Saturday, December 27, 2008

Jesse Pomeroy: A Stark Illustration of Lack of Introspection

I just finished reading the book Fiend by Harold Schechter. It is the true story of the crimes and conviction of America's youngest serial killer, Jesse Pomeroy. He was a full blown narcissistic psychopath lust killer by the tender age of 14. Of course, these terms didn't exist back in 1874. He became known as the "boy fiend" thanks to the tabloid journalism of that era.

What I want to bring to your attention is the striking illustration Pomeroy presents of my last post. The absolute lack of introspection. This lack is highlighted all the more by the nearly incomprehensible length of his confinement in solitary. Forty-one years -- the second longest in U.S. penal history. The severity of his confinement was most pronounced in the first decade when he was confined to a very small, mostly dark cell. Here is a quote from page 263 of the book:

Clinical studies have proven that prisoners subjected to even relatively short periods in solitary confinement commonly begin to show severe psychopathological symptoms, ranging from hallucinations to panic attacks to paranoid delusions. More protracted stints can drive a man to madness.
So the question is: was Jesse Pomeroy already "mad" and therefore had no sanity to lose? Or was he in possession of an "indomitable spirit" as he was credited to having by James R. Wood, a onetime Boston police detective who had played a key role in Jesse's arrest half a century previous to Mr. Wood's statement about Jesse's spirit?

I will back up that half century to Jesse's conviction in 1874. The boy was examined in prison by several psychologists, called back then "alienists". Here is an excerpt from the observations of one of these psychologists named Tyler. He first observed that Jesse was physically and intellectually average.

By contrast, his 'moral sensibility' was strikingly aberrant. Though able to discriminate between right and wrong when presented with various hypothetical cases, Jesse was absolutely 'obtuse' when it came to his own crimes. "He evinces no pity for the boys tortured or for the victims of his homicide," Tyler writes, "and no remorse or sorrow for his acts." Moreover, his wildly "contradictory statements" -- his detailed "account of killing the children and subsequent denial of any agency therein" -- were the sign of a deeply duplicitous nature. Fiend, page 162

Even though it was apparent by examining Jesse, as well as how he conducted his crimes, that Jesse was not insane, his defense team knew all they had was to try to convince a jury that Jesse was indeed insane. The all-male jury couldn't quite go there with the defense and so they convicted Jesse of first degree murder. It was not the place for the jury to recommend a sentence but they attached a note to the verdict requesting Jesse not be executed for his crime due to his young age. Jesse was given a sentence of death as the law required, but the governor of Massachusetts was under a lot of pressure to reduce the sentence. After much wrangling, and the election of a new governor, Jesse's sentence was reduced to life in solitary confinement. Some argued that was more cruel than the death sentence.

Now, more to my point of observation. Jesse spent his entire time in prison working tirelessly and patiently to escape. He was able to fashion tools like chisels, knives, picks, etc. from prying pieces of metal off of various objects or finding innocuous objects in the yard on this rare exercise romps. His mechanical bent of mind enabled him to come up with some ingenious improvisations. His prison records reveal that he was disciplined for escape attempts every year, sometimes several times a year. What becomes evident when reading the account of his prison activities is that his every power of mind was focused on one thing: escaping. When he wasn't trying to dig, scrape or bomb his way out of his cell, or making tools to facilitate escape, he worked diligently on another form of possible escape: the law. He became a quasi-lawyerly prisoner as he consumed hours in reading law books and persecuting the courthouse with his endless stream of requests for documents and demands for attention to his case. One of the benefits he received from his repeated escape attempts was that it kept him in the limelight. He reveled in the attention he received from the press each time he was caught trying to escape. He loved to brag about each attempt as he would describe how he did it.

What becomes very evident is that Jesse not only didn't go insane while confined in solitary for 41 years, he thrived. He was able to avoid any opportunity for introspection even though he only had himself for company for over four decades!! This is a profound illustration of how it is possible to avoid introspection even when sent away from human contact for an interminable length of time. He focused every shred of his mental energy on escape. It is also how he determinedly persisted in his belief that his cause was just. He was unjustly incarcerated and therefore it was his right to try to escape. His constant focus on escape was how he escaped introspection.

