Psychopathy And Emotional Experience
What do psychopaths feel?
There is often a great deal of misinformation about what psychopaths can feel, and what they cannot feel. A great deal of this misinformation comes from the conflation of ASPD and psychopathy. If you are stating that psychopathy and ASPD are the same things, as wrong as you may be, then it would stand to reason that psychopaths could supposedly feel all emotions.
This is factually incorrect.
The other most popular myth about psychopathy is that they feel no emotions. This one is just exhausting. Not only is it false, but it is also the most commonly parroted by fakes. They “feel no emotions” and “it’s just so so sad”… sigh. Or, they feel all the emotions, and it’s just so hard to be them.
Let’s be very clear. Psychopaths have emotions. There are some that psychopaths do not feel, and we will get into those, but the rest are muted. What do I mean by muted? Imagine that you are really angry about something. I mean raging mad, but then someone comes along and takes ahold of the knob that increases and decreases the intensity of your emotions, and just turns it way down. You just went from ready to flip the table over to being mildly perturbed.
That’s what I mean by muted. I never get raging mad. I can’t even imagine it. I watch people get raging mad with my eyebrows in my hairline wondering why this is something they want to partake in. It looks tiring and wholly unnecessary. Because psychopathy has been so poorly communicated regarding what makes a psychopath, and how they are different, and also because there is so much terrible misinformation out there about psychopathy, a lot of silly claims become considered “facts”, when in reality they are just nonsense. “Having no emotions” is an excellent example of that.
There are loads of other claims out there. Psychopaths are nothing but angry repressed rage-filled hurt people looking for an outlet. I see a lot of this sort of claim by people that believe that everyone they have ever known and their dogs are psychopaths. People like this:
“no, just no. psychopaths can get stressed or depressed too. also can’t adapt to absolutely every situation. no one can. please educate yourself.”
“Actually you entities hate yourself as you are stuck at the less than one year old child stage of development and despise the fact nothing feels as your brain can not connect to the whole self for when and if it does you always turn into an out of control mess running back to your fear which manifests itself as a Machiavellian control freak scared to lose your grip on reality, or what you think reality is, thus leaving a wake of externalized self loathing and hatred into others; your laugh is actually a cry of scared child stuck in a dark hell.
I am not a neuro-typical and it is interesting to sense the self hatred psychopaths have for themselves as they can only experience physical sensations, and even that is highly muted, which denies access to the ability to higher senses you constantly trying to sense. The only reason you appear successful is because of the nuero-typicals for you would not know you exist without them as a psychopath is developed just above an animal and is not human.
Meta-physically with an empty shell of others parts of the self, psychopaths are vessels for Lilli and other daemons and demons pulling their strings here and fro.
Your self hate is deep and near endless and the destruction you wish to create so the demons in your head and body can feed on will not happen this time even if you taken over the some sects of the lower aspects of some great religions; as it is known psychopaths go to religious congregations to learn how to be better psychopaths.”
Or, like this:
“What you just stated & claimed that you can't have feelings for a person? You know as well as I do, that's an absolute lie and poor excuse for you & others like yourself! You choose to be like that! I know for a fact, I was with a narc for 17yrs & I do know that, you do know what your doing at all times. It's just another cowardly act narcs choose to use! You type of individuals are mentally sick, cowardly, liars, sadistic & pathetic! You want the world to be miserable just like you! So, please keep it
! But wait, you can't!”
“Wrong on the hatred thing, Athena dear... Psychopaths, maybe not all of you, but a lot of them DO feel hatred. Very intense in fact. Towards people in general. A lot of psychopaths simply hate humans. The best example is Stalin. Who had a deep hatred towards people. Quick story about him: one time he and the other prominent members of the communist party, including Lenin, were on a hunting trip. One day when they were all sitting down (probably to rest) Lenin asked everyone there what do they think is the greatest pleasure in life… One of them answered working in a factory, Trotsky for instance said that war was the greatest pleasure… But Stalin didn’t say anything. Lenin noticed that and said “I noticed you didn’t say anything, you don’t have any opinion on this”? After a few minutes of silence Stalin said: “You are all fools. None of you know what the greatest pleasure in life is. The greatest pleasure in life is hating someone at the utmost for years while during all this time pretending to be his best friend. And one day, when he has complete confidence in you and rests his head on your chest, you take out a knife and stab him in the back”. THIS is the kind of hatred psychopaths feel. So don’t try to bullshit us. Psychopaths feel hatred. The type of hatred Stalin expressed above. You may not feel frustration, yes, but you do feel hatred. What I find disgusting on Quora lately is a trend to make psychopaths look “less bad”… The psychopath is the lowest and most disgusting form of human garbage. This is the definition of the psychopath on popular terms. A psychopath combines the most disgusting human features in one individual. And nothing good. NOTHING.”
