Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Raising a sociopath child (part 2)

My response:
This is a very interesting question and I'm glad you came to me because I sense disaster already. First the positive: having a sociopath child can be just as good, if not better than having a neurotypical child. There is nothing keeping your child from being a great, high achieving, functional member of society. I excel at many things, I have meaningful relationships with people, I have a very full life. I also suffered a lot to get where I am, and most sociopaths have similar stories. Luckily for me, my parents managed to do a lot of things right, and I love them for that. It could have gone very badly, I think, and I appreciate the fact that it didn't.

I think the biggest thing that parents of sociopaths need to learn is to realize when you are helping and when you are hurting. For instance, you should not tell other people (including school officials or anyone else) that your child may be a sociopath. I understand the impulse. I have a little relative who has had significant hearing loss, which is immediately obvious to anyone. Even if it wasn't, though, the parents are more than willing to make it known, particularly if it would affect the child's schooling. Nowadays we expect schools and teachers to be understanding of children's individual strengths and weaknesses. This "legitimately" includes autism and asperger's, but does not include sociopathy. People talk (even on this site) about the forced execution of sociopaths and how they would kill a sociopath baby if they could. Sociopathy (even if applicable) is a label that could forever inhibit your child's life and development. If everyone knows your child is a sociopath, they will treat him differently. He will not be given the benefit of the doubt like other children will be. Once he knows that every anonymous bad thing will be blamed on him, he will do only bad things because at least that way he will get the pleasure of the thing before he gets punished for it. Sociopath children are very very sensitive to perceived fairness and incentive structures (more on that later). If I were you, depending on what you have told the school official, I would play it off as much as possible. I don't know what you could do, but maybe tell the counselor you were just trying to warn him about the sociopath family member you mentioned, or even better trying to warn him of the evils of trying to diagnose someone before 18 (the "official" age for diagnosing a sociopath), e.g., don't make the mistake of doing that with my child, otherwise I will pursue legal action. You could suggest your family history includes asperger's, and you're concerned about your son. I would also do some research to try find a doctor who will readily diagnose your son as having asperger's. Unlike sociopathy, asperger's is an "acceptable" diagnosis that can be used to explain your sons other antisocial symptoms without fear of reprisal.


  1. That article made a whole heap of sense to me. Labels are seriously damaging!! If the child isn't killing cats or maiming people there is no reason that i can see in my mind as to why it needs broadcasting to a "school official". I mean come on, where is the sense in that? Why hinder a child? Thats like starting a witch hunt in my eyes, and lets face it everybody loves a scape goat!! I personally believe its all down to parents commumicating with their child. I just don't understand what a therepist can do for a child that an "effective" parent can't? Sticking a kid in a therepists room to deal with the failures of it's ineffective dumb parents is just like passing the book....oh well i can't deal with this sociopathic kid...you try!! Its hilairious. No wonder the therepist gets a played with. I think sociopathic children do need watching, to stear them in the right directions. Teach them rules and explain the consequences of breaking the "major" ones. Allow then to feel completely comfortable confiding in the parents about anything that worries them about their personality disorder. It shouldn't get to the therepists room just because the shit hits the fan. Prevention is better than a cure. Thats what i think anyway.
    Immediately dishing drugs out like sweets is a lazy way to "supposedly" treat someone.
    There is always a significant person who has failed somewhere along the lines with the child. There is no point declaring this child is eviiiiiiil, i just don't buy that crap. Parents failing to address soicopathy need lynching. Its like standing back and allowing a bush fire to engulf an entire town. What is it, is that when a baby is on the way there is always some idiots that build up in their heads exactly what the baby will be, personality, looks, career. That there is setting up a child for a big fall before its even taken its first breath, so when the parents get something "different", thats when the resentment kicks in. A childhood is what shapes the adult. Parents need to start taking responsibilty for what they have raised or neglected to address.