It should be noted here as evidence of Jesse actually thriving in solitary was that when his sentence was eventually reduced to just life in prison Jesse refused to leave his solitary cell for three months! He knew he would not have some of the amenities in the general population that he had in his solitary cell like being able to control the heat, having all the room he needed for his rather large personal library, as well as not having to work. All prisoners were required to work, but Jesse had avoided that while in solitary. He was absolutely lazy. He was able to get out of work after being released into 'gen pop' because the jailers didn't want to have to constantly punish him and receive bad press for being crueler to Jesse now than when in his solitary cell.

Obviously, Jesse was a psychopath. A malignant narcissist is likely not a psychopath, but all psychopaths are malignant narcissists so there are behaviors and thought patterns that are identical with both malignant narcissists and psychopaths. The refusal to introspect is one of them. I drew your attention to Diane Downs in my last post because she has managed to avoid introspection for 25 years as testified to by those who have examined her state of mind. Jesse Pomeroy shows us that Diane will not be any the wiser once she gets to forty plus years of incarceration. Neither will the malignant narcissist in your life. You cannot exile them from your life for any length of time with the expectation that they may have possibly come to a place of recognition of what and who they are and what their crimes have been. There is no exhausting their ability to justify themselves and their resolute ability to avoid any inward look at the evil within.

Jesse Pomeroy was an extreme case of isolation. When he got to the other end of his life (he died in prison at age 73 = 59 years in prison total) he was utterly unchanged. He was as narcissistic and mentally immature as he was at age 14. He was intelligent, but forever immature. He consumed all 8,000 plus books in the prison library and read many of them several times. He wasn't a mental deficient. He certainly wasn't insane. He was forever a case of arrested development emotionally as is true of all malignant narcissists. They never grow up past age six emotionally no matter what intellectual accomplishments they may boast of in adulthood.

Don't assume the malignant narcissist in your life is not as extreme as Jesse was in terms of the absolute and profound lack of any introspection. In this regard, Jesse was the norm and not the exception for malignant narcissists. Simply by virtue of the fact that he ended up incarcerated for so long we have been given a clear picture of just how resolute the malignant narcissist really is in their refusal to admit to what they are.

You've exiled the malignant narcissist. Make sure it is until death. There is not enough reason to nurture any hope of their reformation. To do so will only place your well-being at risk yet again. Malignant narcissists should all be put into solitary confinement. The next best thing is you putting them into solitary of sorts i.e. going 'no contact' with them. At this point, there is no salvation for the narcissist that you can bring about. Your only hope lies in your own salvation. Lock up the narcissist and throw away the key. They will be just fine without you. There is no confinement that will permeate the walls they've thrown up around their consciences. No prison sentence you invoke will reach their inner life. You are not hurting the narcissist with 'no contact', you are saving your own sanity and the well-being of yourself and those you love. 'No contact' is not punishment. It is not vengeance. It is confinement. A cage you put the dangerous beast in to limit his ability to cause further harm.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Absence of Introspection

Maybe you remember Diane Downs, the woman who shot her three children killing one and permanently maiming the other two. I lived in Oregon back when she cold-bloodedly shot her own children execution style and pretended a "bushy-haired stranger" did it. The year was 1983. She has been in prison, minus one successful 10-day prison escape in 1987, for nearly 25 years. She is eligible for parole hearings every two years now which is why she is suddenly in the spotlight again.

Downs has been labeled (quite properly) a narcissistic psychopath. The Oregonian article is interesting and provides a brief history of her crime as well as her current mental state. I will excerpt one paragraph for the purpose of this post:

