Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I Imagine Emotions - but Do I Feel? (Part I)

I'm in the process of reading a book written by Paul Babiak and Robert D. Hare, named: 'Snakes in Suits'.
I have found several passages that I would like to take up here for various reasons which I will explain as I do so. This article is the first of two parts, but there's likely to be more since there're so many topics and issues I want to address.

'Snakes in Suits' is an interesting read - informative in many ways that are not unlike Robert Hare's first book: 'Without Conscience' - and even though it is written in an easy style that avoids psychiatric jargon, is mainly popular and thus kept in a language meant for a wide public, it does give you valid information - which I'll say is the trademark of Robert D. Hare. It fits his claimed intention which is to inform the public.

This book ('Snakes in Suits') addresses a more wide range of psychopathic practices - opposite Hare's 'Without Conscience' which were basically about the sub-group among us who are both highly criminal and highly violent and hence who also does a good deal of jail time, generally speaking.

It also uses the interesting style of switching between passages of regular information and passages that pertain to a story of fiction which progresses throughout the book, describing the kind of scenery that can typically take place in a firm who unknowingly hires a Psychopath. We follow this individual's actions and psychopathic impact upon the firm as a whole as well as upon individual people working in/for the firm.

Thus, the group of psychopaths this book focus on are often not clinically diagnosed, they fly under the radar, so to speak, and for various reasons they do so successfully... These reasons pertain more to the Psychopath's individual background than to anything else which is often the upper middle class or even the wealthy. - That said, there is obviously also an individual difference in temperament, personal tastes, likes and dislikes, and preferences in general which have an influence upon whether or not one is more like to become a White Collar Psychopath or right out chooses to go clearcut Criminal and Violent.

However, that is not what this article is about. I wanted to mention what the book mainly focuses on in terms of psychopathic groups in society, and it this group has been dubbed 'White Collar Psychopaths'. The association is obvious.

Today I was reading the beginning of Chapter 3.

It is about how Psychopaths manipulate, and most of us have heard these things before - and even if we haven't, we know them by heart, since we're using these techniques on a daily basis.
The new in this case is the way Babiak also explains why - in his understanding - we are capable of carrying through with these manipulative schemes, whereas normal people are not.

The one thing that runs through his explanation is the Psychopath's inability to feel Empathy. But it is also more than that, for he doesn't merely state that 'Psychopaths can't feel Empathy, period!'. He uses examples, and today I came upon such an example which had me react in two ways.

As an illustrative example of this he describes how Robert Hare once coached Nicole Kidman when she was preparing herself for her role in the movie 'Malice'...

Practice Makes Perfect

Hare consulted with Nicole Kidman on the movie Malice. She wanted to let thew audience know, early in the film, that she was not the sweet, warm person she appeared to be. He gave her the following scene: "You're walking down the street and come across an accident at the corner. A young child has been struck by a car and is lying in a pool of blood. You walk up to the accident site, look briefly at the child, and then focus at the grief-stricken mother. After a few minutes of careful scrutiny, you walk back to your apartment, go into the bathroom, stand in front of the mirror, and practice mimicking the facial expressions and body language of the mother."

When I read this my immediate reaction was:
"Yes! That's how it is! This is how I do it! This is what I've always done, and there're still so many emotions I haven't yet learned to express!"

The difference between how I feel - about the fact that this is how it is, that this is what I do and is what I've done since earliest childhood - and how Babiak sees it, is that in his understanding we all do this only out of malicious motivation.


Altought psychopaths do not feel the range and depth of emotions experienced by most people, they do understand that others have something called "emotions". Some may even take the time to learn to mimic emotions so they can better manipulate their victims.

When I did this as a 6 year old kid, I had no ulterior motives, I had no thoughts about how this could be used to make others believe I was feeling something I wasn't. There was no ulterior motive whatsoever, I was merely being curious and exercising my inherent drive to learn. - I believe it is normal for all children to want to learn - at least to some extent - and those who chooses to can keep learning also when they've become adults. I am one who chose to keep learning, and I am still practicing in front of the mirror on occasion!

Even now as an adult, when I do it, it is more of a way for me to try and somehow relate to those people as they feel these emotions.
And this brings me to the second passage that just hit right home, which follows in this article's part II.


MrBlake said...

Hey man, this one is going close. I like you're tellin stuff how it is - even tho we know most people won't understand it. Haha.

But those who do - that's just cool man. Almost feel like tellin them folks on some of the foras I frequent about yore website after all.
Never did it but once so far - not wanting to attract shit for ya.

MrBlake said...

Bytheway, hey Zhawq, that new intro is so cool, pal! FINALLY you came out with it, huh? YES!!

Dat's my man! Tell'em how it be, brotha!

And of course I knew you would! Was just a matter of time. Haha.

All those folks who thought you didn't know what you are - that was hilarious. Haha. But this is cooool! You makin me proud once again that I know you.

