After I was first diagnosed as psychopathic, I began to search more deeply as to which facets of the condition fit and which did not. As I’ve said before, I neither wanted to be psychopathic nor not psychopathic. I just wanted to understand better the way in which I function. One area I focused heavily on was the presence or absence of conscience. When the psychologist asked me to define conscience, I gave an answer that floored them. It was like a three year old was being asked the question:
Conscience is made up the thoughts that prevent me from doing some action, right?
I was confusing my internal calculus of determining what actions to take as a synonym for conscience. There was clearly something much deeper that I just did not understand.
To this day, I still have a hard time understanding what exactly conscience is. At the time, I was more concerned as to whether or not I possessed it. It seemed that it was something that psychopaths, in general, did not possess. So I asked around, trying to see if my closest confidants could shed light on this mystery. How could I know if I did not have one if I could not even define what it was? One trusted friend’s answer was as follows:
It’s a gut feeling that prevents you from doing an action that is against the “rules” or that will harm someone. It is an automatic feeling and one that resonates deeply if you possess it.
This definition made little sense to me. If I cannot reason something out or have it “register” in some fashion, it seems like bullshit. My reaction was similar to a blind person being told the definition of sight; clearly I’m missing out on something but I have no way of understanding what I am missing.
Ultimately, it was the psychologist’s answer that finally made it all make sense. Her explanation was made via contrast and it was at that point that it sunk in that I simply do not possess conscience:
You do not take cookies from the cookie jar because you were told not to or because it would prevent others from also having cookies later. You do not take cookies from the cookie jar because you fear that you will be punished.
I asked the person who gave me the “positive” definition quoted earlier what his take was on this “negative” definition presented by the psychologist. His response further clarified everything:
No, fear of punishment is not the same as conscience. Conscience is the thought process that guides you toward a moral and ethical action when given choices and is not simply the fear of consequences for acting immorally or unethically.
That may be, but I still like to think that the proverbial cookie can be worth more than the scorn of another.