A recent psychological evaluation of Downs reiterated her narcissistic personality disorder diagnosis: "By year 20 one hopes that the life prisoner has come to a place of deeper self-reflection and introspection regarding their life and incarceration. By this time there should be some struggle in contemplation with existential life issues. Regardless of guilt or innocence, one normally would be asking the how and why questions of life. The thing that is most troubling regarding Ms. Downs is that she appears to have done very little of this."
I have noticed that psychologists who work primarily with criminals have a much better grasp of NPD than psychologists whose practices don't include convicted criminals. It is impossible to understand NPD if you don't have a working knowledge of the criminal mind. The criminal mind and the person with NPD are, in the most fundamental ways, synonymous. Malignant narcissists are criminals through and through if we simply compare the way they think about themselves, their relation to others, and the world. Whether or not they end up in prison depends on the scope and audacity of their crimes. Most remain out of the hands of the law. This paragraph above shows the better-than-average knowledge the evaluators have of NPD by seeing Down's profound lack of introspection and reflection as being a confirmation of the original diagnosis of NPD. I say, well observed!

This is a stark reality with full-blown narcissists. They do not get wiser with age. More cunning and perfidious, yes, but not wiser in the full sense of the word:

  1. The ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting; insight.
  2. Common sense; good judgment
Wisdom cannot be acquired without an ability to engage in deep introspection, i.e. insight.
The reason I'm highlighting the lack of introspection observed in narcissists is because it is essential you are fully aware of this universal quality of malignant narcissists. The temptation for you is to believe that that putting the narcissist in their room (i.e. no contact) for a period of time will result in a reformed narcissist. Or, as in Diane Down's case, in a prison cell for 20 plus years. Not going to happen. Time and introspection are wonderful teachers to those willing to employ them, but you must understand that in the narcissist's calculation there is no gain in it for them. The "what's in it for me" question they pose before every exertion of effort shuts down the process of introspection before it can ever really start because the answer that comes back to them is always "nothing!". The feedback they would receive from introspection will not flatter them, will not support their false reality, will not reinforce their grandiosity, will not gain them an unfair advantage over someone else, etc. So any introspection they may engage in will be abbreviated at best. Not that they have to think it through this methodically. They are instinctually revulsed by introspection as a cat is to being thrown into a tub of water. Just like that cat immediately reacts to its revulsion of the water so the narcissist is instinctively repelled by any exercise in introspection.

I have been in the past shocked at the "profound lack of introspection and reflection" in the narcissists of my acquaintance. Then, wiser, I came to expect this lack and have never been disappointed by them since.

If you are convinced you are dealing with a malignant narcissist then be convinced of this too: they will not get better with time. It is impossible for them to acknowledge the enormity of their crimes because they excuse, rationalize, blame-shift and project all their problems and bad behavior onto you and others. No amount to time being confined to isolation from you and your life will render them capable of suddenly understanding that which they utterly refuse to look at. If you are possessed of a savior complex my exhortations on this point may well be lost on you. Maybe, though, you've grown tired of your endlessly dashed hopes for the reformation of the narcissist. Having been worn down by endless disappointment perhaps you're now more willing to consider and believe my observations over the promises of the reprobate narcissist or the insistence of your more enlighted conscience that all others can be persuaded to a similar keen self-reflection as you yourself are capable of. Don't be that naive. Clearly, it is quite possible for a person to shut down their conscience by a persistent and consistent refusal to even consider the possibility of ones wrong doing. It is this absolute refusal to believe themselves to have done wrong that makes them refuse all opportunity for introspection.

Once you've decided to exile the malignant narcissist from your life do not fall prey to fanciful ideas of his reformation. Time will not render him the wiser for his 'confinement'. Like Diane Downs he or she will persist in their rationalizations and justifications to the bitter, ugly end. The malignant narcissist easily believes the whole world wrong and themselves alone right rather than risk a confrontation with the opposite reality. Hence, introspection = anathema.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Irresponsible Journalism or Psychologists...or Both.

While Democrats and the news media are all working feverishly to get Gov. Blagojevich branded with the "insanity" label in order to discredit him and inoculate the Obama franchise from taint I fume over something else. The irresponsible reporting from the Chicago Sun-Times on speculation over Blago's possible NPD.

Why would that bother me? I'll 'splain.

