I have been thinking about sociopathy, today! (The exclamation point is because I’ve been having a fascinating conversation about it, not because of excitement at the subject itself!)
I believe that I was something of a sociopath, in high school. Not a ‘true’ sociopath- I was not born with an inability to feel empathy.
My parents delight in telling a story about me as a toddler, with a leaf in my hand that my dad had found for me. There were spider eggs on this leaf. The wind picked up, as my mom and I were waiting to cross a street- the leaf blew out of my hand, tumbled into the path of a car heading our way.
My mom had to grab me, pull me back to the sidewalk, as I chased after this leaf.
It’s not that I didn’t see the car.
I ran towards the street, because I saw the car.
I wanted to save the spider eggs.
It took me a long time to convince myself that I was not, in fact, born a sociopath. Stories like that, and others- make it clear that I cared for other living beings and what happened to them, as a child.
So what happened, then?
First, it may be useful to discuss how I was in high school, that led to me describing myself so. You might be thinking I’m reading too much into my thought patterns at the time, or was overly paranoid. Maybe so! But let me tell you a little about who I was then, first- before you draw a conclusion on the matter!
I was not depressed, in high school. I was apathetic. Cold, calculating. Completely alienated from my own emotions (see the how Brooke learned about feelings post for a bit more on that!). I would just…drop people. With little thought (or even awareness) of how that might affect them.
And I had a fascination with serial killers, that went beyond just a dalliance in interest. My knowledge, then- was encyclopedic.
I had a fun party trick, back then- where I would challenge a fellow attendee to list a fact they remembered about a particular serial killer case (MOD, type or number of victims, etc), and I could nearly always name the killer.
I also had a Dead Box. Never killed anything, as a child (or adult, don’t worry!), but I would… Collect things, that were already dead. Bleach the bones, if they were mammals. Take pictures, if they were too gooey. I kept them in an old-timey cigar box, relished the symbolism.
Some of them even had names.
As a child, my dad taught me how to make nooses.
I played with Barbies, like the other little girls, yes.
But I played with them by hanging them from our tree, or from the upstairs landing, as victims for my cats to stalk.
In high school, I frequently carried a little pillow with me, hugged it like a child with a security blanket- though I had brightly dyed hair and safety pins in my ears.
And I had a personal space bubble that was practically visible to the naked eye.
Those few friends intrepid enough to try to hug me would then see me sometimes literally curl up on the ground, in the fetal position.
I disliked human contact so, that I made little pins, with a button maker I had- they said: “Brooke’s hug pass.”
I told everyone who tried to hug me that they could not, without a pass. I only ever made three, and I gave them to people I knew were at no risk of hugging me.
My mom tells me that as a child, a toddler- I stopped letting her hold me. Dunno why, nor does she.
These are, none of them, the actions of a person who is well.
As I was exiting this phase, beginning to rediscover my own capacity for empathy, back in high school- there was a period of time during which I told people I could just as easily see my life going in one of two directions:
Serial killer (assassin whore is how I envisioned it!), or humanitarian.
I am, and always have been- a person of extremes. There is little ‘in between,’ for me.
So, now I ask again- what happened? To shape that person, into who I am now?
I have some potential answers for that, but that perhaps may not be the right question to be asking. Perhaps better- is what didn’t happen?
I do believe that had the course of my life, towards the end of high school and after, gone differently than it had- I may have traveled down that other path.
I feel things, very strongly.
I believe that I always have.
So intensely, perhaps- that I could not handle those feelings, as a child. Could not process them. They were too much.
So, unconsciously, unintentionally- I shut them off
I used to do this thing when I walked- started before I have memories of starting. Was still doing it, sometimes, as recently as a year or two ago.
It’s hard to describe, but the closest I can come to it is that it was like there were inverted buckets on the bottom of my feet, buckets that absorbed color.
And I had to keep them even.
So if I stepped on a crack with the heel of my right foot, I’d then have to jump and try to land on a crack of a similar size, with the corresponding part of my left foot.
It looked pretty silly!
I realize this is pretty OCD, but I had no other typical symptoms of that disorder.
At that fateful visit with the psychiatrist thatIthat wrote about in the post about how I learned about feelings- I told him about this walking thing that I had. (That meeting was when I first found out that feelings are not just words, but actually come with physiological indicators, as well!)
He told me that that quirk, and the other more bipolar-esque behaviors that I’d been exhibiting, were manifestations of anxiety, caused by an inability to feel my emotions. I thought that was rubbish, of course, being in high school. It would take over a decade before I really started understanding what that meant, what he meant.
Now, I believe that it is possible to manufacture a state similar to true sociopathy, even when one is not born with an inability to feel empathy.
If true, this would mean that in some cases where empathy may be lacking- it might be possible to teach it, to guide that person back towards their own hidden and unacknowledged capacity for empathy.