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Sociopaths and Parenting (part 1)

This week I have to retract an earlier statement I made. I said there were no studies on sociopaths and their parenting behavior. Well, many of you will be happy to know that I didn’t give up and I have found some, finally. Because many out there need specific references and specific guidance, I am going to give you all the references I have found along with my analysis of the studies. I will also write letters to the authors, and try to form a consensus statement with them that can be used in custody proceedings.

According to a recent paper (Jan, 2007) published in Child Development, Cognitive and Parenting Pathways in the Transmission of Antisocial Behavior From Parents to Adolescents, authors Shannon J. Dogan, Rand D. Conger and their colleagues from The University of California at Davis discuss parenting practices that are more commonly displayed by sociopaths that contribute to the transmission of antisocial behavior patterns from parent to child. These behaviors that I will discuss in the coming weeks are:

1. Coercive family interactions
2. Parental hostility
3. Poor parental monitoring
4. Harsh and inconsistent discipline
5. Child/teen perceptions of parent antisocial behavior and substance abuse

Coercive family interactions

This week I will discuss coercive family interactions. To translate, these are the family interactions that train kids how to be dominant. These interactions also make dominance behavior more pleasurable for children. Since sociopaths and narcissists value dominance, they don’t have a problem with dominance behavior in children, especially when it is directed toward the other parent. These interactions occur in many families where children have excessive dominance behavior. They are more frequent in families where sociopathy, narcissism or mood disorders are present in the parents. Here is an example I observed in a family yesterday.

Dad is seated at the table talking with me about work issues. Four children play with balloons in the large room where our table is. The children’s balloon play gets out of hand and mother tries to set limits on it. She tells Tommy (age 8), “I told you to put those balloons away, I am going to count to five!” She counts to five and Tommy just stands there. He then says I’m keeping this balloon and makes two other very defiant statements to mother. All the while father says nothing. Mother, who had in the meanwhile managed to confiscate the balloon, gave it back to the child, who then sported a big grin. She banished the children to another room but, Tommy went willingly, having won back the balloon. Tommy clearly won the dominance struggle.

When children who are temperamentally dominant keep winning, it reinforces their dominant behavior. The two parts to coercive family interactions are: one, ineffective parental management of child dominance behavior, and two, reinforcement or reward of such behavior. In this situation the child only gains skills in using coercive behavior. Since these kids are so dominant, many instances of these kinds of interactions occur every day.

It is important to note that children who are like Tommy may do well in school, and may appear to have empathy. After I observed this interaction, I did say to Tommy’s father that I am concerned about his power-motivated behavior. Tommy’s father told me that Tommy’s teachers have remarked that Tommy is the first to show concern when others in the class are injured. Interestingly, earlier that morning, Tommy burned his sister’s (she is a little older) hand by opening a hot water faucet on it. I remarked to the father that perhaps he is concerned about pain in others unless he is the one that inflicts it. Our conversation was interrupted so I didn’t get an answer. The point I am making is that children who are dominant and defiant may not be identified as “disturbed.” But we know they are at risk to become sociopaths or narcissists. It is the level of sadism and poor impulse control that determines whether sociopathy or narcissism prevails.

In the next weeks, I will discuss the other parenting practices that are more common in sociopaths and narcissists that contribute to the transmission of these disorders.



7 Comments on "Sociopaths and Parenting (part 1)"

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  1. duped says:

    Thanks, Liane. This is a topic of great importance to me. I’ll be staying tuned in…

    What I wonder is, although there are studies that indicate an absent parent can cause damage, is it less or harder to manage than the damage caused by a sociopath or narcissistic parent that is present?



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  2. kmrobinson says:

    Liane:

    I am finding the older my son gets the more dominating and agressive he is towards me and others. His uncle (my brother) commented to me last evening that he will connive and manipulate to get his own way and will do things until I as the single parent just walk away.

    He and I decided last night after a full go round of this with my son, that he would spend a few nights a week with me to create a united front to put my son back in line.

    I stuck to my guns last night and it was unpleasant at best. But it was done. He is a good hearted boy who loves me but I worry how much of his father’s disease he has inherited.

    The more he is exposed to his father the more predominant these issues become. I cannot get the courts to see my son’s father’s mental instability and inabilities. I become the problem parent looking like I am trying to interfere with the “bonding” of father and son. Which, quite honestly, couldn’t be further from the truth. I would love my son to have the type of father that many of his friend’s have. I have gotten him into the Big Brother program so that he has a positive male role model in his life. But somehow there has to be an out with his father.



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  3. keeping_faith says:

    Liane,

    In my 2 year relationship with the XS/P, I witnessed some disturbing interactions with him and his adult daughters, 22 and 25.

    I sense that much of it came from years of what you discussed above. I didn’t witness the earlier interaction obviously, but heard form his sister that his x wfe was the “disciplinarian”. The girls were spiteful and destructive and verbally abusive. Their mother threatened. The XS/P only responded to let them have what it is they wanted anyway and walked away the hero. They were the dominant ones in the family. I suspect they witnessed much of the bad behavior, devaluing and discarding that occurred over the years and learned from that.

    As I spent a little time with them they had many discussions regarding each other and the past. The younger daughter for example, portraying her older sister as this highly intelligent young girl, (and she is), who lacked a “social filter”. yet privately, she told me that when in a room with her older sister, she felt as if she sucked out all the air and she could not breath.

    Their father overindulged them and spent much of his time defending what I would call innappropriate and bad behavior. He tells a story of when his older daughter was in middle school she despised a teacher, and decided she was going to defy a request to stand for the pledge of allegience. The teacher demanded that she stand and the family went to great lengths to get an attorney and defend her right to not stand in class to honor her flag. Just a small example. He also talked about how proud he was of her because she beat up a boy for picking on her little sister.

