ask dr-robert

ask dr-robert ask psychologist todos santos ask psychologist dr robert saltzman

Hi Doc,

I don't really feel like I have anyone else to turn to at the moment and I've been reading over your site recently and think that you can give me some honest answers. I'll try to be as brief as possible.

I have for the past year been considering on and off that I am a sociopath. My parents have frequently described me as selfish. I always go to great lengths to avoid boredom, lots of video games, lots of reading, dvds that I'm interested in and training. I'm very secretive particularly when it comes to my different groups of friends and coworkers - I try to keep everyone apart from each other unless they already knew each other before I met them, even to the extent that it took me nearly a year to introduce a girlfriend to my parents. I've harmed animals in the past for no real good reason. I have been in trouble with the law - albeit for a fairly contrived reason. I frequently say that I do not understand people. I've abused girlfriends and friends and felt no remorse nor ever thought anything I did was wrong. If something bad has happened to me I've always been confused by why other people have been sympathetic frequently asking why they're sorry - it did not happen to them! If the case were reversed I do not feel sympathetic I would offer the socially acceptable "sorry's" or commiseration but I don't actually care. I have serious anger problems - a deep seated burning rage that I feel threatens to consume me if I let it. I have realised that I have no empathy for others and recently come to the conclusion that I am a sociopath. I had thought I may have had empathy because I sometimes cringe when I see violence in movies or the like, but then whenever I encounter injured persons in real life I haven't cared - in fact found some of it amusing.

I have done a fair bit of training in both unarmed and armed combat(mainly knife work, but some firearm work as well) and as such consider myself more dangerous the average person - I am reasonably proficient as I teach people self defence. I also work in the security industry within Australia - mostly in nightclubs at the moment which are places that see a reasonable amount of violence. I keep myself, and the people I work with, in check because I know that because of my training and the industry I work in that I would literally get the book thrown at me if I ever ended up in court. I've also started to move into doing armed work as well, and I do not want to jeopardize my future.

I thought a couple on months back that I was not sociopathic because my dog died and I felt somewhat upset by that - I've realised that I felt upset because it was my dog and as such was my own loss, not someone else. This week my grandfather committed suicide and I've realised that I don't care - all I really care about is my condition. All I can think of is how it inconveniences me because I have to travel a great distance and see family whom I really do not care for. I'm stuck with them, in same house for the next several days. They're miserable, drinking and will soon become abusive towards each other because of internal family politics. The funeral is in two days time as I write this. Since I have realised that I am sociopathic I have been frequently questioning my thoughts as to whether they're normal or if they're a sociopathic thought. I don't understand why they feel sorrow, or guilt or anything. Can you possibly explain any of that to me? I don't understand empathy, or sympathy or love. I had thought I was in love previously but someone in love would never do the things that I did to their significant other - well, not do them and not feel guilt. I care so little I can barely remember what I actually did, at the time I just thought I was rational.

Finishing up I would like to state that I don't feel that their is any point in me seeking therapy because there is no cure for sociopathy at the moment, I have been in therapy previously for depression and found that all it taught me to do was hide what was wrong from people, and even if there was some drug that allows me to feel empathy that it wouldn't even be real empathy because its a pill. There are a number of friends I would like to tell that I am a sociopath, but I am afraid of what will happen. Someone jokingly mentioned that I was a sociopath the other day and I went cold and admitted it, but they didn't believe me because they said I was too nice. Also since I realised I am a sociopath I have been going out of my way to do things for people without ulterior motives. I'm trying to come to terms with the fact that people will describe me as a monster. I have long been interested in joining the army, I now think that this would be an even better idea as I can see little use for the way I am in other paths of life and I wonder if you would think this is appropriate.


[name withheld]

P.S. please don't post my name on the site if you utilize this email. Oh and kudos for the site, I like your no nonsense approach.

ask dr-robert

Hello [name withheld]--

Thanks for your praise of my website. My goal is to provide accurate, helpful information from a non-judgmental point of view. My one regret is that I have time to answer only a small fraction of the questions sent to me.

