Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Religious moral reasoning vs. guilt and getting better

A reader sent me this video of David Woods (Christian psychopath) talking about his religious conversion and how he gets pushback from other Christians because he still doesn't feel guilt.

First, him explaining (I don't think super well) about guilt. 


Second, him talking about how religious people insist that feelings of guilt are a necessary part of religious conversion/salvation. 



I remember when I got judged by some members of my own church, they said that it wasn't necessarily what I had done in the past that made me such a bad person, but that the way that I felt about it. I thought that was a totally anticipated reaction for people to have because my religion does emphasize to a certain point one's change of heart over the ledger recording one's actions in life, whether good and bad. That is, someone might have a change of heart at the last minute death row style and still be just as worthy of salvation as someone who had been "good" their entire life. On the other hand, it's obvious a mental health disorder to not have the same feelings of guilt and to expect someone to feel differently is like expecting gay people to not be attracted to members of the same sex. So I feel like this thoughts vs. action issue is something that many if not all religions have had to evolve their thinking on as we learn more and more the limits of controlling one's thoughts and feelings.

A quick word about guilt. The way I explain a sociopath's lack of guilt is through sense of self. Shame is something that society imposes on you to make you feel bad because you have violated one of their moral constructs. Guilt is a feeling that you have violated your own moral construct or self construct. For instance, if you think of yourself as being an honest and generous person, you may feel guilt if you behave in a dishonest or selfish way. But if you don't think of yourself in any sort of terms, either as being dishonest or honest, you won't ever have experience guilt because you won't ever violate your own self concept. I think sociopaths can regret that things didn't play out differently, and they can even feel remorse when they understand that it was their action that led to things paying out poorly or hurting people that they didn't want to hurt but maybe in a moment of extra impulsivity they did hurt.

Here's his video saying that before a sociopath can get better, he has to see himself as having a problem or being flawed or missing something, rather than seeing sociopathy exclusively as a super power.






Thursday, March 12, 2020

Knowledge vs. Understanding

One thing I hear a lot from people is that sociopaths know right and wrong, i.e. if you asked them to say what is the right thing to do in a particular situation, they'd more than likely give you the "right" answer. Consequently, the argument goes, sociopaths are responsible for all of their actions to the same degree as a normal person. I've tried to use the analogy before of how most children understand the "right" answer regarding stealing, hitting, not waiting their turn, not sharing, etc. but that we don't expect them to have the same capacity to behave well as we would a neurotypical adult. I think this difference between knowing something and understanding something was illustrated well in this video.



On the positive side, just like this guy learning how to ride the messed up bike, I think that sociopaths can learn to perspective take (which is basically empathy) and to learn to think more of others and other "good" behavior (or behavior which promotes "good" actions). I actually think the bike analogy is really good because like the hard wiring we have regarding riding a bike, the sociopath got hard wired at a very early age -- hard wiring that is very difficult to ignore or bypass. Just as the man describes needing to concentrate the whole time while riding the messed up bike and if anything should happen to distract him, he crashes, even a sociopath that has learned the "good" behavior mentioned above will likely socially or morally "crash" if there are too many other things taking up his or her cognitive load. I do think with practice the sociopath can get better and better, like learning a foreign language, but we should not expect sociopaths to just understanding good behavior automatically, just like we shouldn't expect a normal person to understand how to ride the messed up bike automatically. 

Thursday, February 27, 2020

The origins of criminality as a feature of sociopathy (part 3)


Because it largely captures people who commit crimes, either sociopathic or non, the PCL-R is both over-inclusive of non-sociopathic criminals and under-inclusive of non-criminal sociopaths. (Id, citing Lilienfeld, 1994.) At best, research based on the PCL-R can be characterized as “a literature on unsuccessful psychopathy.” Id. However not all sociopaths are unsuccessful. Rather the “great majority of psychopaths” have (Id, quoting Hercz, 2001, ¶ 11.) via their “ individual differences in talents and opportunities” channeled their psychopathic tendencies not into criminality, but into heroism, worldly success, etc. Id, citing Cleckley, 1976; Harkness & Lilienfeld, 1997; Lilienfeld, 1998; Lykken, 1995. Hare himself has conceded, most sociopaths are not criminals.

