By December 11, 2013 10 Comments Read More →

Co-Parenting With A Sociopath: Children and Healing

By Quinn Pierce

Two weeks ago, my older son was admitted to the hospital due to his anxiety.  He was unable to overcome the panic attacks and overwhelming fear that has plagued him since the end of the summer, and we decided it was time for a higher level of care.

As traumatic as the decision was for me, I knew in my heart it was the best decision for him; and it truly was.  It may have been the most difficult day of my life, but I kept in mind the healing that would finally begin for my son.

The Constant Drama Takes a Toll

I also kept in mind the fact that all of this might not have happened if it were not for my ex-husband, my son’s father, who has riddled our lives with such chaos lately, that I think it’s a testament to my son’s strength that he was not in the hospital sooner.  My heart breaks when I see what a toll it takes on my children to have a father who is a sociopath.

But, at the same time, I began to see that children are much better at processing information and truths when dealing with sociopaths than many adults.  I think it’s because they haven’t yet learned the unhealthy skill of trying to rationalize everything so that it fits into a box someone else created.  They need to make sense of things in their own way, and if they have enough support, they will let themselves feel the emotions as they process what they learn and make sense of it.

Defense Tactics

That’s why it made sense to me that both of my boys began to have such a strong response once they were able to see through the mask of their father.  I know that a sociopath, and my ex-husband did this all the time, will state his (I use his in reference to my ex-husband, but it can just as easily be a female sociopath) beliefs as fact and try to de-value or discredit other people in order to make himself look or feel better.

Sometimes, this behavior is easy to ignore, sometimes it is confusing, and sometimes, it causes something called ”˜cognitive dissonance’.  Cognitive dissonance happens when we hold two conflicting beliefs.

For example, if you were told by a parent that someone is a terrible, mean person and you believed it, but then you spent time with that person and saw they were nothing like your parent described, you would feel very uneasy and uncomfortable because you know both can’t be true.  In that case, either you decide to not trust your own experience, or you no longer believe your parent.

The Act of Triangulation

For my sons, this occurred slowly over the past couple of years when my ex-husband began saying more and more cruel and defamatory lies about me.  I was able, at the time, to tell my children not to worry about anything that was said, because I wasn’t bothered by his words any longer, and I didn’t want them wasting their energy on being upset about things they knew weren’t true.

Eventually, however, my ex-husband began acting in a way that none of us could ignore.  He involved other family members, health care providers, the legal system, and child services.  So, now, my children were experiencing all of these negative effects of their father’s lies and accusations.

It showed me that he did not think his own children were capable of understanding what was happening, and that he believed he controlled them enough through intimidation and fear that they would not stand up to him.

For my boys, it put an end to all cognitive dissonance.

No Longer Victims

For one thing, before these events, they both felt tremendous guilt for thinking they would hurt their father’s feelings if they didn’t do what he wanted.  Also, they held on to the hope that there was some good inside of him that would eventually kick in and love them unconditionally.  My younger son, especially, spent a great deal of time and energy trying to gain the approval of his father, and would embrace any positive feedback his father gave him, thinking it was sincere and would continue.

The dissonance happened when they believed their father was capable of things he will never be capable of, for instance: honesty, humility, empathy, unconditional love, trust”¦

But, all of this went out the window as my ex-husband tried to use another favorite tactic: splitting.

The Act of Splitting

When a sociopath wants to remain in good light without getting his hands dirty, he will try to play one family member against another by painting one in a bad light to the other, telling lies and making up motives for the un-favored member, or say that one (in the case of my son) was brainwashed to believe horrible lies about the sociopath.

It is a defense mechanism he will use to put himself in the victim role and not allow anyone else to look sympathetic, especially someone who is angry or upset with him for his cruel acts or abuse.

My ex-husband actually tried to use these tactics to play one son against the other.

It was the one time when he did all the work for me.  All I had to do was sit back and watch my boys figure out every ploy, tactic, game, and lie day after day.  That was the irony; he believed I was ”˜poisoning’ my boys against him, when in reality, I wasn’t saying a word; his actions did all the talking.

Reflection Leads to Understanding

At one time, I would have actually defended his actions by making excuses for him to the boys.  I thought this would make it easier for them.  My reasoning was: it’s better for the boys to think they have a father who is capable of loving them and who does love them unconditionally, but one who is just going through a bad time.

