Chapter 6. The Dance of Emotions
The Best Friend
Sure, I'll tell you what happened.
We had a rocky relationship from the start. I'm a large guy and usually pretty chill. Yet we fought all the time. And I mean, all the time! There was no real reason. Sure, I look at other women sometimes. I'm human. She'd freak out. "Hey you," she'd shout at a waitress who I'd said hi to. "Do you want to go out with my boyfriend? Do you?"
We stopped going out after she got into a fight. Some woman had called her a whore, when her boyfriend stared at my wife's legs. Short shorts, right? I told her she'd been showing a lot of skin, men were going to stare. "So you think I'm a whore, do you?" she said. "No," I sighed. "He called me a whore in public, in front of everyone!" she said, to anyone who would listen. For years.
I thought she was insecure and jealous. She's so good looking though. I was so in love. So in love. My family loved her too, told me I'd found the right woman, told me to look after her. So that's what I tried to do.
She started going to college, evening classes. I paid her tuition. "It's our money," she said. To be honest I don't know why I wanted to marry her. But I did, more than anything, and she said "yes" right away.
About a year after we married, my unit deployed to Iraq. We spent our last night together, and she cried, and told she would wait for me. Only two months later, our Humvee hit an IED. It was like I flew overseas to get blown up. I was in hospital for a month and then they sent me home on disability.
The decision happened so fast I didn't have a chance to call her. OK, I thought, I'll surprise her. I'm back from work, honey!
I got back to our place and the house was empty and quiet. The plants were dry and going brown. There was mail, a lot of mail. I walked through our home, and sat on our bed. The side cupboard was a little open. I pulled it open and saw this little beaten-up black notebook. I'd never seen it before. Strange.
I opened the book and read it. It crammed with letters and dates. "A.H.B, 3-12-05." The same letters showed up over and over. They were peoples' initials. Beside some of the names there were figures. Money, could be. There was an entry every few days, and the first ones dated back to years before we met. There, I found our first few dates. I looked through twenty pages, to the end. The dates continued until a few days ago. I recognized the last initials. J.A.K. One of my best friends, across the street. Wife and two kids. Not possible. No harm taking a look, right?
So I got up and walked outside and crossed the street and rang the doorbell. He opened it, then went pale when he saw me. "Have you seen her?" I asked him. He pointed over his shoulder, into the house. I walked inside, and there she was, in a towel, on the sofa.
She didn't even blink. She stood up, and shouted at me, "What do you think you're doing here?" She was screaming at me, "You bastard, almost getting killed! I thought you were dead! It was terrible! How could you?"
What, I said, what the f? Why are you naked here with Jon?
Jon kept saying, "sorry man, I'm so sorry, I didn't realize what I was doing, sorry man." It was obvious he meant they'd been sleeping together. Where's Judy and the kids, I asked him. "She left, about a month ago, when she found out," he said, starting to tremble.
A month ago.
All the time she's shouting at me, threatening me. She's accusing me of sleeping with whores in Iraq. She's saying I betrayed her from the start.
"Hey," I say to her, "look what I found!" I hold out the book. She lunges for it, shouting, "Mine! That's mine, give it to me! I swear I'll rip your eyes out! You piece of shit!" She's saying the most horrid things.
I tell her, "I've read it and taken pictures of every page. I'm going to find every one of those guys you slept with." That's not the word I used. I tell her, "I'm going to find these guys and tell each of them what kind of trash you are."
She stared at me, completely blank, for about a quarter of a second. I'd never seen her make that expression before. Like her face froze while her brain was doing some kind of calculation. And then she shrugged. "Fuck you, you piece of shit" she said, went to dress, then left the house.
I had a few beers with Jon, months later when I'd pulled myself together. Poor guy never knew what hit him and I wasn't mad at him. He'd just saved my life. I was so lost. Two years we were together. I loved her so much. When I got back to our place, her clothes and papers were gone, and so was she. I never saw her again, though I spent a while looking for her.
Learning to Read
When we ask why someone acts in a certain way, the answer is a mix of pragmatic logic, learned habit, and emotion. This is as true for psychopaths as it is for the rest of us. Despite appearances, logic and emotion are not opposed. They work together in a complex dance that I'll explain in this chapter. The dance has many steps, and each step plays out in specific ways.
To learn the dance of the emotions is like learning to read. Emotions are a language. It is an ancient language that we share with many other species. The language flows through us, and between us. We speak it with our bodies and faces. We feel it in our blood as music. We move to the music without conscious decision. We must answer the call of emotion, even when it hurts and damages us to do so.
Mallory can make others dance. This is a talent he does not need to learn. Yet he is as lost as any of us, when it comes to his own music. He does not decide to hurt others. He obeys an ancient logic. He is a rock rolling downhill, obeying the logic of gravity. In this sense, Mallory is an innocent.
In this chapter I'll explain each step of the dance, and its music. Each emotion is distinct and consistent. Every emotion has a cause, and consequences. These connect in chain reactions. These chain reactions keep us alive. The dance may seem primitive or wasteful. Sometimes it is. Most often it is not.
When we know the dance, we can tell the difference. We evolved for a different world, one with fewer people and more dangers. Much of our mind responds like a idiot savant. It often cannot tell the difference between reality and accurate caricature. Time and again, if you confront Mallory, you will realize this. You know his masks are fake, and yet they hit you in places you cannot defend. Yet other parts of our mind can learn the difference. We can learn which music causes us pain and harm, and we can stop the dance when we choose to.
Learning to read the emotions gives you a new power. This is the ability to recognize and then control the music, both in yourself and in others.
When we can control the music, we become immune to Mallory and to many other causes of stress. There is no magic moment of awakening. It is a gradual process that takes years. Like any skill it takes practice and patience to master.
The Evolution of Emotions
Evolutionary psychology aims to explain our mind and behavior as adaptations. It is a solid theory: we are the products of natural and sexual selection, no more or less. I've used this approach to explain psychopathy as an adaption rather than a disorder. I'm going to use the same approach to explain our emotions.
Our emotions evolved over time to help our ancestors survive and reproduce. This is not an original notion. The first champion of evolution, Charles Darwin, used it when he wrote "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals" in 1872. Some human emotions date from hundreds of millions of years ago. We see these in many other animals. Some date from more recent times, and seem to be specific to humanity.
It is likely that different species have invented the same emotions over and over. Many birds and mammals share emotions like happiness and sadness. Yet that does not mean their common ancestors already had them. Evolution often rediscovers the same solutions to what look like universal problems.
What follows are my personal theories, developed from observations and research. There are several theories of emotions. My goal is to model emotions as functional tools. I want to understand how they work and why we evolved them, rather than simply describe them. That lets us both understand what the psychopath is doing with their mind games, and how we respond. And that lets us extricate ourselves.
The meaning of an "emotion" can be hard to pin down. Is dread an emotion? Are joy, happiness, satisfaction, complacency, delight all distinct emotions? It's somewhat like trying to identify colors or smells. The closer you look, the more there are.
I'm going to look only at primary emotions. By that, I mean emotions that do not overlap, and are not flavors or mixtures of other emotions. Much like primary colors.
Further, I'm going to define an emotion in a strict sense. This makes it easy to decide whether a particular state of mind counts, or does not. My hypothesis is that each emotion has its own distinct mental machinery. Each emotion evolved over time, and is coded in our DNA. Emotions are more or less active, according to age, character, and gender. In some people, some emotions are absent or invisible.
Emotions have two general goals. First, they prepare our mind and body for some action. They speed up certain systems and slow down others. I call this "orchestration." Imagine the emotion as the conductor waving a baton to get a hundred musicians to play the same tune.
Second, emotions display our mental and physical state to others. They do this using facial and body language. The language of an emotion is often based in real physiological activity. It may also be synthetic. Emotional languages are universal across humanity.
Some emotions are only about orchestration. Others are only about display. Most are a mix of the two.
For every display emotion, there is matching machinery to read facial and body language. This machinery works without conscious thought. It produces its results as emotions in the observer. When a dog threatens to bite you, you feel fear. When a person shows sadness, you feel sad. When a person laughs, you also want to laugh. We call this "empathy."
I'm going to take the human emotions, and collect them into groups. This grouping turns out to be a helpful approach. Each group works together like a puzzle, with the emotions as single consistent pieces. We can see when a group is complete. We can fit the emotions we recognize into their correct group. We can also see how each group works, as a whole.
