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Letter From A Psychopath (twitlonger.com)
383 points by mannjani on Dec 20, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 330 comments

I think psychopaths are incredibly boring, unidemensional people who hopelessly, endlessly intellectualize and play mind games because there is no depth to them. It is only mind machinations without the depth and nuance of a fully feeling and emotionally alive human being. I had psychopathic parents and studied psychopathy as a PhD criminal forensic psycholovist encountering many serial killers, cons and the like. Why do they do what they do? It is no great mystery as I used to think. They dismember people psychologically and physically for the simple reason that they enjoy it. They derive pleasure from the destruction of victims to their power dominance orientation. They are boring stupid people who ate not the least bit interesting. They are pathetic. They choose people smaller and weaker than them that they can pick them off out of the herd of humanity. They are sad expressions of the human genome and dont deserve near the hype and fascination they get. Once you figure them out, it is very easy to remain quite detached from their mental gyrations to seduce and ensnare. It becomes annoying actually. I for one am over it. I do recommend that you not allow one at your hearth or into your bed. You will pay dearly. One cannot allow emotional involvement or any attachment to such people as a regular person is want to do with other humann beings. Get rid of them, they will destroy your mind, spirit and your life. Take it from one who knows from a very young age.

> I think psychopaths are incredibly boring, unidemensional people.

I met at least two. Both were extremely vivid people, and deeper contact with them, when they turn off their cloaking field, was baffling: it was a bit like communicating with an alien.

In any case, these people were really, really far from being dull.

Agree. It's a rocky ride to attempt closer contact with a psychopath: there's nobody home, and you discover eventually that you were relating to a 3-D, Technicolour magnified mirror more than to another human being. And, at the same time, the mirror is almost painfully alive. I never saw so well my own strengths and flaws, never had to doubt even the most basic assumptions like when in a 'friendship' with such people.

Those tho, were high functioning, highly educated people. I don't think that psychopathy tells the whole story about anyone - there's more to one's personality than psychopathy or absence of, and that one shouldn't be tempted to generalise such experiences.

Yes, this idea that they are hopelessly boring strikes me as wishful thinking. Everything would be so much easier if that were truly the case.

How did you knoe they were psychopaths?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hare_Psychopathy_Checklist, and before that, a very strong gut feeling. Too many things click together: the overall toxicity of a person, his desire to belittle / denigrate many people around him (a waitress in a cafe, contributors to an internet community project, a non-psychopath competitor etc.), his grandiose self-image (he literally designated himself as 'elite'), threats of violence and criminal leanings, always hogging the spotlight in social settings, "friendships" that change to enmity overnight, et cetera et cetera.

i think its more like they can't feel. stay safe of course but have pity, you've been born healthy in this regard

Everybody should turn on showdead in the settings and check out losethos' comments here. Psychopathy is really interesting and fascinating, but so is schizophrenia.

It boggles my mind how anyone can write such nonsensical rambling comments while at the same time coding a 64 bit operating system from scratch.

Let's all prattle on about the guy as if he isn't an active member of this forum. The man can read you know, most developers can. I'm not trying to censor discussion but it just seems a little odd to publicly deconstruct this guy in every mental health thread like he's some type of lab specimen. It is indeed possible to read comments while hellbanned.

The relationship between this community and losethos seems very strange to me. Perhaps because this is the first community i've been involved in where hellbanning was a feature. Any other site would have banned him outright for his own good but the hellban encourages him to continue posting. The result is almost as if he's treated like a mascot, or some brilliant but obstinate child being actively ignored at the adults table.

We know he's there, he surely knows he's hellbanned, and he knows we know he's there. He's both the best and worst argument about hellbanning as an effective form of moderation.

HN as a community exhibits a lot of sociopathic traits (which makes this whole thread a little bit funny, but not funny-haha).

If you'd like to read a community actually interacting with him rather than hellbanning him under the rug, check out this Metafilter thread: http://www.metafilter.com/119424/An-Operating-System-for-Son...

Long, but worth the read.

And here he is asking us for help and being ignored: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1782800

Actually just go through the his submission history and randomly click a few links: https://news.ycombinator.com/submitted?id=losethos

You can actually see his condition gradually getting worse over months and years. I wonder if he would have turned out differently had we embraced him - and helped him?

After the hellban several years ago all his submissions were automatically killed instantly after posting. So you can't blame the community for not responding, the system made it impossible to respond/upvote at all.

This is one of the reasons why hellbanning is such a bad idea, leaving the poster to believe that everybody is actively ignoring him instead of just not being able to see him/interact with him.

Making regular healthy people waste a lot of their time posting content and feeling totally ignored is bad enough, subjecting people with mental health issues to that is even more unethical.

Ah, damn, the fact that that post is dead is very sad. I know it's years old, but, losethos, do you still need advice? (I'll probably see your reply, as I have showdead on). We could probably get a thread going, if so.

In the past he has made reference to doctors and his parents. The impression that I get is that he is getting more help right now than HN can give him.

Is that our responsibility, to save a man from mental illness? I don't feel it is.

Is it our responsibility to help people who have down syndrome from hurting themselves? Is it our responsibility to help people with physical handicap? Is it our responsibility to help people suffering from depression?

I'm offended by the thought and the idea that we should just ignore our ill. What if the person suffering from the mental illness was your brother or sister? Think about if it was you, and no-one reached out to you - how would you feel?

"Responsibility" is one of those words that makes it really hard for people to talk to each other.

If a person does not go out of their way to do the things you listed, I do not consider that a moral failing on their part. Especially if the cost to them is more than the benefit to the other person.

If you keep jumping on bullets, sooner or later you run out of flesh.

Then you'd ask a medical professional for help, not comments on a website.

You're way overgeneralizing. I mean you and I, users of Hacker News, to help one specific person. That's all.

It should be blatantly obvious that, were the situation different, I'd feel differently.

Not everything is a moral crusade, Internet warrior.

+1. He can read these comments. I don't care what your mental state is, seeing it discussed on Hacker News is never going to help.

This. A billion times this.

I find it sad rather than fascinating, wish I could hug the guy. I know this isn't the time or the place, and that I could probably not help anyway. But still, every time I see a post of him with that greyed out font saying "move along, nothing to see here" gets me right in the feels. When some sports star or programmer with family dies from stupid or natural causes or commits suicide, we are upset. When someone is obviously unhappy and unable to successfully interact with others, we are annoyed, instead of being happy they're at least still alive.

I'm sorry, I didn't mean to ramble. I have no criticism or suggestions to offer, just vague frustration and helplessness. But it does frustrate me, it's something that's been on my mind a lot of times, so thanks for the opportunity to say it, FWIW.


read it.

I think people are taking this the wrong way. A psychopath is not someone who is suffering a heavy mental disability who you should hug and comfort. Whether the personality type is a disorder or an innate talent/ability is up for debate.

A psychopath is a cold calculating personality type unburdened by empathy and certain emotions. These types of people are generally portrayed as super human by hollywood. Classic example: James Bond.

I'm not talking about psychopaths, I'm talking about the author of TempleOS and his posts here. And frankly, it was mostly a figure of speech. I wish the guy health and happiness, is all.

> Whether the personality type is a disorder or an innate talent/ability is up for debate.

Well, if it's the inability to feel empathy, remorse, and other things, shouldn't that be obvious? For me it's not a special talent of a dead person that they don't have to eat, or of Eliza that it's not really sentient. That lack in one area can lead to overcompensation in other areas still doesn't make it a special talent, it's just the expected result of practice. Everybody can be cold or calculating - to my understanding the the difference between that and a psychopath is the ability to NOT be cold and calculating. If being calculating is all that's on your palette, you get real good at it. This is my non-educated guess, anyway.

At any rate, you misread my comment, read it again, taking the post it's in reply to into account :)

I think this comment sub thread is talking about a different individual who is schizophrenic.

It is (ironically, considering the topic at hand) one of the worst phychopathic tendencies of society. We care the most about the people who need care the least (celebrities), but we dislike the "annoying liabilities" who really needs care.

When people stop providing value and start requiring value instead, their perceived societal value drops dramatically. In a way it's completely logical, but it's also really heartless.

> It boggles my mind how anyone can write such nonsensical rambling comments while at the same time coding a 64 bit operating system from scratch.

AFAIK some of his comments are auto-generated. Markov chains from the bible.

Thing is, in their mind, they're not rambling. They believe they are saying something intelligible. They have thoughts, sometimes mixed up, and feelings, and try to express them - but something in the delivery smashes it to bits. So the interesting thing to me is how you can read these ramblings and actually extract feelings and intentions from them, even though they make no sense. Usually it's very sad and lonely.

There is a fascinating internal logic underneath it all.

I had a schizophrenic guy send me regular e-mails for about two months. For reasons still unknown to me, he decided that I was the one person in the world that he could trust.

The first e-mail was very short and looked like spam. It was a brief note about how the death of some professional wrestler wasn't an accident. Then they got longer and longer, and finally he started writing his messages out by hand, scanning them, and e-mailing me the scans.

This revealed something really interesting. He was scanning these things at work. He had what appeared to be a regular 9-5 office job at a large company, and he managed to keep a lid on things enough to hold down that job while writing pages and pages of paranoia to me and scanning them on the office multifunction machine.

The most interesting/amusing/sad part of all of this was a single handwritten page sent a day or two after one of the multi-page manifestos. It said, paraphrased, "I screwed up when I sent you that last e-mail. After I scanned the note, I tore it up as I always do, but this time I wore my glasses. I believe they read it." Evidently, this fellow believed he was under such pervasive surveillance that they (whoever they were) could see things through his own glasses. The elaborate procedures he went through to send me notes were apparently worked out to circumvent this stuff, but they required good operational discipline which he couldn't always handle. Or something like that! It clearly made perfect sense to him.

After a couple of months, I tracked the guy down with the help of some friends and got in touch with the local police so they could check on the guy, as he was clearly getting worse and I didn't think he'd be safe. I didn't hear anything after that until a couple of months later when a brief e-mail arrived from a relative that basically said, "Sorry about him hassling you, he's back on his meds now."

So, a happy ending, I guess. And certainly one of the most interesting things that's happened to me online.

Believing that one might be being surveilled through one's own glasses is a paranoid fantasy that gets closer to reality every day!

This story makes me think of the portrayal of John Nash in a beautiful mind.

The ending was profoundly disturbing to me, but I couldn't explain the feeling. Then I realized why.

>"Sorry about him hassling you, he's back on his meds now."

and not

>"Sorry about me hassling you, I'm back on my meds now."

What the fuck? Maybe this is too much of an immediate response for me, but why the fuck would you contact the police? Do the police seem like they take care of people like him well? Shit I feel bad for him, the one guy he thought he could trust just snitched on him, even if he was crazy. Must have been hell to undergo that. Maybe you should have posted to a forum about how to help him first, as opposed to helping? Now the police thinks he is harassing random people and has a legal trail just in case they want to discriminate against him.

The police conduct welfare checks on people who may need help. Despite the internet's fascination with police abuse, they can be quite helpful to people.

And maybe you shouldn't be so offhandedly judgmental. I actually called a suicide hotline in the area first (the only mental health service I could come up with) and, after I convinced them that I wasn't suicidal, it was their suggestion to contact the police.

But yes, I guess it was terrible that this poor guy got help and got his life back on track.

I was involved in this incident, as one of the friends who helped track him down. I believe contacting the police was a good move because his letters indicated that he was a danger to himself and to others.

