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He Married a Sociopath: Me (nytimes.com)
175 points by areoform 5 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 136 comments





Without finishing, but just reacting to her _reacting_ to his refusal to admit an "office crush", to me, uneducated in this subject:

what is a crush, an affection about one thing about someone? many things? i might crush on many people, but i'm aware that these are just infatuations with a new thing. it happens with books and hobbies and etc, too

so he had a cool coworker of the opposite sex. is there a "crush scale"? maybe you round down if the crush doesn't entertain future-fantasies, heh


Yup. I've long said things somewhat similar to my wife. I expect her and I to both not only be attracted to other people, but to form bonds that if followed could ruin our relationship.

It's imo in human nature, and perfectly valid. If you are in a monogamous relationship which you wish to retain i think you need to be aware of this. To internalize ones feelings and be aware when it's heading towards a threshold, and put in the work to prevent it from damaging your relationship if its worth fighting for.

I've long thought that modern society fails to raise our children to self analyze. Tools to develop healthy mental habits do not seem discussed, let alone taught. So in this case people naturally "crush" on passers-by who perhaps on paper shouldn't ruin their primary relationship... but when left unchecked, do.

Relationships need care, protection even. Sometimes, perhaps often, from your own self.


I think part of the problem is people being raised to believe that love, in the biochemical sense, is the most important part of a relationship. Hence when they start feeling similar feelings for others, their relationship can weaken. But a relationship can be about so much more than just the biochemical side: two people, with similar goals and values, working together to build a better life for themselves and their children, and to help each-other achieve their dreams.

In that sense, the time spent building a relationship, time invested in growing trust, understanding and shared experiences, looks like building a business. And abandoning it just for biochemical experience with another looks like somebody with a successful five year old startup abandoning it to start another one because the code was written in Go and they've discovered they really love writing Elixir.


I think that any set-up with trust is fine and am glad your wife and you have harmony.

In our relationship, it's definitely the opposite. We specifically, actively avoid bonds that could get romantic vibes.


I think you and I are in agreement, my point was that our job is about being aware of where those bonds could exist, and where concern is warranted.

The exact location of the line depends on the individuals and the relationship i'd imagine.

Mine is pretty far back. I wear my heart on my sleeve (is that the right usage of that term?) and form bonds quite easily. Yet, i'm intensely devoted for various reasons - so i keep the opposite gender at a respectable distance.


> I wear my heart on my sleeve (is that the right usage of that term?)

Maybe? It means "I make my emotions readily apparent", which might not be what you meant.


Even if your goal is to be monogamus then you should be aware that humans form relationships a bit easier than we like to believe, and understanding infatuation goes a long ways to heading off that behavior when it becomes inappropriate to your situation.

Combined with being unusual and not wired as everyone else, I take a different tact by accepting human nature and opening up the possibilities. From a young age, it became apparent that I did't experience jealousy in relation to a deep interest having close friends including ex's or infatuation clicks with other people. Not some sort of low self-worth thing, but the opposite. Therefore, mutually open relationships work better for me to dispense with dishonesty and limitations based on insecurities. Not in my face if it's with a dude, don't get pregnant, or diseases, and I don't care. Heck, I think it's extremely cute when a bi/pan woman I'm seeing hits on another woman, even right in front of me. Also, it's exhilarating when she feeds me her cool friends like proverbial bow-wrapped gifts, such as a row of lined-up puppy-dog eyes looking up as who will be chosen next. This makes her a potential keeper#.

Partner guarding seems like a lot of pointless energy expended based on insecurity; one of my aims in relationship(s) is to constantly improve to remain the highest-value around without resorting to possessive capture. Plus, it's better to let people move freely and self-select voluntarily, rather than give them ultimatums or threatening "if you ever" speeches.

I look at importance of relationships (love/friendship) based on the amount and sustainment of attention, mutual care, support, and trust. Sex is just sex to me without deeper affinity and common interests; a shared, social activity that is delightful without being black-and-white all-meaningful. It's also important to be sure other participants are truly on this same wavelength so that they don't end-up regretful or are otherwise left worse than before.

In conclusion: open works best for me, with a consideration for Mff or Mfff poly where f are pan/bi. I think Mfff tetrad of ever-reconfiguring pairs is more stable because there's no third-wheel issue. And all disagreements must be followed by bedroom activities, and stalemate disputes are resolved by last one who gets there wins.

# Keeper

1. You trust them with your life

2. Better together than apart

3. Good friends

4. Common goals

5. Complementary personalities


> Combined with being unusual and not wired as everyone else

From this line, I already knew where this comment was going. It's oddly familiar.

> Partner guarding seems like a lot of pointless energy expended based on insecurity

And there it is. Counterpoint: No, it's not; you're just, as you said yourself, different. For the vast majority of people it is neither pointless nor is it born out of insecurity.

The odd thing is that you start by acknowledging yourself as different, just to turn around and present these opinions as statements. It's not the first time I've seen it either with people explaining why they buy into polyamory.

> Plus, it's better to let people move freely and self-select voluntarily, rather than give them ultimatums or threatening "if you ever" speeches.

Wasn't aware that the only two choices were "not caring at all" and "giving ultimatums".

Speaking of "moving freely" and "not partner guarding":

> Not in my face if it's with a dude

... Right.

> with a consideration for Mff or Mfff poly where f are pan/bi. I think Mfff tetrad of ever-reconfiguring pairs is more stable because there's no third-wheel issue.

So the conclusion is that... You "discovered" polygyny. That's also familiar; reddit for instance is full of guys supposedly in that kind of arrangement, and many more others clearly wishing they were.

It's not new, many societies have tried it; most of those weren't big on women's rights, though. And a lot of it stemmed from, shall we say, "partner guarding"... against other males.

Then again, quite a few of the discussions I've had with self-declared polyamorous people were themselves women and I am not only strictly monogamous, but I'm also gay, so what do I know.


Small note here, I'm not a jealous person. From observation of others some innately are, but many seem to act so because they've picked up the idea that they're supposed to be. It's the done thing so that's what they do. I can't give a size but it seems a decent proportion of people do it.