The emotional groups evolved over time as our species climbed up the social ladder. I'll work from oldest group to most recent:
The predator emotions help us hunt and capture prey.
The defense emotions prepare us to detect and deal with predators and competitors.
The sexual emotions drive us to find sexual partners.
The family emotions let us talk to our parents and care for our offspring.
The tribal emotions let us form small social groups.
The social emotions let us form looser and larger social groups.
My breakdown comes to about fifty universal human emotions. All humans, with specific exceptions, feel these emotions and feel them in the same way. That is my hypothesis, in any case. I expected to find a much smaller set of universal human emotions. Yet as you will see these are distinct and precise. Often I've had to name emotions that we know, yet rarely verbalize.
Like all our mental tools our emotions have continued to evolve and shift over time. So while human rage and dog rage share a common ancestor, they have evolved in their own directions. I'll explain the human experience.
The Predator Emotions
The predator emotions are what we feel when we stalk and prey on food animals. These are ancient and violent emotions. Some are taboo, even alien to most of us. We have to search for words to describe them. We rerouted these millions of years ago, as we started to develop our social instincts. You will recognize some from our daily rituals of eating.
Others are familiar from play. Watch children play hide-and-seek and you'll see tame forms of obsession, euphoria, and glee. Play monster with a young child and you make caricatures of fury and bloodlust. Watch young men playing team sports or violent video games and you see the full range acted out in full. This is one reason people enjoy group sports. It lets players -- and the crowd -- express these emotions in a safe and accepted arena.
The predator emotions are:
Hunger - the emotion of looking for prey. Hunger drives you out of your comfort zone. Your digestion slows. Your vision and hearing gets sharper and you focus on distinguishing prey from threats. You feel the need to move, yet you are careful to stay invisible. You walk without haste, and keep your posture relaxed. Your breathing is regular, slow.
Obsession - the emotion of stalking a prey. Your digestion speeds up. Your hearing and vision fixate on your target, and exclude everything else. You crouch and stay hidden. You move towards your target, trying to appear as innocent as possible until the last minute. Your adrenalin starts to rise. Your memory starts recording in high resolution.
Euphoria - the emotion of chasing a fleeing prey. Your hearing switches off and your vision tunnels in on your target. Your breathing and heartbeat accelerate. Blood flows to your muscles, and glucose feeds into your blood. Your eyes widen, your mouth opens, and you bare your teeth.
Glee - the emotion of seeing your prey stumble. You feel a kick of pleasure and adrenalin. You exhale hard. Your body prepares to move in for the capture. Blood flows to your arms and face. You bare your teeth and open your mouth. The muscles around your eyes compress, to protect them. Glee looks like the ancestor of happiness.
Fury - the emotion of attacking your prey. Your sense of pain switches off. Your vision narrows to a tunnel, and your eyes narrow to reduce the risk of damage. If you could move your ears, they would fold back. You exhale hard, to tighten your chest muscles and reduce the risk of a broken rib. You focus on capturing and immobilizing your prey. As you catch it, you feel intense bursts of pleasure that push you on.
Bloodlust - the emotion of killing your prey. You feel an orgasmic climax of pleasure as you taste blood. Your lungs and heart are still working hard to purge your system of waste products from the chase. Your arms and hands and jaws clench. You still make no sound except a low groan. You're focused on keeping your prey captive while you kill it. Your digestive system starts to prepare for food.
Gluttony - the emotion of eating your prey. You feel more paranoid than usual. You are vulnerable to competitors looking for a free meal. If it is possible, you move your meal to a safe location. You lick your lips, glance left and right. Your eyes are wide. Your saliva glands are working full speed. Your digestive system is in full swing, expecting a full belly. When it is safe to eat, you focus on your food.
Satiation - the emotion of having eaten enough or too much. Your saliva glands switch off, and you reject the remains of your meal, if any. You look around for others to share with. You adopt open body language, and relax. Blood flows to your digestive system. Your arms and legs are limp.
Blocked - the emotion of a failed hunt or chase. Your body relaxes and all systems go to neutral. You withdraw to a safe place and replay your memory over and over. You look for what went wrong. You imagine different "what if" scenarios, and rehearse them mentally.
In most people the predator emotions do not, even under threat of death, focus on fellow humans. In hand-to-hand warfare, most soldiers will not kill. They aim to miss. They run away when they can. They provide cover and mass, to intimidate the other side. Much of the military machine works just to train this majority to aim their guns in the right direction.
This majority does shift gears when their families and homes are under threat. To save our relatives or children from an armed and violent stranger, most of us will aim to kill. Yet we do this without the predator emotions. Instead, we feel the defensive emotions I'll explain in the next section.
Some of us, a small minority, feel only these emotions and no others. So the emotions work at their original full power. More, they focus on fellow humans rather than on food. This minority are the psychopaths. It is the predator emotions that drive psychopaths in their hide-hunt-attack-capture-consume behavior.
We all feel the predator emotions at some level. The key differences are degree and direction. Do you live for the pleasure of the kill? And do you hunger for breakfast, or for power over others?
Yet this does not mean all psychopaths engage in physical violence. Violence and murder is risky business. In normal circumstances the risks of exposure and retribution far outweigh the emotional rewards. A healthy psychopath amygdala shudders at the thought. It keeps the predator emotions focused on business, politics, and private life. Sane psychopaths aim to die from old age, surrounded by grandchildren. In this respect, Mallory is just like anyone else.
In specific circumstances, the equation tilts Mallory towards serial murder:
If the amygdala suffers damage from injury or tumors. This may shut down its inhibition, so it feels infallible and superior.
If the social status of the victim is so low that retribution is unlikely. Serial murderers tend to target individuals who are least valued by general society. That is: prostitutes, beggars, orphans, minorities, homosexuals, and the lonely elderly.
If the murder is in the name of the State. This means open hostilities between two groups, in other words, war. Only losers stand trial for crimes against humanity. The winners get to butcher at will, in the name of God and Country.
When there is nothing to lose, and much to gain. A large proportion of young men are evolutionary dead-ends. In some cultures, as many as two-thirds of men have no children. That includes many psychopaths. Lack of local prospects makes Mallory long for foreign adventure.
The maths of murder are consistent across human culture. Successful generals understand it. They use it to recruit young male psychopaths as the killer core of their professional armies. It is a timeless recipe. Invoke martial law, to remove the risk of punishment. Dehumanize the enemy so that Mallory faces no anger from the home front. Aim at poor psychopaths with few other prospects. Deliver propaganda and marketing that lures them in.
The military has practiced this for a long time. It selects, enables, and promotes psychopaths. It offers the chance for unlimited rape and murder. The main rule is: just don't get caught. It has institutionalized the process of creating secondary psychopaths, via "bootcamps." The military always takes the moral high ground, and always makes it someone else's fault.
Secondary psychopaths learn to apply the predator emotions to others. If they do kill, they later feel deep guilt and shame, as their empathy starts working again. We see the damage that the military does to its recruits, in the suicide statistics of veterans.
The psychopaths who enter conflict zones pursue the chance to rape, hunt, and butcher. They kill without pause, once they learn the basics. They enjoy it more than sex. They build power pyramids. They sabotage peace efforts and remove internal competitors. They can rise to positions of great power, leading armies and empires.
You might ask how society accepts and collaborates in the promotion of murder. We show snuff videos on the evening news. We criminalize Mallory when he travels abroad to fight. We draw bold "do not cross" lines so that every young candidate knows where to aim. The generals don't need to do the hard work of recruiting. Society does it for them.
The answer lies in a second group of emotions, those we use against badder animals than ourselves. It is easy to convince a population to support a war of aggression. You just invoke the defense emotions.
The Defense Emotions
The defense emotions are ancient and widespread. These emotions keep us safe from predators, and let us deal with competitors:
Surprise - the emotion of reacting to a sudden threat. It is what you feel when a cat leaps at you out of a closet. It's what the cat feels if you creep up on it and say "boo!". We also call this a "startle response." You flinch away from the threat, and raise your arms in self-defense. You lift your eyebrows and open your eyes wide to see better. Your hearing gets sharp. You exhale hard to clear your lungs of carbon dioxide. Your heart accelerates and you breathe in deep to oxygenate your body for action.
