Psychopath Opens Up On What It's Like To Live With Psychopathy
| Last updated
“I always felt different, but I didn't even think the word sociopath applied to me until law school,” says author M.E. Thomas.
“I was an intern, talking freely to the person that I shared an office with. She just stopped me and said: ‘You may want to consider the possibility that you're a sociopath.’”
A psychological examination found Thomas actually embodied the prototypical psychopathic personality, and displayed many of the traits of what professionals now refer to as an antisocial personality disorder.
Even post-therapy, she still can’t keep knives in the house. Has she thought about killing people?
“Yes, but it doesn’t benefit my life so I’ve never acted on it.”
Psychopathy, however, is nuanced and widely misunderstood. Thomas dispels some of the misconceptions in her book, Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding In Plain Sight, and through her YouTube channel, which you can watch a clip from below:
The personality traits Thomas was diagnosed with include lack of empathy, a ruthless and calculating attitude towards social and interpersonal relationships and a relative immunity to negative emotions. Most notable were pronounced levels of egocentrism and sensation-seeking behaviours, interpersonal dominance, verbal aggression and excessive self-esteem.
You might assume this means Thomas, like all of those who rate high on the psychopathy scale, has an inflated ego – and if anyone threatens this sense of self, she’ll lash out. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. “All personality disorders have some sort of problem or issue with identity,” explains Thomas.
“I think a sociopath is, for the most part, just a very weak sense of self. That's why you're a chameleon. That's why you're so charming. That's why you lie and manipulate. That's why you have no connection to your own emotions.
“You don't feel guilt because you don't feel anything. You're just so disconnected from any kind of context that would come from having a sense of self.”
This applies to the lack of empathy too – if you don’t have these emotions for yourself, how could you expect to feel them for others? Obviously there are upsides to this. Thomas laughs: “Have you ever heard of the term butthurt (overly or unjustifiably offended or resentful)? Yeah, well I don’t experience that.
“Because I don’t have a connection to my identity, I don’t have an ego to hurt so I have zero insecurities. Imagine how useful that superpower was in high school.”
The traditional idea of a ‘psycho’ might throw up a Patrick Bateman-like figure; an incurable criminal, only suitable for a life behind bars.
But psychopaths actually make up around 1% of the population, perhaps even more. You probably walked past one today – hell, you may even be in a relationship with one.
And while there’s a proportionally higher rate of psychopaths in prison than there are so-called regular people, many of them go on to live normal, productive and fulfilling lives – but the journey to this point isn’t always straightforward.
After some brief research following her colleague’s comment, Thomas admits she didn’t revisit the topic until her life fell apart at the seams. Amid the loss of relationships and yet another high-profile job, she was driven to confront her condition – a pattern of thought and behaviours at the root of her problems.
Now, Thomas lives what society considers to be a normal life. She’s an accomplished attorney and law professor, enjoys dates with her partner, carries out errands at the weekend and donates a significant portion of her income to charity.
She has a close circle of friends and relatives who she loves and who love her back. Perhaps most surprising is that Thomas is a Mormon, something she says gives her ‘moral guidance’.
In her book, Thomas describes having a ‘predator stare’, which is typically associated with those who have the disorder. The average person’s blink rate increases when they are in a stressful situation, and since psychopaths don’t do fear or worry, they blink noticeably less.
“They’re pretty much capable of anything,” she says. “So if you need them to do something for you – you need to move to another country for your job – they’ll do it.”
They’re also great in crisis situations due to the lack of emotionally-driven decisions, hence why psychopaths make great medical professionals, firefighters and soldiers.
On the flipside of this, where most people would avoid potentially dangerous or traumatic experiences, Thomas takes big risks, sometimes at the cost of her own safety.
“That's why I don't use knives; the risk of injury never sinks in,” she says. “I have to use plastic ones.”
Prior to therapy, Thomas saw these relationships in a transactional way and they suffered as a result.
An example in her book involves a close friend whose dad was diagnosed with cancer. Thomas wrote about how she felt ‘exhausted trying to accommodate her’ and so ‘decided to cut all contact’, only to eventually miss her later down the line.
It’s for this reason romantic relationships with a psychopath can be a struggle, as they are free from remorse and full of manipulation.
“Before I went into therapy, love was kind of like novelty-seeking,” explains Thomas. “I’ve met a lot of sociopaths, and one trait that seems to be universal is that we all experience very high degrees of boredom, often accompanied by a sense of emptiness.
“In romantic relationships, the novelty and excitement of being with someone new is like going up a level in a video game. It engages you and temporarily takes away that sense of boredom, but you never really do feel that connection.”
When everything came to a head in Thomas’s life and she grew tired of the broken relationships and the meaningless behind it all, she decided to revisit her friend’s casual diagnosis that she may be a sociopath.
After conducting research into the matter, however, Thomas was shocked by the level of bias present in scientific analysis and mass media.
Being a psychopath is not what defines an individual, and she believes it can be treated – depending on the circumstances.
From her observations, Thomas believes that a psychopath’s actions are heavily influenced by their surroundings.
“When babies are first developing, at around age two they start to form this very small version of an identity. And I just think that this probably got disrupted in my family,” she says.
“Although he was never diagnosed, I think my father was a narcissist. Narcissism is a personality disorder where people see others as an extension of themselves, so my personal boundaries were not respected by him.
“If there’s a psychopath, there’s a pretty good chance they have a narcissistic parent as it’s the perfect recipe for the disorder to develop – the child gets their identity violated so many times that as a small child they detach from it entirely.”
Since seeking therapy, Thomas has learned to develop an inner world and a sense of self, and as a result she respects the boundaries of the individuals in her life.
Alongside the work she’s done on herself, Thomas continues to help other psychopaths who want to change through her blog Sociopath World, a place for people with the disorder to connect.
When asked whether she would ever manipulate someone again, Thomas concludes: “I stay away from it. I understand now how beautiful identity is.
“Having lived a life without it, I cherish that now and would never do anything to violate someone’s personhood.”
Featured Image Credit: Supplied
Topics: Mental Health, News