The open relationship thing didn't/doesn't work for me, but I'm upvoting you because I think it's a little unfair you're being downvoted for your personal experience. I think some people may be downvoting you, though, because you seem to present yourself as "open" and yet it reads a bit as though your open relationships are more open for yourself than the women involved. No judgement from me, though: I also find that sort of 'open' arrangement easier to deal with. Probably all men do.

> Not in my face if it's with a dude, don't get pregnant, or diseases, and I don't care.

(I didn't miss this.) You may be very equally open; it's hard to tell from your comment. Congrats on having such an unusually low level of jealousy.


"Partner guarding seems like a lot of pointless energy expended based on insecurity"

Let's see if you feel the same way when the alimony and child support garnishment kicks in...


Exactly reflects my feelings. I discovered that mfff+ is what makes me sexually and emotionally excited, and that a lot of amazing women want to be in such relationships once they feel genuinely loved and cared for. And see how many other women are excited about exploring things along these lines.

The biggest turn-on for women is safety. Once women feel safe they don’t care about the fact that the man they are with also loves other women. Just like friends who are emotionally mature and secure do not care that you have multiple close friends.

Good for you for figuring this out.


Strong sexual predator vibes from this one.

speaks about not partner guarding and then says "Not in my face if it's with a dude," and is only open to m+f*n relationships lol - partner guarding lol

And strong moralistic insecure vibes from you

“Love is a verb. Love – the feeling – is the fruit of love the verb or our loving actions. So love her. Sacrifice. Listen to her. Empathize. Appreciate. Affirm her.”

Stephen Covey


Having a crush is a very distinctive feeling. If you don't know if you have one, you probably don't.

I would obviously be upset if my wife cheated. But to me a one night stand with actual sex is less of a betrayal than months of texting, saying sweet things to each other, and establishing true emotional bonds without any physical element. Sex is something that happens, it’s an activity. Love is an emotion and using her time to love another person emotionally is much worse than a brief sexual act. My two cents.

"months of texting, saying sweet things to each other, and establishing true emotional bonds without any physical element" I do this with my non-romantic gender, where do you draw the line for betrayal?

Dishonesty.

If one can keep it in the open and it's everything alright between them as a couple it's alright. But if one keeps it hidden, dismisses the other and lies about the activity it's a betrayal. Although rules are a bit different for non-romantic gender, because in general this relationship will not replace the romantic one, it still may apply. If one opens up to their buddy and keeps distance with their partner, isn't it a reason for partner's concern?


Definitely, making a partner feel insecure is a cause for concern, but the amount it would be labelled a betrayal depends. Indeed, a friendly relationship with your romantic gender has a much higher chance of being seen the wrong way, and knowing how it would be perceived can certainly constitute betrayal

When you're clearly going beyond what is expected in a normal friendship and into what would be a relationship?

While I agree, it's effectively what I was asking for OPs opinion on

Depends on the person. In general American parlance you may “have a crush” as a teenager, and want to ask them to be your boyfriend/girlfriend. Some people use it to refer to someone that they have unexpressed desires for throughout their life.

Other people use the term similar to your usage where it is much more general. Communicative partners may say they have a crush on someone else with the implication that they would never act on it.


Well ... it's only a few paragraphs longer and she ends up believing that this incident has taught her empathy.

If she has real sociopathic tendencies, even grokking empathy on a purely intellectual level would be very real progress for her. (Perhaps the clearest feasible progress for someone with that condition - sociopaths tend to intuitively assume that everyone they meet is just as selfish and self-serving as they are, which makes them very poor negotiators.)

I'm not sure that she has those tendencies, though. She talks about having flat affect and about her sensation seeking in youth, but plenty of youths engage in mildly antisocial behavior (the brain doesn't fully develop until the mid-20s or so), and many sociopaths don't display flat affect - in fact, they may show rather volatile emotions, including angry jealousy triggered by perceived slights, which she apparently lacks.


> If she has real sociopathic tendencies, [...] I'm not sure that she has those tendencies, though.

She was medically diagnosed and then earned a Ph.D. in psychology. I don't know how you can reasonably question that.


There are a lot of HN posts about people trying MDMA one time and having a life changing discovery about themselves.

This author says, "My lack of emotion and empathy", and "my insincerity, emotional poverty, absence of shame and guilt, and reduced empathic response".

I wonder what one dose of MDMA would allow her to experience?

Or possibly be a candidate for an MDMA research study.


My personal experience with MDMA is that it makes you feel empathetic, not that it actually makes you more empathetic. It helps you feel good about yourself and others, and so long as you're doing so with trustworthy people with similar goals - It's basically the same thing. My roommate's boyfriend did MDMA while I was in the house, and they were convinced that they knew me and had a deep personal connection with me from that point forward.

It was not true at all, and ended very badly (he drugged me, and that's all that I know for sure).


There was a Canadian psychologist who tried to “cure” criminal psychopaths by administering LSD to them in the 70s. The result was they became better at manipulation and deception and experienced higher rates of recidivism. Jon Ronson covers this episode in his book The Psychopath Test.

I can speak to this, having shared a lot of MDMA experiences with a self-professed sociopath who was formerly a good friend until he crossed the line a bit (harmlessly).

The experiences seemed to be more hedonistic for him than anything... However -- and this is big, imo -- the MDMA did help him open up about a lot of things (for example, being a sociopath) and other kinds of darker predilections that he had kept inside / experienced in the past. And I think it made him a much better person for it, in all kinds of ways, just getting this stuff out and sharing.

But in the end, the relationship fell apart because I couldn't deal with the subtle manipulation that he would constantly try to get away with (hilariously assuming that I couldn't pick up on what he was doing, which was often very obvious -- a sociopathic trait, being unable to relate and thinking oneself superior). We had a lot of good times, and I think about those days often. In the end I just couldn't handle the quirks... which might say more about me than him.


What sorts of subtle manipulations would you notice?