Suspense - the emotion of detecting a potential threat. It is what you feel when you hear an unexpected noise in the middle of the night. Or, when you turn a corner and see a large, dangerous looking animal blocking your way. Your body freezes, for ten to thirty seconds. Adrenalin starts to flow into your blood stream. You breathe out to clear your lungs without making noise. Your vision and hearing heighten as you try to identify the threat. You get goosebumps. Your memory goes into high-definition recording mode. Later this feels like time had slowed down.
Terror - the emotion of wanting to flee from a threat. Blood flows to your lungs and legs. Your blood vessels constrict to reduce bleeding in case of damage. You go pale. Your digestive system slows down and stops. Your mouth goes dry. Your eyes open wide, and your hearing gets sharper. Your focus is on listening, hiding, and freezing when you are out of sight.
Flight - the emotion of fleeing from a pursuing threat. Adrenalin pours into your bloodstream. Blood flows to your leg muscles, lungs and arms. You focus on paths and exits. You start to sweat. Your eyes open as wide as possible. You breathe hard and fast and your heart pumps at full speed. Your hearing switches off. Endorphins flood into your bloodstream to switch off the pain response.
Anger - the emotion of defiance against a threat. Blood flows to your face and neck. Your posture makes you seem larger: arms wide, feet apart, head up. You bare your teeth and you stare with wide eyes. Your saliva gets thick and foamy. Your voice gets heavy and loud, and you shout. Anger says, "I am not backing down. Retreat now, or you will be hurt!" Anger is a caricature of glee and fury that exaggerates the most terrifying traits.
Rage - the emotion of attacking a threat. Your body prepares to inflict and receive physical damage. Blood flows to your upper body and arms. You face goes pale. Your nervous system switches off pain. Your heart beats faster, and you breathe hard, pumping oxygen into the blood. Your body releases glycol and your muscles tense for action. Your vision narrows to focus on the threat. You lower your head and fixate on your target. Your hearing dulls, as noise is now only a distraction. You are shouting or screaming without pause. Rage says, "Leave, stop, go away!"
Shock - the emotion of preparing for sudden death. Your body switches off its response to pain. You feel cold and limp. Your sense of touch, hearing, and vision all dim. Your face pales and shows a characteristic flushing pattern on the cheeks. Your mind may put itself in the third person, and give you an "out of body" experience. The effects of shock change over time, assuming one survives.
Triumph - the emotion of asserting dominance. You breathe in and fill your lungs. Blood flows to your upper body and arms. Your heartbeat is faster than normal. Your body remains ready for physical confrontation. You stand with your head high, arms out. You stand with feet apart. You walk with larger strides. You look straight at bystanders, yet not at submissive people, whom you ignore. You raise your voice and gesticulate more than usual.
Defeat - the emotion of submitting to dominance. Defeat displays that you will not fight. You adopt weak body language to look smaller and harmless. You bow your head, squash your shoulders in and hunch your back. You bring your knees together. Your steps get smaller. Your eyes look at the ground. You expose your neck. You make the characteristic high-pitched mmh sounds of defeat. Your voice, if any, is quiet. Your metabolism slows. You make no facial expression.
A successful predator must avoid its prey feeling suspense until it is too late. There is thus an old arms race between predator and prey. The predator disguises itself, to move in closer. The prey becomes better at identifying its predator. The two strategies balance each other. If a predator is too successful it destroys its own host species. If the prey is too nervous, it dies from exhaustion.
Anger and rage are the first display emotions. All others so far are for orchestration only. These two emotions cross species boundaries. They need no explanation: when an animal looks ready to attack us, we read that as "anger."
Mallory does not, as far as I can tell, feel the defense emotions. She perhaps has no natural predators. She shows no startle response. Unexpected events may cause her to pause and calculate. If you leap out of a dark corner at her, she is likely to just punch you. When she gets angry, she is showing fury, not anger or rage.
Mallory enjoys violent confrontation. It gives her real pleasure. This brings us to our next group: the sexual emotions.
The Sexual Emotions
The sexual emotions are, like the predator emotions, old and deep. They predate language. There is debate about whether these are even emotions. Yet the orchestration and display functions are undeniable:
Ennui - the emotion of looking for sexual opportunities. Ennui drives you out of our comfort zone. Your sexual responses slow down. Your vision and hearing gets sharper and you focus on potential sexual partners. You feel the need to move, yet you are careful to stay discreet. Your walk with quiet calm, and keep your posture relaxed. Your breathing is regular, slow.
Interest - the emotion of focusing on a specific person. Your sexual responses speed up. Your hearing and vision focus on your target, and exclude everything else. You may move towards your target, trying to appear as innocent as possible until the last minute. Your pupils widen. Blood flows to your cheeks. Your adrenalin starts to rise. Your memory starts recording in high resolution.
Desire - the emotion of chasing a sexual target. Your hearing switches off and your vision tunnels in on your target. Your breathing and heartbeat speed up. Blood flows to your lower body and skin, and glucose feeds into your blood. Your eyes widen, your mouth opens, and you smile a lot. Desire says, "I want you."
Lust - the emotion of getting consent for sex. You feel the kick of pleasure and adrenalin. Your breathing accelerates. Your body prepares for sex. Your blood pressure rises, and blood flows to your genitals, breasts, skin, and face. You laugh and smile a lot more than usual. Lust says, "I want you more than ever."
Arousal - the emotion of engaging in sex. Your sense of pain shifts. Your vision narrows to a tunnel, and your eyes narrow or close. You may be silent, or make groans of effort. You focus on your partner, and the physical act. As you engage, you feel intense bursts of pleasure that push you on.
Climax - the emotion of concluding sex. You feel an orgasmic climax of pleasure, your DNA rewarding you for the effort and risk of sex. Your lungs and heart are still working hard to purge your system of carbon dioxide. Your arms and hands and jaws clench. Your skin flushes in specific and recognizable patterns. You may make a low groan, or louder shouts.
Replete - the emotion of having finished sex. Your sexual responses switch off, and you reject any further physical stimulation. You may want to talk, or sleep. You adopt open body language, and relax. Your blood pressure goes back to normal. Your arms and legs are limp.
Rejected - the emotion of a failed seduction. Your body relaxes and all systems go to neutral. You withdraw to a safe place and replay your memory. You look for what went wrong. You imagine different "what if" scenarios, and rehearse them mentally.
I had to search for names for many of these. You will notice that this group is almost an exact copy of the predator emotions. The one missing emotion is gluttony, which is now part of arousal. If there is any symbolic consumption, it happens before, not after climax.
The similarity of these two groups of emotions is striking. They have evolved in parallel. I assume they share much of the same DNA, and in some people the boundaries are blurred.
Do men and women experience these same emotions? It is a difficult area for research. Sexual experiences are never neutral. Culture distorts and warps them. We tolerate sexual activity, approve of it, expect it, or forbid it. The cultural regulation of sexual activity is constant and global and corrupts our responses. No two experiments will show the same results.
I'll claim that both men and women tend to experience the same cycle of emotions during sex. At least in the case of consensual sex between adults. If male sexuality is predatory, then so is female sexuality. There is no "passive" gender, though individuals can be more passive or active.
Both men and women have sexual empathy. When your partner shows lust, this tends to provoke lust in return. Both seek an "emotional connection" with their sexual partners.
How does Mallory feel the sexual emotions? It is sure that he has the physical responses needed for successful intercourse. He shows sexual empathy. Yet there are some striking differences that demand explanation:
Mallory is casually bisexual. To be more precise, he will adopt whatever gender identity fits the situation best. He can be gay, dominant, submissive, heterosexual, confused.
Mallory does consume his sexual partners, in a manner. You may see him as a sexual predator, yet that is to misread his behavior. For him, sex is not the goal, it is the means. His goal is to consume his target's power and resources.
Mallory is dominant and insensitive to his sexual partners. To quote one woman of her psychopathic partner: "During sex he was harsh and rough. His eyes cold and distant, focused... like an animal eating his prey."
I believe Mallory mixes the two groups of emotions into a single one. Psychologists describe psychopaths as "thrill seeking," yet a more accurate description might be "over-sexed and uninhibited." Apart from the physical responses during arousal and climax, Mallory experiences exactly the same emotions inside, and outside the bedroom.
