t have to walk at college (I’m lazy, or as i see it being efficient). I feel as though i have multiple personalities or masks. Wearing different ones for different people, although I’m pretty sure most people do that. Here are two different examples of times where I’ve acted different. 

Ex.1 i got a call from a friend. Her voice was almost inaudible. I could tell that she was crying. So i asked “where are you?” I then drove to her car which was in a parking lot. This i found odd, but thinking to myself I knew that she was a sensitive and emotional person so i just assumed that it was just on a whim of some sort. So i hopped in her car, she had just got in an argument with her boyfriend.  She had her head on her steering wheel, her hands were clinching the wheel with intensity. She was crying very loudly tears were just pouring out her eyes. I calmed her down and reassured her. Being very attentive and holding the best facial expressions that i could( crying is always hard to deal with, since i never know how to actually act. I always wish that i could just give someone a pat on the back say “there there” and then say “get over it, you’re fine”) she was actually on the verge of suicide so i was being extra attentive marking up lies and connections, just about anything that would give her enough reasons to hold onto life. She hasn’t killed herself yet. 

Ex.2 it was New Years. I went to a friends party. It was a smaller group of 15 people. But one girl one having too much to drink, on purpose it seemed like to me, i think she needed an excuse to act reckless. But she was very insecure and very unstable. Constantly letting people know that she loved them and that the world loved them as well, some how i guess that helped her feel like she was loved. But she was getting too drunk and dropped a glass that shattered onto the floor. She attempted to go clean it up and almost fell into the glass. As a reference from your book it seemed to me as she was flirting with death. So they stopped her and cleaned up the glass. We all moved out of the basement and to the upstairs cause there were still shards laying around. She stayed down there desperately Singing and moaning for attention. Annoying everyone at the party. I walk to the basement door and from the top of the steps i yell “SHUT THE FUCK UP” she then was quiet, i walked into the room where everyone was and they all were at awe. They slowly began to laugh quietly, because they knew it’s what they wanted to do but wouldn’t. She latter came upstairs, projectile vomited, got on her knees(which were now in the vomit) and proceeded to scoop up her vomit with her hands. It was disgusting, embarrassing, and enthralling to watch. Then she took a shower, went into the kitchen and grabbed a knife and was about to kill herself. I sat on the couch and watched, somebody stopped her. This is by no means extreme in anyway, simply the fastest experience i could think of. 

For as long as i can remember I’ve always felt apart from the crowd. I’ve never been a part of something. I never belonged to a group of friends or my school or even to my best friend Sam. I believe that i will always feel alone and isolated. How i act is also heavily affected by my mood. I mainly have three moods. One is where I’m irritable, aggressive, impulsive, blunt, callous(more than normal). Two is where I’m very calm, quiet, reflective, rational and calculating. Three is my neutral where I’m in the middle of the two. I have a little bit of high energy great for interacting with crowds and talking to people. The perfect twist of impulsivity and calculating. But perfect mood for doing anything i need done. One thing i find odd is how being nervous affects me. It affects me physically with increased heart rate and maybe a little bit of jitteriness, but i don’t feel that it actually gets to me, my mind is perfectly calm. A difference between me and you is that i don’t have a grandiose view of myself. However that seems to slowly be changing as I’ve become aware of how stupid other people are. It took me a lot longer than you to realize this. I figured this out around the age of 12 or something like that. I believe that’s because my mother tried to me make believe that i was worse than everyone else so i always felt stupider and didn’t judge other people. But i grew out of that perspective and am confident and smarter than most ect. 

