Thanks for answering Dan. Sorry for not responding sooner but I no longer have the internet access I used to. If you’re still around, can you clarify what you meant in your comments about your experience of guilt? Be more specific, if you can. What does it literally feel like, physiologically? (Chest pains, headaches, constricted throat, heart palpitations… that sort of thing.) Also, what kinds of thoughts go thru your mind that lead you to believe that you are experiencing guilt? Does it really come down to “I’ve done something society doesn’t approve so now I must feel bad” for you? Do you really believe in right and wrong?
I guess you can see that my questions reveal a profound disconnect between what you say you experience and my own. Right and wrong, in and of themselves (and by extension morality in general) have no emotional resonance within me. I originally asked because I only discovered that disconnect this year. I don’t even know what it means to be “driven to seek forgiveness”. You have no idea how truly odd that sounds to me. I knew there was a big difference between my subjective experience and most others but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until recently.
Do I need human connection? Not really. I interact with normals just fine though. I’ve learned that I had to since I’m surrounded by them. I consciously started picking up various “tricks of the trade” when I was 11, 12ish. Common things like mirroring, validating who the other believes him/herself to be, noticing the disconnect between that self image and their actual behavior, and so on. I’m one of the most understanding people you’ll ever meet, if you met me in person. I’d also seem a bit distant if you were observant, but otherwise, you’d like me. Unless you posed a problem for me. Then, you’d see a bit more of me than most people ever do.
Since you asked about me, I’ll give you a personal anecdote. I had to discard someone I deliberately befriended for my own purposes very recently. I used his psychological stupidity against him. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if he went away from my little speech feeling as if my rejection was entirely his fault. He’s one of those types who are always eager to blame himself, so I figured, why not indulge his self hatred while I unload him as a presence in my life? He literally served no purpose so I didn’t feel like bothering with my normal pretense anymore.
How can normals get along better with sociopaths? First, I don’t like the labels of sociopath and psychopath. Outside of strictly clinical settings, I think they are needlessly limiting, frequently confusing and are often used as epithets rather objective descriptors. Second and back to your question, off the top of my head I’d say earning the respect of someone labeled a sociopath is probably paramount. I know for me anyway, if I don’t respect you, you’re just chaff, just one more straw dog. There are so many people out there who, because of their blindness to themselves, veritably beg to be manipulated. Servility is apparently one of mankind’s oldest instincts. Why shouldn’t someone like me use those who wish to be used? But respect is a horse of another color. I respect so few people in my life, so when it happens it’s always a nice surprise.
Hi Daniel. If someone is suffering, and I know that I could help that person, I feel a tugging in my chest, and sometimes an ache in my throat, depending on how bad-off the person is. If I help that person, and I there is some visible relief, that feeling is replaced by a slight exhiliration, a feel-good feeling. If I don't help, then it bothers me for a short while, and then I either go back or I consciously shut the feeling out. But when I do "wrong", I apologise, try to make amends, then let it go.
This is a reply to the initial poster.
Emotions such as remorse, guilt, shame have a wide range of intensity. They can be just a fleeting hesitation in my mind on whether I should do something I know society disapproves of (such as tell a lie) or they can be a genuine inner torture that takes over my life for a while, perhaps without my even knowing it.
I find it interesting that when a previous poster responded to your question about what guilt and remorse feels to him, you wrote back asking for specific physiological symptoms in order for you to understand exactly what he means. It seems that you, someone with no conscience, and I, someone with a conscience, speak a different language.
It is practically impossible to accurately describe emotions to someone who’s never had them, using words. Of course there’s always a physical component to any emotion, but I actually don’t think that this will convey to you the agony of someone who feels intensely powerful emotions such as guilt, remorse and shame.
I am writing about the more intense end of the spectrum, because I am referring to a really difficult time I went through some years ago when I felt all those emotions in the most powerful way. Physically I had heart palpitations, restriction in my throat, strong discomfort in my entire abdomen area, to the point that I had to throw up several times. My blood pressure fell quite a bit and I was weak to my knees. General misery, really…
However, the most common and agonising characteristic in guilt or shame is mental restlessness, almost violent anxiety and discomfort. There are two issues here: One is that I myself felt isolated in a very painful way. I guess we tend to seek approval from our peers and often our entire identity depends on being ‘good’ in that way. So much so, that when this peer approval/acceptance is removed then follows a whole existential crisis where your entire psychological existence is threatened - at least that’s how I felt at the time. I didn’t belong anywhere.
The second issue is the actual knowledge that I hurt another living being. After realising that, I could put myself in their position (emotionally) and instantly felt what they were feeling. The pain, hurt, etc. To actually experience this pain, indirectly, and to endure the knowledge that I caused this to someone else, was absolutely tortuous. I couldn’t take pleasure in normal things such as activities or food that I used to like. I felt completely unmotivated to do things that used to give me pleasure, as if I didn’t deserve them. I guess we internalise some sort of judge/parent early on in life. I would sleep really poorly and I remember wishing I could turn back the time so that I can ‘right’ that ‘wrong’ I made. There is constant self-battering in your mind. Thoughts like ‘You are not good, not worthy, you should have done things differently’ etc.’ I did have sleepless nights. I am not religious and never thought I would ever feel the need to pray, but I did even that. There was a sort of blackness, hopelessness, as if there was no point looking forward to the future. Interestingly, I had no problem looking myself in the mirror!
I suppose all this distress that I described above comes from the need to feel relatively good about oneself. This is an absolute necessity to have any kind of quality of life. I have no idea how someone like you relates to this idea. Perhaps you don’t have this need, or perhaps you do, but then feeling good about yourself would mean a different thing to you than it does to me. When I say the need to feel good about myself, I refer to having a calm, peaceful mind without self-deprecating thoughts, being able to enjoy the presence of other people but also to feel that I actually contribute to their well-being as well. Contributing to the well-being of others partly gives meaning and deep satisfaction to me.
