Author of Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight M.E. Thomas interviews science PhD candidate Victoria about the dramatic change that’s happened in her life since the last time they spoke in Part 4 of the series. They speak about why Victoria was the way she was before, how did it feel to be that way, why she thought to do the meditation program, how that changed the way she viewed the world. They also talk about identity, personhood, agency, the desire to control and shifting our desires to control from things that are not within our control to thing that are properly within our control, the difference between direct and indirect control, “timshel” or thou mayest from “East of Eden,” love, process vs. outcome orientation, choosing to move from reactionary emotional to thoughtful responses, accountability for choices, personal boundaries, identity hits, ego, and self-expression.
The meditation program Victoria participated in: https://www.innerengineering.com/
Covey’s “scarcity” vs. “abundance” mentalities: http://franklincoveystephenpearson.blogspot.com/2011/01/abundance-mentality-vs-scarcity.html
Paul Graham’s Keep Your Identity Small: http://www.paulgraham.com/identity.html
Part 1 of this series: https://youtu.be/EAujim_xKWE
Part 2 of this series: https://youtu.be/TmL55G9xgVU
Part 3 of this series: https://youtu.be/fnFjkWsKKnk
Part 4 of this series: https://youtu.be/ZJ68szHTOPs
More from Victoria on willpower: https://youtu.be/E-IIJoei_hk
Labels: abuse, agency, boredom, change, choice, control, early childhood development, ego, emotions, emptiness, identity hit, meaning, meditation, parenting, personhood, perspective, purpose, reactionary, self, zoom
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 25, 2020
In the past couple years I’ve finally been able to identify and contextualize my feelings. I call it a sort of emotional puberty because emotions that other people have learned to understand and cope with, I’m still a little shaky at.
I saw someone’s tweet thread a few days ago about how people are rage porn-y to avoid dealing with like sadness, grief, loss, pain, fear, uncertainty. I didn’t even re-tweet it because “duh.”
This morning I really felt the truth of it. My family is musical and I have over a dozen nephews and nieces who also have various musical talents. My sister suggested we do a family music album for my mother for Christmas. All my nieces and nephews did a song that my brother lovingly collected, spliced, and mixed for the past month. I even for the first time in over a decade downloaded some recording software, set up a mixer, bought an xlr to usb cord and did hours of recording for just 6 minutes of album time. The family had been hyped about this for a couple months and the plan, at least as I heard it from others, was to watch her open and listen via zoom, which would also be our family Christmas zoom time. One sibling had done nothing for the album but burn the cd, but was also the first one there at my parents’ house Christmas morning and had my mother open it and listen to it without us in true Leroy Jenkins fashion. I woke up to seeing posts in the family chat, etc. about how much she liked it, but I didn’t want to see posts, I wanted to experience it with her.
My feelings were at first surprise, then confusion, then anger, which I didn’t want to be the dominant feeling of my Christmas. On the one hand if I had anger and disappointment then I wanted to feel it and not sweep it away into the land of resentment, but I didn’t understand why I was as angry as I was. I texted my brother and told him that I was 3/10 sad about him not waiting for us. He said he was sorry and he hadn’t understood that was the plan. I had in my mind a bunch of rejoinders, like he would have known that was the plan if he had bothered to participate and read the family group messages and/or use a little common sense (what person gives a gift to a person that they themselves didn’t buy or make?). I did explain to him directly that people who contributed had wanted and expected a listen party. But as I was typing more to him I realized that probably no one said that explicitly to him because he was out of the loop about most of it. And we have a little rule in my family that people cannot be held accountable for others’ unexpressed expectations. So I found myself apologizing to him for getting upset about an unmet expectation I had, but had never expressed, and said that it was unfair to him that I left that expectation unclear but was still upset with him about it. And after I sent the text, I found that my anger had been released and I cried just a little bit with a sense of loss for what I had been anticipating most about Christmas this year. And it didn’t feel good, but it felt much better than relying on the anger to shield me from those feelings of sadness.
See also below “trying to avoid big [feelings] by focusing on small ones you’re more comfortable with.”
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2020
Elsa and Victoria analyze the research, including the suggestions that normal people are constantly at war with themselves emotionally and either need to exercise willpower to be the people they want to be or must actively tap into positive emotions like pride to self-regulate their behavior. The group suggests that instead of gratitude or pride, what may be happening is something tied up more with identity or a personal aesthetic for how the world should look and function.
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2018
I thought this was a good, short video about how everyone has emotions that they don’t process and how that is both influenced by societal expectations and has an ultimate affect on society:
It doesn’t say anything terribly new, but this concept of having emotions that you don’t even acknowledge as being emotions because they’re happening at a level that you’re not aware of is very much my traditional way of experiencing emotions.
It’s not as if I was ever an emotionless void. But to the extent I did experience emotions, it’s was if they were a conversation being had in another room — or gossip about you that you’re not aware of. I had physical or other symptoms (grouchiness). Like I would know that I felt tired or disinterested, but my awareness was more of my physical symptoms than being able to identify a specific source.
But even if I did have a greater awareness, I traditionally have not had the skills to process the emotion.
Through therapy I became more aware of and better at identifying my emotions, which solved the first problem. But then I had to (like everyone else) learn what to do with that knowledge. So I ended up with the same problem as everyone else in which I was experiencing general malaise, some generalized anxiety, and bad sleep because I had unacknowledged and unprocessed worries. Luckily once stuff starts affecting my sleep, I’m generally willing to do whatever it takes to figure out how to fix what’s fixable. And in a way, as the video sort of alludes to at the end, although the way I lived my life was already following the philosophy of stoicism quite a bit, I became even more (via what I learned in therapy) an unintentional stoic. The key is this willingness to accept reality for what it is. Once that happens, I think most people are able to figure things out with just a little help maybe from a therapist or friend who sees things for how they truly are.
THURSDAY, JUNE 16, 2016
I thought this was an interesting experience, from a comment from a recent post regarding a temporary experience of not feeling (or not feeling connected to) a sense of empathy:
One day I experienced something that I’m convinced was close to clinical psychopathy. It was at the same time as lots of physical and nervous system symptoms as well, so I know it wasn’t ‘just psychological’ or ’emotional’…it also felt very physical.
It’s hard to describe, but I’ll try because I’ve never written about it before and it may ring a bell with someone somewhere, who knows. It was similar, I suppose, to my ’emotions cutting out’ experiences, but much, much more extreme (so it didn’t really feel similar at all). It felt REALLY weird – I suppose as weird as taking a mind-altering drug of some kind or being severely intoxicated – but it wasn’t like any of those. (just as weird/abnormal as them).
It was one day, on which I woke up feeling like this:
I had no ‘me’ sense whatsoever – I wasn’t ‘me’. I was a person, but there was no ‘me’ feeling about it. And I had ‘lost my bond’ with everyone – that’s distinctly how it felt. I was aware of all this but couldn’t ‘care’ or be worried or afraid because I was incapable of all those feelings – any of the feelings that normally belonged to my personality, that made me ‘me’. I was TOTALLY cerebral.
