Feeling guilty about a sociopathic stepson

Lovefraud recently received the following e-mail from a reader who we’ll call Martha.

I have a 33-year old adult stepson who I believe is sociopathic — he fits all the criteria. He has been a problem to the family ever since his mother threw him out to our house at the age of 13. By that time he was so oppositional there was no dealing with him in any reasonable way. We went through all the “standard” teenage issues with him — petty crime, running away, repeating years in school, counseling, adolescent psych facility, military school till we ran out of money, etc.

What is different about our situation from everything I read is that my husband has stood by him for so many years, giving him money, cosigning on loans, all to no avail of course. My husband thinks he is being a good Christian parent and that he is the only one who is forgiving enough — the rest of us are at fault for not being forgiving enough. We can have no reasonable discussion about his son, as he does not like to hear anything negative about him. We can have no reasonable discussion with his son, as he never takes responsibility for any of his actions — everything is our fault for not doing enough for him — all the standard excuses that sociopaths give.

My unique issue is that I feel a lot of guilt about it. I know he was 11 when we married, so I could not have had any part of early childhood upbringing. He showed some of the signs you talk about when he was 11, but he did not appear to me to be a red flag issue at that time. I was never able to bond with him, but his being sociopathic explains that to me in retrospect.

What I would like to hear about is how other parental figures deal with these feelings. My own husband acts like he feels guilty, but will not admit it. His ex-wife is emotionally fragile and has to stay on meds to keep from having a breakdown and being hospitalized again. My stepson is probably ADD also, but neither of them wanted him “labeled” as a child, so they rejected any sort of meds or treatment for him back then. I guess my moral compass says that parents should not inflict this type of child on society and must do everything possible to assure they raise their children right. I know it bugs me that neither my husband nor his ex ever seemed to do a whole lot to correct their son or guide him even today. I also know that a stepparent really has no ability to alter the situation either. I just feel that it is so wrong to have this situation and have all the family members taking this approach that it is not their issue or problem, and the guilt sponge in me feels that I cannot be allowed to sink to their level with them.

I feel guilty for being part of the whole situation and not being able to make it any better. I feel guilty for being part of unleashing my stepson on society where he preys on people and does not carry his weight. Every time I read one of those articles where people want to start prosecuting the parents when someone like my stepson commits a crime, I just cringe in fear. I feel like as long as my stepson is acting the way he does, someone must be doing penance for the sins. And it scares me that I feel that he will never change but we are responsible to get him to change since we somehow failed to properly mold him in the first place.

So why am I the guilt sponge? Why do I want everyone else to wallow in guilt like me? Are there other family figures in similar situations who feel all the guilt that no one else in the situation seems to feel? I know this is unrealistic guilt, too. I know I was raised to be a guilt sponge, so part of it is just me. Sometimes I think I have all the guilt genes these sociopaths never got!

Martha is not to blame

The reality of the situation is that Martha is not to blame for her stepson being a sociopath. This personality disorder is highly genetic. Martha is not the biological parent, so she had nothing to do with his genetics.

As Dr. Liane Leedom explains, children born with the genetic traits that may lead to sociopathy exhibit signs such as aloofness and fearlessness. This is because they have a diminished capacity to form bonds with people, including their parents. Parents need to work extra hard in order to teach these children how to love. For the best chance of success, parents must do this from the time the children are very young.

But this is new information—Dr. Leedom’s book, Just Like His Father? was published in 2006, and it is the only book that addresses how to parent children with genetic links to antisocial behavior. The information was simply not available when Martha’s stepson was growing up.

Plus, these children are, in fact, difficult. It takes a lot of emotional strength to teach them to be loving, day in and day out. Martha says that her stepson’s mother is emotionally fragile, so she did not have that strength.

The stepson came to Martha’s home when he was 13—probably in the midst of puberty. In many cases, the hormonal changes of puberty cause sociopathic traits to really become prominent. Martha and her husband did everything they could, such as counseling and military school. It didn’t work.

The sad truth is that sometimes the genetics of sociopathy are so strong that all the best efforts of parents to guide their children fail. Martha’s stepson may be one of those cases.

How to deal with the stepson

So now what? Martha’s stepson is 33 years old. He is an adult. The issue becomes, how does Martha and the rest of the family deal with him?

The first thing, I believe, is to be clear on what this disorder is about. If the stepson is a sociopath, he will probably be manipulative until the day he dies. He will lie, cheat, sponge off of others, perhaps commit crimes. This is what he is; this is what he does. No one in the family should have any illusions that he will change.

So then, what do they do? I’d say it depends on what the stepson does—Martha provided no information on that point.

If the stepson is a criminal, I think they should let him face the consequences of his actions by, for example, not bailing him out of jail.