Thank you Xtine and Melli for your responses. Melli, yours was particularly thoughtful and informative. I like how you made the connection between one’s sense of identity, social validation of said identity (peer approval/acceptance, to use your words) and guilt/remorse. I suspect that this is a fundamental part of what creates the feeling of guilt/shame in some but not so much in others. It’s one of the consequences of an innately pro or anti-social stance. I am of course anti-social in the sense that I have no desire to gain and keep the approval of my peers as a means of maintaining my sense of self. I’ve never “belonged” anywhere, as it were, especially when I am with my family or my friends. I am surrounded by people who I know don’t share my experience of life. I also strongly suspect that if they knew the full extent of how different my subjective experience is from their own, they’d either pity me, shun me or in some people’s cases, try to lock me up to “protect” society. Pity can be amusing coming from people who are slaves to their emotions, but shunning and other social means of isolation (imprisonment for instance) might prove more problematic down the road, hence the masks. And because to one degree or the other I’ve consciously worn masks for years, my sense of self has never been linked to my social environment. I could do any number of things that my family and friends would disapprove of (up to and including breaking the law) without suffering any kind of “existential crisis”.
Also, I can imagine myself in other people’s shoes. Easily in fact. I took an acting class once a few years back and it was eye opener. I was able to generate feelings that I’d never quite felt before when I was performing improv. I was able to pretend to be someone else, feeling emotions this “person” would feel under the specific circumstances dictated by our teacher. The difference between my experience of imagining myself in other people’s shoes verses yours is that it means nothing to me. I could, say, imagine that I am the dude toward the end of this article. But once my little imaginative flight of fancy was over, it’s over. I take no further knowledge from it, I don’t feel compelled to act on it and I am not changed by it. Being able to kinda sorta imagine myself in that guy in the picture’s situation in no way informs my thought processes or any actions that I may or may not take later. It’s like daydreaming. I can do it. I can imagine myself as, say King of England. But once the fantasizing is done, it's done.
You mention that you think feeling good about oneself and guilt/shame/remorse is related. Surprise, surprise, for me there’s no connection. I can generate positive feelings about myself and my life without referencing other people in my thinking. Since you asked, the idea of an inextricable link between my well being and someone else’s is needlessly limiting to me. It would be like being enslaved to another person's psyche. I would find that intolerable. But good for you that you know what satisfies you and why.
Finally, I read just this morning several articles online which suggest that guilt may be a useless emotion anyway.
Melli, I was using the terms pro and anti social in the psychological sense rather than the ideological one. Hell, if we’re talking about anti-social in the sense you are, Gandhi would be considered anti-social, wouldn’t he? No, I was referring to having an innately low regard for community mores and so on. To use the HEXACO jargon, it’s like being low on the honesty-humility, emotionality and conscientiousness axes.
I am curious though, as I said in my OP. My curiosity will be the death of me one day. Are you an activist, or perhaps want to be? Or maybe you do a lot for the people in your chosen circle?
The articles I read argued that one who knows right from wrong can theoretically shape their behavior accordingly without needing guilt or shame. Evolution appears to “think” otherwise, as it seems that most humans who are saddled with a conscience are also saddled with the capacity to experience guilt/shame/remorse. I think that guilt was a useful adaptation because humans are in the end, selfish to the core and that guilt and shame were the most effective means of provoking selfish animals to behave in ways that were pro rather than anti-social (again, in the psychological sense). Which is my way of saying that in terms of creating a cohesive society comprised of selfish individuals, guilt was indeed useful. I think the people who wrote those articles I read were unwittingly referring to those who are highly conscious and self aware. Most people are the exact opposite of conscious and self aware, so guilt is a nice workaround that prods people into “acting good” when they wouldn’t otherwise. And to restate the obvious, none of this applies to me since I could care less about what is “good for society”.
I also think everyone wears masks. They put on slightly different personas for different people. The difference is, as you caught, I do so on purpose and with detachment while most others believe their masks define who they are. Yes, deliberately wearing masks can be amusing, especially when it seems so obvious to me that I’m saying things I know the other person wants/needs to hear to have his sense of self validated, which is where their focus is. They don’t notice their behavior being directed in ways that suit me. Ego validation is a kind of “psychic crack” in that way and most people, like all good junkies, will do just about anything for their next fix. I’m an expert “crack” dealer in that sense. LOL.
Meaning and purpose are in my opinion delusions that the masses cling to as a means of distracting themselves from the emptiness they perceive both within and without. They interpret this emptiness as a void, something to be afraid of, perhaps because it reminds them too much of death. You’d think that after thousands of years of talking about it, mankind would have pinned down the whereabouts of meaning and purpose. They haven’t because meaning and purpose don’t exist. There is no there there. That’s my way of saying no, I don’t have a need for those imaginary constructs. You imply that you do. Perhaps you find conflict and pain creative because they create emotions around issues that don’t exist anywhere outside of your own mind. How else could you know you are wrestling with something “real” unless you felt the pain of it? Then again, if the “drama” was taken away, would the struggle for meaning and purpose remain? Or better still, is the struggle itself the progenitor of meaning and purpose? And just so we’re clear, I’m being rhetorical. I’m already pretty clear about the answers to those questions.
Daniel, thank you for your thorough response, that was eloquent and illuminating, especially the last bit.
Being a different animal than you are, I share your curiosity, although I will refrain from asking you anything else for the time being.
To satisfy yours, I am not an activist nor do I care to be. But I do give of myself to things that matter to me.
Oh please, when is a sociopath so defensive. Oh wait, its when he isn't a sociopath at all. He is a narcissisy. Blahhh.
This is a response to Grant.
I actually didn’t sense any defensiveness or aggressiveness in his responses. It was an honest dialogue between people who experience life differently.
All the ‘replies upon replies’ was for me more about discrimination rather than defensiveness - a simple attempt to clarify one’s viewpoint and experience, which I genuinely appreciated.
