The term “mask” is something that has been associated with psychopathy for almost as long as it has existed as a concept. All the way back to Hervey Cleckley’s book, “The mask of Sanity”, in which he describes the first real notions of what psychopathy was based on his observations. It’s an interesting book for the time period in which it was written, the 1940’s.
As time progressed and the idea of what psychopathy really is began to change and take shape, the concept of a mask has never left, and there is a reason for that, because it is a reality of being psychopathic, that a mask is necessary for daily living.
Before I go into the details, yes, I know, neurotypicals have masks as well. They are social masks, and basically come down to being the best version of themselves being presented. Good manners, being polite when in reality you’re very angry about something, pleasant when in reality you’re exhausted. I am aware of this, and don’t discredit that this is the case. However, these masks are nothing like a psychopath’s, other than the fact that it has the same name.
A psychopathic mask is the manufacturing of a whole person that is entirely different that what I am like sans mask. That might seem rather exaggerated, or overly hyperbolic, and often I find myself having conversations explaining how different it actually is.
When neurotypicals interact with one another they are constantly exchanging emotional energy. They are unaware of this, but it is a continued cycle that I have been observing for years. When that energy is shut off, perhaps due to isolation, such as solitary confinement, people lose their sense of self and sanity. If you watched the show, “Naked and Afraid”, you would have seen this in action. For those of you unfamiliar, “Naked and Afraid”, it takes two people, strips them of all the things that are necessary for survival, including clothing, and dumps them in the middle of nowhere that is exceptionally hostile to the notion of human life for twenty-one days.
Sometimes one of the partners has to leave early. It might be because they tap out, or they are ill, or injured, and the other person has to make a choice as to whether or not they are going to stick around and finish the challenge on their own. Some people are okay alone, but other people literally breakdown and lose their will to live because they have no one exchanging emotional energy with them. Emotional energy exchange is the only thing that is necessary for some people to survive, but not others. No one alive can just forgo oxygen, food, water, but emotional energy, is selective.
Neurotypicals are open emotional circuits. They genuinely need other people for their emotional wellbeing.
Psychopaths are closed emotional circuits. They do not need anyone to be emotionally stable and well.
To have a good understanding of what the mask is creating, you have to first understand what is lacking. Everything that makes you feel comfortable and confident around another person? All of that. Everything that makes you feel welcome and wanted by a person? All of that as well. When those that are close to me approach me mask off, they may well have the impression that they are being encouraged to leave. There is a blank wall that translates to in their minds to “what do you want"?” complete with glare and eye roll at their presence. There isn’t one, but that isn’t how it feels to them.
I often describe the open emotional circuit this way. When you are in a room that has a fan running all the time, you get used to the sound, and it becomes background noise. You cease being aware of its presence until someone shuts it off, and then suddenly you are acutely aware of its absence. Same sensation when that emotional open circuit is gone, you had no idea how used to it you are, until it’s gone, and once it’s gone, its absence is very unpleasant.
What has always been interesting to me is that how people respond to a lack of emotional circuitry, is to interpret it through an emotional lens. It not being there means that they are not wanted. That isn’t the case, I am just not manufacturing the cues that you are relying on to feel normal in that moment.
I have a friend that is also psychopathic, and I have spoken to people that are close to him for their impressions to see if they are similar. One of them said this;
“You have been out all night with your friends. You are in the best mood. You’re laughing, carrying on, just having a grand old time, and you burst through a door and into a library.”
That sucking sensation that happens as all your mirth drains out because everyone is looking at you like you’re an asshole, that is what it is like when you confront a psychopath mask off and they aren’t pissed at you. It’s this void, a lacking that you can’t imagine. It’s just, without.”
Running that by people that know me, there is agreement with this sentiment. Your emotional energy goes into a black hole, never to be seen again. There is no reciprocation. That lack is very uncomfortable for people.
I was speaking to a friend last night, and we arrived at the conclusion to try to explain it in the reverse. If you, a neurotypical, were born in a society of psychopaths that did not like neurotypicals, your mask for blending in would be much more complex than the one you wear to be kind at the supermarket. You would have to emotionally sanitize everything you think and feel and take a more rational approach that would make you look like one of them.
Good manners would not be sufficient, as those good manners as you know them are based on a neurotypical society. They wouldn’t work in a psychopathic one. You would have to literally change nearly everything about you. Every thought you had would have to be screened for emotive language that had no place. Every reaction would have to be checked at the door. Reverse this, and you have the basis for the psychopathic mask. It is creating the appearance of emotions, many of which I have never even felt before.
