Psychopaths tend to be sexually promiscuous. They often have numerous short term romantic relationships and indiscriminant sexual encounters throughout their lives. Further, they commonly engage carelessly and recklessly, without regard for consequences. This, unfortunately, often leaves trails of children behind in their wakes.
Psychopaths do not make good parents. They may be able to create the children, but do not have the ability to effectively parent. Frequently, they fail to properly provide for these children in most ways, as they are unusually focused on themselves, their own wants and needs, and often driven to act in anger and revenge. This is true, independent of whether or not they are involved with the other parent. (Although, it is worth mentioning that it may not seem as such in cases where they are still “wearing their masks.”)
They view their children as possessions or objects. The children are not protected by the loving bonds of parenthood, because psychopaths are not capable of genuine, unconditional love. No healthy emotional bonds exist either. Parenthood takes on a whole new meaning when a psychopathic parent is involved and it is not positive. While relationships may occur, and in some cases, may even span the course of lifetimes, they are always dysfunctional and potentially dangerous. This harm can be perpetrated in many ways. Acknowledging this as fact is important. Yet, this truth is often misunderstood by many involved.
The children of psychopaths are often as confused as the rest of the population regarding the behaviors. Some definitely achieve an awareness of the emotional disconnects and rage, even at very young ages, and have great fear, depending on what they have endured. This group may not want to interact with the parent. Others understand less, especially ones who were abandoned early in life and are less familiar with the actual traits and behaviors of the psychopathic parent. All are at risk, however, even as adults.
Some children (adult or otherwise) may recognize that things are “off,” but don’t know what to do with the information, are unable to articulate it, or choose to minimize the strange behaviors. Others may seek further approval from the parent, yearning for love and attention. Young children, who do not have other, outside life experiences to compare, may find the behaviors disturbing, but “normal,” as the psychopathic parent may be all they know.
Regardless, there is a lot occurring that is incredibly dysfunctional when a psychopathic parent is involved. They may operate very differently with various family members, but all of their behaviors are jaded by their own interests and agendas, not those of the children.
Psychopathic parents commonly play favorites with their children. They position them, as they would anyone or anything else. Their motives may be somewhat complex or very basic, but the reasons are not related to the care and well being of their offspring – ever. Also, a child’s spot in this twisted hierarchy is not guaranteed, and may whimsically change, depending on how “satisfied” the psychopathic parent is with the child at any given moment. Security, which plays a critical role in healthy child development, is non-existent.
An example may look something like this, remembering that not all will look the same; a “golden child” or children, as well as a “target child” or children. Additionally, there may be others (who may be less useful to the psychopath) who tend to be more or less forgotten about. They may feel that there is little to gain from interactions with these children. In some cases, it is possible that the psychopaths recognize their similarly afflicted children, and distance themselves. Could this be a “protective” measure, in an attempt to perpetuate “their kind?” Could it be that they are less fun to manipulate and harm or irritate? There are many theories and various schools of thought on why this is, some of with which I agree, others which I do not. In this article, I will focus on first two categories.
What does all of this mean to the children? Regardless of position, the answer is usually distress and some type of harm; physical, emotional, psychological, or otherwise. None of these positions is desirable for any child of any age.
The target child or children
A child on the receiving end of a psychopathic parent’s wrath is in a precarious place. This child or group of children may be targeted for a multitude of reasons.
In many cases, the targeted children are psychologically quite normal and require discrediting by the psychopath. They may have the psychopath figured out. Or, they may be the children of the parent that the psychopath harbors the most hatred for or resentment toward. In some cases, these children bear the brunt of the psychopath’s anger and wild, abusive, neglectful, and manipulative behaviors.
Regardless of age, this group is lied to and about. The psychopathic parent also tends to blame them and/or their normal parent for almost everything that is wrong in the psychopathic parent’s life. This may cause guilt or anger in the target child, depending on the circumstances.
In essence, the psychopathic parent sees this group as a significant liability and/or objects of sadistic pleasure. These children are also the ones who tend to become the pawns in the psychopathic parent’s games of “payback” with the non-psychopathic parent. Although, a confusing, dangerous, and potentially frustrating place for a child to be, it’s relatively simple to understand, once alerted to the behaviors.
The golden child or children
The plight of the “golden child” is much more complex. It’s a larger scale manipulation because the psychopath must remain undercover. Naturally, the position of “golden child” has to do with the psychopath, not the child, and what they feel the child has to offer them. The golden child may fall anywhere in the birth and relationship order.
The psychopaths may recognize that they need to have at least one child on their side, as many others may be estranged. Even psychopaths come realize their mortality (sort of) and may desire some type of “insurance” that they will always have at least one relation at their beck and call, for either physical or financial support as they age. It is also possible that they need a “partner in crime,” or “cover” in order to appear normal. Perhaps they need a “buddy.” The reasons vary. One thing that does not change, however, is that their “caring” and positive affect is not genuine. Conversely, it is harmful.
“Golden children” are sometimes gullible in many respects, which may be what influenced the psychopaths’ selections in the first place. The children are not at fault for this. This group typically believes that the parent cares for them. They are easy targets, as they are often ones who did not grow up in frequent, direct contact with the psychopathic parent. Or, they did and are under their manipulative influences.
In cases where psychopaths are attempting to “mend” relationships, that they claim were estranged due to the actions of an outside force, they will only try this with children they know fail to understand the affliction. If the child’s personality is forgiving and he or she does not seek greater understanding, taking most behaviors at face value and accepting excuses, the child will fall, hook, line, and sinker.
Yet somewhere, the child probably has or had an idea of the parent’s true nature. They choose to overlook what they know. They want to believe that they are important to this parent, so they cast reality aside. Additionally, it is important to remember that psychopaths “lovebomb” their children too. This feels good and makes the child feel special, especially if they are held in comparison to the targets.
If the child hears and gets what he wants from the parent, the child will invest in the “relationship.” The child’s investment will be genuine, but the psychopath’s never will be. When the children are older and have fewer interactions with this parent, the psychopath’s work is considerably easier. Superficial relations are easier to maintain.
If other disordered individuals or enablers surround the psychopathic parent and fuel their assertions, the expectation should be that the manipulations will occur at a greater rate or to a pronounced degree. Sadly, the child or children may not understand, which will eventually lead to even greater disappointment and confusion.
Significant dissonance will occur when the words and the actions of the parent really don’t match. In time, the child will hopefully come to understand what he already knew. With no ability to maintain rewarding relationships, just simply knowing what to do, say, or offer the child materially, will not mask the emotional disconnection. Even when “emotions” are displayed, the normal child should eventually piece the problems together and acknowledge the reality.
At that point, he or she may ask the same questions and search for the same answers as every other person the psychopath has drawn close. It is , indeed, an unfortunate position to be in.
Which is worse?
Neither is good. However, although the target children may wish that things were completely different, at least members of this group know where they stand. They have the ability to rectify what is and move forward in a healthy fashion.
The golden children will have to live and learn, which will, inevitably, come to take its toll. They cannot fill the empty places, because they cannot define what the voids are or why they exist. The pedestal can be a very lonely place, when the motives for their placement are sinister. With the words that mean nothing, the lies and blame regarding the decent, and the feigned affect void of meaning, the golden children truly are left chasing ghosts.
Children of psychopathy have obstacles to overcome regardless of the scenario. Again, education and awareness at all levels – mental health, legal, and within the families themselves -will be what helps to decide the outcomes of those in this position.
Look for future information on children of psychopathy. Dr. Liane Leedom, M.D. and I have two research articles, currently in press, which will continue to shed light on this very important topic. We are both excited to begin sharing our findings shortly.