By | November 17, 2006 38 Comments

Sociopaths don’t respond to punishment

In response to last week’s entry, Sociopathy and the fearless child one of our readers (Bobby) wrote of his brother, “He was often punished – usually by being sent to bed without his meal – but he would repeat the same behavior as if nothing had happened.” This statement illustrates why the usual parenting does not work with children at risk to develop into sociopaths. They do not respond to punishment!

Parents of sociopaths are often blamed

Tragically, the parents of sociopaths are often blamed for the presence of this condition in their offspring. The belief of many is, He wouldn’t be a sociopath if his parents had taught him right from wrong.

The belief that “discipline” will cure the problems of the at-risk child is illustrated by the fact that there are over a thousand books on disciplining children offered through

The tool most parents use to discipline, to teach right and wrong, is punishment. But, as stated above, at risk children do not respond to punishment.

Punishment of at risk children often makes their behavior worse

I was in a department store with my three kids last month and my son threw an enormous tantrum. We had to finish shopping because my daughter really needed something for school. A passerby seeing the situation said to me, “Why don’t you just spank him?”

Believe me, if spanking children cured them of behavior problems, there would be no need for over a thousand books on discipline. We would simply tell parents to spank children when they misbehave.

Recent studies of at risk children reveal that parents who emphasize discipline often fail with at risk children. At risk children are punished more often, even though this punishment has little to no positive effect. But if punishing wrong doing doesn’t help, what does?

There are likely two paths to developing a conscience

Scientists are now actively investigating and writing about two pathways to conscience formation. The first is the usual pathway, conscience through guilt. Guilt develops from fear of punishment. The fearless child does not develop conscience through guilt because punishment has no effect.

But, I am sure you have noticed that not all fearless people are without conscience. There are many relatively fearless people who have morals and do good. A beautiful example of such a person is the late Steve Erwin, the Crocodile Hunter. His good heart shown brightly each time he was on screen.

Conscience through empathy, the second pathway

Conscience can also form as an extension of our ability to love. Fearless people who have a conscience also have large amounts of empathy. To see this for yourself, watch the clips of Steve Erwin, he was clearly an extremely loving man. Animal Planet also has clips of his parents discussing his upbringing. He was not an easy child! What comes through the clips is the exceptionally close relationship Steve Erwin had with both his parents.

To develop empathy, a fearless, at risk child has to have an especially close bond with his parent(s)

Excessive punishment alienates the fearless, at risk child and often worsens his behavior.

To develop a consceince, at risk children require huge amounts of nurturing attention. Next week we will discuss this second pathway for conscience formation in more detail.

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I am the single stepmom of three boys (22, 20, 17) who have a psychopath father. All three have different relationships with their dad, primarily guided by FOG (fear, obligation, guilt). The youngest rekindled some type of a relationship with his natural mother after I had asked his dad to leave in the beginning of this year. Two of the three boys (the oldest and youngest) clearly show the characteristics seen in their dad and the youngest has every single feature/risk factor that was mentioned in one of the posts on “children at risk.” If the answer is: a close bond with their parents, how do they stand a chance?


Obviously gulit and punishment don’t occur in a sociopaths mind and so as you said there is absolutely no point in spanking that child. I agree and I hope that you do find something that will tell you how to control your child if something like that occurs again

will be okay

My ex is a sociopath. He has a 4-year-old son with his ex. The childs behavior is totally out of control, whenever I would say anything about it to my ex, he’d become angry. His ex wife has no control over the boy either. Whenever he had his son, his son was in total control of our entire day. My ex ofcourse never showed any real affection to anyone, including his son. I don’t know how affectionate his ex is with him. I think we know how this story is going to turn out. It’s a shame.

my ex has gone to jail and spent time there numerous times but it doesnt seem to have the same effect on her as it would me. I would be scared of going to jail. I wouldnt want to spend time behind bars. And because of that fear I dont do things that would land me behind bars. She on the other hand keeps plowing along doing things to make her situation worse and them blames everyone else for her misconduct. That everyone is out to get her.
Everyone didnt make her rob two of her employers, everyone didnt make her trash three different houses and steal all the furniture from them, everyone didnt make her steal food from a grocery store, everyone didnt make her write all those bad checks.
My point is her going to jail has no bearing on how she reacts. If I went to jail I would turn my life around and think to myself now what did I do to get put in jail and what can I do to not get put in jail again. But people like that dont respond to punishment as the title of this post states.


