Dear Dr. Saltzman,
You get a lot of sociopathic-related questions I'm sure, but I need help on this one. I am 14 years old. I do not wish to tell you my name for fear of compromising my identity to my parents if you choose to publish this letter.
It is hard to tell you about myself and my personality via the internet; you would have to interview me. I can tell you about things I have noticed about myself over the course of my (short span of) life.
I have come to you for help, not in the sense that I need a proper diagnosis, but I want to be like other people without the lies and without the emptiness. I feel no guilt. I lie with ease. I rarely, if ever, feel anything. The only things I feel are anger and a great sexual attraction to pain, torture, and suffering. I'm assuming that most people would find this quite disturbing, shocking and horrifying, and it is not normal.
I am not a fool. I've done my research. I get good grades at school, though I rarely, if ever, actually try. I only complete my schoolwork to ensure I keep away from the consequences of not competing assignments, which include getting expelled.
I'm sorry I am rambling, but I need you to know so you can understand what I am trying to ask. My question is: How do I avoid hurting other people? How can I try and change?
Despite trying, I cannot feel for others. I have tried, but its like been stuck behind a concrete wall. I've come to understand that there is no real hope for me to completely change. But I would like to avoid hurting others for my own pleasure.
Please, help me in some way. Don't hold back at all. I need your expertise in this matter. I might be 14, but I can take whatever you throw at me. Just keep the jargon low and I'll take everything you say onboard.
Thank you for taking the time to read and respond,
I will try to reply if you will write a bit more about why you desire to avoid hurting people.
Honestly, I want to hurt people more than I don't want to. Its kind of like an addiction, only I haven't actually done it yet. I guess you could call it a craving more than anything else.
Still, there is a small part of me that desires to try and change. I don't have feelings of guilt over what I do or what I hope to do, but I feel like I want to change. Even though I am not like others I don't see myself as evil, and I am not completely proud of who I am.
This change, I know, will be for the betterment of everyone around me. Although I desire to hurt, I exercise my self-control to avoid hurting others as best I can. It is extremely hard for me to explain because, there is no emotion behind it, only rationality. Even that is fleeting also.
I really want to do everyone, including my self, a favour by trying to change who I am. Even if only a little to stop myself from hurting others.
Thank you for your speedy response the last time, hope this shines a bit more light on what I'm trying to say.
OK. But in order to give you a reply which might really be informative I need to know what you mean when you say:
"I really want to do everyone, including my self, a favour"
I can understanding your wanting to do yourself a favour, but why anyone else?
I do understand that this might be hard to put your finger on and/or hard to express in words, but give it a shot.
Thanks for understanding how hard it is to explain. It doesn't help that I am suffering from a sinus headache at the moment, but I'll try and word it as best as possible.
I don't want to harm people subconsciously, but consciously I do. For example, I see an attractive woman walking down the street who catches my fancy. Often I will be subject to fantasies of doing horrible things to her for my own enjoyment. But, a part of me, even though small, exercises some control over whether I would actually do that to her. I fear that this may soon have little control over my actions and I will act on these fantasies.
As for doing everyone else a favour, I just don't want to hurt them because I am not as human as the next person. It is very hard to explain, because I don't feel the emotion that others would but I know that my actions are wrong. This is through observation, self-contemplation and self-control throughout my life. Although young I spend a lot of time actually thinking about my actions, who I am and what I am doing here.
I hope that this clears up a few things. Just to clarify, what I am trying to ask is:
How can I become more human and avoid hurting other people?
Thanks for all the help.
Dear [name withheld]--
As you know by now, the dr-robert forum has a link to your question, and one of the contributors there, a man called Daniel Birdick, has written a reply to you. He took this on after I offered to publish on my website any useful reply from a contributor to the forum with full credit to the writer. I think Daniel's response to my offer is well worth sharing with you, so here it is:
you for your kind words. I'm going to go ahead and take a stab at
responding to the question from the "young psychopath", as
surely you knew I would when you appealed to my vanity, you sly devil
you. ;-) You'll notice that my response does not include anything
you've said about the non-existence of free will. Although I am in
complete agreement with your thoughts on the subject, in the end, I
don't know how practical it is. I have had some, shall we say,
interesting epiphanies which lead me to believe that the self as it
is normally understood, (and thus free will) are fantasies. But I
also saw that there was nothing to be done about it after you see a
"truth" like that yourself. I just had to get on with it,
know what I mean? As they say in Zen, "Before enlightenment,
chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water."
I think you get what I'm saying.
And now, without further ado:
Dear Young Psychopath,
First of all, I am hesitant to call you a psychopath. A lot of people believe it it's not a good idea to label someone as young as you are that way for a variety of reasons. Also, I'm leery of using labels like sociopath and psychopath as descriptors because I think that outside of strictly clinical settings, they can be more confusing than helpful. You have to be particularly discerning to determine how useful these labels are on your own journey towards greater self understanding. Having said all of that, we are guests at Dr. Robert's site, and since for his own reasons he makes use of the term psychopath to describe people with little to no conscience, we will just go with it for conversational purposes and call it a day.
You sound like an intelligent and self aware young man. I've always been intelligent myself and I've known for as long as I could remember that I've been "different", but I didn't know how or why I was different when I was your age. Also, you are brave to ask for the unvarnished truth. I know people three times your age who "can't handle the truth" about almost anything. I could be wrong, but I think you may be underestimating yourself. You are far stronger than you think you are.