Although Hare never filed suit, he successfully delayed publication of Skeem and Cooke’s article by three years. He was also roundly criticized as improperly interfering with the peer review process. In an article titled “Fear Review,” Scientific American writes : “’It was [a] shock,’ Skeem says of Hare's legal threat. ‘this is not about Professor Hare, and it's only incidentally about the Psychopathy Checklist,’ she says. ‘The focus was really on how we could move the field forward.’”

Hare conceded in his response to Skeem and Cooke that the PCL-R does not embody the concept of psychopathy, nor is criminality a necessary component, but there are only twenty factors and three of them specifically deal with criminality: “criminal versatility”, “juvenile delinquency” and “revocation of conditional release” (revoked parole). Another is “many short-term marital relationships”. Only half of the factors track Cleckley sociopathy.

How did non-Cleckley traits enter the PCL-R?

[B]ecause participants in the PCL development sample were criminals rather than nonincarcerated patients or nonpatients, it seems likely that the initial candidate pool included many more deviance-related items, such that [Cleckley’s] positive adjustment indicators dropped out in the selection process. The result is that the PCL-R, compared with Cleckley’s original diagnostic criteria, contains items that are uniformly indicative of deviancy and psychological maladjustment.

Patrick, et al. (2009).

Studying exclusively criminals and then assuming sociopathy must be related to criminality seems like an obvious sampling error. If I exclusively studied my church congregation for sociopathy, could I properly infer a connection between sociopathy and organized religion? Even Hare admits “the majority of psychopaths aren't criminal,” so how could he be satisfied basing his test exclusively on criminals?

Despite round criticism from the psychological community, the PCL-R’s psychopath has left a lasting academic and public impression. Notwithstanding mounting research to the contrary, the dominant popular view of sociopathy is Hare’s criminal recidivist remorseless killer. This is the psychopathy of Hollywood murder movies. I too am scared of such a person, although I haven’t yet encountered one.

Modern researchers remain divided between Cleckley’s carefree bon vivant and Hare, Rollins, McCord and McCord’s criminal deviant.  While Cleckley’s view of sociopaths amounted to emotional colorblindness, Hare et al. depict a “bad egg” rife with moral rottenness – a severely emotionally damaged individual characterized by a loveless and guiltless existence of unrestrained malice for fellow man. Id. Where Cleckley saw “boldness,” they see “meanness.” Where Cleckley saw a lack of connection to the sociopath’s own feelings and the feelings of others, they see a vicious disregard for the feelings of others. Id. Cleckley sought to understand underlying thought patterns, they sought to label external behavior. Cleckley saw a potential patient, they see a social predator. Cleckley saw a problem for which he was seeking a cure.[i] They see a problem that needs to be identified and isolated to protect society, or as Hare has said:

Measurement and categorization are, of course, fundamental to any scientific endeavor, but the implications of being able to identify psychopaths are as much practical as academic. To put it simply, if we can't spot them, we are doomed to be their victims, both as individuals and as a society.

Hare’s remorseless criminal psychopath is associated with “Factor 2 psychopathy”. While Factor 1 traits track Cleckley’s sociopath, Factor 2 adds new traits largely associated with deviance. Not surprisingly, there is little correlation between Factor 2 and Factor 1 traits. In fact, some flatly contradict each other:

  •         High aggression, impulsivity, and sensation seeking. Harpur et al., (1989); Hare, (1991).
  •         Aggression provoked by reactionary anger. Patrick & Zempolich, (1998); Porter & Woodworth, (2006).
  •         High levels of alcohol and drug dependence. Hare, (2003); Smith & Newman, (1990).
  •         Deviant behavior.  Hall et al. (2004)
  •         High disinhibition and boredom, anger, alienation, distress at negative everyday events. Id.
  •         Low conscientiousness and low interest in achievement. Id.
  •         Low personal socioeconomic status. Id.
  •         Historic and future crimes against people, including violent crimes. Skeem, Mulvey, and Grisso (2003)
  •         High aggressiveness. Id.
  •         Low agreeableness and lower connection to or interaction with other people. Id.
  •         High FFM neuroticism (worrying or negative feelings about everyday incidents), low FFM agreeableness, and low conscientiousness.

o   Interestingly, these are exactly opposite of the Factor 1 results for these categories.

Patrick, et al. (2009).

How can the same group be characterized by both high emotional reactiveness and low emotional reactiveness? Are they angry anxious drug addicts or are they happy-go lucky charmers? Are they impulsive sadist below-the-poverty-line loners or socially dominant Machiavellian CEOs? Are we looking at violent offenders who have a hard time regulating their overpowering emotions or feckless opportunists who have a hard time feeling their own or others’ emotions? Are they primarily emotionally or intellectually driven? Reactive or proactive?

