The common wisdom is that psychopaths cannot form emotional bonds. In the overwhelming majority of cases (be it individuals in general or those interpersonal relationships that the psychopath is exposed to), I believe this is a fair assessment. A diverse affect combined with empathy seems to drive the emotional bonds of most. The psychopath, lacking both of these features, certainly has a challenge in forming similar emotional bonds. It is my understanding that most emotional bonds are forged organically. That is, that there is no conscious attempt to form an emotional bond, it merely happens on its own. Factors such as how well one relates to another person, whether there is romantic interest, whether another person has gone out of their way for a person, etc. come into play and the subconscious seems to take all of this and form a unidirectional bond if appropriate. People can want to form a bond all that they want, but it is not something that can be willed. In my life, I have had exactly two emotional bonds – a far cry from what the neurotypical would experience in terms of quantity. I have been distressed more than enthused with such bonds for reasons I will go into shortly. To reveal the punchline: I believe that the psychopath can experience emotional bonds, but the quantity, quality, and perspective towards such remains vastly different from that of the neurotypical.
I will be 31 years old next month. To put that in perspective, I’ve had an emotional bond averaging once every fifteen years or so. I have met (and dismissed) hundreds of people in my life, and only two managed to elicit an emotional response from me. Now, the shallow affect of the psychopathic condition is not necessarily violated by these bonds. Recall, that the definition says ‘shallow’ or ‘dulled’ affect and not a ‘flat’ affect. Psychopaths can and do experience emotions. Quite possibly due to my comorbidity with Borderline Personality Disorder, I find these emotions to be troublesome. They are not strong – as compared to that of the neurotypical – but they are atypical and confusing when compared to those times (which are predominant) when I am neither emotionally invested nor reactive to most people, things, or situations. The analogy that comes to mind is that of a person turning on the bathroom light after sleeping the night away in pitch darkness. The light may not be objectively bright, but the very presence of it stings the eyes to those orbs that were enjoying a lack of stimulation. The very fact that I experience emotion at all is distressing for a similar reason. I am mostly unaccustomed to it and find the presence to be uncomfortable. I have no doubt that the magnitude of these emotions related to these bonds are duller than those of the neurotypical. However, they are more adept with their emotions than I am and certainly do not find them to be as problematic as I do. To summarize: I have fewer emotional bonds that are of lesser quality and that are deemed intrusive. I suspect that under the right conditions other psychopaths would have similar experiences.
The catalysts for those two emotional bonds that I have had seem to be similar. They were both after the advent of therapy and both relied heavily on the fact that I did not need to hide my true self with the other individual. I am unsure of whether I could have formed emotional bonds in the absence of prolonged therapy where the malleability of the brain was tirelessly examined and provoked. One of the emotional bonds has faded even though I am still on good terms with the individual that I held it with and the other has not even though rationality would dictate that I should dissolve that emotional bond as well. With this observation, it is difficult to identify the role proximity has on my emotional bonds and whether they live or die. More data is needed. Other factors involved in the forming of emotional bonds seem related to either the amount of energy the other individual has given me or the similarity I hold with the other person. At some point, critical mass is reached and a bond forms. It was never something that I wanted and is often something I wish to destroy, as it clouds my otherwise rational mind. I am distressed for the light of the emotional bond burns my eyesight which was previously accustomed to the dark. Similarly, my eyes are not adjusting, so the continued presence of emotional bonds is highly unwelcome.
I do not believe that any of this invalidates the PCL-R results that were conferred to me. I have worked hard to challenge the boundaries of my mind, and combined with the factors that normally drive the creation of emotional bonds, these constructs have appeared without any conscious effort of my own. I do not like the fact that they exist, which is a departure from neurotypical thought. I have them less frequently, and these bonds are undoubtedly of lesser quality than the rich bonds formed by those with affective empathy and lesser levels of narcissism. Given how much these bonds have distressed me, I will not issue a challenge to other psychopaths and antisocials to stretch the limits of their own abilities. I may want the color and vividness of life, but I do not wish to be uncontrollably distressed by such either.