First of all, the so-called professionals love to tell us laypeople that we are not qualified to determine whether or not someone we know has NPD by comparing that individual's behaviors with an checklist. What the article from the Sun-Times illustrates to me is how the 'professionals' are the ones who are unqualified. I think it is highly unprofessional for a psychologist to make pronunciations on someone's mental state to the media when that psychologist has never even met the person in question. They should at least try to uphold some of the standards they hold the rest of us to. They tell us we can't diagnose persons whom we've grown up with or married or worked with for years yet, sight unseen, they can make absolute statements about a person's mental health just from reports they've read in the media and a few pictures of a person? Bah. That is my first irritation.

Next. Frankly, I myself had come to strongly suspect that extreme narcissism was motivating Blago. But I based my suspicions on his behaviors. Not his HAIR! The article begins with a little dramatic embellishment by the journalist followed by the quote from a psychologist:

It's a head of hair that a man 20 years his junior would envy -- a chestnut helmet that brazenly mocks Father Time and screams "healthy!"

Gov. Blagojevich's glossy locks -- perfectly sculpted in rain or snow -- may be an indication of a sickness beneath his scalp, said one local psychologist.

"It's all part of managing his image, managing his image of being without a blemish, without a flaw," said Scott Ambers, who has practiced clinical psychology in the city for more than two decades.

Chicago Sun-Times article here.
Okay. There is SO much about Blago's behavior that could indicate possible NPD without going to the most superficial aspect of his he styles his hair!!?? This is completely and totally irresponsible on the part of the psychologist as well as the stupid journalist who seems to be thrilled to report this revelation. Of what value would this blog be if I busily reported on the various ways to spot a narcissist and then started directing your attention to how a person styles their hair, how they dress, whether or not they wear designer clothes and glasses or drive a sports car? I would be a joke. And I contend this psychologist is a joke. The obvious extrapolation from his comment above is we are to suspect NPD in a person if they seem to be overly proud of their hair, if their hair seems to look too good given the wind, rain, or time of day or even the decade of their life. I cannot even begin to express my contempt for this ridiculousness. It will accomplish nothing good for helping people to truly understand what NPD is and how it manifests.

The psychologist (as well as the air-head journalist) have seized on the most insubstantial in order to make their case. This itself reminds me of narcissists. Narcissists are always focused on superficialities. I'm sorry, but focusing on how much hair someone still has and deciding they are overly proud of their hair is as superficial of an analysis as any analysis could get. There is no real sign that Blago is overly proud of his locks. Where was this analysis when John Edwards was on the scene?? We actually had proof of Edwards excessive fondness of his hair...yet this psychologist had nothing to say back then. Fraudulent quack.

I won't go into all the speculation on whether or not Blago is certifiably insane. All of the babblings of the news media only illustrate to me they know nothing of what they speak and their motivations are suspect. The word of the week has been "insane". Yet sprinkled in between pronouncing Blago insane they throw around the word "sociopath" and "narcissist". Anyone who knows anything knows that insanity is not the issue when talking about narcissism or sociopathy. They are not interchangeable labels! The profound ignorance of the talking heads is being blared from every mouthpiece and is driving your friendly blogger to distraction.

This is just one very good illustration of why you should ignore anyone, especially the 'professionals', who tells you that you can't tell whether or not someone in your life has NPD. They don't know Jack themselves. No one knows what NPD is more than someone who has suffered from its predations for years. Eggheads in ivory towers only know NPD from textbooks. I am absolutely convinced that if this psychologist actually had a person with NPD in his office he'd be blissfully unaware of that fact. Yet he'd label some arrogant snob or braggadocious windbag as NPD.

NPD is much more than arrogance or bragging or attention to personal grooming. NPD is, at its core, predatory. While vain, arrogant or boastful people may be annoying it doesn't mean they are predatory. Without that core motivation it just ain't NPD. NPD = malignant narcissism = evil behaviors. Evil as defined by exploitation and abuse of the most vulnerable. You can't tell that from how a guy styles his hair. Even if you're a 'professional'.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

They DO Have Empathy...Just Not For You

If you've done much research on malignant narcissism you've seen it stated that narcissists (and psychopaths) lack empathy. This is only partially true -- not because of what it states but because of what it omits. To say they lack empathy is erroneous because most will take that to mean the narcissist lacks empathy in any capacity. They are capable of empathy, but like everything else having to do with the narcissist their empathy is perverted.