It was the most interesting experience I’ve ever had, in terms of an education in what was possible, how different ‘experience’ could be – I was experiencing something I couldn’t have conceived of with my usual imagination. It actually felt very ‘clean’, simple, ‘pure’ in a way – immensely calm and clear… totally – but not like a calm version of ‘me’, just calmness itself – totally empty, void of any feeling (emotional, not physical). I hadn’t even been aware of ‘having bonds’ with anyone until this experience, when one of the most obvious things, that struck me first, was that they had gone / that was gone.
It didn’t horrify or sadden me, because I was incapable of all that, but it ‘concerned’ me cerebrally because I saw that if someone very ‘close’ to me were to phone, I would have to act. I knew that could act whatever I needed to, that it was all absolutely easy (also very alien for my personality, because of my normal compulsion and liking for being open and genuine and ‘natural’). At some point the thought occurred to me ‘I wonder if this could be what psychopathy is like’ – in those days I knew next to nothing about it and had no interest in it, but was aware that it was about ‘something being missing’ and that thought brought it to mind.
I automatically thought to ‘test’ it by mentally envisaging the sort of thing associated with psychopathy – the worst sort of crime associated with it – was I capable of it? (something I simply couldn’t do now, which is why I’m not elaborating or describing it – I literally can’t contemplate or let myself mentally envisage it, and couldn’t have done before this experience, or at any time in my life except for this day). As a mental experiment, having no emotional qualms, or capacity for any, I asked myself, could I commit X – and realised I could, because EVERYTHING WAS THE SAME, without any emotional ‘value’ attached to it – with that part of me missing, that function not operating, NOTHING effected me, there was no ‘meaning’- everything was the same, it was a landscape without difference, without emotional difference, without meaning difference. I was as equally capable of one thing as another, they were all equal – just actions, that I was disconnected from, because ‘I’ wasn’t there, there was no ‘me’.
But what I also observed – what was part of the same observation – was that neither did I have any desire to commit anything – everything was equal in that sense too, no ‘value’ attached. I had absolutely no impulse to do anything like the example I thought of – it was neutral, everything was neutral – and knew I wouldn’t, that I was in no danger of doing anything unwanted, I simply wasn’t interested. This is why, when I read sociopaths here explaining that the absence of empathy does not in itself produce – or even have anything to do with – sadism, etc – that the two have essentially no connection with one another, I know exactly what they mean and have no difficulty believing them, I know they are telling the truth. But they are trying to explain something which is simply outside the experience of normally ’emotional’ people, so I also see why others can’t comprehend it, can’t compute it. I’d never have been able to do so without that experience that gave me a glimpse into such a different possibility of experience.
I then tested it again by picking something else which would be one of the last things I’d ever contemplate (or be capable of) doing ; Could I run up and down the street naked? Ye – it would mean literally nothing to me. No fear, no excitement, no anything – nothing was producing any kind of emotional response or ‘meaning’ in me internally.
It was a fascinating and very eye-opening experience. I realised that all these things are emotional functions, and that if emotional function becomes impaired or drops out, this is what is left. Cerebral function alone is a very very different experience. It is not IN ITSELF bad, good, or anything. Bad and good are emotional entities, they belong to that side. It doesn’t ‘exist’ in the cerebral side, which is all I was experiencing that day. The only trace of ‘personality’ I could detect at all – and it was tiny, and not really anything like my normal ‘composite’ personality in any way – was the very slight feeling now and again of what I’d imagine a playfully mischievous seven year old boy feels like – that’s the best way I could describe it. But even that wasn’t strong enough to influence or impel me in any way. I simply got on with doing my income tax return, as it was the day before the deadline and I had no choice.
To my amazement, I was better at maths (calculations) than I’d ever been in my life – the absence of emotional ‘reluctance’ (huffing and puffing and grumbling) that normally goes along with it for me (which, again, I only became aware of by its unusual absence this day) made it ultra-easy, straightforward, and made me remarkably efficient. I was getting this right first time, for the time ever!
The only real difficulty I experienced was towards the end of the day when I came to fill out the tax return online and discovered that I couldn’t process the meaning of written language – I could read the words fluently, but after reading a paragraph I had taken in no meaning from it – I couldn’t tell you what it had actually said, or meant.
It was the weirdest thing. But it showed me what is possible when parts of the brain are being effected or prevented from functioning normally, and the fact that it could reproduce what I am sure was something very close to clinical psychopathy, I found extremely eye-opening and interesting. (I woke up the next day normal, by the way. The ‘me’ feeling was back and I’ve had it ever since).
MONDAY, JUNE 6, 2016
Not sure what that lyric means, particularly in this context. But it’s an interesting sort of cultural/political divide between the empathetic and the non. On the one hand are the people who think that there emotions basically signal objective reality — Truth, capital T about the world. On the other side of the perspective, people who think that there is no truth or non-subjective value to emotions.
Martha Nussbaum writes about the potential reasoning value of emotions:
If emotions are suffused with intelligence and discernment, and if they contain in themselves an awareness of value or importance, they cannot, for example, easily be sidelined in accounts of ethical judgment, as so often they have been in the history of philosophy. Instead of viewing morality as a system of principles to be grasped by the detached intellect, and emotions as motivations that either support or subvert our choice to act according to principle, we will have to consider emotions as part and parcel of the system of ethical reasoning. We cannot plausibly omit them, once we acknowledge that emotions include in their content judgments that can be true or false, and good or bad guides to ethical choice. We will have to grapple with the messy material of grief and love, anger and fear, and the role these tumultuous experiences play in thought about the good and the just.
Emotions are not just the fuel that powers the psychological mechanism of a reasoning creature, they are parts, highly complex and messy parts, of this creature’s reasoning itself.
Yes, that sounds right, highly complex and messy parts.
And also, even if they are aspects of our reasoning, that doesn’t mean they’re not problematic. E.g.:
In the very nature of our early object relations … there lurks a morally subversive combination of love and resentment, which springs directly from the thought that we need others to survive and flourish, but do not at all control their movements. If love is in this way always, or even commonly, mixed up with hatred, then, once again, this might offer us some reasons not to trust to the emotions at all in the moral life, but rather to the more impersonal guidance of rules of duty.
MONDAY, JANUARY 18, 2016
One of my mantras for the past year or so is evil wants an evil response (see here). But let me back up. One thing that has always bothered me about having my particular brain wiring is that despite craving power and control, it has traditionally been so easy to push me over the edge, lose my temper, make me angry. I get caught up in power struggles sometimes and make a bigger deal out of things than they warrant because I get ego hurt or my mind just seems to crave that particular stimulus.
