How psychopathic parents can affect children

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 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” section (click the “Categories” link under “Blog” in the red menu bar above). 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.

Genetic risk

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. If you had a psychopathic parent, how did it affect you?

Lovefraud originally posted this article on August 18, 2013.


Comment on this article

5 Comments on "How psychopathic parents can affect children"

Notify of

I have come to understand that most of my family share Cluster B personality traits. My father, although he worked as an attorney, at times pro bono, was a sociopath. My mother was a Narcissist with Borderline tendencies. She definitely had Munchausen syndrome by proxy, and forced me to have a now questionable surgery on my urethra at age ten, purportedly to end my bed-wetting and frequent urination, but perhaps to curtail sexual pleasure. I was a child who was sexually abused by my father, and, knowing this, my mother sought to counter act the symptoms, but not to treat my trauma, which might have brought shame upon the family.

When I was sixteen, I tried to end my life by taking every pill that we had in the house. I told my mother what I had done before I lay down for what I thought would be my last night on Earth. She allowed me to sleep through the night, and I must conclude that she thought it better that I died. I was just an obstacle for her, in her quest for my father’s love. She did not realize that a sociopath cannot truly love, and tragically blamed her own daughter, who was just another victim of his abuse.

I have come so far from this house of horrors, but it lives inside me still. My sister is very much like my dad, and now represents my mother’s Estate, though she had nothing to do with our mother in real life, even blocking her emails. Our mother died asking me repeatedly, “Why won’t Lindsey call me back?”

And so, I now think that the children of abusive, Cluster B parents either become victims or abusers. Though I am broke, and temporarily downcast, I would still rather be me one hundred times over, than a sociopath. I am still a person with love and empathy for all fellow humans. I still choose love and light, EVERY SINGLE TIME. May God bless all of us. Every single one.

May He indeed! You’re a brave woman!

Thank you, Redwald. I am going through a really tough period right now with a family situation. Lots of revelations are bubbling up, and finally, I think I can see the distinct possibility of peace at the other side.

Don’t believe my parents were sociopaths, but I am sure my three brothers and half brother are. Have an aunt on my mother’s side that I am sure was. As the youngest (a girl), I was verbally, emotionally and physically abused by my parents and brothers. Think the reason I didn’t turn out a sociopath was because of a caring aunt (I call her an “anchor”) that knew what was going on, and a teacher who cared and reached out.

the ex told me more than a few times; any glory our 3 sons brought, would be to HIS credit, any problems would be MY FAULT for being a bad mother (which I was also told, often in front of the boys). Since our sons estranged from me, following my leaving/divorce; I don’t see them much. But, I’m sure he molded them VERY well, without me knowing it for many years. Whatever morals, values, ideals I tried to instill in them, HE and HIS life always came first and foremost. The longer we were married, the worse his treatment of me, in front of them, got to be. Its been better for me to stay away and live my own life; as I will NOT let any of them treat me (or try to) like he did, for so long.

Send this to a friend