Leaving out the MDMA part, this matches my experience with sociopaths. Because they're less repressed they're more fun, almost a guaranteed good night out, but they push & push & push and don't know when to stop, and won't stop (except for a short while) if you warn them, until finally the relationship (platonic I mean) gets too much and you finish it. And they can get quite upset about it, this no-emotions thing for sociopaths doesn't really match what I've seen. They seem to be empty inside, an unfillable hole, but certainly not emotionless.

This happened to me, but I've never thought of myself as sociopathic. Rather, I grew up in a situation that required me to repress my feelings, and MDMA was a gateway to breaking down the giant wall I had, unknowingly, built up.

From my experience of dealing with people that I have thought to be sociopaths when they describe their experiences on MDMA they usually describe them as feeling really good and feeling really good about themselves but without developing or expanding their empathetic connection to others.

This. I've had two ex-partners who fall somewhere down that spectrum (one diagnosed) and they both really enjoyed MDMA (one having abused it in the past and one bordering on unhealthy regularity).

They just enjoy feeling really good.

My most recent ex also really enjoyed psychedelics, but as far as I could tell she had qualitatively very different experiences from me - not so much of the psychedelic/mystical/connecting aspects and more of recreational enjoyment and to some limited extent self-exploration. Her deepest realization was that she appreciated hanging out with her childhood friend. She never had a bad or dark trip or any of the anxiety.

I think it's a mistake to believe that these things affect different psyches similarly.


> “minor mischief like sneaking embarrassing items into a line-cutter’s grocery cart”

I found this bit most fascinating. How does this work logistically? Does one stock own cart with embarrassing items, “just in case”, and then dump them before checking out? I’m assuming that the mischief is then sought out, and less of a reaction to being wronged? With that said, taking the whole thing with a grain of salt.


When my aunt died of cancer[1] at age 55 after fighting it for 20+ years I flew into Chicagoland for the funeral and stayed at her house. The guest bedroom closet was packed with Disney trinkets; just stuffed from floor to ceiling. And that was in addition to the trinkets elsewhere or which she gave away.

Everybody in the family knew she loved taking her grandchildren to Disney World at least once or twice year. Over the years we had several family reunions there. What few of us ever knew was that she would steal trinkets from the gift shops every chance she could. As she lived with both type 1 diabetes and cancer, she always carried around one or two huge bags with food and medicine which she would stuff with her loot.

According to my uncle (her brother) she did it as a way of taking control over her somewhat hard-luck life, which also included getting pregnant at 16 and other hardships. I don't know the extent to which he knew beforehand, or if he had ever spoken with her about it. I think it's mostly a guess of his based on the fact that, apparently, such mischievous habits are a not uncommon stress response behavior. But I have no reason to doubt that the items were indeed stolen; her husband and daughter confirmed it.

[1] AFAIU, over the years she had multiple types of cancer, including breast cancer; not just a metastasis of one type. She was one of the longest survivors of the form that killed her. (Don't know the name.) She kept miraculously responding to various experimental treatments for years until she didn't; and then they stopped admitting her to new programs. I still vividly remember once getting a frantic call in the middle of the night after she was refused entry into an experimental program. She was desperate to find and pull on any string, and she begged me to query any friends who were doctors, scientists, w'ever. The diabetes was both a curse and blessing as it caused her to become exceptionally skillful and consistent at controlling her diet and lifestyle, which presumably helped her respond well to the various cancer treatments. She was also tenacious. She never stopped fighting for a single second. No courageously poetic acquiescence for her. Her last night she tried to stay awake for as long as she could, knowing she'd never wake up.


I'm guessing, maybe the seediest tabloid near the checkout counter?

I remember from my childhood a lot of supermarkets had cheap stuff at the checkout for people waiting in line. Gossip mags, candy bars, gimmicky stuff. She could be referring to that, something along the lines of putting a vapid mag in someone's cart that doesn't look the type to be into that kind of thing.

I guess if it's a man you might have tampons on hand, or some slightly more embarrassing feminine necessity.

But I can't really imagine caring on the other side of that.


While an interesting read, it felt a bit manufactured to me, and there was no detail on why she concluded he had a crush. I hate do say this, but it felt like a part truth, part fiction crafted to monetize her medical condition, and not a good one at that because her husband's voice was completely absent (perhaps deliberately so).

1) She's an actual sociopath, who tend to exhibit more and stronger attention-seeking behaviors than others.

2) She's not an actual sociopath, but in claiming to be one she's more likely to be a person who exhibits attention-seeking behaviors.

Either case would help explain both the tone of the article and her claimed activities. I also doubt that she was paid much, if anything, for the article. Modern Love is a weekly, reader-contributed column: https://www.nytimes.com/article/how-to-submit-a-modern-love-... That page also says that submissions "must be entirely true", though it doesn't explain the extent to which they verify the stories.


Many people realize something's up with their friend. Best thing is to come clean and practice radical honesty. No wonder that can clash when someone lies. Sounds to me someone on a good path and working it out, even learning to forgive a tiny bit.

Not feeling “guilt” about attending family functions.

This is what holds the fabric of civilization together though! When you are dying of cancer and need a ride to the doctor all those guilt driven decisions might pay off


Guilt is a double-edged sword. It's entirely possible to have too much of it, where it becomes not only a detriment to your well-being but even, ironically, to that of the people around you. It sounds like her husband has this kind of guilt and that they've had a really mutually-beneficial relationship balancing each other out.

Does it really require feeling guilty though? Sometimes I do. On the other hand I have put off family obligations and felt guilty about it afterward, but prioritized family when there were things I’d rather do and felt quite good about it.

Ideally there would be compassion as a driving factor, rather than guilt.

I find it deeply depressing that people always seem to reach for guilt as opposed to compassion in these situations. I really hope they just didn't think about it, or were trying to be edgy. Imagine going through life assuming kindness is motivated only by guilt...

Truly great headline on this article

> Human beings aren’t designed to function without access to emotion, so we sociopaths often become destructive in order to feel things. I used to break into houses or steal cars for the adrenaline rush of knowing I was somewhere I wasn’t allowed to be — just to feel, period.