If the stepson tries to defraud women, I think they should warn any woman that he snags. I’ve heard of many cases in which the families of sociopathic men were happy to let some poor, unsuspecting woman take the parasite off their hands. This, to me, is unconscionable.

If the stepson is abusive to Martha, she should implement a policy of no contact, even if her husband will not go along with it.

Martha mentioned feeling guilty about unleashing the sociopath on society. The family may or may not be able to do something about this. I know of one case in which a family made sure the sociopath was taken care of—set him up with a place to live, food, etc.—just so he wouldn’t have to steal and manipulate for a living. This might work for a parasitic type of sociopath. But, as Steve Becker writes, many sociopaths act out to relieve their boredom, so it might make it easier for him to cause other kinds of trouble.

Finding peace for herself

There is only one person we can ever truly change or influence, and that’s ourselves. Martha is in an impossible situation, and to me the only thing she can do is try to find peace for herself.

Martha needs to let go of the guilt. She did not cause her stepson to be a sociopath. She did her best to guide him in the right direction. It didn’t work.

Having a sociopathic stepson probably feels like a loss or a failure, and Martha may need to grieve this. Although there may be little Martha can do about the sociopath, she can do something about her emotions. She needs to let go of blaming herself, let go of wishing things were different, and accept what is.

Remember the Serenity Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

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38 Comments on "Feeling guilty about a sociopathic stepson"

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stillhavehope1, Reading your story was so scary. I felt like I was reading about my life. I felt like someone got ahold of my inner most thoughts and wrote them out. I feel for you so much.. I am also at the point that I know I must leave my marriage in order to be in a safe place. Im only 37 and feel like an elderly person with all the craziness I have gone through. My husband is 19 years older then me and I met him when I was only 23 and very needy aND STUPID. His son from the beginning was trying to keep me away from his father. his son is 7 years younger then me. So he really felt like He did not have to respect me. I also feel as though my husband has put his son before me and my 9 year old. I regret every dealing with my husband his son is a loser and he is a loser. I have given and wasted so many good years of my life on someone who does not care for me. Im a christain who is trying to do the right thing. the right i know is not allowing abuse to continue. If God wants the best for us why would he want us to be in an abuse no win situation? I hope that things are getting better for you stillhavehope1, I know for me the only way for peace is to get away and start a new life with my daughter.

Sonia, I am so sorry that you’ve had such horrible experiences.

I’m only going to type this once, and if ANYONE gets offended by it, tough: in NO writing, Gospel, or passage does it say that “God (wants) us to be in an abuse-no-win situation.” Nowhere.

This is NOT to support an abusive ex, Sonia, but I think it is vital for incoming step-parents to do 2 things: 1) engage in family counseling with all parties involved, and 2) accept and understand that my new spouse’s child will be a priority before I am.

Now, having said that, that doesn’t mean that a new step-parent should be allowed to be treated like dirt.

Have you sought counseling to help you sort this all out as you exit this marriage? Have you consulted a divorce attorney, yet? I would strongly urge you to do BOTH before you make ANY move, unless you and/or your daughter are in danger. Leaving a sociopath is a VERY dicey situation, at the very least.

Brightest blessings

truthspeaks, I have spoken to hom about counseling but it is always what he feels like i am making a mountain out of a mole hill. I have 8 brothers and as adults we do not treat each other with disrespect like his son has treated me. His son has threatened to punch me in the face and have his wife beat me up and my husband witnessed the whole thing. yewt nothing was done . there were no consequences for his behavior . his father still pays many of his bills, bails him out of all kind of legal problems. he feels entiled to his fathers things. Im the evil one. I know i am not crazy. I have given up on the relationship. I feel ilke i just want to move on. I am going to look for some legal advice. thank you so much. I find that I can not be with a man that does not respect me enough to defend me from his sociopath son. right is right , wrong is wrong , what i find is that many people get confused with what they would put up from there children because they are children. our children still have moral responsibility to society. sociopaths have no moral resposibility to society especailly when they have enabling parents to protect them from consequences of bad dishonest chioces. I feel ilke this whole situation has changed me into a person that is not trusting anymore.

Sonia, yes – the dynamics of this “family” are emotionally and morally broken, and I don’t blame you for wanting to end it.

I also have “trust issues,” and it’s something that I’m going to have to manage for the rest of my life. But, my belief is that I’ll be better able to manage those issues when I am able to trust MYSELF to make good, sound decisions and choices.