Such lovely people. aren’t they?
Anyway, this is a common theme, and it is also quite common for people who are entirely neurotypical to tell me how I feel. It is really amusing to experience having people inform me how my internal thought process functions. In every case they are incorrect, and when I try to correct them, apparently that makes me a narcissist.
Seems reasonable, right?
It doesn’t to me either, but it is a constant conversation about what I can feel, and what I can’t. I have a post about this over on Quora that I have had to repost so many times it’s unreal. In fact, the opening line of it says:
“It seems like all I have been doing is answering versions of this question in the last week, so hopefully, this will be more searchable or something along those lines so I can stop merging and re-answering this.”
Did that solve the problem? No. No, it did not. I just had to keep merging questions that were very close to the original question asked, or, repost the same thing over and over again. I thought I would do a more definitive post here explaining what psychopathic emotions are like, and what they are not like in order to clarify this frequently asked question.
I think the place we have to start is going to be with a key chemical component in most emotional experiences, and that would be oxytocin. Most people associate oxytocin with things like chemical love and bonding, but it actually has far longer fingers than that. There is a persistent rumor out there that psychopaths lack oxytocin, but this is not the case. It’s there in the brain, but the receptor that it is meant to bind to is mutated making it incompatible for the chemical to bind to. It passes through the system unused.
Interestingly, in people with ASPD, they have found a higher concentration of oxytocin in their urine, and there is a hypothesis that this relates somehow to their likelihood of committing crimes or being antisocial. However, I don’t believe that they have repeated this on psychopaths specifically, so I can’t tell you if there is also some correlation there. Perhaps even if it is unused in the brain it still plays some role in psychopathy that we are unaware of. Only time and well-constructed studies will tell us this information.
Oxytocin is responsible for many things that you experience emotionally. It links not only to chemical love and bonding, but trust, jealousy, depression, empathy, pro-social cues that you have to mind, among other things. The level of oxytocin a person has can have dramatic effects on their personality and experience in the world overall, and it also answers many questions as to why psychopaths experience the world as they do. Let’s look at the effects, both positive and negative, of oxytocin in order to have a working understanding of what it creates for neurotypicals, and thus what is lacking in psychopaths.
Bear with me, this will likely be a bit long.
Oxytocin is related to childbirth, breast milk production, bonding to the child, fidelity, loyalty, makes orgasms longer and deeper, empathy, relationship bonding, calmness, closeness, eases stress, codes memories with emotions, boosts sexual arousal, reduces drug cravings, increases protective instincts, improves your social skills, induces sleep, increases generousness, lowers anxiety, improves mood, helps with relaxation, betters communication, cuddling, among other things.
That is a lot of positive attributes. Now, let’s look at that negative:
Oxytocin, however, at very high levels, becomes toxic and can induce aggressive behaviours, stimulating an exponential increase in alert levels, causing anxiety, fear and physical pain . Indeed, after a negative social experience, oxytocin circulating, interacting with the amygdala, triggers reactions of anxiety and fear in the face of the repetition of the stressful situation . Therefore, contrary to what happens for positive and comforting experiences, the hormone in high quantity after the experience of stressful or adverse situations intensifies the memory, increasing the sensitivity towards the negative feelings that can arise when the situation recurs or a similar one. Other possible contraindications detected during an excessive presence of oxytocin in the organism concern: envious and rancorous behaviors, as shown by a research by the University of Haifa ; learning and memory deficits ; immoral behavior and against social laws ; prejudicial conduct towards a subject or a group ; hypersexual behaviour, inhibition and frenetic sex addiction .
Oxytocin is also related to envy, jealousy, anger, gloating, and dishonesty. it also features centrally in tribalism as explained by Lily Brown, Ph.D., Director of the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania.
“I would argue the phrase ‘the cuddle hormone’ is a bit of a misnomer,” Brown says. While it’s true that oxytocin enhances bonding under certain circumstances, it may also lead to jealousy, suspicion, and the formation of “in” groups and “out” groups. “It seems the effect of oxytocin depends on the situation. So, when someone is in the presence of a person who is not part of their ‘tribe’ if you will, it can actually increase negative feelings toward members of the ‘out’ group. It’s not as straightforward of an explanation as we used to think,” Brown says.
