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Hello Dr Saltzman,

The reason I am emailing you is because for a while I have been aware for some time that I have many severe narcissist and antisocial characteristics among many other flawed personality characteristics. For a long time I always thought they were good traits to posses because I viewed them as an ability to understand human behavior more easily and adjust the emotions that I thought I had in order to succeed among the general population. A few of these concerns I have mostly derive from the fact that even though I am pretty successful right now, even if I do not end up in jail or dead because of the other things that I do to make money besides the ARMY, I will most likely be alone for the rest of my life. What I mean by alone does not mean without a spouse, but more along the lines because I have never really cared about my friends or family enough to still have them. I have tried to do the normal thing by trying to do social activities with and small talk with them but I do not see what pleasure these activities are supposed to bring. I am pretty good at pretending but like you mentioned in one of your articles about sociopaths and love, I now for some reason desperately long for the ignorant bliss that normal people live in everyday.

Another main concern of mine is that whenever I am feeling depressed or someone criticizes me; the main thing that calms me down is killing something. I am pretty aware that this is not significantly an antisocial characteristic of mine but more leaning towards the narcissistic characteristics because when I kill something, it brings a temporary feeling as if I am powerful and like nothing can mess with me and I only feel I need to do it when I am feeling down. Over the years these feelings have not intensified, but I read a lot of psychology related articles and it says that the majority of people that think like this need to kill more often and get careless with their methods as time goes by. I can honestly say that I have only killed animals for that feeling of satisfaction. With all due respect to you, I will not state whether or not I have killed human beings for certain obvious reasons, but I can tell you this, if I had or will in the future, it has happened or would happen in order to preserve my well being and lifestyle. I also would or will take advantage of the actions that the current situation is forcing me to commit and enjoy it, but otherwise would never kill a human being solely for pleasure since the risk of life in prison is not worth the temporary relief and satisfaction killing someone may or may not bring.

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I know as a psychotherapist you might be able to notice that my motive to seek this kind of help is mostly selfish in the sense that I am concerned about my predictions of my future to live an abnormal life or go to jail for the many things I have committed and am capable of but I am sure that you are also aware that any kind of help you recommend would greatly benefit everyone around me as well. I am currently in Iraq and have been seeing this psychiatrist but I cannot disclose what really goes on in my head and on top of that she is extremely naive and not very helpful to me due to the fact that she specializes in short term combat stress. I know that there is no known cure for antisocial traits and that narcissists have certain antisocial qualities but if you can at least provide me with advice on how to either decrease or better manage my narcissistic qualities, it would be a great help.

I would like to state that I would prefer that you do not post this letter to the public in your website but I understand that since I am seeking your help that you are entitled to do whatever you want with the letter and will hold no hostile feelings or resentment towards you and will still appreciate your help. I will also have you know that due to the embarrassing and risky nature of my way of thinking, this email address is under an assumed name and I have done my best to ensure that it is not traced back to me.

I want to let you know (whether or not you assume that I am trying to appeal to your sympathies or vanity by mentioning this is beyond my control) that the articles on your website are excellent; you explain the information in a straightforward and simple but effective manner and your overall tone remains unbiased even when you attempt to explain your way of thinking to your readers.

I look forward to a response from you and will check your website and email account on a regular basis to see if you posted any advice for me.


ask dr-robert

Hello, D A A M O D L--

Thanks for your remarks about my website. I agree that my approach is largely unbiased, and as prelude to addressing your question I would like to explain why I think that is. It's simple really: my studies of human nature and the development of human personality have convinced me that no one chooses to be the way he or she is. Each personality simply arises automatically due to a combination of genetics and outside influences, none of which is chosen, but simply comes upon us like fate. A human being is conceived by a certain set of parents, in a certain time and place, within a certain economic, social, and political milieu. At birth, the adult-to-be already has a certain body type, certain mental and physical attributes, and, as recent genetic mapping has demonstrated, already the beginnings of a certain personality. This all develops in the womb, so obviously none of this is chosen by anybody.

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Once the infant is born, he (or she) is totally subject to the influences of his surroundings, about which there also is no choice. Although the parents usually are the infant's first influences, soon the rest of the world enters into the equation, and since the child neither chose that world, nor has any way to control its leverage and authority, all of that functions as another set of unchosen, random factors in the development of character.

If this is clear, one should understand that the idea of "choice" is a false idea. For example, if I am presented with two possibilities for dessert, vanilla ice cream or strawberry ice cream, I may "choose" vanilla, and if asked why I made that "choice," I may say that I "chose" vanilla because I like it, and I do not like strawberry. But why is that a choice? When did I choose to like vanilla and not strawberry? Obviously never; that's just the way I am. Some real thinking about this will reveal that the same is true of all of our so-called "choices"; they are not choices at all, but responses to our original genetics modified by experience, and neither the genetics nor the experience was chosen.