This points us towards a new metaphor for psychopathy. Predator is a good functional model. It has many useful properties, as a model. Yet it dehumanizes. To describe him as an animal is accurate in many ways, yet it suggests he is worth less than Alice or Bob.
Mallory is not subhuman. Neither is Mallory superhuman. Psychopaths are no more or less successful, on average, than social humans. In the long arms race between the two strategies, neither can ever win. It is a race to equilibrium. For every trait that makes Mallory more successful, he has a weakness. For every weakness that Alice or Bob show, they have balancing strengths.
Psychopaths are neither demons nor demigods. They are just different in perplexing and difficult ways.
So here is that new metaphor: psychopathy is a third sexual identity, a distinct gender. Social humans differentiate to either male or female gender identities. Psychopaths differentiate to their own sexual identity. While male and female do their particular dances, psychopathy romps around them both. For all his sexual intensity, Mallory is asexual in a profound way.
The Family Emotions
It was our eukaryote ancestors, common to plants, animals, and fungi, that invented sex. Much later, our ancestors invented parental investment. It's a trick that animals have rediscovered many times. Plants and fungi less so. 80% of birds form stable couples where both parents invest in the young, and about 6% of mammals do this. All mammals care for their young if you disregard the father. In many species of fish, reptiles, and invertebrates also, both parents look after their young. Such species tend to form monogamous couples, at least per breeding season.
As any parent knows, childcare is hard work with few obvious short-term rewards. Kids tend to grow up oblivious to the efforts of their parents. If they think about it at all, it tends to be "I could have done better." Yet the genetic payoff for investing in children and grandchildren is huge.
The genes' solution is to blackmail and bribe us with mood-altering chemicals. These are seratonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins. When we do the "right" thing we get a soup of chemicals that makes us feel good. When we do the "wrong" thing, we get a different soup that makes us feel terrible. These affect our whole body, not just our brain. 80% of our seratonin is in our intestines. That "gut feeling" is real.
This carrot-and-stick machinery sits out of sight of the conscious mind. With knowledge and practice, you can hack into it and steer it. It is like learning to control your heart rate. The moment you stop trying, your subconscious takes over again.
The machinery is, of course, the emotions. The predator, defense, and sexual emotions focus on orchestration. Family needs more abstract emotions. This group covers three kinds of bonds that evolved together. These are the bond between a couple, between parents and children, and between siblings. In general the emotions drive the family to stick together.
These emotions are confusing to most people. So I'll use the same approach as for previous groups. This is: take each piece of the puzzle, identify it, and then name it:
Love - the emotion of being close to a family member. We establish "closeness" by mutual physical contact. The kinds of contact depend on the relationship. The closer you are to another person the more you feel the emotion. Your eyebrows rise, your pupils widen, you smile and laugh and feel happy. You use open and dominant body language. You are more childlike: playful and uninhibited. You seek more contact. You need less sleep.
Longing - the emotion of being far from a family member. You're feeling the symptoms of oxytocin withdrawal. You obsess on to get back to your loved one. You may feel alone. Your pupils shrink. You use closed and submissive body language. You are serious, less childlike. You sleep more than usual.
Loss - the emotion of losing a loved family member. Your metabolism slows down. Your sight and hearing work slower than usual. You may feel "nothing," an empty or dead feeling. Your pain response lowers, thanks to the endorphins suppressing your oxytocin withdrawal. You seek other family members. You may feel longing or sadness later. Your face shows no expression except inattention.
Happiness - the emotion of being in a good situation. Psychologist Martin Seligman lists five aspects of such a situation: pleasure, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishments. My experience says you also need good health, security from threats, structure, and freedom. You also feel happiness by empathy from other people. When you are happy, you smile, laugh, and use open body language. Your pupils widen, and blood flows to your skin, making you glow.
Sadness - the emotion of being in a bad situation. I'd argue it's what we feel when you lack one or more aspects of happiness. If you fall ill, or are constantly threatened, or have few accomplishments, or see no meaning in our lives, you feel sad. You also feel sadness by empathy from others. When you are sad, you show closed body language. Your pupils shrink. Blood circulation slows in your skin, making you look pale and cold. You may pout, or weep.
Fear - the emotion of asking for help from a threat. Fear is how you signal danger to your parents or siblings. Alone, you feel suspense or terror. Your heart and breathing speed up. Adrenalin pumps into your blood, and your muscles get ready for action. Your eyes open wide, as your vision and hearing focuses on the threat. If you can, you make the characteristic shout or shriek of fear. If you must remain silent, you mime fear. You open your mouth and eyes wide and stare at the threat, hands raised like claws.
Distress - the emotion of being lost or threatened. This has a juvenile and a parental form. Juvenile distress is a call for help from a parent or older sibling. Parental distress is a call to a missing child. Distress is a display emotion. A child will shriek, wail, cry, or call to its parents. Every parent knows their child's distress calls. Distress triggers similar physiological shifts as anger and rage: red face, loud voice. Distress leads to anger and rage. Its universal body language is: shoulders and head slump down, eyes peer up.
Jealousy - the emotion of competing for attention. Jealousy is how you signal that a parent, partner, or friend is neglecting you. You feel someone else is receiving attention that should be yours. You frown, and imitate other emotions: sadness, anger, despair, or disgust. The imitation is a warning to the person giving the attention. Watch out, it says, or this is how I will feel towards you, for real.
I've not listed hate here. While this emotion does exist in families, I believe it's a more recent evolution. There is no function for hate in a family without the tribe. It is a luxury that depends on other people. We cannot reject a family member, no matter their crimes, unless they have somewhere else to go. I place it in the group of tribal emotions that I cover next.
With parental investment, we also get the deeper evolution of empathy. The mechanism is clear: one person feels some emotion, perhaps being sick or lost. The emotion causes the person to make distress calls and show visible signs of distress. This triggers the matching emotion in a parent or sibling, pushing them to help.
In the same way, a child eats well and is healthy and shows this by expressing happiness. The parents respond by feeling great about themselves. It doesn't take a training manual to have kids. Children from birth tell their parents what to do next. "Feed me! Enough, stop, I'm going to vomit! Cuddle me! More, this is great! OK, put me somewhere safe, I want to sleep!"
Juveniles do not have the same range of empathy as adults. Yet they often have basic empathy from a few years old. A young child is playing and sees another crying. He or she offers their toy to the crying child, who accepts it and starts smiling.
Social humans project their family emotions onto people outside the family. They also project them onto pets and inanimate objects as they bring these into their personal lives. We feel happy when our possessions are safe and in a good state. When our possessions are vulnerable to damage, or in a poor state, we feel sad. We have empathy with inanimate objects. Our home is happier when it is safe against the rain, and warm, and filled with people. An cold, leaking, abandoned house feels lonely, and when we see it, we feel sad.
Empathy triggers older emotions too, particularly the defense emotions. Close traumatic injury or death in others close to us triggers shock. Threat to others provokes terror, flight, anger, or rage.
Mallory does not feel the family emotions. She feels no love for her relatives, neither parents nor siblings nor children. She does not experience distress, nor happiness, nor sadness. She has no empathy for belongings and living spaces. She treats her home the same as a random field. This makes her careless with things, and incapable of organizing by emotional value. Her living room looks sterile, or chaotic, to social eyes.
Mallory can project the visible signs well, at least in face and voice and body language. She acts love, happiness, sadness, and so on. This presents a real problem for honest relatives. As Mallory fakes her emotions, parents, siblings, and other relatives over-invest in her. So we've evolved counter-measures. Those are physical signals that Mallory cannot (yet) fake. Pupil size and skin flushing are the main ones.
Mallory can fake crying to some extent. She cannot fake the full display, above all the skin flushing. She can produce the tears, and runny nose, as the tears leak into the nasal cavities. This looks like "silent weeping." We generally feel it's insincere when someone does that. I suspect there's an arms race here. Honest crying gets more complex over time, to stay ahead of Mallory's acting skills.
When we see Mallory expressing an emotion, we do a subconscious check of her eyes. I assume our mind corrects for light conditions, perhaps using our own pupil size as control. If her pupils match her expression, we feel "she is sincere." If not, we will still respond, yet with unspoken reservations.
Various emotions display through skin flushing, each with different and recognizable patterns. Terror, anger, interest, climax, happiness, sadness. The emotions control these flushes and use them as authentic indicators.