My child hood.
In my child hood i was high in Conscientiousness. I remember being just tall enough to reach a door knob as i thought to myself “i wonder what happens to you when you die, does anything happen or are you just dust?” I always would enjoy them moment and try to be one with my surroundings. Or i would sit down and just think, walking around the hallways of my mind for what felt like hours. My cousin that we’ll call Nate introduced me to fire and other things. I remember one memory where me my sister Sabrina and my cousin Nate were all sitting around this green slide in the heat of the summer. The sun was very intense. We grabbed worms one at a time and put them at the top of the slide to watch them wiggle their way down as they turned into crisp. Me and my cousin did things like this a lot. Snails and salt, watching in awe as the snail would bubble and fizz. Me and Sam would go out at night killing fireflies with our hands, tennis rackets, swords, and a can of hair spray with a lighter. We also found a snake in his yard one time, we both grabbed sticks and started beating it to death. It was a fun game dodge the snakes bites, after it couldn’t move we then cut off its head and put it in a bowl of salt in his shed so that we could keep the skull. There were a bunch of other things too. One time me and my Sabrina (as toddlers) walked down the neighborhood to the river, grabbed some rocks and started throwing them at ducks. The police cars siren turned off and told us to stop. I’ve always wondered how different i would’ve been i had started the habit of abusing smaller animals(this event with the ducks happened years before the event with snakes and Sam), because up to then it was just bugs. I was emotionally and mentally abused throughout elementary school and possibly before that (can’t remember that far, all those years just blur together to me) i have a good family, i recognize that I’m very fortunate and that what i experienced is nothing compared to others. My mother was mainly the antagonizer. She’s bipolar and possibly has borderline personality disorder. She loved me when it was convenient, when she needed me to do something, and constantly lied to me. One moment i was the best child in the world and then next i was the worst. And I’m not exaggerating  that at all.  She was very emotional, she taught me that emotions were unreliable and so was love. I was only with my father when i was helping with one of his projects. When there was a complication or obstacle he would always get furious and yell and cuss. It was always so annoying and made me mad. I didn’t want to be like that so i taught myself how to hide my anger. I was never physically abused. However my mother would always yell at me calling me things like worthless and good for nothing. And her face was red and she was very loud stomping through the house making noises by slamming doors, drawers,pans, pots, everything. She always tried to make me feel bad about myself.  there was a time when i cried myself to sleep every night in a row for a month. One time i watched a movie where the person said “being yourself is enough” so i asked my mom one day. Isn’t being myself enough? She glared at me with anger and said no. The sadness she made me feel became anger and somewhere along the line i created a dissociation from my self. Life didn’t feel real and i was just like another one of my games.(life still doesn’t feel real) but as i grew up i realized that my mother only acted that way because she was just very unintelligent, insecure, and living a life she didn’t want. I used to hate her but after realizing that i forgave her. This doesn’t mean that she doesn’t  aggravate me, she does. But instead i feel indifferent towards her. I was unpopular in elementary school, mainly because i didn’t fit in or understand people. So when i went to middle school i mimicked the popular people and added bits and pieces to my arsenal of personas. Then i became popular and people loved me. I watched a plethora of psychology vids trying to understand people as much as i could. That’s mainly why i got into psychology and am now planning to major in it. 

Thank you so much if you read all that. I’d love to hear back from you. 

My response: 

I’ll try to write about sense of self again sometime, but I think you already understand how and why it happens to us — we take enough psychological hits to our identity that we just dissociate ourselves from it, like a tourniquet cutting off blood flow to a damaged limb. I think (through usually professional help) we can restore some function to that damaged limb, but it isn't super easy, it's not intuitive, it's hard for us to even have a vision of what it might look like to do something like that, and it's a bit like being lost in the woods trying to find our childhood home that we only remember faintly. And certain things will never be back the way they could have been. I still don't experience affective empathy and probably never will, despite finally graduating from therapy. 

Friday, July 12, 2019

Making Better Podcast

You may have seen my re-tweet this on Twitter, but I realize not everyone is on Twitter.

This is a podcast I recently did with Making Better.

They have an interesting philosophy. I was talking to Francis, one of the hosts, about how he is interested in the concept of a human Utopia and what is keeping us as a race from getting there. He wants to explore some of the things that we could be doing better now, as well as things that might be keeping us back or that we would need to work on before we reach a Utopic existence. I liked this idea of reverse engineering Utopia and having a vision of what we want to achieve rather then just henpecking each other about perceived faults. With no offense intended, there are certain "weaknesses" I often see in neurotypical people that I think keep them from being happier in their lives and more pro-social themselves. That was, at least in part, what we talked about.

Here's a link to the transcript.

