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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38 Comments on "Sociopaths don’t respond to punishment"

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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.

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!

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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