July 28, 2013

Sociopaths Never Do

As a counterpoint to sociopathy, the condition of NARCISSISM is particularly interesting and instructive. NARCISSISM is, in a metaphorical sense, one half of what sociopathy is. Even clinical NARCISSISTS are able to feel most emotions as strongly as anyone else does, from guilt and sadness to desperate love and passion. The half that is missing is the crucial ability to understand what other people are feeling. NARCISSISM is a failure not of conscience but of empathy, which is the capacity to perceive emotions in others and so react to them appropriately. The poor NARCISSIST cannot see past his own nose, emotionally speaking, and as with the Pillsbury Doughboy, any input from the outside will spring back as if nothing had happened. Unlike sociopaths, NARCISSISTS often are in psychological pain, and may sometimes seek psychotherapy. When a NARCISSIST looks for help, one of the underlying issues is usually that unbeknownst to him, he is alienating his relationships on account of his lack of empathy with others, and is feeling confused, abandoned, and lonely. He misses the people he loves, and is ill-equipped to get them back. Sociopaths, in contrast, do not care about other people, and so do not miss them when they are alienated or gone, except as one might regret the absence of a useful appliance that one had somehow lost.

For their own reasons, sociopaths sometimes marry, but they never marry for love. They cannot fall genuinely in love, not with their spouses, their children, or even a pet. Clinicians and researchers have remarked that where the higher emotions are concerned, sociopaths can “know the words but not the music.” They must learn to appear emotional as you and I would learn a second language, which is to say, by observation, imitation, and practice. And just as you or I, with practice, might become fluent in another language, so an intelligent sociopath may become convincingly fluent in “conversational emotion.” In fact, this would seem to be only a mildly challenging intellectual task, quite a lot easier than learning French or Chinese. Any person who can observe human actions even superficially, or who can read novels and watch old movies, can learn to act romantic or interested or softhearted. Virtually anyone can learn to say “I love you,” or to appear smitten and say the words, “Oh my! What a cute little puppy!” But not all human beings are capable of experiencing the emotion implied by the behavior. Sociopaths never do.

H/T: The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, Pages 127-128

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