Okay thank you. My initial tone was unwarranted. I apologize.

being back on his meds is codeword for taken care of by the secret police you know?

Do you think schizophrenics know of their condition, or are they clueless that there's something biologically wrong with them?

To me, that seems to be the hallmark difference between hypomania and "real" mania, and what makes the latter more dangerous and scary-- the loss of insight into the condition, or that there even is anything amiss.

I had an accident on vacation once and was hospitalized. As a result, for a short period of time, whenever I would get drunk I would experience 'word salad' - some words I was trying to say would get changed into some other word when they came out of my mouth. But I had no idea it was happening - I heard myself saying one word, but my mouth emanated a completely different word. I only became aware of it when someone told me about it when I was sober. All my other faculties were totally fine, it was just the words got mixed up.

It hasn't reoccurred, but i'm now very aware that what I experience as reality is completely subjective to how my brain is functioning. Anything I experience right now could be a different version of reality. But at the same time, now that i'm aware it has happened, I can keep that in mind and consider it in the future. I have to believe that different forms of mental illness allow for the same kind of self-awareness, but it depends entirely on what parts of their brain are functioning (like if they can control their emotions and think clearly, which is hard enough for "sane" individuals already)

The clinical term for this is "anosognosia", which describes a specific physical, neurological inability to be aware of their illness. They literally have damage in their brain which prevents self-awareness. Something like 50% of cases of schizophrenia have some degree of anosognosia as well.

This is a big part of why schizophrenia is so hard to treat. With other disorders like OCD, patients generally do know they are unwell and are willing to accept treatment to improve it. With schizophrenia, patients are often rigidly convinced they are already healthy and refuse to be treated. They are incapable of understanding that they have an illness.

It differs from person to person. I've met people who know that they suffer from schizophrenia, some who are unaware, but know hearing voices is abnormal, and some who has no idea.

There's a big difference between the three. The first, the ones who know and care about it - you probably won't even notice he/she is suffering from it, unless they tell you. The others.. yeah.

Source: used to be a med student and a trained hospital sitter.

> It boggles my mind how anyone can write such nonsensical rambling comments while at the same time coding a 64 bit operating system from scratch.

Comments like this show exactly how poorly our culture handles mental illness. Imagine if someone had said, "It boggles my mind how anyone can be deaf while at the same time coding a 64 bit operating system from scratch."

He isn't stupid, he's schizophrenic. Aside from his disease, all of his other faculties are as fine as yours and mine.

That's not a fair example at all since hearing doesn't have an obvious relevance to coding, it's a mostly mental/visual activity (+ the physical activity of typing the code).

Schizoprenia on the other hand impacts the exact same faculty that is the most important one for programming, the brain. I don't think it's ignorant to be fascinated over how his illness so severly impacts his though processes while writing (and living), but apparently not while coding.

I've actually kept up with most of his comments throughout the years. I think he has a handful of other usernames. I know there is TempleOS. If you read between the lines of the crazy/racism/religion, rarely, he has very interesting points.

I've actually spotted him on other sites, usually commenting with a Facebook account. He actually gets some interest, some responses, some upvote-equivalents to his answers on other sites.

This is especially true when he is in racist mode, unfortunately.

I hope there is some way he can get help.

I was under the impression that the operating system generated the comments. Terry reads between the lines as well.

You've noticed that too? Completely lexical followed by C:\AMBIATE\INTRODUCTIO~1.TXT This__-you__are__ will believe _- you __that_this_then_ if and only if _generated_text from _some_thing.

I watched a video demo of the OS, in which he shows how he generates the text. In all likelihood the parent I responded to was referring to parts of the comments that do not appear to be generated, just troubling.

IANA(Psychologist) but I always thought it might have something to do with memory consolidation, that normally happens during sleep, running wild. You can see some themes in the writing, and some semblance of recent news stories. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/beautiful-minds/200903/a...

Honestly, I don't know what I'm looking at without someone to explain it to me.

I haven't been this fascinated by something in a while.

It boggles my mind how anyone can write such nonsensical rambling comments while at the same time coding a 64 bit operating system from scratch.

Like many other mental disorders, schizophrenics alternate between total detachment and relative sanity. Also, many schizophrenics maintain their full intellectual horsepower even when affected.

Schizophrenics can also go into remission late in life (after 50) and reach a point where, at least with medication, they're relatively unaffected. Spontaneous remission isn't common with SZ but it does happen.

If you're interested in what life for such a person is like (or if you might be one!), check out M. E. Thomas's Confessions of a Sociopath. I wrote about it here: http://jseliger.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/summary-judgment-co... and Tyler Cowen wrote about it here: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2013/06/con... and elsewhere.

FWIW, from what I've read (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/11/10/081110fa_fact_...) there were (at least) no therapies or treatments that reproducibly help psychopaths:

The psychiatric profession wanted little to do with psychopathy, for several reasons. For one thing, it was thought to be incurable. Not only did the talking cure fail with psychopaths but several studies suggested that talk therapy made the condition worse, by enabling psychopaths to practice the art of manipulation. There were no valid instruments to measure the personality traits that were commonly associated with the condition; researchers could study only the psychopaths’ behavior, in most cases through their criminal records.

And now there are, at least in the sense of reducing criminal behavior:

In a landmark 2006 study of a specialized talk-therapy treatment program, conducted at a juvenile detention center in Wisconsin, involving a hundred and forty-one young offenders who scored high on the youth version of the checklist, Michael Caldwell, a psychologist at the treatment center and a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, reported that the youths that were treated were much more likely to stay out of trouble, once they were paroled, than the ones in the control group.

But note that the linked article is from 2008. Perhaps things have changed since.

>no therapies or treatments that reproducibly help psychopaths

This depends largely on one's idea of "help". Nobody is going to cure psychopaths any time soon, but I'd be surprised if one can't (reproducibly) help them channel their drive into something productive.

You might also want to note that there are many different versions of [staying] out of trouble.

Exactly what I thought. Especially given the above quote:

researchers could study only the psychopaths’ behavior, in most cases through their criminal records

It's a fascinating disorder, really, in that the most severe cases are difficult to detect so long as they do not make mistakes.

The most interesting part is how unlike a typical disorder it is. Your typical disorder removes capability; psychopathy removes empathy, which can be seen as a capability- but it could also be seen as a natural (well-intentioned) limiter.

It's quite possible that this is not a disorder, but a stable evolutionary strategy.

I don't think it is evolutionary stable. I think a society of sociopaths would fall apart. We evolved to live in groups; we are social animals. Social animals need empathy, otherwise they are unlikely to cooperate and live in mutually beneficial ways.

"Psychopath" could just be the degenerate form of the personality type that evolved to lead those groups. In other words, a leader is a psychopath with better impulse control.

I thought that the ME Thomas book read like a work of fiction. The drowning of the possum right at the start - cruelty to animals being one of the stereotypical psychopath behaviours - smelled strongly of a creative writing class to me

Is cruelty to animals part of psychopathy? Or simply a behavior that can develop unchecked due to psychopathy?

I have read the book. The point of that anecdote is that the concept of "cruelty" does not apply to the authors' thinking. We say she was being cruel to the animal, but she does not see it as such.

To her, she had a problem: something was in her swimming pool, and it had to be removed from the pool so she could keep it clean. She tried to remove it, but it kept swimming away. So she drowned it, collected it, and cleaned the pool. The creature's pain never entered into the calculation for her.

The best analogy I can think of are open-world videogames. When you play Grand Theft Auto, are you being "cruel" to civilians? They aren't alive and don't have any feelings, so you may have no problem [1] doing seemingly cruel things to them to see how they react. You're not necessarily cruel, you're just curious how that world works.

Sociopaths see the world in a similar way that you see Grand Theft Auto.

[1] I'm empathetic enough that I feel empathy even for completely non-sentient characters in videogames. So I tend to be a goody-goody even in digital worlds.

Yes, I already understand all of that. No, you didn't answer my question.

I think it's a side effect due to the lack of empathy. On the other hand, they do enjoy their domination over weaker beings, so this might be pleasurable to them.

Be warned though ME Thomas' book is not particularly well written, so unless you are specifically interested in this I'd stay clear. The style is similar to the letter from this thread.

I'm generally viewed as a "nice guy" but once when I was younger met a psychopath who viewed my "niceness" as a weakness and took it upon himself to destroy me. I retreated from that battle, but from then on learned to identify such people and try to match wits with them. I'm very competitive and couldn't stand losing to them. I out-witted several of them over the course of my life and they would usually leave me alone when they knew I would fight back. Fortunately, there are not a lot of true psychopaths running around. However, I finally met my match recently later in life, in a former prison inmate who ran had run his cell block, who had intelligence, charisma, and a breath-taking ruthlessness. He had fooled everyone on his release that he was reformed and had obtained employment where I worked. I did battle with him and lost because I was not willing to go his lengths. Good does not always over Evil, as we all know. I had to get as far away from him as I could. The experience was traumatic in some ways, and I say all this to recommend you avoid psychopaths whenever possible. It's not worth it. A true psychopath is beyond redemption.

how do you spot a psychopath? what are the usual traits you looks for? How did you do battle with former inmate?

With regards to the last guy, it was an experience unlike any other in my life

I transferred into his location so I was new. He took it upon himself to be my friend and mentor. The first few months were fine. I go along with everyone and did a good job. This was his information gathering phase. I'm an open person so he learned a lot about me before the red flags went up.

He slowly began praising me, saying I was uniquely qualified for the job and the other guys weren't doing it right. He and I would show them how it was done. His charm and intelligence won me over and I was very flattered.

Simultaneously, he began turning everyone against me, making me dependent upon him. Feeling isolated, I found myself drawn closer into his orbit. I began suspecting him, but I found myself drawn like a moth to a flame to his charisma, praise and intelligence.

He had all the people in positions of authority fooled, so they trusted him. He began telling them without my knowledge that I wasn't very good at my job but he would look out for me.

If I deviated from what he wanted, no matter how small, his punishment was severe. I went to the authorities about this but they just shrugged their shoulders.

When I realized what was going on and being a computer person (this was when I was taking a break from a programming career), I managed to delve into the computer system and show with facts how he was cheating and how I was actually doing as well or better than the others. He responded by convincing them my computer skills were dangerous. They restricted my access to the database. He received a minor punishment because he was popular.

By cheating (and actually breaking the law in some cases) he managed to receive outstanding performance reviews. When the big bosses came to town he was recognized for his outstanding performance. He made sure to tell them I was a basket case that he was trying to bring along.

I began asking around about him. I found out he always wore long sleeve shirts to hide his prison tattoos. I foolishly thought I could fight him, so I found other ways to bring his cheating to light. This went no where because the other employees and management were afraid of him.

When he couldn't beat me outright, he enlisted a confederate to sabotage my work. With my guard up, I became very adept at justifying my work and proving I wasn't in the wrong.

I began noticing how he faked emotions. For example, he was essentially humorless, but he could fake a laugh that when you thought about it, was obviously fake and looked maniacal.

I became worn out, depressed and sick. I left the company. They all thought I was a "nice guy" and said they liked me and I believe they meant it, but thought it was to bad I wasn't up to the job. This was his end game, for the simple fact that he liked the company to be short handed so he could collect more over-time. I believe he actually liked me, but he liked the money more.

To answer your question: The psychopaths I've met are charming, intelligent, popular with people in authority. They get a free pass that others get punished for. You'll see how they cheat but never get in trouble for it and notice how other people are afraid of them. They have a way of working their way into control of any situation. They are very dominant, but in a charming way. They are usually what is called the 'alpha male.'