When we have an authentic indicator, it is always fun to ask, "are there ways to cheat?"
There are ways to hide the pupil response. For instance, dark sunglasses, veils, or other coverings of the face and eyes. By wearing these, we can mask our responses. Mallory likes her sunglasses, and often wears them when she's out hunting.
How about the skin flushing? This shows on all skin tones, as different and yet recognizable patterns. The exception is dark black skin. People with dark skin flush like anyone, yet it is invisible. This tells us skin tones evolved after emotional flushing. And yet emotional flushing evolved after we lost our body hair.
There is an advantage in dark skin beyond protection from the sun and skin cancer. How far this has affected the evolution of skin tones, is an open question. We can ask same question about the evolution of dark irises. Does this interfere with empathy? If so, has that driven its evolution in any way?
There are other empathetic responses that Mallory also lacks. I've not counted yawning as an emotion. Yet it follows a familiar pattern of family emotions. Yawning prepares our body for sleep, and signals to others that we are tired. You breath in, close your eyes, stretch your jaw wide, and tilt your head back. Arguably this pumps blood into your brain. More interestingly, it provokes an empathetic yawn response and drowsiness in younger family members who observe you.
Mallory does not have the contagious yawn response. Some researchers have suggested that this is a potential psychopath test.
The Tribal Emotions
Humans take the parental investment strategy to an extreme. We invest in our extended family, to almost any degree of distance. We are able to form tribes of many families, keeping track of every other person in our tribe. To make this leap we evolved tribal instincts, including a set of emotions:
Loneliness - the emotion of being disconnected. You feel physical pain in your intestines and chest when you see others enjoying themselves. You sleep lightly and wake often. Your immune system starts to slow and you start to get sick. Your metabolism slows down, yet you eat more often than usual. Your circulation slows, and you feel cold. You hunger for company and conversation. You adopt submissive body language. Your voice goes quieter and lower. You sigh a lot. You cannot smile with sincerity.
Belonging - the emotion of being safe within your tribe. You feel pleasure in your gut and chest. You sleep well, and wake up refreshed. You are healthy and rarely get colds. You lose weight and don't feel the cold, as your metabolism speeds up. You spend more time with people than alone. You rarely question your situation. You use confident body language. Your voice gets louder and you laugh and smile with ease.
Disgust - the emotion of tasting bad food. Disgust is how you warn others to stop eating. Blood flows to your digestive tract. Your stomach prepares to vomit. You make noises and a specific grimace to warn others. You narrow your eyebrows, curl your upper lip, wrinkle your nose, and stick your tongue out. You look at others to make sure they got the message. You make a characteristic groan.
Hate - the emotion of rejecting a tribal member. Hate is a call to others to support you in a fight. Your eyes narrow and stare at the offender, or an imaginary spot. Your nostrils flare. You frown and your pupils contract. Your mouth closes hard in an anti-smile. Your body prepares for a physical confrontation. Blood flows away from your face and to your arms and shoulders. Your fists clench and you clench your jaw. You use aggressive and closed body language. You make the characteristic sounds of hate: low growls. You lose your sense of humor.
Self-pity - the emotion of asking for adult help. Self-pity is the "I give up!" emotion. This lets us display defeat, and respond to it by helping one another. You show self-pity by slumping your shoulders, pouting, and crying. You look down, sniff, and use closed body language. The empathic response is to put an arm around the shoulders and ask, "how can I help?"
Submission - the emotion of offering yourself. You feel weak and insecure. Your heart beats faster than normal. Your temperature is higher than normal. You are anxious at the threat of rejection. If the other party accepts and confirms, you switch to feeling powerful and secure.
Mallory belongs to no tribe, and does not feel the tribal emotions. He can do a perfect imitation, within the limits we've already discussed. His act has several weaknesses that you can learn to see:
For those emotions triggered by others' behavior, Mallory is blind and often does not react at all. For example, he feels no fear when confronted with a physical threat. If he does display such an emotion, the timing and strength will be wrong.
For those emotions triggered by one's own behavior, Mallory reacts the wrong way. So, we get the classic "anti-social" behavior. In a situation where Bob or Alice would feel jealousy, he shows nothing. Or, he shows a different emotion, such as anger or self-pity.
For those cases where he has an innate response from his emotional palette, it is extreme. It goes from zero to 100% with no build-up. Then it switches off again, with no drop-off. You will see this most often with displays of fury. You also see it with his masks.
For those emotions triggered by empathy, Mallory does not respond in the "right" way. He does not show disgust when eating something bad. He just spits it out and throws it away. He does not respond to disgust with his own disgust face. He just stops eating. Again, if he learns to mimic, timing and volume will be "wrong."
This dynamic can be confusing for anyone trying to establish normality with Mallory. In situations where he should be acting jealous, he shows nothing. Then, in minor and unremarkable situations, he will explode in a violent fit of fury. Seen from Alice or Bob's side, this is incomprehensible. For Mallory it's logical. He does not seek attention from his prey, any more than you seek attention from your lunch. Yet if he sees his lunch trying to sneak away, he attacks it with teeth and claws.
The Social Emotions
Somewhere around three million years, we began to evolve the emotions for relating to arbitrary people. This happened before the development of spoken language. These emotions let us work with an unlimited number of people, building social networks that stretch over time and space:
Like - the emotion of a positive relationship. In “Attack and Capture” I explained how social accounting works. When you like someone, you feel happy in their presence, or when you think of them. This shows in the usual ways: wide eyes and open pupils, smiles, open body language, shining face. This emotion is all about display, to the person involved, and to third parties. There is some empathic response. Thus we tend to like people who are happy, as they seem to like us. Yet most of the time we base our response off our internal accounting.
Dislike - the emotion of a negative relationship. When you are with someone you dislike, or you think of them, you feel sad and often angry. You show this with a frown, closed pupils, closed body language, pale face, tight lips, and so on. Like like, this is a display emotion with some empathic response. If someone frowns when they see us, we're concerned. Yet we don't respond with dislike.
Anxiety - the emotion of preparing for a future threat. You may feel dread, in the pit of your stomach. You may feel worry in your mind. You frown, and furrow your brow as you work through possibilities and plans. Your facial language is a signal to others that you believe something bad will happen. Depending on your age and track record, others may respond with anxiety of their own.
Guilt - the emotion of breaking a social code. You want to confess, and for others to forgive you. You may want to also run away. Your body displays the former, and prepares for the latter. You feel dread in your intestines, blood flows to your legs and back. Your pupils narrow and your eyes close as if preparing for violence. Your focus flits from face to face, avoiding eye contact, to see if people are looking at you. You lose your sense of humor and become more paranoid. You interpret others' dislike as a personal statement.
Shame - the emotion of humiliation. You feel sick in your stomach. You believe everyone is looking at you, and talking about you. Blood flows to your ears in a visible sign to others. You look at the ground. You avoid eye contact and do not engage in conversation. You want to hide. The social response to shame depends on the level of misconduct.
Remorse - the emotion of apology. Remorse is close to defeat. Yet you feel it in the specific context of having broken a social code and someone has caught you. You feel remorse when faced with hate, anger, or disgust at some crime. You feel remorse as a strong desire to recreate balance. You want people to accept you again. The empathic response to remorse may be like, or it may be more anger.
Impatience - the emotion of losing time. You feel irritated. You make repeated movements of the feet or hands. Your adrenalin is high, as you are eager to move. You gesticulate and make offended noises. The empathic response to impatience is to apologize and feel shame.
Amusement - the emotion of a sudden understanding. You showing surprise and happiness. You exhale, laugh, smile, clap your hands, nod or shake your head. Amusement is an empathy display evolved from glee. To feel amusement at the right moment and in the right degree requires empathy for the scene. When two people share the same amusement, it creates a double reaction, provoking laughter.
Revenge - the emotion of punishing a rule breaker. You feel anger at first. Then you feel determined and justified in action, even if that means violence. You show neither happiness nor sadness. You tense the muscles around your eyes, your mouth, and your jaw to make it clear you are serious. Revenge can lead to the predator emotions, if the emotion spreads to a group.
The social emotions seem to exist to trip up Mallory. That suggests they evolved as a defense against psychopaths. That dates human psychopathy to at least the point in our history when we grew beyond the small tribe, between 3 and 2 million years ago. Psychopaths need a crowd. They do of course prey on family, yet their life-cycle depends on a fresh supply of naive faces.
