When my older son was two, he asked me what all children question at some point: “Mommy, do monsters really exist?” I believe I said something along the lines of, “No, sweetie, there is no such thing as monsters … Of course you’re safe.” As I reassured him with my words, I felt a restless tug in my heart inducing me with the guilt of having told a lie. I suppose I said what any decent mother would say to her worried toddler as he tries to feel safe in a world he does not yet know or understand.
But deep down, I wanted to tell him the truth: Monsters do exist in this world, they could be anywhere at any time, and you never know who they are. They are human monsters, and they come in the form of sociopaths, psychopaths, and violent criminals.
I am fascinated by sociopathy in particular, that rarely-spoken-of mental illness whereby a human being does not have feelings. Sociopathy is the embodiment of my opposite, the antithesis of my human experience, which is filled with so much feeling, so much passion, that I must subdue myself from time to time to prevent my heart from growing too enormous for my body. While psychopaths tend to act out aggressively and violently, I find sociopaths to be more frightening. Sociopaths are so plentiful, so seemingly trustworthy and normal. A sociopath can function perfectly well in day-to-day life. They can earn high grades, be leaders, have good jobs, earn money, achieve the American dream, get married, and reproduce … a seemingly normal person to the unquestioning eye, to the trusting soul who has not yet had the misfortune of realizing one of their loved ones is a sociopath. But this apparently normal person cannot feel. They cannot sincerely empathize when a fellow human or animal is in pain. They cannot experience the sheer intoxication of falling in love. They cannot feel deep remorse when they have hurt another being. They cannot feel the superhuman miraculous joy of raising children. They cannot love.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, 5% of people are sociopathic. That means that there are 300,000,000 people walking around the planet right now (the equivalent to all the people in the USA) who do not have a conscience. These are the friends and acquaintances who aren’t moved by world or personal tragedies, the lovers who never seem to completely connect with you, the criminals who steal your identity for profit, the siblings who bully their little brothers and sisters without any remorse, the men and women who sell children into prostitution, the kids who torture animals ‘for fun’, the killers who walk the streets. These are the people who walk through life without a soul.
I’ve read voraciously about sociopathy, about what causes it and how it is possible that so many of us humans cannot feel. And, as a mother, I continuously come back to the same conclusion: Would so many people be sociopaths, be unable to experience life as it is meant to be experienced, through a lens of love, if they had received more unconditional love as a child? Not all sociopaths are violent, but they are monsters nonetheless, for how can a person differentiate between kind and evil, violent and nonviolent, decent and sick, if they cannot feel?
Despite the rage I feel towards the violence they sometimes create, in the end, I feel sorry for sociopaths, for anyone who cannot experience the richness and warmth of true love in all its forms, for anyone who cannot know the depths, beauty, and meaning of life as I believe it was meant to be lived:
“To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips”