Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sympathy & Psychopaths

- That reminds me of a book I read about psychopaths. It said they can't share other people's feelings.
- Psychopaths are charming. I should know, I was (or am) married to a woman often accused of being one, even by me in one memorable moment.
- Should I wonder about you, your ability to sympathize? Talking about your wife that way?
- You should. I was going to say that this pathology might be related to jumping from one alliance to another, gaining an expertise in what appears to be loving and delivering it, but at the cost of never losing self consciousness.
- Say that again.
- Constant praise, conscious appreciation can be real, and still there is no sympathy. Sympathy is feeling another person's feelings, sharing pain and pleasure. You can see it in a mother feeding her child, or even a boy feeding his dog. Sympathy is not intellectual, is not accompanied by any expression or gestures. In fact it looks like what I think it is, selflessness, loss of sense of self, not "identification" in the sense of your self being the same as the other's, but vanishing altogether. Psychopaths don't lose themselves. They like, love, befriend, but don't sympathize, lose themselves in another's feelings. They love living together with you, admire the beauty of your manners and skills, even the way you look, but still don't sympathize at all with you. I have been stunned by my own failures to sympathize at times I'd been sure of my friendship and love. It's when I have to ask myself where am I and how did I get here and what do I do with myself now. But sympathy depends on the opposite, forgetting about yourself. The psychopath is stuck in the role of spectator. A virtuoso in all emotion that is receptive, but without being capable of any active expression. Even in feeding a child, the psychopath's attention is on the self, the one who's doing something good, not on the child. The self is always there. The cause might be in despair, a learned lack of conviction that doing good for others will be appreciated. There's good reason to think so. But I also think that if you too often change the rules, and it is too much your job to re-align your self to other people, it becomes hard to give up on self. And giving up on self is essential to making attention, which otherwise is merely a show, into the experience of sympathy.