But in the past couple of years of trying to find a better balance in my psychological and emotional life, the mantra helps me to understand that in having that reaction of anger against something that rankles me, I am at worst playing into my opponent’s hands and at best losing control and perspective. There’s actually a sort of suggestion in Mormon theology that enmity is its own sort of currency — that you can stir up and use enmity to do plenty of momentous things that not even mountains of gold would do (think French Revolution or Hitler). And so our enmity often makes us pawns as well, and in fighting people that are filled with enmity, we’re often just fighting pawns. (For some of you nerdier types, it’s like when I tried to explain to my little relatives that Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars was leading both sides of the clone wars, but they couldn’t understand how a war (every war?) could really just be fought completely by pawns against pawns, and of the same man.)
Martin Luther King Jr. (happy MLK Jr Day U.S.!) put it this way:
“The attack is directed against forces of evil rather than against persons who happen to be doing the evil. It is the evil that the nonviolent resister seeks to defeat, not the persons victimized by the evil. If he is opposing racial injustice, the nonviolent resister has the vision to see that the basic tension is not between the races… The tension is, at bottom, between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness…. We are out to defeat injustice and not white persons who may be unjust.”
Or Marcus Aurelius:
“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own — not of the same blood or birth, but of the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.”
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 12, 2015
I really enjoyed this comment from the previous post, particularly this analogy to a sore tooth:
Sociopaths love power. When you (even in the context of healthy boundaries) say “ouch” it’s kind of like announcing a sore tooth to a tongue. For reasons unknown to all of us, when a tooth is sore, we feel compelled to continue prodding that tooth until the soreness is somehow resolved. A sociopath is like the tongue here- compelled to nudge and explore for pain almost reflexively.
When you have figured out the genesis of the sore tooth within yourself then you can seek a more appropriate outlet for resolving what is making you feel sore, rather than alerting your tongue to a situation it is not equipped to heal, only to antagonize.
Paradoxically, your withdrawal makes you ten time more desirable to the sociopath and they will do whatever they can to re- engage with you (if you were actually as desirable to them as you led yourself to believe).
If they don’t chase after you, maybe you were simply ensnared by their flattery (no shame in that, just see it for what it is). More flattery won’t make you feel better. Just addicted and then the sociopath will begin to feel your hunger for a certain sort of feedback and will be transformed into the tongue that can not leave the poor sore tooth alone.
So you have a sore tooth. Know it, own it, and heal. It’s not the sociopath’s job to be part of the process. On the other side, the sociopath may be there or they may not. But you have solved your problem without making the sociopath responsible for your pain. This exercise will increase your personal power in all future actions immeasurably.
But I think this analogy has broader applications beyond relationships to sociopaths and to relationships or interactions with anyone — this almost compulsive need to want to keep poking, keep probing, and in the analogy the involvement of another person, trying to come to some sort of solution or understanding with another person. The whole process doesn’t seem overtly harmful or negative, and it’s so easy to justify to ourselves as just exploring the pain we feel, perhaps identifying the pain. But even when that happens, why is it that we seldom feel any sense of relief at that knowledge but perhaps an even more heightened obsession and focus on the problem that only serves to magnify the pain and discomfort. Or maybe this is just what I tend to do… 🙂
I feel like this is related — I have noticed a western societal trend (that has probably always been there but is perhaps being accentuated in my mind due to my own personal change) from an internal locus of control attitude to an external one. Pieces of “evidence” I see for it include the reactions to the student protests of this fall, such as this NY Times piece arguing that calls for students to become more resilient are really attempts to sweep injustice under the rug and shame the victims. But becoming resilient is not (necessarily) merely a necessary evil that society would rather force on select individuals rather than addressing underlying problems. It is a universal principle that helps everyone to a more satisfying life, from the highest to the lowest of the global socioeconomic classes, from the most privileged to the least, in every aspect of life.
Resilience, they way I think it is being used in these contexts, is the ability to self-regulate one’s internal sense of well-being despite obstacles or aggravations present in one’s environment. And everybody wants more of it. The number one trait people seem to envy about sociopaths is the ability to remain so unaffected by what others think of them or the fearful or stressful things of life. Isn’t this a type of resilience?
The alternative to internal self-regulation is to try to enforce your standards and conditions for happiness on everyone else and the entire outside world. I too would like it if my boss never made me his personal scapegoat. I too would like it if loved ones never did anything insensitive or unkind or if there was no such thing as sexism or senseless violence or a bad day in the stock market or any cavities in my teeth. I know some of you put cavities in a different category of things that I supposedly can control (I have unusually thin enamel, hardly ever eat sugar, and floss religiously, so I don’t know how that works out in formula of personal accountability) and someone perpetrating a crime of violence against you is in a polar opposite category of things you can’t control. And some people probably think I am ignorant or shameful to deign to include them all in the same category. And I have no desire to suggest that these harms are equal or related or that is not more worthy of moral reprehension than another — I’m not making any attempts to whitewash or sweep things under the rug, but…
And this is possibly the best life tip that I can give you from my sociopathic heart, if you look at either the teeth or the victim of violent crime situations from a purely utilitarian viewpoint that is focused less on some abstract concept of justice and more on pure self-interest of what is ultimately best for you, I think that you will find that treating them both (and any) situations with an internal locus of control focus will result in more personal peace, joy, and happiness to you than to ever need to seek someone’s complicity, cooperation, reciprocity, shame, guilt, or acknowledgment of your hurt (particularly someone who is otherwise unwilling to do so) in order for you to feel better.
I understand the logic of the external locus of control mentality. If someone hurts you, and if they could only stop hurting you, you could stop being hurt. But if you can develop coping strategies for your teeth problems or your diabetes or your cancer or your other perpetratorless act of nature type harms, you should be able to do likewise for your issues that come from the misdeeds or shortcomings of people. And in resolving them independently without the need for others or the world to adjust or fix itself before you can be ok again just streamlines the efficiency of the process and is likely more efficacious because you don’t have to worry about enforcing your rules on others. (Not to say that people shouldn’t have boundaries, obviously they should. But if people respecting and adhering to your boundaries 100% is the only that you can feel ok in the world, then that is a precarious position to be in.)
This is already way too long, but I feel like I have not done a good enough job representing how useful the trait of resilience is, so a quick story that I also feel is related somehow. This morning as I was sitting on a bench in a public place, a man dressed as a monk came up to me and shook me down for a donation to some far away temple that was allegedly being restored. I gave him money, as I always do when asked (I don’t really have an attachment or any feeling toward money itself, only to what the acquisition or lack of money can sometimes represent, so I always do give money out of politeness). The other people he accosted after me refused him. Maybe they didn’t have money, or maybe they weren’t interested in his temple or opposed his religious beliefs or something, but I wondered if some of them didn’t give because they were worried about being scammed. I thought to myself, I do not experience any psychic or emotional harm in being scammed, at least not like this. And I felt very fortunate for that.
SUNDAY, JULY 5, 2015
A reader sent me a link to the article “Would I lie to you? ‘’leakage’’ in deceptive facial expressions relates to psychopathy and emotional intelligence.” In the study, researchers tested the ability of psychopaths and those with high emotional intelligence (“EI”) in emotional deception. Here are some fascinating highlights (citations omitted):
- Emotional deception via the alteration of facial expressions can occur in three ways : simulating an expression involves adopting an expression in the absence of any real emotion; masking an emotion involves replacing a felt emotion with a different emotional expression; and neutralizing an expression involves concealing a felt emotion with a neutral face.