This is an interesting story where parents took steps in the RIGHT direction, for once! In the summation, the term “pathological lying” was used.

How many people out there are getting by doing the same thing??? Do people even check references, anymore? I sure did whenever I was hiring. Perhaps, it might be something to consider: check references and do a background check, always, especially with possible romantic involvements.


And, if you watch this video, just take a look at how PISSED this kid is! This kid has the very nerve to be pissed! How can anyone not be embarassed or shamed to death for getting caught AND having his own parents put the kabosh on his deceptions??? I’d sh*t twice and go blind if I got caught doing something like this! And, this kid………..let me say it, again……..has the very nerve to be pissed. Wow.


This is weird, reading this article after talking to my sister-in-law about her parents today, how they influenced all their children. She told me that her siblings did not receive much (if any) nurturing from either mother or father. In my opinion, the family dynamics affected my h-spath adversely. What’s done is done, but they were not the best of parents. My sister-in-law said that she didn’t think that any of them (growing up)were emotionally attached to either parent, bonded to them. The conversation was interesting.

Ox Drover

You know, my P-son was nurtured plenty and frankly I didn’t have much need to “punish”him as he was about as good a kid as they get (his ADHD brother drove me nuts though) but when he did get punishment at age 11 for holding on to a LIE when it was obvious he was BUSTED, he became furious and ran away from home. When caught at that, he coldly looked me in the eye and said “You can’t watch me 24/7, I’ll run away again, and you can’t stop me.”

The little chit was RIGHT! He3 knew it and so did I. I ended up putting him in a private school and about having him watched as close to 24/7 as possible, and he SEEMED like he was back to being a “perfect kid” again—until puberty set in when it was open definance and sneeky lies etc. alll mixed together.

NO consequence, not jail nor prison ever taught him to not do something if he wanted to do it. He just got mad at whoever turnn him in to the laws, it never dawned on him if he hadn’t stolen or robbed or murdered, they wouldn’t have turned him in to the cops. DUH!

(Head shaking here in disbelief) It just never dawns on him that the cops or anyone else will actually be able to lock him up or keep him there. Even after 20+ years! He actually seems to think he is invincible!


OxD, I think that’s one of the inherent aspects of spathy. This kid in the video’s attorney said that he didn’t have “a record.” That translates into: “He’s never been CAUGHT.”

They (my spath son, included) believe that the Law is for others – they are impervious to consequences. And, if somehow, they are faced with consequences for their own decisions and choices, it’s ALWAYS someone else’s fault. Bad parents, bad teachers, bad orange juice……..NEVER is it the result of their own choices.

Ox Drover

Yesterday when I was in town, my son went into a store to buy something (A SMALL SHOP) and the woman clerk in there was talking about her “psychopathic son in jail” and when son D came out and told me that, I ran into the store and introduced myself to the woman, and told her I also had a P son. We talked a few minutes and exchanged phone numbers. I intend to call this lady and have lunch with her later this week.

She is the one who called the law on her own son and put his arse in jail. GOOD WOMAN!!!!

I also feel sorry for the parents of that Harvard fraud young man that got outed on national TV not long ago. THEIR good names are being smeared across the nation for what he did. I finally did get enough internet connection to watch that video of the new about him.


YES, OxD…….that’s the saddest part. Though we don’t know the whole story or background of this kid, my gut feeling is that the parents probably tried EVERYTHING to teach this kid right from wrong. And, for their efforts, they have to do what many of us have had to do: recognize and accept that their offspring is spathic.

OxD, did you have a time of grieving for the spath son? I guess what I’m trying to get at is this: my soul was torn apart, at one point, because I could not reconcile the beautiful infant that I so loved with the monster that he developed into. I spent quite some time in deep, deep grief – it was as if my child had died and had been buried, but there wasn’t a death and there wasn’t a funeral. What remained was this Thing that did not resemble anything human.

