Sociopaths, insight meditation, emotional intelligence, and emotion regulation
April 7, 2018 at 3:55 pm #8644
If Athena Walker and Natalie Engelbrecht are broadly correct, then a sociopath is someone who’s been through an extended period of trauma at a formative age and not developed emotionally as they should normally. I believe this means that for a sociopath, emotions are too traumatic and confusing to deal with consciously, and so they either believe they don’t have emotions at all, or they cannot express their emotions in a healthy way (leading to either overt or passive aggression).
ME Thomas says in “Confessions of a Sociopath“:
research has shown that sociopathic brains have a lower number of connections between the prefrontal cortex (which helps regulate emotions, processes threats, and facilitates decision making) and the amygdala (which processes emotions), which could explain why sociopaths do not feel sufficient negative emotions when doing something antisocial.
but I don’t believe that all sociopaths are necessarily antisocial – just pissed off or traumatised, and consequently have a hard time with their emotions.
Other research has shown that the way to connect the amygdala (reaction) with the prefrontal cortex (conscious evaluation) is to bring the emotions into consciousness.
The way to do it is emotional observing, acknowledging, labelling and describing with words, and by far the most effective circumstances for this is under a state of calm meditation (sitting still, eyes closed, concentrating on breath and bodily sensations). This connects emotions with logical conscious awareness.
This may be traumatic for some people, and need to be done in small stages, before backing off and switching attention back to the breath/body, or to the Compassion Meditation, which is an antidote to bad feelings.
We attend to what is relevant to our goals, and we have emotions about what is relevant to our goals. In other words, attention and emotions are about the same things – that which is relevant to our goals. So, in a state of calm meditation, we can examine what is in our attention, and see what goal it is relevant to, and examine the accompanying emotions and their qualities, the primary one being its positive/negative valence. This is part of insight meditation or Vipassana.
This emotional intelligence then enables us to recognise the emotions of others.
What if someone’s default goal is to avoid their emotions?
What if someone’s attention is on something “false” – a Red Herring? This is an ego defense, and the ego can be led away from the red herring to the truth. Again, care needs to be taken in this circumstance.
Psychopaths lack empathy – they have a blunted emotional repertoire, and therefore find it hard to recognise others’ emotions.
Narcissists lack empathy – they lack empathic concern, and just don’t see, or care about, others’ needs.
It must be possible to be both a narcissist and a sociopath, or an empath and a sociopath (like me!). A psychopath and a sociopath? This seems less likely.
Penny Spikins says in “How Compassion Made Us Human – the evolutionary origins of tenderness, trust & morality”:
… language helps us to be aware of our feelings, bringing them into rational thought. If we don’t have a chance for our feelings to be understood as a child, something called validation, as an adult we will tend to react impulsively. Research has shown that people involved in violent fights often can’t put their feelings into words; anger makes them hit out where the act of bringing feelings into thought through the use of words would tame angry impulses. We don’t just depend on those around us to learn language to communicate practical things as we grow up, we depend on them to help us use it to tame our emotions, to exercise self- control.April 8, 2018 at 6:11 pm #8651
@simonpaynton, “What if someone’s default goal is to avoid their emotions?” I spent years, maybe decades, doing just that. Sometimes, I think it’s necessary to do what has to be done. Then it becomes a way of life. Return of emotions can be like an earthquake – not easy. Been there, too.
I read about 2 types of empathy. There are probably more. One, is not being able to feel what other people feel. In other words, you know someone suffers, and are not moved by it. Or you know someone is filled with joy, and are not moved by that. The other type of empathy involves a “theory of mind” – the ability to read social cues from face, body language, and intonation, and understand a person’s emotional state from those cues. From the link, “Theory of mind is crucial for everyday social interactions and is used when analyzing, judging, and inferring others’ behaviors.” People with autism are often thought to have no empathy, in the sense of having an impaired theory of mind, can’t empathize because can’t read the emotion. For me, if I see someone is suffering, person or animal, I feel it almost as if it was me. If I see someone as full of joy, person or animal, I feel that as if it was me. But I am so bad at reading social cues, I misread people’s emotions, their intent, or their motivations, so some people regard me as not having empathy.
