This week I have been reading Jon Ronson’s book The Psychopath Test. It’s been on my list of ‘must reads’ since it came out earlier this year, and just a couple of days ago I downloaded it on to my Kindle. I finished it within 24hours.
Jon Ronson is a British journalist who, among many other things, wrote the film Men Who Stare At Goats, which was made in to a movie starring George Clooney and Ewan McGregor. Jon interviewed my friend Mary Turner Thomson (author of “The Bigamist” detailing her marriage to the sociopath Will Jordan) and became fascinated with the subject of psychopaths. He subsequently attended Dr Robert Hare’s training programme to understand the PCL-R checklist that many of us on this site are only too familiar with. Ronson’s book explores the diagnostic methods for identifying personality disorders and details his own experiences interviewing people who scored highly on Dr Hare’s checklist scale. It’s a fascinating read – no surprises for those of us who have been there and seen it – and I am just glad that he has provided us with another resource that can be added to the list of useful educational tools.
I am delighted to tell you that I will be attending that very same course next week. I am hugely excited about the prospect and am very much looking forward to meeting Dr Hare himself so that I can thank him for helping me in my personal journey to reclaim my life while (just!) keeping my sanity. This is why I have once again been devouring further material on the subject. And this is how, on Dr Hare’s website, I came across a fascinating new film that explores psychopathy. It was released on 11th September this year and is called Fishead.
Fishead – The Movie
There is an ancient Chinese saying that says a fish rots and stinks from the head, which is how the makers of this movie settled on the name. It relates to the heads of industry, as well as to the human brain – which is arguably rotten in the case of psychopaths. The film explores the idea that our society is being progressively more controlled by sociopaths, as well as the suggestion that our increased use of medications such as anti-depressants is contributing to a manufactured set of psychopathic traits. Decreased empathy and reduction of emotional responses are, of course, side-effects of drugs that are designed to numb emotional pain – although I must say I had never thought about it in the way that the film portrays. If you are interested in exploring the movie and its makers, you’ll find all the details at www. www.fisheadmovie.com The film is free to watch, you just send off to them for a password.
So, anyway, all this additional material has been sparking new thoughts and prodding at old ones as well. And I am reminded of the expression “walking the talk”. Yes, it may be said that it’s now a well-worn cliché, and, for me it is still a short accurate description of authenticity. I myself know full well when I am walking my talk – and over recent years, it has been that approach that has pulled me through some of the darkest periods of my life!
As I am now re-exploring the workings of antisocioal personality disorders, it struck me that the sociopath can only ever talk the walk. They can never, I repeat never, walk the talk in the way that you and I can. I’ve heard other phrases like “they know the words and not the music” and the idea that “they can only dream in black and white” – but to me, now, when I think of “talking the walk” it describes my own experiences absolutely to a tee.
Just last week I met up with a client I am now proud to call my friend. This lady came to the conclusion that she could no longer thrive in the company where I met and have been working with her. Describing the place as “somewhere that seeks out and silences of gets rid of people who care” she has now moved on to another company that communicates authenticity at a human soul level. Not through some well thought out set of words that purport to describe the company values. Not through a carefully crafted website. Not through flashy promises of a golden career. Not even through white-teethed hand-shakes and a swanky dinner to seal the deal.
No, this company has actually been walking the talk. My client (I’ll call her Sarah) has already experienced the heartache and frustration of working within an organization that says one thing and does another. She knows first hand what it feels like to be encouraged to stand up and stand out, and then be shot down for having an opinion. She knows the debilitating confusion of being undermined, undervalued and pushed to the limit – for me, it’s just a shame that she had to experience that in order to fully appreciate the difference. The good thing is, though, that from now on she will settle for nothing less than an environment where she is valued and can make a difference. Never again will she allow herself to be belittled or underestimated. I absolutely believe her, and I’m glad.
“Do you know what Mel?” she grinned after telling me a particularly shocking account of a senior director’s inability to demonstrate compassion for his team “this new bunch wanted to know my birthday just so that it could be marked off as a holiday – on top of the usual holiday allowances!”
It doesn’t take much to help a person feel motivated. It takes a whole heap more to knock a person down. And it can take a huge amount more until we are prepared to move on and walk away.
People like you and me, you see, will automatically judge other people by the same set of values and behaviours that are naturally to us. Like us, people by nature tend to be forgiving “Oh, that’s ok, it’s just the way s/he is sometimes. It’s no big deal!” we might say when somebody does something that is upsetting to us or to others. “S/he’ll get over it, let’s just give them a chance!” And this is how the deliberate manipulator continues to win their games. This is how they keep on going, parasitically sucking the lifeblood from people (and organizations) just to fuel their personal whim – whatever that may be at the time. And because we naturally judge others by how we are ourselves, we cannot begin to comprehend that somebody else is playing by a whole different set of rules.
The sociopath may be an expert at mimicking and manipulation, but s/he will never ever have the same richness of experiences that we can enjoy on a daily basis. They will never know what it feels like, what it really feels like to fall in love for example. To feel genuine friendship and connection with another human being. To experience joy, fear, sadness, peace, excitement and the myriad of other emotions that are at our disposal.
They may well think they are clever. I’m sure they think that they have one over on us because they can talk the walk to such a professional degree that they continue to control their willing targets. But you know what? Once we know what we’re dealing with, once we recognize the subtle gaps in their shows of emotion and understanding, then they have lost their power.
Yes, it’s a living nightmare working through the pain and confusion that is the aftermath of a sociopath’s influences. But you know what? So far as I’m concerned, I’d walk my talk a million times over rather than be doomed to the sociopath’s empty existence of gray numbness. And the more people who experience that void – through work, relationships, family, friends, or the growing educational resources – the more of us can join together and make a stand against these empty souls.
I don’t doubt there’s a battle ahead. And at the same time I am filled with confidence that together we can make a difference. I’m ready, and looking forward to exploring opportunities to increase our army. I’ll let you know how I get on with Dr Hare…