They aren't always charming and intelligent, sometimes they are repulsive and brutal.

I'd say the big warning signs are cruelty, a repulsion of weakness while also finding it irresistible, rapidly changing tactics (sometimes within seconds) that shift between dominance and attempting to garner empathy that begin to appear shallow after the first few salvos, highly manipulative to ends that don't really matter, and always "clever".

I agree, but I immediately avoid the one's that exhibit negative traits. The problematic ones for me are those that are charming and intelligent. I forgot about the rapidly changing tactics within seconds. That's really astonishing when you see it. I've never met a psychopathic woman. The couple crazy girlfriends I've had were borderline personalities, which I found even more difficult to deal with.

There are plenty of female psychopaths out there. The difference is that women are more socialized than men (hiding more obvious traits) and they seldom take the macho (sometimes violent) route to feed their egos.

Programmers (me included) are intrigued with psychopathy: we like the idea of pure thought, unencumbered by guilt, untainted by emotions, conventions and niceties. But paradoxically we overromanticise it in the process: I am pretty sure that living day-to-day with such condition kinda sucks, and that it seldom leads to notableness or notoriousness, let alone self-improvement or any kind of refinement. A serial offender petty criminal is probably more representative of the 'average' psychopath than the author of this post, I am afraid.

If I understand correctly, the IQ distribution in psychopaths is not different from the population as a whole.

So, the 130 IQ (+2 sigma) psychopaths are probably intelligent and self-aware enough to hold their "evil" tendencies in check and to succeed.

On the flip, the 70 IQ (-2 sigma) psychopaths probably do not have the self-insight to understand "why" they feel the way they do. Their impulse control will be much smaller, and they are much more likely to indifferently hurt people, commit crimes, and act on impulse.

Quoting from Wikipedia: 'Additionally, studies suggest inverse relationships between psychopathy and intelligence, including with regards to verbal IQ' (but later it's stated that such correlation is not unanimously accepted).

I think we mostly are in agreement; I think the impulsive and antisocial tendencies of the psychopath are often self defeating and only the very intelligent navigate life successfully. We end up having a selection bias because we are likely to cross paths only with the latter subtype, so we end up believing that all psychopaths are superintelligent and verbally dazzling, while probably the majority of them is badly dull.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of this letter is observing people's reactions to it. In the letter, the author goes so far as to admit that s/he is and always will be a psychopath without a sense of guilt or remorse toward others and a keen ability to recognize and exploit weaknesses in others for his/her own gain.

Judging by the comments here, the letter has done just that. One comment below notes that "Jeez, that's the single most interesting, insightful, and well-written piece I've read on the internet in a long time." Others are expressing a desire to meet the author or expressing how they can identify with the author. It's incredible to see just how effectively this letter resonates with the people who read it.

Don't get me wrong: It's both impressive and admirable that the author was able to not only admit that he needed therapy but to press on long enough to make therapy work for himself in an effective manner. I don't want to downplay his accomplishments. However, it is still interesting to dissect and observe all of the persuasiveness of the letter and the fluidity with which the author transforms psychopathy from a very difficult personality disorder into somewhat of a super power that the reader can't help but envy by the end of the letter.

As you read the letter and experience strong feelings of empathy for the author, consider his own poignant words at the end: "In the end, psychopaths need to be given that very thing everyone believes they lack for others, empathy."

The letter begins with the psychopath distancing himself from the traditional destructive psychopathic traits in the most admirable and self-aggrandizing way possible: He went against all odds and admitted himself into treatment, where he claims the health agency had never seen someone of his nature walk-in before and he was too incredible of a case for anyone but the highest-ranking therapist to handle.

He continues by setting up various straw-man caricatures of psychopathy ("cartoon evil serial killers" and the CEO who prizes profits over people) and knocking them down one-by-one, leaving the reader feeling guilty of possibly embracing those stereotypes at one point. With the reader feeling a bit guilty, empathetic, and as if the author's condition is simply misunderstood, the author has set the stage to rebuild the reader's view of psychopathy in a way that benefits the author.

Toward the end, he even goes so far as to put words in the reader's mouth just so he can turn around and undermine the very caricature of a psychopath he suggested you might hold : "Such as statement might tempt you to say 'well obviously you're not a real psychopath then'. As if the definition of a psychopath is someone who exploits others for their personal power, satisfaction or gain."

The rest of the article explains the author's psychopathy the way the author wants you to view it: As "a highly trained perception, ability to adapt, and a lack of judgment borne of pragmatic and flexible moral reasoning." He goes on to say that he "enjoy[s] a reputation of being someone of intense understanding and observation with a keen strategic instinct." At this point, the author has completely distanced his psychopathy from the purely negative caricature he painted in the first half of his letter. Who wouldn't be envious of such incredible, valuable, and morally-neutral abilities as he described them?

I've read the letter several times over, and I'm still amazed at how effective it is at garnering empathy from the reader and cultivating a sense that the author is an impressive individual who has triumphed over adversity after a great struggle. And it's true that overcoming your own objections to seek, and stick with, treatment for such a severe personality disorder is both impressive and admirable. His points about the general public's misunderstanding of true psychopathy are equally true, although he crucially omits any and all explanations of how psychopathy can actually be dangerous and destructive to others. It's an incredible piece of writing, and incredibly persuasive and manipulative in a way that I'm sure PR and marketing teams everywhere would be jealous of.

What's brilliant about this letter is how easily I stepped into it. C admitted to possessing the abilities to be a master manipulator and exploiter of weakness; and I still let C manipulate me into thinking exactly the way he/she wanted me to by the end of the letter.

It was the literary equivalent of the cup-and-shell game. I saw the con happening right before my eyes and still got duped. Brilliant writing.

(Note: I refer to it as a con, but only for convenience. I don't think it's necessarily negative to leave the reading thinking exactly what the author wants you to think. The process C undertook for doing so was simply so well constructed that it didn't dawn on me that I was being expertly manipulated until tomstokes pointed it out.)

You have no idea. I was "friends" with someone for years, who at the time I didn't know was a psychopath (over time I realized they met literally every item on the psychopathy checklist). The manipulativeness, the ability to lie completely sincerely (I bet a lie detector test would show absolutely nothing), and absolute and utter lack of remorse is terrifying, in a way.

The most striking thing, in retrospect, is the manipulative talent they have, and how relentlessly and patiently they are to go for the "long con".

In my case, I happen to be very talented at programming and computer science. The psychopath (who has no particular scientific talent) I refer to found me, and basically befriended me and over time convinced me to work some 100+ hour weeks on an entrepreneurial project building prototypes. This would ordinarily be fine if the profit was split evenly, but only in retrospect did I realize the disparity of my persuaded reality from their distortion field versus actual reality -- i.e. this person took 100% credit for my work, and was sure to leave no evidence that I did anything so there was nothing I could do.

But that's not even the persuasive part. The persuasive part was when I brought this up with my "friend", saying "hey so I noticed you're taking complete credit for this with no mention of me" or something of that sort. I don't even remember the details, but this person masterfully diverted attention in such a way that I found it not important, and thought about other things.

Ultimately over time, I noticed all the little disparities (lies, deception, hints of absolute lack of remorse) and had a pretty good suspicion that this person was a psychopath. It was only when I caught him in a completely undeniable lie that it all exploded.

The excuses given when confronted were pretty impressive at the time, but I'm not stupid, and it was pretty clear he was struggling to come up with answers when confronted. The strangest thing though was despite me having hard and undeniable evidence, to this day he would refuse to admit the lie, and in fact tried to convince me to apologize for slandering him (despite him knowing very well I have conclusive evidence).

Then I let on I knew he was a psychopath. The change in personality was dramatic, creepy, and like something out of a horror movie. You don't know this person, but normally he has a very persuasive, seductive (in a non sexual way), and extremely socially charming and polite personality. When you're around him, he makes everyone feel good about themselves (part of his strategy to get people to follow him and do what he wants is making them addicted to feeling good about themselves around him).

But after he knew I knew, things were different. The attitude DROPPED completely. He had a stone cold expression, no emotion in his voice, and the coldest eyes and voice tone you could imagine. There was only one emotion he showed when I revealed I knew, and it was terror. Deep, deep terror he was struggling to conceal. This made the situation all the more creepy, because this person is characterized by being completely fearless (as is typical of psychopaths), but I suspect if it's one thing that scares a psychopath, it's being found out -- which btw is why this article from the OP is so remarkable (though no doubt it's just an attempt at manipulation, if you know anything about psychopaths). But beyond the terror you could see, there was nothing -- just pure cold and calculating rational self-serving thought. He immediately terminated a multiple year "friendship" without even a thought, and distanced himself from me after he realized I could not be persuaded and distorted into thinking I was wrong and imagining things.

Since then we've crossed paths only a few times, and you can tell he's still afraid of being revealed. He's doing well though in business as you would expect of a psychopath, climbing the social ladder very quickly to a future of possible fortune.

I should add that it is indeed a common misconception that psychopaths are cold blooded killers. The reality is in some ways much more scary. The stupid ones perhaps kill, but they eventually get caught. The smart ones are leeches on society, who have no regard for anything but their own animalistic desires of power, control, and inflated ego.

Also, having been "friends" with a psychopath gives an interesting perspective on other well-known figures. Though I never met him, I am convinced Steve Jobs is pretty high on the psychopathy spectrum. What's interesting is that Jobs accomplished something valuable to society, though not without leaving a trail of damage in his wake. The psychopath I met also has a strong motivation to make an impact in the world, to be known almost as a hero, no doubt to satisfy desires of ego and power. So perhaps society's social structure can work for good and turn the desires of a psychopath towards good (but unfortunately it can also work in reverse). So in a way, I think psychopaths aren't all inherently leeches on society if what they accomplish is positively impactful to it.

But you see... the scariest part of having encountered a psychopath is it's sometimes very difficult to know if that last thought is my own, or something I was persuaded to think.

I'm finding most of these posts to be deeply unsettling. Psychopathy is a mental disorder -- you guys are writing off psychopaths en masse as 'bad people', who cannot contribute to society at all. Consider if the submission piece is genuine: a guy with a mental disorder sought out help to curb any harm he might have otherwise done to others. That's a happy ending isn't it? Be cautious, sure, but let's not just take them as 'evil people'.

Anyway, reading these comments I'm reminded of a friend, -- Jake, shall we call him. Jake has severe autism, but he is an incredibly smart guy and an excellent programmer. He's of old age now. He's completely broken... and he says the reason he's broken is no-one ever saw him as a friend, only as a worker they could use. Every other business person saw him as a tool that could write good code, and not complain about a shitty (or no) salary. I got to know some of the people who'd employed him... they were... well, just normal people, they were not psychopaths. I'm betting that a lot of people who're right now commenting on this article, and calling him are evil are possibly the people who'd use Jake just like psychopaths supposedly use mentally normal people. The power differential of a normal, average human being and Jake is comparable to the power differential of a psychopath and a normal, average human. Psychopaths see the weaknesses that can be exploited in normal people; normal people see emotional weaknesses in Jake - and they realize they can make him do whatever they want to, and he'll be helpless and voiceless in the end with you having gotten what you'd wanted from him.

