Chasing ghosts: psychopathy and the children

Psychopaths tend to be sexually promiscuous.  They often have numerous short term romantic relationships and indiscriminant sexual encounters throughout their lives.  Further, they commonly engage carelessly and recklessly, without regard for consequences.  This, unfortunately, often leaves trails of children behind in their wakes.

Psychopaths do not make good parents.  They may be able to create the children, but do not have the ability to effectively parent.  Frequently, they fail to properly provide for these children in most ways, as they are unusually focused on themselves, their own wants and needs, and often driven to act in anger and revenge.  This is true, independent of whether or not they are involved with the other parent.  (Although, it is worth mentioning that it may not seem as such in cases where they are still “wearing their masks.”)

They view their children as possessions or objects.  The children are not protected by the loving bonds of parenthood, because psychopaths are not capable of genuine, unconditional love.  No healthy emotional bonds exist either.  Parenthood takes on a whole new meaning when a psychopathic parent is involved and it is not positive.  While relationships may occur, and in some cases, may even span the course of lifetimes, they are always dysfunctional and potentially dangerous.  This harm can be perpetrated in many ways.  Acknowledging this as fact is important.  Yet, this truth is often misunderstood by many involved.

The children of psychopaths are often as confused as the rest of the population regarding the behaviors.  Some definitely achieve an awareness of the emotional disconnects and rage, even at very young ages, and have great fear, depending on what they have endured.  This group may not want to interact with the parent.  Others understand less, especially ones who were abandoned early in life and are less familiar with the actual traits and behaviors of the psychopathic parent.  All are at risk, however, even as adults.

Some children (adult or otherwise) may recognize that things are “off,”  but don’t know what to do with the information, are unable to articulate it, or choose to minimize the strange behaviors.  Others may seek further approval from the parent, yearning for love and attention.  Young children, who do not have other, outside life experiences to compare, may find the behaviors disturbing, but “normal,”  as the psychopathic parent may be all they know.

Regardless, there is a lot occurring that is incredibly dysfunctional when a psychopathic parent is involved.  They may operate very differently with various family members, but all of their behaviors are jaded by their own interests and agendas, not those of the children.

Psychopathic parents commonly play favorites with their children.  They position them, as they would anyone or anything else.  Their motives may be somewhat complex or very basic, but the reasons are not related to the care and well being of their offspring – ever.  Also, a child’s spot in this twisted hierarchy is not guaranteed, and may whimsically change, depending on how “satisfied” the psychopathic parent is with the child at any given moment.  Security, which plays a critical role in healthy child development, is non-existent.

An example may look something like this, remembering that not all will look the same; a “golden child” or children, as well as a “target child” or children.  Additionally, there may be others (who may be less useful to the psychopath) who tend to be more or less forgotten about.  They may feel that there is little to gain from interactions with these children.  In some cases, it is possible that the psychopaths recognize their similarly afflicted children, and distance themselves.  Could this be a “protective” measure, in an attempt to perpetuate “their kind?”  Could it be that they are less fun to manipulate and harm or irritate?  There are many theories and various schools of thought on why this is, some of with which I agree, others which I do not.  In this article, I will focus on first two categories.

What does all of this mean to the children?  Regardless of position, the answer is usually distress and some type of harm; physical, emotional, psychological, or otherwise.  None of these positions is desirable for any child of any age.

The target child or children

A child on the receiving end of a psychopathic parent’s wrath is in a precarious place.  This child or group of children may be targeted for a multitude of reasons.

In many cases, the targeted children are psychologically quite normal and require discrediting by the psychopath.  They may have the psychopath figured out.  Or, they may be the children of the parent that the psychopath harbors the most hatred for or resentment toward.  In some cases, these children bear the brunt of the psychopath’s anger and wild, abusive, neglectful, and manipulative behaviors.

Regardless of age, this group is lied to and about.  The psychopathic parent also tends to blame them and/or their normal parent for almost everything that is wrong in the psychopathic parent’s life.  This may cause guilt or anger in the target child, depending on the circumstances.

In essence, the psychopathic parent sees this group as a significant liability and/or objects of sadistic pleasure.  These children are also the ones who tend to become the pawns in the psychopathic parent’s games of “payback” with the non-psychopathic parent.  Although, a confusing, dangerous, and potentially frustrating place for a child to be, it’s relatively simple to understand, once alerted to the behaviors.