I have a lot more to say about this but my workload has exploded the past few days, so I'll have to come back later.
Melli, I can relate a lot to your post. Especially this part describes how I have felt very accurately:
"The second issue is the actual knowledge that I hurt another living being. After realising that, I could put myself in their position (emotionally) and instantly felt what they were feeling. The pain, hurt, etc. To actually experience this pain, indirectly, and to endure the knowledge that I caused this to someone else, was absolutely tortuous. I couldn’t take pleasure in normal things such as activities or food that I used to like. I felt completely unmotivated to do things that used to give me pleasure, as if I didn’t deserve them. I guess we internalise some sort of judge/parent early on in life. I would sleep really poorly and I remember wishing I could turn back the time so that I can ‘right’ that ‘wrong’ I made. There is constant self-battering in your mind. Thoughts like ‘You are not good, not worthy, you should have done things differently’ etc.’ I did have sleepless nights. I am not religious and never thought I would ever feel the need to pray, but I did even that. There was a sort of blackness, hopelessness, as if there was no point looking forward to the future."
I, too, had a painful phase of remorse a couple of years ago. I had tried to live without a conscience for some time, and finally I couldn't take it any more and I went through a phase of intense guilt. That guilt affected me a lot in a long interval. I still remember it very well and... it's difficult to describe but now I have this feeling inside of me that constantly reminds me that I'm no better than anyone else and that I should always consider other people. I hope the feeling never goes away but instead deepens. It's a bittersweet feeling and it puts things in the right perspective.
Having a conscience gives my life a purpose. My sense of right and wrong controls my whole existence in a way that feels safe. I practically live my whole life in terms of what is right or wrong. "Right and wrong" are something solid outside of my own existence that I can always trust. When I have done something wrong and tried to ignore the guilt, I have felt empty, isolated and unreal. Then, when I have given in to the feeling of remorse, I have felt safe again.
When I realise that I have actually hurt another person without even considering their feelings, and I give in to the feeling of remorse, I feel horrible. I cry and may lose my night's sleep for a while. I feel that I am a bad person and I feel ashamed. I have a hard time looking at other people in the eye. I think about the situation from the other person's perspective and feel that I should be in their shoes because of what I have done to them. After the horrible guilt, I decide to make it up and start behaving better. I may start giving more money to charity, being more polite and watching my behaviour more closely.
Feeling remorse is both horrifying and wonderful. It is horrifying to realise what I have done, but it is wonderful to be forgiven and change my behaviour and feel that there is purpose in life again. I believe in God, and remorse is quite a religious experience for me.
Thank you “Guilty” for your response. All of your responses have been interesting really. It sounds like you all feel that your guilt/remorse is part and parcel of what makes for a healthy sense of self. I must say though that judging by your responses, I don’t envy any of you. That’s not a judgment, merely an observation. I’m sure you don’t envy me either, so we’re even. Melli, what you said about not being able to describe an emotional experience to someone who’s never really had it is true and I’m seeing that now as I read thru these responses and think back to the responses I got from my friends and family. You all could talk till the cows came home, but in the end, I really wouldn’t know what you were talking about. I see now that I never have and very likely never will. How do I feel about that? Hmmm… I feel just fine as it turns out. Most people’s brains have been programmed differently from my own, that’s all. It’s neither here nor there, but it certainly has been fascinating to hear you all talk about something I know nothing about in my own experience. And apparently it’s very profound too, as if it colors your entire life. These pro-social emotions are intertwined with one’s sense of identity, which is tied to one’s feelings/world view of other people, which connects with one’s moral instincts and so on. Fascinating.
And also Melli, you were of course right to suppose that my own attitude about this thread was one of a friendly exchanging of views rather than argument. There is quite literally nothing to be defensive about. It looks like Grant was projecting. And that he’s either a minor or a minor trapped in an adult’s body.
Mikel, for some reason I forgot to respond to you earlier. Anyway, thanks for the additional insight. I’d add that things certainly were more "brutal back then", to use your words, but things certainly can be brutal now as well. Humans are still human. You all aren’t nearly as angelic as some of you like to think. Since death is always only one heartbeat away, survival remains our top priority, and the prevalence of conflict of all kinds and at every level of society attests to.
Mikel, why would you connect healing yourself with understanding “sociopaths”? It's eomething I've noticed on other forums as well, this idea that understanding the "sociopath" who hurt you is somehow helpful in healing yourself... I don't see how that could be true. Healing yourself, whatever that really means, would be something you do for yourself, by yourself. Understanding why someone hurt you only unnecessarily prolongs the process.
In my personal view and from my own experience, remorse is a manifestation of shame. And shame stems from despising oneself for one or other reason. It has no place in my life and I try to root it out. Dealing with situations immediately, or if thats not possible, moving on. I do have a conscience that directs my current actions though. I was married to a sociopath, and I learned quite a lot from him. Sociopaths deal with some situations far better than non-sociopaths imo.
Just to add - the (primary) sociopath as a small child is fearless, and immune to anxiety. And a young sociopath will not experience shame for his/her actions and therefore the seeds of remorse are never planted. Imo narcissism is inborn in the (primary) sociopath, unlike the pathological narcissism of the npded. You have to experience some form of self-despisement to feel shame and the resulting remorse. Thats my theory anyway, open to correction.
Xtine, how do you know you’ve done something “wrong” if you don’t experience shame? Can you really have guilt and remorse (and thus a conscience) without shame?
In my opinion, there is a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt indicates that I have done something "wrong," whatever that may mean to me based on innate feelings (perhaps) and certainly on social conditioning. Shame is an emotion that says, "There is something wrong with me. Guilt is a judgment about ones behavior. Shame is a judgment about ones (i>self-worth or character. I believe that someone can feel guilty without feeling shameful.
I am truly fascinated with this dicussion. I am ending a marriage with a so called "sociopath". I am coming to understand that our brains just literally work differently and thus we just can't get along. I want him to feel more and he wants me to feel less. Neither of us wants to change to suit the other, nor do we have the ability to. I think it's just the way our brains are wired.