Interestingly, looking into the role of oxytocin in emotional experience the research is beginning to show that it is an amplifier of what is already there:
“Robert C. Froemke, PhD, a neuroscientist who studies oxytocin at New York University concurs. “Oxytocin is not a ‘trust hormone’ or ‘love drug’—there’s really no such thing, biologically speaking. Oxytocin is released during social contact and gaze, mother-infant bonding and birthing, and maybe in some other cases as well,” he explains. “Most current neuroscientific studies of oxytocin indicate that oxytocin doesn’t just always make people happier or more pro-social or willing to bond. Rather, oxytocin seems to act like a volume dial, turning up and amplifying brain activity related to whatever someone is already experiencing. That’s essentially what a lot of different recent studies are converging on for oxytocin.”
Now that we have a rudimentary idea of what oxytocin does in the body, we can now look at what psychopaths lack.
The obvious would be no chemical love, no bonding, no chemical trust. I have talked about these several times, but there is a great deal more nuance to oxytocin and how it interplays in what psychopaths can and cannot feel. In researching it, it plays direct roles in anxiety disorders, may be a large contributing factor to schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and is apparently useful for the treatment of autism. In people that have survived suicide attempts their serum levels of oxytocin are markedly reduced, so it is possible that a sudden drop or a decrease of oxytocin over time may be a cause of suicidal ideations.
Psychopaths don’t kill themselves unless the decision to do so is the most reasonable. If I were dealing with a terminal illness and had exhausted all available possible treatments, I could see it being reasonable to end things on my own terms. I can’t say that I would definitely do so, I simply don’t discount the options. However, psychopaths do not have suicidal ideations. This isn’t just me saying so because I don’t understand it, they have researched this.
Other missing things for a psychopath would be anxiety, depression, tribalism, jealousy, envy, emotional empathy, pretty much everything that is based in oxytocin is absent. Based on my reading about oxytocin it seems to be a rather large linchpin to the neurotypical emotional experience. Lacking the ability to process it changes the psychopathic emotional landscape a great deal from that of most people around us.
Researching oxytocin has given me many moments of understanding of ways I am different than the people around me, but it is not the entire picture. There are several other things that are unavailable to psychopaths, and many of the things that are unavailable have cognitive versions of them. The first one, and likely the one most associated with psychopathy is lack of fear.
There are two elements that affect neurotypicals when they experience fear. The physiological, which is adrenaline based, and emotional which is produced in the brain.
The first aspect is the fight or flight instinct. This is triggered by the brain stem, and all humans have it. You can trigger it in anyone alive.
The second is the emotional processing of the situation at hand. This is processed in the brain largely by the amygdala.
Psychopaths have fight or flight responses. This comes with various symptoms;
When released into the bloodstream, epinephrine acts to
• Increase heart rate and blood pressure,
• Dilate the pupils,
• Elevate the blood sugar level (by increased hydrolysis of glycogen to glucose), and
• Redistribute blood flow away from the skin and inner organs.
Psychopaths still have all of this but lack the emotional aspects. This part doesn’t process for a psychopathic brain, thus why a psychopath can be very calm in the face of danger, and also enjoy what other people would deem a fearful situation.
Fight or flight is a chemical response, and without the fear aspect, it can be a lot of fun. If you enjoy roller coasters, then you know what I mean. You know you are safe, so you can just enjoy the ups, downs, the sideways, and the upside-down parts. Your body responds to all of this, and once you have ridden one, you want a bigger badder version to tackle next.
Fight or flight can happen in a variety of situations, and many of them are not fear-based. However they are a part of the fear response in the neurotypical brain, so they become entwined in their understanding of it, and I agree with this notion. Adrenaline combined with the emotional processing is what the definition of fear is.
Psychopaths lack an enormous part of that equation and only have the aspect that does not exclusively apply to the experience of fear. It is therefore not a fear response, it is a fight or flight response that has some similar elements to a fear response in neurotypicals.
Based on my conversations with neurotypicals I think it is reasonable to say that the emotional response makes up a larger proportion of the NT response than the adrenaline/epinephrine response. There are a few reasons that I have drawn this conclusion.
A fear response can happen absent a fight or flight situation. That is not to say that it won’t be triggered by the circumstances at hand, but that those circumstances are not life-threatening, but rather the brain is responding to them like it is. Anxiety and panic attacks are excellent examples of this. If you can have a panic attack in a completely safe environment and it can stop you in your tracks, that is a powerful emotional production of fear.
