Greetings. It’s been a while since I’ve written a mental health-related post, mostly because I’ve been blessed to be in a good place for such a sustained period of time.
Tonight, however, I’ve got a specific mental health topic on my mind. I want to talk about sociopaths; that is, people who are diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder. I’d actually planned to post along these lines last Wednesday/Thursday night, but I found myself blocked and floundering in my attempt to shape my thoughts around my feelings. I didn’t know how, exactly, to say what I want to say.
I guess I’ll start with the basic idea that society has determined that it’s okay to openly abhor and malign sociopaths. We perceive them to be less than human because they lack empathy and can’t feel guilt or remorse. They’re seen as a danger against the general public, and against us as individuals. Thus dehumanized and diagnostically relieved of any benefits of the doubt, sociopaths are open for castigation from all angles. (Okay, that might sound a little dramatic. What I mean is that at the least, there’s a general consensus that sociopaths don’t deserve kindness.)
We don’t consider what we’re doing to be a vilification. We consider sociopaths to be villains by definition, so we can’t be vilifying them, right? Neither do our societal rules against hate speech apply to them, because hate speech is only hate speech if it’s directed at humans, not at monsters. And so we will say that sociopaths are demonic. We will suggest that sociopaths should be rounded up and deposited on an island, just as lepers were shipped off to the Hawaiian island of Molokai in the 19th century… but you can bet that there wouldn’t be a Father Damien for the sociopaths on the island.
Reaching further beyond hate speech, there are books written matter-of-factly about how to detect “the sociopath next door,” and how to arm yourselves against them. Such literary material encourages us to become armchair psychologists while seeding fear and perpetuating the stereotype of sociopaths being monsters walking around in human suits, one-dimensional and beyond hope, help, or understanding.
So here’s what I’ve been thinking (and I know that this may be an unpopular opinion): Empathy, while important, is overrated.
People with empathy can and do engage in gaslighting, manipulation, and verbal/mental/psychological abuse. People with empathy can and do commit murder, premeditated and otherwise. In fact, only people who have empathy can commit “crimes of passion,” some of the most violent and gruesome murders, because these crimes are emotionally driven. Sociopaths don’t act out of emotion. Where is the book warning us about the person next door who might have empathy?
The fact of the matter is that high-functioning sociopaths can be morally good people. They can be morally good because there’s nothing stopping them from having a moral compass based on ethics.
I’ve been pondering this for a while, too, the relationship between empathy and ethics. No matter how I look at it, I see that ethics is intellectual reasoning and empathy is emotion and the two things are unrelated. Sociopaths don’t have empathy; we act as if it’s impossible to be morally good if you lack empathy. I just don’t think that this is the case. Ethics is what’s behind our ideas of right and wrong, not empathy.
I find it sad that in all the talk I hear swirling around the importance of destigmatizing mental illnesses, sociopaths are left out of the conversation. Antisocial Personality Disorder simply isn’t up for discussion, because we see sociopaths as unfixable and unworthy of medical attention. All we’re taught about sociopaths is that they’re ruthless fiends who should be avoided at all costs. We (the ones who have empathy!) treat sociopaths as “other” so we can’t be accused of hypocrisy when we speak of accepting all segments of the population – including those with all varieties of disabilities – while maligning them, the sociopaths.
It’s not just sociopaths, either. Antisocial Personality Disorder is one of the four cluster-B personality disorders, the other three being Borderline, Histrionic, and Narcissistic, and all are highly stigmatized and well-maligned (though none more than the antisocials/sociopaths).
I could go on and on, but I’m going to stop here to present this YouTube video. This is Kanika Batra, a diagnosed sociopath and narcissist making videos on YouTube to humanize, support, and advocate for others suffering with the same (and all cluster-B) personality disorders.
For me, a layperson with no formal background in psychology, Kanika’s video is an eye-opener to the notion that sociopaths can feel empty, lonely, depressed, and suicidal because of their inability to relate to others. Making things even more difficult is the fact that many mental health professionals refuse to work with them. Many sociopaths know that they’re broken, and they want to get better, but they have nowhere to go for help. They are shut out, stigmatized and stereotyped “into the shadows,” as Kanika words it.
Elsewhere on her channel, Kanika points out that you don’t need to have empathy in order to have compassion, to value human life, to know right from wrong, and to have a need for community. Her videos are fascinating and important, I think. Go check out Kanika’s channel! There’s a whole lot in the way of informative material in the relatively few videos there. (Kanika started her channel not even a year ago.)
With that, I’ll bid you a merry week ahead, my friends. Thank you for reading this far!