xenologer: (one)
First off, here's some basic background on psychopathy and how it gets discussed, for those here who don't spend a lot of time and effort on this kind of thing (which it's cool if you don't because we all have to do different stuff so we can come together and pool our data and have that be useful).

In addition, while the terms "psychopath" and "sociopath" are often used interchangeably, not all medical professionals agree that they are equivalent. I'm going to use them interchangeably here because they occupy the same space in what I have to say, but in other contexts the differences can matter quite a bit.

There's also a blog and accompanying message board run by people who are willing to be identified as psychopaths and sociopaths or as having anti-social personality disorder.

To empaths--a term that gets used a lot by diagnosed psychopaths to refer to people whose emotions and cognition are more typical--a psychopath is a frightening monster, because after all... without guilt, who can be good? Without fear, who can be good? Without empathy, who can be good? This is a well-known sort of concept of a psychopath, and I'm not saying I cannot understand why it's so common. Criminal psychopaths have been studied far more extensively than non-criminal psychopaths (to the point that it's actually very difficult for anybody without a criminal record to get a diagnosis), probably because when people commit awful crimes there's a stronger urge than there was before to figure out what makes that person tick.

I think what I'd like to do is give another perspective. I'm not saying it's more correct or that all people should come at things from this perspective, but it seems to me that a lot of empaths are very very bad at considering what they look like to psychopaths, (which I suspect to be because empaths are "normal" and normal people don't have to care what Others think of them because Others aren't really whole valid people, which is a hilariously hypocritical attitude for empaths to have toward psychopaths, but I digress).

So I am gonna speak from a personal perspective here for a moment, so this bit'll just be about my background, my understanding, my perspective, and how I have changed as a person over time. I tend to use both first and third person pronouns when I talk about both sociopaths and empaths (for reasons I am about to explain), but since I am presumably talking to more empaths, that makes empaths more likely to be the "they," as my whole purpose is... sort of to Other the bejesus out of you so that you can walk with me through what that looks like.


All of the most untrustworthy people in my life have been very emotional. I grew up with a highly unstable assortment of family members, most of whom were so mentally out of control that they could not even maintain a consistent memory of their own lives. They were gaslighty as hell, but I always knew even at the time that they were not lying; they just didn't realize they'd revised history. It's not lying if they lie to themselves first, right?

My biological father is one of those really frighteningly violent misogynist mama's boys with a documented history of both violence against women and steroid use (which likely synergized in a serious way). My mother has some combination of borderline personality disorder and badly-adapted autism (which I am distinguishing from the well-adapted sort of neuroatypicality that I think actually makes lots of people better and more trustworthy). She was also violent.

If you didn't grow up a kidnapping risk, you might not understand what sort of world that creates for a child. If you didn't grow up writing down everything that happened to you so that you could compare authority figures' accounts of their rules, their beliefs, and your behavior, you might not understand how deeply-ingrained a mistrust of emotions it can give you. If you didn't grow up with literally every single credible threat being rooted in someone else's lack of emotional stability, you might not understand being afraid of people because they have an obvious emotional life.

That's how I grew up.

This is complicated by the fact that I dissociated for a good while. I didn't have fugues in which one of us was "out" and the others just switched off or anything; we shared our memories because our job was to survive and we could not do that by withholding information from each other. I say this to illustrate one very important thing you should know about me:

I--the single fully-integrated person who is typing this--am not rooted in the old "core" of me. I was an auxiliary set of processes with responsibilities geared toward planning and implementing the social management decisions of the group. Emotions were not my job. They were not my purpose.

Unlike a lot of you reading this, I remember when I began to feel for the first time. I remember when feelings became "mine" rather than experiential data from my sisters that I ought to take into account as I helped keep us alive and healthy. I remember being on the outside of everybody else's feelings, looking in, and I remember how empaths looked to me.