It's easy to either over-demonize or underestimate the nature of actual psychopathy if you've never encountered it. By definition, a pure psychopath feels absolutely no remorse, no guilt, and has an unshakable egocentric view that does not change. They're effectively intelligent rational agents without the natural mammal-evolved desire to benefit the group -- they only seek to benefit the self. They would stab you in the back both figuratively and literally without the slightest hesitation or emotional reservation, so long as they know the benefits to them sufficiently outweigh the risks.

You can no more teach a psychopath to be caring and empathic than you can teach someone with autism to implicitly understand social context and facial expressions. However, a psychopath will be thrilled to find someone who thinks they can "convert" them, because they can use this to their advantage.

On the other hand, I say some people over-demonize psychopaths though because they assume they're all on the extreme end of the spectrum and all with the same traits. For example, some autistic people can recognize facial expressions masterfully, but fail at other things. Similarly, not all psychopaths are alike or have the same motivations or methods.

If you read my post again, you'll note that I am admitting to the possibility that psychopaths can contribute positively to society, but only in as far as society arranges a cost/benefit system where positive contributions are rewarded more than negative ones.

However since there is really no scientific evidence a psychopath can truly change, you should not find it unsettling that we hold a non-scientific, subjective, anecdotal, and self-reported essay of change on the part of a psychopath with pessimism and doubt.

If they're rational agents, then they should understand the results of the iterated prisoner's dilemma, and understand that screwing people over doesn't pay, remorse or no remorse.

Iterated prisoner's dilemma is a highly idealized model.

How so?

For starters, it is a two player game. Secondly it will not always be crystal clear that you chose "defect" to your coplayers in the real world, since actions are subject to interpretation. Third, the real world is not a game of perfect information.

It is clear that you chose "defect" in the real world.. over time. It is in fact theoretically impossible to escape this consequence as time approaches infinity. Think about it, you are constantly leaving traces of you "defecting" and not leaving traces of not defecting. Eventually this catches up. This is also an example of the principle of karma, aka cause and effect. You can't escape fundamental effects of causes forever.

Aside from the fact that life isn't a restricted theoretical game theory puzzle and rational doesn't mean educated (thus aware of prisoner's dilemma), this would assume that the people they're screwing over are also rational actors and are capable of cooperating.

You don't have to be aware of the iterated prisoner's dilemma. My point is that as a psychopath screwing people over, you should realize that this strategy is suboptimal. You will lose out to people who do cooperate.

Oh, psychopath will play your prisoners dilemma. He WILL be the one to talk you into cooperation.

He will not attack you in public unless he has public on his side. Thats what makes a psychopath so horrible.

He will fuck you over then he will convince everybody else that you fucked him over.

Psychopaths are Varelse in emotional sense.

He fucks you over and that is eventually a non-cooperation in an even bigger iterated prisoner's dilemma game.

Unless you willingly let him fuck you in the ass again, then his psychopathic strategy will no longer work on you, and you will at least not cooperate, and possibly retaliate resulting in a net loss. In fact, this is extremely likely because it's in your incentive now to disincentivize him from further fucking you because you want to send the proper signal.

I know it's not their fault and that they were born with it, but it still disturbs me. They don't have empathy or morality and I would consider that the definition of evil. Someone can still be a bad person through no fault of their own.

This whole thread strikes me as having a very strong 'us vs. them' mentality. The guy in his letter makes a plea that 'Psychopaths are just people.' and the general feeling of these comments is to completely throw this away and view psychopaths as a dangerous and scary group of people.

Psychopaths look at the world differently than we do, they are highly rational and self motivated, but that doesn't need we need to fear them, hide from them, avoid them, or try to lock them up. There are more ways to deal a person like this.

We don't need to fear a subset of people who subvert trust so willngly , destroying the base from which all social contracts are formed?

Highly rational and and self-motivated are not the only distinguishing features of a psychopath. And those are not the features, or the only features, that people are afraid of.

We do need to fear them when they get into positions of power.

I've known a few psychopaths myself. It is interesting how they react when you make it clear you know all about their deception. I personally find it hilarious that they think they're able to dupe everyone they meet, but I also feel sad that it still works on so many.

It's hard though to differentiate true psychopaths from those who simply share a few traits. When I read about psychopaths, I tend to find common traits within myself. I can't tell if I'm a psychopath or not. Are those who desire power, control, and inflated egos always psychopaths? Or do psychopaths just happen to always have that in common? Regarding myself for example, I may dream big and make promises that take time to meet, but I'm not a liar and I don't actively manipulate people for selfish gain; and I do crave power, control, and prestige, but not for the sake of it; I just know that those three characteristics are required to make some kind of real impact on the world that truly improves lives; and I've come to realize that if I want something to be done, I can't always rely on others to do it, so being in a respectable position of power and control is almost certainly required. Does that make me a psychopath?

Usually the defining characteristic of a psychopath is an inability to feel shame, remorse, or empathy. If you catch someone with narcissistic personality disorder in a lie or situation where they've hurt someone and call them out on it, the response is usually bluster, a frantic attempt to shore up ego. If you catch someone with borderline personality disorder or just plain deep insecurity, they'll often deflate and get downcast. Catch a secure person and they'll apologize and try to make things right. Catch a psychopath and they'll react rationally to further their own interests - they completely lack an emotional response to hurting people.

hmm.. In some sense, a psychopath is someone who is perfectly cool under (social) pressure.

When a normal person gets into a dispute, they worry about saving face and moral obligations, instinctively comfort (or maybe attack) the other person, etc, in an "I-Thou" situation. But a psychopath just sees a dispute as an "I-It" situation, like seeing a puddle on the sidewalk, something to casually (or carefully) navigate around, or (in the worst case) plow through and brush off.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_and_Thou http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Buber

Thanks for that explanation. That's a really effective way to look at it, I think.

> I can't tell if I'm a psychopath or not. Are those who desire power, control, and inflated egos always psychopaths?

No. I, and I suspect most ambitious people, also desire power, control, and have inflated egos to some extent. Psychopaths are still human (though broken) and also have these traits, but since they lack other traits like compassion, generosity, etc., the former tend to show through more.

I have a problem with the whole notion that runs throughout this conversation -- the notion that psychopathy is a binary state. Everyone should do a mental find-and-replace of "psychopathy" with "homosexuality," and re-evaluate their views in light of the existence of the Kinsey scale.

One thing you can say about the human mind is that there's nothing binary about it.

Yes, very silly. Why's everyone talking as if "psychopath" were a clear cut, clearly identifiable category?

Your story resonates with me and I notice we're both using throwaway accounts to share our stories (mine elsewhere on this thread.) Once you've had close relations with a full blown psychopath you'll never be the same again. There is absolutely no way to learn about the experience except to go through it. I still think about mine and want to pick up the phone sometimes and call him. Psychopaths can be everything you need from another person because they'll study those needs intensely to manipulate you to get what they want. It's hard to explain, like trying to explain a hit of crack to someone who has never tried it. Psychopathy explains con artists, pimps, cult leaders, and yes, even Steve Jobs to a certain extent.

> I suspect if it's one thing that scares a psychopath, it's being found out

No, that's a narcissist. Afaik psychos aren't attaching that much emotional involvement to their public persona. They might be annoyed if sussed out, but that's about it.

You might be right. I must admit the "fear" I thought I detected was subtle at best, and the word "fear" is just my attempt to assign a word to a response I hadn't seen in him before. I think a better way of describing it is he showed he was "unsettled" at a deeper level than I'd seen before, since generally nothing phases him.

Edit: BellsOnSunday: I'm responding in an edit because for some reason HN doesn't allow me to reply directly to your post.

"Deep, deep terror" does not imply "strong, outwardly expressed terror." By "deep" I meant it was well concealed, deep rooted, and rarely encountered whatever it was. If you replace the word "terror" with "unsettled loss of composure", the sentiment remains the same. The latter is perhaps more accurate, the former takes less words and is what first came to my mind when initially describing it.


> There was only one emotion he showed when I revealed I knew, and it was terror. Deep, deep terror he was struggling to conceal.


> I must admit the "fear" I thought I detected was subtle at best

you seem to have got a bit carried away in the telling of your story (which sounds to me like a rather standard one of someone taking advantage of another in a business situation).

this person is characterized by being completely fearless (as is typical of psychopaths)

Everyone is afraid of something. Psychopaths are still people. If you believe someone is fearless, it's a safe assumption they either hide their fear (when they feel it) extremely well, or you simply haven't encountered it yet.

Psychopaths tend to fear negative consequences less than non-psychopaths. They are still people, but having less fear (not being literally fearless) than most is a defining trait.

They fear negative consequences less, or they fear social consequences less?

That is, are they less afraid of car crashes and drowning, or just less afraid of pissing people off (because they don't care about other's personal needs, and because they can easily "fix" a relationship with the advantages of deception)

Negative consequences; less afraid of car crashes and drowning. Which also means they have a harder time learning from their mistakes.

No, some people do not experience fear at all. It is not hidden anywhere. As scary as this may seem... lol

There are a rare few people that truly do not experience fear, but they have a damaged amygdala, which is rare and totally unrelated to psychopathy.

So, why the throwaway account?

Did you think about telling anyone or did you even tell anyone, so that maybe others don't have to go through the same thing you did?

For reasons I won't get into, after he was confronted, he did what I'd describe as "firing a warning shot", but in terms of social power. Basically it was his way of saying "Don't mess with me. I have influence and can destroy your life." Following that, I've been forced to take precautions in terms of carefully bringing friends into this knowledge, among other strategic preparations in case he "attacks" some day with his army of devoted followers. (Another trait of psychopaths I believe is the accumulation of a large network of followers, across which they can magnify and extend their influence far further than you could purely through 1st order persuasion.) I won't get into details, but posting this under my real account and therefore real name would be counterproductive to the precautions I'm taking.

Thanks for all your insight here in this thread. I went through all this myself and haven't really been able to talk about it. Its reassuring to see others have been through the same. My psychopath convinced everyone I had psychosis when I questioned her once. I refused to believe something that I saw her do was a 'hallucination'. For months I was gaslighted by everyone I knew. I would think I was in the clear and then a friend would call me up at work out of the blue, asking if they can take me to accident and emergency. I had 9 months depression and am only now getting out of it.

It is insane how memories can be overwritten. I can write at length on this, I learnt it from videoing her talking to me. They have total frame control and will keep switching subjects away from facts.

I never confronted her to tell her that I knew who she was, but she did warn me indirectly. She showed the 'psychopath face', if that means anything to anyone...

What does "accident and emergency" mean? A (mental) hospital?

It's what the ER is called in the UK.

Everything you said above checks out, my experience with a psychopath was similar.

> "Don't mess with me."

I heard this exact phrase, he said it right to my face. I didn't think at that moment that I'm posing any threat. Perhaps the guy overestimated me.

I'm actually surprised it would be said directly to your face. Obviously psychopaths are different, but the person I knew was very smart and knew not to overextend their influence unless necessary, and was very careful not to self incriminate. Saying "don't mess with me" outright to someones face is risky, especially if it's overheard or recorded. My case was much more subtle, more of a "show of power" socially which nobody else would understand except me, given the recent confrontation.

To me, it's far more dangerous to confront someone who is a master manipulator and expert at knowing how to do so subtly and undetectably, versus someone who throws around angry threats. The latter is almost harmless, unless it's backed up by the former.

> But beyond the terror you could see, there was nothing -- just pure cold and calculating rational self-serving thought.

Apart from his feelings he didn't have feelings? I appreciate you telling your story and I realize you were taken advantage of, and he treated you unquestionably bad, but painting this person as completly unhuman is not very helpful.

