A Lovefraud reader who posts as “Mani” asked a question that I’m sure is of interest to many others, so I’ll address it in a blog post. Mani writes:
I was one of the children who lived with a psychopath for a long time. I fought all my life not to let him be a part of my personality. In comparison to what I was exposed to I think I have been successful. But is there anybody out there who can shed more light on the effects of a psychopath father on children, particularly boys?
I know there is tendency to label these children as secondary psychopaths but I haven’t seen anybody talking about the mechanics of it. And I am sure all these children don’t become secondary psychopaths.
This is a complex situation with many variables, depending on the individuals involved. I will describe in general terms the two basic types of outcomes. Lovefraud has a lot more information in the Explaining the sociopath archive. Dr. Liane Leedom has written many articles on the topic. You may also want to get her book, Just Like His Father?
By the way, the term “secondary psychopaths” doesn’t necessarily apply to children of psychopaths. It refers to which set of psychopathic traits are predominant in an individual.
Psychopathic parents, both fathers and mothers, definitely affect their children in many ways. There are probably two general categories of effects, depending on whether or not the child has inherited a predisposition to become psychopathic.
Psychopathy is highly genetic. That means a child can be born with a predisposition for the disorder to develop. Genetics, of course, is a crapshoot, so a child may or may not get the genes. In fact, a child is more likely to inherit the genes when the mother is psychopathic, rather than the father.
However, psychopathy results from both nature and nurture. Whether this disorder actually does develop is due to the parenting a child receives and the environment that the child grows up in. It is possible, with extremely attentive parenting, to prevent psychopathy from developing, or at least mitigate it. Essentially, parents must teach the child love, empathy and impulse control.
Psychopaths make terrible parents. They will not bother to instill love, empathy and impulse control in a child. They can’t teach what they don’t know.
Psychopathic parents do not love their children. They are not concerned about a child growing up to be healthy, productive members of society. They look at children as possessions, like a car or a flat-screen TV.
Some psychopaths neglect their children. Others engage in physical abuse and sexual molestation.
But even if psychopaths don’t engage in outright physical abuse, they usually inflict psychological and emotional abuse. They lie to kids, break their promises, and keep changing the rules. The parent may say something, and then insist the words were never spoken, which distorts a child’s sense of reality.
The net result is that a child grows up in a very unstable environment. If the child has inherited the genes for psychopathy, chances are good that he or she will develop the disorder. If the child has not inherited the genes, he or she may develop other psychological issues, such as anxiety and depression.
Children of psychopathic parents who are not themselves disordered often have much to overcome related to their families of origin. They may not know what a healthy relationship or a healthy family looks like. They may become involved with sociopaths themselves, because it feels normal.
I think people who have grown up in these situations have a lot of internal untangling to do. They likely need to address and heal deep emotional pain, either through formal counseling or through self-help.
I invite any Lovefraud readers who have more information to share on this situation to contribute your insights.