Thanks to Making Better for having me on.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Developmental stages of sociopathy

I recently got an email from someone whose loved one told them they might be a sociopath, but they don't want to be a sociopath. They find at least certain aspects of sociopathy to be repugnant, although they do recognize that they themselves share in those traits. It's maybe a little like closeted gay homophobia? Anyway, I thought I'd shared how I replied (please forgive any typos):

Hello friend. I have a personal rule that I don't tell people anything about themselves that they don't already know themselves. But I also feel like you might benefit from some information, and I'll leave it to you to determine whether or not it applies to you. I don't know if you looked at the blog at all, but I've been traveling around the world meeting other sociopaths and writing a second book, working title "A Sociopath's Search for Meaning." Maybe that title is something you relate to. What I've sort of noticed about sociopaths is that they tend to go through certain phases, like the phases of grief. Some take longer in certain phases than others, and I think maybe some skip steps or go out of order, but there's enough of a pattern there for me to describe it. There's the mostly unself aware part of childhood, even though child sociopaths seem to be aware they're different they don't really have a sense of just how different yet. I'll call this Nascent Sociopath. Somewhere in the teens to early twenties they seem to have a better grasp on the basics of their personality. I'll call this simply Newly Self Aware. Next phase is what another sociopath friend called the "Playground Stage". It's where all the world is a playground for the sociopath, who seems to have a charmed life and never really seems to feel or care much by way of consequences of her actions. This is peak sociopath and is characterized by a playful carefree attitude about the world and maximum self absorption. 

Somewhere after this it's common for people to have a second point of self-awareness, maybe I'll call this one a Come to Jesus Stage. It's a phase that for some reason makes me think of the word "reckoning".  I have seen this happen as early as early twenties (the harder people play in the playground stage, the faster I think it comes). It's in this Come to Jesus Stage that the sociopaths starts caring about things like the consequences of her actions and the emptiness she feels. I've heard various sociopaths describe it like this -- you've won all the battles you set out to fight, gotten everything you wanted or at least known you could, and although the pursuit was very captivating in the moment, ultimately it seems devoid of meaning. I guess the Come to Jesus stage is the first stage in which any of the sociopathic traits are seen as being at all negative. I think this is the first stage where there is a high likelihood that someone might get stuck and just stay in this phase for decades. I think they find their lives increasingly meaningless and burdensome and they start experiencing anxiety about the build up of social/political/financial costs of their antics. I've seen some of these people develop neuroses or addictions or other compulsive behavior with negative effects. These people are white knuckling it through life, always feeling like they're trying to wrangle themselves and rein in their darker impulses. The white knucklers are the people who don't like aspects of who they are, maybe even are repulsed by them, and actively reject them. But that sort of internal antagonism is very harmful to one's psyche, so maybe they'll need to add even more compulsive behavior or addictions for self-soothing. This stage is very Jungian shadow. 

If they can get unstuck, I think they go into what I'll call "I'm ok, you're ok." It's in this stage that they really come to terms with the parts of their personality that they can change and want to change, the parts they want to change but can't, and the parts they choose to wholeheartedly embrace. There's no white knuckling. These people have more or less healed some of the original dissociation characteristic of their disorder. In that sociopathy is essentially just having a very weak sense of self, or little to know sense of identification with anything (that's why they demonstrate fluid sense of gender, sexuality, etc.), sociopaths who learn to strengthen their sense of self can get "better" in a lot of ways. Because even though sociopaths have a weak sense of self, there is a self there for them to discover. And as they discover more truths about themselves (not the way they were socialized, but deeper personal attributed), they find more sense of meaning and purpose in their life, they don't white knuckle anything or try to do things solely by strength of will. If they can't bring themselves to care about something, then they just unabashedly don't. It is true that I've seen sociopaths embrace more of their darkside in this stage, like a sort of internal if you can't beat 'em join 'em. But I think I see just as often and even more commonly that sociopaths embrace much more the light part of themselves that they (usually due to trauma as very small children, like toddler age-ish) had dissociated from because that part of themselves was to vulnerable and the traumatic things hurt so much that they detached from those things. But they all seem to stop manipulating or living a double life or trying to manhandle their own impulses, because that's where the stress and anxiety and sense of meaningless come from. As one sociopath I met told me regarding some radical life changes she had undergone to live closer to her personal truth "life is too short." And what's the point of pretending throughout your entire life? 

I don't think they'll become normal people. There are just to many neural pathways that didn't get formed for them to do certain things automatically or well, e.g. empathy. They're like native English speakers learning French in adulthood. They'll likely never pass as normal. In fact, letting your freak flag fly at least in part is common to all people I've met who are in this stage. And I think people are surprised to reconnect with some of the lighter and more vulnerable aspects of their personality. 