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Many people hate this idea and try to deny it because it seems to diminish the power of individuality and the importance of ethics and morality. After all, since ethical behavior seems to imply choosing one thing which is good or proper instead of another which is wrong or bad, if one cannot chose, how can one be moral? The answer is that if one happens to have come into contact with ethical ideas, one may be influenced to act ethically—so moral or ethical ideas are powerful and important, but they are not chosen. Such ideas simply constitute part of the environment—a small part, usually--which may or may not become an influence depending on random factors, the most important of which is, obviously, whether one comes into contact with the ideas to begin with.

Recent research has shown that the greatest influence on personality (after genetic makeup) is not parents, nor early training, but peers, and one does not choose peers, one is put into contact with them depending on where and when one is born and grows up, where one goes to school (if at all), if one is in Iraq in the army or not, etc.

I understand that this is a difficult concept for many people partly because it seems so counterintuitive, but more because the idea of agency is built into our language. A sentence has both a subject and a verb, but this is only a convention really. In most cases, the verb alone is the real story. For example, one might say, "I went to sleep," but the real story is that sleeping happened. No one did it really, it just happened. Another example: someone may say, "I speak," but how is the "I" any different from the speaking? One might just as well put it that, "Speaking happened." Grasping this idea also is difficult for many people, and so for our purposes here I will not go into it further (or one might more properly say that, "it won't be gone into any further), but it is an interesting field for thought, and, judging from your letter, you have the intelligence to appreciate it.

ask dr-robert

That said, let me now get to your question. Based on your self-description, you are not what I call narcissistic, but rather psychopathic, or sociopathic as it is also called. A narcissist may feel herself to be the center of the world and everyone else less important, but that person still can feel, empathize, and sympathize with others. You cannot; that is why I say that you are a psychopath. However, I do not blame you for being psychopathic; that's just the way you are. In the same way that unearned and unchosen genetic factors modified by environmental factors may produce a person who is noble-hearted and altruistic, a different combination of genetic factors plus environmental factors may produce someone like yourself. No choice; no blame. Things simply are as they are, and in this moment cannot be any different.

Why then do I spend so much time and effort offering psychological information, counsel, and advice? The first and most honest answer is: "that's the way I am," but if asked if I think it will do any good, I would say yes. Not because anyone can choose to follow the advice—I think I have made that clear—but because hearing the advice might provide one of the random influences which could alter behavior for the better. Perhaps that will be true in your case—perhaps not, but here is the advice:

1. I understand why you are reluctant to discuss yourself honestly with the military shrink. She is not working for you, but for the government, and might very well report you if you say the wrong kind of thing. Nevertheless, you might benefit from some good psychological help, so I recommend you try to find it. Not all psychotherapists are interested only in money. You might find one—a private one—who would be interested in your case for intellectual reasons. When you return from Iraq, I suggest looking.

2. I understand that killing seems to reduce your feelings of depression and frustration at being criticized. I am not psychopathic, but I almost can understand that. Violence certainly serves many people—not just psychopaths—as an emotional outlet. Watch the faces in the crowd at a boxing match sometime to see that in action. The bloodier it gets, the more they like it. As a substitute, I would suggest medication. You might be able to secure some antidepressant medication from the army shrink. If not, try to get some on the black market—the starting dosage for Prozac would be about 20 milligrams a day, taken in the morning. As my regular readers know, I recommend that such drugs be taken only under the supervision of a mental health professional (and never the family doctor), but given your physical location and the extreme nature of your present self-administered "treatment" for depression, a good case can be made for an exception to this rule.

3. You say that you "long for the ignorant bliss that normal people live in everyday." While these "normal" people are ignorant in the sense that they are mostly unaware of the existence of people such as you (and certainly totally ignorant of how many of you there are, and how hidden in plain sight), let me assure you (and you seem to trust both my knowledge and my intentions), that their love and affection for one another is neither ignorant, nor foolish—it's just the way they are. It's the way many--perhaps most--people are, not because they are foolish, not because they are weak, but because they honestly need to love and be loved in return. Try to understand that. It could help. When I say that it could help, I mean that understanding and forgiving them for being the way they are, and understanding and forgiving yourself for being the way you are, could be the beginning of something you now seem to want: authentic human contact.

Write again if you like. As you know, I have studied psychopathy, and it interests me.

Be well.

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