- Some psychopathic individuals are chameleon-like actors and appear to use their acting skills to effectively manipulate others in various interpersonal contexts. In corporate settings, white-collar criminals with psychopathic characteristics, such as Bernard Madoff, often ﬁnd easy victims by appearing trustworthy, empathetic, and kind. Psychopathic offenders can readily feign remorse and a pro-social attitude to manipulate their way into lower sentences (i.e., manslaughter rather than murder), permissions to appeal their sentences, and undeserved conditional release. Despite their much longer criminal histories and poorer conditional release histories, psychopaths are 2.5 times more likely than non-psychopaths to be released when they apply for parole . Further, these decisions are faulty; psychopathic offenders in both studies spent fewer successful days on release compared to non-psychopaths released. In fact, extended interpersonal contact with a psychopath can lead to less accurate perceptions of psychopathic traits.
- Despite evidence that psychopathic individuals are successful manipulators, the manner in which they deceive and manipulate others is open to question. Psychopathy arguably is associated with effective emotional deception. The psychopath’s distinctive lack of emotional experience may prevent emotional ‘‘interference’’ in feigning emotional displays. That is, because of the lack of real emotion, there may be less genuine emotion ‘‘leaking’’ onto the false face during a fabricated emotional display. In support of this prediction, Herpetz et al. (2001) found that psychopathic offenders exhibited fewer and less intense facial expressions in response to pleasant and unpleasant emotional images relative to controls. We predict that psychopathic individuals, particularly those with strong interpersonal-affective features of the disorder, will have an advantage when attempting to control their facial expressions during deception because of their lack of emotion; such individuals may express less ‘‘leakage’’ of genuine emotion during deception. However, due to emotional recognition deﬁcits and a lack of understanding of what a sincere expression ‘‘looks like’’, these individuals will not necessarily be proﬁcient at creating a facial expression consistent with the feigned emotion.
- As predicted, psychopathic traits – speciﬁcally, high levels of interpersonal manipulation – were related to shorter durations of unintended emotional ‘‘leakage’’ during deceptive expressions. In contrast, the erratic lifestyle element of psychopathy predicted greater emotional inconsistency during deceptive displays. Individuals higher in EI – speciﬁcally, the ability to perceive and express emotion – feigned emotions more convincingly than others but were not more immune to emotional leakage.
In other words, psychopaths are the best at not letting other actual emotions interfere with the feigned emotion (presumably because the psychopath does not have strong feelings to suppress), but that people with high EI did a better job mimicking actual emotion (presumably because they know better what those emotions look/feel like).
FRIDAY, APRIL 11, 2014
I am a classically trained musician and I really do love music, but I don’t think it is the same way that most people love music. I read music blogs sometimes to find new music and most of the time it’s just people describing how the music feels to them, as if that is the main purpose of music. Music can feel like certain things to me too. Of course it is more like sensing the adrenaline kicking in as part of a fight or flight response to drums and bass, or feeling dopamine flood my brain to self-soothe for sad music. But mostly when I listen to music, I listen to the structure, the same way you might read an essay for the form, ignoring the substance. I never think that a song is “good” just because it makes me feel something. Music is manipulative by nature, it can provoke certain emotions, but so is a telenovela. People don’t judge the quality of television or film based on how much it makes them laugh or cry, do they? Don’t they resent the blatant attempts at manipulation? Why is music any different?
I was reading this music blog, and was surprised at the author’s reaction to this video:
i’ve never posted just a video before. and i already featured this track on the blog a long time ago. but i saw this today and it kind of blew my mind. it’s all one take (the first take, actually), and nothing out of the ordinary happens until about 1:36 in, at which point something extraordinary happens. (do yourself a favor tho and don’t skip ahead.) at that point, the fourth wall breaks, the shiny veneer crumbles, and you get a glimpse of an actual artist caught up in a true moment of connection with her craft. kind of incredible, actually. and it hit me in such a way that i’ve decided be naive enough to believe that it is what it purports to be — a genuine moment of unstaged, unaffected emotion. it was certainly compelling enough to be real, so i’m allowing myself to embrace it as such. -d
Really guy? “Connection with her craft”? “Genuine moment of unstaged, unaffected emotion?” I cant help but think that people like this want to be manipulated. They’re the same ones that believe (against all evidence to the contrary) in romantic love. If I see this attitude in someone I want to target, I will manipulate them until they truly weep. Do you think they mind me doing that? Or is that their masochistic goal?
I guess I don’t understand people.
FRIDAY, MARCH 28, 2014
I liked this comment from a past post:
I had a friend who was a sociopath… learning about sociopathy in general was one of the most fascinating experiences. This person was incredibly perceptive, with a piercing intellect and spontaneous creativity, and seemed to excel at all he turned his hand to. However, life was ultimately unfulfilling for him because he felt so surrounded by idiots and imbeciles, and was himself so free of emotional inhibitions that he knew he could do more or less whatever he wanted. I always appreciated his complete and utter disdain for social norms, and the ways we would become each other’s mutual psych experiment, even if it was difficult to learn that not one iota of his interest in me was emotional in nature. Sociopaths may be bereft of the empathic emotionality that constitutes the core of the neurotypical human experience, but I also feel there is much in the plight of the sociopath that is mirrored in ‘normal’ people, too; in essence, it is like gazing into a looking glass, seeing our basest, most ugly and unrestrained desires staring us back in our faces.
However, I feel so deeply sorry for people who had been in intimate relationships with these people. Honestly, I harbour no malice towards the sociopaths because they don’t operate on the same emotional paradigm of most of humanity. Their actions are not ‘evil’ insofar as they are not malicious in intention, merely selfish, as they cannot be anything else. However, there is even an inherent selfishness to the most deeply emotional and sentimental of people – that we are not lied to, that we are never deceived or manipulated, that our feelings are viscerally understood and reciprocated. The sociopath, by nature of their very being, is unable to fulfil this requirement. I have no doubt that they do ‘love’ in their way, but never the twain shall meet. My heart goes out to everyone who has been unwittingly hurt by these people. Ultimately, I can’t say that I hate them, as in many cases they are fascinating, beguiling and seductive existences, however I am quite content to watch that brilliant, chaotic maelström from a safe distance, never becoming swept up in its immediate vicinity.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 12, 2014
From a reader:
Let me start by saying I am incredibly grateful for your book and website.
In true ironic fashion, what drew me to buy your book is almost comical. I despise how dramatized and one-dimensional most fictional socio/psychopathic characters are portrayed on TV… But my empathic partner at the time would constantly correlate me with the likes of Sherlock (from the popular British TV show), Dr. House, Nick Naylor (from Thank You for Smoking), Doctor Who (cerebral narcissist who is rarely wrong and plays god with glee), and even said he saw me capable of the kind of dispassionate violence of Dexter or Hannibal.