Still, I have moments when I ache for what should have been, but it is what it is and I never want to hear from the spath son for the rest of my life.


This morning, I ran into a woman at work who is a therapist (working with youth) who understands about sociopathy, so helpful to meet up with someone who knows about the disorder. We stood outside her office and talked, me telling her about myself and what I’ve experienced of late. I called my sister-in-law later in the day and talked to her about the family that she and her siblings grew up in. She basically told me that their father was emotionally distant to his children, not really a loving person (in any way). He was abusive toward his children, giving the belt to their behinds (even when they were pre-schoolers), making them raw at times. Even if only one child misbehaved, all of her siblings would be punished at the same time. She said that her mother was not a good mother, didn’t display affection to her kids and was unnurturing. I personally suspect that my father-in-law was a spath, ignoring his family, but trying to “win” the approval of the outside world. Family dynamics and genetics played a part in how my h-spath turned out.

Ox Drover

Dear Buttons,

Yes, I GRIEVED about what should have been for a child with an IQ and charm in the 99.9th percentile, who could have found a cure for cancer, put men on Mars, done ANYTHING he wanted to do! I grieved for the relationship I did NOT hve with him. I grieved for the shame I felt as a parent.

Eventually, I came to see the boy and the man as TWO separate individuals. In any case, no matter how good or bad our kids turn out, those “babies” are GONE. They are NO OMORE.

I began to visualize the little boy, so cute, charming and funny, as DEAD…and the man in the cell, so hateful, so selfish, so toxic, so EVIL as NOT THE SMAE PEOPLE. It was as if my baby boy died and his “organs” were donated to someone who was Ted Bundy-like. Would that mean that the Ted-Bundy Clone was my “son” because he had the heart, the lungs, the brain of my dead child?
So, I had a “memorial service” for my child, my son who was gone from this earth. I took all the photos of my son made after his “death” and burned them. I kept only the momentoes of him as a small child, only those photos that depicted fun days with my little boy. Everything else I BURIED in a little wooden box and had my own private little memorial service for my little boy. He is DEAD and buried, but the MAN in the cell, the EVIL creature is a STRANGER.

Sure there are those that would “blame” me for what the MAN has become, would blame me for not raising my boy right, but I did the best I could, and I loved him, gave him all I had to give. Those people don’t know the truth, maybe never will, but I can’t change that. I can only grieve for the child I lost, and then move on with my life….that and protect myself from the evil stranger that wants to kill me.

I hope that can give you some idea of how I “coped”—-I don’t know if it is a healthy way to cope or not, but it works for me. I still love the little boy who is no more, just as I love my late husband, and I can think of all the fun things we did with smiles and good sentiments, but I no longer weep and grieve over what IS NO MORE ON THIS EARTH.



I took the therapist’s business card, thinking that in the future I might arrange to have my children see her. As the therapist and I talked, I got to thinking, wanting to get some answers to questions, thus, I called my sister-in-law, the oldest of the siblings. When it comes to my h-spaths family of origin, there was definitely dysfunction there, obviously affecting all my h-spath’s siblings. My mother-in-law actually is a sweet person, so I was surprised to learn about how her daughter perceived her as a mother. What I realize is that she had her hands full, a husband who was difficult to be married to (probably a spath) and five kids (all close in age), no-one being able to get enough attention. My mother-in-law had to do it all, be the actual head-of-the-household (while allowing her husband to be the king) – she worked seven days a week (probably earning more money than her husband) and had to take care of the household (without any help from him). My sister-in-law said that the children were left alone a lot of the time, fending for themselves. It is all sad. None of the kids really had a chance to KNOW their parents well at all. The father didn’t want to know his kids and the mother was gone all the time. Some of my mother-in-law’s experiences are things that I have encountered via her son. History repeats itself.


Buttons and OxDrover,

I think that both of you are awesome! I would like to be as good of a parent as I imagine the two of you are and were to your kids. It is hard when your children inherit something (that you have no control of) that really affects their lives, their persons. I am sorry that your children have this disorder, sociopathy. When I read your posts, how you can encourage each other and relate to each other, it is inspiring. It is helpful to find people who have been down your path, making it a tad bit easier. God bless you both.