    1. I am a teacher and we do need to know! This article is crazy! I am not saying the we don't need to help all children, but lying about your child does not help anyone. Parents and teachers need to work together as a team to meet the needs of all children. We can't do this when parents are not honest with us. It doesn't take long for a teacher to figure out that something is different about a child. Let's not wait until another child gets hurt to learn the truth. This article advises parents to lie and put other children in harms way. It must be written by a sociopath.

    2. Tink,
      I do not wish to seem ignorant but I guess I am .I read in here where you say that you love your parents .I am a parent of a sociopathic teen. I have struggled alone with sicknesses of my own raising her 15 yrs. I considered her strong willed pretty normal until circumstances lead me to have a nervous breakdown and we were both taken .I lost her for 9 mos and thought I was going to die well I very well could have from malnutrition and weight loss. I have had her back physically for one year but she never really came home to me . It is only now beginning to really show itself in full and unbearable .my heart breaks thinking that she cannot feel the love I have for her or that she does not know real love for me .I have been over protective attentive b/c she seems incapable of trust or learning from mistakes I feel I must not let her too far .she has now run away from school on friday for the second time in a few weeks shes now been gone a week l having taken nothing with , possibly drugs as she tried them the first time she left (not merely drugs but huffing dust spray!!!) I love her so very much and I have devoted my life all of it to her alone .I ve spent these 7 days researching and now see that have been doing this all wrong disciplining over and over and over while she repeats over and over and over. I thought she has to understand as I see she can understand other things.I don't know what is the right way . I cant think like she does or know what she is thinking or feeling I feel as secluded and alone as she is .I cannot find books to help her books to help me understand how to help or discipline or for her to help herself .its as if not a single person cares to help sociopaths .So even if a sociopath wants help they are hated and scrutinized .seemingly left without choice to be what people expect them to be. any thing anything at all to help me recover and connect with my daughter would be appreciated. I am here for her and I want to help. she has shut me out. I cannot blame her, we are both struggling with this , We are both lost...

    3. Hello! Your email sounds very desperate. I don't know who diagnosed your daughter... but remember, she is only 15. All teenagers go through a difficult period with hormones raging, moods changing, a bad attitude, tantrums and experimentation with drugs etc..;some more intensely than others. She could just be a teen going through rough times. And if she is at all creative, then she may be more trouble than the average. Don't label her as a sociopath. She may not show that she cares for you...but she loves the dog or her friends. I am sure she will come around. 17 for girls is a time when they come around. I hope that is the case with your daughter for her sake and yours.

  2. The official age for diagnosis of psychopathy is 15, M.E. And unless someone had a "conduct disorder" as a child, they won't be diagnosed at all. That is to say, secondary psychopaths (sociopaths) aren't officially recognised as existing. I don't think the DSM V will fix this, either.

  3. I like the practical tone of this post. I suspect anon above is correct about the age of diagnosis thing, but still, I imagine having that label slung around your neck at an early age by school officials would make things tougher for that kid than it needs to be.

    Here’s something I’m curious about though. Outside of actual psychopaths, whose childhoods seem to come with obvious signs (excessive bedwetting, cruelty to animals, setting fires, habitual lying and so on), how would a parent begin to suspect a child is a sociopath or a Machiavellian or a narcissist? What would be the tell tale signs? I suppose narcissists are fairly obvious, but what about sociopaths or Machiavellians in the making?

    Oh and Tink, I enjoy the common sense tone of your comments. What you’re saying isn’t so far off from ‘Harry’s Code’ from “Dexter”. Harry understood what Dexter was and that he wasn’t going to change, and rather than running away from that fact in terror or cursing the kid, he accepted it. Harry embraced Dexter’s ‘differentness’. Harry taught Dexter his own down and dirty version of how to survive in the world using that ‘difference’ to his advantage, as opposed to morally condemning it and teaching him to bury it under empty rationalizations that would never have worked in the long run anyway.

