Reviewed by Joyce Alexander, RNP (retired)
Cold-Blooded Kindness: Neuroquirks of a Codependent Killer, or Just Give Me a Shot at Loving You, Dear, and Other Reflections on Helping That Hurts is the tongue-in-cheek title of this book by Barbara Oakley, with a foreword by David Sloan Wilson. It belies the serious research and investigation done by this remarkable, highly educated and acclaimed woman.
Oakley is associate professor of engineering at Oakland University in Michigan, and her work focuses mainly on the complex relationship between neurocircuitry and social behavior. The list of her varied experiences reads like fiction … she worked for several years as a Russian language translator on Soviet fishing trawlers in the Bearing Sea during the height of the Cold War. She met her husband while working as a radio operator at the South Pole station in Antarctica. She went from private to Regular Army captain in the U.S. military, and is also a fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering.
In Cold-Blooded Kindness, along with a project called Pathological Altruism (forthcoming book by the same name this year), Oakley was investigating if altruism could be taken to the extreme and become pathological and harmful.
Some “researchers” have, for what they thought was the “greater good,” slanted their research to show what they believed was an altruistic motive. For example, many people have heard about the “battered woman syndrome,” and how it is now incorporated into laws in many states as a mitigating factor in cases where women wound or kill the men who have battered (or supposedly battered) them. What isn’t known, though, is that the “research” into this “syndrome” was badly flawed. The researcher was a woman who was so intent on doing the “greater good” of protecting abused women, that her altruism caused her to slant her studies, and anyone who pointed out that her research was suspect, was in fact, “blaming the victim,” and therefore, evil.
Oakley points out that she started to seek out a person who appeared to be altruistic to the point that it became harmful, but her own research led her to see the situation differently than she had planned.
She started investigating a Utah woman and artist named Carole Alden, who had “been abused” and had killed that abusive husband, Marty Sessions. But the book really isn’t so much about Alden murdering Sessions, for which she ended up in prison, but about how Carole Alden, though presenting herself as the ultimate altruist (rescuing animals and people), was instead, the ultimate abuser.
The examination of the human brain, and the social interactions of children, and the development of empathy and altruism in children, are explored. Both the social and the genetic aspects of these are gone into in depth.
Oakley explores “co-dependency” and “enabling” behaviors and calls for more actual research into these areas, especially concerning possible sex hormone links and to genetics. She also points out while little, if any, real research has been done on “battered women syndrome,” and it is not accepted in the DSM-IV, it is accepted in many state statutes.
Oakley never comes out and actually says Carole Alden is a psychopath (though the word is used and described in the book itself), but Oakley’s book describes Carole Alden’s behavior relative to the Psychopathic Check List-Revised. It shows that while Carole presented herself to others as a victim of circumstances, and as altruistic to the nth degree, she was, in fact, a controlling, manipulative, using, abusing, pathological liar, who took in dozens, if not hundreds, of stray animals. She cared for them poorly in most cases, but better than she cared for her own children.
It is also possible that Carole is a serial killer, as there are two other deaths of men she was involved with that were “suspicious” in their very nature.
When Oakley was corresponding with Carole Alden, she was convinced by the letters that Carole Alden was the personality she was seeking for her thesis of “altruism gone too far,” and that Carole was indeed the victim of this. Upon meeting Carole though, in prison, Oakley began to see the real situation. When she investigated the family, the crime, the real history of Carole Alden, not just the self-serving tales of how everyone abused her, Oakley began to see the malignancy. Carole changed her story, came to believe her own lies, and slanted all aspects of “truth,” even in the face of evidence to the contrary.
Not only is this a history of one pathological woman who murdered one man and possibly more, and who abused and neglected her children, it is about the personality disordered in general who present themselves as victims, when in fact, they are at best—co-victims/co-abusers with their partners.
Oakley is not “blaming” legitimate victim, but seeking to find the common thread in some partners (women and men) who participate to one degree or another with the abuse they endure. She is seeking a way to educate and warn these people so that the abuse can be prevented.
While Carole Alden took in a series of ex-convict men, who were addicts, to “cure” and “fix” them, which appeared to be altruistic in nature, in fact, it was anything but altruistic. It supplied Carole with her “professional victim” and “professional altruistic” persona that she was seeking to establish. What caused this in Carole, when her parents and other siblings were apparently normal and highly functioning members of society?
I tend to underline and highlight important passages in my books as I read, and I finally gave up trying with this book, as the first 100 pages are almost all day-glow yellow.
This is a highly readable book, and I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of one of Oakley’s previous books. I will also be one of the first in line to buy her upcoming one Pathological Altruism. I highly recommend that anyone who is seriously trying to figure out how we (former victims) are alike, and how the fake altruism of some psychopaths works, read this book.
Cold-Blooded Kindness on Amazon.com