The golden child or children           

The plight of the “golden child” is much more complex.  It’s a larger scale manipulation because the psychopath must remain undercover.  Naturally, the position of “golden child” has to do with the psychopath, not the child, and what they feel the child has to offer them.  The golden child may fall anywhere in the birth and relationship order.

The psychopaths may recognize that they need to have at least one child on their side, as many others may be estranged.  Even psychopaths come realize their mortality (sort of) and may desire some type of  “insurance” that they will always have at least one relation at their beck and call, for either physical or financial support as they age.  It is also possible that they need a “partner in crime,” or “cover” in order to appear normal.  Perhaps they need a “buddy.”  The reasons vary.  One thing that does not change, however, is that their “caring” and positive affect is not genuine.  Conversely, it is harmful.

“Golden children” are sometimes gullible in many respects, which may be what influenced the psychopaths’ selections in the first place.  The children are not at fault for this.  This group typically believes that the parent cares for them.  They are easy targets, as they are often ones who did not grow up in frequent, direct contact with the psychopathic parent.  Or, they did and are under their manipulative influences.

In cases where psychopaths are attempting to “mend” relationships, that they claim were estranged due to the actions of an outside force, they will only try this with children they know fail to understand the  affliction.  If the child’s personality is forgiving and he or she does not seek greater understanding, taking most behaviors at face value and accepting excuses, the child will fall, hook, line, and sinker.

Yet somewhere, the child probably has or had an idea of the parent’s true nature.  They choose to overlook what they know.  They want to believe that they are important to this parent, so they cast reality aside.  Additionally, it is important to remember that psychopaths “lovebomb” their children too.  This feels good and makes the child feel special, especially if they are held in comparison to the targets.

If the child hears and gets what he wants from the parent, the child will invest in the “relationship.”  The child’s investment will be genuine, but the psychopath’s never will be.  When the children are older and have fewer interactions with this parent, the psychopath’s work is considerably easier.  Superficial relations are easier to maintain.

If other disordered individuals or enablers surround the psychopathic parent and fuel their assertions, the expectation should be that the manipulations will occur at a greater rate or to a pronounced degree.  Sadly, the child or children may not understand, which will eventually lead to even greater disappointment and confusion.

Significant dissonance will occur when the words and the actions of the parent really don’t match.  In time, the child will hopefully come to understand what he already knew.  With no ability to maintain rewarding relationships,  just simply knowing  what to do, say, or offer the child materially, will not mask the emotional disconnection.  Even when “emotions” are displayed, the normal child should eventually piece the problems together and acknowledge the reality.

At that point, he or she may ask the same questions and search for the same answers as every other person the psychopath has drawn close.  It is , indeed, an unfortunate position to be in.

Which is worse?

Neither is good.  However, although the target children may wish that things were completely different, at least members of this group know where they stand.  They have the ability to rectify what is and move forward in a healthy fashion.

The golden children will have to live and learn, which will, inevitably, come to take its toll.  They cannot fill the empty places, because they cannot define what the voids are or why they exist.  The pedestal can be a very lonely place, when the motives for their placement are sinister.  With the words that mean nothing, the lies and blame regarding the decent, and the feigned affect void of meaning, the golden children truly are left chasing ghosts.

Children of psychopathy have obstacles to overcome regardless of the scenario.  Again, education and awareness at all levels – mental health, legal, and within the families themselves -will be what helps to decide the outcomes of those in this position.

Look for future information on children of psychopathy.  Dr. Liane Leedom, M.D. and I have two research articles, currently in press, which will continue to shed light on this very important topic.  We are both excited to begin sharing our findings shortly. 



Comment on this article

59 Comments on "Chasing ghosts: psychopathy and the children"

Notify of


You know I have supported you 100% with this latest relocation, away from YOUR toxic family….and you already know that he and HIS FAMILY are toxic, so your daughter needs to be away from the ENTIRE TOXIC MESS. And yes, it IS DIFFICULT, it IS LONELY, but the fantasy of a “loving family” is not going to work out for you or your darling baby girl.