  4. I strongly believe that a parent knows when "something is up" with their child. It doesn't need a therepist to slap on a label and confirm what a parent already knows. I also believe some parents just refuse to accept the truth concerning their child. Which in itself can be detrimental to the child, because the childs individual needs aren't being met. If anything a therepist should be used to support/guide the parent as to what is best in terms of assimulating the child to its social environment, not interrogating the child. Obviously society deems sociopathy as monsterous, for reasons (in some cases) that i can fully comprehend. However murder and jail time isn't true of all sociopaths. I think that sociopathy has to be directly related to parenting in some way shape or form, not just genetic predisposition.
    I think all children are naturally manipulative, they know which emotions to play with concerning their parents and teachers. Bad behaviour will always warrant "attention" albiet that negative attention, its still attention. That attention can be all that child becomes accustomed to. Example i used to get my ass spanked like you wouldn't believe as a child, as an adult i love my ass spanked with a belt whilst im having sex. Some women may find that degrading, to me i find it immensely satisfying! Its twisted, but i like it. I get a real kick out of it. I guess i adjusted to the feelings of shame that i felt as a chld to having my bare backside spanked in full view of everybody. lmao!!! Maybe its because i think that for a man to smack my ass, i must be giving him some sort of pleasure out of it???. I think the point im trying to make before i head off on a tangent is that parents are more responsible for exactly how their kids turn out then they may care to admit.

    Oh by the way i have no idea who Dexter and Harry is?? lol, i am so going to have to find this television programme, i am super curious.

  5. Dexter is a sociopath who kills for pleasure, but follows a code taught to him by a police officer who cheated on his wife with Dexter's dead mother, hid it from everyone, and then killed himself. The number one rule of the code is don't get caught, which involves killing only after proving beyond a reasonable doubt that they're just like Dexter. Dexter has several relationships with people he kills, including a lover, a brother, and a best friend.

    This is why this woman needs to follow in Harry's footsteps and teach the kid how to be a responsible and productive adult. Because even in the movies, it works.

  6. “I think that sociopathy has to be directly related to parenting in some way shape or form, not just genetic predisposition… parents are more responsible for exactly how their kids turn out then they may care to admit.”

    Weeellll… There appears to be a growing scientific consensus that parental influence on their child’s personality trait development is less pervasive than is normally assumed. The only factor that has been clearly and unambiguously demonstrated to play a role in personality trait development is genetics, by at least 50% if not more. The remaining ‘half’ is, in my opinion anyway, shaped by the environment at large, of which parenting is only a small part.

    “i love my ass spanked with a belt whilst im having sex. Some women may find that degrading, to me i find it immensely satisfying! Its twisted, but i like it.”

    You bad, bad girl! Daddy’s gonna have to cross the pond and teach you a lesson you’ll never forget. I’m talking off my belt right now as a matter of fact… lol

  7. Daniel im am bent over and waiting!! lol...anyway if parenting only plays a small part in the development of a childs personality, they wants the point of parenting?? Sorry but i have to disagree with you there Mr Birdick, parenting has to play a bigger role than that. If not then we may as well round up all the little newborns and stick them in the zoo so they can entertain each other. Then all the parents can go and spend the rest of the afternoon in the pub drinking ale. :)

  8. Just a fleeting thought, ok genetics play the dominent role concerning the way a person is wired, however there is must be a reason as to why some sociopaths are locked up in jail and others a high functioning? Parenting must play a roll. There must have been a good parent/ or relative to guide that ickle biddy sociopath from the moment it took its 1st steps. There has to be a mentor to help shape a child. I strongly believe that. I think this may turn into the nature versus nurture debate. Wow this is really stimulating me.

  9. When I came across this idea that parenting plays less of a role in shaping personality traits than is popularly believed, my first reaction was similar to yours Tink. It almost seems to be excusing bad parenting. But even if it is (which the science isn’t, of course), facts remain facts. The studies indicate that personality traits are largely heritable, meaning they are, for the most part, immune to the effects of parenting. In other words, a child genetically predisposed to introversion will probably grow up to be introverted, regardless of what his parents do or don’t do. And if we’re defining sociopathy as a deficient conscience and a very flexible sense of self (compared to the general population), then sociopathy is genetically based since those things are personality traits. Google Judith Harris, Steven Pinker, personality variation and twin studies for more on the data. Genetics count for at least half of the explanation for the variation of personality traits in the general population.