Empaths were frighteningly irregular creatures whose moral and ethical codes were perpetually at risk of being tossed aside because somebody has a feeling. Emotions changed people, changed what they considered acceptable behavior from themselves or others, changed their memories of their own lives, changed their classification of others as dependents or threats, and I just couldn't trust anybody whose whole ethical framework could be overturned so quickly and easily by external forces. I'm not the only one (TW: violence).

You see, I wasn't like that. The person I was--who is the root of the person I expanded into and am now--wasn't like that. Emotions were not instructions. What was true before I had a feeling was true during the feeling and after it. If I believed it was wrong to steal or destroy the possessions of others, getting angry didn't change that, nor did being really sad. This was not the behavior I saw modeled from empaths. If I believed that it was wrong to threaten vulnerable people--such as one's children--with violence, a fit of rage did not actually change the parameters of acceptable behavior. This was not the behavior I saw modeled from empaths. If I made a promise, that did not cease to have meaning if I later became upset with the person I'd made a vow to; this was not the behavior I saw modeled by empaths.

I didn't even know people said things they didn't mean when angry until I was an adult, because I don't do that. Why should my anger affect what I ought or ought not say? Why should it skew my own awareness of my own opinions, needs, or ethics? The unstable people I grew up with always meant what they said when they were angry; they just meant something different an hour ago and tomorrow would forget they'd ever even said what they meant today.

Whom are you more scared of? People who operate based on behavioral rules, or people who are ruled by their emotions?

If you were me, how would that change your answer?

According to the Psychopathic Personality Inventory put together by Patrick, Fowles, and Krueger in 2009, here are my scores.

Format: (Score/Female Mean) # of standard deviations away as determined through really quick and sloppy math

Total Score (433/313) 3.2

Machiavellian Egocentricity (79/59) 1.6
Social Potency (89/60) 2.6
Fearlessness (41/42) Lower than the mean! Egad!
Coldheartedness (48/41) 0.7
Impulsive Nonconformity (52/10) 14
Carefree Nonplanfulness (45/35) 1.4
Stress Immunity (32/27) 0.8
Alienation (38/34) 0.5

So while I don't really identify as a psychopath at this point since what I'd mean by it is very different from what others mean (since the term commonly doesn't include even the possibility of personal codes of conduct, which is what I use to regulate my behavior), the numbers tell a slightly different story.

Okay so we get it Xeno you're a big giant freak. Why tell us?

I was reading this thread about firing squads (trigger warning: cavalier discussion of violence, child abuse, abuse apologism, and torture), and there was a lot of talk about whether people with antisocial personality disorder can be cured, can be reformed, can be repaired.

I just... there's an extent to which non-criminal sociopaths are just... neuroatypical, and while talking about them like they're evil monsters is not gonna harm nearly as many people as talking that way about people on the autism spectrum (since people on the spectrum are far less likely to have the social power to shrug it off than high-functioning psychopaths), it's still kinda fucked up. It's also a little fucked up that when advocates for autistic people are explaining that they're still able to be good decent human beings their comments kinda ring (to me) as "Look I'm not a PSYCHOPATH okay," which... I know you're not. You deserve to be seen clearly and identified by others in a way that you know to be accurate. You deserve to be able to recognize the truth of yourself in how you are discussed and treated by others. Nonetheless, ouch, bro.

Psychopaths cannot be -rehabilitated- as much as they can learn to mimic non-psychopaths, even then they are noted as being good liars.

We can pass. It's true! Those with a good intuition for social interaction can behave properly and avoid seeming like what they are. Not gonna lie, though, sometimes I wish empaths were a little better at this. It's worth noting, though, that empathy can be learned, even by those who have been diagnosed as deficient in it.

A sociopath/psychopath will never care as to what they have done to the people that they have harmed or killed. (...) She is a shell of a human being with a mouth that can say 'I love you, Mom.' It won't shock me if/when she turns out to be a serial killer. But I will be the one to pull the switch on whatever method of the death penalty I can.

Damn empaths. You scary.

Sociopaths vs. ...versus whom, really? Who else is there? What's the actual opposite of a sociopath?