I kept thinking he is a "bad", immoral person because he just does not care about other people. He does not care if he hurts other people. He never says he is sorry even if he knows he has hurt someone. But, I don't think that it is necessarily true that he is "bad". He's not malicious. He does not set out to hurt others. He just always makes the choice that makes him feel good and often times it hurts another person.
When I was reading Dan's comments I thought I was reading my husband's. I have to say that I envy the sociopath in a way, because sometimes I am plagued by emotions and strive to be less emotional. My emotions are useful sometimes, but they are a major hinderance at other times.
I am intrigued by the sociopath's ability to just be ok with him/herself without any sort of need to be liked or to have approval from others. Actually, I should say I am envious of that. Do sociopaths even feel envy? I wonder.
I am driven by a need (and I am thinking it is a useless need) to be approved of. I would like to be free of that. I look at my husband and he is totally free. At the same time, he uses people and manipulates them and I find that distasteful. He boils everything down to sex and money. Do all sociopaths do that? Is everything boiled down to those two things? Or is it power? Are sociopaths driven by a need for power? I read that somewhere. Certainly sex and money are tools for gaining power.
As for the initial question, "What does it feel like to have a conscience" - For me it is associated with whether I would hurt or help someone with a chocie of behavior. So, if I am confronted with a situation in which I have choices and one choice would hurt someone and one choice would not, my conscience will "tell" me to make the choice that will not hurt someone. Now, it does not always kick in and sometimes I make a choice that will hurt someone - and I know it. I don't always feel guilt about choosing the option that hurts someone either. I am not going to choose actions that damage me in the process. But, I will sacrifice my comfort if a choice will help someone else and won't hurt me in the process.
I know I sort of jumpted around here and my comments are not very cohesive, but I just wanted to get them out there.
Hi Daniel. Please excuse my late reply to your question. I've been offline for a while.
I can't pretend to have never felt shame, and I'm not immune to it now either. But I do recognise that no single person is born with a "so-called" conscience. Those that develop this "so-called" conscience, do so because of the genetic temperament that predisposes them to seek the approval of their primary care-givers, and later, others in society because of their need for security.
For example, if I did something that my mother would have considered "wrong", she would tell me I'm a bad girl. And I would feel bad about what I did, for no other reason than I lost my mothers approval and stood the risk of losing her love and protection. The seeds of remorse would be planted, and a so-called conscience would develop. And if I did something that she approved of, then the behaviour would be re-inforced.
Of course, this need for approval from a child is open to abuse, and can cause all sorts of mental-health problems that can continue into adulthood way after this "conscience" has reached its growth potential.
So I developed this so-called conscience and, yes I feel bad about actions, and that causes me to right my wrongs when it is in my power to do so. But I consciously avoid mentally punishing myself after the fact(remorse and shame). Perhaps the function of remorse in in developing the "conscience", but surely once the "conscience" has developed, its function should be to guide, not to be guided?
Perhaps those with "low conscience" are simply not as needy as the rest when they are children. That makes sense if one is innately fearless and low on anxiety.
Daniel, I think there's a difference between autonomic arousal, and the emotion of fear.
I was trying to find some more info online when I came across this gem:
Its quite long, so its up to you if you want to read it, but I think you'll find it quite interesting.
And of course, if you do, I'll be very interested in your comments on it.
Hmm. Fascinating Xtine. This study floats the idea that “successful psychopaths” are more likely to experience higher levels of autonomic arousal, which in turn is correlated with improved social functioning (i.e., not being incarcerated). This study also suggests that “successful psychopaths” are also more likely to have better functioning prefrontal cortexes than the “unsuccessful psychopath”. Although the authors encouraged the reader to take the results as provisional, I still found the study interesting and informative. I could be a pest and argue that I don’t know what this has to do with me though since I don’t consider myself a psychopath, but eh, I won’t go there. ;-)
Words are supposed to make us able to communicate. But words become boxes and bags in which we often become trapped.
I suppose the sensation that makes one's
adrenaline pump (that brain - nervous system - hormones - brain kind of process), is what some people would define as fear. But to me that is a "fight or flight" response, and is (at least should be) rational and necessary for the survival of all living creatures. It physically and mentally prepares one for immediate response in the face of imminent threat. And I think it can also be stimulated by drugs, chemicals, noise, light, etc. And of course "adrenaline sports".
I was alone in my flat one afternoon, and a man jumped over my wall and through the window I saw him headed for my open back door. My first response was to jump up, and I shouted "who the **** are you?", while I was looking for the best object to hit him with. My adrenaline was up, heartrate, breathing, etc.
He calmly turned around and jumped back over the wall. (Not hard for him given his enormous height). In this case he had already planned his response should someone have been home. Had he thought that no-one was home, and I'd truly surprised him, perhaps he would have reacted differently in his own adrenalised state.
On a very different occasion, I was tipped off about an "intimidation" contract that was taken out on me. I wasn't even sure if I should believe it, but my mom convinced me to go to her for the night. The next morning I went back to my place, expecting to find everything to be in order. But my home had clearly been broken into, though nothing was stolen. Thats quite a different feeling. I guess I will never know the length that the guy was supposed to go to, but the fear that he would still fulfill his contract made me dissappear from everything and everyone that I associated with at the time. Notable physical changes: I had problems with concentration, I couldn't sleep, I was hyper-vigilant. No "adrenaline" response though.
Since then, I'm definitely more cautious even anxious when I go out of "comfort zone" areas, even though that was more than four years ago and I live no where near to where this "happened". (I'm working on it and improving though).
I should imagine that a "fearless" person would have reacted in a similar manner in the first example, maybe even given chase, but in the second situation he/she would probably have stayed there that night with a gun, lol. I wish I'd done that.