    The other half is the tricky part. That’s the part where most people put parenting, even though there doesn’t appear to be any good evidence backing that idea up. I personally think that it makes sense to say that it’s a totality of a child’s environment, which includes but is by no means limited to, the parents. Now we’re talking about society at large and the succession of peer groups any particular child is exposed to throughout his/her formative years.

    Does parenting matter at all then? Of course! Even if it can’t be demonstrated that parenting directly shapes personality traits, parenting does shape which particular environment the child will grow up in. Parents choose that. Mothers can disrupt their child’s development in the womb with their nutritional choices. Parents choose which schools the child will attend and thus choose the social milieu the child will be have to navigate. The parents career choices obviously affect what kind of resources will be made available to the child. Prolonged exposure to extended family influence is also chosen by the parents. And most importantly, the long term emotional tenor of the relationship is chosen, at least in the beginning, by whether a parent is loving and supportive or is a complete asshole. Who would choose to neglect their children just because they find out that their parental choices won’t necessarily turn their children into law abiding, normals? What kind of person would choose to abuse their kids if they discovered that the brat’s personality traits were out of their hands at the very moment of conception? Parents can’t choose their child’s personality yet. But they can choose what type of relationship they want to have with their child.

  10. Daniel,
    Parenting is more than influencing your child and making basic choices about things like school, family, etc. Even if that's all it was, those things comprise almost all of a child's experiences.

    It's also a parent's responsibility to find out what's going on in a child's life and try to find ways to shape their environment directly, by talking with teachers, parents of other students and friends, etc. The parents also play a huge role in determining how the kids perceive their environment even in situations out of the parents' control, and their subjective experience is precisely what molds them.

    Obviously, a parent can't pick and choose their child's personality, but I think you're downplaying the role of real parenting in a child's development.

  11. Bear in mind the above doesn't apply to parents who choose to let the television, school, and/or the childrens' friends do the parenting for them, beyond exercising their parental rights for "big" choices like which school to visit, etc. That's called a lack of parenting.

  12. “Parenting is more than influencing your child and making basic choices about things like school, family, etc. Even if that's all it was, those things comprise almost all of a child's experiences.”

    We were talking about something very specific Peter: personality traits, of which sociopathy is one (or, at least serves as a handy label for a suite of such traits) and whether or not parenting directly causes those traits. The evidence suggests that those traits are more than likely genetically caused rather than caused by parenting. In my last paragraph I gave only a few examples to demonstrate why parenting still matters, even if it doesn’t directly create traits. That’s it. Whatever else we can or can’t say about parenting in general is another subject entirely.

    “The parents also play a huge role in determining how the kids perceive their environment even in situations out of the parents' control, and their subjective experience is precisely what molds them.”

    Parents don’t determine how a child perceives his environment; the child does. That’s the way subjectivity works. The most direct way that a child’s subjective experience of his environment can be determined by a parent is through the genes. A child’s genetic inheritance will in turn create the type of brain and nervous system a child has, which in turn creates the child’s subjective experience.

    Again, to reiterate, I am not saying that parenting does not matter to the child’s over all development, as again, the last paragraph in my previous comment was all about. I am saying that personality traits are not amenable to direct parenting skills/methods or lack thereof. By personality traits, I refer to concepts like the Big 5 (conscientiousness, openness to experience, extraversion/introversion, agreeableness/aggressiveness, levels of neuroticism), intelligence, innate talent and the like.

  13. For any of you in doubt about the significance of parenting then check out the British tabloids, some seriously shocking case is splattered across every papers headlines!! Little sociopaths running rampage!! No guidance, no support, basically left to attempt murder twice...aged 9 and 10, they say the younger one was the worst. Obviously they had to have both been that way inclined (genetics. However i believe if they had been parented effectively they wouldn't (possiblely) be facing life in imprisonment at such a tender age. The father of the victim wants them hanged. Its hard not to agree actually.

  14. Tink, execution is always better than prison. A life sentence is extremely long torture, whereas execution doesn't involve much suffering at all.

