This is going to be a bit long, but it’s something that’s been on my mind for a while because there’s something of an upswing in the number of “trendy” sociopaths in fictional media of late.
I’m 99.9% certain that I’m a sociopath; in the absence of the full-blown PD, I am in any case highly sociopathic, so I thought I’d offer a perspective of what it’s like to be so in hopes that someone might find it useful or at least interesting.
As a general background: I’m AFAB, twenty-one years old next month, upper middle class, currently in college, white, conservative nondenom Christian family (I am agnostic or atheist, depending on the day), asexual and aromantic, no criminal record and the most severe crime I’ve ever committed involved swiping a candy bar from a gas station.
Broke things up into categories for ease of reading, though there’s a fair bit of overlap in some places.
• I experience emotional empathy extremely rarely, and when I do feel it, it’s little more than a twinge of an echoed emotion that fades almost instantly.
• I have really good cognitive empathy, though, meaning I’m really good at picking up on what the people around me are feeling—I just don’t care particularly.
• I can, however, manufacture emotional “empathy” by triggering appropriate emotions in myself after recognizing what the other person is feeling.
• This is because I have an extreme degree of control over what I feel at any given time: If I decide I’m going to be excited, I feel excitement. If I decide I want to be sad, I feel sad. If I decide I’m happy, I feel happiness, and so on. And, contrary to conventional wisdom, I can and do feel almost the full range of human emotion—the exceptions are empathy, guilt, and to a certain extent remorse and shame.
• Flip side: Naturally occurring emotions are quite weak (unless I decide they’re going to be otherwise) and transient, fading quickly. I can also stop them in their tracks if I so choose (not repression; if I notice an emotion and then choose not to focus on it, it vanishes almost immediately).
• This applies to pain as well: I have an extremely high tolerance for physical pain. Everyone can mitigate pain by ignoring it, to an extent, but for me I can compartmentalize even severe pain so thoroughly that it stops hurting completely.
• I’m not immune to anxiety; I’ve had very severe panic attacks in the past. I also experience intermittent bouts of social anxiety, although I can turn this off at will as with any other emotion.
• Most of the time, I spend in a vaguely content state of neutrality (not numbness—i have felt numb and dissociated in the past, but where numbness is an engine that won’t start, this is more like an engine idling while waiting for application of the gas pedal). My most common emotion is happiness, I think, followed by annoyance, and then sadness. (I like feeling sad sometimes. It can be nice, as long as it doesn’t drop into despair.) I don’t actually get angry all that often, and then it comes in flashes—a few seconds of blinding, murderous rage, followed by a few minutes of cold fury, and then it generally fades into annoyance.
• I experience intellectual versions of emotions I don’t actually feel in the traditional sense. If I’m aware that I’ve hurt someone, even if I don’t care on a gut level, I can and do care on an intellectual level if I so choose.
• I don’t have a conscience in the traditional sense. I have a very firm ethical code based primarily on utilitarianism and an abhorrence of injustice, but there is no subconscious “voice” telling me that a thing is right or wrong.
• I DO feel love, and feel it very strongly, although I suspect that my experience of love is very different from that of an empath. There are no “warm fuzzies” or similar feelings associated with it; it’s more a feeling of extreme protectiveness and loyalty. It is not possessive or jealous (possibly because I’m aromantic; platonic love does not lend itself as well to possessiveness or jealousy as romantic love does). It’s also very rare—there is one person whom I love unconditionally.
• I have, simultaneously, a very strong and very weak sense of self. I love myself (not in a narcissistic way [I’m well aware of my faults], but in a healthy self esteem way) and have a very clear grasp of my core values and desires; more superficial things like mannerisms, emotional responses, cadence of speech etc. are dependent on mirroring from whomever I happen to be around.
• I am not narcissistic. I do not require external validation to feel good about myself; I can and do readily admit when I am wrong and will attempt to make amends if asked; I do not feel compelled to make myself look good by comparison by tearing other people down; I am well aware that there are people who don’t like me and I’m content with this reality.
• I am very self aware in general. When I’m manipulative, I’m aware of what I’m doing. When I act in ways that I find ethically questionable, I’m aware of that, too. I’m highly aware of my own flaws, and I accept that they exist and take steps to minimize them as much as possible (because I don’t like having faults—who does?).
• I loathe not being in control. It’s physically painful to lose control. As a result, I seek types of jobs that allow me to have a degree of autonomy and control—theatre and arts, as well as library jobs, places in which the atmosphere is more of a collaborative effort rather than a strict chain of command. I suspect I would fare very poorly in a corporate atmosphere.
• I hate being bored, and have a plethora of tricks to ward off that eventuality. Chief among them is the cultivation of a very detailed imagination—in the absence of external stimulation, I retreat inward and craft stories, characters, sometimes entire fictional worlds. I’m also an excellent multi-tasker and often do three or four things at once.
• I have awful impulse control, though I think above-average for sociopaths. I focus mainly on not acting on passing destructive urges (which may be directed at other people or at myself and rarely come with emotion attached—there’s little rhyme or reason to it), to the detriment of my financial restraint and speech filter (I’m known for having a very dry, very dark sense of humor as a result).