Wow. It sounds like you have quite a story Xtine. Thank you for sharing a bit of it here. It’s instructive. Have you made yourself stronger and more resilient as a result of these experiences?
Again, if we distinguish fear (talking about purely physiological changes) from anxiety (more of a mental/emotional state that is not always directly tied to an event occurring in the present moment), I would definitely say I’m anxiety free. I can’t say for sure how I would have responded if I were in your shoes, but I can theorize that depending on the circumstances, I would not allow anyone to have that kind of control in my life. If they didn’t have overwhelming force on their side, I’d have to turn the tables on the person who took out an “intimidation contract” on me. I’d make them regret it. But that’s just me. I’m sure you did exactly what you needed to do to not only survive but thrive.
Thanks Daniel, the first experience had very little impact on me, just that I kept my door locked from then on. The second experience taught me not to be so naive. Not to take threats from anyone lightly.
Unfortunately, as I expressed in the previous post, I've become a lot more fearful in general. Its irrational, and I know it, so I'm coming out consciously.
To quote you:
Again, if we distinguish fear (talking about purely physiological changes) from anxiety (more of a mental/emotional state that is not always directly tied to an event occurring in the present moment), I would definitely say I’m anxiety free.
Nice one Daniel, do you believe that to be a good distinction? Does it resonate fully with you?
Good for you on the consciousness raising bit. You know, I’ve come to believe that you either allow situations like the one you faced to make you stronger or you wallow in self pity. Yes, you may be feeling more fearful in one sense, but you know it and you’re responding to it rather than merely reacting in it. Raising your own consciousness and taking steps to break your own limiting patterns takes more courage than most people ever display their whole lives.
Originally Posted by Daniel Birdick
This is from a post I found on another forum that I found interesting. It’s cognitive-biological explanation of conscience:
Conscience isn't based on emotion, it uses emotion to be effective. Let me explain.
Conscience consists of two parts: a cognitive component and an emotional component. The cognitive component lies in the prefrontal cortex and is the appraiser; it determines, in this case, what is good and what is bad and you learn what is good and what is bad from your culture. Now the emotional component is housed in and around the amygdala; this aspect of the conscience is responsible for its effectiveness.
As you walk out of the store you see a six year old boy run up to your brand new corvette and kick the side of it, leaving a noticeable dent. You chase the little **** down and hold an angry fist to his face. What is going through your mind (if your normal)?
Cognitive, prefrontal cortex- "This person kicked my car, he must be punished. But he is just a kid and it is wrong to hit kids"
Emotional, amygdala- intervening guilt, and immobilization <--this is what the true psychopath lacks
Physical, muscular relaxation- You let go of the boy and he runs away.
There are two ways to make conscience ineffective: one is cognitive and one is emotional. The true psychopath has emotion, but not the full range. Without the intervening guilt--a modified form of fear--that follows the cognitive appraisal that something is wrong, nothing is really stopping you from hitting that kid. It becomes a matter of choice without involuntary interference (guilt). And because the psychopath does have emotions, like anger and disgust, he or she will be moved by those emotions and compelled to hit the boy, just as guilt would prevail over the other, less powerful, emotions of the normal individual under the same circumstance and would prevent them from hitting the boy.
The other way to make conscience ineffective is cognitively. We learn what is right and what is wrong, initially, through conditioning. We do not take the cookie from the cookie jar because we associate such an act with the disapproval of the caregiver. The idea of this act in turn brings about feelings of fear, fear of losing the caregivers love. If, in the psychopath, there is no capacity for fear, it becomes simply a matter of choice, and hunger for sweets will prevail.
Now, this is where is gets interesting. Let us say someone has emotions, however they do not care about the approval of the caregiver (or one wasn't present) and this separation of the self from the caregiver is reflected toward society at large (neither caregiver nor society is taken into account). Now apply this psychic construct to scenario 1. The boy kicked your car. You never internalized the caregiver and thus society, so what is stopping you from bashing his face in--nothing:
Cognitive, prefrontal cortex- "This person kicked my car, he must be punished. Though society thinks this is wrong, I think society is corrupt, unfair, or (insert rationalization)" A particular narcissist might say, because he identifies so strongly with his material belongings, "by kicking my car, the boy has kicked me, and he must be punished".
Emotional, amygdala- intervening guilt is neutralized through rationalization, intellectualization (people are just matter and energy ), or other inappropriately used defense mechanism.
Physical, muscular tension (anger prevails)- You dislocate the kid's jaw.
This is what I mean by having emotion without conscience. A person can distort--consciously and unconsciously--morality and societal prohibitions to the point of being completely devoid of it and them, respectively. We modal our subsequent relationships with friends, coworkers, etc, after our initial relationship with caregivers. We then modal our subsequent relationship with society after those. Without our emotional (meaningful) attachments to reflect on, we have no conscience, irrespective of our capacity for emotion.
The psychopath is who he is because his lack of the required emotions normally acquired at birth made impossible the formation of the emotional bond with the initial caregiver. And thus he never felt fear or (later) guilt when he did anything that would jeopardize their approval ("what's there to lose"). And thus never acquired the foundation with which people modal their subsequent relationships after. And without these relationships the psychopath is disconnected from society and free to do whatever he likes.
The true Psychopath lacks the required emotions. The Narcissist and Antisocial (or secondary psychopath) lack the required cognitions (true personality disorder).
I thought this wasn't half bad.
Wowow, in light of our recent discussion, and from conclusions that I have drawn independently over time, this post makes absolute sense ;)
I think when I first read this, I was a bit bogged down by how the scenario fitted in with the theory. I'm glad I've read it again.
Thank you Daniel, I look forward to more interesting discussion with you. And thanks for your kindness.
I can't blame you for disliking the lable. After all the vast majority of research on "psychopaths" has involved those sitting in prison. And Hare's PCL-R was originally formulated to predict future violent behaviour and criminality. People doing their own internet research come across Hare's checklist, and presume all "psychopaths" fit most of the "criteria".
