BOOK REVIEW: Cold-Blooded Kindness

Reviewed by Joyce Alexander, RNP (retired)

Cold-Blooded Kindness: Neuroquirks of a Codependent Killer, or Just Give Me a Shot at Loving You, Dear, and Other Reflections on Helping That Hurts is the tongue-in-cheek title of this book by Barbara Oakley, with a foreword by David Sloan Wilson. It belies the serious research and investigation done by this remarkable, highly educated and acclaimed woman.

Oakley is associate professor of engineering at Oakland University in Michigan, and her work focuses mainly on the complex relationship between neurocircuitry and social behavior. The list of her varied experiences reads like fiction ”¦ she worked for several years as a Russian language translator on Soviet fishing trawlers in the Bearing Sea during the height of the Cold War. She met her husband while working as a radio operator at the South Pole station in Antarctica. She went from private to Regular Army captain in the U.S. military, and is also a fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering.

In Cold-Blooded Kindness, along with a project called Pathological Altruism (forthcoming book by the same name this year), Oakley was investigating if altruism could be taken to the extreme and become pathological and harmful.

Some “researchers” have, for what they thought was the “greater good,” slanted their research to show what they believed was an altruistic motive. For example, many people have heard about the “battered woman syndrome,” and how it is now incorporated into laws in many states as a mitigating factor in cases where women wound or kill the men who have battered (or supposedly battered) them. What isn’t known, though, is that the “research” into this “syndrome” was badly flawed. The researcher was a woman who was so intent on doing the “greater good” of protecting abused women, that her altruism caused her to slant her studies, and anyone who pointed out that her research was suspect, was in fact, “blaming the victim,” and therefore, evil.

Oakley points out that she started to seek out a person who appeared to be altruistic to the point that it became harmful, but her own research led her to see the situation differently than she had planned.

She started investigating a Utah woman and artist named Carole Alden, who had “been abused” and had killed that abusive husband, Marty Sessions. But the book really isn’t so much about Alden murdering Sessions, for which she ended up in prison, but about how Carole Alden, though presenting herself as the ultimate altruist (rescuing animals and people), was instead, the ultimate abuser.

The examination of the human brain, and the social interactions of children, and the development of empathy and altruism in children, are explored. Both the social and the genetic aspects of these are gone into in depth.

Oakley explores “co-dependency” and “enabling” behaviors and calls for more actual research into these areas, especially concerning possible sex hormone links and to genetics. She also points out while little, if any, real research has been done on “battered women syndrome,” and it is not accepted in the DSM-IV, it is accepted in many state statutes.

Oakley never comes out and actually says Carole Alden is a psychopath (though the word is used and described in the book itself), but Oakley’s book describes Carole Alden’s behavior relative to the Psychopathic Check List-Revised. It shows that while Carole presented herself to others as a victim of circumstances, and as altruistic to the nth degree, she was, in fact, a controlling, manipulative, using, abusing, pathological liar, who took in dozens, if not hundreds, of stray animals. She cared for them poorly in most cases, but better than she cared for her own children.

It is also possible that Carole is a serial killer, as there are two other deaths of men she was involved with that were “suspicious” in their very nature.

When Oakley was corresponding with Carole Alden, she was convinced by the letters that Carole Alden was the personality she was seeking for her thesis of “altruism gone too far,” and that Carole was indeed the victim of this. Upon meeting Carole though, in prison, Oakley began to see the real situation. When she investigated the family, the crime, the real history of Carole Alden, not just the self-serving tales of how everyone abused her, Oakley began to see the malignancy. Carole changed her story, came to believe her own lies, and slanted all aspects of “truth,” even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

Not only is this a history of one pathological woman who murdered one man and possibly more, and who abused and neglected her children, it is about the personality disordered in general who present themselves as victims, when in fact, they are at best—co-victims/co-abusers with their partners.

Oakley is not “blaming” legitimate victim, but seeking to find the common thread in some partners (women and men) who participate to one degree or another with the abuse they endure. She is seeking a way to educate and warn these people so that the abuse can be prevented.

While Carole Alden took in a series of ex-convict men, who were addicts, to “cure” and “fix” them, which appeared to be altruistic in nature, in fact, it was anything but altruistic. It supplied Carole with her “professional victim” and “professional altruistic” persona that she was seeking to establish. What caused this in Carole, when her parents and other siblings were apparently normal and highly functioning members of society?

I tend to underline and highlight important passages in my books as I read, and I finally gave up trying with this book, as the first 100 pages are almost all day-glow yellow.

This is a highly readable book, and I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of one of Oakley’s previous books. I will also be one of the first in line to buy her upcoming one Pathological Altruism. I highly recommend that anyone who is seriously trying to figure out how we (former victims) are alike, and how the fake altruism of some psychopaths works, read this book.

