Empathy, hijacked

Until two weeks ago, I misunderstood psychopathy.

I believed that all psychopaths were serial killers, and vice versa. I also believed that their numbers were infinitesimally small.

They were, in other words, not worth much consideration, for the chance they’d impact my life personally was negligible.

My path to learning otherwise began with a simple question: What’s it called when someone treats you not as a human, but a need-meeting device? I figured there had to be a word for it, but I didn’t know what that word was.

Fortunately, I happened across a book that answered the question in a single, succinct sentence. InĀ The Entitlement Cure: Finding Success at Work and in Relationships in a Shortcut World, Dr. John Townsend writes, “When one person treats another as a need-meeting object or as a dispenser of a desired commodity, that is objectification.”

There was my word: objectification.

I was surprised. Seeing this definition, it was immediately clear I’d misunderstood objectification as strictly sex-related. That misunderstanding had barred me from identifying prior experiences with objectification for what they were.

Armed with the word, I began searching for information on people especially prone to objectifying others. What would these people look like? What other kinds of behaviors might appear together with a propensity to objectify?

I found a few articles on “social predation.” In these articles, I found affirmation that objectification as a routine behavior doesn’t often travel alone.

The people who routinely exhibited this suite of behaviors were “social predators.” Having never foundĀ that term before, then, I looked up “social predation.” How had I never heard of it? The answer quickly became clear: when traveling together, this suite of behaviors is more commonly referred to as “sociopathy” or “psychopathy.”

I needed more information than I could glean from a couple of articles. I needed a framework. In short, I needed a book.

I first read Martha Stout’s The Sociopath Next Door, in which the author uses the words “sociopathy” and “psychopathy” interchangeably.

As I read, I found myself both intrigued and horrified. Continue reading “Empathy, hijacked”

Words to save lives

A book once helped me, quite possibly, save a life dear to me.

Someone I love had suddenly gone almost completely off the grid. She’d done so soon after meeting a new man.

I hadn’t met her new fella. She barely spoke of him on the now-rare occasion we did talk. I didn’t need to meet him or talk to her about him to be alarmed, especially when she told me she’d moved a long way from home to be with him.

I didn’t need to know him to be concerned. The changes in her behavior told me a lot about his role in her life.

My childhood was practically defined by extensive violence and predation, so that I implicitly recognized its symptoms. I didn’t once need to see violence in action to know something was very wrong.

Unfortunately, implicit knowledge is hard to share. This kind of knowledge, which is intuited instead of learned from books and seminars, is hard to voice in words. It’s a knowing that happens in the body, not the intentionally focused brain, and can thus live in a place where words seldom reach. Continue reading “Words to save lives”