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My Son, the Psychopath – Interview with Anonymous

By Carrie Barron, M.D.

One of the most heartbreaking situations is when a child develops callous and unemotional traits and commits cruel acts towards others–and their parents are automatically blamed. 

While biological and environmental factors interact when it comes to children’s development, there can be forces beyond a parent’s control. Genetic and brain differences are seen in psychopathic people and callous and unemotional children. Whereas one abused child might become an abuser, another might become an exceptionally sensitive person who has a great capacity to care for others.   

Years ago, I wrote a blog post about a young man who murdered his father for decreasing his allowance. By all accounts, this parent was giving and caring. Though we never know what goes on behind closed doors, it is useful to consider that parents can be victims too. It is not uncommon for a parent to report being threatened physically by their children with guns or knives or other weapons. To assign blame to a parent who may be the biggest victim of all, is not helpful to the child or anyone else. (Parents tend to blame themselves anyway!)

People who have callous or violent children, and have tried every means of limit-setting, loving, and therapy are often accused rather than supported. These parents deserve insight, compassion, witnessing, and validation of their experiences. For the sake of their other loved ones, their goals, and their own life, these parents may need to make choices to protect themselves. This may mean enforcing boundaries, from setting limits to no contact.  

Taking a rigorous inventory of the self and reflecting upon one’s role in an interpersonal conflict is always useful. Sometimes, it is your doing, at least in part. And sometimes, it really isn’t. As therapists, we cannot assume that a troubled child is troubled because of neglectful or abusive parenting. 

The following is an interview with a parent of a psychopathic child:

When my younger son was three years old, he was more difficult than average. Not violent, but very negative, hard to please, angry a lot, accusatory and hostile. He was an attractive little child, very physically attractive–beautiful–which obscured how difficult he was. He was callous and unemotional. He’d never jump in my lap, never cared to go home, didn’t miss me or want me. My other child would run toward me and that is how I knew what it felt like, how it was supposed to feel.  

His attachment didn’t seem normal.  There wasn’t one. Growing up, he was cold, hostile. He lied easily and often. He yelled. Threw plates. I prepared meals and he’d say they were disgusting. I was so scared of him. Once we were at a health club. I fear getting germs, getting infected and I am careful about my body. He accused me of getting someone else infected by leaving my bathing suit on a bench in the changing room. It was just a weird little jolt. It doesn’t seem like much, but he’d find a way to rattle you, as if he has an instinct for exactly how to hurt you in the worst way.   My older child did things like give a crying baby his pacifier. Put back the dirt that fell out of a plant in the kitchen when I spilled it.  He was just born that way.  My younger son never did his homework, didn’t care about being grounded. He left the house and did drugs. He even started dealing drugs when he was 14.  My husband and I could not set any limit that mattered to him. He just didn’t care. He wouldn’t go to class or soccer, or practice his oboe. Even though he was good at all these things! Maybe not at academics, although he is smart. The school would call.  They assumed we could control him, stop him, do something about it. I got in touch with a top therapist at a top university. She wanted to know why I did not understand the suffering of my child. She did more harm than good.

Thing is, my son got into decent colleges (with a conditional first year) because of his gifts. He ended up being hospitalized for drinking, vandalizing property, and punching another student.  I was afraid for him to come home after he was released. In high school he had threatened to kill us. I couldn’t sleep at night. I thought about having a gun by my bed. Once he showed up with a gift of food and I was afraid to eat it. I wondered if he thought poisoning us was the easiest way to get access our money. He is afraid I will write him out of my will. I threw it out. (The food.)  Sometimes I wanted to die. Sometimes I wanted him to die.  

The worst thing was that he accused other people of things. He accused a teacher and a therapist of molesting him.  It was investigated and it never happened. He delighted in lying.    For fun? Power? Just to destroy?  It is one of the most damaging things you can do to someone, a false accusation. A neighbor told me my son had accused my husband of abusing him (this was 10 years ago, and he just told me) but he could tell that he was lying so he never reported it. I think this guy was an FBI agent, trained. At my university you are supposed to report it if someone says that they were abused.  Even if it happened in when they were four years old.  Does anyone ever consider the pathology of the accuser? That a person could be driven to destroy others and get some kind of delight out of it? A false accusation can be devastating to a life. One is scarred, regardless.

Any person terrorized by a psychopathic person, parent or child, sibling or spouse, needs care.  The intimate associates of people with psychopathy suffer a unique form of anxiety, depression, despair, and trauma. They can lose hope and feel utterly alone because it can be so hard for others to grasp what they experience. It can be difficult for them to find help. 

We need to do better as professionals at identifying their unique trauma and establishing effective ways to treat it, even if it means challenging cultural assumptions about parenting and family ties. 

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