Do they come out better people? I think they definitely come out happier and more satisfied with life. They take more pleasure in simple things like self expression and in little forms of self exploration. They tend to be curious and friendly and very open minded and tolerant of themselves and others. They're not necessarily amoral, but I think they just understand that the morality is much more complicated than they were led to believe. 

I personally try to help anyone who is into it to get to I'm Ok You're Ok stage. But I also 100% support people in all the other stages. I figure they'll get "Ok" eventually. Or maybe they'll learn even more than I have or the people I have met have. That would be very interesting to hear.   

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Alaska last weekend in August

I'm going to be in Alaska for the last weekend in August if anyone wants to meet up. I think Fairbanks, maybe Anchorage. I think that's Labor Day Weekend, for Americans. 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Understanding beyond our cognitive conception or physical senses

People have asked me many times how I can be at all religious minded in an authentic way. I'm not going to necessarily defend my spiritual beliefs or thoughts or suggest that they are shared by those who attend the same church as I do, but I do want to defend this idea that it is hubris to believe that everything that is reality can be perceived and understood by us via reason and our five senses. Even if we were to expand to something beyond conscious cognition, e.g. the unconscious which is often the explanation for phenomena like "intuition," I still don't think it's enough. There are some obvious examples of failures of our perception to reflect large portions of reality, e.g. infrared and ultraviolet. But the longer I live the more I realize how many things are at play all of the time in even the simplest thing or interaction. Being spiritually minded helps me to at least keep an open mind. Even if there isn't a "religious" explanation or a "spiritual" reason behind things, as those words are commonly used and conceived of, to understand that in a world in which normal matter (as opposed to say, dark matter/dark energy) consists of only about 4% of the known universe, I think it's a little self-centered to think that we are capable of perceiving and understanding reality based on perception and cognition alone.

Someone either sent this to me or left it in a comment, which I think explains this well:

"People often think of koans as riddles or problems that need to be solved, but this is not the case at all. With every koan the point is not to arrive at an answer through our ordinary conceptualizing minds. Rather, the point is to see for ourselves that our concepts can never provide us with a satisfactory answer.

This is not to say that satisfaction cannot be found.

It can, but not through any concept or explanation."

I think it's an especially interesting application to sociopaths. Because I think sociopaths often want to cut to the chase. I certainly do. In fact, my therapist had to engage in large amounts of obfuscation to keep me from figuring out what he was getting at, cut to the chase, and give him the answer he was looking for. Because he wanted me to learn for myself and go through the journey, not just know the "right" answer to the question he was asking. But I jumped to the "right" answer part of life almost compulsively, commonly missing the lessons that others had learned by going through the whole process.

"If you don't understand the heart of a koan, it will be very clear the moment you're asked a follow up question."

Isn't this so true of sociopaths? They know the "right" answers to certain questions, but when you follow up with them, you often can tell very quickly that they don't understand the answer at all, or maybe even the original question.

"They simply point out that reality is not to be captured in a thought or a phrase or an explanation." Our rational mind can only come up with models for reality, but reality is not a model. The map is not the territory. And for whatever reason, I think having a mind open to "spirituality" is a better way for me to look for aspects of reality that were not otherwise being mapped by my cognitive-only models.

"Our conceptualizing minds are highly dualistic. . . . To such a mind, everything is either good or bad, right or wrong, friend or foe, this or that, or else off our radar completely."

Monday, June 17, 2019

Greece? Texas, and West Coast up through Canada

Hello friends. One of you mentioned that I should come to Greece? Email me your contact info and we can try to work something out.

Other upcoming trips are Texas sometime and a roadtrip in September up the west coast of the United States into Canada/Vancouver/Calgary and then back down a couple states in, including Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Nevada.

If you have other requests, feel free to email me those as well. I'm submitting the book proposal to publishers soon and the timeline for writing it and still seeing people is probably about a year, so better to contact me earlier than later about it so I can try to work you in.


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Chicago Second Week of June?

I’m going to be in Chicago the second week of June, if anyone wants to meet up.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Buried the Musical (about sociopaths)

A reader wrote a musical about two sociopaths who meet up and recognize each other and they’re trying to get the play to off broadway. They need your help to get them there:

Flagstaff Arizona in June?

I’m going to be in and around Flagstaff the first week and second weekend of June if anyone wants to meet up?