(To this day I despise these rather caricatured versions of those with a sociopathy diagnosis. It tries to make people with the disorder into something they are not.)
A while back I had been to a psychologist who had suggested something in the Cluster B category of anti social personality disorders, strongly leaning on and suggesting sociopathy. Like you, I never put much thought into it. Why did it matter? It all seemed so droll… and that it might work against me in the grand scheme of things, were I to move forward and pursue a formal diagnosis.
I have a history of great success and plummeting failure for my young age. Usually due to becoming bored or being mindlessly vindictive to entertain myself. Today I am an entrepreneur making my place in the tech and marketing industry. My customers claim it’s like I can see the soul of their business and reveal it to the world as it truly is. Making money and strategic associations/networks has been a natural talent of mine since I was a young girl.
I am quite good at working a crowd and eliciting trust and confessions from strangers. People constantly claim it is like I have always known them, though I reveal little about myself. I have been berated for my “intense” eye contact, and am known to seduce or terrify people without much effort or even intention.
I don’t typically have thoughts of violence… But I adore being a social predator. There is nothing more delicious to me than the idea of emotionally ruining someone and making their feeble little world collapse on them.
On a day-to-day basis, I don’t feel much of anything except for a sense of neutrality and an empty roving hunger and boredom. Though I am an adept cognitive empathizer (through conscious and deliberate effort), I don’t have automatic or bodily affective empathy. And the moral worlds of other people is endlessly fascinating to me. I have moved through several sects of religion and philosophy, in an attempt to truly grasp why this is of such grave magnitude to most people; the “inherent” nature of such an abstraction is lost upon me.
And as you can probably ascertain from this long diatribe… I have a very sincere form of narcissism.
When I finally read your book, I ate it up with endless mirth. Not out of spite or because I found it to be perfunctory. Quite the contrary. You were the first author who wrote about WELL HIDDEN (or as the neurotypicals cutely coin it, “functional”) sociopaths who blend seamlessly in the world without having a tangible/traceable history of crime or malevolence. Finally someone I could relate to that was multifaceted… And actually existed!
It inspired within me two things. One, I wanted to learn as much about this “condition” as possible, so that I could utilize it with even more accuracy than before. Which leads to Two, my committed attempt to be more constructive, rather than destructive, with my personality and power. If I cannot change this thing that I am (which is the first form of foundational self I can honestly say I’ve ever truly perceived), then I might as well do the most with it.
Please accept my sincere gratitude for sharing so openly. Even if half of it is lies or greatly masked, your story has made the first indelible impact on my life that I have ever had the immense pleasure of experiencing.
That being said, I am looking to you for your perspective.
Recently I have began to initiate a relationship of sorts with someone whom is also appears to be sociopath. Both of us are aware of our “condition”. And both of us have committed to not play games, and to be painstakingly honest with one another. Believe it or not, I find him endlessly fascinating and have a strange respect for him, as I see him as one of my few equals. We have similar goals of being as functional as possible… But we also greatly enjoy relaying our daily hunting and games to one another. It’s an unspeakably delicious outlet. Not to mention the level of attention/adoration between us is unlike that of an empathic relationship, where I can easily and without intention hurt that person (and subsequently watch it disturb my life and plans—what an inconvenience).
Being honest with one another, we have not made any commitment or exclusiveness… And in fact this honesty only seems to increase the sense of intimacy between us. Another first in my life–this person has inspired some kind of bodily feeling of emotions in me… And he reports that I have much the same effect on him. It’s been overwhelming and at times uncomfortable. We’ve been experiencing this together, and trying to talk it out… Leading to more research.
Funny that you recently posted regarding the body-mind connection associated with emotions, and not being able to identify them. Have you read “The Growth of the Mind and the Endangered Origins of Intelligence” ?
There is an excerpt on pages 78-80, regarding a woman who “acted” on emotions, because she could not express them. And in fact, she could not even describe or process the bodily experience of an emotion. I think you’ll find it quite valuable:
“Something as simple as a child saying ‘I want to go outside’ can be responded to with a yes or no on the one hand, or, on the other, ‘What do you want to do outside?’ The latter response helps the child reflect on his wish, while the former only gives in to it or inhibits it. Reflection fosters the use of symbols, and, more broadly, the ability to think, while inhibition or immediate giving in both foster only a tendency toward action.
Meanwhile, the child’s concomitant neurological growth helps his repertoire of symbols multiply rapidly. The nervous system allows for quicker learning now, and he accumulates words and ideas with growing ease. He can imitate almost any sound or word and does so regularly. This is still not automatic, however. New words take on meaning and become part of the child’s vocabulary only when attached to the emotion or intent.
Memories are formed that involve not only images of patterns of action but also emotions, intentions, and desires. Without these affective components, memory would be a mere computer screen that showed pictures by rote, without meaning or structure. Because of them, however, memory becomes part of the expression of the individual self. Meaning and purpose, in other words, together with remembered sensations, form the dual code that is essential to our humanity.
When a child lacks nuanced relationships or cannot for neurological reasons learn from them, the images he develops contain less detail and complexity, his personality less differentiated, and his later ability to form relationships is much reduced. Many adults have never sufficiently mastered the ability to form images.
One such person, Susan, came into therapy in the hope of saving her deteriorating marriage. Her husband was spending increasingly long hours at the office, and their relationship was becoming more and more acrimonious. Whenever Jim’s work hours lengthened, she would complain and criticize, which naturally made him spend even more time working–which in turn only stepped up her complaints. Try as she might, she lamented to the therapist, she could not get him to pay her the attention that she needed and deserved.
Susan couldn’t connect the couple’s problems to her own feelings. She knew only that she felt generally “bad” but couldn’t find words to describe her state of mind or the root of her trouble. Nothing she tried seemed to break the pattern that was driving Jim away.
Her intense orientation toward changing Jim’s behavior alerted the therapist to the fact that had great difficulty representing many of her feelings symbolically rather than simply acting on them. When he asked her for more details about her feelings, she said that Jim’s refusal to come home made her behave coldly toward him. She would describe her actions or tendency to act a certain way, but not how she felt. The therapist, hoping to help her focus on her feelings, asked her first to attend to her physical sensations. She began by describing her muscles as tight and tense. Over time her descriptions hinted at emotions: for example, her body felt as though it were ‘getting ready for an attack.’ Only gradually did feelings like anger and furry emerge more clearly.
Eventually Susan learned to identify the bodily manifestations of fear and loneliness as well as anger. She came to realize that she felt vulnerable, helpless, and lost. Never before had she discussed her anger of feelings of loss; she had only sensed a vaguely defined, overly inclusive state of panic. Once she learned to talk about her sense of loss, she was able to connect her anxiety to Jim’s absence to similar terrors she had felt as a child. Whenever Susan had became needy, her stubborn, domineering mother responded by rejecting her emotionally. Distant and controlling, her mother had refused to brook any communication around issues of vulnerability, helplessness, or loss. Anger was completely taboo. Thus she had prevented the little girl, and the woman she had became, from learning to represent herself the feelings that surround rejection and abandonment. Unable to abstract and understand the painful feelings Jim’s angry absences evoked, Susan could only act them out and experience a global state of distress.”