Narcissists have vast reservoirs of compassion (which is an outgrowth of empathy). Here's the problem though. All that compassion is turned inward i.e. used completely selfishly. They save their empathy for themselves. You, on the other hand, are out of luck.

On the geocities webpage where the author Chris brilliantly outlines "Characteristics of Narcissist Mothers" she captures the essential elements of the narcissist's perverted form of empathy. Read it and relate:

Sometimes she seems to have no awareness that other people even have feelings, and yet she is brilliantly sensitive to other people’s emotions. Every child of a narcissist recognizes this contradiction because narcissistic mothers do possess the ability to exercise empathy, and in abundance. Sometimes this ability also leads them to identify emotionally with people who are suffering and to express caring for them. When caring about anothers suffering interferes with something the narcissist wants, though, the caring vanishes. When a narcissistic mother wants validation, when she feels like eliciting some emotional pain, when something she wants hurts someone else, the empathy is turned off as though it never existed.

From the perspective of ability, narcissists are extremely empathetic; indeed they have a gift of telling what other people are feeling and thinking. Their skill at discerning and guiding the emotions of other people is the basis of many characteristically narcissistic interactions. Narcissists are very socially adept which is why no one ever believes their children when they complain of their mothers. They know just how to make everyone think that they’re delightful. Narcissistic mothers are exceptional manipulators, and manipulators must be extremely aware, on a moment-by-moment basis, of the emotions of their targets. If you don’t know what people are feeling, you can’t push their buttons. Their exceptional sensitivity to the feelings of others is also the wellspring of their pleasure in inflicting emotional pain through dramas and no-win scenarios. Narcissistic mothers enjoy inflicting emotional pain and they do it very well because they know just what their target children are feeling. That exquisite sensitivity is the reason they don’t need to batter. They can inflict agony without lifting a finger, so why risk exposure and waste effort with beatings when they can elicit the same emotions with words alone?

What narcissistic mothers lack is concern for the consequences of their actions, a behavior that seems rooted in profound selfishness, rather than in the absence of empathy. Mothers with NPD are certainly capable of feeling for others: they’re always feeling for the people with whom their scapegoat has conflicts. They feel for their fellow narcissists. They feel for people who have validated and praised them. They even feel for their child when it doesn’t cost them anything to do so. They just don’t feel for their child when they’re abusing him. They don’t feel anything that interferes with their absorption in their own wants and needs. Because they scour their environment for validation of their own abusiveness, they defend their fellow abusers, so they don’t have any empathy for the victims of those abusers, as the following story shows:

A four-year-old had come to school with a hand print on her face, which had been inflicted as the result of a slap by her mother’s live-in boyfriend. As a mandated reporter my mother had called the authorities, but she told me that she could understand why the boyfriend had hit the child: she was so annoying. Then she said in a dramatic tone dripping with sympathy “You should have seen the parents. They were so ashamed!” In outrage I said “What difference does that make to the child?” Her mouth dropped open and I realized she not only didn’t care at all about that poor little girl…it would never have occurred to her to care.


This story shows the misplaced empathy of the abuser for other abusers. There was no empathy in Chris’s mother for the actual victim. Instead it was reserved for the woman who let her boyfriend batter her child. Chris’s mother identified with the abuser, a mother like herself, afflicted with a child who didn’t meet her needs. Her empathy actually attributed virtues to her fellow abuser and faults to the victim that weren’t merited in reality. Someone who hits a small child hard enough to leave a hand print, then sends them to school, isn’t ashamed, and the personality of a four-year-old is not the fault of the child!

The selfish empathy demonstrated by narcissistic mothers contrasts with the genuine empathy shown by normal people. Sometimes a normal person will give up something they really want for themselves because they come to recognize that it will hurt another person. A narcissistic mother will relentlessly go after something she wants even if it isn’t worth the pain she has to inflict to get it.

There are several statements in the above which put the finger on where the perversion has occurred:

When caring about anothers suffering interferes with something the narcissist wants, though, the caring vanishes.

