James Fallon, author of The Psychopath Inside, has the brain abnormalities of a psychopath, but does not behave like one and here is why.

“…brain patterns and genetic makeup are not enough to make anyone a psychopath. You need a third ingredient: abuse or violence in one’s childhood. It’s an unlucky day when all of these three things come together in a bad way, and I think one has to empathize with what happened to them.”

But do we? We either elect them to office, work as cogs in their corporate machines, try to be like them, or we are damaged by them, revile them openly and hate hard forever.

Empathy is a delicate thing that I think is born out of compassion. Or vice versa. Or maybe they’re the same thing. The Dalai Lama spoke of one of his teachers who, when asked about his toughest battle, said that he worried that he wouldn’t feel compassion for the Chinese soldiers in Tibet. I don’t know how much you know about that, but we’re talking major crimes of humanity. Ghastly, terrifying, inhuman and inhumane ones. Neither empathy nor compassion mean you have to roll over and take whatever is thrown at you. They mean that you, that we need to attempt some understanding to start with. We are human and so are they; if for no other reason than to prevent future evil, we definitely do need to understand them as much as the non-them crowd that we claim as our own. Understanding, that’s all. You don’t have to do anything more than that.

Empathy is the capacity to understand what another person is experiencing from within the other person’s frame of reference, ie, the capacity to place oneself in another’s shoes.

Let me give you a small example from my own life, when the universe whacked me upside the head with one of its ineffable lessons. And I’m gonna précis,  because I’m not fond of talking about it. My stepfather – my abuser – is someone I do not claim to forgive, neither do I feel the slightest need to. He came from a background of poverty, abuse and various horrors; that gave me some understanding, but since abuse is a choice, I felt nothing more than that intellectual thing. Then my stepbrother, who was always just my brother, was killed, and his father aged about 20 years overnight. I couldn’t have felt any schadenfreude, I loved my brother and whatever his sins and crimes and fuckups, so did his father. So there I was, unwillingly sharing a major emotion with the man I hated. I still don’t feel the need to forgive, I have never wanted any further dealings with him and for almost three decades, I’ve managed it about 99% of the time. But somehow and subconsciously, that experience erased my hatred.


Psychopaths, sociopaths (antisocial personality disorder according to the DSM 5) have the potential to be abusers (or CEOs), bipolar people have the potential to be violent (or artists). Neurotypical people have the potential to wage war (or declare peace). We are all capable of those things. We are all human beings, trying desperately to light candles against the terrors of darkness. And there is no binary us and them, because you can slice the pie into a fairly infinite range of halves. And people can be described and divided infinitely too. There’s always one group to shit on another group, as much as there’s that supposed us/them good/evil split.

I’m not advocating non violence. Threaten someone I love seriously enough and I will do my utmost to maim or kill you. I don’t know any answers and I don’t think anyone else does either. How can I ask someone who has been abused by *insert abuser’s most prominent descriptor here* to empathise, to be compassionate? What’s the point of religions and morals and so on if we don’t? How should society be dealing with abusers? How do we raise safer, healthier people? I have a nasty suspicion that it’s easier to unlearn love than hate. Forget postmodern self help wankery (please), that stuff has all been said before and new versions of it are simply ways of lining newer pockets. We need serious philosophers to be heard. Logicians. We need different solutions to what ails us (the collective us, society). We will continue to fail and to shine, be flawed and amazing – utopian thinkers will despise me for saying this – but it’s human nature. It’s who and what we are. Humans strive, struggle, risk … it’s what we do and what we will keep doing.


Here’s something radical and problematic that makes for an interesting thought experiment …

Nietzsche has postulated that, much as an elephant might ignore a mosquito buzzing around its ankle, a civilization might advance to such a degree of power that it would no longer feel compelled to punish its criminals. “It is not unthinkable,” writes Nietzsche in The Genealogy of Morals, “that a society might attain such a consciousness of power that it could allow itself the noblest luxury possible to it—letting those who harm it go unpunished. ‘What are my parasites to me?’ it might say. ‘May they live and prosper: I am strong enough for that!’” A Hive of Mysterious Danger

Well well … who knew Nietzsche was a trekkie.


Published by


battlescarred, bright, bewildered, bent, blue & bipolar

37 thoughts on “empathological”

  1. This is powerful, amazing, compassionate *and* so, so needs to be said.

    I never re-blog: I’m selfish that way. But I’d like to reblog this, as it says a lot of things that have been swimming around in my brain for awhile.

    As it’s quite personal, thought I’d ask first: am I okay to reblog this?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this on sheila north and commented:
    This is a powerful blog by one of my favourite members of the bipolar blogger network. In my mind, it ties in to a quote I recently read by the late African-American singer, Marian Anderson. She was talking about the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), an organisation which stopped Anderson from singing at several venues:

    “I forgave the DAR many years ago. You lose a lot of time hating people.”

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I am SO sorry about your brother Blah :( And I feel like saying I’m sorry you feel empathy for your abuser, isn’t it ironic, I read in “how to novel” books that we are supposed to make SOMEthing loveable about our malevolent what’s the word what’s the word antagonist there it is. Ugh. DO I HAVE TO? But I do! Makes me mad.