• Though sociopaths are frequently promiscuous, I’m not because I’m nonlibidoist and asexual, meaning I have no sex drive and I’m not sexually attracted to anyone, so there’s little to be gained for me from sleeping around. I do have sex with my platonic partner, because that benefits me on an emotional level.
• When I was younger, I was quite violent. Throughout high school I learned to better curb these tendencies and in the past seven or so years, the only time I’ve physically attacked someone was in self defense while under extreme emotional distress (I was mid-panic attack and my mother pinned me on my bed while screaming and I was certain she was about to start beating me).
• The threat of punishment has no impact on my decision-making whatsoever—why should it? physical pain does not faze me in the slightest, I’m unhurt by isolation, and I’m charming and a good enough liar to worm my way out of most genuine punishments anyway.
• Thus, I’m motivated primarily by reward, not punishment. The reason I’m as pro-social as I am is that my life is much, much easier if I am well-liked, law-abiding, and surrounded by happy, emotionally stable people.
• I’m better at learning from past mistakes than the average sociopath primarily because I’m motivated to be a decent person and not hurt people; I don’t want to harm people who don’t deserve it, so if I screw up and do hurt someone by accident, I have a large incentive to figure out what went wrong and avoid committing similar errors in the future.
Lying and Manipulation
• I am inclined toward pathological lying. I try not to act on this inclination with people I respect and care about; I do not lie to my platonic partner even by omission, and restrict myself to mild stretching of the truth with others. Those I don’t trust or don’t respect or both, I lie to with impunity at the drop of a hat.
• I am also a very good liar. Even when I feel that I’m being outrageously, obviously untruthful, I am rarely suspected of being a liar. This is because I speak with confidence and don’t have any of the typical “tells” that an empath would.
• I’m extremely manipulative, and find people quite easy to manipulate. I use this talent for good rather than evil—I don’t gaslight or otherwise emotionally abuse people, I am not a backstabber, I do not gossip, I do not try to turn people against each other. I’m not interested in doing so. Instead, I use it to make things a bit easier for myself—things like getting generous classroom accommodations for a sleep disorder (undiagnosed and thus unprovable, but quite real), acquiring solid friendships with people on whom I can rely if necessary, charming my teachers and bosses, that manner of thing.
• I put a large amount of effort into encouraging people to trust me and confide in me. When people come to me for help, I am supportive, nonjudgemental, capable of finding them resources that they may be afraid or unable to look for, discrete, and moreover I encourage them to act as I would in the situation—which generally means I advise them to look out for themselves first and to be mindful of their personal safety as a top priority. I have never, ever broken anyone’s confidence (to do so would be to discourage them from returning to me for more help).
• I do this because I like making people happy and I like providing support; I like being a safe person for other people to vent at. It helps them and it helps me, too, because (1) it’s a rush, (2) another person placing their trust in me is the ultimate compliment, and (3) it enables me to better understand and consciously empathize with empaths, which is important because I intend to be an actor and a writer and I need the ability to understand these kinds of things.
• People who are abusive are fair game for wrecking. For example, my mother is emotionally abusive towards myself and my sister (to the point that she has destroyed my sister’s self esteem and body image so thoroughly that I think anorexia is a very real possibility in the future, as well as causing her to severely repress her emotions and believe herself to be stupid) and I take every opportunity to bleed her dry of cash (which is easy, because she apologizes by offering material compensation and is easily guilt-tripped) and will continue to do so until I’m in a financially stable situation and can safely excise her from my life.
In terms of writing sociopaths, I think the key thing to remember is that we are people, too. It is very, very common for empaths to consider sociopaths as sub-human, animalistic, soulless evil monsters, etc., but that’s simply not the case. Lack of empathy does not cause cruelty—world views and beliefs that justify cruelty cause cruelty regardless of empathy.
A virulently misogynistic empath is every bit as likely to abuse women as a virulently misogynistic sociopath, for example, although in the sociopath’s case the abuse is likely to escalate faster and be more severe because the sociopath is unhindered by a conscience while the empath must sear his conscience into silence first.
(I’m fairly certain that this is why sociopathic men are much more likely to be physically violent than sociopathic women; Western culture encourages men to be aggressive and views anger and violence as “masculine” traits while women are told to be passive, nurturing, and kind. Thus, sociopathic men are more likely to have attitudes that justify violent action on their part.)
But we are not delusional, we are not crazy, in the absence of comorbid disorders we do not suffer psychosis. We are fully capable of self-control and fully aware of what we’re doing. We are not inherently evil. Those that are, are that way because they chose to be.
So: When you write sociopaths, remember to take socialization into consideration. Remember that we are people too, that we have individual needs and desires and preferences and beliefs that shape our actions just like empaths do.
Be creative with it. Is it closing time? What’s the danger? Are your characters in the woods and if they leave their camp they’re going to be eaten by bears?
Think outside the box.
And don’t forget to tag I dare you to write if you’re brave enough to publish it.
Submitted by: jamesisjoshing
I can’t let you out."
“Because the King of the Potato People won’t let me. I begged him. I got down on my knees and wept. He wants to keep you here. Keep you here for ten years.”
“Could we see him?”
“Do you have a magic carpet?”
“Yeah, a little three-seater.”
“So, let me get this straight. You want to fly on a magic carpet to see the King of the Potato People and plead with him for your freedom, and you’re telling me you are completely sane?