It seems to me that the things you describe here is an extreme end of human nature, but in way outside human nature. The best laws of physics are the one that are valid from all perspectives, so it is with the laws of human nature. Having a completly ad-hoc theory for someone elses behaviour is not emphatic or useful.

Any letter that honestly describes overcoming hardship should trigger empathy. That doesn't mean one is being manipulated.

The trouble with much of this discussion is that, apparently, once classified as a "psychopath", all bad behavior is typical and all good behavior manipulative.

Furthermore, though, minds are assembled of, and driven by, complex and messy mechanisms: "lack of remorse" means what, exactly? Lack of feeling? Or, perhaps, the person feels it but chooses to ignore it? Are they ignoring it for self-serving reasons? What if those "self-serving" reasons are necessary because of the job one has (e.g., military)? Similarly, "lack of guilt" means what, exactly? Is it lack of learning what things one should feel guilty for? Is "feeling guilt" a learned skill, or does its ontogeny happen "all on its own"? (whatever that means; but in any case, we cannot have had the capacity to feel guilt "since conception")

So you're saying the letter is a long-con to increase trust in psychopaths to make it easier for the author to take advantage of people?

You say you don't necessarily mean "con", but "manipulated" definitely implies you feel you were led to believe something likely false that you wouldn't have otherwise via trickery, etc.

It might not be a con, the letter just demonstrates a self-serving nature written in a manipulative, empathy inducing style.

The letter may have no long-term purpose, but it might be written that way because the author is so used to this way of thinking.

Don't overthink my comment. I don't know C and have no idea how pure his intention in writing the letter may be.

Despite his intent, I believe that I left the letter thinking exactly what it was designed to make me think. Therefore, the actual mechanics of the letter (which were outlined well by tomstokes, in my opinion) were excellent at eliciting what I assume is the intended response. This is akin to successful manipulation, but may not necessarily be from a place of malice on the part of C. However, C's changing my opinion of psychopathy does in fact place him in a more advantageous position if the two of us were ever to meet, thus I was manipulated.

I don't agree that whenever someone changes your mind to their way of thinking because of compelling writing, they "manipulated" you. You have the choice of agreeing with them or not. If you agree with them and change your views, you can't just say "they manipulated me".

I think he is just saying that the letter can also be taken as self serving manipulation, so may or may not really communicate change.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of this response is observing how this has changed the tone of discussion in this thread. It's interesting how the parent tries to downplay his own ability to identify weakness in his readers and manipulate them into thinking of what they found as inspirational as being manipulative.

Judging by the comments here, the parent's been pretty successful. One comment below notes that "What's brilliant about this letter is how easily I stepped into it." Others are calling the parent's analysis "fantastic". It's incredible to see just how effectively this parent comment resonates with the people who read it.

Don't get me wrong: It's both impressive and admirable that the parent was able to not only paint the original author's analysis as manipulative, he was able to build such a persuasive and fluid dissection of it. What's truly amazing is how the parent transforms the original author's letter from an anonymous insightful expression to a vile manipulation of the reader that the reader can't help but feel fooled by the end of the parent's comment.

As you read the comment and experience strong feelings of guilt about having been manipulated by a psychopath, consider this: You can paint pretty much anything effective as a psychopath's manipulation. For an author to be effective, she must portray her beliefs as effectively as she can. Discrediting the words of any person - psychopath or otherwise - on grounds of them being capable of effective manipulation serves little purpose and just perpetuates a stereotype.

The op was successful because the analysis was accurate unlike yours.

As I stated below, the article more or less claims the author has magical supper powers. He overcomes the great internal struggle (with some help from the great expert) and ultimately chooses to use his powers for the good of the world.

The comment isn't transformative when the article is taken at face value- self aggrandizing.


I hate to logic-chop a civilian (i.e. someone who didn't waste their youth in an analytic philosophy department studying ethics) but here we go.

If your position is that all convincing self-accounts by psychopaths are themselves only convincing because the psychopath is somehow 'tricking' you, then you can take that statement and s/psychopath/any group you care to name/ and you'd never know the difference.

Don't believe me? Try substituting various bogeymen of the twentieth century: crack dealers, pedophiles, etc. You see what I mean? It always works: You shouldn't trust what pedophiles say because, well, they're pedophiles!

Generalizing, there's always a reason why someone's supposed perfidy makes them an untrustworthy speaker, and that's a problem.

One floor down, what's going on is 'begging the question' -- not in the colloquial motivates-the-question sense, but in the sense that you are assuming what you set out to prove (circular reasoning).


CLAIM = C is a psychopath; therefore, don't trust him when he says C is good.

CLAIM' = X is a Y; therefore, don't believe X's claim that Z.

But there's still an implicit claim hiding! In fact, it's the value of Z. Let's suss it out:

CLAIM'' = X is a Y; Ys are untrustworthy; therefore, don't believe X when X says that Ys are trustworthy.

There you have it: a textbook case of circular reasoning. That's the sort of thing C is talking about: people get so emotional when they think about psychopaths, they fail to hold themselves up to the same standards for rational discourse at which a psychopath ironically excels.

> If your position is that all convincing self-accounts by psychopaths are themselves only convincing because the psychopath is somehow 'tricking' you, then you can take that statement and s/psychopath/any group you care to name/ and you'd never know the difference. Don't believe me? Try substituting various bogeymen of the twentieth century: crack dealers, pedophiles, etc. You see what I mean? It always works: You shouldn't trust what pedophiles say because, well, they're pedophiles!

Your logic chop fails because one of the elements of psychopathy is being a convincing liar.

Not just a convincing liar, but one with a propensity for manipulation and a lack of empathy. Because of that, I think tomstoke's analysis is unique to sociopaths/psychopaths, and you cannot simply insert any bogeyman.

Hmmm, no. One of the elements of being a successful human being is being a convincing liar.

"Does my bum look big in this"? "Hi, wow you look great...."

And so on.

Humans lie. If they didn't, they'd be in constant conflict.

What you just described is not a lie. It would be a lie if you were a martian having no understanding in how humans operate. The question "Does my bum look big in this?" may be a factual inquiry about the qualities of the chosen garment or may be a solicitation of a social interaction expressing support and admiration, due to the feelings of insecurity or needing external validation. Yes, I know it sounds the same, humans are complex. But calling such social interaction "a lie" just because it is not a factual exchange is IMO misunderstanding the whole process and devaluing the term "lie".

But these lies are exactly why psychopaths lie. They start by telling the truth, and realising it doesn't work. They learn to lie. They discover that does work. They then use this technique and apply it to everything. Lies become more than the social oil that everyone uses to avoid offence, lies become a tool of manipulation.

So is being any sort of successful criminal. A pedophile, for example.

I still have no idea what you're trying to say. I don't have an abundance of trust for psychopaths, pedophiles, or crack dealers. I've worked very closely with psychopaths (one was also a pedophile) in an institutional setting in the past. I had to assume that every interaction was a manipulation. Even being extremely careful, it was easy to get caught from time to time particularly when I was understaffed (i.e. 1 staff to 3 clients).

Reading the top parent of this thread was very interesting because he was thinking in exactly the way I had been conditioned to think at that time in my life.

When a person in your life lies to you or manipulates you, you will certainly begin to question the value of other interactions from that person. Once you have confirmed that the person has a personality type that makes them particularly likely to lie or manipulate (compulsive liars, psychopaths, criminals, what have you), you must be careful about your interpretation of any communication. But here's the real difficulty: If a psychopath is trying to manipulate you and knows that you are conscious of it, the manipulations morph. They adapt to your particular defense. In the institutional setting, they're in it for the long haul so they don't mind missing a couple times. In fact, getting caught is often part of the manipulation.

I wandered off my initial topic here so I better wrap it up.

Everyone lies and manipulates you, not just psychopaths.

Very true. Still, when you are aware of a particular propensity for manipulation, it is prudent to tread carefully.

But psychopaths are particularly effective at it, and lack the boundaries that stop other people from being as good at lying.

vanderzwan: I'm intentionally dealing with public-paranoia stereotypes: The pedophile on the hunt; the crack dealer at the schoolyard; etc. etc. I meant 'pedophile', and used this charged word, specifically to pick out how our reactions often blind us; but in doing so, I myself equivocated between illness and criminality. Ew. Thanks for catching that.

I'm not sure if I would lump in "successful criminal" - which implies doing something criminal - with a mental sickness (sexual attraction to children) that may or may not actually be acted upon.

lots of successful criminals are lousy liars. I'm not sure what your point is?

Certainly lots of paedophiles are terrible liars.

Guess which paradox applies here.

To be fair, he is specifically pointing out bits of information that are designed to lead you a certain way, he is not just saying don't believe him.

Thus you can't debunk him just by saying "Don't believe him because he is a psychopath is insufficient".

If you want to pin all of his logic on that baseline theory (which would be stretching it), then your replacement no longer works, as crack dealers aren't known for being persuasive and manipulative in words in that way. Similar for most other distrusted groups.

Of course crack dealers are manipulative and good at lying. The ones that aren't are caught. It's selected for.

I don't think you know much about crack dealing.

additionally crack dealers and pedophiles are probably more likely to be sociopaths. i'd guess most groups gain 'distrusted' status because of the influence of sociopaths within them.

Orthogonal to my point, and I would guess that your assumption is incorrect. Well known cases are probably sociopaths, due to the combination making them more interesting.

But we are both just conjecturing :).

> If your position is that all convincing self-accounts by psychopath

He made no such generalization. He simply talked about this one self account.

Good point, thanks Mark. :)

See, I positioned myself for not getting it quite right -- I can say, "this means I'm probably less psychopathic than you."

Monster! :D


Actually, the comment you're referring to just suggests people take a step back from the material of the letter, and look at its overall effect: one of self-aggrandizement.

Once you see that, the material of the letter takes on a different aspect. Even if it weren't from a psychopath, it would be enlightening.

(I have other issues with your use of naive logic based on non-probabilistic propositions, but you may be doing that to dumb it down for the audience.)

This is why I love HN. I learned something new from your comment, thank you.

Undoware, all very well explained; I couldn't agree more.

Yes it is true. This is a very manipulative and actually non substantive, shallow piece of writing. It smacks of the superiority complex and has the shiny flawless gleam of the narcissist in the psychopath. It is just too slick and seamless. That is what gives away the fact of his psychopathy. In fact he is one of the worst forms of psychopath I think, which are those that actually believe what they are telling others about themselves. They feel themselves sincere, but they are not because inevitably the predator cimes out and takes his victim because thats how his mind unconsciously sets everything up to than end badly for the other at the hands of his destruction. Beware the psychopath that sincerely believes his own lies. Its very easy to get sucked in by pseudosincerity fueled by self conviction. These are the pernicious psuychopaths, not the ones delinerately trying to mislead you.

