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Archive for January, 2008

Iagoism: Or, passive aggression is still aggression

In Shakespeare’s Othello, perhaps the most unwatchable/watchable play there is, Othello murders his wife Desdemona believing as he does that she has cheated on him with Casio. It’s an awful business; for one thing, she’s entirely innocent. How does it come about that noble Othello’s moral vision is so entirely clouded that he commits this heinous act?

Well, he needed some help in breaking that terrible taboo. The help comes from Iago who subtly poisons Othello’s mind. Two questions emerge: How does Iago do it and why? Let’s start with the second question first.

Why does Iago destroy Othello (and Desdemona too, let’s not forget)?
This question has puzzled scholars through the ages. Iago has been passed over for promotion: is that the motive? Iago is a racist and Othello is a dark Moor? Is that it? Perhaps Iago is unconsciously attracted to Desdemona? Alternatively, there is a rumour that Othello slept with Iago’s wife, Emelia (at least Iago claims there is such a rumour):

When dealing with a sociopath, you must save yourself

Yesterday was a tough day at Lovefraud.

First thing in the morning, I got a call from a woman I’d spoken to before. She was hysterical.

From what she’d told me previously, it sounded like she was dealing with three sociopaths—her husband, her oldest son, and a guy she had an affair with. Initially, her husband had condoned the affair. Then he left her. Then he returned. Then he smeared her with her family and friends. The oldest son was violent.

“You have to get out,” I advised.

“I don’t have any money,” she whined. “My husband hid the checkbook.”

“Is your name on the account?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Then go to the bank, withdraw money and leave.”

Then she started telling me that she begged her husband to make her son stop disrespecting her.

Questions that best identify sociopathy in a person

It really bothers me that researchers haven’t developed a measure to help people figure out if their loved ones are sociopathic. Instead, measures have been developed and the public is told NOT to use them to “diagnose” anyone. What good is research if it doesn’t teach people how to protect themselves? It would not be too difficult to identify a group of sociopaths, then determine a few easy questions related to the disorder most of the sociopaths answer yes or no to (that is sensitivity). The questions would be even better if non-sociopaths were unlikely to give the same response (that is specificity).

In a recent study (Comp. Psych. 48, 529), Dr. Heather Gelhorn and her colleagues from the University of Colorado have determined the four questions that identify sociopaths with a good degree of accuracy (sensitivity and specificity). Additionally, there are some other questions that also help. The best part is that these questions are easy to ask so you don’t have to have a Ph.D. or an M.D. to ask them.

Aggression

Question: Why do people engage in aggressive behaviour (some, as we know, rather more than others)?
Answer: Because they enjoy it.

There’s a bit of a flutter on the internet (see here and here) about research coming out of Vanderbilt University. Studying mice, Maria Couppis and Craig Kennedy have found that aggression can be as emotionally rewarding as food or sex.

The neurotransmitter dopamine has been implicated in nearly every experience we consider rewarding, such as love, drugs, eating, and sex. Indeed, the mesolimbic dopamine pathway is referred to as the reward system of the brain. Dopamine is necessary for reinforcement, e.g. the ex-smoker’s craving brought about by the whiff of cigarette smoke.

Now a direct connection has been drawn between dopamine and aggression. In the experiement the male home mouse continually pushed a button to let in an intruder mouse which it then aggressed. When treated with a dopamine antagonist (blocking the activity of the dopamine) the home mouse decreased its button-pushing. (For a discussion of the experiment see here.)

After he’s gone: Looking at the sociopath through open eyes.

My 100% responsibility.

I had a glass of wine last night with a girlfriend who is leaving for a three month holiday at the beginning of February. Where she’s going is not important — except when put in the context of who is at the place she’s going to. A man. A man she once loved who could not, would not commit. A man who hid behind silence. Who never told her where he was, what he was doing or who he was with.

She spent the first year after leaving him healing her broken heart. And then she started dating. A few months ago she decided to phone the man far away. “We were such good friends. Friends stay in touch and I just wanted to see how he was,” she told me.

Posted in: M.L. Gallagher

Will you help others by recommending a professional resource?