Each is an adaptation to defend against various of Mallory's talents:
Like and dislike - they seem simple, yet these emotions are the output of long and complex calculations. The calculations take into account years of observations, transactions, and received knowledge. This translates into a simple "yes/no/maybe" value. We feel this value and show it as pleasure or distrust. It drives us to avoid bad actors, and invest more in honest players. Mallory cheats this by beaming love or dislike at his targets.
Anxiety - the emotion which says something bad is happening, and asks others for help. Again, it can be a simple result of a complex calculation. Some anxiety is obvious: tomorrow I must meet important people, and that stresses me. Most anxiety is a vague "something is not right" gut feeling, that will not go away. I believe it's often caused by our subconscious psychopath detectors shrieking at us.
Guilt - the emotion which says, "I am not a psychopath, promise!" when someone catches us cheating. Everyone breaks rules at some point. Social groups need a way to distinguish casual criminals from professionals. Some people will reform, and others will not. This is the indicator: casual criminals can feel and display guilt. Mallory has evolved a good imitation of guilt. Yet it is not perfect, and it often leaves us unsatisfied.
Shame - the emotion which says, "I'm aware that I broke the rules." Again, this is about detecting professional rule breakers. Shame has a specific skin flushing pattern: face and ears. Mallory can mimic the body language, yet he cannot blush nor show red ears. Shame is such a powerful psychopath filter that social humans also mimic it, by blushing.
Remorse - the emotion which says "sorry" and asks others to forgive us. Remorse has a body language, yet the key to an authentic display is timing and duration. You must say "sorry" at the right time, and for the right amount. To do this requires empathy for dislike and revenge. Mallory cannot show remorse in a way that satisfies other people.
Impatience - the emotion of someone else delaying you. The social response to impatience is remorse, with an apology. Like remorse, this takes empathy to get right. The human obsession with time keeping and schedules seems bizarre. When you see it as a psychopath detector, it makes sense.
Revenge - the emotion of punishing a rule breaker. This is the emotion that pushes us to actually confront and expel psychopaths. Catching Mallory's infidelity, theft, deception, or other violations, we fill with indignation and revenge. This propels us out of Mallory's hands.
The concept of a "social code" is foreign to Mallory. She can learn it, yet it is never a native concept. She disregards others' needs by definition. This means she cannot deduce rules like "keep quiet when others are sleeping." If you explain a rule to her, her mind immediately breaks down the opportunity and risk. She obeys rules not because others would suffer. Rather, because they are not worth breaking.
A good social code is such a valuable defense against psychopaths that most are willing to pay to enforce it. You can see the development of modern society in this light. History shows an ever-decreasing rate of violence. Much of the apparatus of the State is about social regulation, and punishment of cheats.
Alice and Bob don't need to learn to defend social codes. When they learn a code, and see someone break it, they feel dramatic anger and then the emotion I call revenge. The two together tell other people "Someone has done something bad and made me angry!" and then "Please join me in punishing this person!"
Mallory can mimic both these emotions, and can do this two-step display well. Yet our empathic response to revenge is distrust. The more dramatic the display, the less we trust it. There are two ways to get support from the group. Mallory does it by building up hate and fear towards her target before she launches her anger and revenge act. This works, in specific cases. Then we get crusades, lynch mobs, and witch hunts, with Mallory at their head.
Alice and Bob get support for revenge by proving sincerity. In other words, that they have no personal stake. The best proof is to sacrifice assets, time, or personal security. A martyr inspires by proving the honesty of their cause.
To escape the accumulation of consequences, Mallory moves around more than average. She is good at learning local culture and manners. She can mimic accent and body language well. People often find her polite, obsessed with etiquette and manners. Only when you get close do you realize that this is superficial. Her manners serve to impress important people. Her behavior towards those she considers unimportant is cold and dismissive.
She manipulates others' social accounting, with a series of tactics that I explained in “Attack and Capture”. If she's caught cheating, her response is denial, and blame-shifting. Mallory can imitate shame, yet without the tell-tale ear flushing. Shame is a such a good psychopath test that Mallory doesn't even try to fake it. And remorse without shame is an empty gesture we disregard.
If you push Mallory, she will try a range of dramatic evasions. She may break down with dramatic weeping, doing good imitations of self-pity and distress. She may turn furious on her accuser, or other parties, heaping invented crimes on their heads. This "defend by attacking" behavior is classic, though not unique to psychopaths. Or, she may just leave. Only a psychopath can turn the emotional investment dial from all to nothing in a heartbeat.
Emotions are adaptations that helped our ancestors to survive. So there are no "negative" emotions as such. Yet our emotions can turn from helpful to harmful. Many people find their emotions are out of balance. They are anxious for no identifiable reason. They feel distressed, afraid, hateful. They cannot find happiness.
Some emotions, like fear and hate, can lead to terrible suffering, in the wrong hands. I explained how Mallory can use these emotions to push a group towards the worst kinds of violence.
So many emotions trigger in ways that we can call "negative." We can recognize these negative triggers, and we can become resistant against them.
There are two main reasons for negative triggering. The first is history. We evolved for a different world with fewer people and far more real dangers. Modern life is safe, easy, and yet complex and filled with other people. We compete with each other for toy points. Exposure to the elements, ignorance, or non-human predators is the exception, not the rule. We are a species on holiday. Our emotions are often the idle hands waiting for the Devil's commands.
The second reason is Mallory's ability to turn our emotions against us. By faking the right triggers, he throws us left and right like puppets. He is immune to most manipulation. His own emotional range shrinks back to the tiny ancestral set of predator emotions. You can manipulate him through these emotions, with practice. It's not just Mallory who pulls our strings. Entire industries have learned how to use our emotional responses against us.
I'm going to take each emotion and explain common negative triggering for it. This isn't a full breakdown. It's a basis for your own thinking and personal research. Everyone is unique and has their own sensitivities. The goal is to understand how emotions trigger in your own mind.
Let's look at negative triggers for the predatory emotions:
Hunger - the emotion of looking for prey. Trigger: images of plumped-up food and other consumables: cars, clothes, shoes, and drinks. Such images form the bulk of advertising. They speak to hunger, and can exert a powerful effect until you realize what the trick is.
Obsession - the emotion of stalking a prey. Trigger: repeated images of the same consumable. This is a goal of saturation advertisement, to move you from hunger to obsession. Once you want a specific consumable, you ignore alternatives. As long as the object of your obsession is within reach, you fixate on it.
Euphoria - the emotion of chasing a fleeing prey. Trigger: consumables that are just out of reach. A budget model does not trigger euphoria. A luxury model does. Smart marketers know this, and offer every wallet an option that hurts.
Glee - the emotion of seeing your prey stumble. Trigger: luxuries at a discount. We feel glee when we get a good deal on a prized item. This effect is so strong that people will camp outside shops for hours. They're waiting for that extraordinary prize and the feeling that comes with it.
Fury - the emotion of attacking your prey. Trigger: plastic packaging that is impossible to open. I'm only half-joking. How often have you resorted to using your teeth to open a stubborn pack of food? And what was the emotion you felt when it finally opened?
Bloodlust - the emotion of killing your prey. Trigger: signing on the dotted line, swiping your card, or handing over a roll of hundreds. It is understandable why so many people love shopping, are even addicted to it.
Gluttony - the emotion of eating your prey. Trigger: taking your new luxury consumable home, unwrapping it, and admiring it. A smart business makes this "unboxing" experience tangible and tactile. The packaging is half of the prize.
Satiation - the emotion of having eaten enough or too much. Trigger: a newer model comes out. Your luxury has gone stale. Rotten, almost. You stop showing it off. You start to obsess for the newer model.
Blocked - the emotion of a failed hunt or chase. Trigger: the shop is out of stock. You feel like life itself has stopped for a few hours. You ponder on alternatives. You feel diminished and yet saved from a possible error.
Let's look at negative triggers for the defense emotions:
Surprise - the emotion of reacting to a sudden threat. Trigger: the bank declines your card. You try to imagine how this is possible. You have not used it for weeks. You pay in cash and look for the number for your bank.
Suspense - the emotion of detecting a potential threat. Trigger: the bank tells you there have been various large payments with your card. Your blood runs cold. Time seems to slow down. You realize... Mallory! You text him, "did you use my card??"