  15. Not in British prisons anon lmao....they get tv, x boxes, 3 square meals, educational courses of their choice, etc, and completely new identities on the way out!! Its a nice long holiday. These lads actually wanted to be in prison for an easy tax free life. Those sent to prison in England have any easier life then most.

  16. I realise the conversation going on here is pretty old, but I'll chip in anyway!

    I think the debate about nature/nurture here is complicated by the fact that there's a distinction between a simple trait or psychiatric disorder, and exactly how that trait or disorder is expressed in an individual. Yes, genetics is probably the driving factor behind whether someone is a sociopath, an introvert, or whatever, but the "flavour" of their sociopathy or introversion will vary hugely from one individual to the next and is probably determined by a mixture of their developmental environment and their other personality traits. I'm not a sociopath, but I think I could have turned out to be pretty anti-social if I had been raised in a very different family. I am a bit "abnormal" in the way that my mind works, probably have ADHD with a touch of aspergersy traits, and had I been raised in a sociopathogenic environment I could have turned out to be a right little shit. As it was I had parents who encouraged my creativity, curiosity and reason, equipped me with a moral compass, and gave me no reason to dislike other human beings. I had a good education, friends who were generally a good influence - at least until I was a teenager, anyway ;) -, a good diet, and a comfortable life. I'm not saying it was perfect, but I was given a pretty good start in life. And yet I still probably have ADHD. Nothing that happened in my childhood could change that aspect of my brain function. Perhaps if my parents had realised what my problem was, and had been able to teach me ways to overcome my difficulties with self control, attention, organisation, etc, I would have even fewer obvious ADHD traits, but it wouldn't have "cured" it. As it is, I'm not an clear-cut case of ADHD - those who know me very well and know what ADHD really is would totally agree that's me, but to an outside observer I probably seem fairly normal, perhaps a little eccentric and disorganised, but not what people's stereotypical idea of someone with ADHD is. I can't get a diagnosis because I'm not abnormal enough to be sent for an assessment (I live in the UK where ADHD is not as widely diagnosed, particularly in adults). Your average doctor is only familiar with the extreme cases, the ones where something went wrong. It's pretty easy for something to go wrong in raising a child with any kind of disorder, though, since the normal rules of parenting don't always apply. A parent who isn't especially intelligent or skilled in dealing with difficult children, or who has their own challenges in life like poverty, addiction, or psychiatric disorder, is probably going to fuck up and raise someone who ends up in prison. Even with money, intelligence, "good" schooling etc, perfectly well meaning parents can still fuck up when they are raising a child they don't understand.

    One problem with scientific studies of the influence of parenting on a child is that you can't really isolate any causal factors, it's just a massive complicated web of interrelated variables. If you try to classify parenting styles or family environments for the purposes of measuring them, you lose most of the subtlety and ultimately fail to find patterns. Genetics, on the other hand, are much simpler. Not simple, granted, we now know there's nothing like a one-to-one relationship between genes and their effects for most things, but it's still a hell of a lot simpler than the tangled mess that is the human mind and human behaviour. Even trying to separate that from genetics is difficult, as you get things like a parent with the same genetic traits raising the child, which may amplify the traits in the child, thus making the effects of genes seem bigger.

    Nature vs nurture is one of those neverending debates that we'll probably never really know the answer to, as we humans are just too damn complicated.

  17. The key step to a parent raising a child with this problem is to openly accept it. Some parents are still in denial with their child's problem, which makes it harder for them to handle the situation. Next step is to learn what his / her condition is. Read books and attend seminars about this. Ignorance can cause serious relationship problems between the parent and the child.


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  19. My six year old is definately a sociopath. Yes he has asperger's but his father is a narcisisstic sociopath. He has been in jail for most of the boy's life. I'm sruggling to put my life back together after being locked up on a conspiracy charge for something my husband did. Sam Vaknin was right and I should have listened to him. Now my child is rebelling and acting out in the strangest wayss. He's starting to tell lies. He likes to pee in the living room. ??? My worst fear is that he will be damned to hell if he doesn't get it together.