Now, in my case, I would be acting like Jim… But I digress. I thought this would further help your hypothesis. Personally, as I begin to write out the physical sensations I undergo in given situations, it helps me identify and even parse out something that may be affective. Some food for thought.
To continue on my dilemma… While things are going quite well between myself and this man, there is something I’ve noticed.
Overall we are quite good at mutually driving each other to our very best in everything. We foster an interest to understand each other. It helps our behavior become less erratic.
However, when one or the other of us grows apathetic, as we tend to do when we have subdued acting on impulses/destructive desires… It tends to rub off on the other. We are at least cognitively empathetic toward one another, but obviously it’s quite hard to feel much distress for one another when we otherwise don’t feel distress for anything but an extreme or rare basis. It seems apathy breeds apathy, as we look to one another for some sort of solace in an otherwise dull world.
Have you ever heard of sociopaths in an intimate/meaningful relationship with one another?
We don’t have very much motivation to destroy or manipulate one another. If anything, we may egg each other on to act on our impulses at times. The reward in acting and moving forward with one another, without the usual neurotypical baggage/expectations, is much greater. Being largely without affect, we can offer one another advice that is mostly sound. But it seems that even though we commit to not mirror one another, we still can’t escape our natural inclination to do so, at least in this particular instance. Perhaps due to our very small sense of self? That we have conditioned ourselves to do such things and aren’t sure how to do otherwise?
What is your take on this?
Thank you for your time and thoughts.
Much adoration and respect,
FRIDAY, MARCH 7, 2014
From a reader:
As a ‘neurotypical’, I found your book both fascinating and inspiring. In fact, it may have been life-saving, if that description does not sound too melodramatic.
I was diagnosed with an eating disorder (EDNOS) about three years ago, and the disordered habits in turn triggered a very self-destructive form of depression. That depression came with its own score of disordered behaviors, steadily growing into masochism. I was, essentially, drowning myself in emotion. I lost sight of what was important for me and my life, and instead spent my energies either helping others or antagonizing them until they used me as an emotional punching bag.
And then I came across your blog, and the perspective you presented captured my attention. It was the opposite of where I was mentally, and thus intrigued me as I struggled to imagine what it would be like to be a sociopath. Several weeks later, I hit rock-bottom in all aspects of my life. I was either half starved or full to bursting, suffered frequent panic attacks, and couldn’t find the strength or motivation to complete my classwork. For a period of about two weeks I was incapable of anything that wasn’t self-destructive, and I was in a constant emotional state of pain and guilt.
When your book came out I purchased it immediately. I latched on to the personal perspective and tried to imitate it, just to see if I could get relief from my own situation long enough to recover my grades. It slid on like a second skin, and I couldn’t shake it. I did not magically become a sociopath, of course; but I do think something in my subconscious clung to the behaviors I had tried to imitate. For a period of about a month I lost all of my programed emotional responses. I no longer felt pangs of empathy, nor could I consciously recreate those feelings. All my self-destruction evaporated as I was suddenly able to see how completely idiotic such behaviors were, even as coping mechanisms or addictions. I no longer had intense emotional reactions to food, and I no longer cared empathetically for my friends or family. In essence I became a creature of complete selfishness. Boredom was my arch-enemy, for I had no emotional issues to occupy my thoughts (except anger; interestingly, I felt anger with a bright passion I hadn’t ever felt before), so I launched myself into projects of my own creation. I wanted to see what I could do. I found I had huge influence over the emotional states of the people around me, and I convinced my teachers to extend due dates and give me opportunities to gain back the points I’d missed with very little effort. I enjoyed pushing people and watching their reactions with a fascinated sort of distance. Of course, I also lost the love of a few friends, simply because I didn’t have the motivation to sustain a relationship if it wasn’t giving me anything. But the gains I made were outstanding. I could eat normally and was able to lose weight healthily. I participated in sports without having fainting spells.
After my exams were over, I slowly fell out of that state and returned to a pre-eating disorder, pre-depression mentality, with a much healthier body and mind. And I began to wonder if sociopathy is not a programmed survival mechanism. Perhaps we all have the capacity to abandon empathy and embrace an a-moralistic and self-centered world view. Perhaps it is an adaptation which allows those who do not have the luxury of being pro-social to survive. Of course, I do not pretend to have become sociopathic. But I was able to step into a similar pattern of thinking and behavior which likely saved my life. It certainly improved it. Maybe the sociopathic mind is designed to surmount obstacles the empathetic mind cannot.
Either way, you have given me a new perspective and a very good book, and I thank you!
This was a particularly interesting email for me to receive because one of my friends also has an eating disorder and found it to be very empowering, which is not the typical response that most people have to the book. I wonder if there are other disorders or issues that people have that would benefit from trying to put themselves more in the sociopathic mindset, at least temporarily?
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 7, 2014
From a reader:
A little bit of background on me; I’m 27, male and I’ve been trying to figure out what is wrong with me since middle school. At first I thought it was my upbringing – and I’m still curious if that played a role in how I’ve turned out. I had a tough childhood, and I was forced to become defensive at home and at school. More recently I’m noticing that; as far as I can tell I don’t connect with people or have the same emotions or thought processes they do.
It has worked out for me fairly well in my professional life, I tend to advance quickly in the things that I do, because I have an innate understanding of what people want. In my personal life, it’s just about destroyed it. It’s not so much that I attack people, I do subtly manipulate relationships in my personal life – and much more in my professional life. The problem is I can’t relate to people, I can’t relate to their emotions at all. There are times I feel like I should be sad, because I can tell everyone else is sad, but I’m not. The emotions I generally feel strongest are anger and frustration, or irritation.
I feel like I can only juggle a handful of relationships, otherwise it’s too much to keep up with and process. I guess what I’m getting at is this; if I told people how I really felt, or what I thought about life, and how they go about their lives, they would be horrified. If I acted as I feel I should, and I were really how I am, they would not want to know me. It’s not that I’m aggressive, or violent, but I don’t understand how they think. Everything seems to go through some sort of filter and come out dirtier than when it went in. Personally, I think in terms of A+B=X, about almost everything – including relationships.
So I guess my question is, how do you cope with this? Was there a time where you just decided to accept who and what you are? I don’t know if I’m a sociopath, I don’t really understand any of it, mostly because I don’t have anything to compare it to. It would be helpful to understand where you’re coming from, and possibly other sociopaths as I might actually relate to it.
This sounds very close to my own experience, although I couldn’t say for sure whether that makes you a sociopath. I don’t know if anyone really accepts himself completely. The problem with the idea of finding yourself (perhaps particularly if you’re a sociopath) is that you’re aiming for a moving target. But I think you’ll be surprised that many people will be able to understand you or at least accept the bulk of you if you are honest with them — particularly those who are most empathetic, oddly enough. Many of the people you tell may disappoint you, but you at least have the option. Should we see what other people think?