Terror - the emotion of wanting to flee from a threat. Trigger: Mallory is on his way home. He's not replying to your texts. You know there's going to be a fight. You huddle in the couch, looking for a safe space in the house.
Flight - the emotion of fleeing from a pursuing threat. Trigger: Mallory comes home and slams the door. You run to the bathroom and close the door. He is shouting. You make out the words. He's using horrid language. He accuses you of stealing the family's money, sleeping around, trying to kick him out.
Anger - the emotion of defiance against a threat. Trigger: Mallory opens the bathroom door and yells insults at you. His face contorts into a mask of anger: eyes wide open, teeth bared, arms outreached. You feel he might murder you right there.
Rage - the emotion of physically attacking a threat. Trigger: Mallory strikes you on the face, so fast you cannot defend yourself. You jump at him and wrap both hands around his throat, yelling incoherent noises. You squeeze as hard as you can. You feel nothing except surprising strength. You keep squeezing.
Shock - the emotion of preparing for sudden death. Trigger: Mallory's face goes blank. You think you've killed him. You let go. He punches you in the face, so hard that your head hits the wall. Blood starts pouring down your face. He's broken your nose. You're thinking: this has gone way too far, and you collapse to the floor.
Triumph - the emotion of asserting dominance. Trigger: you get up and smile at Mallory. "Thanks," you tell him. "I'm going to the hospital. If you're still here when I get back, I'm going to the cops and have you charged for assault." You walk out past him.
Defeat - the emotion of submitting to dominance. Trigger: in an alternate time-line, you stay on the floor, and you wait for Mallory to leave. When he's gone you clean yourself up. Not so bad, you think, looking in the mirror. The next day Mallory acts like nothing happened. You wonder who you can borrow money from to pay off your credit card.
Let's look at negative triggers for the sexual emotions.
We know the emotional triggers are different between the two genders. Men respond to simple visual cues. These are hip-to-waist ratio, breast shape, leg-to-body ratio, nose shape, hair length. A plastic doll with the right features is erotic to most men. It's the basis for the porn industry. Women respond to a different and more subtle set of cues like male power.
Men and women also look for sexual partners in different ways. In 2015, hackers leaked the client database of the Ashley Madison website. This site claimed to offer cheating spouses a way to hook up. Analysis of the data showed that for about 3 million men there were less than 1,450 actual women. The bulk of "female" accounts were Ashley Madison employees or scripted "bots". The business model was to show interest in men, then get them to pay to send chat messages.
Ashley Madison was able to trigger interest, desire, and lust in men, and then convert that into profits. It is a common pattern in product marketing, aimed at men. Step one: show beautiful women who display interest. This triggers desire. Step two: cut to desirable products. This flips the sexual emotions into predatory ones.
Marketing aimed at women rarely takes this route. I suspect it does not work on women. Rather, it uses another route. Step one is to show thin young female shapes. This triggers subconscious jealousy and anxiety. Then, cut to desirable products, flipping these emotions into predatory ones.
Let's look at negative triggers for the family emotions:
Love - the emotion of being close to a family member. Trigger: Mallory tells you how much she loves you. She gazes deep into your eyes, texts you a hundred times a day, spends hours in bed with you. You respond by falling in love with her.
Longing - the emotion of being far from a family member. Trigger: Mallory disappears without warning and does not respond to her phone. You feel intense longing. When she turns up, you accept her explanation without question.
Loss - the emotion of losing a loved family member. Trigger: Mallory breaks up with you after a violent argument. She packs her bags and walks out. You beg her to stay, it makes no difference.
Happiness - the emotion of being in a good situation. Trigger: Mallory is so happy, and shows it in her face and body language. Everything is fantastic! You've never felt happier in your life.
Sadness - the emotion of being in a bad situation. Trigger: Mallory is not talking to you. When she looks at you, she has no expression. It makes you feel hurt and sad. She does not seem to care. So cold.
Fear - the emotion of asking for help from a threat. Trigger: Mallory says she'll tell everyone you raped her if you don't give her the money she says she needs. You feel cold horror and dread. You call your dad for advice and help.
Distress - the emotion of being lost or threatened. Trigger: Mallory makes more threats. She starts to smash kitchenware. You lock yourself in the bathroom and call your sister. She says you're crazy to stay there.
Jealousy - the emotion of competing for attention. Trigger: it's New Years' Eve and you're at a company dinner with Mallory. She is so radiant, like she is an actress. She radiates strength and confidence. Everyone stares at her. She spends most of the evening talking to your boss. You feel sad and then when Mallory comes to ask, "is everything OK?" you act angry and petulant. She laughs at you, not in a nice way. As you drive home, Mallory in the passenger seat complains about how controlling you are.
Let's look at negative triggers for the tribal emotions:
Loneliness - the emotion of being disconnected. Trigger: your sister isn't talking to you any more. You mention this to Mallory, who immediately says, "Such a bitch. She's jealous because I told her about the money your dad gave us." You're angry with your sister, and then you start to feel sick.
Belonging - the emotion of being safe within your tribe. Trigger: Mallory organizes a party for your birthday. Lots of strangers turn up. Your own friends seem to be few. Still the company makes you feel secure and happy.
Disgust - the emotion of tasting bad food. Trigger: Mallory decides she'll cook. She prepares pasta, from a tin. You taste the slimy concoction and try adding more pepper. It doesn't help. You force yourself to eat some, then you feel sick and you leave the rest. Mallory is offended. She never cooks again. She tells everyone how you hate his food, and prefer to eat in restaurants, wasting money.
Hate - the emotion of rejecting a tribal member. Trigger: you call your sister. She answers, and before you can chat, she's yelling at you. You start to realize she believes you spent the money on your new car. You try to explain it's a company car, the money went to Mallory. "Liar, I hate you!" she shouts, and cuts you off. You shiver with adrenalin. You start to hate your sister. It'll be years before you talk to her again, and you both realize what happened.
Self-pity - the emotion of asking for adult help. Trigger: as Mallory attacks you, it feels so unfair. You start to weep. It surprises you, yet you can't stop it. You stop the car because your eyes are blurring. Mallory responds by getting out, slamming the door, smoking a cigarette. "When you stop your baby act, can we go home?" she says, no emotion. "I'm getting cold out here!"
Submission - the emotion of offering yourself. Trigger: home, Mallory takes off her coat, and then undresses down to her underwear. She is so beautiful it takes your breath away. She commands, "come here" and leads you to the bedroom. Your heart pounds. You have already forgotten and forgiven.
These emotional whirlwinds are exhausting and traumatizing. For Mallory they are easy, cheap gestures that leave no wake in her mind. Last of all, let's look at negative triggers for the social emotions:
Like - the emotion of a positive relationship. Trigger: Mallory says he's going to repay the money. His business deal went well, he made good profits. He needs a little more for the custom fees. Do you have a thousand? You nod. Life is good.
Dislike - the emotion of a negative relationship. Trigger: Mallory says the customs agent is a crook. He shows a letter insisting on payment. You see the figures. Then you see the letter is to you. "Why is my name there?" you ask. "Well, it was your money," Mallory answers. You don't argue, you're just trying to understand.
Anxiety - the emotion of preparing for a future threat. Trigger: a letter arrives from the police. They want you to come in to make a statement. Did Mallory make a complaint? Your nose was just bloodied, not broken. You never went to the police. To forgive is to survive. You call and you get an appointment for the next day.
Guilt - the emotion of breaking a social code. Trigger: the police detective explains that your partner made serious claims against you. There was evidence of bruising on his neck, and a medical report. You explain that Mallory punched you. "Was that before or after you tried to strangle him?" asks the interviewing officer. You ask if you can speak to a lawyer before giving a statement. The woman nods. You leave.
Shame - the emotion of humiliation. Trigger: your lawyer talks to the police and they agree to not file charges, only issue a warning. The lawyer seems surprised how easy it was. You return to the police station and the same detective gives you a formal warning. "Any more violence between the two of you, and it'll be jail time. Understood?" You nod, ears flushing. You want to melt and disappear into the floor.
Remorse - the emotion of apology. Trigger: Mallory is weeping, crying. He says you're violent and unstable, and he has to leave you. His whole family have been phoning you all day, leaving threatening messages. "If you hurt him again, we'll be there to deal with you!" they say. You try to make it good. You feel so, so sorry. It was all your fault.
