Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t been writing for Lovefraud as regularly over the last year. The reason is I have been working to get a research program off the ground. Objective scientific research on psychopathy and the family will inform a better understanding of the disorder and educate professionals about the needs of victims and family members. In a very exciting and lucky turn of events, an expert in “mixed methods” research has an office down the hall from mine at the University of Bridgeport, and l have recently learned a great deal about how to conduct this kind of research.
I have long appreciated that the usual mathematical approach to psychological research does not seem to illuminate the disorder psychopathy and its effects on the family. I am not the first to suggest this as a researcher. Kirkman used methods termed “qualitative” to study the impact of partner psychopathy on women. Researchers using qualitative methods can gain an appreciation for the actual experiences of victims. In mixed methods research, qualitative approaches and traditional quantitative approaches are combined to get the big picture of a phenomenon—exactly what we need here.
One way to perform a qualitative study is to review literature about a topic. So to cover the topic of psychopathy in parents as thoroughly as possible, I am going to review every book I can find written by an adult son or daughter of a psychopath/sociopath. As I finish the reviews, I’ll share my impressions with you. If you know of any such books, please comment so I can order and read them.
Books written by adult sons and daughters of psychopaths
The first of four books on my list so far is Evil Eyes: A daughter’s memoir by Cherylann Thomas. I already wrote a brief review of this book for Amazon.com and gave it 5 stars. Please everyone who reads this review go to Amazon and buy the book, or go to Google Books to download the ebook. It is important to support these authors by purchasing and taking the time to read their books. I took many pages of notes as I read the book and will share some of my impressions with you.
I only found one mistake in the book, but the mistake is cute and relatively harmless. For some reason it gave me a bit of a chuckle and made me feel a sense of fondness for Cherylann. She is not a mental health professional but actually does an excellent job of explaining the difference between “malignant narcissism” and “psychopathy.” In so doing she credits Sam Vaknin, a psychopath and self-described “malignant narcissist,” with coming up with the phrase “malignant narcissism.” While I am sure Sam would love to take the credit for this term, it was actually Psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg, M.D., who coined the phrase and developed a theory linking malignant narcissism to the cause of psychopathy.
Cherylann points out that psychopaths are more impulsive than malignant narcissists and are less able to pretend to conform to society’s rules or portray a mask of normalcy. This idea is in agreement with Kernberg’s writing. She also states that she believes psychopaths hurt people on purpose for the sheer enjoyment of it, whereas malignant narcissists’ abuse is more a consequence of their selfishness. Although this thought is also in agreement with Kernberg’s writing, it might be important for the author to hold this view because she asserts that her father was a psychopath and her mother was a malignant narcissist (perhaps mother was not as evil?). Though by her many descriptions, it sure appeared to me that Cherlyann’s mother enjoyed the abuse she inflicted, and abused with the same malice and forethought that I would attribute to a psychopath.
What happens to children who have psychopathic parents?
Cherylann’s book describes the consequences of growing up with psychopathic parents as follows:
1. Children grow up never being loved and so come to believe they are unlovable.
2. Children internalize the abusive messages they receive and these become self-fulfilling prophesies.
3. The lack of socialization leads to poor impulse control and impulsive antisocial behavior that leads to guilt and more self-doubt/hatred.
4. There is an ever present feeling of sadness, guilt, self-doubt and shame.
5. Items 1-4 lead to suicidal ideation and attempts.
Cherylann correctly identifies that adult children of psychopaths suffer with emotional and psychological pain that does not fit neatly into diagnostic categories and that may not be that amenable to medication.
In reading between the lines of the book I also perceived that although Cherylann is a loving, caring person, and so was spared the genetic curse that leads to an inability to love, she does have temperamental traits that we see in children who carry genetic risk. These traits are not necessarily pathological. Reading the book, one gets a sense of inner restlessness, relative fearlessness and excitement seeking. Cherylann is a world traveler who seeks to get to know and connect with a wide variety of people sometimes to her own detriment.
A tendency toward substance abuse was present in most of the family and the severity of the substance abuse seemed connected to the severity of the psychopathy.
Most of the themes of the book are related to self and family experiences as listed below, these were the most important. However I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the frustration the author expressed with the psychiatric profession and its non-recognition of the needs of children of psychopaths. I share her sense of frustration and am also embarrassed by the perception that psychiatry is about pushing pills and making money for pharmaceutical companies.
Important themes related to family and self
The theme of desire for family connection was present throughout the book. Over and over, Cherylann reaches out to and connects with many members of her family who have psychopathic traits. The end result is usually some painful situation but before the pain, there is a sense of connection that seems significant and important to the author. Cherylann says in at least two places that the only way to deal with a psychopath/sociopath is to have no contact, however, she also demonstrates to us that this is easier said than done.
Related to the theme of family connection, the theme of a need to forgive the psychopathic parents was articulated many times throughout the book. A point I found very interesting was that the author had a fondness for her psychopathic father that she did not have for her psychopathic mother. This was due to the father being “absent” and not as emotionally abusive. Her psychopathic father was also fun and charming (as opposed to cold and mean to her the way her mother was). Cherylann’s experience with him differed from that of her half siblings who spent more time with him, and who were directly abused by him. It therefore seems important to reflect on each son’s or daughter’s individual experience with the psychopathic parent.
Also related to family connection, Cherylann provided many pictures of her family in the middle of her story. I was struck by the appearance of normalcy in everyone. The author also stated that her mother’s terrible psychological abuse was a family secret. I would call this theme, therefore, normalcy/secrecy.
The theme of finding meaning and spirituality was also present throughout the book. I found her search for meaning in suffering personally inspiring.
The theme of habitually encountering non-familial psychopaths was present to the extent that, while reading the book, I felt surrounded by psychopaths. Many survivors have reported this same experience to me.
The theme of clinging to loving connections as a way to bring meaning and continuity to self was present. Through motherhood and grand-motherhood, Cheryl felt anchored to this world and to her true self.
The theme of connecting with others who share the same suffering was present. Helping others further brings a feeling of continuity and wholeness to self and gives meaning and purpose to life.
Thank you very much Cherylann, this was a great contribution to our understanding. Today’s children of psychopathic parents will be protected when yesterday’s children who are now adults speak out about their experiences.
Again please read the book and comment if you believe I missed an important theme.