As researchers have posited, the same group can’t really be both, unless we’re talking about two or more separate but related things. Perhaps, as some have suggested, one thing is more nature and the other nurture. Some say one is a sociopath and the other is a psychopath. Or one is a primary sociopath and the other a secondary sociopath. Some say they have the same underlying cause, but only manifest differently. For example, that sociopathy manifests itself naturally in boldness, and meanness is only what happens when you combine sociopath plus risk factors, e.g. childhood neglect or abuse, low socioeconomic status, low education, single parent household, etc. When Cleckley’s emotional blindness is given prosocial outlets, they argue, it can lead to “social efficacy, imperturbability, and tolerance of danger” and if not, “impulsivity, rebelliousness, alienation, and aggression.” Id. This would explain the shared traits (fearlessness and boldness) you see between criminal and non-criminal sociopaths as well as the differences in behavior between the two.[ii]


[i] Cleckley’s position was that he knew of no treatment, but he blamed it in part on the collective evasion of the issue by the psychological community and society at large rather than any definitive evidence of there being no treatment:

Although I spared no effort to make it plain that I did not have an effective therapy to offer, the earlier editions of this book led to contact with psychopaths of every type and from almost every section of the United States and Canada. Interest in the problem was almost never manifested by the patients themselves. The interest was desperate, however, among families, parents, wives, husbands, brothers, who had struggled long and helplessly with a major disaster for which they found not only no cure and no social, medical, or legal facility for handling, but also no full or frank recognition that a reality so obvious existed.

….the psychopath presents an important and challenging enigma for which no adequate solution has yet been found. Although still in the unspectacular and perforce modest position of one who can offer neither a cure nor a well-established explanation, I am encouraged by ever increasing evidence that few medical or social problems have ever so richly deserved and urgently demanded a hearing.

Cleckley, “Mask of Sanity”.
[ii] See, e.g.:

“The boldness component of psychopathy, which is tapped weakly and incompletely by the items of the PCL-R, is important to distinguish in turn from the meanness component, which is well represented in the PCL-R. One reason is that the distinction between boldness and meanness is crucial to reconciling Cleckley’s conception of psychopathy with that advanced by more criminologically oriented theorists (e.g., McCord & McCord, 1964; Robins, 1966). Another is that boldness, although phenotypically distinct from meanness, appears to share a key etiologic substrate (i.e., diminished fear capacity). This raises the important developmental question, discussed in the last major section below, of what intersecting etiologic factors give rise to meanness as opposed to boldness in temperamentally fearless individuals.

Yet another reason is that the construct of boldness is likely to be of unique importance in understanding so-called “successful psychopaths”: individuals exhibiting high levels of charm, persuasiveness, imperturbability, and venturesomeness who achieve success in society as military, political, or corporate-industrial leaders (cf. Lykken, 1995).”

Patrick, et al. (2009).

Thursday, February 20, 2020

The origins of criminality as a feature in sociopathy (part 2)


Cleckley’s sociopath was “bold”, boldness here being “a capacity to remain calm and focused in situations involving pressure or threat, an ability to recover quickly from stressful events, high self-assurance and social efficacy, and a tolerance for unfamiliarity and danger. Terms related to boldness include fearless dominance (Benning, Patrick, Blonigen, et al., 2005), daringness, audacity, indomitability, resiliency (Block & Block, 1980), and hardiness (Kobasa, 1979).” Id. Bold individuals are likely to show: “social dominance, low stress reactivity, and thrill–adventure seeking (Benning et al., 2003; Benning, Patrick, Blonigen, et al., 2005) . . . imperturbability, social poise, assertiveness and persuasiveness, bravery, and venturesomeness.” Id.

Boldness was evident in [Cleckley’s] case descriptions and diagnostic criteria in terms of poise and high social efficacy, absence of anxiety or neurotic symptoms, diminished emotional responsiveness, imperviousness to punishment (“failure to learn by experience”), and low suicidality. Other historic writers concerned with psychopathy in psychiatric patients as opposed to criminal samples (e.g., Kraepelin, Schneider) also identified bold externalizing types. Id.

Cleckley studied non-criminal sociopaths at a large inpatient facility. No other researcher has focused so extensively on non-criminal sociopaths.