Impatience - the emotion of losing your time. Trigger: you're going out to see a movie, with Mallory. He is still choosing his clothes. It's been half an hour. You pace the living room, restless and anxious. Mallory comes out of the bedroom, impeccably dressed. You shake your head and hands. "What took you so long?" you say, "we're going to be late!" He sighs and walks past you, and gets into the car, without a word.
Amusement - the emotion of a sudden understanding. Trigger: as you leave the movie, you see a couple arguing on the street. The woman is shouting at the man, who's defending himself. She slaps him, without warning. You see the shock on his face, and you laugh out loud. You know how he feels. He sees you, frowns, and you try to show sympathy, "crazy, right?!"
Revenge - the emotion of punishing a rule breaker. Trigger: on the drive home, a pedestrian crosses in front of you. So dangerous! You honk the car horn and frown at them. Idiots, they could cause an accident like that.
Grounding Your Emotions
"We start out feeling afraid of something, then that fear makes us feel weak, then that weakness makes us angry, and then we start to hate." -- Cracked.com, "4 Terrifying Psychology Lessons Behind Famous Movie Monsters"
We've looked at how individual emotions work. In practice, it is rarely as clean as I describe. Emotions cause chain reactions, where one emotion triggers another, and so on. This covers the root emotion. Here are examples of some such chains. You might like to extend this with self-observation:
We dislike someone, and feel somewhat threatened. That makes us angry, and then we feel rage. We then feel guilt, and then shame at our reaction.
We love someone, and we feel eagerness, and then belonging, and then happiness.
We love someone, yet they are not paying attention to us, so we feel jealous, and then sad.
A good friend dies. We feel loss, and then we feel guilty that we did not feel it harder.
We feel loss, and then we feel lonely, which makes us feel sad. People respond to that by avoiding us, so we feel more lonely, and sadder.
Some of these chains are positive and some less so. Some chains turn into cycles that can be hard to break. The usual way to try to break an emotional chain reaction is to provoke a different emotion. For example, to break a sad-lonely cycle, we look for ways to feel happy. The problem is that the original emotions often come back.
There's a good reason for this. A root emotion triggers off some core belief or assumption. As long as you don't challenge and discredit this belief, it remains active. It will sooner or later trigger the root emotion again, and restart the chain reaction.
To break an emotional chain, we cannot just add more emotions on top. Rather, we must find and understand that root belief, and we then discredit it. When we do that, the triggering stops, and the emotional chain reaction ends. Then we can feel other emotions like happiness and belonging and love.
Take the example from Cracked. The fear comes from the assumption that the monster is dangerous. Look again, and you see an image, poor computer graphics, and a shaky camera. The fear disappears. Then the weakness, the anger, and the hate vanish too.
How do we find the root belief? It is always hidden under layers of emotions. To see it, you must work back through the emotional chain. This sounds mystical, yet it's quite banal. Emotions fade away when you analyze them. We feel the last emotion the strongest. So, just ask yourself the question, "what am I feeling, and where does that come from?"
It is hard to stop, when you are feeling strong emotions, and ask yourself such a question. It can be easier with a second person, a therapist. Yet most of the time when you are dealing with Mallory, you are on your own. Get used to asking this question when it does not matter. You can then learn to ask it when it does.
Your goal is to work backwards, emotion by emotion. At each step you use the knowledge you've learned of how emotions work. You want to identify the most probable trigger. As you identify the trigger, the emotion calms and disappears. You repeat and finally, you come to a root assumption.
The root assumption is often simple, yet powerful:
By displaying this emotion, I will get a response from others.
By displaying this emotion, I will get my parents or family to save me.
By feeling this emotion, I am reacting to a real situation.
And then you can ask yourself the question, "will feeling and displaying this emotion make things better?" The answer is often, "no." As you accept that answer, the root emotion goes away. If you're experiencing several emotions, each may have its own chain, and root assumption. Many triggers fighting for attention at the same time makes us feel as if we're in emotional turmoil.
Let's say someone breaks into your apartment and steals your laptop and camera. You feel intense emotions that become obsessive and consume you for weeks. You can't sleep because you dream of another break-in. You search online for your stolen possessions. You ask yourself over and over, why me? Your emotions seem to flip around, out of control.
When you focus, you realize you feel hate, fear, and intense loneliness. Three dominant emotions. You analyze each of these:
The hate comes from anger at the thieves. The anger is a normal defense emotion. Except, of course, it's too late. The event has come and gone, and no amount of anger will stop it. As you realize this, the anger and the hate go away.
The fear comes from anxiety at another robbery. The anxiety comes from self-pity, as you cry for help from friends and family. Except of course, you can fix this yourself. You install a better lock. The self-pity goes away, and so does the anxiety and fear.
The loneliness comes from the loss of your treasured possessions. You loved them so much. If they were people, then displaying pain might bring them back to you. Stolen goods don't care. They are gone forever. As you realize that, and stop hoping they'll turn up, the loss goes away, and you stop feeling so alone.
This self-analysis is hard. I make it sound easy, only because I've practiced for years. Use a notepad and write down what you think you feel. Learn to name your emotions, using my list, and analyze them whenever you can. Everyone has different patterns. Yet each of us tends to repeat a small set that we're comfortable with. You'll find no more than a dozen emotional chains dominate your life. As you get good at this, you can learn to regulate these emotions almost as fast as they happen.
There are other techniques to control emotions. For example the Wikihow guide provides five different techniques. Method 4, "Reflecting On Your Feelings" is closest to grounding.
When you are well grounded, several interesting things happen:
First, you become more self-aware. You notice your emotions are flaring up. You analyze why, and you see something that you never noticed before: the triggers. Your own responses become your instrument. Rather than denying your emotions, for the trouble they cause, you now embrace them. They just don't go far.
Second, this emotional awareness lets you change how you relate to others. Social discourse runs on emotional games, more or less overt. As you learn to observe, you see these games when others play them, and when you play them yourself. You lose your insecurities, anxiety, and need to belong.
Third, it protects you against manipulation. Mallory needs an emotional surface to attack. When you do not respond to his triggers, you can withstand even brutal personal attacks. Your normal response to Mallory's fury is terror, flight, and anger. To his desire, you feel intense love. These feelings will incapacitate you. Grounded, you see Mallory's expression and you think, "nice mask."
I've explained how our emotions work to orchestrate our body for action or display our mental state to others. I've defined six groups of emotion: predator, defense, sexual, family, group, and social. In each group the emotions fulfill a certain role. This functional breakdown gives us about fifty built-in emotions. Each has a universal behavior and physical expression.
We've seen how Mallory's emotional range covers only the oldest group. She is a predator, and sees the world in these terms. Even her sexual behavior is indistinguishable from hunting. Or, vice-versa. When you seek to understand how Mallory feels as she stalks a new target, think of how you feel sexual desire.
Mallory's attitude to sex is striking for two reasons. It seems neither masculine nor feminine. Mallory is bisexual by opportunity and need, not self-identity. And this seems consistent across psychopaths of both genders. Most of us accept human minds and bodies differentiate towards male and female poles. Psychopathy seems to be a separate pole. It looks like a distinct gender identity, with its specific physical and mental differentiation.
We've seen how empathy works from first principles. We usually define empathy as an emotional response to a family, group, or social emotion. Mallory lacks these emotions, and the empathy that goes with them. Yet she does have empathy for the predator, defense, and sexual emotions.
Mallory's pruned emotional range is no handicap. It's an evolved feature that lets her use others' emotions without paying the same cost. When Bob or Alice feel anger, they pay a real price in physical effort and stress. The after effects can take hours or days to wear off.
Mallory is often described as a manipulator, yet she is as vulnerable to triggering as anyone. Show her vulnerability, and she responds with aggression. Show her anger, and she responds with fury. Show her fear, and she responds with bloodlust.
Understanding our emotions lets us control them. I've explained one way to do this, which I call "grounding." This is not to suppress our emotions. Rather it is to be free to sense the emotion, while removing its power over us. Grounded, we are more sensitive yet calmer. This state of mind lets us confront situations that are otherwise terrifying.
In the next chapter I'll explain how to do the impossible. That is, to escape a relationship with a psychopath, without trauma.