Personally, I consider sociopathy and psychopathy to be at one end of a spectrum, but I don't put "normal" or "neurotypical" at the other end. I put codependency at the other end. Have you ever known somebody who was addicted to life-sucking relationships to the extent that they had them over and over again and always had serious trouble leaving their abuser(s) because they just didn't have the heart? Have you ever known people who enabled substance abusers? I consider such people to have empathy poisoning. They feel the pain of others so strongly that they are controlled by it and make crap decisions that damage their own lives and the lives of others. To have and enforce even healthy boundaries, such people resist to avoid seeming like jerks even if they know intellectually that it is what will be best for everybody.

It has been my experience that people who are too far toward the codependency end of this spectrum cannot be trusted. In my experience, people who have made a serious commitment to a codependent relationship are willing to sacrifice their own personal integrity and the well-being of people outside the relationship for the sake of pouring ever more and more into their codependency buddy.

Give me somebody whose rules are created dispassionately, whose behavior is ordered based on what they have decided to be appropriate, and whose emotions are perhaps a little further away than arm's reach. At least I will be able to decide whether to trust them. The very very emotional? How can you even truly know them?

As I said before, I don't need everybody to feel this way. I'm not even trying to convince anybody that this is acceptable. I am just trying to turn that mirror around the other way. What if psychopaths were in a position to judge empaths?

It'd be nice if things were a little different, and even if I am not sure what I'd change, low-empathy individuals wouldn't be the only ones making adjustments.

I won't say that empaths need more positive psychopath and/or sociopath role models, because while there are arguments to be made in favor of that depending on what you value, I just don't understand empaths well enough to do more than avoid the ones who tend to run off the rails a lot. I will say that it wouldn't have taken me nearly so long to grow into my own emotions if empaths had a better track record of being role models. Even now that I have caught up to a large extent by having my sisters integrate into me and being in sole possession of this brain that is my self, I quite frequently find myself returning to, "Damn empaths, you scary."

Try not to forget that? I guess that's all I am asking for. Don't stop being empaths! Just... don't get so excited about the superiority of people whose emotions jerk them around until you've considered how frightening that makes such people to those whose emotions take a backseat or perhaps choose not to ride along at all. If you want us to put in the effort necessary not to frighten you, it'd be pretty swell if you'd consider that it's natural to be a little freaked out by those people whose thought processes one does not understand, even when those people are you.

Date: 2014-04-01 09:38 am (UTC)From: [personal profile] crystalpyramid
crystalpyramid: crystal pyramid suspended in dimensional abnormality (Default)
This makes complete sense to me. I am definitely pretty far on the empath side, coming from a line of anxious pathologically nice women who have let it screw with their lives and their families to a somewhat ridiculous extent (and my mom and stepmom both loved to accuse me of being scary and cold when I was a teenager).

It sort of reminds me of the argument that only theists are capable of morality. If I'm a theist and I only do good out of fear of divine punishment, how does that make me more moral than somebody who does good out of some kind of abstract care for others? If I only act kindly towards others because empathy makes me literally miserable when they are unhappy (and it does), isn't that a more selfish action than someone acting kindly for more purely rational reasons?

Date: 2014-04-01 09:54 am (UTC)From: [personal profile] sylvaine
sylvaine: Dark-haired person with black eyes & white pupils. (Default)
(here via [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith linking to this; I hope you don't mind a complete stranger reading/commenting!)

Thank you for this post - I'm sorry to say I never questioned the popular equation of psychopath = evil and scary, even though I myself had to teach myself empathy (and, perhaps, have done a too good job of it). And yes, of course a cold-hearted, remorseless crime is terrifying - but so is a crime of passion completely out of the blue.

ETA: Would you be ok with me linking to this on my journal and/or twitter?
Edited Date: 2014-04-01 09:58 am (UTC)

Date: 2014-04-01 01:56 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] peoriapeoriawhereart
peoriapeoriawhereart: Steve in khaki, Peggy foreground (Behind Woman)
I'm wondering if that female mean has a hidden bias. When I was a kid, I thought of certain flats, as opposed to sneakers, as well, willfully hobbling. To run effectively you'd have to take them off and continue barefoot.