I now understand that this was adding to the cognitive dissonance.  I was giving them a message that was a contradiction to what they were experiencing first hand.  Once it became clear that I could no longer cover for him, my boys actually became much more at peace.  Their world of what they saw and what they heard and what they believed all made sense, because all three things matched up, for once.

Loud and Clear

While in the hospital, my son refused to allow his father up to the unit to visit him.  Unluckily for my ex-husband, I was not there at the time when he did so”¦twice.  Therefore, I could not be the easy scapegoat to blame for that decision.  Of course, my ex called the hospital in his irate fashion demanding this and that, which did nothing to change the policy of giving the patients a voice.

I was extremely proud of my son for standing up for himself, and for my other son who followed the lead of his brother when it came to speaking up for himself, as well.

The funny thing is, at almost every meeting we had over the past three months when my ex-husband was trying to take custody from me and destroy my character, his campaign slogan became: I just want my boys to have a voice.  He was, of course, implying that I had taken their voices and was speaking for them.

It turns out they each have a very strong, very clear voice.  My ex-husband just doesn’t like what they have to say.


*Author’s note: I apologize for not keeping up with responding to comments much these past few weeks.  I’ve been writing on the go, so to speak, and haven’t had much time to sit at the computer and respond, but I have enjoyed reading all of your comments, and I thank you all for your thoughtfulness and support 🙂 -Quinn

Comment on this article

Please Login to comment
Notify of


Yahoo for you, and your children. They are fortunate to have a mother who doesn’t give up easily, isn’t shying from the truth, and is supporting them in their efforts to make sense of the chaos. Again, I applaud you…and hope my applaud gives you just a little extra positive feeling.

You said about your children, “I think it’s because they haven’t yet learned the unhealthy skill of trying to rationalize everything so that it fits into a box someone else created.”

If that isn’t the truth! As adults we spend way too much time in this rationalizing process. I know I did. Once I stopped evaluating the situation using someone else’s words, opinions, and philosophies, and starting using my own gut level feelings the cog/diss nearly dissolved in an instant. It would return, of course, when I wasn’t thinking clearly. But I knew the route back to right thinking, and it would instantly stop.



You write very articulately about your experiences with your ex. Thanks for sharing, I see so many things that is happening with your sons that has happened in my family as well. And, this may sound weird, but I’m glad I stayed in that abusive marriage until the kids were older. If I would have divorced him when my children were babies, he would have really screwed them up. If I knew he was capable of sexually or physically abusing them, I would have divorced him earlier.

They can do so much damage when the children are little, because he wasn’t around and left the childcare to me they were relatively okay. He wasn’t ever alone with them, thank God. My kids still have layers of problems to work out and I think it will take a long time for them to heal.

I’m sorry your son has to be in full time care but it sounds like it’s a positive step for your family. You’re a strong and loving mom. I’m sure that you are doing all you can for them.

I’m not surprised at all to read that your sons have started standing up for themselves!That is when the healing process actually starts!Best wishes for their continued progress.


Quinn, I am sorry that your son is enduring so much emotional stress because of his father…very sad. Please look into adrenal fatigue as the root physical issue of your son’s panic attacks and anxiety issues.

Our adrenal glands regulate our blood pressure, blood sugar, cortisol & adrenaline levels (fight or flight mode) and over 50 hormones including all the female/male hormones. Under continual stress such as a abusive relationship with a sociopath our adrenal glands end up fatigue and do not work correctly under stress and in return wreak havoc on our body and minds…symptoms of adrenal fatigue (or Addison’s) are sleep issues, anxiety, depression, mood swings, hair loss, skin conditions, panic attacks etc etc it’s a very very long list (see dr wilson’s and dr lam’s site for full list). According to Dr Wilson one of the biggest issues with PTSD (found in abuse victims) is adrenal fatigue and you need to heal your adrenal glands to fully recover from PTSD.

According to Dr Wilson adrenal fatigue was discovered over 100 years ago but most doctors are not familiar with this issue. I would suggest that you find your son a good hormonal specialist who will test him for vitamin/mineral deficiency, hormonal imbalance, and cortisol levels at a min. To find a good hormonal specialist you can look on dr wilson’s site/ask friends/or google “compounding pharmacy” with your city name then call them for a list of doctors.

