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Damaged Goods

So the other night I was watching an episode of Criminal Minds, and the killer was the son of a sociopath who had tormented him all his life. The killer killed as a result of this, so to speak, and at the end of the episode, goes to the same prison as his father and stabs him several times, presumably killing him. One quote from the episode stood out to me, “The son of a sociopath. Did he ever really have a chance?”

This is interesting to me because I am fairly sure my own father was a sociopath. Well, okay, is a sociopath. It’s easier to think of him as something from the past since I no longer have any contact with him. Now, realize, I am not a licensed professional. I can’t really diagnose anyone. But based on my textbooks and other research I have done, I truly believe this is true. He perfectly fits the bill for antisocial personality disorder, which is what they call psychopaths/sociopaths these days. Even Hare’s sociopathy checklist fits him.

I think I mentioned on a different post that my biggest fear is being forgotten after death. Well, perhaps that’s not entirely true. It’s certainly my second-biggest fear, but my biggest fear is becoming anything like my father. I realized I sometimes go out of my way to help people just to be different from that manipulative, selfish bastard. But then, I am not really helping people for the sake of helping them, either, am I? I’m being just as selfish–helping people only because it distances me from being what I hate.

Part of me–no, more than part of me. All of me wants to make him feel pain. I half-wish my mother’s and stepfather’s worst wish would come true and he would show up at my doorstep with the intent of finishing me off (he very nearly killed me when I was younger), just so that I could finally attack him first. They say revenge is bittersweet, but I don’t believe that to be true, not really. Or maybe it is: I would most certainly end up behind bars.

I realize that attacking or killing him would leave me no better than he is. But–here’s the scary part–when I think of revenge, that doesn’t even bother me. Other times I have violent tendencies, particularly when I’m psychotic, it scares me when the feelings pass. But when I think of revenge against my father, it doesn’t. I know that the fact I could kill him and feeling nothing afterward should scare me. It doesn’t.

Am I really any better than him? I don’t know anymore. Surely I am capable of empathy, which he wasn’t. Aren’t I? I have always had difficulty maintaining relationships with people. But the fact that I keep trying to is a good sign, right?

Maybe I need a break from thoughts like these.

I feel like I hardly know myself.

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About The Mental Chronicles

I am an otherwise "normal" person who suffers from psychotic depression. This blog is about me, things I like, and my struggle with mental illness.

4 responses to “Damaged Goods

  1. Sandy Sue

    It is a good sign.
    One thing to add to your thought-loop—someone/something made your father the way he is, too.

  2. You’ve clearly faced some distressing challenges in your life. Sociopath is a term applied to individuals to account for their bad behaviour, and places emphasis on lack of conscience, lack of remorse, lack of empathy, someone who is strives to obtain what they desire regardless of the cost to others, amongst other traits. I think we should all guard against diagnosing other people in this way unless we are absolutely sure, as it can be a very stigmatizing label to assign to an individual.

    I am concerned that the very term ‘sociopath’ provides a basis for dehumanising an individual, since the label itself characterises the target in such an unfavourable light. The individual may behave in some very unsavoury ways, yet the label inflicts a terrible two dimensionality, and could even provide a justification for treating him in a very punitive way, when what he really needs is compassion.

    So called sociopaths are notoriously unresponsive to treatment which aims to reform their behaviour. But let’s just look at this situation critically for a moment, while examining the role of language. Once a person becomes aware that he has been labelled as a sociopath, he is likely to take a fatalistic view of his own behaviour, and is unlikely to believe that he can change or take responsibility for his actions, since his behaviour is purportedly caused by this illness or malady. Moreover, once other people begin to view him as a sociopath, they are likely to begin to revile him, to loathe him, to be repulsed by him, to avoid him. And while other people are reacting in this way, they are unlikely to believe that he can change, or help him to change. Is it any wonder that he appears unresponsive to attempts at reforming his behaviour?!

    Some people might say that these individuals don’t deserve to be treated in a caring way, that its part of their punishment. Focusing on their surface behaviours can naturally lead to this unsympathetic attitude. But I believe that the unsavoury behaviours are caused by an underlying sadness, emotional deprivation and feelings of defectiveness which developed in their formative years. Underneath the surface they may be lonely, misunderstood, may have been mistreated or used, or received little love or empathy as children from their parents. And if a child receives or witnesses little empathy, it may be unrealistic to expect him to automatically express a healthy level of empathy in his adult life. Of course, he may be encouraged to develop and express a healthy level of empathy in the spirit of mindfulness and personal growth. What I’m trying to say is: people are to a large extent shaped by their experiences. I see bad behaviour as a manifestation of an underlying sadness, vulnerability and emotional deprivation, or a response to adverse experiences, and hence it seems holding an unsympathetic attitude seems similar to persecuting someone for experiencing adversity and pain. It doesn’t seem right.

    I believe that the key to changing the bad behaviour of these people is to encourage them, through therapeutic interventions, to overcome feelings of defectiveness and low self-esteem, and facilitate strategies for healing from the intense impact of past wounds and meeting their emotional needs. Lasting improvement can only achieved once the underlying issues have been tackled effectively, and they have gained an insight into the importance of giving and receiving love.

    Thus, focusing on the underlying issues of these people makes way for an empathic concern for the deeper level of pain that they suffer. But unfortunately, terms such as ‘sociopath’ orientate us to focussing merely on the surface, unsavoury behaviours, which leads only to a lack of sympathy, vilification and ineffective treatments. Labels such as ‘sociopath’ need to be reviewed, there needs to be something which better reflects a concern for the deeper level of distress, vulnerability and emotional deprivation that they suffer. I don’t believe the label ‘antisocial personality disorder’ is likely to engender an empathic concern for their underlying issues either.

    Of course, I’m not advocating that these individuals be allowed to avoid taking responsibility for their behaviour. They should of course be strongly encouraged to do so as part of therapy. And clearly, these individuals must first have a genuine desire to change their behaviour, a genuine desire to become responsible for their behaviour, and acknowledge that they need appropriate help and support to do so. Without their cooperation, no lasting improvement can be achieved.

    I’m sorry I have written so much, it’s just that I didn’t want the label of ‘sociopath’ to have an unhealthy impact on your perception of your father. It is a dehumanising label, and I was trying to encourage a more balanced view based on an empathetic understanding of the causes of his fallible yet regrettable behaviour. I’m sorry that you have suffered as a result of it.

    • I appreciate your comment.

      I understand where you are coming from, I really do. I remember learning all about the criticisms of labeling mental illnesses, and sometimes, as you do, they have some pretty good arguments. Your cognitive-behavioral attitude toward those with antisocial personality disorder is impressively compassionate.

      And I certainly agree that until I am truly licensed, I shouldn’t be diagnosing anyone.

      But it’s hard for even me, who lived with the man for sixteen years (and then was influenced by him for several more) to see him in any other way, and presumably, I would have one of the deepest views of him as I know him better than anyone else does.

      And remember: labels CAN lead to negativity, but they can also be helpful. It allows people who treat the mentally ill to do so on a consistent basis. And personally, I like being able to put a face on my mental illness. Before it was psychotic depression it was a nebulous, nameless thing gnawing at my mind that I didn’t know how to combat.

      Thank you for a thought-provoking comment.

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