Bluejay, thank you – I appreciate your kind words, but I’m not any different than anyone else here. I’ve just had a lot longer to figure it out. Well, figure out as much as I can at a time!

OxD, I think that you’ve laid out some very strong and powerful words of wisdom. The memorial ceremony had to have been a cathartic moment, and I’m comforted to know that the grieving is normal. Yes – your approach makes sense to me. The beautiful child that was no longer IS. I think that the burning of the photographs is also a very important task, sad though it may be. I’ve burned my own artwork as a form of purge, and this might be a good thing for me to do when I’m ready.

Thank you so much for your honesty. God love you!

Ox Drover

Dear Buttons and Blue Jay,

Thank you both for those affirmiing words, I do know that healing is a PATH and that each step we take brings us closer to what we need and want, it is just taking it a day, or sometimes, even a SECOND at a time…..

God does love me, that is the only reason I have made it this far, because every one of us here has had enough grief to sink the Titanic in, and we just have to keep on swimming toward the light!

I appreciate every blogger here and especially Donna for making this place that is so healing for us all! ((((hugs)))) and God bless.


OxD, you’ve been on this site since nearly the beginning and I can’t begin to imagine how many lives you’ve touched with your courage and wisdom.

Yes – I am grateful to Donna for providing this site through her courage and I’m grateful to everyone that pours out their stories. It not only helps them, but it helps me to see and to recognize and to snap my fingers in the face of this madness. We’re all going to be okay.



Buttons and OxDrover,

I want you to know that I am not bashing my in-laws, instead, having compassion for each person, trying to get my head above water. I personally think that my mother-in-law did the best that she could given her circumstances. In her time, she stayed with her husband, even though, I suspect there were times when she would have liked to have exited the marriage. For her children’s sake, I think that might have been a wise thing to have done. You can’t undo the past. I have a ton of emotions, feeling stuck, but wanting to have a better existence for myself and my children. I question if I am up to the challenge. I know that my mother-in-law cares about her children, but she is a person who doesn’t involve herself in their lives. The sister-in-law that I talked to is a “mother” to her own mother, having taken on this role in childhood. She was forced to help her mother, spending her childhood raising her siblings. My sister-in-law is in therapy, having started four years ago and she admitted that she didn’t like their household growing up, the fact that she didn’t have a normal youth. It is all so sad. My mother-in-law has the mother title and the respect of her children, but the one child that she most prefers is the sister-in-law that I talked to yesterday, this person still taking care of her mother, yet resenting it at times (having a tug-of-war of emotions toward her mother). From my perspective, my mother-in-law is clueless about how her children are affected by the home life that they had growing up. It’s too late anyways. I hope the remainder of her life if peaceful, nothing too upsetting happening in her life. I am just praying that the same can happen for the rest of us on this planet.


Bluejay, it’s often difficult for people to see the forest for the trees, especially if they spent their lives in servitude. There is something that I call the Martyr Syndrome – I don’t know if it’s even recognized in the psych community, but I saw it in my own family, in me, and many others who were victims of spathy.

It sort of goes like this: I HAVE to do whatever I must for the sakes of ___________ (fill in the blank). If I have to endure torment, loneliness, isolation, abuse, etc. to keep us together, I will do it. If I take enough, perhaps, the (spath) will truly see how willing I am to sacrifice my Self (my soul) for the good of __________ and REWARD ME BY CHANGING.

This, for me, was a mode of existing. I did not realize that I had choices and, once I did realize that I had choices, I was afraid of stigma (another divorce statistic), retaliation (threatened with murder), and the lot. Eventually, I came to understand that, even if the ex spath had shot me down if I left him, it would be a far better ending than spending the rest of my life having my emotional/mental health murdered on a daily basis.

We are not responsible for the emotional well-being of anyone other than our own. We can hope for the healing of others, but our own healing has priority. Perhaps, if others see our progress as we travel our own healing paths, they might begin to feel that they want to travel their own healing paths and make the hard decisions to do it for themselves.

Brighest blessings!