There's a common distinction between psychopaths and sociopaths that suggests the latter is (usually, but probably not in this case) considered less intelligent primarily because they lack the forbearance to hide their condition. I personally think any sensible person afflicted with this disposition should keep it to themselves, knowing very well that public admission to anti-social behavior is not in their best interest as a person.

Then again if narcissism is at play one might feel compelled to revel in the attention that begets the glorification of sociopaths by the media. The news is pretty irrational nowadays, so I understand why the notion that dissocial individuals are somehow victims is gaining traction. Having to read about someone who has a PhD in psychology making these statements is pretty uncomfortable, but nonetheless admissible once the absurdity of our reality is embraced.

I wish her and her family the best but, for their own sake, I wish she hadn't published this article. If I ever hear of someone admitting to being diagnosed with this personality disorder I would do everything in my power to disassociate myself from them -- which I believe to be a rational decision when self-preservation is the goal. I can already imagine the parents of her poor child's friends whispering into their children's ears to "avoid that family at any cost from now on".


> If I ever hear of someone admitting to being diagnosed with this personality disorder I would do everything in my power to disassociate myself from them -- which I believe to be a rational decision when self-preservation is the goal.

This seems pretty harsh. You're making a pariah of someone, based on something you heard, because you assume they wish to do you harm without ever meeting the person.

Replace "sociopath" with "homosexual", "non-Christian" (since, really, who chooses their religion?), or "Black". Keep in mind that sociopathy is not a choice. It's possible they're made, more likely they're born that way, but either way not a path a person sets themselves on.

While knowing such diagnosis for an individual may be instructive in forming relationships with them, just assuming they intend you harm without getting to know the individual is a knee-jeek reaction at best. The author's own experience, should you choose to accept it, shows that relationships are not only possible but can be healthy, beneficial, and even self-enlightening to all parties.


Harm maybe not, but used definitely. If you're not useful to a sociopath you will not be in their life. And if something goes wrong, you definitely incur the risk of getting harmed, either physically or mentally.

It sounds like you're saying the difference between psychopaths and sociopaths is that the former hides their condition while the latter doesn't?

Am I understanding you correctly? Because if so, this isn't a definition I've heard of. Can you tell me where it's from?



Do high functioning sociopaths hide their condition behind a flag?

Dark triad traits surface on this forum with some regularity.

This is how they show up in workplaces with credentialed staff:

+ Public humiliation of victims

+ Intentional isolation of victims

+ Smear campaigns against victims

+ Encourages others to torment, harass, alienate, and/or humiliate victims

+ Sabotage victims

+ Invades personal privacy of victims (feeds into other techniques)

In broad strokes, these people can be identified through their use of social violence and deception. Whether their internal state of mind conforms to some pathology template is almost irrelevant.


> social violence

This is some aggressive and concerning rhetoric.

Being a jerk at work is not “violence” and we should not try to equate the two as being on the same level.

Don’t forget that many fascist regimes were built around this kind of aggressive punishment of unpleasant behaviors.


Similar tactics are deployed in "psychological warfare" campaigns [1,2].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zersetzung

[2] https://theintercept.com/2014/02/24/jtrig-manipulation/


Sure, the bully claiming to be the victim when trying to convince those around them that social degradation is sane behaviour.

Recommend reading this [1] and then re-thinking what violence means.

[1] https://smile.amazon.com/dp/189200528X/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_...

Or from the dictionary definition 1.b. [2] "extremely powerful or forceful and capable of causing damage"

[2] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/violent


Exactly. This is scary stuff that leads to the government controlling behavior as opposed to a baseline of rules to protect individuals.

We have seen throughout history that fascism and other forms of totalitarian governments base their foundation upon this type of strict “no broken windows” style of behavior control.

Another popular technique for these types of regimes is changing the definition of words.

I would strongly encourage you to look into the rise of fascism in the first half of the twentieth century. Recently fascism is more closely associated with nationalist and racist groups. But this was very different a hundred years ago when these ideas were first gaining large acceptance.


I didn't see the connection between the article and fascism. Maybe if mental health was a priority then individuals wouldn't be as susceptible to fascism or other control systems that prey on peoples' vulnerabilities and insecurities.

> People claim to want complete honesty from their partner or spouse, but I have found they aren’t always happy when they get it, especially when that honesty is coming from a sociopath.

I’ve seen many people use this as an excuse to not be honest. But, the value in the honesty isn’t happiness.

It’s trust, integrity, respect, and allowing the other person to make choices with all the facts. It’s in letting go of the burden of lies. It’s showing vulnerability and weakness. It’s in being honest with yourself, which you must be, in order to be honest with your partner.


I’ve learned some people can’t be honest because they’re unable to verbalize or understand their emotional state even to themselves.

Often this comes across as deep insecurity, and ironically it can sometimes be easier for someone else to understand it from the outside (or at least see it for what it is).

In my experience people who aren’t able to express or introspect on their emotional state to both themselves and others make for difficult romantic partners, and can cause a lot of damage long term when raising children.


How you say things matters and "saying how it is" doesn't mean you have to be an asshole about it.

Honesty in itself is a very complicated topic. One can also overshoot in an attempt to be ('brutally', common qualifier) honest.

There's situations that are simply ambiguous, contradictory, and where honesty is more an attempt to defuse or clarify than well, actually honest.

For example there are a lot of people who always attempt to be honest, and then tend to hand out advice to people without really knowing what the other person is actually about.

I think there's a reason lying or at least omitting things exists and it's not just being a coward, it can also be legitimate deferral and in a way humility, I can't assume that I always have all the facts and simply opine on an issue.


Reading this I thought that without the same emotional cues and such different experiences, I imagine for a sociopath it must take a great deal of discipline and reflection to operate in such a close relationship with another person.

Then I remembered, it kinda does anyway...

Side note: I have enjoyed reading Modern Love on NYTimes, but there are times (perhaps with this one, and others for sure) where I feel topics or stories are packaged a bit too cutely, to easily and poetically to be real. For short stories Modern Love can be a surprisingly deep and touching, but other times it feels like ... just stories polished up too much for the sake of the story. At times I feel like I can sense the writer ignoring or hand waving other things.