In fact, why this young mans treatment likely exacerbated his psychopathic acumen, is because it gave him an entirely knrw language to dissimulate with. Why the psychopath is untreatable, is because it is a "lying" disorder. The essence of psychopathy is profound dishonesty. It is an inversion of meaning, an inversion of the order, where good becomes bad and bad becomes good. Where kindness is reformulatrd through the process of the ultimate lie, which is a perversion in the thinking processes. Evil triumphs. It is strong and good. The psychopath has only the machinery of perverde reasoning to use to cogitate reality. Thus he lies not only to others but neecessarily lies to himself about himself. Because of this endohenous

...continued due to mobile phone limitations endogebous dishonesty. He is intrinsically incapable of telling the truth. Thus he cannot accurstely self assess He can nevet formulate a truthful thought due to this profound mental perversion that is the hallmark of this disorder. He has only acquired more slick, refined and better labguage to dissimulate others as s "treatment success." Thats why so many of you were duped into feeling enpathy for him. He is simply pullung for ut in you, but he has no empathy for you. It is alk just a gane for him. There is nothing genuine about his letter. Feelibg empathy for a psychopstg is a fools gane. Thst is luje having the profoubd mental perversion that is the hallmark of this pernicious disorder. He only coopts ndw slicker, more refined language as a "successfully therspized

I took the liberty to correct the phone typos in your post, sorry if I missed any:


In fact, why this young man's treatment likely exacerbated his psychopathic acumen, is because it gave him an entirely new language to dissimulate with. Why the psychopath is untreatable, is because it is a "lying" disorder. The essence of psychopathy is profound dishonesty. It is an inversion of meaning, an inversion of the order, where good becomes bad and bad becomes good. Where kindness is reformulated through the process of the ultimate lie, which is a perversion in the thinking processes. Evil triumphs. It is strong and good. The psychopath has only the machinery of perverse reasoning to use to cogitate reality. Thus he lies not only to others but necessarily lies to himself about himself.

Because of this endogenous dishonesty, he is intrinsically incapable of telling the truth. Thus he cannot accurately self-assess. He can never formulate a truthful thought due to this profound mental perversion that is the hallmark of this disorder. He has only acquired more slick, refined and better labguage to dissimulate others as a "treatment success." Thats why so many of you were duped into feeling empathy for him. He is simply pulling for it in you, but he has no empathy for you. It is all just a game for him. There is nothing genuine about his letter. Feeling empathy for a psychopath is a fools game. That is like having the profound mental perversion that is the hallmark of this pernicious disorder. He only coopts new slicker, more refined language as a "successfully therapized".

I was fascinated by the setup, where we are shown a letter which begins with a request to keep it in confidence.

> That is what gives away the fact of his psychopathy. In fact he is one of the worst forms of psychopath I think, which are those that actually believe what they are telling others about themselves.

I disagree: People who believe their own lies eventually get caught off guard by the discrepancies between their lies and life. That leads to their downfall.

Those are also the ones that are actually sincere. If you insist on assuming the worst about others all the time, it's your loss.

You don't have to lie to manipulate. That's the scary beauty in that piece: it's almost certainly sincere, but it doesn't stop it from being manipulative and misleading.

What is most fascinating to me is the fact that posts like the parent will delve into the game theoretic motivations of psychopathy as if the psychopath were some wholly unique flavor of creature operating under behavioral algorithms never before seen, when the truth is that your neurotypical, salt of the Earth Johnny Lunchpail is doing the same thing, except on a different timescale, and with the utility functions ingrained into heuristics like 'empathy' and 'compassion' and the like.

Unless you believe that your motivational orientation is made of some magical pixie dust handed down by the Holy Ghost, you should keep in mind that your instincts, your sense of morality and right and wrong and all those gut feelings are engendered by a truly massive utility computation; your feelings of selflessness as you drop the coins in the bell ringer's jar, your protectiveness toward your children, your lesser protectiveness toward your more distant kinship relations, all of it is equivalently cold-blooded. It's just dispersed enough that you don't see it for what it is.

So when you stop talking to your friend because he's annoying, or you don't give money to that homeless guy because you've already gave enough money, and maybe he's a drunk; and you buy a nice present for your nephew but not your coworker's kid, and you think it's best that your grandmother died because she was suffering so terribly, you're a psycopath, too. There's just a lot of epiphenomenal stuff larded on top of it.

So because a person is not themselves a perfect altruist, they are no better than a person who has no empathy or morality whatsoever?

No the point is that it's far more complex than that.

More complex than what? That they don't have any sense of morality? I'm not sure I understand what you mean.

Funnily enough, I didn't feel any empathy at all. Does this make me a psychopath too? ;)

Instead, reading it gave me the impression of somebody obsessed with themselves - somebody with a superiority complex. Nothing more, nothing less, and I've met plenty of people who have that in different amounts. But maybe that is what psychopathy is?

Does this make me a psychopath too? ;)

I hope not because I had a similar reaction to the letter.

Made me wonder if this person is indeed changed, or if there's a just new manipulation game underway.

Although it is somewhat confusing: Worrying that you may be a psychopath is a sign that you aren't.

> I'm still amazed at how effective it is at garnering empathy from the reader and cultivating a sense that the author is an impressive individual who has triumphed over adversity after a great struggle.

You might be right, but you seem to accuse the writer of a hidden agenda because he tries to gain the sympathy of the reader. If he didn't try at all, would you see callousness and cold detachment (and therefore a psychopathic trait) in this? What would constitute for you a honest, non-manipulative account of the same facts described in the post? How should it have been written to be consistent with the 'psycho no more' scenario?

> It's both impressive and admirable that the author was able to not only admit that he needed therapy but to press on long enough to make therapy work for himself in an effective manner.

If it's true, that is. Pathological lying is a part of Hare Psychopathy Checklist. The entire article may well be totally made up.

While I can't dispute the wisdom of being leery of a manipulator, I can't help feeling sad for anyone in a situation like this that actually does change. If you expose yourself as having a penchant for manipulation, how can you ever truly break that stigma. It's similar to the brain in a vat problem.

I am an ex heroin addict who lied and cheated and took advantage of people. I've been completely clean for a year an a half, and people still treat me like I'm the same person. Which is annoying at times, and I feel like some of the people around me will never change their opinion regardless of what I do.

This is a great analysis of the letter. I, like you, was amazed by how empathetic I felt towards the writer by the end. I wonder how much time was put into working the letter into what we read vs. the first thing the author wrote down. Best of all, reminds me how powerful good writing is :)

It reminded me, as most things do, of the writings of Erich Fromm... what he said about sadism, that is. The desire to look down on, control and/or hurt others seems like a "consolation prize", like the highest you can achieve when you can't really live constructively, when you're deathly afraid of uncertainty and new things. The need to be able to strategically assess flaws in others to exploit ultimately speaks of fear, or at least lack of vision/capability. I mean, just imagine being around people you love wherever you are... all the stuff others work for without ever getting it, you have all the time, for free; welcome to compassion, step right in! :D

Also, maybe I am wrong, but I don't think there are people who "just are" psychopaths? I mean, if it's chemical/hormonal, it could theoretically fixed that way... and if it's not, then it might not be "fixable", but it's not magic either, and layers and layers and layers of defense, redirections and rationalizations are expected. Nobody wants to accept that the center of their pearl is some banal, useless, accidental piece of dirt someone else or the wind put there. But that's usually what it is, I think. And pearls can kill, they're not pretty at all. They're like a scab turned cancer.

I agree that considering psychopaths as some spooky "other" is silly, it's all a matter of degree, and I guess we only call it psychopathic once it crosses a threshold. That is, I doubt anyone here can claim they never used someone, or calculated more coldly than they let on, or looked down on sentimentality when they didn't feel sentimental about a particular thing. Or maybe I'm projecting, I don't know. I know putting others down because I felt crappy, and for me that letter sounds like a much more elaborate and Machiavellian version, but still kinda the same.

TL;DR: The thing about the powerful is that they're not, that's why they need power, and of course the alligator part of the brain gets real good if that's all you use. Use your mammal brain to see what a small achievement that really is.

Fantastic analysis.

Also a fantastic example of why real world psychopaths are so dangerous. Most don't kill or commit any serious crimes. They just win people over and draw them in, smoothly and very easily. Until it is to the psychopath's advantage (or impulse, really) to use, hurt, and leave others behind them.

That's not why they are dangerous, it's why they aren't. You could just as easily say that rich people, or charismatic people, or exceptionally intelligent people are dangerous, and it would be just as wrong (or just as correct, if you insist on thinking that way). Sure, greater potential overall translates to greater potential for evil. But it translates just as well into greater potential for good.

Good points.

Here's something even more fascinating, and surely much more controversial - now re-read that letter, and try and count how many times you hear in it echoes from Ayn Rand's characters, or from the writer herself.

This comment sort of reads like Ash describing the alien to Ripley. I like it.

I upvoted this because I also was sucked into watching those flicks again recently as they are playing on one of the premium cable channels. I didn't mean to do it- they just grab me. For the milionth time...

One thing I find interesting about this topic is that as far as I know conventional wisdom says psychopathy is incurable, and comments here implicitly or explicitly seem to agree on this. Neuroplasticity, at least in my interpretation, says that there is an observable feedback loop between the biological structure of our brain and our thoughts/feelings/actions, ie. our "mind". If someone with characteristic of psychopathy, or any mental disorder labelled as incurable for that matter, consciously decides that he/she want to change his/her behavioural patterns then theoretically it is possible. Now, in a way all I did was rephrase my question into how conscious are we regarding our behaviour? Conscious enough to change it? :)

he was too incredible of a case for anyone but the highest-ranking therapist to handle

I was actually waiting for a reveal of something like, "And I discovered the reason I connected with the top therapist so well was because she was a closet psychopath!"

The detail of the highest-ranking therapist, plus others -the need for validation, the fact that the writer declares to be keen on interpersonal connections, the general air of self-involvement, plus the simple act of dishing personal stuff in public - makes me think more of narcissism than psychopathy.

(IANA psychiatrist, needless to say)

In fact, I suspect that most people who flaunt their psychopathy on the internet are in fact narcissists. The two psychos I've met in my life couldn't have cared less for attention from the public at large or validation of their struggles. I can't really imagine them writing an open letter about their condition, an act that doesn't provide tangible control, or money, nor damages an enemy. On the other hand, narcissists needs validation and attention and writing an open letter is attention-seeking behaviour (which we are involuntarily feeding).

Could he perhaps be both?

It's totally possible. I think comorbidity it's called 'malignant narcissism'.

You might not be all that far off the mark. I'd imagine people who fall somewhere within the dark triad [1] would connect better with a psychopath, even if they are not one themselves.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_triad

This is, of course, the only safe (for the speaker) way to admit to normals what s/he is. Otherwise it is torches and pitchforks with you people. (Normal humans are far more frightening than any psychopath. ;-)

I haven't bought any of it. Guy seems to be just full of himself. Maybe it's just because I'm also a keen observer and bit psychopathic myself.

Nah. I'm kidding. I'm just generally distrustful of words and people that utter them.

After reading these comments, I'm fairly certain my cat is a psychopath.

Many of the best venture capitalists and entrepreneurs have psycopath-like tendencies.

Think about the similarities. A good entrepreneur/venture capitalist should be:

-Ruthless, selfish, unsympathetic

-Capable of manipulating, good at acting, great at selling a concept and convincing others to drink the kool-aid

-Unfazed by negative outcomes

-Unaware of (or at least, unfazed by) social norms and the status quo

-Creative, capable of thinking radically differently than everyone else

I've seen this comparison a few times, and now I can't seem to find any of the articles that I have read.

So, you're saying big businessman like Warren buffett are too?

Psychopaths are devious not creative.

I guess I consider those traits to be one and the same at their root, one just has a negative tone.

In my mind, everyone who is devious is creative, but not the other way around.

... Am I the only one who interprets this letter as an attempted sympathy exploit/attack on people being properly on guard against psychopaths?

I think the interesting thing is how it is literally impossible to judge his sincerity.