I know that when I branched my writing out and was researching the psychiatric apparatus around gender conformation (which was still called sex change at the time) surgery, I noticed that 'woman' had ossified by the people positioned as gatekeepers that wouldn't include plenty of cis women.

And yes. Morality is not something intended to be thrown over by emotion. It is meant to be a break to control impulses, so you don't bear false witness against your neighbor, seize his livestock and women and otherwise outrage everything that allows society to happen.

Date: 2014-04-01 09:29 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] staranise
staranise: A star anise floating in a cup of mint tea (Default)
This is fascinating thinking. I like your thinking on it more than the psychopath-identified communities you link to. I definitely agree that the current "augh, unclean, inhuman" response to psychopaths is clouding peoples' thinking here. I definitely think that EVERY point at the emotion/empathy scale has a failure mode that makes people dangerous and amoral, and more successful modes where they can productively be members of society.

As-you-may-know-Bob, I'm a therapist whose focus in complex trauma. My clinical forte overall is Cluster B personality disorders, namely, oddities, fluctuations, and failures in empathy and personal boundaries. I'm influenced by Kohut's Self Psychology and other psychodynamic approaches a lot. So that's kind of where I'm coming from when I poke at things. So that's me thinking: what's the usefulness of variously using descriptions of autism, psychopathy/narcissism, and schizoid?

The thing that makes me the most dubious of using "psychopath" in this context is comparing it to the emotional upsets and pauses in logic attributed to "empaths"--since psychopaths are actually pretty renowned for severe emotional outbursts that contradict previous intentions or resolutions. It makes me think that stability vs. fluctuation is occurring over some different axis than one's ability to emotionally empathize with other people (which is generally the dividing characteristics of psychopaths/narcissists and non-psychopaths).

Date: 2014-04-02 10:15 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] xiphias
xiphias: (Default)
One of my friends is probably a sociopath of some sort, and I consider her to be one of the most trustworthy and ethical people I know. When she was a small child, she realized that she had no problem causing pain to others, and that other people's pain didn't affect her at all. She ALSO realized that she didn't get any BENEFIT from other people's pain, and she decided that she would rather live in a world with mutually-beneficial interpersonal relationships, and looked into how one makes sure to act in ways that promote that.

She has no inherent sense of "morality" -- rather, she has a carefully-thought-out and reasonable code of honor and ethics, which she follows rigorously.

Who would you want to be around? Someone who has some sort of uninvestigated vague sense of "right" and "wrong" that they don't even understand, or someone who has carefully crafted her manner of life to be the most beneficial to herself and to everyone else around her?

Date: 2014-04-01 12:27 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile] cluegirl.livejournal.com
And yet, the sociopaths I grew up with -- including the serial child rapist -- acted more or less exactly like the empaths YOU grew up with. 'Emotion' was there as a front to excuse behavior they wanted to engage in anyway.

I think the presence or lack of empathy might not be what's at issue here, so much as the presence or lack of a moral center, and the individual's having any reason to adhere to it if those morals become inconvenient to the moment or to their ambitions.

And I do also notice that non-empaths (let's lump them there, since I do perceive a difference between socio and psycho) tend to hook up with codependents a LOT. I wonder what they get out of that. (both ways)

Date: 2014-04-01 01:52 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile] virginia-fell.livejournal.com
Do you see what I am saying, though? The "zomg send all the non-empaths to an island and let them kill each other off so the rest of us can live in peace" thing is pretty damned common, and I really really do not think it's appropriate to use "sociopath" or "psychopath" as synonyms for "terrible dangerous bad person who hurts others."

