To Dr Saltzman,
I have a friend who is very nice to me, mostly, but she also steals from me and lies about it, and she steals from others and lies about it, and she also lies about anything else for no reason at all. Then she makes me complicit in her deceptions. She used to hurt animals when we were younger, and she sometimes makes obscure, in-jokey remarks which make me suspect she still does (she likes in-jokes that only she gets). She enjoys hurting other people, emotionally and physically, and finds stories in the news about murder and violence amusing. She laughs when other people cry, she laughs when she's the one who made the other people cry, she laughs when she hurts people physically, she laughs at people when they say they feel guilty. She told one of our teachers that her father had been in a car crash the night before to excuse her not having done her homework, and cried in front of our class (he hadn't been). She's 16, I'm 18.
She tells me I'm her best friend, and she tells me she's learnt from me so much about being a better person. I thought that was just a compliment, but someone very recently pointed it out to me and I've started noticing it too: she mimics bits of my behaviour. It's nothing very big, but I have this habit of apologising all the time, and she does, too. The person who pointed it out also said we have the same way of bowing our heads to apologise, and the same way of stuttering our words when we're excited, and other things, just little things, but I don't remember her doing them when we first met. I'm starting to suspect she meant it literally when she said she'd learnt from me. I'm starting to feel paranoid around her, although I still want desperately to be her friend.
I realise that saying I want to be her friend after everything else I've said must make me sound stupid to you, but I really don't want to lose her friendship. She honestly is very nice to me, mostly, and when she's nice to me I feel like the greatest person ever.
But what I'm really asking is about the 'soulless' sociopath stare. I've read quite a bit about sociopaths, and lots of things mention this soulless stare. I don't really understand what that means, and I was wondering if you could try and describe it. My friend does have a stare on her - she hardly ever blinks, and stares at people's faces/heads when they talk - even if they're looking away, or have their back to her, or are doing something with their hands - and sometimes I look round and catch her staring at me, and I feel like she hates me. When I asked her why she stared at me like she hated me, she just laughed, and said I was imagining it.
She also goes for days without speaking to me, and then when I ask her why, what I've done to offend her, she just laughs and blames my imagination again. Sometimes, even if she is speaking to me, she'll sound so bored and toneless it's like she's speaking to someone she hardly knows, and doesn't like. I feel amazing when she pays me attention, and I feel crap, depressed, jealous when she doesn't, or she pays someone else attention.
I'm sorry - I've ended up diverging again. What I want to ask is, firstly, please can you describe the infamous stare? I want to know if my friend's is what is meant by the phrase, because hers is creepy and hating enough I feel it must be - but if so, does it make her 'soulless'? And if not, why do people use that phrase? Also: do you think my friend is a sociopath? She's my best friend, so I suppose a 'yes' won't make a difference to us, but I'm grateful for your opinion.
Thank you very much for wading through my email - I didn't mean for it to be so long! I'm really sorry it got so lengthy and I hope you can help -
Thank you very much for your time, Doctor,
You are most welcome.
You kept "diverging," as you put it, because the stare is not your real question, so you kept retuning to your real question which is how you can survive loving such a person. So let me take that one first, and then I will touch upon the "stare" detail.
Judging from your description, your amiga seems to be psychopathic and probably is. Be careful. People who feel no guilt are unfettered by normal constraints which depend on empathizing with others' suffering, and feeling guilty when they cause it, and so they find themselves completely free to manipulate others in any way they desire, including convincing them that a "friendship" exists, which really is not a friendship (a two-way street) but only a "I use you whenever I feel like it" one-way street. In other words, the so-called "friendship" exists only for the benefit of the psychopath who pretends friendly feelings, but never actually feels them in the way a non-psychopathic person would.
I have met neither you nor your so-called "best friend," and so cannot be certain that your "friendship" is only a bogus one, but what you have told me does not sound good at all. And, despite having written to a psychologist, you seem determined to remain blind to the psychological realities here. I am particularly worried by your statement that "I suppose a 'yes' won't make a difference to us." If your friend is a psychopath, Cally, there is no "us," there is only one person who knows how to mimic behaviors, feign emotions, and pretend friendship, in order to use the supposed friend for whatever purposes she desires, and another person who wants love and affection which the psychopath can never supply, but who will allow herself to be used and abused while imagining that her "friend" somehow will wake up, come to her senses, and change into an ordinary non-psychopathic human being. If this is the case, Cally, and you remain open to your "friend" (who isn't a friend) you will end up absolutely trashed. I have seen this many times, and the dr. robert forum contains numerous letters from people who have been victimized--or perhaps it is better to say have victimized themselves--by trying to love psychopaths--by definition people who were incapable of returning love--but who kept on trying to see the best in those they loved, and hoping that their love could help the beloved psychopath to wake up and change, until finally they were emotionally destroyed, which is the path you seem to be taking ("I still want desperately to be her friend").