They even feel for their child when it doesn’t cost them anything to do so. They just don’t feel for their child when they’re abusing him. They don’t feel anything that interferes with their absorption in their own wants and needs.

A narcissistic mother will relentlessly go after something she wants even if it isn’t worth the pain she has to inflict to get it.
The moment empathy would require the narcissist to extend herself for another human being, the instant some self-sacrifice would be called for, the minute the narcissist would have to take a stand against evil to protect the innocent is the very time her empathy stops flowing outward. This is absolute proof that the narcissist uses their ability to empathize only to serve themselves. They use their ability to intuit the emotions and reactions of others in order to manipulate them to their own ends. The only other real use of empathy they employ is to expend it generously upon themselves.

Chris has nailed another important point on whom the narcissist will bequeath her empathy: other abusers. This is a fundamentally selfish bestowal of empathy just as much as giving herself undeserved empathy is because by bestowing her empathy to the abuser what she is really doing is granting absolution and empathy for herself. She recognizes the kindred spirit in the other abuser and by excusing their behavior she excuses her own.

When I was forced to admit by dint of my father's letters to me over the summer and fall of 2005 that his sympathy was all for my mother I labeled him an abuser from that point onward. This is because of the bedrock reality that those who excuse abusers are themselves abusive. No matter the appearance of a mild-mannered nature -- if a person excuses abusers it is because there is some space in their minds which accedes to the notion that in at least some cases abuse can be justified. In the case of my father there was some evidence of aptitude for abuse, but it was rare enough that I could easily forget and thereby resume my opinion of him that he was not abusive. His unmitigated support of my mother, his lack of having ever protected myself or my daughter from my mother's abuses, his absolute demand I be the one to apologize, move on and forgive my mother in the absence of any sincere effort on her part to make things right, his unsubtle reminders of the sins of my youth to try to prove I had no right to hold my mother to any account...all these things proved to me once and for all that he is an abuser himself. Only abusers are willing to grant other abusers the right to abuse! It is at its very root a pass they are giving to themselves. Excusing abuse is abuse in itself. It is a red flag that the person has themselves a propensity for abuse. Granting absolution to abusers is always an extremely selfish thing to do; it ignores the humanity of the person abused and preserves compassion for the one doing the abusing and by doing so gives the person excusing the abuse a pass for the abuse they may decide to dish out themselves. Did you follow that sentence? If so, you get a gold star on your paper today.

In another blog post I wrote early this year I talked about the play on your empathy that disordered characters (including psychopaths) exploit: the pity party. The pity party is an exploitation of your empathy. They could only accomplish this by understanding what empathy is on an emotional level themselves. Please don't make the mistake of thinking that the narcissist is incapable of empathy. The harsh reality is that you will only be the recipient of empathy from the narcissist if they feel it will cost them absolutely nothing to give it to you. Those moments will be rare.

Allow yourself to really think about the selfishly evil use of empathy of the narcissist. They use it to know (and enjoy) exactly how they are making you feel as they use and abuse you. That is what we call sadistic. They use it to manipulate you to their own ends. Or else they will use it to feel for their sorry-assed selves. These uses of their ability to empathize are profoundly selfish and often cruel.

There is no merit whatsoever for the fact that the narcissist is indeed fully in possession of the ability to empathize. In fact it is a solid basis for our condemnation of them. They pervert their ability to empathize and use it to selfishly exploit others to their own ends, to find pleasure in the pain they inflict, as well as to grant themselves pity when they least deserve it. If the narcissist was incapable of empathy we could grant them a pass for having some sort of disability. We must acknowledge the reality that the narcissist is all the more evil because they do possess this ability but choose to use it for their own selfish ends against you. They have managed to completely pervert their ability to empathize.

Narcissists are the embodiment of perversion. This is simply another facet of it. They can take any good thing and completely misuse it which is the definition of perversion I'm using, "Wrong, often corrupt use". A broader sense of the term than just sexual perversion as the word is often applied.

I'll close with a statement I wrote to my sister in April 2006. I hope you all will take the same stance with the narcissists in your lives:

"Your compassion you save for mostly you. I don't need to spend my compassion on someone who is so generous with it on themselves."