That is a thing which happens, and it's kind of ridiculous. People who get jerked around by their emotions are throwing stones from a pretty fragile house if they want to criticize low-empathy people for being threats to those around them. I don't need everyone to agree with the assertion that it's easier for non-empaths to be ethical (since I am not even making that assertion myself); I just want people to think twice the next time they see "good people" as a group that must by definition exclude non-empaths (or even just low-empathy individuals).

I want people to think twice for two reasons (all uses of "you" are general): the first is how easy it is to be ethical if you want to if emotional data is only kindasorta important to you, and the second is how easy it is to fail at being ethical even if you want to if emotions can steer you into unethical decisions.

I'm not saying, "Non-empaths are better than empaths." I just want people to stop acting like non-empaths so much worse specifically because of being non-empaths.

Date: 2014-04-01 06:57 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile] admnaismith.livejournal.com
I'm not sure the people you describe as 'empaths' here are the same people I would describe as 'empaths.' Then again, it's not necessarily a subject I grok particularly well.

I was the guy who spent months racked with guilt, thinking I was one of those sociopaths who couldn't feel guilt. Go ahead and laugh. I was fifteen years old. I got over it.

I was also the one who caused a lot of pain and got hurt in retaliation because I couldn't read emotions. Way longer than I should have, I put it down to the world being full of mean people who hurt me. Always their fault, not mine. Took a while, but eventually I did what you would do, and looked at it with emotionless logic and made a decision to STUDY the thing I didn't have an aptitude for until I learned enough about it to function adequately. The fact that I can be trusted friends with the likes of you and Joreth means more to me than you may think, since it's such major evidence that I really have come from a bad place to somewhere I really wanted to be.

Seems to me, no one is uncurable. But change does come from within, and you have to want it.

Seems to me, the so-called 'empaths' you describe are doing what almost everybody does, and finding some group to put "outside the box" of people who deserve the same rights as everyone else. There are racists who are quite cordial, polite and decent to white people, misogynists who are perfect friends to their dudebros, Christians who behave like good people to other Christians only, people who love and respect all people...except child molesters. Except wall street bankers. Except sociopaths. I do this with the Tea Party. you do it with misogynist trolls. Maybe everyone needs a devil. Seems to me, maybe some of those groups really are beyond the pale. No reason we need to be kind and welcoming to trolls, after all. but to the extent 'empaths' do this, it seems to me they're making a special case and setting aside their empathy for that category of people. It's not a trait of empaths; it's an exception.

Seems to me, YOU aren't a non-empath. You have values that give you an unusual ability to put emotion aside and look at things with more practical sensible analysis than most people have, but you're putting aside emotion when you do that. You are not lacking it entirely. Seems to me, you are fundamentally kind at your core. When you become the Sword of Fury, it is in the service of justice as you understand it; it is not hurting people for pleasure, or because you don't understand the pain felt by someone who deserves to bear the consequences of incurring your wrath.

I have met sociopaths. I have interviewed them and stood beside them and advocated for them in the most favorable possible light when called on in my work to do so. They're not you. They're a whole different category. I'm not for killing and torturing anyone, but some people need to be put in a special environment where they can't get at their victims. Not permanently, necessarily, but until they get what they need to do life right.

You're doing just fine.

Date: 2014-04-01 08:43 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile] belenen.livejournal.com
I've never really thought of those people who are ruled by their emotions as empaths, nor of those who don't engage much with emotion as sociopaths. I think that people like to 'other' and 'punish' and people who aren't affected by social disapproval are *oh god dangerous!* to the average person. I don't have any problem with people who aren't very emotional, or who engage with their emotions at will and deliberately only. I am sure there are people who would describe me in this way, because I do not allow anger to influence my ethics, 99.99% of the time (and I've had people literally push me on purpose to the breaking point (once), or try to (multiple times, multiple people)). I don't think there is anything inherently good or bad about how much someone feels. The thing I find dangerous is people who use others, and those come in various emotional-ness.

I don't really use the word sociopath because I don't know what it means. I use the word 'empath' to describe someone who picks up other people's emotions. I know that if an empath does not know how to manage that, it results in nothing but damage all around.

/end rambles.

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