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 2014
From a reader:
My name is Violet and I have recently been “Diagnosed” with ASPD, specifically Sociopathy. My psychologist of six years has recently told me (recently, as in almost three months ago) that he believes me to be a sociopath and for quite a while now. This was sort of a revelation; so many aspects of my life and mind became clear and made complete sense. I then realized why so many relationships failed and why I never could understand certain life lessons my mother or others would try to explain.
The reason I am writing to you is because I have a few questions and I am internally torn at the moment. I am a practicing Catholic and have been since the “age of reason.” I think that is probably one of the most difficult aspects of my life, that is, being myself and trying to live by what my Faith and Church teach even when I disagree or possess no love or interest in it. I am purely a Catholic because the fear of Hell was instilled within me from a very young age. I have always questioned the Church when others around me follow it blindly, or what appears to me to be blindly. Do you believe it is possible for a sociopath to fully accept a form of religion? My religion teaches that human nature is inherently sinful. There are degrees and variations of evil and good. The Church never mentions anything about the human brain and how certain disorders or personalities could make one more susceptible to sin. Sociopaths can lie, cheat, kill, steal, etc. without feeling remorse but this doesn’t mean that we will, we are just more inclined to do those things and with ease. Would you say I am right? Psychology doesn’t seem to apply with most Christian religions. People do not think psychologically. Most people do not seem to think, independently anyway. I am a philosophy major. I have also taken many logic courses. Thinking differently and more extensively has always been a part of me. I am sure you can relate.
I am having difficulty finding facts about Sociopathy online. Most of what I come across are the exaggerated and dramatic narratives from “Victims of Sociopathic/psychopathic relationships” who complain about their past romantic relationships and the “Sociopath or psychopath” who wronged them. I find it very humorous that they think that because one man/woman (normally a man though) cheated on them and ended the relationship that this therefore makes them a sociopath or psychopath. What a hasty generalization. There are so many disorders, why do people always label the “evil doer” as a sociopath or psychopath? Also, there doesn’t have to be something psychologically wrong with a person to perform hurtful or faulty acts.
Most people are terrified of sociopaths/psychopaths. I find this very interesting. I told my closest friend and she has absolutely no issue remaining my best friend. In fact, she finds it fascinating and she said it explains a lot of my behavior. She is also Catholic and an empath. I think she has a “Normal personality.” She is the least dramatic and emotionally charged person I know, and because of this our friendship works very well.
I understand that most people are fixated on the “no remorse” aspect of the personality and that is why they are afraid and prefer to remain apart from us. I am tired of pretending though and I am tired of being an actress. Every now and then I am myself though, either with people I am just meeting or my mother’s friends. I just do not see the sense in pretending for certain people; I gain nothing from them so I will stay away.
I also have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Is this common? My research online only stated that the personality favors order and control. I am constantly internally examining myself for all of the traits I have read or the little “ticks” that I possess. Since discovering that I have the personality this has been a great personal study.
I have one more question. Is it normal that there would be an abusive instigator or crucial person who would illicit abnormal emotional behavior for a sociopath? From Childhood maybe? Research has suggested this. Sort of like the one person who helps form the person through abuse and could possibly only be the person to illicit any sort of emotional behavior? My psychiatrist thinks it is possible and told me that my mother is this person. She is the only one who can make me cry. Do you have that sort of person?
Your website is very helpful.
I do think sociopaths can be religious, for various reasons, including maybe that they just want to. My religion seems to take into account psychological issues and relies more on mercy than justice, so maybe that’s why I feel at home there.
I don’t think that we don’t have emotions, we just don’t usually give them any sort of meaning or real role in our lives. You probably feel anger towards your mother? I used to feel angry at my father, now I just don’t. I figure, what’s the point?
Neuroscientist and diagnosed James Fallon has talked about having bouts of both obsessive compulsive behavior and anxiety issues. If you believe that sociopathy is largely a disorder of attention, which I do, then it makes sense that we would become fixated on things (OCD or anxiety) in addition to being completely oblivious to others (unemotional, unempathetic) — hyper and hypo attention, if those are words.
MONDAY, JANUARY 20, 2014
From Fringe (spoiler alert, the observer characters are an advanced future race of humans that have evolved in such a way to replace emotions with rational thought):
Observer: But you ascribed meaning to something that was not there. You saw what you wanted to see. You believed what you wanted to believe, because that’s what your emotions do. They ascribe meaning to something that is not there. They fool your perception as to what is real. A dog does not smile, no matter how many times your kind might think it does. . . You blame us for her death, but it is irrelevant. She was here, now she is simply not here.
Human: You’re wrong about emotions not being real. My feelings for her are very, very real.
But that’s not quite the point that the sociopathic observer is making, is it? He never said that emotions don’t exist (i.e. are not real). He just said that they obscure one’s perception of reality, which I think most people would agree with? I have seen people make similar statements as the human before and I always wonder what point they’re trying to make. What does it mean to them for feelings to be real? For instance, if you were having a hallucination of a dragon and I told you that there is no dragon, you might tell me that the dragon is real. And I guess in a way you would be right be the dragon exists in your hallucination, and what does it mean for something to be real? But from my perspective and from the reality that most people share, there is no dragon. And if you persist in obligating me to acknowledge your hallucinated dragon as being “real” because it is real from your perspective, then you must equally acknowledge that the dragon is not real because from my perspective it is not.
It reminds me of this tweet:
THURSDAY, JANUARY 16, 2014
This was a good Lifehacker article on how to manipulate people (quick read, worth reading in its entirety). The following are the headings from the article along with my thoughts on each suggestion:
- Emotion vs. Logic: Appealing to emotion rather than logic in manipulation is a little bit of a no brainer. Not only do most people respond better to emotion than logic, irrational people often best (only?) respond to fear.
- Master Your Own Emotions: Mastering your emotions means essentially two things — being able to divorce your emotions from what is happening externally (look at this article for helpful suggestions of how) and being able to project the right emotions in the right circumstances to create the desired illusions.
- Be Charming and Flirt Often: I love to flirt. I flirt with everyone. I used to flirt only with people that I could see myself wanting to seduce, but then the person who first called me a sociopath famously told me that she flirts with everyone, gay or straight because everyone likes positive attention everyone wants to be seduced.
- Overcome Trust Issues and Heal Doubt: Building trust with your target is often critical, see number 2 here (does Lifehacker read this blog? or have a sociopath on staff cluing them in?)
- Conceal Evil in Altruism: This step means pretty much what it says and is super popular with celebrities, billionaires and politicians.
- What to Do If You’re Discovered: In addition to backpedaling and creating doubt in your target’s mind as to whether you were actually manipulating them, I also suggest starting a counter insurgency campaign against them where you are spinning the message to favor you and disfavor them (Oliver North is a good example of this) if they’re an enemy, or possibly proposing some sort of alliance if they’re a friend or loved one (think Skyler White in Breaking Bad). Of course the best course of action is to prophylactically insure against this by building an actual, legitimate reputation for good (at least in certain areas) for people to cross-reference.
