By | May 15, 2017 13 Comments

How disordered parents set children up to be exploited by psychopaths

Book Review: A History of a Pedophile’s Wife — Memoir of a Canadian Teacher and Writer, by Eleanor Cowan

Review by Donna Andersen

People born to disordered parents are likely to be vulnerable to psychopaths later in life. I’ve explained this to many, many people that I’ve spoken to in my personal consultations.

Eleanor Cowan’s book, A History of a Pedophile’s Wife, explains exactly how it happens.

Childhood without love

Eleanor was born in 1948 outside of Montreal, Canada, the second child in what would become a large Catholic family. Her childhood was molded by the dictates of the Catholic Church, wholeheartedly accepted by her father, and the disinterest of a personality disordered mother.

Eleanor, who was nicknamed “Norda” by her sister, pined for her mother’s love and approval. She never got it. Although Norda’s mother, Ann, didn’t beat her kids, as some antisocial parents do, she did ignore them, preferring to sleep all afternoon, with the assistance of alcohol and sleeping pills. Or, the woman used her kids, and played them against each other.

Eleanor wrote:

As I look back on growing up in our strange and unloving home life, it seems to me that my siblings and I milled about together without getting to know each other very well or forming close friendships. I think we all knew we’d betray each other at the drop of a hat for a moment of attention.

For example, when Mother criticized Maureen for her slumped shoulders or for eating with her mouth open, I’d zero in for an instant of short-lived glory.

“Not me, eh Mother?” I’d pipe up. “I stand up straight and I eat with my mouth closed too. I eat like a lady.”

“Yes, and you lie like a rug, too,” was a typical retort from Mother.

When Norda was in sixth grade, she represented her class in a public speaking contest. She begged her mother to come to watch her deliver her speech. Ann never gave her an answer. The day of the event, Ann said she was “exhausted beyond human belief,” even though she had driven to another town for her own public speaking course the night before, and had slept all afternoon. She never showed up.

In the most poignant story from her childhood, Ann invited Norda, and of the eight children, only Norda, to accompany her to a family party. Norda excitedly packed a party dress and shiny shoes. She wanted to chatter with her mother during the train ride to Montreal, but Ann wasn’t interested.

When they arrived at her grandfather’s house, Ann said that if Norda wanted to stay up late for the party, she should take a nap.

Eleanor wrote:

Handing me a pill and a glass of water, she said, “Take this vitamin and I’ll wake you in time for the party.”

“I’m so excited, Mummy,” I said. “I’m so excited my stomach hurts.”

My scheme to lie back on the pillows, enjoy my taffy for a while, and then get up, claiming I couldn’t sleep, wasn’t successful. Instead, I awakened stiff and aching. “Time for the party, Mother?” I asked, stumbling into the kitchen to a breakfast scene of toast and eggs.

“It’s over,” she said. “You slept through it.”

Ann had given Norda one of her sleeping pills to make sure that she would miss the party.

A few weeks later, Norda’s parents, and three of her sisters, left for a two-week vacation. Norda was left home to help care for the babies. Her mother told her that she had already had a solo vacation in Montreal, so it was only fair.

Abusive encounters with men

By the time she was a teenager, Eleanor was dealing with her emotional pain by smoking and eating chocolate. She failed multiple courses before she was able to graduate from high school. When she got older, she took up drinking as well.

Desperate for attention, she became involved with men who used and abused her. On several occasions Eleanor was sexually assaulted. But it wasn’t that she was hanging out with the wrong crowd. One of the men was a college classmate. One was an employer. One was introduced to her by her college professor.

Why did Eleanor have so many abusive encounters with men? Although she doesn’t explain it in the book, I believe it’s the result of the damage done to her by her disordered mother. Throughout her childhood, Eleanor endured coldness and betrayal. As an adult, her relationships again involved coldness and betrayal.

Sociopathic husband

Eventually Eleanor married Stan. She’d actually known him since she was a child — her parents were friends with his parents. It was through Stan’s mother that they reconnected, at a dinner to celebrate his master’s thesis.

Eleanor doesn’t write much about the courtship, but eventually she and Stan married. Then the real exploitation began. Stan offered Eleanor a deal — if she would support him while he completed his doctoral studies in Paris, they would then start a family and she could be a stay-at-home mom.

So Eleanor worked while Stan wrote a dissertation. When the babies came, Eleanor still worked, while Stan did nothing. For 14 years he pretended to look for work, but now he was overqualified. And if he did take menial work, he soon quit or was fired.

