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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