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Happy Mother's Day

My mother has a bunch of kids, and I think that's a nice thing. I certainly liked having a bunch of siblings, because there were just better odds that you would like some of them. Or maybe more accurately, what ended up happening is that I liked certain of them for certain reasons and others of them for other reasons. They each have their strengths and it's great to have so many people at the sibling level who you can reach out to for whatever you might encounter.

Today I was going through and texting my friends who are mothers in whatever ways and wishing them a happy mother's day. I also chose photos I had in my phone to include with the well wishes. In my faith tradition, every woman is a mother, either currently or latent, so every woman gets celebrated on mother's day. And of course many women fill a mother-type role in our lives.

Today I wondered what sort of daughter-like role I fill in my mother's life or the lives of other people who have had a mothering type relationship. I think on the one hand that I am a little bit of an unusual specimen. I don't care in the same ways that people classically care and I don't love in the ways that people classically love. But in choosing photos to send to my loved ones, I mostly tried to let them know that I understood their situation and their loves. For my friends who are animal lovers (maybe even as much lovers of their animals as their own children), I sent photos of them and their animals. I knew that most other people would be thinking of their mother role as humans, so I wanted to let them know that I understood that their mother role to their animals was just as important to them.

For my own mother, I sent her a photo that I had of her mother, taken during high school. Her mother is deceased and my mother had a difficult relationship with her. But the photo I sent shows my grandmother perhaps at the height of her beauty and potential. I could have chosen hundreds of other photos to send: photos of my mother with her and her grandchildren, with her and her children, or any number of other combinations. But I thought this photo of her mother was best because everyone (including my mother) would be thinking about her today in reference to her roles as mother and grandmother. I chose to reflect an aspect of her motherhood that was likely to be a little overlooked today especially now that her mother has been dead for quite some time and is mostly off everyone's radar -- my mother's role as a daughter and the love she maintained for her mother despite their many differences.

This is probably one of the most boring posts I have posted, but I often do think about how sociopaths are different in small but meaningful ways, one of which is their ability to see quite clearly things that are often overlooked in the people they encounter. It's almost like sociopaths are looking at an entirely different spectrum, like wearing infrared goggles. I was just thinking about what this might be like to experience on the flip side. Because in some ways I am one of the least sensitive of my mother's children, but I think in other ways I can be shockingly sensitive and insightful, seeing layers that her other children do not see. 

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Seeing things as they really are

I've recently been having to sort of explain sociopaths to normal people a little more frequently. It's funny because normal people are really quick to kind of want to know not just about sociopaths objectively, but also want to know how they should feel about sociopaths. Like is it woke to be pro-sociopath? Remove the stigma? Or is there danger? I feel like everyone wants to know what should be the overall take from sociopaths. And it keeps catching me off guard. Because especially in the past couple years all I've been doing is trying to meet and understand sociopaths, the same way I might watch and try to understand leopards as an animal researcher or something. I don't form judgments. I notice how they operate and their strengths and weaknesses, but I don't really think "what's the general take away about leopards?" Nor do I feel like I have to sort of justify their existence or have any sort of reaction (much less emotional) about the fact of their existence. They just are a fact, is sort of how I want to respond.

And I think even if you eventually wanted to come up with some normative suggestion or application of what you learn about sociopaths, it's probably good to spend at least some time just observing objectively, to really understand before you jump to any conclusions.

I felt like this reader did a good job of this:

This feels risky because I don't feel I can trust a sociopath now that I have met one.

I don't know your name, I don't suppose it really matters.

I just came out of a 15 month relationship with a sociopath. I had no idea that was what he was until after the relationship ended and I only really feel confirmed in my non-clinical diagnosis after reading your book.

I had to do digging after he initially, flippantly broke up with me over the phone after being so loving and kind for 15 months, and then called back a few days later and swore he wasn't seeing anyone else and wanted to re-visit the situation when he returned to town, and THEN proceeded to block my calls and texts. He had given me details of his mom's illness. And he had started a private Facebook account.

Through his mom's Facebook and one photo she had and tagged him in I found his "newish" relationship (started before he broke up with me) and the fact that his mom wasn't. Through his sister's Facebook I found the woman who was sick. I reached out to both. The new relationship was very new but I was quick to realize that every trip away during the time I was with him involved another relationship, some very short, some probably in search of a situation in Texas that would accommodate his need for a comfy home and a willing, gullible partner. And of course, he was seeing the woman who was sick the whole time (the illness was new though).