And, as Eleanor eventually learned to her horror, Stan sexually abused their children. And they weren’t the first children that he molested.

Cause and effect

Eleanor’s book, A History of a Pedophile’s Wife, clearly illustrates how cold, unloving parenting primes children for a lifetime of abuse. Being starved for love and attention all her life created massive emotional wounds, which made Eleanor a target for predators.

It went on until, to save her children, Eleanor stopped denying the reality of her husband’s disorder and escaped. Then, she worked on healing her life.

In the end, Eleanor attributes the turbulence in her life to religious indoctrination and patriarchy. I think the bigger problem was personality disorders, which she mentions but does not dwell on.

Eleanor’s mother, Ann, appears to be a card-carrying narcissist. Her husband, Stan, exhibits the behavior of a psychopath as well as being a pedophile.

But what’s important is that Eleanor overcame the years of abuse. She writes that she is doing well — and that is a magnificent achievement.

A History of a Pedophile’s Wife is available on


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I am THRILLED to read this article……..Its absolutely true, I lived this, I hope it helps others, hang in there. Get therapy, medication if you need it, create boundaries and try your hardest to keep toxicity out of your life!!!


Somebody please tell me, why are those abused in child and adulthood, then repeatedly abused over and over by different men? It is like they have an X on their head? Why and what is this?


“notlongnow” – I can answer your question as to why those of us abused in childhood/adulthood, seem to have an X on us… easy targets. The “X” is our behavior, our personalities. We have been groomed since childhood to be behave in a certain manner… in my case, overly pleasing and accommodating, “over explaining” any mis-steps to my mother or others… because there was hell to pay, if mother did not accept my behavior or my wording, or my explanations. A counselor pointed out that I appear overly agreeable, and head-nod in agreement when speaking. Sociopaths are PREDATORS. They seek out easy ‘prey”- like us with those certain softer, kindly behaviors. I have been working on myself for some years. I am probably still way too pleasing and accommodating… but I hopefully am not quite as easily recognized by predators, as I once was. Another answer is – we are subconsciously drawn to the familiar (life long abuse patterns are familiar, and subconsiously bring a comfort factor, sick as that is!). This all happens on a subconscious level, in our chemistry. So I just try to look carefully now, at men I feel a strong attraction to.


I don’t blame my parents for who I did marry; but it seems I married a man very much like them. They both felt misunderstood by their relatives, kept to themselves. Dad was NOT a loving father, he kept us fed, clothed, a roof over our heads; but I seldom felt loved and cared for by him. I don’t remember ANY loving, being held, or being told he loved me. My older brother was mom’s kid, my much younger baby sister was dad’s favorite..and I rattled around in the middle, often lonely, wanting attention and being loved by somebody. I found myself often wondering what would happen, if dad and mom both were killed, and we would be ‘farmed out’ to other relatives. I often wanted parents like other kids had. Maybe this set me up, to meet a man who DID openly say nice things, be physically loving (but who turned out to be a psychopath)..I don’t know. I have forgiven my parents (dad is gone), but I often wonder, would things have turned out differently, if I had had more loving parents? I don’t know.


p.s. this is the first time I’ve blogged about my parents. I feel guilty for this; I just wish my dad had been move loving, supportive and liked me. And mom too. They took care of us, we were fed, clothed and taught right from wrong. We werent abused, or neglected, or dumped off onto others to raise/care for. But, I often wished I had been showed love.


Donna’s observation seems valid that personality disorder is the root of the abuse, more than religion and patriarchy. Disordered abusers use the notion of patriarchy and just about any religious system as props and tools to further their abusive behavior. It’s likely that within the same religious system many non disordered parents raised happy loved and secure children. In traditional settings, patriarchy can be exercised with the positive traits of a man taking responsibility to use his strength and position to serve his family – putting their well being and needs ahead of his.

I would be interested in a book(s) about how to make changes in one’s world view, and view of others and of self, to reduce the odds of being victimized; and to increase one’s capacity for meaningful relationships that are not exploitive.


As for books….
I highly recommend “Boundaries” by Townsend and Cloud. I just finished it and have good confidence this is the beginning of me putting an end to getting abused. Good luck to you.


Oh yes, my mother indeed. Even after divorce, I continue to date disordered men. I can’t break the habit of pleasing, appeasing, freezing, placating…and fearing. We still suffer the retribution our mothers game us. I hope someday these schemas will end and I can realize other adults are not proxy for my mother.
Anyone who suffered at the hands of a narcissist mother has an uphill battle. It’s as if we are doomed for a lifetime of abuse, be it from our spouse, dates, employers, clients, strangers. God help us all.