Cold-Blooded Kindness on Amazon.com


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401 Comments on "BOOK REVIEW: Cold-Blooded Kindness"

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Ex Umbris,

I totally agree, but too many times the abuser flies under the radar because they do not “beat” the child physically and they provide a minimum of food and shelter etc. Our courts are loath to take a child away from a parent, even a pith poor one, because of the cost, and “foster care” is not ideal in any case. In cases like CaringAunt’s SIL the abuse is emotional, not physical, so there is little that can be done without the parent’s cooperation.

Yes, there are child hoarders. I guess I never thought of it that way, but it did piss me off that they would just keep having kids. They could not really take care of or give enough attention and love to them all. The older kids usually end up taking care of the younger ones, and kids are just not good parents. They are not meant to be either.
An old pregnancy forum that I used to go to was full of them. I found that a lot of the women just wanted to be pregnant for the attention of it, and they did not really even want the baby. It was said over and over, by these women, how we should all be thankful for morning sickness and feeling like crap. I am sorry, but WTF! I hate pregnancy, and I have always hated it. Sure it is neat and some parts are pretty cool (like watching my tummy move all over), but in general it makes you feel miserable. I may hate being pregnant (esp at my age!), but I cannot wait to hold my baby. I am so excited about having her. She is a little miracle as I was told I should not be able to have any more kids years ago. That was fine with me, too. I just never wanted my kids to feel like they were not getting the love and attention they needed. That was always my biggest fear. My son will be 17 in a few months, and my daughter will be 9 in a week, so I think I have them spaced out enough to avoid that. 🙂
I guess my rambling point is, I cannot understand the whole hoarding thing, esp kids. It makes me sick. It is just cruel to people or animals. It seems you have to be a spath to be that damn selfish!

I also think the above book might describe my friend. I need to read it! I never noticed things before with her, but since I now live a lot closer to her after many years, I am worried.
First, I think her son is a pedophile and spath. I never really knew much about him until the past two months, and I have made sure to cut contact with him. He is almost 20, but refuses to do anything for himself. Cannot even get dressed and gets his mom to still make his food for him. Forget work, and dropped out of high school.
My friend is hoarding cats, now. I cannot stand to even be in her house for 1 minute. The smell almost knocks you over as soon as the door opens, and there is piss and crap every where. She cannot afford to get them shots or spayed, and they keep having kittens. The shelters are all full out here, and most will be put down. So, she has an excuse. BUT when I asked her which ones she would actually like to part with, it was only 3 of them! Still 8 cats is too many. It is way to many when you are going to the food bank for food, too!
She comes across as the nicest person in the world, and acts like she will do anything for anyone. She has always been really sweet to me, and I feel terrible for even thinking this. It is just that I have seen little things that I never saw before, and I am unsure how to explain them. It is like there is another side to her, and I cannot say that she would actually be there for me if I really needed her.
Idk, I just have been having this weird feeling like maybe I do not know her at all. This has been going on for the past 2 months since I moved close to her. My gut tells me to slowly, quietly cut the ties, but I am unsure if I am just being too judgmental. The cat thing and her son do scare the hell out of me though. I should mention her younger sister and mother are spaths (without question), too.
Honest advice, please?


Oxy – that octo-mom freaks me out. I avert my hearing/ eyes when there is something about her. she is very messed up. as soon as she had the spotlight she started modifying her face to look more like angelina jolie (aka ‘lips on a stick’).

my sib is a hoarder. i know that the MCS played a large part in that developing. It cut her off from the world. she became agoraphobic to some degree and also fearful of letting others into her space. the worse the space got the less likely she would let people in and the more isolated she has become….it’s a downward spiral. She has always been a clothes and stuff junky. The moment she got out of home she started acquiring and buying. she told me once that it was a response to having so little as a kid. Well, i grew up in the same household and yes we were a bit deprived of ‘stuff’ and money for activities, but i feel i had what was most necessary.

She is a bit older than i am and was not so in love with the rural life (she hated it and resented having been taken from suburbia to the farm), so perhaps her expectations were different than mine (she who would not want what she could not have), and i am sure she felt more deprived than i did; AND she’s an n, so they have to be resentful about some damn thing all the time.

She is now so physiologically attached to her empty bags from all her shopping, that when i moved them to help her take a rug out, and put them all together in one bag, so had a melt down. this is so unhealthy. I feel bad for her. She has a host of psych problems besides being an n and i wouldn’t wish the MCS on anyone…well, except the spath – on her, i would wish a hoard of locusts and all other biblical tempests…frogs dropping from the sky and great floods and….but, i digress.


Jen, trust your gut.

make a list of all those little things you are experiencing. they will draw you a picture of what you are seeing and can’t put your finger on.

And help future kitties by reporting her anonymously to animal control. She is creating a huge problem if she can’t take care of them properly, and it will only get worse. Yes, i know, they may be put down, but what about the next dozen or two who come into this world because of her negligence? If they are not getting shots then they are also spreading/ catching disease. If they are in the house and interbreeding twith their sibs that isn’t good either.

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