I’m assuming you meant “emotional cues.” Normally I wouldn’t correct something like that but I kept reading and re-reading your comment with the assumption that an “emotional queue” was a kind of metaphor that might make sense in the context of a sociopath.

Thank you, I get that one wrong all the time. It was entirely my mistake, and not a mysterious psychological phenomenon ;)

This could be read as an elaborate attempt by a sociopath to use the media to make her husband believe he actually taught her empathy.

Would that be so bad? To me either situation shows that the author understands what empathy is and that she should put effort into it.

I wonder how she would work as a clinical psychologist given that she would struggle to empathise with others, which is usually a large part of the job. Maybe making others feel understood can be learnt, but why bother if you don't care. What's the motivation for a psychopath?

I mean I rarely feel guilt either, but I'm not a sociopath.

I am definitely interested in what her upbringing was like and if she has a history of trauma.

Something doesn't add up about her story. It would probably be worth seeing it properly from a third perspective. Like her husband, her broader family that she doesn't mention or the people she works with.


Do psychologists really need to empathize? Being skillful at detaching from your own emotional response would seem to me to be a useful skill for such an occupation. Empathy might help one to recognize or predict behaviors, but it could also hinder them, and in any event I would think a sufficiently intelligent and experienced psychologist could more than compensate for that particular deficit.

The book "The Sociopath Next Door", written by a clinical psychologist, describes a real-life story of a [presumed] sociopath who fraudulently worked as a clinical psychologist. Unfortunately, their habits tended to the more malevolent end of the spectrum and they supposedly delighted in manipulating their patients. The story begins at page 77 of the Kindle Edition.


Psychologists really need to empathise. I follow this psychiatry podcast (that's also continued medical education for docs).

https://www.psychiatrypodcast.com/psychiatry-psychotherapy-p...

Have a read. A large part of performance seems to be from the ability to gain an alliance with the patient, a component of which is empathy.

>Being skillful at detaching from your own emotional response would seem to me to be a useful skill for such an occupation.

Possibly to some extent. Psych professionals often talk about 'countertransference', basically how the patient affected you emotionally, and how to use that clinically. If you didn't feel anything, you might not be able to use this useful cue.

And one other mantra I keep hearing from the psychiatrists are, "Find one thing you like about the patient and focus on that" (especially in regards to hateful, angry patients) It's going to be hard to help someone you can't empathise with for being angry and build an alliance.

edit: Psychologist/psychiatrist I flick between terms. I just mean any mental health professional that engage with a patient. Particularly for talk therapy.

edit edit: It's not like she's barred from being one. It just would be a big disadvantage (unless she deals with psychopaths who famously don't respond to anything)


This story reminded me of Sam Harris' book "Lying"[0], in which he makes a detailed argument for never, ever lying. The book grew out of a philosophy course at Stanford that devoted a semester to working through the implications of lying. Since taking that course at Stanford, Harris admits to only telling one lie since, an odd situation that otherwise would have endangered his young child. For example, his friends always know that if he gives an opinion, it is real and not told to make them feel better, which leads to rather deeper interpersonal interactions.

It is not at all clear why a sociopath would be better at detecting lying. Is this a skill that can be transferred? How can the absence of emotion better detect an emotional act (lying)?

[0] https://www.amazon.com/Lying-Sam-Harris/dp/1940051002


It can’t. It’s self-aggrandizing that is typical of sociopaths. In this case, it also likely serves to instill fear in her partner, that she can always detect his “lies.” Sociopaths excel at these kind of subtle manipulations, but they are also borne of the cognitive distortions they suffer as a result of the condition (specifically believing themselves to be superior to other people who rely on empathy to understand others and experience remorse).

Yes; mostly. But part of the intimidation tactic is gathering and remembering way more information about her codependent than any normal person would. She would also think he is terrible at it because he never accuses her. Lord knows he learned his lesson.

But mostly this is just spin. It’s a good thing, see. I’m helping you. Everybody else is just like me. You need me to protect you. Please don’t leave me. I’ll destroy you.


This is tangential, but it's striking to me that in today's egalitarian culture sociopaths are so obviously outside the umbrella of protection from generalization.

With most groups, especially disadvantaged groups, we hesitate to make any negative generalization. For example, I would never say, "blind people excel at subtle manipulation; they learn this skill in order to work around their inherent social deficiencies." In fact, I wouldn't even make any negative generalizations even when I have reason to believe they are probably true, like "blind people tend to be less productive programmers."

I just think it's fascinating how sociopaths are totally barred from this protection. We really do fear them, and that fear puts them out in the cold, outside the usual embrace of diversity. I wonder if you could make the statements you've just made about any other group of people with a genetic condition without incurring the wrath of the community or even the moderators.

I'm really not moral grandstanding here. I'm not sure you're correct about typical sociopath behavior, but if you are then I have no issue with you saying it. I'm only pointing it out because I'm genuinely fascinated by this exception to a very strong cultural norm.


This is a really important point. One of the problems with the diagnosis of psychopathy, and ASPD in general, is that psychologists hate their patients with this diagnosis, and ironically, feel very little empathy for them. The result is that pop-psychology paints them as incurably evil. The problem is that if you give the standard psycopathy test to a random sample of the population, about 1% of people meet the clinical diagnosis, many of whom lead perfectly normal lives! While psychopaths are heavily over represented in prison populations, most criminals are not psychopaths, and most psychopaths are not criminals.

Psychopaths aren't usually terribly dangerous. Don't lend them money, but almost certainly they won't kill or steal from you! (people with borderline personality disorder, a terrible and debilitating disease, are far more dangerous to the people in their lives)

Psychopaths are perfectly capable of behaving morally. They lack to a degree the emotional aspects of personal morality, but they can certainly reason morally, and thus can be productive members of society. The idea that they don't have emotions is an exaggeration. They do have emotions, though these emotions can be unusual or weak, and they can suffer. We should have empathy for them, even if they may not have for us


>Psychologists hate their patients with this diagnosis, and ironically, feel very little empathy for them.

