I was thinking about different kinds of people I’ve known, or known of, and the things they got going on. In their heads. Which made me think about my sister, who got the formal diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder – the condition informally known as sociopathy. If you’ve gotten to know somebody well who has that diagnosis, it might still be easy to think of them as soulless, hollow, robotic. My sister can look sad, more often look mad, say she wants this or that out of life, but pathologically she returns to the same behavior pattern she’s been doing since younger than age four – allying with one party to emotionally torment another. She easily rewrites her own history and seems able to genuinely believe the new story.
The condition has a grip there. She can’t seem to do anything that contravenes it. Abusing people is, for her, like breathing. It is, metaphorically, autonomic. (i’m fucken pretentious tonight) But who is she, outside of that? Does she have something like a heart? Does she have feelings? I haven’t seen her in more than twenty years but I bet I know her better than anyone she’s met since, and I don’t really know the answer for that with certainty. But I feel like it’s Yes?
I can recognize, in the way she was back then, a lot of myself. She had a sense of pride and it could be hurt. She had the resilient self-esteem that her response was never a devaluation of herself, but rather frustration and anger. She could find humor in a lot of the same things non-APD people can – even tell a joke – which is surprising to me because famous bullies like Foxheads and CPAC attendees are so wretched at making non-bullies laugh. Their humor is all predicated on shared hate, and she’d be in on that too, but at least she could also relish the absurd or the silly – even make those kind of jokes herself. That could all describe me, though I think I’ve grown out of the worst aspects.
She could turn on affection that I had no reason to doubt. It was extremely rare, but it could happen. She could just as easily be murderously indifferent to anyone and everyone, but in a situation where her programming wasn’t in control, she seemed like she could love someone? A kind of love that can be turned off with a breath, but a real one. A lot of people I know with neglectful parents have experience with that. Their parents clearly do love them, but are incapable of feeling, seeing, or being bothered by the harm they inflict. It’s frustrating shit.
There is a lot I don’t know about her. Most people I can build some idea of what’s going on in their heads. Maybe not all the little tics and perversions, but the broad strokes. I can predict what my boyfriend’s mom will be thinking about most things at a given time. And I came to understand what I call the programming of my sister – the rote and repeated aspects of her thought and conduct. But I only learned of some of her terrible crimes this last year, and could only guess at the ones she inflicted on my nieces by witnessing the damage. She’s got badness I understand well, but also badness I wouldn’t even have guessed at, and maybe it’s over generous of me to imagine she might also have goodness hiding in there somewhere as well.
Having grown up with that probably informs my feeling that being “neurotypical” – especially having a healthy self-esteem – puts you on a grade to being narcissistic, antisocial, abusive. I recall some study a few years ago demonstrating that the idea bullies act on low self-esteem was most often false – that they frequently had a better than average sense of self worth.
I just know it’s real easy for me to forgive myself for my own crimes, that at the end of the day – whatever I say in a given bad moment – I can’t really hate myself. It’s like remembering pain. I know when I had peritonitis it was the worst sensation I’ve ever experienced, but it’s a total abstraction at this moment. I can’t really remember what it was like. Nothing bad sticks to my brain. Feels good, man.
Likewise, I can’t feel bad about being so fully estranged from my mother and sister. Are they alive? Dead? Doesn’t bother me and I don’t miss them – at least not in affection. My sister and brother were the only people of any emotional significance in my early life and she is still sometimes with me, like a ghost deforming the way I treat somebody else, like the animus of some other character in a dream. Less now than ten years ago, and less than then ten years before.
She’s almost gone from my psyche entirely now, I can feel that. Again, feels good. Nobody bad sticks to my brain. A love that can be turned off with a breath. What’s the line between a healthy functional member of society like myself and a life-ruining beast?
And back to the title of this article. I don’t think a person with APD has to, necessarily, be a life-ruining beast. Maybe they’re fortunate to have the right people around them, the right support to grow up less malevolent. Or even if they don’t – if they do ruin some lives, scar or kill some people, I think they may be redeemed, may be able to do good – or at least neutral – things with their lives.
Do you have Antisocial Personality Disorder? If so, what positive feelings exist in your heart? What can you do that is good, or at least not bad? Maybe I can learn something about my sister from your experience. This isn’t hugely important for me, just something that crossed my mind. But still, understanding is good. Lay it on me.
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