“If you don’t care, why are you doing all this?”
This is a question I’ve been getting a lot lately, both in person and online. I’ve been overlooking it for a while, but since it keeps coming up I figure it’s time to address it.
The reason I’ve been reluctant to answer this question is because it frustrates me.
As a sociopath, it’s hard for me to empathize with others. From my perspective, the answer is obvious. I feel this way not only because I’ve lived it, but because I’ve explained it in a thousand different ways, a thousand different times. I don’t understand why people just can’t get it.
That’s when I remember that not everyone can relate to the sociopathic perspective. How could they? So much of the available information related to sociopathy is either inaccurate or incomplete. If people are not understanding me, it’s because I am not doing a good enough job explaining myself. So, with that in mind, allow me to answer the question:
If I don’t care, why am I doing all this? Because I’ve learned to care.
I am a diagnosed sociopath. What this means is that I am biologically wired to feel things like remorse, emotion, and empathy, but I have a difficult time internalizing the process. I liken the experience to having an emotional learning disability.
When I was a child, I didn’t have an inherent sense of good and bad. Concepts of shame and guilt were not hard-wired. I wasn’t born to care. I had to learn to care. It took a great deal of practice, but I got better and better and today you can hardly tell that I’m not just like everybody else.
But make no mistake, I still have to work at it.
Learning to empathize is a lot like learning a different language. Personally speaking, I have always been fascinated with the subject of language and am fluent in more than one. But full immersion in a foreign voice is tough, no matter how competent you are.
Whenever I am traveling and attempting to speak in a language other than my own, I notice (after a while) that my brain starts to short-circuit. The constant effort is exhausting. By the time the sun goes down I don’t care about effective communication anymore. I’m tired and I just want to be understood without effort.
This is how it feels to exist as a sociopath in a pro-social world.
It’s hard for me to act like a so-called “normal” person all the time. It’s counter-intuitive to play by the rules or pretend that I care. Once I shift into neutral, it’s easy to slip into apathy. I like it that way. It’s comfortable. But you don’t get anywhere in neutral, and I’m someone who likes to be on the move. So I learned to speak the language.
Some days are harder than others. I’ve noticed that when I’m tired I’m more prone to destructive urges. When I’m overwhelmed my behavior becomes troublesome. I’m just like anyone else with a shortcoming: Practice is hard and if other areas of your life are lacking, your game is going to suffer. That’s when I take a deep breath and remind myself that it’s worth it.
Why do I do all this if I don’t care? Because I’ve learned to care. I taught myself to care. I may still struggle with empathy and I’m not always playing with a full emotional deck, but that’s okay.
I found something about which I am passionate — the advocacy for and education about sociopaths — and I have used that thing to build a bridge to compassion. I discovered a solution. I am living proof that it is possible for sociopaths to empathize. We can do it. All it takes is a little practice.