The woman who is sick had been in his life for the past 7 years and had known of his incessant lies, his incredible charisma, and his proclivity for multiple relationships during that whole time. She still was willing to shut her eyes to what was going on though and had not known about me. His mother confirmed to me herself that no, she was never ill.

The woman in another state had also been told his mother was sick. Whatever lies he told her about myself and the woman who really has is sickand the fact that his mom isn't sick, she is willing to believe him.

Looking back, of course, I can see clearly that when he left constantly to walk the dog, run to the bathroom, smoke, it was all a cover to make calls to other women. He called me almost every day during that 15 months so that is how he handled them as well. I can also tick of 100's of lies. The woman who is sick and I have met and compared notes - she can tick off 1,000's. It seems obvious to me in retrospect, but I had no context for the reality of a sociopath in my life, before this.

In reading your book I have come to realize that, though my reality is totally altered, I do not have the right to wish this person harm (even though I did at first). He is delusional. He writes the way you sometimes write - in contradictions. With you I mostly see it when you declare you have no fear of consequences, yet you lie. You lie to keep your cover. What do you need a cover for unless you fear consequences? I know that since that writing things have come out and there have been consequences and you seem to have survived them.

What hurt me the most was the lies. I wanted to stay friends with him. The lies made it impossible. And I have no idea, and never will, if he would even enjoy these multitude of relationships without the lies. He felt SO REAL to me. The woman who is sick describes him the same way, and because she's known him longer and he has been more honest with her than with anyone else he is probably more real with her than anyone else.

But I don't think he could ever have a relationship with anyone without the thrill of the lie.
He never showed his anger to me. Looking back I can see the times when he was hiding it. He does go into rages with the woman I have talked to.
I feel sorry for him. One time I told him that and it made him angry (in the very subdued way he would get angry with me). But then I was only feeling sorry for him because I thought he seemed to shut down his emotions. Now I feel sorry for him because reading your book makes him seem like a very lost, lonely soul.

I know you say it doesn't bother you, so I guess it shouldn't bother me because I guess it doesn't bother him. I know you are much smarter than him and much more high-functioning. He never physically harmed me and never stole from me. In fact he probably
gave more materially than I ever gave him. I think he probably takes pride in that (though I returned everything that could be returned when he was out of town).  

It just occurs to me that the lies aren't just for other people, they are also for the sociopath. The sociopath seems to constantly be trying to define who they are with no clear internal signal, "no clear path" is something he would always say. So the lie is the only direction they have, which is no direction at all (often doubling back even)..... which for me is the same as constantly being lost, and never truly being real.

Thank you for your book. It helped me understand.

My response:

It’s interesting what you say about contradictions because I’ve started seeing that more as I’ve hung around sociopaths. They’re not aware of the contradictions. Or sometimes part of them is. Their perspective is like that of cubists. It’s distorted in its own way like maps of the world— their reality is distorted in a particular way that suits them best but it ends up making Antarctica look huge. It’s part of the personality disorder just like the weak sense of self, which you described as being the reason for the lies. 

Friday, April 26, 2019

Killing Eve and Bisexual Sociopaths

When the Confessions book came out, the publicist from the publisher asked me if there were any niche audiences that might be interested in the book. I told her that the gay/bisexual community might be interested, because they (especially at the time, in somewhat a dearth of gay themed books and other media) seemed to highlight anything with a touch of gay. I gave the publicist a list of such media outlets, but nothing seemed to come of them, which surprised me then, although it wouldn't surprise me now. The publicist basically shut down my inquiry, but reading between the lines I could see that they weren't interested in the sociopath angle.

Why the big reluctance to have homosexuality or bisexuality associated with sociopaths? I'm a little loose on the facts here so feel free to verify sources, but homosexuality was not only considered a mental health disorder until about the middle of the last century (unless the homosexual acts were done as part of an incarceration or military service, which was considered something that non-disordered people would get up to in those situations as well) -- it was also associated for a time with psychopathy. In my quick and dirty searches for this association, I found a reference in Hervey Cleckley's The Mask of Sanity wikipedia page: "He also notes he no longer considers that homosexuality should be classed as sexual psychopathy, on the grounds that many homosexuals seem to be able to live productive lives in society." But does say that sociopaths often show deviant behavior, and several of his case study subjects appear to be bisexual. (Click on the homosexuality link at the bottom of this article to read more).