But the truth is, though Hare wrote a book "teaching" people how to recognise psychopaths in general society(not that I've read it);
Hare says that we know little about these individuals in terms of systematic study about how the disorder manifests in the public at large.
Hmm, so Hare classifies "psychopathy" as a disorder. BUT, one essential criterion in diagnosing any personality disorder (according to the DSM), is:
The enduring pattern leads to clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning.
Strange that, because his PCL-R factor 1 traits are likely to enable the "psychopath" to function unusually well in those areas. The factor 2 traits are the ones that are more likely to land a "psychopath" in trouble. And primary "psychopaths" are considered to have mostly factor 1 traits and secondary "psychopaths" have mostly factor 2 (anti-social) traits. Those diagnosed "psychopaths" in the slammer score high on both apparently.
I think you know where I'm going with this, so I'll leave it at that.
But, I will say this from my own experience, crossing a primary "psychopath" caused him to try to damage a few aspects of my life. I turned a few tables on him, and ironically, a few years later, and we get along fine. We share a son and agree on most things.
Ahem, excuse the ramble....maybe I'm just telling you stuff you already know.
I believe if laws were more logical more psychopaths would obey them. As a child I had a very hard time with rules that I didn't understand. If my mind can't justify a rule or law I just break it.
Example. I smoke bud. It is very available to me and cheap. It doesn't do harm to me and I function rather well under it's influence. Oddly it has inverse affects on me. Rather than become lazy I become more active.
However, I have never smoked crack or shot up or anything like that. Those drugs destroy lives. They wreck the Temple. Thus I will never use them.
I believe myself to be... designed for a different purpose. A conscience limits the abilities of one to function under pressure. Unlike many of you I function fine regardless of situation. No fear to strike me down. No guilt to slow me either. Perhaps it is because I accept situations without resistance. Whatever. My theory is that the psychopath is a natural part of nature intended to defend others. A conscience would slow us down.
I'm a natural 210lb. I fear nothing and those who try to provoke fear have always found my rage. You can get further with a kind word than attempting force on someone like me. But I see normal people as weak children who must be protected. I don't hve malice towards them for their weakness. I don't feel like the bad guy.
Hare bothers me. He points out all the negatives but what about the positive? We aren't all bad. Maybe those type 2 are but not us. I'd rather help you than hurt you.
Someone said their conscience defines their life or gives it purpose. Well it is a lack of conscience that defines my life. A world not compelled by emotion but by logical reasoning. I think God made people like me to defend people like you. It cripples your kind to act in psychopath manners. Your kind return from wars with post traumatic stress and other disorders that ruin you for life. It's because you aren't made for violence and killing. For those things God made wolves.
A conscience is a luxery I can't afford. I've seen people gripped by fear. You would do anything to feel safe. You would betray, lie, cheat, steal. Just for a feeling of safety. I've seen the blinding power of love. But what is given can also be taken away. Yeah.. Gods an Indian trader like that. LOL
You could live without your conscience but it would change you. Like those secondary psychopaths you'd probably hate the world ect. IMO a natural psychopath is dramaticly different than a secondary. I see secondary as normal people who have fallen and can only see in red. Victims of society. The natural... just normal psychopaths. No intentions negative or hate to fuel us.
Whitewolf’s post is an excellent example of another point people often forget. When they think about people who are for various reasons labeled as a socio/psychopath, they assume that those people are all the same. I’ve noticed this on several sites/comment boards/forums. They ask questions like “What would a psychopath do?” as if every single conscience deprived person would react the exact same way in the same circumstance. In other words, they run with their stereotype and leave it at that. But, just as it is true that not all homosexuals act and react the same and not all white people act and react the same and not all Samoans act and react the same, etc, not all of us who are without conscience are the same. Yes, we may share a few important characteristics in common, but there is still the rest of the personality structure to take into consideration, especially when you aren’t dealing with serial killers, child rapists, and so on. You have to take gender, race and ethnicity, socioeconomic background, religious affiliation or lack thereof, intelligence and educational level and so on into account as well if you wish to accurately understand a particular person who happens to not have much of a conscience. Generalizations are useful of course and I’m not arguing that they aren’t. What I am saying is that it’s far too easy for most people to forget that generalizations have to be modified when you move from the abstract to a specific person, thus making their statements inaccurate and their questions about what “a” socio/psychopath would do moot.
Which Whitewolf’s post aptly demonstrates. I am a materialist, a methodological naturalist philosophically speaking. It follows that I do not believe in any god or anything supernatural. I also don’t make the same suppositions about meaning and purpose that he does. I don’t bring this up to start a discussion about who’s right or who’s wrong here. Someone can start another thread to talk about god and Jesus and meaning, etc. And I actually agree with much of he says in his comment, or at least the underlying sentiment. But even so, we are different people. I would encourage those who are reading this to keep that in mind when you have questions/theories/thoughts about socio/psychopaths or any other sub-group.
Having said all of that, we agree on this point:
Thanks, yes Daniel, he is.
Quote from you Daniel:
However, when I think about Hare’s checklist, it’s clear that I am not a match. I also know that Dr. Robert makes it a lot simpler than Hare, and using his definition, I am a psychopath. But even Dr. Robert doesn’t consider the conscience deprived as pathological, per his comments in the other thread; merely different. When I’m not posting comments online, I don’t go around thinking that I am a psychopath or a sociopath. I am not pathological. I am just me, no more, no less. My lack of conscience doesn’t create suffering for me and I appear to function relatively well (even better in some ways) in society that “normals”. I am what I am, that’s all.
That was pretty much my thinking behind the last post.
(There is a difference between a personality and a personality disorder).
Btw, respect to Dr Rob, but I'm not sure that "a lack of guilt" can properly define any particular personality. Narcissists, ASPDs, are IMO completely different conditions. Yet they share this "lack of guilt" with um, he who is not definable.
I also don't buy into the theory of "reduced emotional processing". Different processing of emotions perhaps.
