I write you this letter to explain something to you. You have a serious personality disorder whose very symptoms, paradoxically, may leave you unaware that you have it.
Or…you may be “aware” of your disorder in an “intellectual” sense but, consequent to your disorder, you lack appropriate alarm and shame over its expression.
People who do not have your disorder, if they were told they had it (and of its nature), would feel extremely unnerved, shamed, to hear this feedback.
You, on the other hand, neither feel, nor react, with expected levels of uneasiness to learn of your disorder. Your reactions, expressing either calm indifference and striking unperturbedness, or, alternatively, possibly rageful defensiveness, merely add credence to the diagnosis.
You were probably not “born” with this disorder, but it’s also probable that you brought a biological tendency to it, whose eventual emergence your upbringing probably encouraged, or elicited.
It seems likely that histories of abuse, neglect and trauma encourage the development of this disorder in individuals who, like yourself, are prone to it.
It is rare, although not impossible, that this disorder would emerge in its fullblown state from childhoods that are genuinely nurturing, secure, and free of emotional and physical abuse.
Your disorder is called a number of different names that can be confusing, among them sociopath, psychopath, antisocial personality disorder, malignant narcissist, and more informal names. Although there may be some useful distinctions between these terms, the confusion they produce probably exceeds the usefulness of these distinctions.
More important are the common elements between them, which describe a similar phenomenon—a human being like yourself who, while intellectually aware of common standards and laws of “right and wrong,” nonetheless grossly, chronically violates the boundaries and integrity of others with deficient remorse, deficient empathy, a deficient sense of accountability and, typically, with an attitude of contempt or indifference towards the experience, and suffering, of those he’s violated.
You might recognize yourself in this description, but you may not. If you do, as I’ve suggested, your recognition of yourself as having this disorder will produce a notably inappropriate response.
But if you don’t recognize yourself from this description, it’s likely to be a function of more than just your denial. Rather, your failure to see yourself, truly, as a sociopath probably reflects, to an extent, an aforementioned feature of your disorder: I refer again to your deficient empathy, as a consequence of which you are actually incapable of feeling more than superficial, transient concern about, and remorse for, your hurtful impact on others.
It is possible that hurting others is a primary goal, but it’s also likely that hurting others is a byproduct of your primary aim (and pattern) of taking something from others that doesn’t belong to you.
In other words you may, or may not, intentionally seek to hurt others, but in either case your condition leaves you depleted of normal, inhibiting levels of compassion, sympathy and empathy towards others.
Your disorder has other essential features. The reason you can take from people, steal from them—their money, their dignity, sometimes their lives—and suffer so neglibly, if at all, from your abuse of them, is that you do not respect them.
Your condition fundamentally leaves you with a characterological disrespect of others.
You view the world as a competition ground for gratification. People around you are thus players in this metaphorical drama….players from whom your principal inclination is to take, cajole, exploit and manipulate whatever it is that will leave you, not them, in a more comfortable, satiated condition.
You feel that your gratification—your present security, status, satisfaction and entertainment—takes precedence over everyone else’s. Your gratification is simply more important than anything else.
In your mind, you are entitled to the gratification you seek—in whatever forms you presently seek it—even when it costs others a great deal of pain towards which, as we’ve established, you bring a disordered lack of empathy and concern.
This is a very twisted notion—specifically, the conviction that your gratification and its pursuit are virtually your inalienable right—a notion that supports the rationalizing of the chronic expression of your abusive, exploitive attitudes and behaviors towards others.
Finally, this make you an unrepentant boundary violator of others’ space.
I am willing to try and help you in some way, if I can, but as you may, or may not, know your disorder is notoriously unamenable to known treatments. But first I ask that you return to me the forty dollars we both know that you took from my desk drawer last week when I left you alone in my office for half a minute.
You did this once before, and because I had no proof, I could not be 100% certain you stole from me. But this time I counted my money before stepping out of my office, admittedly in case you stole from me again, allowing me proof of your theft.
And so I ask you to admit this when I see you next Tuesday, rather than play the foolish games that are often so indicative of your personality type.
Perhaps we can discuss this letter when I see you, or perhaps you took a quick look at it, laughed, and ripped it up. We will see.
Enjoy the rest of your week.
(This article is copyrighted (c) 2011 by Steve Becker, LCSW.)