The “loving family” at this point is just YOU AND HER and for right now, that needs to be enough. You WILL add friends and maybe some day a loving man to the family, but for NOW you can focus on the NOW, the TODAY and what each day brings. Enjoy the precious time you have in seeing her grow in a healthy environment without TOXIC people around her or you.

I am so proud of you for doing what NEEDED TO BE DONE and not getting side tracked by the fantasy you would like. God bless and keep you! (((hugs)))

Great article! Great posts!

From what I understand there’s a splitting in the co-dependents personality just as the splitting in the N or P’s personality. What differs them from each other?

It seem so to me that children of N or P’s develops into either one:
Becoming N or P’s them selves or co-dependents/people pleasers. Isn’t that just the same circle, but just on each edge?


More on the effect of alcoholism on empathy and emotion:

Given that most sociopaths come from alcoholic homes and abuse alcohol themselves, this is very interesting.


I have to repeat the TOWANDA, my manta too, Skylar.

I never had the reconciliation fantacy, just the let him stay in my childrnen’s lives fantacy, Warning to all, it is a huge mistake if you do not have to do it. Make them give up parental rights if you can, keep them away. They will turn your children against you and make you look like the crazy one. I did move away to limit contact, but not far enough. LPMarie, hide from him if you can. You are doing th absolute right thing for your daughter. I wish you both the very best!

Truthspeak, Ox Drover, and betsybugs,

Thank you all for your support!!!

Truthspeak, I’m STILL struggling with the fact that they never DID care, but I know you are 100% correct. He’s made the classic spathy moves I’ve come to learn about on this site and I come back to LF as often as possible during this chaotic time just to keep myself clear on WHY I had to relocate, and then relocate again. At least I’m learning! And, at least I am many, many miles away from him. He’s the parasitic type looking for a sugar mama, but his mom is a vindictive type who just might fund a legal fight to spite/punish me for escaping her control. But, thus far, we haven’t been found.

When I left the toxic family a month ago, I vowed never to allow them any power to hurt me again. Right now, I am only in contact with the N mother, and that is only because I need to be for a little while longer. I hate to “use” her, because it’s not who I am, but I figure I have spent enough years with low self esteem, on a therapist’s couch because of that woman, and the least she could do for me is the little thing she is doing for me. Of course, she is acting like she is curing cancer by doing this favor for me, despite the fact that I have been sending her a little cash for doing it, lol!

Someday when I am stable and settled, and finally FREE from all these disordered folks, and I’m going back to look back on these days and shake my head, wondering how I got to be so lucky. Some never wake up from the FOG. I’m so glad I get to be someone who did. My daughter has a fighting chance in this life because I’m choosing to be a protective mommy. I look at her and think of some of the vicious things my mother has said and done to me and my sisters as little children, and I cannot imagine HOW on earth anyone could inflict such damage on a helpless kid who adores them. I feel relieved. I’m not the perfect mom by any means, and I screw up with her sometimes, but I would never deliberatly try to destroy her. I cannot imagine the hate that lurks in someone’s heart to treat children that way, even though I have experienced it first hand. It’s still hard to get my head around, and moreso since becoming a mother myself.

Anyway, the morning comes early and she is an active little tot!!! Good night to all of my LF family.


You are a strong and brave woman to relocate yet again for your daughter’s benefit and for your own! It takes back bone and bravery to tackle such a move! I am so proud OF YOU, and also proud FOR YOU! (((hugs))))

LPMarie, just…….TOWANDA

OxD is spot-on and I hope that you will begin to feel a serious sense of accomplishment in getting the fark OUT.

BRIGHTEST blessings

I found this article in the archives and thought it worthy to bring up again for new readers who are mothers.

Our oldest daughter was “the golden child”.Spath named her after his Austrian maternal grandmother.Because of that,and because she was his firstborn and later proved to be an honor student in school,he was bursting with pride!For years though,she hasn’t had anything to do with him other than the occasional visit.

Our younger two daughters always felt jealous of their older sister because she seemed to have all of their father’s devotion.And for some reason,people were always easily attracted to her;whereas they had self-esteem problems about their appearance and ability to make friends.This affected their lives in different ways.It has all ‘leveled out’ thankfully.They see their father more often since they live locally;but it’s just to look in on him.

1 4 5 6

Send this to a friend