I have been happy, but I have never grieved. Mimicking happiness, even when I am not, fairly easy. Mimicking grief when I didn’t really understand a whole lot about it, much more difficult, but still necessary. People ask me how I would respond in this event, or that event, and often I find we are so at odds over what we think is appropriate that it’s sort of incredible.
One asked about recently was, what would I think or feel if my boss yelled at me. My response? And? I would have no reaction to it. If I messed something up? Oh well, tell me what I did wrong, and I will fix it and not do it again. Why yell about it? Seems unreasonable and emotionally unhinged.
What neurotypicals are telling me is that they would feel ashamed. Why? Everyone messes up. It doesn’t seem like something that requires yelling, or shame. If you did something on purpose, and that is what he or she is having a meltdown about, all right, I can kind of see that one, but otherwise, both sides of this response seems unreasonable to me.
If you lived in my head, you would have to not only work out that shame, at least the appearance of it, was necessary in the situation of the boss yelling. Or at least not telling him to bugger off, that I’m busy. I would then have to mimic an emotion that I am still working out the value of, to the point that he would bugger off… because I’m busy.
This is true in almost every situation. In relationships, your partner wants to know you want them around. To me this is obvious. I’m here, aren’t I? If I didn’t want to be around you, wouldn’t I be somewhere else? Yes, the answer is yes. Presence is not enough for most partners. They want engagement, they want reassurance, they want interaction.
…Sigh. Fine. All of this will be manufactured, because that is what they require of me, but none of it is instinctual. A psychopathic mask is the creation of everything that you take for granted interacting with the people around you. It is an internal process that results in all the normal things you rely on to feel like you are speaking to someone that thinks just like you.
In friendships, most women will see one of their friends crying, and they immediately go to them, hug them, comfort them, and see what they can do to help.
“What’s going on?”
I am seeking information to solve the problem. If I solve your problem, you can stop crying, and then things can go back to normal. I will never feel the inclination to hug you. I don’t feel anything inside that makes me want to comfort you. There is no emotional response to your crying, or your pain. Just as much as a flat tire is a problem to be solved, so is whatever you are crying or upset about.
Almost everything in the world is emotionally tinged to some degree or another, and that fact is the main reason for the creation of the mask in the first place. It is a long process that is never complete. New situations arrive all the time that I have to provide for. As you grow older, and have more experiences in life, the more situations you have to learn to adapt to, and the more places that emotions have to be mimicked in. There isn’t a blueprint for a psychopath to follow, someone like us to teach us the ropes, so it is all learned in a firestorm of messing up when we are children, all the way through now. The firestorm ihas long gone out, but there is still a lot to learn.
While it gets easier when we are older, that doesn’t make us immune from emotional missteps, and relationships, friendships, provide adequate hunting grounds for failure. It is an ongoing education of how different I am than those around me. I am extremely lucky. I have my Significant Other and a good friend that both live with me. Both are endlessly patient with my inadequate emotional responses, and both of them have described being close to me as “challenging”.
It is, there is no doubt about that. My mask is great, but it still fails both of them. It is more genuine to show them through my actions their level of value to me, but my actions aren’t going to ever be emotionally driven, and so it fails to provide for some of their emotional needs. They have to tell me where I come up short, and I have to either account for it, or let them know that I can foresee myself continuing to struggle with some of it.
The mask is meant to blend in, to make sure my life is as enjoyable as possible, to create a persona that people can relate to and want to be around, to meet the needs of those I have around me, and to protect me from people that wish to do harm to psychopaths because they don’t understand what psychopathy is. Interestingly, one of the things that seems to be very prevalent in people that say that they are psychopathic, only to later on either reveal themselves through actions, words, or writings, that they are not, is a denial that the psychopathic mask exists.
The reason for this is obvious, and it makes picking out those that are not psychopathic relatively easy for me. They claim that it isn’t real, because they have no concept of what it is, and how much it is a part of life when you are truly psychopathic. When you are a psychopath, there is no question that this creation of a full persona is simply a part of life if you have an interest in succeeding in society. You would never mistake it for the same mask as a neurotypical, and it is something that can be described easily.
It isn’t just a nice presentation, it is weaving the image of a person that people will relate to me when they see me.