Also, beware the anti-seducer, for they cannot be manipulated.
FRIDAY, JANUARY 10, 2014
Daniel Goleman popularized the term emotional intelligence in his book “Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ“. Apparently people are just now realizing that emotional intelligence is basically a prerequisite for effective manipulation and emotional deceit? Adam Grant writes for The Atlantic about “The Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence“:
In some jobs, being in touch with emotions is essential. In others, it seems to be a detriment. And like any skill, being able to read people can be used for good or evil.
Since the 1995 publication of Daniel Goleman’s bestseller, emotional intelligence has been touted by leaders, policymakers, and educators as the solution to a wide range of social problems. If we can teach our children to manage emotions, the argument goes, we’ll have less bullying and more cooperation. If we can cultivate emotional intelligence among leaders and doctors, we’ll have more caring workplaces and more compassionate healthcare. As a result, emotional intelligence is now taught widely in secondary schools, business schools, and medical schools.
Emotional intelligence is important, but the unbridled enthusiasm has obscured a dark side. New evidence shows that when people hone their emotional skills, they become better at manipulating others. When you’re good at controlling your own emotions, you can disguise your true feelings. When you know what others are feeling, you can tug at their heartstrings and motivate them to act against their own best interests.
Shining a light on this dark side of emotional intelligence is one mission of a research team led by University College London professor Martin Kilduff. According to these experts, emotional intelligence helps people disguise one set of emotions while expressing another for personal gain. Emotionally intelligent people “intentionally shape their emotions to fabricate favorable impressions of themselves,” Professor Kilduff’s team writes. “The strategic disguise of one’s own emotions and the manipulation of others’ emotions for strategic ends are behaviors evident not only on Shakespeare’s stage but also in the offices and corridors where power and influence are traded.”
Dark side? Saying emotional intelligence has a dark side because it makes you better at influencing people to act and choose in ways that they might not otherwise have chosen is sort of like saying intelligence has a dark side because frequently people who make smart choices also happen to foreclose opportunities for other people. Not everything in life is a zero sum game, but often when there are winners there are also losers, e.g. most stock trades. And isn’t the ability to persuade and even manipulate people one of the carrots for learning emotional intelligence in the first place? The same way that the ability to earn more and engage in more of life is an incentive to cultivate ones’ other intelligences? Are we trying to defang nature?
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 29, 2013
From researcher Brene Brown on the distinction between empathy and sympathy, among other characteristics of empathy:
It’s interesting that Brown quotes another scholar, Theresa Wiseman, who studied professions in which empathy is (allegedly) important. Wiseman came up with four main qualities of empathy based on these studies:
- Perspective taking (ability to take perspective of another person or recognize their perspective as their truth)
- Staying out of judgment (not easy when you enjoy it as much as most of us do)
- Recognizing emotion in other people
- Communicating that
To me, I can say yes to all of those things. I can take people’s perspective, as well as other people (maybe better?). I stay out of judgment (no bandwagon angry mob public shaming). I can recognize emotion in other people and communicate it back to them, it’s why I am so good at reading and manipulating people. My main problem is recognizing emotion in myself. But Professor Brown then concludes that empathy is “feeling with other people.” Ok, maybe that is what it is, or maybe that is what it feels like for most people (whether or not that’s even possible or if people are just projecting their own emotions on the empathy target). But if the four main qualities don’t include “feeling with other people,” is that what is really valuable about empathy? If I can do the other four things, am I basically covering all of the important empathy bases?
Labels: brene brown, emotional hallucinations, emotions, emotions in context, empathy, limitations of empathy, mind-blindness, perspective taking, public shaming, sympathy, theory of mind, theresa wiseman
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 2013
Apparently someone dressed up as a Boston Marathon bombing victim for Halloween so deserves to die or at the very least be cast from the warm arms of humanity, is the latest story. Here’s one person’s (saner?) reaction to the torch and pitchfork approach:
Alicia Lynch received death threats almost immediately. She had people circulating her home address and promising to send her a “special delivery”; digging up compromising pictures of her; threatening her parents. She of course had her job contacted and within 48 hours was fired, despite the fact that she’d worn the costume to her office. She apologized over and over again on Twitter and begged for the abuse to stop, but it didn’t. Some tweeted about the need to keep “bullying” her, others to “make sure she fries”. It was unimaginable venom, unforgivable hatred, and unconscionable vengeance all directed at somebody who wore a stupid fucking Halloween costume. It happened quickly and mercilessly. This poor, dumb girl never knew what hit her.
There are those among us who believe they’re owed satisfaction at the slightest hint of an offense — even if that offense is only taken on behalf of others — and that see no irony in responding with disproportionately despicable actions to actions they see as despicable. The ferocious mob, confident in its moral authority and secure in its numbers and relative anonymity, will not be denied and cannot be stopped. Its wrath is meant not only as punishment for this insult but as a warning to others who might consider one day making a joke it doesn’t approve of; wearing an outfit it doesn’t like; doing a supposedly hurtful thing that can only be dealt with through hurt administered on a vast and crushing scale.
Maybe the most telling and singularly unsettling reaction fired in Alicia Lynch’s direction came toward the end of the feeding frenzy and was offered as a show of “mercy.”
“As a Bostonian, I forgive you. I am glad that you have not killed yourself, and I seriously hope you learned your lesson.” — @TheTwidster
Oh, I’m sure she has learned her lesson. As have we all. But here’s the thing, pal: It wasn’t your lesson to teach. And it was never your forgiveness to offer. You’re not special. You’re just one more asshole who jumped on the outrage bandwagon rather than shrugging off the behavior of a nobody you’ve never met and never will and getting on with your fucking life.
I wonder, why is it that sociopaths are immune to moral outrage? Perhaps because we don’t believe that our emotional reactions equate to TRUTH/GOD’S CALL TO VENGEANCE (remember when people were so worked up at the idea of miscegenation or desegregation? Is it because we think way fewer things are moral issues than most people (Tasteless Halloween costumes? Is this a breach of morality, or just thoughtless? Even if it was a moral issue, do we call up your average murderer and threaten to kill them? What makes her the special target of people’s vigilanteism and public shaming?) Certainly sociopaths have much less invested in social norms than the average person. And isn’t this what this boils down to? Someone has violated a social norm, so they no longer deserve to live? Empaths — you are scary mothers when you get all emotionally riled up about something. But I guess they had it coming, right?
The great food reset.
The physical Universe.
Antarctica and the hollow planets!
Is planet Earth hell?
Humanity & History!
Health and Ageing!
Mind control, US destruction from inside out!
Africa, Marduk’s Bluff? & Alien response & Putin.
The Biofield and low frequent EM field/waves.
Liberalism now lost?
Dulce, New Mexico, whistle-blower rapport by Thomas Edwin Castello.
Numbers 3, 7, 9,11,13, 33, 39.and the Free- Masons & illuminati.
Loosh, energy generated by all organic life forms.
Mad Science from Dr Mercola publication.
End of the Western Democracy and liberalism.