As an adult of a narcissistic mother and a sociopathic grandfather I can very much relate to your pain and fatalism. It does seem that we keep perpetuating our pasts to see if, somehow, we can behave in such a way as to create a positive outcome, and be released from our feelings of worthlessness.

I am now 56. For the first 48 years of my life I also dated and befriended disordered people. It was a revolving door. And it took A LOT of loss to finally force me to come out of my personal FOG (fear, obligation, and guilt). But, once I really understood personality disorders, and their behaviors, I understood my mother and grandfather. Finally, I had an explanation about who they are. From there I was able re-evaluate many other people who had been in my life, and I was able to go no contact with my then-current boyfriend.

The cutting off of the last BF, and the commitment I made to myself to stay out of any and all relationships with these sorts created some pretty profound changes in my friends and family. I had to get RID of lots of people. Some disordered, and some not.

And I spent about 5 years more or less alone. Only a tiny few friends, no contact with any family, and no starting of new relationships. It was kinda lonely. It was scary. It was confusing. I was angry that my life had to be so miserable before it could get better, and I felt I would never have a love relationship again. I also, initially, worried all my future relationships would be BORING. As we know, even if they are abusive jerks, disordered people are (in the beginning) pretty exciting.

But this all turned out to be totally worth it. In truth, this period was absolutely necessary. I was STUCK in my childhood. I could not really become fully adult until I processed all of it, shored myself up, followed through FOR MYSELF, and made real changes in my life. AND, I DID IT! Life is about a zillion times better. I am not dragged around by my own wounded emotions and psychology. I can make decisions for myself, stick to them, reap the benefits, and share those benefits with people I love and who love and support me. My life is not boring. It is stable, peaceful, full of love and possibility.

I no longer have bouts of depression and mania (I was not bipolar, but just emotionally labile). I am not unduly influenced by the manipulations of others. I trust my own instincts, and value my life.

I hope you can create this stability for yourself. It is possible.


Thank you, Simone.


I really identify with Norda’s story. Parts of it mirror my own story, especially the part about never bonding with my sister and both of us knowing we’d throw each other under the bus to get attention from our neglectful parents. People often wonder why my sister and I couldn’t bond over our common experience of being abused. I always struggle to explain why, and sometimes I don’t even understand it myself. Of all the forms of abuse, I believe neglect is one of the most difficult ones to work with because it’s not very tangible. If you tell a good trauma therapist you were beaten or raped, they might know what to do. But neglect is hard to see, hard to process, and hard to talk about, in my experience. I have felt it as a gnawing hole in my stomach and an avoidance of life. Over the years, the hole has gotten smaller and shifted into something a little more fluid and a little less solid and definable. The constant depression and loneliness has been replaced with large doses of joy, gratitude, and self-love, and desire to reach out to people for connection. But still there is more work to do in order to fashion a life for myself that I can be really excited about. I have spent countless evenings giving myself eye contact in the mirror, hugging myself, and saying “I love you” to my inner child – basically giving myself the love I never had as a child. With enough of this healing, I find I am reacting less and less personally to others’ inconsiderate and rude behavior, which means these people don’t have so much power in my life as they used to. And when they do, I know something has been triggered, and I take that as an opportunity to heal. This is all new in the last 5-10 years. I think when you have the personal power to take something bad that was done TO you and turn it into a learning experience or at very least, let it go, you have turned a corner in your healing. You have become empowered.


P.S. I read that book Boundaries by Townsend and Cloud and really liked it.


Thanks for this. Sadly, the experience I have had has shown me how well my spath groomed his children to be sociopaths, just like him. They are not set up to be victims but to be predatory and I have witnessed them (aged 8 and 13) operate like this in their friendship groups and when I was left alone with them, their sociopathic traits really came out (I was their step mum for several years). I don’t know which is worse, to groom your children to be desensitised and mock empathic people and to prey on them (primarily so the lead patriarchal spath benefits) or to groom them to be victims, presumably for the spaths own pleasure/delight as he observes his children being victims of bullies. He absolutely will feel nothing for them, no protective or paternal feelings will arise. Sickening. His children gain so much from being groomed like this too as they get treats for bad behaviour and have quickly learned that the more they manipulate others, the more HE will give them (toys, clothes, sweets etc.) to enforce this behaviour. I am so glad and relieved that I am not their step mum anymore, they will grow up to be very dangerous individuals, I can see it already.

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