A reader wrote:
[the] value of remorse lies in the ability of most people to learn from their social mistakes using emotional guideposts that most people are born with. I believe the lack of remorse goes hand in hand with the inability or stunted ability of psychopaths to learn from their mistakes within certain social/emotional realms.
I came upon an article in which it was put forth that “Lack of Remorse can lead to Antisocial Behavior”. This is a well known theory, and it is a good example of what I see as contradictory statements put forth by many of the researchers and clinicians who enjoy positions as Experts in Psychopathy.
They say Psychopaths cannot learn from their Mistakes. They also say we are Adept Learners.
An example: Psychopaths get better at manipulating people if they learn about psychology and get training in therapy. We get better at conning and cheating, at avoiding detection. Many psychopaths, once the interest in a subject is there, learn both more and faster than most normal people do because we have something called hyperfocus. – Yet there is proof to support the claim that psychopaths can be prone to repeat mistakes.
But how does this fit with the statement that psychopaths don’t learn from past mistakes? Can both of these statements true? Can psychopaths learn from their mistakes or can they not learn from their mistakes? What does it have to do with lack of ability to feel Remorse?
The answer lies in how we look at the problem…
Psychopaths tend to have a strong Need for Stimulation (Item 3 under Factor 1 in the PCL-R). We also tend to experience high levels of frustration when this need does not find an outlet. Clinicians call it a “Low Tolerance for Frustration” which they explain with the common tendency among psychopaths to Act Out in Frustration and Give In to Temptations easier than normal people. In connection with this they point to our Lack Of Remorse and hypothesize that this is the ‘weak link’, that we act out and give in to temptation because we don’t have the experience of feeling remorse as deterring agent.
In reality there are several things that play a role in why we behave the way we do, but in my opinion none of them have anything to do with remorse or lack thereof. We give into temptations easier because we don’t experience the same level of fear of punishment as normal people have, and because we don’t share the normal person’s concern for what is morally correct. These factors combined with a strong drive toward and appetite for life and living is what can sometimes become a destructive cocktail.
I can hypothesize that if I could feel remorse then I would be less prone to act on my urges because I would fear this emotion. But you don’t need to feel bad in order to notice when you make a mistake or to find motivation to not to repeat it.
I recognize the psychology in Reader’s words from my observations with my subjects (the people I have controlled) over the years. But is such an auto-application of emotional punishment really necessary?
I’ve used the argument myself when I “correct” a subject – or anybody, really. I’ll tell them it is morally necessary, and they always accept it as totally natural and logical. But I’ve always assumed that my method works because I had prepared and made them susceptible to my directions in advance, and I know this is possible only because it is how society works and therefore familiar and part of the subject’s early cultural and emotional imprinting. All I do is apply society’s model and rearrange the details by placing myself in the position of authority and forcing my subject into an inferior position as my obedient citizen. There is nothing special about it, and most psychopathic individuals who share this kind of practice – whether they’re consciously aware of it or not – use the same formula.
People grow up with the notion that they should feel a certain way in a certain type of situation (until they’re told otherwise or are told that certain types of people do not count as human beings and they do therefore not have any cultural obligation to feel a certain way about them if they harm or kill them), and they feel what is expected of them. Society’s expectations become the individual’s expectations to themselves.
I can’t feel but think it is sad that society rejects a minority who doesn’t function by this type of emotional mass-manipulation. I am not saying I can’t see that it is probably the most efficient way to make society function smoothly where the masses are concerned, but I must insist that any society needs minorities with characteristics that defies the norm. We need the few who have higher IQ than the average person, and we need the few who are less prone to feel fear or to bend under pressure, we need the few who are not impressionable by normative formalism or even tradition, those who can think and act outside of the box, try new ways, bring about new discoveries.
These are my words: My lack of capacity or comprehension of the emotion called Remorse is in it’s own right a strength that I possess. It could be a strength of society too, but society has chosen to label it a deficit… that is until someone uses it to control and exploit others. Then they punish you because you used as an advantage that which was supposed to be a deficit.
Let the majority have Remorse as an intricate part of their emotional lives, but do not stigmatize those of us who can use this very emotion in you to strengthen ourselves and weaken you. Why declare war on a few who are stronger? There is so much more to gain from being our friends. We represent strengths that are part of being human and therefore part of you, don’t be so afraid of the dark!
The Dark is the Sun’s Greatest Ally!