    1. Aspies love everything in easy-to-understand formats. Try some visual aids and organized lists. Acronyms can be extremely helpful too.

      Most people on the spectrum do not produce enough melatonin to stay asleep at night, also. There are small pills and now meltaway versions for kids. Sleep deprivation will make anyone not think clearly. Weighted blankets have also proved helpful for many on the spectrum.

      When kids lie, it's disheartening to know they've reached that stage yet it does mean they're learning. Be consistent with him.

      Kids and aspies love consistency. It helps them feel safe and relax that constant anxious feeling.

  20. I am very interested in knowing how parents handle dealing with the adult child who is a great actor and disguises his sociopathy very well. My son has managed to pull the wool over the eyes of many family members and friends (including mine), and it was not until I invested my life savings into a "family" business with my son that I discovered he has no conscious. At the time of the investment I had no idea my son would screw it to me with no remorse. It's a horrible reality to discover late in life that your son is a sociopath and I wish I had never loved and trusted my son because he has changed my life forever leaving me with an enormous debt I can't repay. He clearly does not have a conscious and claims he has no trouble sleeping at night because I got what I deserved for taking a risk with him in the first place.

  21. Keep in mind that this article was written by a sociopath. So, lying is of course gonna be his advice. Definitely FIND OUT if there are sociopaths in our child's school.

  22. In North America a child 18 years of age or younger cannot be diagnosed a sociopath even when they are. My daughter was diagnosed as "Conduct Behaviour" when she was about 7 (after ongoing events including stabbing another child with a pencil) and around the time she was 15 was diagnosed as "Anti-Social Personality Disorder" which usually leads to Sociopath...at 18 of course. A child of 15 can decide not to continue with a therapist which they often will do because they don't think there is anything wrong with them and therapists often get in their way. Because these children can not be appropriately diagnosed both they and their families are left helpless in coping day to day with the challenges this mental condition creates for the child, the family and anyone else in contact with them. Many of these children reject anyone who doesn't let them have their own way or gives them full support so as they age they usually expel any family or friends who confront them with their abuses. They can be particularly dangerous because they are willing to say anything without thinking through consequences and as long as they are okay, will not know when to give up on a lie. They use others to validate themselves, playing as reasonable intelligent people or in need of protection because of such low self esteems while totally lying or worse will initiate an actual campaign against a good person that can be devastating to their target. In dealing with a sociopath and those that they seem to be able to recruit I would suggest two books - one is called "The Sociopath Next Door", it helped me understand my daughter will never be who I had hoped she would be because she simply lacks the wiring. It isn't her fault, she would not have chosen this but it is who she is and however my heart is reluctant to accept it, she is my daughter and I must accept her for who she is. The second book is called "The Empathy Trap, Understanding Antisocial Personalities". The second book helped me understand how it is that sociopaths are able to enlist others (often other family members) in their abuse or seemingly appear "normal" to individuals while the normal people appear "crazy". If you have sociopaths in your family you know exactly what I am talking about when I make this statement.

  23. Once your child is labeled in the system, your child is treated differently by teachers/admins/etc. Not "differently" in a good way either. Has anyone commenting here actually seen a special education classroom in a public school in the United States? It is a madhouse. How is anyone supposed to behave better when surrounded by screaming children who throw their papers/etc?

    A child with poor behavior was removed from his school district and placed in this rehabilitation program for troubled kids. If he proved his behavior was better, he could return. He behaved well for an entire year but still wasn't allowed back to his regular school district and likely never will be. I mean, seriously, what's the point of behaving well (for a year!) and getting punished? It makes sense this kid reverted back to bad behaviors. That IS his environment at school. He's just fitting in with his surroundings.

    If the person writing this article is a sociopath and recommending lying for your child, it's from their personal experience which I imagine is like this kid I've seen go through the system.

    If you do suspect your kid is a sociopath, save your monies for lawyers and special programs necessary through the school. Fighting the school system is a time-consuming nightmare. You'll need all the help you can get.


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