Judging from your letter, you are correct in your self-assessment of psychopathy. Unfortunately, in the minds of the general public, the terms psychopath and sociopath have come to indicate "badness," but this is nothing more than a moral judgment, and moral judgments prevent any real psychological understanding whatsoever. I am going to repeat that phrase because I want everyone who consults my site (among them many therapists and other professionals) to get it: moral judgments prevent any real psychological understanding whatsoever.

Yes, you have done some "bad" things such as causing harm and suffering to innocent, helpless, weaker beings, but countless non-psychopaths have done the same and worse. One does not have to be psychopathic to be harmful or dangerous. In fact, I would say that the majority of harm in this world is caused by people who are not psychopaths. The difference between the psychopath and the non-psychopath does not lie in harm done, but in guilt felt: the non-psychopath will feel guilty for harm done; the psychopath, by definition, will not.

Now you ask me to explain why people feel sorrow or guilt. The simple answer is, "that's the way they are, just as not feeling guilt is the way you are." I know you really meant to ask me to explain what guilt feels like, but I cannot do that any more than you could explain to someone who had never eaten an orange what an orange tastes like, or explain to someone who had never smelled a rose, what a rose smells like, or explain to someone who is colorblind what green looks like.

Feeling guilt, which is the basis of morality, and also a consideration in the field of ethics, arises from the ability to empathize, which means being aware, not just intellectually, but emotionally, that others feel sadness, anger, joy, fear, emptiness, despair, pain and pleasure, and have their own needs and desires which are as important to them as mine are to me. In another sense, empathy connotes the power of entering into another’s personality and, by means of so-called "empathic attunement," imaginatively experiencing his or her feelings

ask dr-robert

In other words, if I see pain in another, and begin to empathize, it is almost as if the pain were happening to me; I
feel it. If I have caused the pain, then I will feel guilt, because I feel the pain (empathically), and know that I have caused it.

But the ability to empathize seems to be an inborn, genetically dependent trait which you apparently lack, and which cannot, in my opinion, be taught, And so, not being able to empathize, you also lack the tendency to feel guilty for harm caused. In the course of cultural inculcation, this inborn "guilt-ability" is molded and modified (often wrongly in my view), but unless the original ability already is present, the individual will never feel guilt, no matter how much teaching and inculcation might be attempted. This is your situation, and I am aware of no way to change it. Nevertheless, although the ability to feel guilt cannot be taught and cannot be learned, the ability to do right and to avoid wrong can be taught and can be learned, and this brings me to your question about joining the military.

My advice is that you to try to accomplish two things in this life, which, in my view, are intimately interconnected, and mutually influential. First, try to find a way to help your fellow beings. Second, try to be happy. Being a psychopath does not mean that you cannot help others and avoid hurting them. All it means, really, is that your reasons for helping and avoiding hurting will be different from the reasons of non-psychopaths. For the non-psychopath--or many of them, at least--who can empathize, helping feels good in and of itself, and avoiding harming also feels good. For you who cannot empathize, that pleasant feeling probably will not be there, or, if it is, it will be present in such reduced form that it would not be enough to influence your behavior. However, in the pursuit of happiness, which I also have just recommended, I think you will find that getting along well with others will increase your happiness, and that hurting others sooner or later will reduce it. Being included in some kind of group or social circle is an important aspect of personal happiness if only because it allows access to sex and companionship, both of which are, for most people— psychopaths included— important bases for a happy life. And avoiding hurting others ensures that you do not end up incarcerated or otherwise punished in ways that would greatly reduce your personal enjoyment of life. In short, continue to act selfishly without deeply feeling anything for others as you certainly must, but try to understand that getting along with others and not becoming known as someone who harms others is the best way to further your own interests. With this in mind, joining the military seems like a workable idea. You would be part of a group in which your talents and training would be respected, and you would be subject to a strict code of military justice, which, if you decided to obey it fully, would keep you out of any serious trouble.

Regarding your deep-seated feelings of rage, I suggest that you get some help with that. Although psychotherapy will not teach you to empathize, it might very well heal your pain and rage and leave you feeling much more at peace.

I sincerely hope my views help you.

Be well.

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