For reasons that I don’t understand, I’m drawn – more than the average bear – to sociopaths. People whose constitution leaves them unable to feel empathy.
My closest childhood friend is one. As are several others who play outsized roles in my mental, intellectual, social, and sexual landscapes.
This puzzles me, because empathy is something at which I excel. Intuitively, I don’t simply know what you’re feeling – I feel it. In an intense, comprehensive, bodily, and almost always accurate way.
But over and over I return to this particular (dry) well, hoping to find some of what I offer so easily. I look to these people, even more than I do to most, for the telltale signs that they “get” me, that they know what I feel, that they feel what I feel, that they value it.
This is, of course, a fool’s errand. These people don’t withhold the empathy I seek. They lack it. The extent to which they can know what I feel is limited to tactical calculation: what do I need to hear next? And because they’re sociopaths, they are, generally, quite adept at answering this question and delivering the required response.
Until – and this is the rub – until providing the called-for response is in conflict with their own narcissistic need to be seen in a particular way. This comes home to roost most often for me in the moment in which an apology might be appropriate. A sociopath can freely, easily apologize for all sorts of things, as long as doing so doesn’t require her to admit something about herself that’s inconvenient, or in conflict with a core aspect of her self-presentation, her self-conception. At that point, the sociopath whirls into self-protective mode, defending herself tenaciously, ferociously, damn the consequences.
I know this all so well, it’s all the more remarkable I don’t act more wisely, steering clear, early on, of those unable to deliver a simple, obviously required apology.
But I don’t.