    Anyway I am also sorry you were abused which seems lame, but all along I have wanted to take your hand and be your friend, not knowing why, and maybe that’s why. But also, you are so loveable. Do you need to know that? I’m saying it anyway. It’s also 5:30 am and way earlier than I needed to get up so maybe I’m saying it badly.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much – I wrote or started writing a reply many hours ago, no idea what happened there.

      You said lovely things and I am v touched :)

      And I hope you feel better soon too

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Brilliant post. I do believe that third factor is what’s, generally, needed to make a psychopath or sociopath act, however, there are people who rape and kill and abuse and are exceptions to the rule, and there are people with all three factors who never commit violent acts. This is why humans are so terrifying and so fascinating.
    I love to last quote. I’m a big fan of Nietzsche, and it’s actually not improbable that that would happen one day. We’re a power hungry, greedy, easily blinded species.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Oh my, big thoughts here today.
    I’m a therapist who gets asked about forgiveness a lot, and the truth is, I’m not really behind it as a concept. I mean, if you feel moved to, then by all means. But I don’t think it’s a cure-all, and I don’t think it’s always necessary or appropriate. But I do think anger is a poison and we should do our best to let go of hatred. That’s for our benefit, no one else’s. Very interesting that you found your way there by that shared experience, and I’m very sorry for it. I’m going to think on that a whole bunch.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I talked to him about it once, he asked for forgiveness and I said no. I didn’t care, I’d let go by then, but I was damned if I was going to say something which to me, was tantamount to saying it’s alright, I’m cool with it now. I’m in remission, not okay with it having happened. Fuck forgiveness who needS it, I have freedom.

      I love your thinking on the subject.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Jay- thank you so much for leaving that comment. I have so many problems with people who keep telling me to forgive, like it’s something I must do or I will never recover. I understand now that I must work to let go of the hatred instead of leaving it inside. You’ve made me feel a bit freer, a bit happier that I don’t have to let go of what made me strong enough to leave my abuser- my decision not to forgive him. X

      Liked by 2 people

  6. This has got to be one of my favorite posts of yours. Very well thought out and written. As Jay says, “Oh my, big thoughts here today.” Big thoughts articulated well and made personal. BEST POST EVER.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Intensely moving, sensible and articulate post. Having worked with marginalized people in my career I know that empathy is in short supply in the general population. Must rank somewhere with the “commonness” of common sense.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That means a lot coming from you (the ex mr blahpolar)(kidding, I’m talking about your work etc history). Thank you very much indeed.

      Shall we get some uncommon sense too?

      Liked by 1 person

  8. As you know.. I don’t ask. I just reblog :-P …. This is a subject close to home. I had myself profiled at one point because I wanted someone to validate for me that I was in fact a sociopath… absent of so many of the frilly niceties that so many people seam to find easy.

    What I learned is pretty much what you have explained among a few other things about myself that forced me to face and embrace a few aspects of myself that I wasn’t even aware of…

    I enjoyed this post. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This is brilliant. I’m trying so hard at the minute not to be sucked into the spiral of hating and judging. I have a hard time with that because of the things I’m uncovering in therapy about my ex, but I don’t want to succumb to hating everyone and everything. I would be just like him if I did. X

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think it’s incredibly tough going, the journey towards that Buddhist etc level of compassion. It took me two decades to manage the amount I did, and another decade to get into remission. Hope therapy is good and that you stay safe through it all.


      Liked by 1 person

  10. First off, please don’t smack any unicorns.

    Seriously….my heart goes out to you about your abuse and your stepbrother. I’m embarrassed to say that was ignorant about those things until today. When I read it I stopped breathing for a moment. The thought that you, one of the sweetest, most loving souls on this planet, suffered that way on top of the other stuff makes me angry.

    In any case, I’m glad the hatred was erased, although the way in which that came about
    remains horrific.

    Sending you big hugs and my love as usual, dear B.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. SWEETEST?! *shoots you* I am a very scary dyke, I’ll have you know. Cough.

      Don’t be embarrassed about not knowing – I’ve said very little about it on my blog. Hard to find the info in the dense forest of words I’ve planted here anyway ;) I’m in remission from c-ptsd, that area of life is calm and sorted.

      The new avatar is cool *waves to Lucy*


      1. Thanks, sweet ‘n scary one. The new avatar is only temp. – I’m still figuring out something I want to use, but when I saw that old shot of Lucy as a pup I impulsively grabbed it. (I tried using the header image but it just showed her beautifully long nose.) Advice is welcome! :)))))


  11. Man, I had no idea. That must have been a serious clash of emotions :( I know we both still have our demons but I’m always inspired how far you have come with your feelings and afflictions. And you are even helping others :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks m’boy … no clash, oddly enough. Some things, at the time they happen, are very obvious and the path is clear. When I thought about it afterwards, I thought well that’s a good thing – it was good to lose the hate, but it didn’t make me feel positive twds the cretin either. In the end it was about me.


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