Some years ago, I dated a girl that was studying criminal psychology at the time. She kept reams of literature on serial killers and criminal profiling by her bedside, which in turn kept her up at night (in more than one sense), and so the two of us would lie there until the wee hours discussing the mind of Ted Bundy (see peepers above), a particular favorite of hers.
I remember the first time we hung out, after doing the dinner & movie thing—our acquaintance now having reached the ripe old age of five hours or thereabouts—I invited her up to my apartment. As I was unlocking the door, she cast me this expectant glance with her mascaraed baby blues and politely inquired, in the manner of a child asking for a cookie, whether I was going to “rape and strangle” her once we were inside.
At this point in the narration, I am invoking my Fifth Amendment right, except to say that no strangling took place that night. Even Ted Bundy balked at offing anyone he had known for more than twenty minutes, and my own inhibition threshold resides much higher (= lower in terms of minutes) than that.
Anyhow, in furtherance of my intermittent but ongoing education on the subject, I just finished reading The Stranger Beside Me, written by Ann Rule, a fledgling crime reporter tasked by the Seattle P.D. with chronicling a baffling series of homicides and missing person reports in Washington state in the mid-1970s, a series that soon expanded to Oregon, Utah, and Colorado.
While working on her assignment, the author gradually had to come to terms with mounting evidence that pointed to a former co-worker of hers as the prime suspect: a charming, bright, handsome, and remarkably well-spoken young man with whom she had not so long ago spent countless nighttime hours alone in an office manning the phones of a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline at the Seattle Crisis Center—indeed, for a while Ted Bundy actually saved lives, at least while on the clock—and whom she considered a close friend that couldn’t swat a bluebottle, let alone hurt another human being.
With the exception of Ms Rule’s otherwise mellow pooch, who “growled and the hackles on her neck stood up” whenever Bundy came close to her desk at the Crisis Clinic, the guy smoothly faked out everyone around him. My tables—meet it is I set it down: that one may smile, and smile, and be a villain. For his admission into law school, he even managed to score a ringing letter of recommendation from the then-governor of Washington, in whose reelection campaign he had been gainfully employed and drawn oodles of encomia for his smarts, exceptional work ethic, popularity with his co-workers, and whatnot.
Although diagnoses differ as to the precise nature of Bundy’s pathology, the general consensus appears to converge on the hypothesis that, in addition to having been a sexual sadist (most likely due to some sort of fear of humiliation in that area), he was the textbook sociopath—a man utterly lacking in empathy, compassion, or anything resembling a conscience, yet at the same time eerily adept at impersonating, with utmost credibility, an individual that possessed prodigious amounts of those qualities whenever he sensed that doing so would advance his personal needs, like when it came to luring unsuspecting young females into his infamous Volkswagen Beetle (now on display at the National Museum of Crime & Punishment in D.C.) so he could then comfortably club them to death with a crowbar, rape and sodomize their corpses, chop off their heads with a meat cleaver, dump the bodies in the woods, hold on to the skulls as souvenirs, and after a while dispose of those as well, presumably in order to make room for new ones. (The average household fridge, alas, only holds so many human heads.)
But who are we to judge? We all have our little quirks and hobbies.
In essence, Bundy wholly lacked a vital emotion that any “normal” human possesses in one form or another, namely the ability to empathize with the pain and suffering of others. By contrast, the only kind of pain a sociopath can relate to is his own. Watching footage of a truck running over a puppy—a sight that would make most of us cringe and cry or perhaps avert our gaze and bury our faces in our hands—means nothing to a sociopath. You might as well show him footage of someone painting a lawn chair. The pain of other sentient creatures won’t register with him. It’s like swiping a barcode that has not been programmed into the machine. The scanner won’t be able to read it.
As horrendous as the consequences may be when a person lacks empathy (especially when this very deficiency occurs in conjunction with rage and sadistic proclivities), it basically comes down to a simple emotional blind spot, similar to the way some people cannot see certain primary colors whose absence in the daily color spectrum the rest of us can hardly fathom.
There happen to be a few glaring lacunae in my own stock of emotions as well. Luckily, empathy isn’t among them. Still, in principle, doesn’t this mean I suffer from the exact same condition as did Ted Bundy, except that my gaps occur in different parts of my psyche where they pose no danger to society?
Two common emotions conspicuously missing from my personal repertoire are (a) loneliness (in the non-Jungian sense) and (b) jealousy. I’ve heard of these emotions, I know they exist, I can understand them intellectually, but I cannot feel them. The screen just goes blank.
One theory has it that our emotional spectrum is complete by a certain age (eight or twelve or thereabouts), after which time we won’t experience any “new” emotions. In my case, growing up, I never felt alone, and being an only child, I never had to compete with anyone for my parents’ love and attention. It never occurred to me that someone might come along and deprive me of my due share of parental affection.
In other words, I never “learned” how to feel lonely or jealous by the cutoff age (whatever exactly it may be). And in some way, my adult life and my personal relationships have been shaped, positively or negatively, by my inability to experience these two emotions. (If you think a lack of jealousy can’t be a problem in a relationship, try responding to a girlfriend’s confession of having stepped out on you with little more than a shrug and a casual “I hope the guy didn’t have herpes and stuff.”)
Others, I’m sure, grew up under identical conditions and are perfectly capable of feeling lonely and jealous with the best of ‘em. Genetics may play a part.
In any event, whatever the reasons—nature or nurture—I lack these two emotions.
Ted Bundy lacked empathy and compassion.
I once worked with a girl that couldn’t get angry. Everybody gets angry at some point over something, especially working in a restaurant in New York City. Not her. She seemed to possess the full panoply of human emotions, save for this one blatant omission. Whoever assembled her apparently forgot to put in an anger gene. It just wasn’t there.
Could it be that all of us are emotionally deficient like Ted Bundy, except in different areas? If our individual blind spots were situated just a hair to the left or right of where they actually reside in our brains, might we, too, be vicious monsters instead of the nice and harmless people that we are?
Are there any commonplace and “normal” emotions notably missing from your palette, or have you been endowed with a complete set?