To heal your adrenal glands you need plenty of rest & relaxation, vitamins/minerals for the adrenal glands (my doctor gave me Dr Wilson’s vitamins in large dosages see his site for more info – and they worked wonders), possibly hormonal balancing (just pill/cream no big deal) and a good clean diet such as Dr Fuhrman’s Eat to Live (his site is, his book is Eat to Live and google “Dr Fuhrman PBS special to see how food heals the body, Dr F is friends with Dr Oz and Dr Oz follow’s Dr F’s plan). I have personally been to Dr F and he is a very good kind person who is passionate about helping people to heal their bodies with good clean food, his methods really do work.

Some sites for you to look at to learn more about adrenal fatigue: have your son/you take his quiz on his site/see the long list of symptoms posted on the site/read everything see his symptoms list too see her you tube video regarding sleep issues and her book is excellent a must read for anyone dealing with a abuser. see this site for more info on adrenal fatigue/hormonal imbalance see her site for info on adrenal fatigue/hormonal imbalance

google “adrenal fatigue”

google “Dr Amen PBS special you tube”…he has written countless books on having a healthy brain your local library most likely has his books. See Also dr amen’s video on you tube regarding antidepressants, he believes that you should first try alternative solutions first before Rx drugs. Dr AMen has conducted over 70,000 brain scans and is a brain specialist and therapist his site is He has been on Larry King Live, Dr Oz, Dr Phil, etc

Wishing you and the son the best!


Quinn, very pertinent article… the confusion the kids go through… I now understand better why my son when a baby used to prefer rushing back into the arms of the maid or driver rather than be recieved by his father at home… why my son when a year old had a dislocated elbow joint when he was alone with his father… why the nanny said that on the days his father reached home before me the child, then 5 years old would rush to the other side of the house (away from the entry door) and start vomiting..why the small kid would cry pathetically when I would leave home for work or for out of town tour for a couple of days even if I thought I was leaving him safe with his father… something fishy was going on that the child could not verbalise…


I have just managed to separate from my husband. I have been with him for 7 years. I am only just realising what he has been doing to me. I am scared. I have two children aged 4 and 6 and am so worried about them. It has only been 3 weeks but he is already causing problems. Does anyone have any advice on dealing with a situation like this?


this story provides hope for my young children of 8 and 13 who have been drug through the mud


Great article Quinn,

My 18 year old daughter is showing signs that the trauma in our lives is significantly altering her moods and decisions. She can no longer ignore or just deal with it. She wants to leave and get out of it. And her father doesn’t even live here any longer.

I plan on additional counseling and also a psychiatric visit. Does anyone else have suggestion?


Hoping to heal,
Sorry to hear that this affecting your daughter. It’s a shame hope much damage and pain they cause without even realizing it. What helped my 19 year old son was to cut if all contact with him. He enforced the no contact with his “so called father” about a year ago. Occasionally he gets an email in which I am labeled “a mentally unstable bitch”. Does my soon to be ex husband not realize that his son sees his true evil being. He thinks if he put all blame on me his son will have a relationship with him. Not once did my son receive an explanation, appology or any sort of comfort. My soon to be ex stopped paying his sons college tuition the day he left us. Instead he went on cruises with the co worker, bought her jewelry and so on. And them hd has the nerves to text my son and ask “how is college going”? That shows hos selfish and cowardly they are.
Relationship, even with family members, are a privilege and not a right. My soon to be ex husband lost that right as a result of his evil actions. Everything in life has consequences and he must face them now. Fortunately my son is not a minor do he can make his own decisions about his “father”.



God bless your son. I can’t imagine how it feels to be a child who has been discarded by their parent. How proud you must be that he has continued his education. He must be a strong determined young man. I hope for him, as with my daughter, that the lessons learned from the horror of their father’s selfish life will make them more compassionate adults who can love while steering clear of evil people.

My daughter has little contact with her dad. Occasionally they go to eat and see a movie. In a controlled environment, she feels less vulnerable, and he does respect those boundaries. But he has hurt her so with his behavior towards me and our family, that she will never be at peace with him. Nor should she be.

Send this to a friend