And now to get to your main question which was how to become "more human" and avoid hurting people. Let me ask you this. Have you hurt any animals yet? If you have, I'd say you definitely have reason to worry about possibly "moving up" to harming a human animal. Let me give you a warning. Once you have experienced sexual release as a result of killing an animal, it would probably only be a matter of time before you felt compelled to up the ante by taking a human life. I imagine (since I've never done this myself) that it's akin to trapping yourself in an obsessive loop of needing more and more sadistic pleasure. It would be like becoming an addict. Addicts have given their personal power away to their need to obtain their next fix. That is what you'd become. You would be no better than a crack wh~re. You are insightful. Surely you can see that giving in to the desire to physically hurt an animal, even once, greatly increases the likelihood that you will become a slave to your impulses, which would in turn make you weak, vulnerable and powerless. You also greatly increase the likelihood of spending your life in prison. All of which is why you must never kill an animal if you wish to maintain your autonomy, both personally as well as socially. If you haven't harmed an animal, then I'd say you've been successful in reigning in your more destructive impulses. Keep doing what you're doing.
I'd also add, since you seem to be concerned about becoming a serial killer (because that's what this is about, isn't it?) that you practice some kind of what I call down and dirty cognitive therapy on yourself. It requires vigilance, but you sound capable of it. By cognitive therapy, I simply mean that you watch for "triggers", events in your environment that are like an invitation to certain parts of your brain to generate thoughts that in turn lead to sadistic fantasies. If you haven't tried this already, you might want to start off with just noticing those thoughts as they appear in your mind. Don't resist them or argue with them in any way. But don't act on them either. Just take notice. Watch them as they appear and watch as they disappear within your consciousness. The act of merely observing the sadistic thoughts will detach you from them. This detachment will return your internal power back to you as you realize that you are not merely your thoughts or your fantasies. (What I've just suggested is a meditative technique of sorts. Trying meditation itself might be something you can look into as well.) Next, if you feel this is wise or safe, try writing down or typing some of the specific thoughts surrounding your desire to harm others. After doing that, question the truthfulness of those thoughts. For example, say you write down a thought like, "Killing that woman would give me great ecstasy and bliss." After writing that thought down, ask yourself if it's true. Is it true that killing that woman would give you ecstasy? If your mind says yes, continue to challenge it with questions like these: Are you sure? How long would the ecstasy last, realistically speaking? What happens after the "thrill is gone?" What happens to you after you have to pick the pieces and clean up your mess? What would acting on your impulse to kill make you and do you really want to be that? Would killing that woman be in your long term best interests? And so on. In a sense, the idea is to cross examine yourself. Then you could try following the thought you have just questioned with more productive ones, like "Killing that woman might lead to all sorts of consequences that I do not wish to experience." Perhaps you might even take a few moments to visualize what those consequences might be like for you. And if none of the above resonates with you, use it as a means of spurring on your own research into various ways you can perform what I call mental hygiene, which is nothing more than a cutesy label for thought regulation.
Another option is to develop an ethical code that you will adhere to no matter what. Granted, it might be harder for you if you have no strong innate moral emotion, but if you're truly afraid of what you might do, then strictly following a code of ethics as a behavior management technique can't hurt. I am not the best one to advise anyone on ethics mind you, but it could work in your case.
Yet another option is telling your parents the truth and asking them to get you professional help, especially if you think you really are on the verge of doing something you'll regret. Obsession thrives in the dark of secrecy after all.
Also, consider the possibility that this is just a phase. You might resent the idea of some anonymous adult suggesting that to you. But, as a smart and self aware young man, surely you understand that it might be true nevertheless. Perhaps your sadistic desires will level off with time. There is such a thing as simply "growing out of" something.
Finally, a few thoughts about striving for normality. First, you can never be like other people, whether you're a psychopath or not. You can only be yourself and that is definitely a good thing. Believe me, "being normal" is not a worthy aspiration in any event. That is something that a little casual observation will make abundantly clear to you, if it hasn't already. I don't even know if such a place called "normal" exists anyway. Second, although being relatively conscienceless does indeed separate you from most people, you would be surprised to discover that many so called normal folk feel alien also. A lot people your age in particular have felt alienated from their peers in one way or the other. You can take some solace in that. What normal folk call growing up so often really means learning to become comfortable wearing a mask in order to blend in with other inauthentic mask wearers. As you will see for yourself, it's all absurd, hence the widespread sense of alienation. Third, if by "becoming more human" you mean something like developing a conscience where none currently exists or enabling yourself to experience deep and complex emotions in the way that other people appear to, then I'm afraid you're out of luck. If you are telling the truth about all of this, then I would advise you to accept that you will not change. You are not going to grow a conscience if you haven't grown one by now and because of that, you will always be apart. You will live and die knowing that you were not quite human, at least not as "being human" is popularly defined. But if you can accept this now, you will save yourself loads of confusion and hassle later. Resisting what you are might in fact make what you're resisting stronger. As the cliché goes, what you resist persists. Accept yourself as you are and then learn to manage your thoughts and behavior. That's my advice. And again, judging by the tone and quality of your email, I'd say that you have an excellent chance of refraining from doing other people bodily harm and of playing the role of productive adult, only as you define productive.