One thing though - about the article, not the blog intro - In the situation when you're with those people who call you abusive and say they're victims and so on - you don't wonder about their feelings or if you're imagining your display.

Just saying, since I see how some might possibly think that's what you meant.

Anonymous said...

I remember reading that excerpt a while ago, and yeah, that is the reality as long as you were blessed enough to have a mirror as a kid.

Some goes for accents, tone changes, well, everything.

What the author doesn't understand, or what I percieve is this.

We have tools. We collect them, hone them, upgrade them, what will you. How we use them is situational. Sure, there are some that lean more towards malicious than others, but faking facial expressions is not so much insidious as it is unnatural through the eyes of someone who doesn't understand the fact that people similar to me, or you, need to do it that way in order to pull it off.

Zhawq said...


Thanks for the nice words. They're much appreciated. ;)

"..you don't wonder about their feelings or if you're imagining your display."

True enough.


"...reality as long as you were blessed enough to have a mirror as a kid."

Man, I would do it with store windows too. Some places there were mirrors sitting in a store window, and they'd distort your reflection ever so slightly. I used to almost get the cramps from laughter when I made my grimaces trying to look like someone displaying an emotion I wasn't personally familiar with. - It would start out seriously enough, with me stoically positioning myself so I could see enough of my face and body that was used in the expression. But being a kid, I didn't always do very well and just came out making really silly faces.

Actually (now don't laugh!), it can still happen. I still do it from time to time, and I am just as prone to laughter in this particular respect as I always was.
It's one thing I really appreciate about having kept some of my youthful spirit, I still think those things are funny that most people grow out of during their teens.

Yep, weird I know. But there it is.

"Some goes for accents, tone changes, well, everything."

Uhm... yep, that would be me.

"faking facial expressions is not so much insidious as it is unnatural through the eyes of someone who doesn't understand the fact that people similar to me, or you, need to do it that way in order to pull it off."

Well said!

Anonymous said...

I've been reading this same book in the last few weeks - I got bored pretty quickly but the passage you mentioned about the practising expressions, when I read it I responded similarly to you with "hey thats what I do".

Zhawq said...


Yeah. I've been thinking about it and wonder if perhaps not all people do it to some extent.

F.x., when kids play and pretend to be adults, or cowboys or policemen, is this not a form of practicing behavior as well as the emotional stuff that goes with it?

I can remember how kids I knew from different schools - though mainly the girls - would practice in front of a mirror, grimacing in an attempt to look like adults being seductive, sexy, inviting, etc.

With the boys it was more a question of having fun and make the most grotesque grimaces they could muster. I myself had a lot of fun with that, even later when others had long since grown out of this behavior.

The difference was they didn't take it to the extreme that I have, and they didn't practice every little detail nor try to get it quite as perfect as I did.

Anonymous said...


You said, "When I did this as a 6 year old kid, I had no ulterior motives, I had no thoughts about how this could be used to make others believe I was feeling something I wasn't. There was no ulterior motive whatsoever, I was merely being curious and exercising my inherent drive to learn."

Very important point to make. Hope the 'researchers' are reading your blog and taking notes! Thanks!

Psychopath said...

@Anon 7:13 AM

Yes! very important point, and I am glad Zhwaq is posting. Zhwaqs posts are very helpful in making those connections in myself I could not figure out or understand. I read here things that make me say to myself " YES.. that is me! "

Researchers would be foolish not to follow this site.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a psychopath, yet i occasionally do facial expressions in the mirror, these are mainly funny ones though and I've never had to practice laughing, angry, stern or concerned expressions. the reason i don't is because these things are simply natural responses a knee jerk reaction. this is also probably one of the things that separate someone with asbergers syndrome and a psychopath although both cannot understand many human emotions a psychopath may try to mimic these emotions to fool the people around him.

Anonymous said...

my experience is slightly different, although I have done plenty of time in the mirror, I more have just tried to learn by others faces, but am a bit surprised when I do put that face on in the mirror that it doesn't look quite the same.Less exaggerated than normal.

For me it is a package, voice body language, the best methods aren't mere trying, it is thinking like you want to be perceived and letting my spontaneous "mask" do the work on the expressions,voice and body language. I find this to be much more realistic and effective. Learnt this at about 5 yo.

You hit the nail on the head, it isn't a malicious thing at the roots, its learning and trying to relate/fit in.

I find looking in the mirror strangely puzzling at times , what I see is not what I feel or expect to see most of the time. Often when I'm feeling desperately empty or bored or dismay, I can't reconcile how blank I actually look in the mirror.

Could you please write about the nature of the difference between being sociable, putting on masks so to speak versus outright antisocial. I often find others who are psychopathic seem free er to socialize and mix with people and generally fit in, while I am just not interested, and dealing with normal people for very long is a strain. I even find it difficult to get sex because the length of time I need to keep up appearances is burdening.