Most researchers studied criminals, and consequently defined sociopathy as a dark strain of criminal deviance. Early researchers William Maxwell McCord and Joan McCord painted a picture in “The Psychopath: An Essay on the Criminal Mind” (1964) of a socially detached, predatory, aggressive, and remorseless individual plagued by angry-reactive forms of aggression and resultant criminality. Similarly Lee Robins, whose work underlies the DSM-V’s “Antisocial Personality Disorder” (ASPD), focused on a maladjustedness marked by persistent aggression, criminality, and destructiveness. Robins (1966, 1978).

Around that same time, Robert Hare developed his Psychopathy Checklist (now revised, PCL-R), based on the Canadian criminal population. The PCL-R is the most popular diagnostic tool for sociopathy. Hare based it on Cleckley’s sociopath, however, it is distinctly darker:

In contrast with Cleckley’s portrayal of psychopathic patients as personable and ostensibly well meaning but feckless and untrustworthy, this latter perspective conceptualizes psychopathic individuals as cold, abrasive, and aggressively exploitative in their interactions with others.

Patrick, et al. (2009).

Cleckley saw “boldness.” Hare substituted “meanness.” Why? Interestingly, Hare’s own early work also found boldness instead of meanness. Id. What changed?

Alice, a sociopath I met in Australia, theorizes that it wasn’t the sociopaths that changed, but Hare. Alice thinks Hare is biased. In fact, she goes so far as to tell me she believes he’s a subclinical narcissist. Her evidence for narcissism includes Hare’s statements that suggest he has a fragile ego and needs to be liked by others. For instance, you could read the following statement as a theory about how most people feel, or you could read between the lines and see someone who is overly concerned with how he is perceived by others:

“We are haunted to some degree by questions about our self-worth. As a consequence, we continually attempt to prove to ourselves and others that we are okay people, credible, trustworthy, and competent.”

He does seem to take the misdeeds of sociopaths personally, for example he warns:

“All the reading in the world cannot immunize you from the devastating effects of psychopaths. Everyone, including the experts, can be taken in, conned, and left bewildered by them.”

Hare speaks from personal experience. He is on record describing his first encounter with a sociopath “Ray” as a long con in which Ray influenced Hare to break prison rules. Hare said he did what Ray asked to build a “rapport”. Due in part to Hare’s influence, Ray received a plum job in the prison mechanic shop. When Hare’s tenure at the prison ended, Ray performed a tune-up on Hare’s car. The brakes failed while Hare was driving down a hill, family in tow. A local mechanic confirmed that the brakes had been rigged with a slow leak. 

Alice thinks this early experience and his continuing inability to build a rapport with prison sociopaths caused him to harden his heart against them. Alice thinks he sought payback by portraying them in the worst psychological light possible, destroying their possibility of parole.

Alice’s theory for Hare’s anti-sociopath bias is consistent with the facts as we know them.

To give you an idea of Hare’s lack of scientific objectivity, in his book Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us he calls sociopaths the “monsters of real life” and warns:

“On a more personal level, it is very likely that at some time in your life you will come into painful contact with a psychopath. For your own physical, psychological, and financial well-being it is crucial that you know how to identify the psychopath, how to protect yourself, and how to minimize the harm done to you.”

Hare has manifested other narcissistic traits. In a widely publicized move, he threatened to enjoin the publication of an academic, peer-reviewed article that criticized his PCL-R. The article, by researchers Jennifer Skeem and David Cooke, argued that “the PCL–R weighs antisocial behavior as strongly as—if not more strongly than—traits of emotional detachment in assessing psychopathy.” Consequently, it “is overly saturated with criminality and impulsivity (Blackburn, 2005; Forouzan & Cooke, 2005)” and as such, it “imperfectly maps psychopathy” and “does not fully correspond to Cleckley’s (1941) conceptualization, on which it is purportedly based.” 

Thursday, February 13, 2020

The orgins of criminality as a feature of sociopathy (part 1)


“People tend to think of psychopaths as criminals. In fact, the majority of psychopaths aren’t criminal.”
--Dr. Robert Hare

In his seminal treatise The Mask of Sanity: An Attempt to Clarify Some Issues About the So-Called Psychopathic Personality (1941), Hervey Cleckley theorized that sociopathy was due to an underlying impairment in emotional processing, e.g. an emotional colorblindness.