Enter the BBC drama "Killing Eve," which features a bisexual sociopath that actually is so accurately portrayed that I'm 90% sure that the writers have done decent amounts of research, including reading the Confessions book? Here's why I think so, without too many spoilers. In Season 2, Episode 1 the sociopath is in the hospital with a serious condition. Her roommate says she's not looking too good and the sociopath starts responding she's fine and then passes out. This is almost identical to what happened to me on the 10th day of a ruptured appendix when nurses came back with my lab results, told me that my white blood cell count was through the roof and that I needed to immediately go to the hospital, asked me if I needed to sit down, I said I was fine then promptly passed out. When I came to everyone was freaking out and threatening to call an ambulance. My dad talked them down from it, saying that we were only blocks from the hospital and it would be quicker (and, I'm sure he also thought, infinitely cheaper without health insurance).

But how do people who identify as gay or bisexual love the fact that the character is both sociopathic and bisexual? (Which given the dozen plus sociopaths I've met in the past year or so is quite common in the sociopathic community, even if the reverse may not be true.) Not too well. A Buzz Feed writer complains (some spoiler-esque parts here): "Villanelle is bisexual, and for all the nuance we see around femininity and desire, Villanelle’s bisexuality is portrayed in a way that is both tired and damaging. Her need for sex with multiple genders is tied to her depraved and insatiable appetite, which she is only able to feed because of her total lack of a moral compass."

But I think the Buzz Feed writer actually gets it mostly wrong here. The sociopath character is not portrayed as being inherently depraved or having an insatiable appetite at all, I didn't think. In fact, if anything, she seems to have a classic sociopathic sort of indifference to sex. Even when she finally connects with the object of her obsession, there's no sex, there's just the visceral physical presence of the two. A lot of eye contact! And the Buzz Feed author goes on to describe not just this character but other classic sociopathic bisexual characters (e.g. Frank Underwood) with their voracious appetites that they can't control -- because a character eats ribs for breakfast? Come on. This is the trope that is tired, the sociopath whose appetites drive him or her to commit greater and greater atrocities. Sociopaths aren't engaged enough in the world for all of that. They're not driven by their appetites, so much as (aimlessly) seizing upon anything that intrigues them for longer than a moment, and as a remedy from the boredom that so often plagues them.

I get it that not all bisexuals are sociopaths, but I don't think these characters are chosen in these narratives because they're bisexual, but rather because they're sociopaths. And of course not all sociopaths are killers. But again, I guess if you need a killer for a narrative, a sociopath is a common choice for a reason -- because they're interesting and can be compelling without being offputting for the audience about that whole murderer thing. And if you're going to choose a sociopath character, accuracy demands that there's a good chance they're either bisexual or you'll see some other quirky features about the way they think about, desire, and engage in sex. Because sociopaths in real life don't have normal sex with all of the emotional underpinnings and awareness or acknowledgment of the intimacy of the act with another person. In my experience, they think of sex a lot like they think of exercising regularly or peeing or taking their boss up on that invitation for dinner with the family -- probably a good idea to do and maybe even in a certain way necessary and desirable. 

Friday, April 12, 2019

Transgressions vs. Sins and Differences in Motivations

This was also sent to me by a reader, and I found it to be a pretty interesting and valid distinction between the dark triads sociopathy, narcissism, and machiavellianism. I think that people can be surprised at why people do the things that they do. For instance, once sociopath recently told me about how when she was 21 years old, she got a job at a bar so she could get better tips than at her previous restaurant job. She only lasted two weekends because she was giving away free drinks (she says she grossly underestimated their ability to track alcohol sales) and stealing tips from other servers. I immediately related to this a sort of naïvety about the world, a childlike innocence.

I told this story to a lawyer friend of mine and immediately likened it to the way I was with my first law job, in which I exploited some of the weaknesses of that system in similar sorts of ways and ways that were equally unappreciated by my employers. My friend was scandalized by the free drinks and tip stealing, but responded to my story "who hasn't done that?" I thought this was an interesting response. Why? Is it just stealing from the server's? But a lot of servers split tips because of things like some people getting better areas of the restaurant, etc. In fact, this was exactly what was happening to the sociopath server. But my friend thought that my sketchiness was totally normal, and even that my employer probably had it coming or that was just part of the employment deal, whereas she was disturbed by the other story and thought there couldn't be any other explanation for the behavior other than maliciousness and greed.