When I talked to the therapist, I was emotional, crying (but not wanting to) because I was talking to someone who had compassion, who understood the disorder. You go through the days, still recovering from what you’ve experienced, feeling like you’re not making a lot of progress. I am very concerned about my children, wanting to create a rich home life for them, but not there yet. My children are precious, sweet, genuinely nice people. I do not want to screw them up. I feel badly for myself and my children, having had enough DRAMA (as Oxy said), to sink the Titanic.


{{{{Bluejay}}}} Stop beating yourself up, girl. “Progress” happens in baby steps. Recovering is a lifelong process. Conern about your children’s emotional health is appropriate, but you cannot “fix” their experiences, you can only help to guide and teach. It takes time and hard work to get started and (for me, personally) to stay on that healing path. You’re in a GOOD place and where you should be at this moment! Every one of us experiences our healing and recovery at our own pace on our own paths – you’re getting there, dear one. Give yourself some credit!!!!!

Brightest blessings!



Thank you. I’m feeling emotional now, weepy. I’m off, wanting to take care of some things in the house.


Bluejay, dear heart, the emotion and weepy is a Good Thing! Holy cow, when I found this site, I was just about frantic with triggers, disbelief, self-disappointment, etc……I was sobbing at the drop of a pin. I typed in the Google search, “my son is a sociopath” and this was the first site that came up. Bam.

I still have my moments, Bluejay – not as often and not as intense, but I still have them. It’s all a part of healing and letting that poison out.

Brightest blessings and gentle hugs.

Ox Drover

Dear Bluejay, Buttons is so right, we can’t “keep the peace” by ignoring the ELEPHANT CHIT in the room or ignoring the elephant itself—-that “let’s pretend we are a nice normal family” crap is just that CRAP and crap STINKS whether you admit it is there or not.

I was trained from birth to deny the elephant and the mess it made, but eventually I got to the point that I started not only seeing the elephant and the crap, but talking about it as well,….but we can’t clean it up until we do.

As long as we can keep that beast out of our houses and lives we don’t have to wade through the chit!


We can’t exercise that self determination you wrote about so well OX until we have confidence in autonomy.

This is a hard lesson.

One perhaps so many of us hoped to learn by loving someone else in exchange for a security they did not provide not had to offer.

But it looked like….And the real is that most of us do and have done all along.

Now, owning it is the challenge because the voice that speaks elephant chants to deprive us.

I see this in myself and over and over here.

Ox Drover

You are right Silver, especially with us “Cindarellas” we wait for a “prince charming” to whisk us off to happiness and in the meantime whatever our life is like it is boring, unfullfilling, etc.

We don’t even stop to think that we can provide ourselves with our OWN CASTLE and our own happiness, and then when we have done this, we might find a guy who has provided his own happiness and built his own castle and we could JOIN together our two fulfilled and happy selves into a great happiness, neither one being DEPENDENT on the other, but inter-dependent instead. That to me is perfect happiness.


Perfect happiness? Can’t imagine it yet. Still working on peace and some balance in the wake of this experience.

I was a child and am old, but not grown up in these days after- so soon after and I am tentative for getting ahead of being grounded in my new understanding….

It teaches me about my own ego- some great lessons.

Just now, understanding what happened and feeling it sink into the pores and erase most of what I though before was true.

I feel both more defensive and more vulnerable than ever and it is enough in these days to be steady.

Perhaps a dubious progress but somehow, some way it must begin.

In all the other aspects of life, I’ve never been a Cinderella but in matters of relationship with men, that was my training. And it was very specific. It falls away now as being out of date.

Prince Charming? Get thee behind me Satan!

Life is full of excitement- the adrenalin kind. I just hope it can get to the point where it slows down. Where there is peace and a sense of being whole.

I so crave a garden now.

Time to go interdepend on business associates….Working another million hour week in hope that the reward that is equal to the risk follows soon on.

Is it true that he who is born to hang will never drown? I think on that when I swim with sharks……….

Ox Drover

Dear Silver,

My little Jack Russell Terrier was barking this afternoon, and I looked out the window to see what he was barking at and it just appeared to be a spot on the grass, so I ran out and sure enoug hit was a NASTY looking water moccocin so I shooed the dog away and went to get an implement of destruction (should have had my gun with me the first time) but by the time I got there I saw it slither off into the dense folage of my plantings around the tree and couldn’t get it to show its ugly head again.

