Long time readers have picked up on my diagnosis story from posts I’ve written over the years. The same readers are surely aware of my disdain for self-diagnosis. However, newer readers may not be as familiar with these facts and concepts. What follows is a fairly lengthy post giving a brief background of myself and the work that my therapist and I have conducted. I also mention briefly a warning for those considering self-diagnosis. Stay awhile and listen, you might learn something.
I never thought of myself as particularly antisocial. Sure, my childhood was filled with manipulative attempts at getting what I wanted and I would occasionally leave others light in the pockets, but I was a brilliant student and rarely in trouble. So what if I vandalized on occasion? All of this would continue into adulthood where I would pick up other bad habits such as drug use, drunk driving, and other happenings that I no longer repeat these days. I loved, or so I thought, my ex-husband and I can objectively recognize that my emotional manipulation, parasitism, lies, and other facets of my being grated on him until he finally left? My tenure at a previous job was marked by time stealing and an unwillingness to give a good faith effort, but who really enjoys their job to care? I didn’t find any of this particularly remarkable. There were certainly other aspects of my being that I was blind to, but I’ll refer readers to posts tagged with ‘diagnosis’ and ‘backstory’ for that information.
At the tail end of my marriage, my ex-husband seemed to offer an olive branch. If I were willing to go to therapy, then he would consider staying. Much of my bad behavior I had excused in the name of depression (of which, I truly did suffer from) and the therapist and I began exploring techniques to mitigate that depression. Such attempts would ultimately culminate in electro-convulsive therapy to fix chemical imbalances in my mind and then the true work of our professional relationship would begin.
You see, depression did not explain my emotional indifference to those close to me. It didn’t explain my parasitism, the times I threw things at my therapist, violent fantasies, my pathological lying, rough childhood, manipulative tendencies, dangerous impulsivity, my lack of goals, my lack of an identity, or any number of different things. I thought I had no more use for therapy once the depression lifted but she invited me to stay awhile and listen. What I would learn about myself in the years since has been truly elucidating.
We explored my childhood, my adulthood, and everything in between. She asked uncomfortable (for her) questions of morality and ethics and sought to compare my answers with my case history. Patterns were observed and disturbances noted. A diagnosis of ASPD was easily made. However, we had reason to believe that my personality could be better explained by examining a lesser-held opinion: the existence of psychopathy. We continued to analyze patterns and to document the myriad jams that I kept getting myself into. Eventually we decided that administration of the PCL-R (Psychopathy Checklist Revised) was in order. Was I, Jessica, a psychopath? Yes.
Psychopaths do not have to be complete caricatures of outward destruction. While most of us are in prison, there are substantial numbers of us that find ways to function on a day-in and day-out basis. We may not function in a pristine fashion, but we have roofs over our heads and paychecks in hand. My therapist and I have spent the past four years now in teaching me how to show restraint and to avoid my sins of the past. For her efforts, I am immeasurably grateful.
Proper diagnosis is not a silver bullet and is not something that can be done quickly. A professional who can teach is the best to confer such a diagnosis and it is up to the individual to learn from that. Why then do so many believe in self-diagnosis? I am convinced that relatively few self-diagnosers have the maturity or wisdom to make changes as a result. Instead they gravitate toward a label as a means of feeling “accepted” and “legitimate”. Don’t do this. You are robbing yourself of the greatest gift of the therapeutic experience: true and guided introspection.
I know that there are those that find me too restrained to truly be psychopathic. I know that there are those that find me too vocal and self-aware to be psychopathic. Ultimately, I know the work that my therapist and I have done and I wish others could experience the rewards that I have. I don’t need the validation of others. Some minds are open and some are closed, this is reality. But, stay awhile and listen; you might learn something.