I've seen no evidence in the clinical literature that psychologists hate these patients, just that their is little help that can be provided them, especially given their propensity for manipulation and deceit. Talk therapy has been proven to actually polish their skills in these domains and there are no drugs or other treatments that can develop the capacity for empathy or remorse where none exists. The best one can hope for is that they can be instilled with a kind of risk vs. reward calculus that will prevent them from indulging the more extreme aspects of their behavior. But this largely is largely determined by their level of intelligence and upbringing.

>Psychopaths aren't usually terribly dangerous.

This depends on your definition of dangerous. Not every psychopath is violent, but they almost universally engage in constant lying, manipulation, exploitation, and pushing of boundaries, which take, at the very least, a strong psychological toll on those around them. If you end up working for a psychopath or in a relationship with one, your life is likely to be more miserable than not, regardless of whether they behave in an explicitly antisocial fashion.


Sociopaths don't necessarily have malicious feelings toward others. The problem is that they have very little true feeling at all for others, which allows them to treat others as objects.

They are? Try calling out a sociopath then! See what happens... (btw, this may turn badly for you)

Most people are easily mislead and others don't mind unless attacked. Best thing sociopaths can do is radical honesty.


Her description of recklessness, impulsiveness and lack of remorse seems to fit well with antisocial personality disorder. Self-aggrandizing is usually seen as a major trait of narcissistic personality disorder, whereas APD (or sociopathy) is typically more inclined towards deception and manipulation for personal gain.

Hence, sociopaths spend a lot of time lying to and manipulating other people. Detecting lies might very well be easier for someone who lies a lot themselves: "Don't bullshit a bullshitter."

With that said, from what I understand of these various personality disorders, it's a bit of a floating spectrum of classifications, so traits and symptoms can overlap.

Edit: I agree, of course, that the whole text should be taken with a tablespoon of salt.


Dazzling display of logic!

Never lying is a fine policy. It's definitely better than thoughtlessly lying or lying to oneself. Even better is to lie intentionally, for good reason (this doesn't mean "white lies", but rather lies which support goals), often enough to get comfortable doing it but not so often on serious matters that one's reputation suffers.

After listening to his podcast for six months, I'd suspect that what Harris admits to himself and what actually happened might not be the same thing...


People often believe lies because they want to believe them. Perhaps sociopaths lack that mental defense?

Guilt is more than feeling bad--it's a force that prevents antisocial behavior. The author's self-confessed desire to engage in antisocial behavior due to the associated thrill is a risk to herself, her husband, and her daughter. The author gloats about her misdeeds and treats the fact that they are frowned upon like an inconvenience. She even tries to claim that she can't help it because she was born this way. Her husband is attempting to moderate this behavior, but she still "gets up to no good" and simply indicates this to her husband as though the primary issue is trust.

I don't know what the point of this article is, I'm going to view it as a demonstration of what a functionally sociopath person look like and use it to broaden my definition of people to fear.


I wonder how different these comments would be if the author had used the term "antisocial personality disorder" instead of "sociopath."

I find it surprising sociopaths are allowed to just be free in society. They invariably are a net loss for society and certainly for anyone who is involved with them. I can’t even imagine how screwed this persons husband would be if this article were true. One way to spot a sociopath is to look at the people close to them. They almost always are a little odd or dumb. This is because smart, normal people never allow themselves to get too close to sociopaths. Somewhere along the line between acquaintance and close friend, most people get a peek under the veil and feel the cold, nauseating feeling that comes over you when you encounter pure, unnatural evil. People really don’t get it until they have some kind of experience with a sociopath. There’s nothing more creepy than getting that glimpse of their true nature, through a small crack in their facade, and seeing things that are totally outside of normal human behavior. Things you wouldn’t even think of until you saw it. The reason why nobody gets it is because it’s just too alien.

Sociopaths are dangerous. Everything in our culture and society is built around the fact, purposefully or not, that most people have basic empathy for the direct and visceral experience of seeing another person suffer. If you involve yourself with a sociopath, there are no mechanisms at play to help you. You will find yourself totally destroyed. If everyone in the world really knew what sociopaths are, they wouldn’t be allowed to roam freely. I’m astounded at how casually the subject is addressed in this thread.


Sociopaths are not inherently evil, they just have no inherent feelings for other people. But they can and often are taught how to behave "normally"–sure, it may not be their "true nature" or whatever to care for others, but if they're trying their best to emulate it and end up doing the same things that a normal person would as a result what is there to judge?

Actually, taking a step back: your comment horrifies me. It's coherently worded and looks similar the other comments in this thread on the surface, but you are very clearly advocating for the author and people like her to be locked up; calling this you're calling this wife a danger to her husband, this mother of a family a menace to society. This is a woman who took the time and courage to write about how she maintains a fairly normal life with a highly stigmatized psychological condition (often eliciting the very reaction you've had in your comment–"pure, unnatural evil") using words that I know if directed at me would make me fear for my very existence. I read comments every day that violate the Hacker News guidelines ("lol the author of this post is dumb", "the Clintons were behind 9/11") and it's usually easy to tell because they stand out as being gross violations that nobody is going to take seriously. But this…the conviction with which you say these words that I don't think I could make any more discriminatory…is what astounds me. I am honestly struggling for words to describe how wrong your comment feels.


Randomly locking up or segregating society based on perceived psychological conditions is a dangerous path...there are high functioning sociopaths, even those that never show "symptoms" or act on a lack of empathy.

There are lots of dangerous people groups. Are you going to include any veteran with PTSD? Or brilliant MBAs because they might learn to game the system or start a trading scam?

It's estimated that 46% of adults have a severe psychological condition at some point in their lifetime.

We have to be careful as a society of locking people up because of what they could do, not because of what they've done.


> odd or dumb

I feel insulted, but I can’t refute this.


I'm sure there are lots of sociopaths with smart friends, they are just better at acting normal. Of course sociopaths all seem creepy, because they are the only ones you notice. If you look at someone like Ted Bundy, he had lots of fairly normal friends who were very surprised to hear what he had done.

And I think it's a bad idea to try and imprison people because of who they are.

vwat 5 days ago [flagged]

So people who are born with a sexual desire to hurt small children, not rape but actually torture and mutilate as seen in the “hurt core” community, should be allowed to roam freely? Your opinion is an artifact of convention. How dull...

