Hopefully, many of you read this blog because you want to know how a trained psychiatrist deals with the issues you also face. I am not glad to be eternally tied to a psychopath, but since I am, you and I share the same challenges. We can reflect on these challenges together and we will all be better and stronger.
This week I received an email from one of my ex-husband’s family members, so I will put off the planned discussion of psychopathic anxiety to address the issues raised by the email. The email points to the trivializing of the sociopath’s/psychopath’s behavior that family members often do. This week give some thought as to how you will deal with others who trivialize a sociopath’s/psychopath’s behavior or perhaps your own tendency to “excuse” what he/she does.
In case you missed this, my ex-husband is in prison and is a sex offender. Regarding the events which led to the prison sentence, one of his blood relatives just wrote me, “but I don’t agree with all of his choices and in all fairness I do understand your disgust with ________’s actions.”
I want to ask all of you to consider this question: Do sociopaths/psychopaths make choices? If they do what does it mean when we say we “disagree” with their choices? What is the difference between disagreeing with their choices vs. being “disgusted” by them?
Last night at La Salsa, my favorite restaurant I made a choice. I chose to have fish tacos and some chips. I chose the fish tacos because I really like them. If I didn’t like fish tacos I wouldn’t choose them. I have to also confess, that I ate a small amount of ice cream when I got home, even though I am counting calories. I also really like ice cream.
My food choices were indeed choices, but notice that you learn about me from my choices. In regards to the ice cream, you learn that my impulse control regarding food is only fair in that I ate the ice cream even though I am making an effort to reduce the amount of fat I eat. If you have met me, you know that I am not particularly overweight so you probably wouldn’t hold my ice cream consumption against me.
What we learn from my eating behavior is that all choices reflect the chooser and his/her circumstances. I ate the fish tacos because I went to La Salsa. I ate the ice cream because it was in my freezer. If I hadn’t gone to La Salsa or had ice cream in the freezer, I would have eaten differently.
That gets me to sociopaths/psychopaths. These individuals do not just make “choices.” They, with malice and forethought set up situations where they will be able to gratify their deviant impulses. My former husband sought me out so he would have access to victims in addition to me. The choices he made started with his looking for his next victim on the internet. That victim turned out to be me. This situation is analogous to my eating the ice cream last night, because although I am trying to eat healthier, I did buy the ice cream and put it in the freezer myself. I would have eaten 250 less calories last night if I didn’t buy the ice cream in the first place.
It is clear that a person’s pattern of choices reflects that person’s drives and impulse control. Most sociopaths/psychopaths have a clear pattern of “choices” that show clearly what and who they really are. During psychiatry residency I was taught that the best predictor of what a person will do in the future is what that person has done in the past. This is because the past is a reflection of who that person is.
If choices are a reflection of our person and our drives are we without choice in the end? The beauty of it is that we do have choices because as humans we have some capacity to set up our environments and to modify our drives. If it was really necessary for me to avoid ice cream, I simply would stop buying it in the first place. I can also work on liking fruit or some other healthier alternative. As a human I can change what I like, what I want and ultimately what I do.
On the other hand, if you really understand the connection between what a sociopath/psychopath chooses and what he/she IS you will move from disagreeing with the choices to being disgusted by the person. Merriam Webster’s online dictionary defines disgust as:
1. to provoke to loathing, repugnance, or aversion : be offensive to
2. to cause (one) to lose an interest or intention
Notice that seeing the connection between choices, behavior and the nature of a psychopath, provokes loathing, repugnance, aversion and loss of interest in the person. I have stated before that I believe the people who are “fascinated” by psychopaths do not understand them. Understanding psychopaths breeds contempt not fascination.
The other difference between disagreeing with what a psychopath does and being disgusted, is that disagreeing is an intellectual exercise, while disgust is an emotion. If you are disgusted by psychopaths, that emotion means you comprehend WHAT THEY ARE with your entire being.
Can sociopaths/psychopaths get help or ever make different choices?
The problem with psychopaths is that they are so grandiose that they never examine their own behavior, nor do they ever seek to modify their choices. The choices they make are a deep reflection of their pathology. That pathology includes a lack of desire to be anything other than what they are. But why don’t sociopaths/psychopaths desire to change? The answer is that they enjoy their choices too much. They also do not have insight enough to comprehend that their drives are deviant. They think everyone else is as they are, only weaker.
The other problem is that drives are triggered by the things that remind us of our pleasures. Since people trigger the sociopath’s/psychopath’s deviant drives for sex and power, in order to begin to be different they would have to stay away from other people. Since sociopaths/psychopaths don’t want to be alone, they can never take the steps required for change. They will therefore never be anything other than what they are- dangerous to everyone.