Fear taints ordinary aspects of life without anxiety or panic being necessary. This is true when it comes to living life in a meaningful way. I see a lot of people not doing things due to the fear of the unknown. This does not require fight or flight in any way, just the emotional aspects of fear to be present to prevent action. Fearing failure is an example of this. It isn’t something that a psychopath will ever understand. So what? You sucked at something the first time? Who cares. It takes time to wire your brain for new activities, so try again. No reason to quit, or even worse, not try in the first place.
Fearing social rejection is another one. For whatever reason, this is still a reaction that a lot of people experience. They are terrified of not belonging, so they will chip away at who they actually are until none of it remains, or they never bother getting to know themselves in service to the group. This is a foreign concept to me. I blend in, but none of it is me. I just present what I have to in order to get what I need or want. However, this is for my convenience, not something that I need or fear being without.
Psychopaths have fight or flight which exists outside of the notion of fear, but the larger aspect of fear, that cripples neurotypicals, the emotional aspects, are lacking in their entirety. Thus, psychopaths cannot experience fear, they can experience one aspect that makes up a part of fear, some of the times that fear presents itself in neurotypicals.
Having fight or flight does not equate to fear.
Lacking fight or flight does not negate the presence of fear.
These two aspects can work together to create a bigger version of fear, but that is two things working in tangent with one another to create that situation. Psychopaths can have one, but not the other, and the one that we do have has nothing to do with fear, but rather survival.
People who lack neuroscientific knowledge tend to conflate the two, not realizing that they are indeed separate entities, and have separate names. They might combine in neurotypicals in times of life-threatening situations, or when the brain processes something as life-threatening even when it isn’t, but they do not combine in psychopaths, because in psychopaths the amygdala is understaffed, and therefore doesn’t process the emotional response. It’s just absent.
Other things that psychopaths lack are self-doubt, remorse, low self-esteem, sadness, resentment, hatred, stress, grief, mourning, longing, among others. Due to this reduced volume on emotions, and because there really aren’t any negative emotions, people have a habit of assuming that my life is pointless. Why do I bother living if I don’t feel anything? That’s the thing, I do feel things.
Generally, my emotional state is one of contentedness mixed with boredom if I haven’t done enough to keep my brain occupied, but that isn’t all there is. When moving into this discussion it is necessary to remind you of the volume level for me compared to a neurotypical regarding these things. Add to that, there are cognitive versions of many of the things on the chart below:
Starting with the outer circle I have experience with contempt, though I have had conversations with people that lead me to think that this is a cognitive response, not an emotional one. In my mind contempt was looking at someone’s actions and determining those actions, and the individual that undertook them to be weak. I have this thinking towards those that victimize people that cannot defend themselves. I consider this weak action, and will not give people like that my time. My assumption was that was contempt, but apparently, there is a great deal more to it emotionally.
Remorse is something that I have never felt, but that doesn't mean that it is something that I cannot understand the concept of, and act accordingly. If I wrong someone, and they can explain to me how what I did damaged them, I can recognize that I am required to take responsibility for my actions, and apologize. I don’t feel anything regarding doing this, but I can enact cognitive remorse.
I can disapprove of things, but I am not certain that I agree that is an emotion. Perhaps you all will correct me in the comments section.
I can experience awe, but I know that when NTs have this, their experience is much deeper than my own. How I define awe is something that is quite impressive. It does not covey negative or positive meanings, however. I can be just as in awe of seeing the Milky Way as I do a tsunami. They are both quite awesome.
Is submission an emotion? Really? I thought it was an act. I can act submissive. I can act any way that is necessary of me, but behaving submissively has no emotion to me. It is a strategy.
I don’t do optimism, but then again, I don’t really do pessimism either. I let things lay out and then look for my opening or my silver lining. Perhaps it is that I simply make my own outcomes, so I have no need for optimism, but it isn’t something that I can recall feeling.
Again… isn’t aggressiveness an action? I suppose that there has to be some kind of emotion that accompanies it, but aggression is a means to an end in my mind.
I can certainly be bored. I keep many options on hand to occupy my brain, but it isn’t always successful. Interestingly, when people experience low oxytocin states when they otherwise have normal levels, one of the symptoms is boredom. I can’t say that the lack of oxytocin is at the root of my boredom, but the link is interesting.
I don’t think I feel acceptance. In my mind, a person will make their own case. They are either worth being around, or they aren’t. When they have established to me who they are, and I make an evaluation about whether they interest me, then I consider them as worth investing my time in. No emotion goes with that though, it is a choice that I make.
I can have deep and involved thought, but there isn’t an emotion attached to that other than usually enjoyment. I like thinking about things from many angles, it is part of my survival strategy, but it is also fun for me. As pensiveness comes with tinges of sadness, I can say that I do not feel it.