Common manifestations of this impairment included emotional disconnectedness:

  • ·        lack of feelings of guilt
  • ·        shallow emotions
  • ·        self-centeredness
  • ·        lack of empathy
  • ·        insincerity
  • ·        lack of awareness or understanding of their own emotional states
  • ·        failure to imbue sexual behavior with emotional meaning

Adaptive (positive) traits:

  • ·        intelligence and social aptitude
  • ·        absence of irrationality
  • ·        boldness and confidence
  • ·        low incidence of suicide

And maladaptive (negative) traits:

  • ·        deceitfulness
  • ·        unreliability
  • ·        impulsivity
  • ·        failure to learn from experience
  • ·        unrealistic expectations that things will work out
  • ·        recklessness, especially when intoxicated
  • ·        atypical sexual behavior

Modern researchers would call Cleckley’s sociopath a “Factor 1 psychopath”. Factor 1 traits make up the first half of Robert Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R) and/or the similar set of personality traits in Scott Lillienfeld’s Psychopathic Personality Inventory (PPI).

Factor 1 sociopaths are associated with:
·        High social abilities and emotional resilience. Hall et al. (2004).
·        High five-factor model (FFM) extraversion, openness, and conscientiousness. Id. The Five-Factor Model includes the five major personality traits that all people share in different levels: extraversion, openness to experiences, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and agreeableness. These standardized traits are used to compare different personality types or reflect the prevalence of certain personality characteristics in particular populations, like sociopaths.
o   FFM extraversion is associated with social confidence, social adeptness, and charm.
o   FFM openness is associated with novelty seeking, adventurousness, and openness to unconventional beliefs and behaviors.
o   FFM conscientiousness is associated with an awareness of the effects of one’s actions.
·        Low FFM neuroticism. Id.
o   FFM neuroticism is a preoccupation with avoiding negative experiences or punishment, worrying, focusing on problems, and an inability to cope with every day stressors. People low on neuroticism are much more influenced by positive rewards than punishment.
·        High verbal intelligence and personal and parental socioeconomic status. Id.
·        High self-interest and self-regard, prone to manipulation and Machiavellian behaviors. Harpur, Hare, & Hakstian, 1989; Hare, 1991; Verona et al., 2001.
·        Long-term planning to use people and things in an instrumental way to achieve the psychopath’s desired aim. Patrick & Zempolich, 1998; Porter & Woodworth, 2006.
·        Low empathy. Hare, 2003.
·        Social dominance. Hare, 1991; Harpur et al., 1989; Verona et al., 2001.
·        Low fearfulness, distress, and depression. Harpur et al., 1989; Hicks & Patrick, 2006.
·        Low physical responses to fearful situations. Cf. Patrick, 1994, 2007.

Patrick, Fowles, Krueger (2009).

Are you surprised at how many positive characteristics there are? It’s easy to imagine how traits like emotional resilience and social dominance could promote success. Or how low fearfulness and depression might improve overall mood? How extraversion and adventurousness might help in love, business, and overall life satisfaction? Indeed, I receive several emails a month asking me to help the writer become more sociopathic.

Noticeably absent in Cleckley’s sociopath are traits like intentional cruelty, sadism, misanthropy, or even violence. Id. In fact, only three out of fifteen of Cleckley’s sociopaths showed high interpersonal aggressiveness. Id. They were no one’s angels, but nor were they devils. Instead, they were “charming ne’er-do-wells who harm others incidentally rather than deliberately.”  Id. Cleckley even argued that sociopaths are less prone to violence because they’re less likely to be emotionally triggered. Id.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Trading stocks like a sociopath

My friend sent me this NPR quick 10 minute piece on investing in the stock market and what tends to be the best strategy overall -- buy and hold.



I remember talking about this just a bit in the book, about how I have beat the market year after year. I don't think I am super good at picking stocks. Maybe just a bit better than average. I think this is one thing that I am super great at, though, which is not letting my emotions dictate whether I buy/hold/sell. I do think sociopaths might be bad at stocks for other reasons, including impulse control short sightedness, and a novelty seeking tendency to self destruct a bit every few years or so. But if you can somehow avoid those sociopath pitfalls, I do think sociopaths can have a bit of an advantage long term over the average investor. 

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Shame as the root of narcissim

My sister in law has been reading "Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead" by Brené Brown and sending me quotes.