For all we know, he could have given us a 100% spot-on description of psychopathy, or he could be lying through his teeth - without experiencing his life, we have no way of knowing the difference.

I suppose this is possible for /any/ self-description of the internal state of a human mind, but this particular condition obviously muddies the water to an extreme degree.

You assume the author is a male.

No, I'm laughing at all the people in this thread who think that this person in sincere (if they are actually a psychopath at all). People are a means to an end to a psychopath...

Fair enough, but to what end, in your mind, could this author be attempting to exploit our empathies for?

The entire article is an exercise in self aggrandizement. To me, it reads as if it were written by a 13 year old- the author basically has super powers, but only uses them for good of the world.

Sorry for not replying (I had noprocrast on!)..I think he's not only exploiting empathy (for power and justification), but is also using the article to bolster himself and make himself fantastic, when the characteristics he assigns to himself actually have no basis in reality. This is textbook psychopath behaviour.

As a "reformed" psychopath, the article is all about him, his abilities and how he should be treated. Further, he claims that he sees "weakness", as if everyone he has or could have manipulated and screwed over was "weak" (instead of being someone who trusted him, which could theoretically be the same, but in practice most people would consider different), and he has just learned to control himself and not exercise his superior strength.

In reality, a psychopath is indirect, delusional and self-centred, and they will lie, subvert, cheat, steal and abuse to get their way, but rarely ever seek out true weakness in themselves (unless you count covering emotional vulnerabilities artificially) or make a stand for anything. For being a "strong" person obsessed with finding "weakness", you can pop the bubble of a psychopath simply by showing his network of followers and clingers exactly what he is...psychopaths are a strange mix of selfishness and deluding and changing themselves to fit in. They preach to others, put others down and castigate the flaws in others, but the second you put irrefutable evidence of the psychopath's incompetence, weakness or maliciousness in the open, in a way that everyone believes, he will have a meltdown and flip out. It's kind of like people who hang out on Internet forums, rise to the top of the ranks by spewing mindless platitudes and bullshit, who pretend to be rational while criticizing others mercilessly, and then when someone outs them as incompetent, malicious or even maybe just wrong, they throw a big fit and implode.

Finally, he talks about how his psychopathy gives him superior "strategic" abilities, but in reality, psychopathy actually limits long-term thinking and planning. They actually tend to be very impulsive, and one of the key tenets of psychopathy is a short-term, parasitic lifestyle.

He used the piece as a selfish exercise to bolster himself, paint his actual or potential victims as weak, and did it all with absolutely nothing based on reality, hence, I do not believe his is sincere.

I come from a rather unstable and violent corner of the world, and I've met plenty of psychopaths growing up. I have a hypothesis that early childhood traumas and violent environment can trigger the development of psychopathic tendencies, but I'm not entirely sure how much role does genetics play in this process.

Some of the commenters on this topic seem to ascribe superhuman rationality and brainpower to psychopaths. I don't think that's a correct way to look at it. They can be very smart, but they suffer from the same set of biases and blind spots and Dunning-Kruger type of phenomena as other people. I think the defining characteristic is the complete lack of empathy and the willingness and ability to manipulate people (practicing the skill from early childhood, hence very good at it).

I was just looking up one of the smartest and most pronounced psychopaths I've met in recent years. Apparently he got his MBA and started an offshore private equity fund, seems to be doing well for himself. The guy had monumental talent for manipulating people. I wonder how far will he go before people catch on to his true nature...

Sociopaths are one of the fundamental threats facing humanity today. Such traits may have been beneficial in times past as group conflict was so prevalent, but if global issues like getting into space, climate change and the prevention of economic chaos are to be dealt with effectively, humanity is going to have to learn how to cooperate more effectively. And that means preventing sociopaths from getting into positions of power.

Unfortunately, society does not seem to have yet evolved the mechanisms to deal with these parasites effectively. The law is hardly a useful tool, given how "flexible" and corrupt it is, and how money aka power is so important in manipulation of the law versus "truth". Economists aka amateur sociopaths are finally beginning to realize an obvious truth - that most humans are not rational actors strictly concerned with profit and loss but that decisions are based on emotion much more than they'd like to admit and so this has a significant effect on economic behavior.

All this does matter because ask yourself - what of the effects these people have on the lives of those they exploit? what sort of setbacks do the good people end up facing and how much of a drain is it on their lives and their efforts to -contribute- to society as a whole? I see so much waste because of the unnecessary chaos the sociopathic introduce to society as a whole. They are a threat and capital punishment is a logical response, because they can not be rehabilitated. But given how society is organized, rich white people are never going to be executed, or even prosecuted, for their crimes unless they're so egregious they can't be ignored.

Even then, the case of Jimmy Savile (in the UK) is an example of how humanity still is little nothing more than talking chimpanzees who respond more to and are controlled by instinctual behavior patterns versus the ability to cogitate like "we" think we are able to. Jimmy was a sociopath, everyone knew he was a pedo, but nothing was done because no one wanted to speak up because of the social cost. Things are better these days, of course, so maybe in another 100 years, there will be a test toddlers are given to track whether they are likely to be sociopathic, and more effort will be put into preventing the development of such evil monsters. It is like the Head Start program in the States - prevent issues down the road by ensuring children have the best psychological foundation established as early as possible.

Well good luck with your witch hunt.

Why is the global witch hunt against terrorists (excuse me, Muslims) acceptable, but bringing people like the bankers at HSBC, who enabled drug lords and the like for over a decade, not? HSBC's actions were far more detrimental to society than any terrorist attack, yet no one will ever be punished for their actions - not anyone involved in the crash of 2008. Both are clearly wrong, but given how hypocritical Western society actually is, it is obvious one can get away with anything as long as you're part of the upper echelons / in group. And abstract stuff like financial crimes are not so emotionally tinged as concrete crimes, like murder. And federal prosecutors are lazy sociopaths who haven't got the stomach to prosecute powerful people anymore...

This probably explains why people get more conservative as they get older - they see how screwed up the world is and retreating into pseudo-authoritarianism makes sense, emotionally. But conservative values these days are just cover for the authoritarians. I guess I am complaining about the fundamental lack of integrity of Western society that is so obvious anymore. On that note, I just picked up "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" which looks like a good read.

Sounds scarily like thoughtcrime to me.

I've sometimes wondered if the presence of psychopaths in powerful organizations leads to sociopathic behavior on the organizations part, even though most members are "normal." I'm thinking of situations like the outlandish behaviors of major investment banks defrauding their customers, knowingly selling them "toxic" mortgage back securities.

A small population of actors, inclined to gain power, and ruthless in conduct forces all members of the community to act in concert, lest they be cast out entirely.

This might also explain the disconnect of an organization like the NSA, made up of mostly decent, sincere people, engagin in profoundly anti-social, if not downright illegal, activities.

>It is also the case that, being 'normal' takes a degree of energy and conscious thought that is instinctive for most, but to me is a significant expenditure of energy. I think it analogous to speaking a second language.

Sounds about right. I thought it was pretty 'normal' to feel this way sometimes...

There’s an old psychiatric joke: there are no healthy people, they’re just not diagnosed yet.

I’m not a psychopath, but I have high levels of social anxiety and probably high functional Aspergers. Every situation I didn’t rehearse in my head is incredibly exhausting, and even then, if it gets too complex I feel the urge to withdraw — and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a jerk coworker being a jerk or someone I like dropping a compliment bomb on me, or even, if I’m not the best shape, a partner being affectionate.

We override our deficiencies, but it’s tiring.

I had a teacher who worked in a psych ward. She insisted that everyone has a trait of each mental issue you could name - you just don't get a diagnose until it's a big enough issue for the person.

Of course. The difference between "personality trait" and diagnosable illness is whether or not it causes you or others significant problems. There is no difference in kind, only in degree.

Interesting - my social anxieties exhibit themselves mostly in when I have time to think about it then I "psych" myself out.

If someone calls me on the phone then I can have a good conversation, palpations and sweating aside. However if I have to call someone then unless I do it immediately whilst suppressing the desire to think about what I'll say I go to complete mush and procrastinate my way to distraction. Mainly it's one-to-one I have a problem with.

>I thought it was pretty 'normal' to feel this way sometimes...

I'm guessing you're an introvert, right? It seems to me that most introverts experience social situations as "draining".

I find that it is hard to distinguish between psycopathy and narcissism. This person seems like a pathological narcissist not a psychopath. This person is ego tripping by self identifying with something they find powerful. A psychopath may have similar hangups but they don't believe in their own bullshit and would not waste time with self reflection or therapy. Psycopathy is like depression; psycopaths do crazy shit because they can't feel.

>psychopaths hate weakness they will attempt to conceal anything that might present as a vulnerability [...] ability to rapidly find weaknesses in others, and to exploit it

There seems to be confusion about what constitutes 'strength' and what constitutes 'weakness' in regard to human personalities (or 'hard' vs 'soft')

For example, compulsively manipulating other people is more properly regarded as a weakness, I think. Whereas getting up on a stage and being open and vulnerable in front of a crowd, that's strength. It can inspire people and produce lasting change.

People with heavy streaks of psychopathy, or narcissism, or whatnot, are on a different path to the rest of us. It's better to avoid them where possible, tempting though it is to hope they will eventually acknowledge their faults and apologise. However, not having access to various feelings is going to create straightforward problems in their lives which can in principle lead to private acknowledgement and progress being sought. So I refuse to regard them as incurable cases

>There seems to be confusion about what constitutes 'strength' and what constitutes 'weakness' in regard to human personalities (or 'hard' vs 'soft')

This here is the crux of the matter, and we only stand to lose if we go on with all the hyperbole and analogies around psychopathy. The value and consistency of what constitutes "weak" and "strong" depends to a large extent on the feedback we (and "they") get in everyday interaction (whether they live in a city or grow up around Baloo the bear). Burying psychopathy down to some exclusive and immutable genetic level is to ignore this (I'm not talking about causes here, but about behavior reinforcement and motivation).

Yes. Another reason I think we can call sociopathy a weakness is that, as with all evil, the actors are thoroughly deceived about their own motives. This makes them especially maddening to those who catch on and falsely assume that they could make a straightforward choice to behave differently

Jeez, that's the single most interesting, insightful, and well-written piece I've read on the internet in a long time. Imagine what things are capable when "being different" causes you - and enables you - to reflect deeply and thoughtfully on what being normal really means.

"the director of the agency finally took me on herself, and to our mutual surprise we got along extremely well."

Birds of a feather?

more likely, he viewed that person as a someone holding a position of power, and just did what came naturally.

That was my thought, actually.

more like forged letter.

I have a very pragmatic view that psychopathic traits are just one specific set of algorithms of the many possible sets of algorithms our personalities can exhibit to connect and interact with other personalities or more generally speaking our environment. Looking at the state of the world, at least a subset of these behavioral algorithms seems to be quite efficient (as the letter shows) and various subsets/traits seem to be very common and even desirable. Obviously the manifestation of the overall set which you would define as "psychopathy" varies from psychopath to psychopath, hence the image of the "cartoon evil serial killers", the "CEO" and many more in between these two. I guess in the end it depends on the balance of influence between three factors: the other sets of algorithms which make up your personality, the personalities you interact with and your environment.

I personally think we should look into what we can learn from this set of behavioral algorithms (the good, the bad and the ugly) and how you can balance it to leverage its benefits while not suffering from its drawbacks. That's at least how I deal with it.