Of course people who were friends with Ted Bundy were surprised! Do you think they would be his friends otherwise? For every friend there were two people who weren’t surprised I can promise you. And yes some sociopaths are geniuses but that’s not relevant to my point at all. Most sociopaths are not able to play a rol perfectly forever. Ted bundy is a perfect example of that.

I once had the pleasure of encountering a sociopath in a social setting. He was charming and I was the only one who knew, and I knew instantly, everyone else loved him. And sure enough it was only a matter of time before the others came around one by one. If you know what to look for they are easy to spot. Extremely easy. The difference in autonomic responses alone is almost impossible to conceal.


They won't understand until they have one up to their neck from a position of power.

Ha, that's a good one. I wonder what a marriage of two high ranked VPs looks like.

Something like a political marriage in 1500AD?

Such marriages would usually involve the women losing her power and taking a familial role, right?

Maybe, but one should bear in mind that prior to the last century, 99.999% of people were serfs, and that included both male and female.

Neither could vote, or owned land, or really all that much. That 99.999%, probably add .0009 too, had zero power realistically.

I find it amusing that most people look "to the past", and the point out the hardship of one sex or the other, yet when doing so?

Look at how 'Lords and Ladies' lived, which most certainly they would not have been. You, I, and likely every single person on this forum would be a serf, zero power, zero upward mobility, locked in caste and servitude.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isabella_I_of_Castile is a famous period counterexample.

My impression of the period is that prenups were common, if not the default, among the aristocracy.

Bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube

(Also, women losing their power is more of a common law than a civil code thing, as can be seen in the variance in family law in the US between the de novo states and the states which had been part of code jurisdictions before purchase or conquest.)


God bless anyone with a family member who is mentally ill. That said, the situation described in the article is completely toxic and almost assuredly fraudulent. Which would be par for a sociopath.

And despite what the author implies, a hallmark of a sociopath is a lack of any genuine awareness that they are a sociopath. So it is safe to assume the “admission” is just another manipulation.


Compared to the experience of anybody that has been their codependent, this article makes sociopaths appear as downright whimsical. If she really is a sociopath, it’s a carefully-crafted tip of the iceberg sort of cathartic lie. And if she’s not, well, it’s still a lie, but the self-deprecating kind that endears us to her; which is exactly what a sociopath would want us to believe, just for fun, no other reason. You can’t figure it out. You can’t win. It will destroy you and everything you know about yourself. Move on.

If even a handful of people see this comment thread and internalize this message we’ll have done some good today.

100%

I thought it was both fascinating and really sweet the way they've done the hard work to develop such a functional relationship. Every relationship has rough spots; most are bigger than this crush thing. To me it was a very wholesome story.

I believe you are mistaken to assume (or believe the author's word) that theirs is a functional relationship. Sociopaths are incapable of functional relationships. Every relationship is based on manipulation and exploitation.

That's why when I read the article, all I see is attempted manipulation and exploitation of the reader.


>Every relationship is based on manipulation and exploitation.

Plenty of non-sociopathic relationships are transactional or exploitative. What do you think a young attractive woman marrying an older wealthy man is?

>That's why when I read the article, all I see is attempted manipulation and exploitation of the reader.

And again, half of the news articles I see every day are guilty of the very same thing. When an author goes on a podcast tour before the release of their book, what else is that other than manipulation to buy their book, are they all sociopaths?

All I see when I read that article is honesty. Every person in that woman's social circle knows what's up, how is that even manipulation, what you see is what you get. She clearly has functional relationships, what you seem to be hung up on is her intent.


The tragedy is, as you and I know, it’s naivety like that in the parent comment sociopaths happily take advantage of. Reading it felt like watching someone give their money to a Nigerian prince.

It isn't naivety. I believe that by declaring a whole category of person as intrinsically broken beyond repair (in this case, "incapable of functional relationships"), the inevitable outliers of such a bold claim will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If sociopathy is a spectrum, and someone is on that spectrum who would still be able to find a happy and functional life, and they are told without qualification that they are incapable of loving or being loved, they are going to ostracize themselves and live out that story. Even worse is the case where someone thinks they might be a sociopath, or has been misdiagnosed as one, because as we all know psychology is far from an exact science.

Nobody deserves to be marked unlovable based on the way they are born. Period. If someone has already hurt you personally then that's different: an individual is different from a category, actions are different from hypotheticals, and trust is different from compassion. I'm not saying a person's past actions should be ignored. What I am saying is that everyone should be considered based on their own individual choices.

“We are all receiving Charity. There is something in each of us that cannot be naturally loved.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves


I pity your cynicism.

Me too, really. However...

“Experience that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn. - CS Lewis


> a hallmark of a sociopath is a lack of any genuine awareness that they are a sociopath

I just don't really believe this is always true. What do you call the people consciously doing sociopathic things?

This is a ridiculous paradox.


It depends on what you mean by "genuine awareness". Anyone with a diagnosed personality disorder will of course know that they have a personality disorder.

An alcoholic might engage in behavior that matches sociopathy (lying, manipulation, irritability, etc) for various reasons (covering for their drinking, getting access to alcohol and so on). What makes it different is that the alcoholic deep down can recognize that their drinking is a problem and hence also act to mitigate their destructive behavior.

A sociopath might be theoretically knowledgeable about their condition, but they can do little, if anything, to mitigate how they act and even if they know that everyone else might think something they do is wrong, they simply don't care. In other words: an alcoholic is likely to wish for not being an alcoholic, while a sociopath is likely to want to stay a sociopath.

An example of this is Sam Vaknin[0], who also monetizes his personality disorder after a fashion. There's a documentary about him and his wife floating around on Youtube, "I, Psychopath".

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Vaknin


I’ve come to believe, despite the vast majority of rhetoric exhorting otherwise, that the psychopathy traits in alcoholics are simply enabled by the alcoholism, even to the extent of developing alcoholism as an excuse. Spend enough time in AlAnon and you will see it too, but of course, the people that realize that their situation is not really about alcohol, generally stop going.