I kept trying to give her different analogies to help her understand that it was really malicious, and wasn't even really this overwhelming sense of greed, so much as a childish way of exploiting things. I remember once being at Disneyland when I was aged 8 or 9. I was old enough to realize that lines were long and thought of the lines more like a multilane freeway than a static order of things, so I kept pushing forward in line until these people got very angry at me and said that no matter my physical position ahead of them, they were going to still ride the lines before me. Mine was a breach of a rule, yes, but I don't see it as a moral failing.

My theology has a word for the breach without moral failing, "transgression". You have transgressed a law, although you may not have necessarily sinned because you didn't have a sinful heart (so to speak) when you did the thing. Although cutting ahead of people in line did hurt others, and that was clear to me, I didn't understand it to be an unfair hurt. When I get off the plane and walk faster than others to the customs lines, that's also sort of like cutting in line, but we don't think of it that way. We don't have a sense of the line starting from the moment of the plane, so it's a fair exploitation of the system. It of course is hurting others, people for instance who have young children or a disability and cannot walk as fast and have to perhaps wait longer in line than I do. Or I may use scarce resources before others do. I'm going to camp at a location this summer that requires a permit. By me using the spot, someone else is not able to use that spot. That also is prioritizing myself at the expense of others.

I don't know. I have a strong sense of there being a distinction in the transgression behaviors that sociopaths engage in at the expense of others in which there's not really an intent to harm (even though there is an understanding that there will be harm), so there's no malice, vs. the sort of behavior that one might correctly classify sin.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Better communication/intimacy during sex

A sociopathic inclined individual sent me a link to an Aeon article about good communication/consent re sexual intimacy, Sex Talks. One thing that I have noticed in meeting sociopaths is that sociopaths show a shocking lack of interest in sex. Shocking I guess only when compared to the neurotypical population, which seems almost obsessed with it. Sociopaths on the other hand are very take-it-or-leave-it about sex. I think it's because sociopaths don't tend to connect emotionally with their partners very well and so sex is either a performative act (which can be fun and exciting depending on the partner and/or situation) or source of pleasure that most sociopaths are better able to provide with their own two hands (and/or feet?). I also think that sociopaths and everyone have a hard time understanding the role of continued consent during any interaction with a person.

A quick word on my own thoughts about sex. I have had plenty of bad experiences, probably not surprising. By bad experiences I mean experiences that seemed to cheapen rather than deepen a relationship, that made me feel used, that felt like a parallel experience, and even experiences where I feel like the lines of consent got blurred against me. I had a bad understanding of consent for a long time so I am sure that people have similar experiences with me. Now, I do not engage in any degree of physical anything with another person unless I am sure that there is consent and that it is a shared experience of love and affection. It's not hard to be very hardline about this because I otherwise care very little for physical affection. But since I have been this way, I experience everything so differently and it really does seem to have more meaning and pleasure for me that I couldn't recreate more efficiently in a solo experience.

I remember in law school studying rape and the Antioch College rules regarding consent, which require not just all sexual or physical activities to have consent, but that anytime a new element is introduced between individuals. Even when I went to law school in the early aughts, this was considered a little bit extremist, as was evidenced by the SNL skit making fun of it (transcript here). 

Antioch College SOPP Media Coverage from Jon Wohlfert on Vimeo.

But Google "Antioch College sex consent" and you'll see a bunch of fresh takes about how the Antioch College Womyn were more prescient than we had thought. Maybe and romance and these things that we think should just be a natural, organic, but most of all unspoken meeting of the minds. I remember growing up thinking that this is what people wanted and expected, but I also had a really hard time understanding subtext or other forms of unspoken communication reliably so I would often just propose whatever physical intimacy to people whenever I felt like it. They would be surprised and almost embarrassed, but I don't remember being turned down, so maybe they were trying to get at the same thing via subtext?

But now I'm super verbal and communicative all of the time during any sort of romantic or intimate situation whatsoever, and it is such a better experience. I wanted to suggest it to everyone. Sometimes I'll get a little quite, and it's always for some reason worse. It is so much easier to stay on the same page with people by asking short simple questions (credit Arthur, a sociopath I met) and trying to say something every minute or so or as things change up. Maybe give it a try?

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