I’m in a period of my life in which I have many more questions than answers. Eternally skeptic, I am probably a bit too obsessive in my search for “truth” when it comes to what resides between my ears. The topics of interpersonal relationships, “love”, and my role in these endeavors have been focal points as of late. At one point I truly did believe that the psychopath could not have any investment or “buy in” to any sort of interpersonal relationship. This seemed to be confirmed by my own willingness to pot my plants and leave them in the window until they died, essentially neglecting human interpersonal relationships. As of late, I’ve begun to question the unilateral nature of this assertion. I’m starting to think that the answer to whether psychopaths can invest themselves in interpersonal relationships is “kind of, sort of, depending on the circumstances, maybe.”
I am not sure that I believe that interpersonal nor romantic relationships can be anything but symbiotic. Paralleling my thoughts on altruism and compassion, I believe that the focus of any beneficial action for another must be rooted in benefits for the self. My therapist would disagree of course, being less jaded and misanthropic than myself, and would state that there is a certain pleasure derived from placing the focus on another for most neurotypicals. That is, that the action is symbiotic but that the positive feelings from the one acting are secondary to the intent of genuine care for another human being. This ultimately confuses me.
Before we return to why my therapist’s assertion confuses me, we must go through a very personal aside. The longtime reader knows of my struggles in both performing emotive actions and recognizing emotions. It is no small feat for me to express interest in another person precisely because I cannot fully understand those emotions, however weak, that drive such interest. Of course, there is some emotion driving the interaction but it is so limited that it can often either be dismissed entirely (equivalent to zero emotion) or mischaracterized (too little emotion to measure). This confuses me as well. It is hard to remain objective and take data when measurement error is all but guaranteed.
So let’s return to my therapist’s assertion. “The action of benefiting another person is symbiotic but those positive feelings experienced by the one perform the action are secondary to the intent of genuine care for another human being.” I can report that I’ve identified at least one interpersonal relationship in which I do take a modicum of happiness in helping out another individual. Their company makes me happy as well. Granted, these aren’t emotions of great magnitude, but I have identified their existence. So the question is: why? I don’t believe that I am selfless in my interactions with them as my own happiness is a metric that is constantly being watched. I wonder if I gauge my own actions in way that is “constructive,” that is whether I am gently nudging in a way that allows for a sense of pride in seeing progress made even if it is not my own progress. For example, the pride that comes from helping another person with financial interests could really just be a reflection of my desire to “construct” rather than “destruct.” Happiness could also be a misnomer for ‘entertained.’ It’s all rather confusing, and as I prefaced this post with, I may be obsessing way too much over the semantics of it all.
I obsess because of the underlying fear that the mechanisms we’ve identified are insufficient at modeling my person, and thus do not contribute to identity. Practically, if we avoid questions of energy transfers – who receives more or less relative to another – then the conversation becomes quite simple: psychopaths are able to engage in interpersonal relationships and relationships of love just like many other demographics. I do think the question of how these relationships differ is important, however. The key to sustaining any sort of relationship – interpersonal, romantic, business, etc. – is to set expectations and boundaries in a proper fashion. I want to be successful with my future interpersonal and romantic relationships and I want to understand how they differ from those around me. Ultimately, this is the needed insight both to honor myself and to grow as a person, and I do not believe that such analysis is only suited for those on the antisocial spectrum.