I can be distracted, but I think that this is related to boredom for me. If I am bored, I will look for things to do. if those things don’t catch my interest I can be easily distracted looking for something else to do. I don’t think that has to do with any particular emotion past boredom, but I can be distracted.
I can be annoyed and irritated, but these are moods, which are emotional precursors, not emotions themselves.
In psychology, a mood is an affective state. In contrast to emotions or feelings, moods are less specific, less intense and less likely to be provoked or instantiated by a particular stimulus or event. Moods are typically described as having either a positive or negative valence. In other words, people usually talk about being in a good mood or a bad mood.
Those that mistake these for emotions, simply haven’t done the research to understand these states are not emotions themselves, and it is not surprising that they can be felt.
We already went over trust, love, fear, and sadness, so we can bypass them. Terror is a part of fear, so we can dismiss it.
Anger I can feel, but it is fundamentally different than what neurotypicals experience. I understand that anger is deeply felt, can be very long-lasting, and cause a lot of problems when it is expressed if it is expressed negatively.
Anger for me is none of that and you will never know if I am angry about something. It flashes and dissipates before a single muscle in my face twitches. I liken it to alcohol in cooking. It lights, burns, and goes out, all in a moment. That’s pretty much the extent of it for me. I will never feel rage. It is too deep of an emotion to ever be something I am capable of.
I just talked about disgust yesterday:
Nope. It is what it is. I have always found the disgust reaction to be irritating. When it comes to smells, instead of complaining about it and retching, here’s a suggestion.
Breathe through your mouth, not your nose.
It really is that simple. It cuts the smell down immensely, and I don’t have to listen to people whining about it anymore. It gets seriously old.
As for sights, I don’t get that either. I have seen some pretty gruesome things, and none of it bothered me. It actually can be quite interesting.
Sounds like someone vomiting? I have been in situations where I have had to listen to the most obnoxious vomiting there could possibly be by a middle-aged woman. Like the world is ending, and the person is giving mouth birth to both the creature from Aliens and a demon at the same time.
My reaction? I thought it was hysterical. We get it, you have the flu. Take it down a notch. There are children handling this better than you. Cancer patients are shrinking away from you in horror. Seriously, relax.
It didn’t make me sick though, it was just funny. So no, no feelings of disgust or what have you. It just doesn’t register for me.
Someone had a thought about my experience of disgust, and I think that they may be correct:
“You once wrote that you do not like balut due to the texture. It sounds like a non-emotional disgust response. Probably tuned down like other emotions, where psychopathic disgust wouldn't be "EEEEEWWWWWW GETITAWAYYYYYYYYY" but, "No. I'd rather not."
This is quite possible that this indeed is a disgust response, but it’s an unemotional one. I think that this is a good hypothesis.
I think serenity is akin to being content. Perhaps it is contentment with the added understanding of the negative side of the emotional spectrum. It is contentment turned up because there is the knowledge of misery as well. Perhaps I am wrong, but I think content is my version of serenity.
I can be surprised, but can’t everyone? Unless you can anticipate every single aspect of life, you are bound to encounter things that you otherwise wouldn’t see coming.
I don’t think that I anticipate things. I live in the moment, and anticipation is planning ahead. I can know that something is upcoming, but there isn’t a feeling regarding it.
Loathing. This one is a weird one. I think that my version of loathing is annoyance. I can dislike someone and not want to deal with them, or deal with the situation, but based on my reading, loathing means much more to neurotypicals.
I think that vigilance is a matter of practicality. You have to be aware of your surroundings and the people that you are dealing with. Perfect paranoia is perfect awareness, but there isn’t a sense of emotion regarding this. It simply is proper conduct.
Admiration is something that I can feel I think. I can see something that someone does and see how very cool it is and admire it. Perhaps it is an action for me, but I think that there is an emotional aspect to it.
I can be amazed. There are always going to be amazing things in the world, and I am one to seek them out so I can know about them. Amazement is a fun thing to experience.
Which leaves us with ecstasy. I don’t know about this one, and I will explain why. I noticed that happiness was not on this list, and I can be happy. I consider happiness the elevated state of my contentedness. The thing about the psychopathic emotional spectrum is that there is very little in terms of negative, so most things are variations of the positive.
I can note that there is a level above happiness, but based on my understanding of what NTs consider ecstasy, there is a lot more going on there than what I feel. Maybe it is the psychopathic version of it, but it does differ from what neurotypicals feel.
There you go. That is what I can feel as a psychopath.