When I was 15, I convinced a group of boys that I was Australian. Why? Because I was bored. With myself. The beach. With babysitting my little brother, while the other teens got to have fun. And with my mentally ill mom, the source of all my unrest.
So I ditched them, and infiltrated a spring break party. Exactly like the kind they used to show on MTV. All the attention was just what I thought I needed to fill the hole in my adolescent soul.
One of boys asked me to tell them about Australia.
So I said something like, “You know, kangaroos and shit. Right?” Everyone laughed. Someone handed me a drink, and I smiled. For two whole hours I was the hot, sarcastic Ozzie.
You can’t fill a hole with lies.
My fun ended when the party moved on, and I returned to the hotel alone. Part of me wanted to follow them, and the other part knew that eventually my family would report me as missing. After all, I was in charge of the chores. The hole grew back almost immediately.
Nobody except my dad noticed my absence. He only complained mildly, mainly about leaving him alone with my mom and brother. Combined, they were quite a handful.
So I was ordered to watch over them for the rest of the vacation while my dad enjoyed the hotel’s many amenities. Hey, it was his one chance to escape for a little while. And he was paying for it all, so… And yet, can you imagine a worse punishment for a 15-year-old? To have to keep your mom from eating sand for an entire weekend. So boring.
Lies can make the hole feel bigger.
It just so happened that one of the guys I’d lied to caught up with me. We talked for a while, kicking through the tide. Then he asked how come my family didn’t talk with an accent like I did.
My brother didn’t play along with my lie, that I was a child of divorce. (My Ozzie dad remarried American.) Without my brother’s support, the con fell apart. The boy walked away confused, and I blamed my brother for ruining my life. Again. The real lesson didn’t occur to me until much later. That I had a different brain. One with a hole inside.
The hole comes from somewhere.
Everyone has a hole of some kind that we’re trying to fill. Before you can deal with it, you’ve got to understand its backstory.
You can’t blame everything on your abusive, neglectful parents. Then again, psychologists keep saying that childhood is when you learn all about social bonding, love, and attachment. So start there. It might explain why some of us don’t have a clue how to form lasting social relationships. We might know — intellectually — that we’re loved and appreciated. But we don’t ever feel it. Maybe we never will.
A mom who repeatedly tries to murder you in your sleep just might have something to do with your issues.
Honestly, it doesn’t even have to get that bad. I’ve met people whose parents left them in cars all afternoon. Locked them in the closet for hours. Treated them like an absolute nuisance.
All of them struggle to form meaningful relationships now.
There’s only one solution. Accept that knowing on a theoretical level you’re loved by someone has to be enough. The feelings may never come. At least not the way they do for everyone else.
What to do instead of filling the hole.
Some of us will do anything to close that void. But you can’t. For us, it’s a baseline state. So you just have to acclimate.
Stop trying so hard to feel things you weren’t designed to. This is your new normal. A slight, unending sense of ennui — punctuated by hard won moments of satisfaction.
This is your life. Learn to get the most out of it you can. Harness your so-called weaknesses. Almost everything good I’ve done has stemmed from my need to relieve that inevitable state of emptiness. But I also have to accept that no matter what I do, the hole will always come back.
In fact, it never went anywhere.
It’s not the kind of hole that drives someone to suicide. It’s the kind that pushes you to always be doing something.
You can’t fill the hole with money, awards, attention, sex, or booze. But you can keep yourself busy. You can live with purpose, and swear off manipulation and deceit as ways to get ahead.
When the hole looms, you can make an extra trip to the gym. Take a long walk. Play a game. Start a new book. Have a drink. (But just one. Okay, maybe two.) Or just go to sleep.
How psychopaths deal with people.
Some of us fall somewhere between the poles of autism and psychopathy. We wind up faking a lot of the emotions we’re expected to show everyone. Acting normal consumes loads of energy.
A colleague tells you about a fire in their apartment. It torched most of their possessions. But everyone survived.
They’re devastated. Crying. Shaking. And so on. You donate to their fundraiser. Buy them lunch. Offer support. But that’s not enough. They seem to want something else from you.
A hug. A feeling of warmth and comfort. You can’t give them this, because you actually don’t know what that feels like. You’ve never experienced it yourself, so you can only offer the palest imitation. It creeps them out. And makes you feel worthless. So you just let them think your callous.
How psychopaths deal with adversity.
You struggle to understand emotions. Not because you’re a heartless bitch. But because your entire nervous system responds differently to stress and adversity. Honestly, danger makes you feel alive.
When a threat arises, our heart rate actually drops. Our thinking snaps into crystal focus. It’s almost a super power.
Dealing with people is way harder.
After a day of people, I feel like pressing my back against the door to my office and sliding down to the floor. Like they do in the movies. Or I slump into a chair and stare for ten solid minutes. Sometimes fifteen.
How psychopaths love.
We make a decision to, every day. We carry out the actions of love and kindness. Not out of instinctual empathy. Some of us just learn that you can’t live a meaningful life without some kind of social bond. It’s just not going to be the warm, fuzzy kind.
Without love, the hole envelops you and continues on to devour the rest of your corner of the galaxy.
You can choose to love, or hate. Love is more productive. Love is the actual path to self-preservation.
Navigate the void.
A psychopath isn’t that different from anyone else. Everyone feels tempted to lie and cheat. We all struggle with empathy.
Most of us are treading through some kind of void. A hole left by heartbreak, loss, catastrophe, or deep disappointment. It’s just that we feel this way all the time, for literally no reason. Or a reason that happened a long time ago, and we can’t do anything about now.
You can fix your problems in all kinds of unhealthy ways. These just make the hole grow bigger. Don’t grow your void. Don’t try to fill it. Just leave it alone. It might always be there. But you can build around it, far enough away that it can’t hurt anyone anymore. And if you’re going to lie about being from Australia, keep your family upstairs.