    As adults, I witnessed over two years of manipulation, threats, constant conversation of inappropriate detailed things regarding intimacies about sex. On one occassion the older daughter had been publicly rude to me, then went on to hang on her father and kiss him on the lips, with her arms around his neck for a long time. Each time I walked away she ran to him and hung onto his arm walking him from room to room, turning her back on me. I thought this to be odd since she was an adult yet he felt she was a little jealous of me. Yet when we would have an arguement or a discussion about her inappropriate behavior in public, he would accuse me of being jealous of his daughter, who was pierced, tatooed, socially inappropriate, and incapable of any REAL independence.

    As he was divorcing his x wife, his older daughter would call him and complain about not giving her and her mother enough in the divorce (keeping in mind she was engaged and living with her fiance) and at one point he said she was “negotiating” with her mother for him. I told him it was probably inappropriate considering her emotional involvement. But I think it was a manipulation tactic on his part to keep her tied to him and feel valuable to him as though he was taking her advice. In the end when her mother didn’t get as much as the daughter wanted, there was a huge family fight in a parking lot a year and a half later, STILL discussing these issues with his daughter. He often talked about how when he would argue with his wife, he would leave the house for hours and his daughter would always come after him amd “make it right”.

    He often told me that his older daughter gave him advise on his sex life.

    There was so much dysfunction in this family and I tried to look at this openly, thinking everyone manages their families differently….. but this was all too bizarre. He could not say no to these adults who obviously were not emotionally mature enough to care for themselves. The younger daughter was more inclined to have a tantrum in a store and accuse him of things as she loaded up her arms with clothing.

    I was so warped by the craziness of a relationship with this manipulative, pathalogically lying sociopath that I actually started to question whether I was jealous of their relationship. I considered my relationship with my dad at 25. I had graduated from college, which my parents did not finance for me, let alone pay my parking tickets and overdue electric bills….. In fact, I had not asked them for money from the time I was 16. I was married and on my own and as much as I loved my father would never be so physical with him. In addition, I speak to my dad once a week or more, not five times a day. I never did.

    Can you speak to the result of these adults who have probably witness this sociopathic behavior all their lives? This woman got married but only for a short time, accusing her new husband of being an alcoholic. I don’t believe for a moment that is true. I think she could not get him to be her father. I think she too is addicted to this bad behavior and cannot live without it.

    I don’t know how much his family really knows about his lies and affairs, but I can’t imagine they didn’t find out all that I had learned, unless they just turned their heads. What are your thoughts?



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  4. OxDrover says:

    Wow! Another “older thread” I missed! Glad you guys are bringing these things up.

    Looking back on my parenting OF a psychopathic child, and me not recognizing his “first” sign (a theft at age 11 that he denied and denied even with evidence and other people in the room that made it undeniable) and then his running away after he was punished for the LYING about it. When he was dragged home (after being found 7 miles away from home) he looked me in the eye and said “You can’t watch me 24/7 and I will run away again.” I knew he was right and I ended up “trumping his ace” in the game of dominance.

    That was 26 years ago, and he is STILL PISSED about my “win” on that one.

    When he was 17 and I had caught him with an apartment full of computer equipement he had stolen from our friend’s business (and shut that business DOWN) I called the police, and he is STILL ENRAGED at me over that one too. 20 years later.

    DOMINANCE is definitely the name of the game with psychopaths, and by age 11 he had determined that no one, especially ME would be dominant over him. He hid that pretty well after I “trumped his ace” about his threat to run away for a while, a few years, but when he reached puberty he became openly definant, and totally definant.

    It was to the point that if I said “go south” he would “go north” just to show me that he WOULD NOT in any way let me influence him in any way. We call that “cutting off your nose to spite your face” because every time he defied me, he ended up in trouble. BUT, they do not learn from consequences, and do not accept responsibility for the consequences so it was always “my fault” that he ended up in prison as a career criminal who had advanced to murder by age 20.

    Interesting article, even from the point of view of the person parenting a child who is a psychopath-to-be.



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  5. Rune says:

    Hmmmm. For those of you checking in on this thread, I recommend you cross-reference with later comments on Steve Becker’s blog, “The single most important signifier . . .”

    OxDrover — you point out the POINTLESSNESS of the behavior. Yes, the willingness to cut off their own noses to spite others . . . this is not about greed or exploitation, except in some pretzel logic. I think that’s part of what makes it so hard to name and see.



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  6. keeping_faith says:

    OxDrover,

    I am still baffled by the behavior of the daughter’s. Does this seem fairly stereotypical to you? I can’t even begin to tell you the stories of the drama over the smallest things. Trips cancelled because his daughter didn’t want me around….. younger daughter crying hysterically because he and I were away together without her…..the blame, the hatred, the control and manipulation…..

    Rune, the illogical behavior just amazes me. I think it carried over to the daughters as well. His overindulgence then disregard when he didn’t get his way…… they did it to each other constantly. I could not understand why they didn’t want me near him. When he started sleeping with the woman 18 yrs younger who was an x stripper with no job, he used to leave messages telling me his daughters hated me and loved her…..welll duh….. I don’t think they care one way or another, as long as it doesn’t interfere with their manipulation of him and vice versa…… does that make sense or am I off base?



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  7. Rune says:

    Yes, Keeping faith, you see the daughters manipulating you through their apparent jealousy (or whatever the guy said it was) and their drama — and isn’t that learned behavior, as the S trained them? When he said “give them what they want” wasn’t he training them to manipulate and leech? And remember, anything you heard from a pathological liar is probably a lie!

    As Liane points out in her books, the sociopathic behavior develops from a genetic component and a learned component. I believe these people enjoy converting others to their behavior patterns, and I’m sure he enjoyed your pain as he used them to hurt and manipulate you.



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