I think this one is such a good point, especially on the heels of this post on what is actually the best way to help a sociopath change their behavior. Re narcissists:

"Here’s where it gets tricky. And frustrating. And maybe even a little heartbreaking. The topic of narcissism has penetrated the social consciousness enough that most people correctly associate it with a pattern of behaviors that include grandiosity, a pervasive need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. What almost no one understands is how every level of severity in this diagnosis is underpinned by shame. Which means we don’t “fix it” by cutting people down to size and reminding folks of their inadequacies and smallness. Shame is more likely to be the cause of these behaviors, not the cure."
***

“When I look at narcissism through the vulnerability lens, I see the shame-based fear of being ordinary. I see the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.”

Same thing for sociopaths. Their grandiosity and self centered behavior comes from a profound lack of sense of self. They don't recognize or honor the boundaries of other people because the sociopath has no sense of his own boundaries. He was never taught to understand, respect, or make space for the vulnerability of others because he was taught from his earliest ages to stifle his own vulnerability and to take up no space, to be a cyper.

Along those lines, from the same book:

"The Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto Above all else, I want you to know that you are loved and lovable. You will learn this from my words and actions—the lessons on love are in how I treat you and how I treat myself. I want you to engage with the world from a place of worthiness. You will learn that you are worthy of love, belonging, and joy every time you see me practice self-compassion and embrace my own imperfections. We will practice courage in our family by showing up, letting ourselves be seen, and honoring vulnerability. We will share our stories of struggle and strength. There will always be room in our home for both. We will teach you compassion by practicing compassion with ourselves first; then with each other. We will set and respect boundaries; we will honor hard work, hope, and perseverance. Rest and play will be family values, as well as family practices. You will learn accountability and respect by watching me make mistakes and make amends, and by watching how I ask for what I need and talk about how I feel. I want you to know joy, so together we will practice gratitude. I want you to feel joy, so together we will learn how to be vulnerable. When uncertainty and scarcity visit, you will be able to draw from the spirit that is a part of our everyday life. Together we will cry and face fear and grief. I will want to take away your pain, but instead I will sit with you and teach you how to feel it. We will laugh and sing and dance and create. We will always have permission to be ourselves with each other. No matter what, you will always belong here. As you begin your Wholehearted journey, the greatest gift that I can give to you is to live and love with my whole heart and to dare greatly. I will not teach or love or show you anything perfectly, but I will let you see me, and I will always hold sacred the gift of seeing you. Truly, deeply, seeing you."

Sunday, January 12, 2020

"What matters is behavior"

I try to read most of the comments and I saw this one that raised interesting points:

I should have mentioned: I like that video because it's message is that what matters is behaviour, not nature of experience. Behaviour is pertinent to evolution; regardless of how motivation might vary between types of individuals.

The video the comment references is here:



I recognized this belief as being the one that I had for 95% of my life. It was the one that I advocated multiple times in the book, that "what matters is behaviour, not nature of experience." And I still do believe it in so many instances. For instance, I do believe that sociopaths love, even though it is different than the way that other people experience love.

I was also just reading about Shaquem Griffin, who is a one-handed NFL linebacker. He told the story of how when he was young, there were weight minimums and maximums for the league he was playing in. At one of these weigh-ins, he was told he was too heavy, even though he had weighed himself the night before and was fine. He had his coach re-weigh him and he was within the proper range. When they confronted the official that said that he was too heavy the official confessed that it wasn't so much about the weight, the official said what he said because he was too uncomfortable having a boy play who was one-handed. This seems like a very good application of experience vs. behavior. Is he able to play? Then he should be able to play. I don't feel like someone can validly come in and say that he can't participate in all life has to offer just because others experience the same situation differently.

And I think that was always what I was thinking about when I voiced that belief -- that behavior matters over internal experience. Because I didn't want my personality disorder to limit me in any way. I wanted to have enriching relationships and lasting and rewarding jobs and maybe even kids! (Although that last one turned out to not be in the cards for me.) So what if my risk/reward meter was always on. So what if my love was as shallow as a sandbar? These things all felt very real to me, despite not experiencing them in the same way that others did.

But my brother recently shared with my a BYU talk with the following passage:

The challenge is not so much closing the gap between our actions and our beliefs; rather, the challenge is closing the gap between our beliefs and the truth. That is the challenge.

This is more how I feel now. Because when your beliefs are based on true and right principles, it's much easier to act accordingly. When you see good and loving behavior as a natural form of self-expression, that becomes that most natural way for you to behave.