So just remember even the GARDEN OF EDEN had its snake, so be careful where you put your hand, and make sure nothing is hiding among the flowers. I realize that when I plant flowers I give the snakes a place to hide, but I’d rather have the flowers than barren earth which would expose the snakes better! It seems that snakes like to hide where the flowers are the most beautiful and we are most off our guard.

But I’m not going to let that slit-eyed pit viper take away the joy of my yard! Of my garden!


I can put myself in other people’s shoes, grasping why they “do what they do,” having compassion, but truthfully, I am royally p.o.’d that this disorder has hit my life. I have a lot of patience, but I have reached my tolerance level for suffering, not wanting to have any more. I have to take a mental break from the chit (as others say). I remember telling my therapist (a few months ago) that if you have a spath in your life, there is no way that you can live your life without worrying, because of the bombs that drop. It’s a vicious cycle because you want to control the disordered person, preventing him/her from screwing up, but you can’t do so. My h-spath doesn’t want anyone’s help, guidance, direction – he wants to do things his way, even if it leads to disaster. I figured out that he dislikes being corrected, ignoring common sense, being a rule breaker. Ah, I am going to get out of the ditch. These are things that I have figured out about the spath while separated from him.

Ox Drover

Dear Bluejay,

Yep, there is no way we can save them from themselves, and the worst part is that they are like a suicide bomber, they destroy themselves but they take everyone in the neighborhoood with them! What a waste! Not only for themselves but for those even close to them that get hit with the flying debris.

As they pull the trigger that destroys themselves they shout “See, I told you you couldn’t control me!” BOOM! What a way to prove your point! DUH! Some way to “win” but that is all they really care about is getting their own way.



Good analogy, they are like suicide bombers, destroying themselves and everyone else in the path of destruction. I remember asking my h-spath, “doesn’t it bother you that you’ve destroyed my life?”, to which he replied, “no, it’s the way you talk to me” or “you worry me too much.” What I recently figured out is that all the garbage that they pull (eg. lying, stealing, etc.), well, it’s nothing personal in their mindset. That’s why he genuinely seems flummoxed by my being exasperated, ticked off with him over the countless incidents of nuttiness. People like this can make you want to go live in the wilderness and be a hermit, protecting yourself from any more hurt.

Ox Drover

Dear Bluejay, I do live in the WILDERNESS, but you know, there are things even in the wilderness that are POISON, my flower garden is harboring a big water moccocin I wasn’t quick enough to kill before it slithered off into the flowers…couldn’t find it when I had a weapon….LOL



I live in the country (my house is on land that was once a dairy farm), here in Virginia. When I read your response, I thought about the Unabomber, how he lived in the wilderness. I wouldn’t know how to catch a snake, nor would I want to, only if I had to. Snakes are not my favorite reptile. Hopefully, your snake will slither far, far away, no more to return to you. I have told myself that my h-spath hasn’t totally destroyed me (I’m still around), but he really has done some heavy-duty damage. I have hope for the future, just needing to make some decisions and have them work out in my favor.


Bluejay, watch out for those copperheads! I used to live in VA, too…..where I grew up, we had cottonmouths AND copperheads. I wouldn’t know one from the other if they came up to shake my hand. Wait a sed…….they have no hands….



You bet, I’ll watch out for snakes, having seen black ones in the past here and at my old house that was in the city. I try to keep away from slithery things. You keep on your toes too, being careful around any and all kinds of snakes (and that includes people).


Wow, I’m glad to see that a good article is being recycled! I found this link interesting regarding a man posing as an Army officer…looks like a sociopath to me!

Ox Drover

Dear Peggy,

I think I will go down and tell them I am a GENERAL and see if they willl start sending me a pay check, I could sure use the money! I can photoshop some really great photos of me flying a fighter jet and in combat that should show them my heroism in all the wars I’ve fought in! LOL LOL ROTFLMAO

I will admit that this kid has guts, and probably a lot of other psychopathic traits as well. No one but an honest to gosh psychopath would try that stunt! LOL ROTFLMAO Whew, got my belly laugh for the day—heck, the WEEK!

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