Hang in there, Sonia, and do speak to an attorney before you do ANYthing. Spaths have a very, very uncanny way to warp and twist every situation to their advantage and divorce is no exception. If you have access to cash, begin stashing it away. Gather all of your “important documents” together and keep them hidden in a safe place. Don’t speak about this to ANYONE, especially your daughter. Don’t make any threats of divorce, either. That can really open the door wider to personal danger of all types. Counseling would be strictly for you, now – so you can sort all of this out and learn ways to help you manage your experiences and triggers that are associated with those experiences.

You are not crazy. You are not evil. You are valuable and an important part of this vast Universe. Take it one moment at a time, Sonia – one step at at time. And, take your life back for you and your daughter.

Brightest blessings

You aren’t the first person to post a similar story about an enabling parent that allows a spathy kid to run amok on the other family members.

My own parents do something similar and Oxy’s egg donor enables Oxy’s spathy grown son who is in prison.

If you want to read a true story about a similar situation, read “Everything She Ever Wanted” by Ann Rule. True life case of a murdering woman enabled by her mother.

There might be different reasons why these enablers do what they do. Frankly, I suspect they like the drama that the spath creates. They actually like being able to sit on the sidelines, like it was some kind of spectator sport, while their baby-gladiators create chaos. Then they get to root for their team, whichever side they are on that day, and get themselves worked up into a frenzy. When it’s all over, they get to go home and “pretend it never happened.” Because it didn’t happen –to them.

Honestly, I believe this is just another sickness in human nature that nobody talks about. Instead, we’ve made it part of our culture, the same way that the romans and the aztecs did. It’s like a religious ritual and people find it cathartic to work out their anxieties in this way. Only problem is, they need a scapegoat… the most innocent is always chosen.

We could form a new club: Scapegoats Anonymous.
We’re all honorary members.

Anyway, sorry I got on my soapbox and couldn’t stop!!

What I mean to say is that your husband is probably doing everything he does on purpose. He is addicted to the drama and don’t you dare take away the source of his drug: his kid.

I understand about your not wanting to trust anymore. I have good news and bad news.

The good news is that, in my experience, you will learn that you can trust yourself to have good judgement, eventually. You will know it, when it happens, because you’ll instantly recognize red flags.

The bad news is that you’ll see red flags in abundance. That’s because they are everywhere. You aren’t paranoid, spaths and their minions really are everywhere.

Skylar, I totally agree with you. this is a pandemic. It is a little secret that all the sociopaths want to keep. I see him for what he truly is and he hates it. He tells his father he did not do anything to me. He is not allowed in my house anymore. He tells his father that it is not my house because I dint pay half the bills. he is so concern that hias father takes care of me but we all know why. That is less money for his father to spend on him and his bad decisons. He has goated me in the past but not anymore I know not to respond in anger because that is what he wants . he has two children and he only pays min child support for one because the childs mother took him to court. He admitted to us years agao that he didnt have a steady job because he did not want to pay child support. he said let her pay for evrything. what I give my daughter when I see her is enough. he is married and just walked away for his wife and daughter to come to Florida where we live and make our life more difficult the it already was. His wife refused to come live here, so he dediced that they would break up. personally, I think she figured out he was a do nothing and wanted to let the dead weight go. his father decided to sign to be in charge of him while he was still on probation. he paid his restituion and his apartment since I decided he could not be around me and my daughter anymore. Yet it was all my fault I should have kept my mouth shut and he would have not threated me in front of my daughter. I decided to stand up for my self and this is what I get. I come from a dysfuctional family but this family is criminally dysfuctional. I am taking my life back. I hope everyone had a great july 4th.

Sonia, you wrote: “I decided to stand up for my self and this is what I get.”

What you will “get” if you move through the process of ending things in a precise and legal way is your FREEDOM. Freedom from fear. Freedom from manipulation. Freedom from abuse. Freedom to become whom you were intended to be.

And, your daughter is watching all of this, Sonia. She is reading every nuance and filing it away in her child’s psyche. She is going to learn three possible lessons: 1) how to be a perfect victim; 2) how to be a perfect abuser, or; 3) how to be a self-assured, independent woman who can make sound choices and be self-aware and self-reliant.

Kids cannot process the same information in the way that adults can – they do not have the benefit of maturity or experience. My sons both were so horribly damaged by their experiences that one is a bona fide diagnosed Borderline (and, sociopath), and the other is fighting to extract himself from the role of “Victim.”

Brightest healing blessings to you

Truthspeak, I know it is what I must do to have a better life for me and my daughter. I no longer have any hopes of things changing because things will not change. I can only change and make better choices. I can not see myself being with my husband since he does not understand the pain and damage his son has caused. I do not want to have his son in my life anymore. I know the only way to assure that is to divorce my husband and start a new life with my daughter. I wonder if there is a way I can keep my daughter away from his son after the divorce? I want him out of me and my daughters life. Thanks for listening

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