July 28, 2013

Sociopathy Is Ice-Cold

Just as conscience is not merely the presence of guilt and remorse, but is based in our capacity to experience emotion and the attachments that result from our feelings, sociopathy is not just the absence of guilt and remorse. Sociopathy is an aberration in the ability to have and to appreciate real (noncalculated) emotional experience, and therefore to connect with other people within real (noncalculated) relationships. To state the situation concisely, and maybe a little too clearly for comfort: Not to have a moral sense flags an even more profound condition, as does the possession of conscience, because conscience never exists without the ability to love, and sociopathy is ultimately based in lovelessness.

A sociopath is someone who “fails to conform to social norms,” or who is “never monogamous,” or who “fails to honor financial obligations,” for the straightforward reason that an obligation of any kind is something one feels toward beings, or toward a group of beings, who matter emotionally. And to a sociopath, we simply do not matter.

Sociopathy is, at its very essence, ice-cold, like a dispassionate game of chess. In this way, it is different from ordinary duplicitousness, NARCISSISM, and even violence, which are often full of emotional heat. If necessary, most of us would lie to save the life of someone in our family, and it is something of a cliché to point out that a violent gang member (as opposed, perhaps, to his sociopathic leader) may conceivably feel loyalty and warmth toward the members of his gang, and tenderness for his mother and siblings. But Skip, even as a child, was not concerned with anyone, Dr. Littlefield could not care about her patients, and Luke could not love even his wife or his own child. In the workings of such minds, other people even “friends” and family members, are serviceable game pieces at most. Love is not a possibility, or even something that can be comprehended when another person shows it.

The only emotions that sociopaths seem to feel genuinely are the so-called “primitive” affective reactions that result from immediate physical pain and pleasure, or from short-term frustrations and successes. Frustration may engender anger or rage in a sociopath. And predatory success, winning at a game of cat and mouse (for example, Doreen’s success in sending Jenna on a fool’s errand across the muck of a hospital lawn), typically sparks aggressive affect and arousal, a “rush” that may be experienced as a moment of glee. These emotional reactions are seldom long-lasting, and they are referred to as neurologically “primitive” because, like all emotions, they originate in the evolutionally ancient limbic system of the brain, but, unlike the “higher” emotions, they are not significantly modified by the functions of the cerebral cortex.

H/T: The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, Pages 126-127

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