I "turned the tables" by taking the combined evidence (which I carried on my back literally) to court to regain custody of my son. I was considered to be unstable because of my constant moving (running), by the child welfare. I went to High Court on borrowed money, at the exact time when I knew he was in a financial tie. He did't contest. And then I was lenient in allowing him access.
I had the opportunity to serve a similar "contract" on him. Actually I was involved with a guy who went and arranged it. He was more keen than I was. And when he told me that it was arranged and he was just waiting for the guy to get out of jail. I decided time out of the relationship.
I'm still not really sure why, but when the ex started in a conversation on phone about how I was a bad mother, blah, and he'd done nothing wrong, blah, wasn't involved, blah. I told him that I refuse to talk with him if he brings up the past again. And he never has since then. He pays the private school fees for my son, all his clothes, electronics etc, and has done for over two years.
So, I don't have all the answers yet I guess.
I've been reading the exchange and contemplated on these "feelings" that are portrayed here for awhile. It's like looking at someone talking in a foreing language. I feel nothing when i lie. I feel nothing when i steal. I feel nothing when i pretend to be someone i am not. It's amusing to see people riddled with guilt and shame over decisions that i wouldn't think twice.
What angers me, however, is the way sociopaths are portrayed as boogiemen/women who will steal your money, rape your children and eat your kitten if you interact with them, what a load of bull. The way people like me are portrayed is like the way black people were back in the day. I've never intentionally harmed anyone, atleast not with a deep intent. Just because it wouldn't affect me if i murdered your family and ate you kitten does not mean i would, there is no logical reason for me to do so.
Anger is the wrong choice of words. "Boggles the mind" would be more accurate.
That's the way it goes. Your mind is boggled by so called normals who dislike people like you whose actions, even if they are horrible, brutal ones would not be held in check by any conscience or feelings of doing wrong, and their minds are boggled by people who can do whatever they feel like doing even if it hurts someone else terribly. So all of your minds are boggled.
It's more about the assumption that we are all some kind of monsters that need to be put down than not understaning. How can "normals" understand if they have no desire to do so and istead label everyone as the next Ted Bundy. I find it amusing, they live in fear of everything it seems. Oh well...
Conscience? Heh... it's a tricky thing, really. Because as a child, I noticed my teachers and parents trying to ingrain into me stuff like "you must do this and that", "you must think and say this and that" so you can be a "good child/citizen of society", etc. Sure I went along because it was easier to live in a society that encouraged "a strict version of conformity" but often, I felt really perplexed because many of the things people did, truly made no sense. And so, there were times when I broke the rules. However, that didn't stop me from being "an absolute adherant(aka fanatic) of certain mindsets".
How does obeying all the rules to the T actually make you a "good citizen", if one has a limited self-awareness and is unable to understand that moral greys exist in many situations? For example: people have different motivations and that sometimes, what one person sees as "good" can be a "poison" to another or certain others, and vice versa. Also, unquestionably obeying the rules can actually inflict harm on yourself and others. Doesn't behaviour like absolute obedience often lead to massacres, tragedies or widespread damage that often negatively affects perceptions and treatment of a certain class, sub-culture, organization, etc.?
I do not claim to have a gold standard of conscience but I do have some conscience(only applicable if someone intends to commit a lot of harm to others or which will greatly inconvenience himself and others). Although, that doesn't mean I've never cheated, lied, committed theft(physical theft is a lot harder, digital is a lot easier), engaged in a bit of criminal behaviour(who doesn't?) and so on.
When my conscience isn't present, my fear will simply kick in and oh, guilt. I've attempted to detach myself from these emotions because simply, just because my fear says that "You should be frightened of doing this", doesn't mean it's a rational thing. Although I'll admit that it has saved me at times from doing utterly stupid things, at times, it comes far too late. As in: after I almost lost my life a couple of times, then my fear kicked in.
And as a child, I'd attempted to learn how to kill off my conscience and empathy because quite simply, I didn't see why I needed them and thought them useless. That didn't work out very well though and contributed further to my depression and other problems like losing my sense of self. After all, when one keeps switching between a "sociopathic-like mode" and a "normal, empathy-like mode" while retaining a level of awareness, it will utterly screw you up. Because if you're at least aware of both these 2 selves, it will mean quite simply: a total rejection of your "other self". So, I dropped this useless kind of thinking and behaviour because actually, I'm a highly empathic individual who cares for people a lot.
There is a Dr. Robert article that addresses this question pretty well. I suggest checking it out:
I Believe That I Am a Psychopath. Can You Explain To Me Why Other People Feel the Guilt and Sorrow Which I Never Feel?
I'm just rambling some. :-)
I think it is interesting that I can lack something yet comprehend it's functionings so very well. A conscience actually impairs the judgement of those who have it. They are restrained by their own chosen convictions. Born with limits.
Yet you would all think it important that we have this handicap? Why? Conscience creates fear. Fear turns normal people into dangerously frightened animals. Functioning off a.. fear instinct?
I've always had a facination with the conscience mind... after it has been twisted. Perhaps if some people lost their conscience.. their minds would heal from mental damage? Besides desensitizing.. how can you remove the conscience from a persons mind? It would be interesting to see the seperation and change in perception they would have.
I've actually heard of people incurring physical trauma to the brain and turning violent after but whether they suffered any loss of conscience, hmmm... only an MRI would tell.
Remember me Daniel from the other website?
