Most psychopaths have a very shallow affect. That is, our emotions tend to be shallow in general. They are also short-lived. Now, that said, the presence of other personality disorders, most notably Borderline Personality Disorder, can cause this criterion of psychopathy to become somewhat muddy. It can also be difficult to tease the shallow affect of psychopathy from our inability to feel affective empathy or guilt and remorse.
When my mother was in critical condition a few days ago, I did not feel sadness, despair, or any other emotions that most neurotypicals would have when presented with the real possibility of losing a loved one. I was completely stoic except for the adrenaline rush caused by the intellectual realization that a high-stakes game was unfolding before me. My therapist is often stunned by the lack of emotion that I present in session. We talk of my many accomplishments, both saintly and sinful, and there is nothing but stoicism as the words recounting such pour from my mouth. In my writing, I try to avoid any portrayal of emotion as it would be false. There is simply nothing – usually – there.
Or is it more accurate to say that the emotions – as events unfold – are simply not permanent and thus cannot be recounted? It is a mixture of both. I have felt environmental depression when my schemes go awry. I feel intense anger over the most trivial of events. When my former supervisor (at a former employer) tried to strong-arm me, my hate burned brighter than any star. However, shortly after switching jobs, my hatred dissipated. My consternation toward my mother when I had to visit a dying relative on a regular basis would fade as soon as I drove my mother home. The intense satisfaction of an oral presentation or well-written academic paper would disappear within minutes of finishing such an endeavor. Even with my manuscript, I no longer feel the positive emotions that I had briefly after I wrote the final page. Nothing is permanent.
For those times that I am merely “robotic” as I engage with others or recount past events, it is not that I am oblivious to my surroundings. I see plenty of stimuli that would provoke a strong emotional response in NTs but none that cause anything but faux emotions in myself. I will mask in order to seem in place, but under the hood the lights are turned off. I know this because I could see the tears in my brother and grandmother’s eyes as my mother was in critical condition in the hospital. They simply possess something that I do not.
It is easy to see why there are parallels between the psychopath and the autistic, for example. Our emotional distance from the neurotypical is vast and deeply disconcerting to the NT. We appear to be soulless monsters with our actions and the humanity that we “lack.” Our emotions are short-lived, if present at all, and our stoicism can be off-setting. I wonder what I am missing, but I have come to the conclusion that I will never yearn. I can act when others cannot, in part due to my near-invincibility when it comes to emotional unsettling of the mind.