The woman on the phone desperately wanted someone to believe her. She was being emotionally abused by both her husband of 21 years and her 19-year-old son. Yes, she’d had an affair, but the husband thought it was a good idea. Then he abandoned her. Then he returned, but refused her any access to the family financial assets. Then he embarked on a smear campaign—telling her relatives how concerned he was about his wife. In his opinion, she was bipolar.

The son, in the meantime, threatened to slit her throat.

To me, the woman sounded like she was being manipulated by sociopaths and suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. She needed a therapist and a lawyer in California, where she lives.

Do you know someone who can help her?

Lovefraud Professional Resources Guide

Posted in: Donna Andersen

Differentiating narcissists and psychopaths

Editor’s note: This article was submitted by Steve Becker, LCSW, CH.T, who has a private psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, and clinical consulting practice in New Jersey, USA. For more information, visit his website, powercommunicating.com.

We can begin by noting something that both narcissists and psychopaths share: a tendency to regard others as objects more than persons. Immediately this raises concerns: you don’t have to empathize with objects; objects don’t have feelings worth recognizing. You can toy with objects; manipulate and exploit them for your own gratification, with a paucity of guilt.

Welcome to the world of the narcissist and psychopath. Theirs is a mindset of immediate, demanded gratification, with a view of others as expected—indeed existing—to serve their agendas. Frustrate their agendas, and you can expect repercussions, ranging from the disruptive to ruinous.

Distinct explanations for their actions

ASK DR. LEEDOM: Are sociopaths (and psychopaths) vindictive?

A woman who married and had children with two different sociopathic men wrote us this week. Her story and questions are timely since they allow me to mention another upcoming book, the conference Donna and I attended last weekend and to discuss vindictiveness.

It seems most women who have children with sociopaths end up with the sociopaths walking out on their children as well as the women, leaving the survivors to mop up and struggle to understand what happened on their own. From what I understand of sociopaths, the prevalent attitude they seem to behave as if they “don’t care” about anything except doing what benefits them… (she told her story of marriage, children, custody battles and vindictive sociopaths)… So, is vindictiveness a trait typically found in sociopaths or are these guys merely trying to maintain or regain their power and it just happens to look like vindictiveness on the surface? These guys have definitely expressed some serious rage, especially after losing as spectacularly as they did when they tried to take custody and prevent me from moving. Is anger an emotion sociopaths feel when they don’t get their own way? Do they ever “get over” it?

The psychopath’s bewildering ways of talking

A reader says: “I kept wondering what was going on in his head. I could never follow his thinking. I think he might have been into alcohol and drugs and that in itself messes the brain, and along with his other personality disorders, sure makes for a confusing relationship.”

The thinking patterns of the psychopath are indeed weird. It seems there are biological and intentional reasons for this. In others words, he is unable to think very logically PLUS he intends to mislead. No wonder he is hard to follow!

Below I list several factors which together make the psychopath a most bamboozling character.

The odd speech of psychopaths
The psychopath makes “frequent use of contradictory and logically inconsistent statements”, says Robert Hare in ‘Without conscience.’ E.g. “A man serving time for armed robbery replied to the testimony of an eyewitness, “He’s lying. I wasn’t there. I should have blown his fucking head off.” It is as if, says Hare, they have “difficulty monitoring their own speech”.

Worst-case scenarios at the Battered Women conference

Donna and Liane at the conference

The keynote speaker had a question for the 200 or so women in the room during the Battered Women, Abused Children and Child Custody conference: “How many of you have been thrown in jail during your custody battle?”

Approximately 15 women raised their hands.

These women had been thrown in jail by the courts—technically on charges such as contempt of court or failure to pay child support. In reality, the women were jailed for trying to protect their children from abusive fathers. At least one woman was a fugitive, unable to return to her home state.

No one in the audience was surprised—except, perhaps, me.

Dr. Liane Leedom and I attended the conference, which was held this past weekend in Albany, New York. It brought together mental health professionals, lawyers, advocates, and victims of domestic violence. It was a sobering experience.

Relationship abuse