warning given (and please take it to heart), let me reply to your
"stare" inquiry. Some psychopaths do have such a stare, but
others do not. I have known psychopaths who looked normal, attractive,
charming, and even sweet, and who had a perfect look and gaze.
As to your question about "soulessness": I know nothing about the so-called soul except as a metaphor, so I certainly cannot say if a psychopath has such a thing or not. But that is not the point. The heart of the matter is this: a psychopath only pretends to feel friendship while in reality she cares only for herself and her own agenda, and she will use and abuse anyone whomsoever in order to carry out that agenda. Love and the kind of friendship you desire are not possible for such a being—stare or not, soul or not. For such a person, any relationship is only a means to an end, and once you have served your purpose, you will be cast aside, perhaps terribly wounded, either emotionally, physically, or both. Watch out, Cally! You seem to be on a road to ruin.
To Dr Saltzman,
Thank you very much for your reply. I think that intellectually I know she is bad for me, but emotionally - well, we have been friends for three years and I just think that nobody could pretend to care for someone for so long if they truly didn't. I find myself thinking there must be some part of her, even if it's tiny, even if she won't acknowledge it, that actually likes me.
I'll try and distance myself but I hate it so much when she does it to me that I don't know if I can bring myself to do it back.
Thank you again, so much, for your very speedy, honest reply -
You say, "I just think that nobody could pretend to care for someone for so long if they truly didn't." Yes, that is exactly your problem. You just think something which is not true, and you seem determined to continue just thinking it, arguing against what should be obvious, even after hearing the opinion of a person who knows quite a bit about psychopathy, and even though your best intuitions have been crying out to you about your self-deception ("I'm starting to feel paranoid around her"). This is what we call denial, plain and simple.
Now, you say that, "nobody could pretend to care for someone for [three years] if they truly didn't." But that is totally and completely mistaken. Not being a psychopath, it would not be possible for you to do such a thing, nor would you ever want to even if you could. But your girlfriend is not you, and you are not she. Instead of recognizing this girl for what she is (an animal-abusing, people-abusing, pain-causing, nasty, thieving liar--I am getting this all from your first letter), and admitting to yourself what you see, you project your own tendencies onto your "friend" and imagine that since you could not pretend friendship for three years, such a thing would not be possible for her either. But pretending friendly feelings (or any other feelings) for years if necessary is exactly what is possible for a psychopath. The power to deceive without guilt or shame is part of what defines such people as psychopathic. A psychopath doesn't give a damn for anyone but herself, and may have learned precisely to imitate the feelings, facial expressions, and behaviors of non-psychopaths ("she mimics bits of my behaviour") just so as to be able to manipulate them.
In fact, it is even worse than that. Not only will the psychopath feign real emotions which she has learned to mimic by watching what non-psychopaths say and do, but the psychopath will congratulate herself on her cleverness in so easily pulling the wool over your eyes, while, at the same time, depreciating you for your stupidity in being so easily fooled.
Cally, you took the time to write to me, and I have taken the time to reply. Please wake up and let this person go before you are hurt any more than you have been hurt already. If necessary, read this over every day until it sinks in. Then act on it.
Thank you. I read the sentence "Instead of recognizing this girl for what she is (an animal-abusing, people-abusing, pain-causing, nasty, thieving liar--I am getting this all from your first letter)" and got this very horrible feeling in my stomach. You're right: that's what she is, I even said that's what she is, but I've somehow justified it to myself and forgotten what it actually means. Maybe it's her bad influence: she justifies everything to herself so well that I find myself agreeing with her when she does things I know are wrong. Or maybe I just don't want to admit it.
I think I'm going to take your advice, and read your answers over and over. I can't tell whether that feeling of revulsion is aimed at me or her, but if I can make myself feel it just by thinking about her then I'll have to cut myself off from her, sooner or later. I've made myself stop doing things before by associating horrible thoughts with them, so I'll just make myself Pavlov's dog again.
Thank you so much, Doctor -