Not quite sure if I follow you here.

The lying, deceit and manipulation I refer to as performed by otherwise psychologically stable alcoholics is different because it's usually employed to cover for the lack of control over their drinking - things like taking sick days when hungover, lying about drinking, coming up with plausible reasons for "needing a drink", and so on.

Thus, unlike in ASPD alcoholics, the behavior originates from feelings of guilt, shame and remorse - which, inevitably, is "handled" with more drinking. The key difference is that in empathic alcoholics, this behavior will cease if/when they give up drinking.

I used alcoholism as an example because I couldn't really think of anything apart from addiction that would make an empathic person engage in a somewhat comparable behavior for prolonged periods of time, despite feeling remorse.

It's normal for all people to lie from time to time, but that's not "consciously doing sociopathic things". ASPD/NPD manifests as such a massive, sprawling, unpredictable and destructive web of manipulation, lying, gaslighting and callousness that I'd personally say it'd be impossible for an empathic, healthy person to even come up with something that mimics it.


Was that the sound of a goal post moving?

So now they know, as I suspected, but want to stay that way.

While they also have to take the Turing test for us to be convinced that it’s genuine awareness

Mmmmmmmk

Deep down you know this is flawed, unnecessary addition, just so the rest of us can be comfortable that other people are different


Sam Vankin claims he is a malignant narcissist not a psycopath. He is even adamant about it. He seems very knowledgeble about the subject and found myself listening to quite a few of his rants. I also saw the documentary you mentioned and am on the fence.

Yes, I know he does. In the documentary he is assessed by some very knowledgeable experts and he qualifies as a psychopath. There's also comorbidity between NPD and APD and some traits also overlap.

Selfish. You call them self-centered and selfish.

Can God bless the mentally ill too? Asking for a friend...

Having been reading WP for Sir Humphrey Appleby GCB KBE MVO yesterday, I learned about the patron saint (for those who believe comparative advantage applies even to the divine) of mental disorders: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dymphna

I would personally prefer a trained psychiatrist to do it instead

Psychiatrists who have been trained (are there some who haven't?) would be the people to call for psychiatry, but for blessings we'd prefer to go to the source.

Do we pretend these labels are useful or are they useful? What is sociopathy? Can we measure it or just categorize it under some label of symptoms that themselves will be interpreted with a wide spectrum of perspectives? Everybody is different, but I find these labels with negative connotations to not be terribly useful until they can be measured. What does society or any individual gain with the label? Some people I know who believe themselves to be a sociopath use it as a crutch or an excuse for their behavior in hopes no one will blame them for being born with a condition. They're still capable of behaving in socially acceptable ways - the most deranged of sociopathic killers aren't literally overcome with insatiable urges or else they wouldn't make it to adulthood in society, right?

Bit of rambling, I know, but I just don't get why we seem to celebrate the label. I'm aware that I don't experience any other person emotions other than my own and that makes me very limited to the understanding of my own emotions, but my observations tell me that I could walk into a few pysch wards and have a diagnosis of sociopathy within a few weeks if I wanted. My observations also tell me that the main reason for desiring that label would be to feel unique, accomplished (by overcoming some obstacle) or to use that label as a "get out of social judgement jail free" card.


Then why don't you try it and see if it work for you. Way more productive than endless speculation.

I see the irony that is your attempt to dismiss these labels is just a way to label these people as self-aggrandizing fraud. In absence of evidence isn't it wiser to not assume such a stand?


Would it change your opinion if I already have done exactly that and I have been professionally diagnosed as a sociopath? I'm also not accusing anyone of anything. I'm very specifically asking a question and revealing my opinions and reasoning for my opinoin on the matter as a non-expert on the subject.

edit: it should also be noted that the article says she was diagnosed with sociopathy which isn't even in the DSM-5. In fact the word sociopathy appears once in the entire DSM-5 as an incorrect term to describe antisocial personality disorder. Which to me is a red-flag for self-diagnosis.


...self-diagnosis...

The byline is "Patric Gagne is a writer and doctor of psychology from Los Angeles." She might have stretched the truth in the essay, but surely we can still trust NYT to verify something like this? Anyone with a PhD in psychology has had access to all the diagnosis she could ever need. She isn't anonymous. If she really isn't what she so publicly claims to be, someone from her university would speak up. Of course, no one wants to have a public squabble with a sociopath...


Speak up against what? It's an unfalsifiable immeasurable diagnosis. I appreciate that most everyone means well, but academia is not some city on a hill with saints wielding an omniscient peer review process. Incredibly elementary statistical errors make it thru peer review process in even the highest impact journals somewhat frequently - so no I don't have any faith that academics would criticize an unfalsifiable diagnosis even if they could. That's really the basis of my opinion in the first place - if you can't prove something is true then you can't prove it's false. That being the case, what's the point of the label to begin with?

If you were diagnosed it means some measurement was used. These labels are useful granted they’re correctly applied, to first of all understand oneself, attempt to improve the condition and blend in with the rest of the world without causing suffering/pain in others.

Sociopathic people can be very functional. The label simply has to do with your internal feelings and responses. How you handle real life is up to you.

Most people that get these labels don't want go feel special. In fact, most are at their wits end and just want things to get better. It's usually the opposite of what you think - these people are often happy and surprised they are not alone.

The label helps avoid a lot of explanation when moving from provider to provider. Any provider worth their salt will see the person as a multi dimensional human.

It's very privileged of you go assume it has anything to do with vanity or a desire to be unique.

(Sorry for the formatting, on mobile)


There's no DSM definition for sociopathic so I'll assume you mean antisocial disorder, which no, antisocial disorders can not be "very functional" as the category depends on the individual not being very functional. I recommend looking up the diagnosis criteria in the DSM-V and I also recommend not assuming things about people you've never met.

Not sure why this is being downvoted, I had the same question. I would say I do things that others might describe as sociopathic, but I would not generally describe myself as a sociopathic.

The labels aide communication. Seems mildly obvious.

This totally reads like a gpt-3 generated article. AI is gonna ruin everything.



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