These are strange times. My intellectual grasp of the interconnectedness of the world is at peak form even if I do not hold an emotional state toward others living on this earth. Cognitively, I realize that every action I take affects someone else in some fashion and that every action another takes may affect me. In this sense, the grand dance that is life is slowly being revealed to me. What will eventually come my way from such a focus on the intertwined nature of life is yet to be seen. I do not believe in karma, but I do believe that if one seeks to be part of the world, they must respect the world. By respect, I mean that the individual must realize that others have their own unique positions in life and that they exist separate from the observer’s point of view. There are times in which my selfishness and callousness shines through, but by and large, I am morphing into a new being. This is no accident. Months and years of meditating upon my place in the world have brought me to this point and a lesser mind certainly would not reach the same conclusions that I have. These are strange times indeed.
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.
It was nearly a decade ago. My aunt was battling stage III ovarian cancer and was in the borderlands between life and death. Her hair gone, her voice weakened, she continued to soldier on, driven solely by the love of those around her – a love that I did not partake in. My aunt was my mother figure growing up. She and my grandparents were responsible for showing me the love and care that my parents never did. While I faced abuse at home, I received only the tenderest of emotional support at my grandparents’. It was around this time, nearly a decade ago, that I began transitioning from male to female. I had few allies at home and my efforts to soften the blow by outing my brother (as gay) seemed to do little. While my aunt was fighting for her life, I demanded that she begin the conversation at home that I would not. She would be the messenger of bad news for me. 10 years later, I am still unsure to the extent that I love her. She has bent over backwards at every step to ensure that I live a fruitful life, but I simply cannot muster the emotional bond for her that I have for select others. No emotional bond, no affective empathy. One day she will pass and I wonder: will I care then those things that I do not care now?
I find that I can “turn on” affective empathy for those limited few that I form emotional bonds with. The degree to which my affective empathy is expressed is directly proportional to the strength of that emotional bond. Granted, there are many hurdles involved in forming emotional bonds, and I can count on one hand the number of emotional bonds that I have formed in recent memory and none of them have survived more than a few months before becoming of lesser intensity. All of this is confusing, however, given that in the twenty-six years before therapy, I felt none of this. Therapy is molding me and changing me, though at a glacial pace, and I wonder where I end and conditioning begins. I cannot discount the usefulness of having a paid professional helping sort out my myriad strengths and weaknesses, but I wonder if I am losing myself in the process.
I’ve had a few readers of late inquire about whether psychopathy could be the result of an attachment disorder. I’ll have a chance – if I remember – to relay this question to my therapist – who has, in passing, mentioned the possibility to me – in the near future, but I want to lay some groundwork before we get there. Attachment disorders at their heart are very simple to understand; for one reason or another an individual simply does not form bonds with others. The classic case is the child that does not attach to her mother due to abuse or negligence, for instance. So what does this have to do with the antisocial spectrum? Well, it would certainly seem plausible that an individual that is unable to form bonds would be hostile or otherwise indifferent toward others, hallmarks of antisocial behavior.