I’ve let off meditation as the “winter of my discontent” passed and the tincture of time either healed the wounds, or sealed them over. I need to start doing that again. I don’t know “Insight meditation” but I do know that I feel better when I’m conscientious about mindfulness meditation. With better weather, my gardening is sort of like mindfulness meditation – I become lost in the repetitive movements, concentration on simple, purposeful effort, solitude, and natural surroundings, sounds, smells, and feeling.April 8, 2018 at 10:09 pm #8655
There is an article on the subject here.
The sympathy you describe has primitive roots as “emotional contagion”, such as when a dog sees other dogs playing and is instantly filled with joy and joins in the playing, or a single bird scares a whole flock into flying away.
Do you think that not having emotional empathy (reading and understanding people’s emotions) is because of having Asbergers?
Have you read “Confessions of a Sociopath“? I believe that the author, ME Thomas, has Asbergers, but she doesn’t know it.
Insight meditation means, in a calm state, to examine and describe the objects of attention: bodily sensations, thoughts, emotions etc. Emotions can be further analysed in terms of the object causing it, and the goal to which the object is relevant: has meaning. For example, the sun makes me happy because it helps me to achieve my goals of having sunshine and warmth.
How do you experience your own emotions? Do you feel emotions strongly?
April 9, 2018 at 2:35 am #8657
- This reply was modified 8 months, 1 week ago by Simon Paynton.
It might be the other way around – the Aspergers is due to inability to read social cues, among other things. What you describe as emotionsl contagion is very strong for me.
I feel emotions very strongly but try not to express them, so I appear very stoic. People sometimes view me as Spock when, inside, I’m really Kirk or McCoy. I try not to be too happy because I know a letdown will be difficult. I become very attached to some people, which can be a problem. That nearly destroyed a relationship for me this winter. If I like someone, I really like them. If I dislike someone, I really, really dislike them. That is a problem, too. I know that milder emotions are healthier. Like many if not most Aspies, social anxiety can be a big challenge. I’m very introverted. But I have focus and skills that made me very successful in science and technical matters.
I do need to get back to meditation. Im doing well, but I think it builds psychological resilience.
April 9, 2018 at 7:34 am #8659
- This reply was modified 8 months, 1 week ago by Daniel W..
It sounds difficult having Aspergers, as if it cuts you off from people, and this leads to stormy emotions.
“inability to read social cues”
– do you find that this has got easier with experience, as you’ve got older?April 9, 2018 at 10:29 am #8662
Insight meditation means, in a calm state, to examine and describe the objects of attention: bodily sensations, thoughts, emotions etc. Emotions can be further analysed in terms of the object causing it, and the goal to which the object is relevant: has meaning.
Anything that enters the attention of its own accord can be analysed in this way – the object itself, and the goal to which it is relevant.April 9, 2018 at 3:01 pm #8671
@simonpaynton As I got older, I found a better fitting niche in life. I accepted there are situations that take a toll, and try to work around or more effectively avoid those. I do not find it easier to read people’s intentions. I still can’t process an effective theory of mind. The difference with aging is, I no longer expect to accurately read people. That can lead to being taken advantage of or manipulated, so I limit interactions. I avoid salespeople. If someone is too nice or smiles too much, or is too friendly, that is a red flag, even though I know it might be sincere. In person, I’m socially awkward. On-line interactions are sometimes better than face to face. I text when something is simple, to keep it simple. I avoid telephone whenever possible, because I can’t tell from conversational cues when to interject or say something or stop. As a result, the person on the othe end blathers on an on, and I become annoyed and stop listening. I did take communication classes, regarding body language, posture, and active listening, but the benefits were not obvious to me. I had big communication failures in my closest relationships. I think telling lies might be part of normal human interactions, but I’m so bad at it, I don’t do it. That can lead to challenges too, such as when I started having a sexual affair, which continues 10 months later, but it is what it is.
