“I see these photographs of him or of us, and it’s an ocean of memories. Where we had gone, what we said, all the good times, and the bad times. So many feelings from still shots in time…”
Pursuing photographs can induce a plethora of emotions when they are memorable people, places, and things. I know this, because I have been around neurotypicals and their photography obsession all of my life. From photo albums, to the tearing up of pictures of their exes, to a mental vacation to the memory that the image shows, as opposed to where they are in that moment.
There is a lot that emotional coding can speak to, and a lot that it can invoke. These emotions are important, I know that, but I don’t share in this world at all. For neurotypicals, memories are coded emotionally. Sometimes strongly, sometimes in a passive way. Memories of their wedding might produce memories of joy, or memories of regret, they might see a food they hate, and react with revulsion. Returning to a place where they had something dramatic happen to them, and they can relive those experiences.
Psychopaths have none of this. A photograph has no emotional connection to me at all. They are just snapshots in time that I know happened, but that’s all. This is why I don’t really take photographs of anything except something that I actually find beautiful. I don’t take pictures of things like hanging out with friends, vacations, or selfies for that matter. They don’t mean anything to me. They are just images. Something like the moon setting behind the clouds, or the snow draping everything in sparkling white, that might get my attention. Those things will always be beautiful, and there doesn’t need to be an emotional response to acknowledge this. Those are images that I will enjoy when I see them again.
I also believe that there is an aesthetic to the world. One that I dislike when it is disrupted. For instance this;
has a unique look, and this;
ruins that look. No offense meant to whoever that guy is, but he is out of place. He disrupts the balance of the environment. This;
on the other hand, is how it should look. These things look harmonious because they developed together. They are meant to complement one another, and that is how I want to view them. Just as I have no interest in the guy in the Japanese garden, as much as I find him out of place, I would not have any interest in photographs of me in jeans and a tee-shirt, or anyone else for that matter, somewhere like this;
Not only would I not fit into that environment while in that attire, I also wouldn’t want any photographs of such things, because there aren’t going to produce whatever memories get attached when neurotypicals take photos of them posing in a room like that while on a tour. I would like to see that beautiful room again in a photograph, I would not want to see me, a friend, a family member, etc, in that shot, because it simply wouldn’t fit. No emotional coding means that those types of photos are not something that I will ever prefer.
People ask me all the time, what was the strongest emotion you have ever felt? Or, What is the happiest, or the angriest, or the “fill in the blank here” I have ever felt. Many of the things asked about are emotions I have never felt, like sadness, or rage, but the rest of them, I have felt, I still can’t answer the question though, because that is simply not how things work, nor how I think.
Nothing in my memories codes this way. There are events that happened, but I couldn’t tell you what I was feeling during those events, unless you want me to lie to you. I can look at photographs of something like a birthday and assume that it was a fun night, so I will say, “oh yeah, I had fun that night”, because there is nothing in that factual memory that makes me think that it would be anything different. However, I couldn’t tell you those memories in any other way than factually without placing that emotion there for your benefit. There is no emotional coding attached to it at all.
Psychopathic brains function differently. This is part of why a psychopath won’t be upset if a relationship ends. No psychopath is going to be sitting there, sobbing into their wine, because of all the great memories you shared, and how sad they are that those memories are over. They aren’t going to remember an argument and still feel angry. They aren’t going to look at a gift that you bought and swoon because it is just so so sweet. None of that codes in the memories of a psychopath.
On the flip side, this is true of negative experiences as well. I had meningitis. It was painful, but I have no ability to recall how that pain felt, just that it hurt, and I nearly died. All of it is just factual memory. I can describe to you what happened, but nothing about how I felt. I know it sucked, so I will say as much, but there isn’t a memory of that suckage, it simply is an acknowledgement that it was not a great experience.
Many times over I have read that one of the ways that you can tell a psychopath is that they can’t describe to you an emotional memory. That’s not exactly true, and this is not a good measurement of whether a person is a psychopath or not. I am aware, I just told you the opposite, but I can describe an emotional memory in detail, no problem. I can literally manufacture one out of thin air, and tell it to you, with every emotion that should be there, perfectly placed and created. I could do this with one of my own memories as well, but that becomes a bit more complicated.
If it is my own memory I have to process it differently. It is something that happened, and I know what happened when it did, but I didn’t see that event through an emotional lens. I now have to place one over it, and be able to edit it as I relay the different places emotional recollections should be. When it is a memory that I am manufacturing, I can do this as I go along, and I can do it very seamlessly. I can do it with my own memories almost as seamlessly, but there is a fair bit more work involved. If you are really really good at noticing that slight delay, you might pick up something is off, but it takes a great deal of practice.
The process of manufacturing memories out of whole cloth, is really just writing scenes like I might for a book. It is something that I became very practiced at in life, and my talent for writing improved upon this ability as well. Injecting emotions into real memories is a total rewrite of reality. All of the emotions are going to be playacted, not experienced, but you will never know that. They will look as real as anyone else that you might talk to relating something that is emotionally based. I am an excellent storyteller in that regard.
This difference in how the brain works is also why there is an incorrect belief that psychopaths have a poor sense of smell. This is due to the memory coding issue, not actual functionality of the ability to smell. When neurotypicals smell something, there is a whole set of systems that are identifying that smell, and a fair amount of it is emotional coding, whether they recognize it or not.
Take for instance coffee, it is one of the best examples due to how synonymous it is with morning routines for many people, and also because of the addiction to caffeine. You know what coffee smells like. You will recognize it immediately if you are a coffee drinker. You might think thi is entirely because you smell it every morning, but if you step back and think about it there is often an emotional reaction to it as well. Relief that it is brewing, looking forward to waking up all the way, thinking about your day while sipping away. A lot of this is emotional in nature. You smell coffee, and all of those memories are going to be at your nose tip, and it helps with your recall of that smell.
I don’t have that. Instead I have to smell something and tell myself what it is in order to recall it later. Without doing that I will know that it is a smell that I am familiar with, but won’t be able to identify it. If I do intentionally code it, then I have no trouble stating what it is, and in fact I have an excellent palate and ability to identify smells.
It is a significant difference in functioning between psychopaths and neurotypicals, but one that once it is understood can make all the difference in the world for things like designing studies. There are a lot of misunderstandings about how psychopaths experience the world, and neurotypical researchers assume that how they themselves experience things can then be extrapolated out, and applied to psychopaths. However, that just is not the case. You will come to completely incorrect conclusions when you don’t understand the basic functioning of the people that you are studying. Interestingly, psychopaths themselves are never consulted when it come to study construction. That would probably make for some far better studies.
Memory coding in psychopaths is going to be just the event as it happened. Recall of that event isn’t going to be as simple as looking at a photograph, or someone else reminding me that it happened based on “what a good time we had”, or “how terrible” something was. It simply doesn’t work that way. Photographs to me mean as much as a photograph means to you when you do an image search for quotation marks, and look at a random sampling of photographs. They simply exist, but they have no significance to you as an individual.