Anyway, interesting question. Good to see you’re still thinking through things like this. Curiously, I don’t know if I have much of a conscience too, if by conscience we mean some kind of innate system that tells us what is right and what is wrong morally. Arbitrary rules don’t sit well with me either. I can tell you however that for me, it is more about how I feel when I say and do things that lead to pain for others. It doesn’t feel right to me. You ask about the body… I feel it in my body, the “wrongness” of hurting others. When I am helpful, loving, compassionate and kind I feel that as well. I feel it as a kind of warmth, a lightness, and as emotional uplift. I don’t interpret that as right or wrong though, if by that you mean objective morality. I think that like you, I don’t know if it is that black and white. For me it is more about the connection between living beings. If I act as if there is no connection, the resulting feeling is a sense of wrongness or incorrectness. If I act in ways that honor the connectedness, I experience that as rightness or correctness. By correct and incorrect, I am referring to the way things are, as in, it would be “wrong” to jump off of a roof without any means of flying and expect to fly. I’m talking about what I see as the reality of it. I’m sure I have many more beliefs that you would completely reject, but I think the idea that we are all connected should not be too controversial or “woo-woo” of an idea. We share 99% of our DNA! That fact alone should indicate to you that what we have in common far outweighs what makes us different.
And one more unrelated thing. I noticed from our previous encounter that your worldview all depends on whether each one of us is isolated, totally and completely atomized and apart from everything and everyone around us. Your worldview depends upon the walls of self being made of titanium. If that assumption is incorrect, if we are in fact connected and in this thing together, and I have every reason to believe that we are, then all of the other assumptions that follow in your worldview must also be suspect. So in other words, if you Daniel are unable or incapable of feeling a sense of rightness/lightness/happiness/joy when you act upon the belief that you are connected to others, then you truly are in some way disabled. Please don’t take that in a derogatory way because that is not where I am coming from. I do think that the Doctor is right. It is easy for you to dismiss what you do not experience as something fantastical and a little ridiculous instead of acknowledging the full reality of it.
Still, like I said, no insult meant. Great conversation you got started here Daniel! Thanks for the intellectual stimulation and thank you Doctor Robert for hosting it and getting the ball rolling!
Yes, crazydice, I agree with this. Daniel seems to lie to himself a lot, or at least he imagines things about himself which don't seem to stand up to scrutiny. When the doc tried to open a door to that possibility, Daniel shut it quickly in a classic gesture of defense mechanism. He told the doc not to try to defeat him in a battle of wits, saying that it would never happen. Well, the doc seems pretty smart to me, but I never thought he was trying to lord it over Daniel anyway. I thing the battle was all in Daniels mind. Of course we all have and need our defenses, and pointing this out is nothing against Daniel in particular, but his obvious intelligence seems at times more a handicap than a strength.
Here's a good example. In another thread called : Empathy and what it means to be "human" Daniel said
"Wherever my travels have taken me, I have always come back to the realization that although I am biologically a member of the human race, psychologically I am an alien. There is no home for someone like me, no "true" role. I am incapable of believing in or emotionally investing in any of it."
But this is obviously wrong on the face of it. Daniel is a member of the human race not just biologically but psychologically as well. His form of alienated feelings are not all that unusual. That was the doc's point in trying to un-demonize psychopathy so that it could be understood as what the doc calls a normal human personality variant. But Daniel does not really seem to want to be normal, because that might mean this his lack of compassion and emotional warmth really is a deficiency and not a strength as he wants to make it.
No matter where it comes from, whatever combination of DNA and childhood experiences, a conscience is a pretty nice thing to have, and trying to say as some do on this forum that lacking a conscience is a kind of freedom to me seems like trying to make lemonade out of lemons.
Anyway, crazydice, I agree with you about Ecce Homo's, comment about human connectedness. Keep up the good work, Ecce Homo. I hope the doc will comment at some point on this thread, and would like to hear from Daniel too.
Hmmm I'd like to point out something: like many other traits, whether compassion and emotional warmth are seen as strengths or weaknesses, depends on the society and culture, and era you belong to. In certain parts of Asia, the men are emotionally detached to the point of being utterly cold. These men likely have no compassion, no empathy and it is seen as a strength. To show emotions is seen as a sign of weakness like crying when disowning their children or feeling bad for beating some sense into their wife. (This manner of behaviour was probably also true for certain classes and types of females.)
Of course, in the modern 21st century Western society, this behaviour is probably seen as an aberration and thus, a weakness, because humans are supposed to be expressive, kind, caring, nurturing and stuff. I say "modern" since I recall reading in various sources that during Victorian-era and prior, the way people treated one another was really different. It was perfectly legal to execute children for stealing bread, to beat your wife and so on, depending on the "era" you were in. Humans just don't change so quickly. After all, we are still a highly vicious and violent race and no matter how much we convince ourselves that "we're nice and civilized" using theology, philosophy and so on, the memories of violence still remain within us on a certain level of our subconsciousness.
Apparently it is still OK in many minds to beat your wife.
And yes, I agree that to a certain extent a conscience is formed by social construction--but not entirely. There is much evidence (for example see the work of Steven Pinker) that certain human emotions are universal across time and culture. Compassion certainly is one of these--the Buddha taught it 2500 years ago. How that compassion is expressed may look different in different cultures or different eras. For example, if there is an Asian male preference for keeping a stiff upper lip as in Victorian England, that does not mean that those men lack compassion. You would have to look into their minds to know that.
I don’t really know how much humans have or have not changed over the millennia. I can say that I believe, as Doug intimates, that love and compassion have existed as enduring human traits right alongside hatred and violence. That seems to be how it is for us, for now. And as to what we are in our essence, a "vicious race" as you put it, well objectively speaking that remains to be seen, doesn't it? I have a different view of humanity based on my own explorations and insights. Humans can behave violently, obviously. They can also behave kindly, which to my mind is equally obvious. However, beyond the duality of yin and yang, black and white, good and evil, love and hate, compassion and violence, male and female and so on, there is a perfect order and infinite intelligence that manifests as all that we see and experience. This view allows me to see humanity in a much kinder light. But I am not arguing that you should believe me or take on my point of view. I'm just sharing what works well for me in helping me to lead a life that I can love.
By the way, thank you crazy dice and Doug from Vermont for your very kind words and your insightful comments. It's great to see that we're all trying to do the best we can, trying to figure this thing called life out so that we can love ourselves and others well!