You would think these things would have limited me employment-wise, but I was successful until cancer forced my retirement, and even there I have a good pension and medical benefit.
It was a series of personal losses that led me to more fully accept my limitations, which includes not being as self conscious or apologetic about avoiding situations that cause problems. I am also more accepting of communication disconnects with others. I am getting a new dog, soon, because I find the reciprocal empathy / emotional contageon more comfortable than that with people. I read more about communication, but it’s a challenge.
Regardless, it seems like insight medication would be a good thing for anyone.April 9, 2018 at 3:24 pm #8678
Somewhere, I read that narcissism is one neurological step away from high functioning autism. I don’t know if there was a physiological explanation for that, or if it was just someone’s idea. That is not to say that autism has a correlation with narcissism – it doesn’t – but rather, they are both part of neurodiversity.
What I like about the idea of a neurological or physioloigical explanation, is that it takes away some of the idea of “character flaw”, which doesn’t seem to help find a place for people to fit into society or find appropriate roles for their unique traits, and gives is a functional basis to work with. I don’t know what that functional basis can lead to, but it seems like something better than just judging people.April 9, 2018 at 4:20 pm #8679
Somewhere, I read that narcissism is one neurological step away from high functioning autism
Is narcisism (a mental condition/trait) so related to having (or almost having) high functioning autism (intelligence)? That’s pretty surprising. Could you quote your source?April 9, 2018 at 4:51 pm #8680
@davis, I don’t recall the article that I read at the time. Autism by itself is such a broad, widely variable situation, that it’s hard for me to fit the extremes into one category. You can be extremely high functioning and successful – such as Bill Gates – to almost completely nonfunctional.
Here is a link to one article. I’m not that enthusiastic about Psychology Today. I don’t know that the author’s descriptions of autism are accurate, either. I think there is insufficient definition of what is meant by “empathy”, as I mentioned earlier. I think theory of mind, vs. emotional connection, are different phenomena, but the word “empathy” is used for both. What would be better would be to compare functional MRIs, other neuroanatomic studies, or neuropeptides. If I find something better, I’ll try to remember and post it.April 9, 2018 at 5:36 pm #8682
@davis, Autism by itself is such a broad, widely variable situation, that it’s hard for me to fit the extremes into one category.
Yeah, after reading your post again, I realised that it was a sort of broad categorising. As for the article you posted…I’m as hesitant as you to take much of what they say too seriously. Just the adds alone (which appear despite my adblocker) show books related to “Love: How to succeed in Marriage” raises a bit of a red flag.
I imagine you’ve read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time?April 9, 2018 at 6:32 pm #8683
@danielw – it seems like you have emotional empathy – emotional understanding of others; but not cognitive empathy – intellectual understanding of others.
I agree that narcissism is a physiological, and genetic condition in a similar way to Aspergers. I have a theory that narcissists lack the cooperative genes, just leaving them with mainly competitive ones. This hypothesis fits with what we know about narcissists, and can be used to classify people’s behaviours.
I also agree that we should make a place for everybody, no matter if they are normal or not. Everyone has something to offer, and it is up to others really to put the right conditions in place so that they are able to contribute in their own particular way that accords with their talents.April 9, 2018 at 7:43 pm #8684
emotional understanding of others;
– “sympathy”, emotional resonance.April 9, 2018 at 8:09 pm #8685
– intellectual understanding of another’s state of mind, intentions, motivations etc.April 9, 2018 at 9:13 pm #8690
@davis, I loved that book. I’ve read it several times.
@simonpaynton, yes, I have very strong emotional empathy, maybe too strong. I have a lot of difficulty with cognitive empathy (theory of mind). I wont say it’s totally absent, but I have to work very hard at it, it’s difficult, I’m slow at it and often misread people’s intentions.
I dont know if narcissists are unable to read emotions, or if they are just unaffected by them. I think that with narcissism, there is a theory of mind, but not emotional empathy?
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