Brilliantly articulated. I think this might be useful for everyone :

"The test of their self-superiority is their ability to rapidly find weaknesses in others, and to exploit it to its fullest potential.

But that is not to say that this aspect of a psychopaths world view cannot be modified. These days I see weaknesses and vulnerabilities as simple facts - a facet of the human condition and the frailties and imperfections inheritent in being human."

I have extensive experience w psychopaths. They have almost destroyed my life given my vulnerability to them because of a mother who is a psychopath and a father who had major psychopathictraits. I had to seek nurturance from a snake and learn how to feed it and placate it while trying to stay alive.


I would like to meet this person.

I find it very helpful to surround myself with people that have a different way of seeing the world.

I would like to meet this person.

No, no no no no. No you would not. Not unless you mean it like "I'd like to meet a serial killer, just for the experience." Maybe it'd be interesting to get their point of view, sure, but you are far better off without them in your life. And certainly without having any form of relationship with them.

One of the main reasons this guy wrote this letter was probably self-aggrandization. The very fact that you find him more interesting is exactly what he wanted. That's not inherently a bad thing.

What's inherently a bad thing is that when human remorse and guilt have been genetically disabled, those people will do things to you which are fucked up. I have experienced the blunt, raw force of their emotional carpet bombing firsthand from a certain family member.

Everyone needs to remember that these people are hardwired to be deliberately manipulative, because they feel good only when you're giving them attention. Then they feel good only when you're doing things they've conned you into believing you want to do; sometimes things you'll feel shitty about for the rest of your life, once you snap out of it and realize you've been a puppet.

Love is the kindest and most valuable thing we can spread in this world and your reply offered none to this individual. He is no less deserving than any other. We all have the same life sentence.

We're all trying to do our thing, he, you and I included.

More love, less hate. Please.

This is actually the central reason I was so torn up over my experience, and one of the reasons the whole thing sometimes still haunts me. Because the only possible way out of my situation was to completely cut ties, and shut off the love. I'm a loving person and it absolutely tore me up for a long time. Eventually I came to terms with the fact that if I wanted to lead a life without torment, it was a necessary evil. These people will stop at nothing until you're twisted around their pinkie finger, and they will prey on your forgiving nature.

It's why I'm trying to call attention to how dangerous they are. But words aren't adequate to convey the breadth and magnitude of their ability to carve out chunks of your life for their own purposes. They'll take all your love and steamroll you in return.

You're personalty can't handle a psychopath mine can.

I'm not loving nor forgiving and although I do poses empathy and remorse can contentiously suppers it.

Everything has to be earned with me.

This applies to everybody including my own parents.

I grew up around manipulative people i know how to deal with them. I actually instinctively distance myself from them.

I'm not saying I would be his friend but i find his point of view valuable as long as he doesn't try it with me. I would notice if he did.

"You're personalty can't handle a psychopath mine can.”

You actually come off like someone who claims that they had grown up around airplane pilots and therefore can handle gravity. It’s actually unlikely you can.

"I would notice if he did.”

I’m just going to call that posturing.

More like i was born on a planet so i can handle gravity.

The only thing i meant by that is that he/she is the sweet, loving, sensitive type nothing wrong with that but may not be well suited for some things.

I on the other hand am fascinated by psychology and love surrounding myself with different types of people even psychopaths.

Everybody has to offer a unique way of looking at things.

Some may consider that crazy, maybe it is.

I don't fall under any definition of normal that's for sure but normal is boring anyway.

Actually, that's a pretty common, normal line of thinking, often summarized as "those things happen to the other people". Even the declared love of psychology is quite usual, as is the dismissal of "normal".

Sweet/loving/sensitive type dismissal shows a huge disconnect. People hurt that way include soldiers, astronauts, public performers, politicians, enterpreneurs and many others. You're not really looking into people, you're romanticizing the diseases they have, and that really comes off as patronizing in most cases, and in this case as reckless and patronizing.

Mm, well, best of luck. It was more a warning for people without your unique skillset, though.

Gotta say, this reads like you got a screw loose in your own self.



I try to practice compassion for all sentient beings, so I get your point. But not all sentient beings are capable of responding to love, so I think we social animals need to be careful in projecting. Indeed, I suspect there are mechanisms in predators that actively suppress the response to love. However much the cow loves the farmer, the cow will still get slaughtered and eaten.

Exactly right.

Being "nice" or "compassionate" to others does not require martyrdom to those who don't (or physiologically/neurologically cannot) respect boundaries and don't return the same kindness.

> Love is the kindest and most valuable thing we can spread in this world and your reply offered none to this individual. He is no less deserving than any other. We all have the same life sentence.

Not referring to the OP here, but some people are wholly toxic and cannot have a meaningful relationship with you that doesn't involve the erosion of your own person and physical/mental health. These people may be toxic for a long time, even for your whole life. While people should be treated kindly, don't confuse being kind with being an emotional dumping ground for someone that doesn't respect your boundaries.

Sometimes the best love you can offer is benign neglect.

Timothy Treadwell was very loving/caring toward bears. Then he got eaten by one. Some people will do the same to you. Keeping a respectful safe distance is not hateful.

You don't understand at all.

I was in a relationship with a psychopath. Love does not matter to these people. Your emotions do not matter to these people. Your intentions do not matter to these people. The only thing that matters to a psychopath is their own ego and self-aggrandizement. You're taking an incredibly naive view that will likely leave you completely taken advantage of and hurt. It doesn't matter how much love you show a psychopath, it won't ever be enough. They will try to manipulate you to make you feel like you're not doing enough for them. They will be the victim when it suits them and helps their argument, or they will be the victor when it suits them.

Love does not matter to a psychopath. I gave her every ounce of love I had available to me, every ounce of understanding and care. It might as well have not happened. She still thinks (I'm not sure if she genuinely believes this, or is just trying to be manipulative) that I was a horrible boyfriend who was too selfish to give her what she needed (I paid for her to live in my apartment, I paid for about 95% of her food, I helped her find her first job, I helped her move cities).

Love does not matter to a psychopath. The only way to win that game is not to play.

So what? Even if it doesn't matter to them, it can still matter to you. Making yourself a better person isn't less worthwhile because someone else tells you you're being taken advantage of in the process.

That's what I tell people - you can't take advantage of me, I give freely of myself. Nothing I do is without my consent, so you can't "win". There is no contest.

This is over cautious, and you use your own experiences as too much of an example of "this is what will always happen."

If you think of people like psychopaths and serial killers as fire, and your experience of getting burned (whether it was in your control or not), you might acknowledge that circumstances could be set up where a meeting with a psychopath could happen in a safe and protected way.

People who are very different from you (even dangerous) probably share traits with you that are much more exaggerated in themselves. Their experiences have analogs to yours, and even though they are fundamentally different from you they can still teach you a lot about yourself.

I would relish the opportunity to meet a serial killer. Would I meet him in a dark ally with no law enforcement or witnesses? Of course not, if I had any control I would avoid that scenario. If I had the opportunity to let a psychopath become an integral part of my family, I would reject that as well (not everybody has the luxury, I understand). But if we are meeting for coffee in a reasonably populated restaurant, I think the conversation could be very beneficial to myself.

Dangerous does not guarantee disastrous.

> What's inherently a bad thing is that when human remorse and guilt has been genetically disabled, those people will do things to you which are fucked up.

Honestly, did you read the entire letter? Because he clearly address that point:

    Its true that I do not 'feel' guilt or remorse, except to the extent
    that it affects me directly, but I do feel other emotions, which do not
    have adequate words of description, but nevertheless cause me to derive
    satisfacton in developing interpersonal relationships, contributing to
    society, and being gentle as well as assertive.

Isn't it possible the person who is genetically predisposed to being manipulative is manipulating your feelings here?

Yes, what he wrote is interesting, and I read all of it. No, I don't believe he feels "satisfaction in contributing to society." I believe he feels satisfaction in contributing to himself and his own self-image, even unblinkingly at the expense of others.

I'm of course biased in this, having been the target of one of these manipulators, so maybe it's better to ignore me. But man, be grateful you weren't the target, because it had pretty dramatic effects on my life, and took a long time to get over.

I had that exact question.

When the tiger tells you that he's overcome his taste for human flesh he could be quite sincere, or he could be lying. Even if sincere, he could be wrong.

I wish the fellow the best of luck, and I hope one day we can build a society where we can safely accommodate all the people like him. When I go to the zoo, I feel compassion for the tigers in their cages. But if they're loose, padding around the halls, I'd hope that I'd have the sense not to try to snuggle up to them, no matter how tame they seemed.

"Isn't it possible the person who is genetically predisposed to being manipulative is manipulating your feelings here?"

Absolutely yes, but I also can't help but notice the argument as you are making it is a bit too powerful; no matter what he says or does, there's no way for him to overcome the argument. We're only a short step away from simply labeling someone a psychopath, then declaring you can't trust anything they say.

We can't really know his internal mental and emotional state here, and that's not unique to psychopaths, that's true of everybody. You may very well still be correct. For all I know, the whole story is made up from whole cloth. But it's at least possibly true, too.

"You knew I was a snake when you picked me up"

You say this like manipulation is inherently bad. If he's manipulated me into feeling sympathy or got attention from HN, good for him. I won't be putting any more energy into his work than writing this response and finish reading comments. I've known many that would score high as being a psychopath, but kept their manipulations to mainly be beneficial to both sides (I fix you/your problem so I don't have to deal with it anymore). I've also had bad experiences, but that has made me learn to see how the manipulations are affecting me in the long run, rather than thinking manipulations are bad as a whole.

I implore you—do not willingly bring a psychopath into your life.

Pathological lying and manipulativeness are hallmarks of a psychopath [1]. It would be like befriending a spider - when you're the fly.

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

These are justifications for not attempting to understand and thereby humanize him. These same sort of broad brush strokes have been used against any group of people that are deemed unworthy of being truly seen.

And why are those arguments so convincing? Why does painting people as monsters work so well?

One possible answer is that it's a counter-adaptation to psychopathy. If some people are naturally monsters, being naturally afraid of monsters might be a good adaptation.

That's not to say we shouldn't treat him with compassion, or that we should treat him as a monster. But people who haven't seen the damage a predator can cause are often too glib; they literally can't imagine how dangerous another human can be.

After 50 years of research, that is the understanding of a psychopath. Pathological lying, lack of remorse or guilt, manipulativeness, superficial charm are what make a psychopath a psychopath.

You wouldn't pass any of the dozens of psychopath tests available if you lacked these traits, and you certainly wouldn't call yourself a psychopath.

Do you know why psychopaths can't beat the test?

Some of the test questions I've seen aren't really questions. They're scenario based statements designed to uncover the subject's true way of thinking.

I'm sure these tests can be defeated though.

Please keep in mind I'm not a psychologist or expert on the subject.

We have no predictive power to show who will become a psychopath. There are loose associations, and a jumble of character traits that are shared with any number of other syndromes and illnesses. Any personality trait can be made or unmade.

I have a friend who's a pathological lier and I've never seen any indication he's a psychopath. I've seen him go out of his way to help people many times and have never seen him try to manipulate others. Just because you have one condition doesn't mean you have the other.

Those are indications, not definite diagnosis. Think about it the way you think about symptoms of many other illnesses. They often start with „tiredness, lack of concentration, bad mood, weight change…”

So being a pathological lier means there’s something wrong. It might be psychopathy. It might be some consequence of anxiety. Or something else entirely.


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