People often want to know why people with personality disorders (pathology) often have the worst and most inappropriate behavior, indicating they are clueless about others’ feelings, AND YET they are often enabled with the uncanny ability to so know human behavior they con even the most knowledgeable of people.
This ‘savant-like’ experience with human behavior reminds me of the Scripture that says, “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.” Cluster B Personality Disorders no doubt rack up their miles in huge emotional and behavioral deficits. (The Lord taketh away.) I’ve discussed this in length in the newsletter and books—that what causes a personality disorder has to do with what DOESN’T happen when the personality is forming from birth through 8 years of age.
Deficits = Disorders
Not getting what a child needs WHEN they need it can be the beginning of a personality disorder. Normal childhood development does not include severe neglect, being raised by a pathological and learning to see the world through the eyes of a narcissist or sociopath, or being abused.
Whatever the cause of the personality disorder (exposed to pathological parents or being born with neurological abnormalities), let’s consider the ‘budding pathological child’ for a moment. Let’s put out of our mind just for now the disordered adult he grows into. Here we have, let’s say, a 9- or 10-year-old child who, through no fault of his own, has a personality disorder. That means that the child does not have the full spectrum of human emotion, has blunted feelings of love/compassion/guilt/remorse, has impulse control problems, has difficulty knowing right from wrong, is not motivated by punishment when he does wrong, and is tantalized by risk and reward.
His friend across the street is the same age and not personality disordered. His friend has a full spectrum of emotions, feels bonded, love, compassion, is motivated by punishment (and so feels guilt and remorse), has impulse control over many of his actions, and understands the basic concepts of right and wrong. Although he likes risk and reward, he has enough impulse control not to be led consistently by pleasure.
One day Pathology Pete is over at Normal Ned’s. While playing in the house the boys knock over a vase and break it. Ned knows the story behind the vase: It’s the only
thing his mother has left from her mother. His mother got it as a gift on the deathbed of her mother. She always prized it and felt her mother’s presence when she looked at it. Ned’s mother begins to cry and Ned has empathetic feelings that his mother is sad and experiencing loss because of the broken vase. Ned goes to her and tries to comfort her while Pete looks on.
Pete has NO idea (a) why Ned feels bad that the vase was broken (so what, go get another one), (b) why Ned would go to his mother and hug her and pat her (why does she need that?), (c) why Ned offers to replace the vase, and (d) why it was even wrong to be playing with a ball by the vase in the first place.
Pete stands off to the side watching this ‘unusual’ reaction and interaction between Ned and his mother. In comes Ned’s brother, Normal Nathan. He sees his mother crying and also goes to her to comfort her. Pete wonders, “Why? He didn’t even break the vase.”
Pete stands awkwardly off to the side watching what is like a sci-fi movie to him—all these feelings, actions, behaviors, and motivations he doesn’t understand. Over and over throughout his childhood and into his adolescence this incident is repeated again and again.
Pete witnesses people having feelings he doesn’t experience. They have emotional reactions that he doesn’t understand. They have reactions, behaviors, and motivations that are foreign to him. Pete’s bright—he is a smart child and can’t figure out why he doesn’t ‘know’ what other kids know—how to act, how not to act, how to feel certain emotions and when and why. A pathological child figures out early that they are ‘different’—they just don’t know why.
Having a need to appear normal and fitting in like everyone else does—he watches. When someone cries, this is what other people do in response to the crying ___________ (behavior). The person who made the other one cry has a facial expression like this ___________ (“I’m sorry” look). People appear to cry for these reasons: _____________________ (motivations/consequences).
Children who grow to be pathological are little psychologists by the time they are teens. They have so watched other people that they understand (on a manipulative level) what makes people hurt and how to get out of consequences for having hurt others. These little child prodigies who have studied human behavior since they were 5 or 6 years old, are emotional savants.
On one hand, they do NOT have the full spectrum of emotions and so are sort of emotionally retarded towards the experience of others. On the other hand, they are so bright and have honed in on studying others so well that they have learned how to develop a mask for any occasion. This is the Lord giveth part—they have such a knack for paying attention to others’ reactions that they learn to mimic other people’s facial gestures and behaviors and parrot the language and lingo of what others say.
This is why they are a mirror image of you in a relationship. They watch and listen and mimic and parrot back all you say and do. This is why they feel like a soul mate—because you are essentially looking at a mask of yourself.
These skills are then polished over years of use¬—using them on his mother, sister, Sunday school teacher, girls at school, bosses… anywhere he can tweak the manipulation and look normal enough to fit in.
What began as a simple adaptation in childhood—learning to understand how normal people relate and behave—turns into manipulation later. At some point, the child/teen must come to the conclusion that he DOESN’T have these feelings, limits, boundaries, and experiences. “What the hell… just gotta go with it” is his normal reaction.
The adaptation is no longer simply to understand normal people and compare and contrast them to his own experiences. It is now a survival behavior that helps him to get what he wants since his deficits will now give him the skills that others have to get the same thing legitimately.
Pathology Pete simply produces more masks—one for every emotion he doesn’t sincerely have.
(**If we can support you in your recovery process, please let us know. The Institute is the largest provider of recovery-based services for survivors of pathological love relationships. Information about pathological love relationships is in our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and is also available in our retreats, 1:1s, or phone sessions. See the website for more information).