I think a related point is the question that some people have about how much responsibility a sociopath has for their actions. My pinned tweet is "I'm not saying that sociopaths aren't responsible for their actions, but they're certainly not responsible for being sociopaths." Even that gets push back from people who think that sociopaths are trying to eschew any responsibility for their actions. It it oft cited and accurate that a sociopath often knows what the morally "right" answer is in any given situation. But the sociopath does not have an actual belief in the rightness of the thing. To the sociopath, even well decided moral issues are seen as essentially social conventions. To them there's not much difference between the moral issues you fault them for and using a shellfish fork properly.

Some of you are probably less gross than I am, but at least when I was younger I remember washing my hands after using a restroom much more frequently in public than I did in my own home? Why? Because I knew it was the "right" answer, but I myself did not value washing my hands in most situations. I think everyone does things like this, even daily. But imagine the world of a sociopath in which you do things like this dozens of times per day -- always conforming your behavior without ever having the belief. If you want to know how difficult this is to sustain, look at how often sociopaths self-destructive (or how often you give up your New Year's resolutions).

I think the key to a sociopath having greater life living sustainability and being and feeling "better" is not in changing behavior, it is in changing beliefs. Unfortunately, hardly anyone in the psychological community is willing to help sociopaths change their beliefs and it's almost impossible for them to do themselves, like a game of blind man's buff.

I'll write a little more on this in the next post.

Here's the more full context from the BYU quote:

People say, “You should be true to your beliefs.” While that is true, you cannot be better than what you know. Most of us act based on our beliefs, especially what we believe to be in our self-­interest. The problem is, we are sometimes wrong.

Someone may believe in God and that pornography is wrong and yet still click on a site wrongly believing that he will be happier if he does or he can’t help but not click or it isn’t hurting anyone else and it is not that bad. He is just wrong.

Someone may believe it is wrong to lie and yet lie on occasion, wrongly believing he will be better off if the truth is not known. He is just wrong.

Someone may believe and even know that Jesus is the Christ and still deny Him not once but three times because of the mistaken belief that he would be better off appeasing the crowd. Peter wasn’t evil. I am not even sure he was weak. He was just wrong.

When you act badly, you may think you are bad, when in truth you are usually mistaken. You are just wrong. The challenge is not so much closing the gap between our actions and our beliefs; rather, the challenge is closing the gap between our beliefs and the truth. That is the challenge.

So how do we close that gap? 

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Therapy for sense of self

I thought this was related to the last post on the importance of sociopaths focusing on changing beliefs and acting according to beliefs rather than just conforming their behavior to social and moral conventions. I thought this conversation with a reader shows a bit what this belief change might look like, at least in part.

From a reader, under the subject line "Therapy for sense-of-self":

Hi -- in the November 30 post on spwd.com, you mentioned that you'd had a setback a while ago in your therapy to develop sense-of-self. In your book you talk about not having a strong core sense of self as one of the hallmarks of a sociopathic personality. That hit me strongly, and was a powerful explanation for a lot of things I've experienced. While I'm working with a therapist (I'm highly functional) we haven't touched on this aspect yet.

It's trivial to put myself in someone else's psychological space and interact with them that way. It's highly effective at superficial relationships (i.e. business, casual), and that's the upside of the weak sense of self. The pitfalls of it in what are supposed to be close relationships, long term ones, are obvious. I honestly have no idea what working to develop a strong sense of self would even mean. Do you have any thoughts or insights into what you're gaining by working on this? Any resources you've found useful?

My response:

I almost feel like I should ask my own therapist what the particular type of therapy he did with me. The core exercise I remember though was to get me to realize that I had underlying preferences regardless of context. To get me to do that, he did a thought experiment in which when presented with a choice I had to imagine that there was no one else in the world. If there was no one else in the world, then I could not be tempted to consider how people would react and thus make a choice based on which reaction I would like, rather than just my preference. Does that make sense?

Reader:

Thanks -- and yes, that's really useful. Kind of ironic that a group of people who are popularly considered not to care a bit for anything about other people are constantly modifying their behaviors away from what they would naturally do, to they point where they lose sight of the simple fact that they have preferences. To me, this feels a lot like the emotion work I've done with my therapist -- the emotions are there, but just very very quiet. So quiet that having grown up and lived in almost exclusively "loud" emotional environments, I thought I didn't have any at all. It takes practice and relative silence to be able to hear them, but I'm figuring out how to do it. Maybe it's so with the preferences too.

Really appreciate you sharing your experience.

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