Some parents are asking themselves the question 'is my child a psychopath?' when their child is as young as 2 or 3 years of age. Even at this young age it's often very obvious to the adults that there is something seriously wrong because the child is already manipulative, emotionless and a bit scary.
Adult psychopaths don't just turn psychopathic overnight on their 18th birthday. There are lots of indicators from a young age that something is off. These signals can be subtle or quite obvious. It's typical of psychopaths that there are issues in many areas, not just one, and it's the same when they are children. (Psychopaths in jail are often proud of the fact that they are talented criminals in many areas and not just one!)
All the characteristics of the adult psychopath also show up in the child, but how they are expressed may be different. The expression may be different because of opportunity, benefit or experience.
Let's have a look at the 'psychopathic child' symptoms here. I use quotes because it is standard practice not to diagnose psychopathy until 18 years of age. Instead a diagnosis of Conduct Disorder is used. There are more details of this disorder here as well some ideas about callous and unemotional traits.
This is often the first thing that parents notice. The child is not affectionate from early on, and does not give kisses and hugs when you would expect the child to start doing so. Eye contact may be minimal or almost non existent.
This coldness and lack of emotion and empathy pervades everything. They never feel bad about anything they do which means they can do anything they like. They will often do cruel and nasty things just to see what the result is.
This may be cruelty to other humans and also to animals.
Children under one year have been reported to bite mother's nipple hard on purpose. It seemed that the children were more interested in watching the reaction of mother than the food aspect. It is chilling for mothers to think that a child so young could be calmly causing pain on purpose.
Cruelty to siblings is also common. Of course, it's frequent that siblings fight and hit each other, but the cruelty of children with conduct disorder and callous, unemotional traits is different. It is done in a calculated way, and the child will often watch with fascination the results. There is no empathy or remorse afterwards. The cruelty typically extends to other people outside the family, too.
Cruelty to animals is a particularly worrying feature. Many physically violent adult psychopaths have a history of cruelty to animals as children. McDonald's triad, or the tried of sociopathy or homicidal triad, includes cruelty to animals, fire-setting and bed wetting after 5 years of age. It is thought to be an indicator of future violent actions although some researchers doubt this.
It is thought that torturing or killing animals might be a way for the disordered child to dominate something weaker than itself and studies have shown that the adult psychopathic killers often used the same method of killing the humans as he or she did with the animals.
It is recognized that adult psychopaths often want instant gratification and pay little heed to any potentially negative consequences for their actions. The children are no different. Even if they know they that will be punished for something they will still go ahead and do it if they want to in that moment.
This can be very, very difficult to deal with for parents. No matter what they try, the child still does the bad behavior. It may seem to the parents that the child is not learning, or is stupid in some way, but nothing could be further from the truth. The psychopath knows the difference between right and wrong, they just don't care.
And something that is not written about much is that the 'child psychopath' will often deliberately provoke the parents by doing bad things. As the child develops and learns how to manipulate and control, it is common for them to taunt and torture the parents by doing stuff that they know upsets the parents. Then, when the parents respond by getting upset, the child blames and criticizes them for being upset.
For example, the young psychopath who torments a parent until the parent cannot tolerate any more and reaches out and slaps the child. Later the child complains about being physically abused. Never underestimate the damage that this tactic can do to a parent. It often leaves the parent feeling guilty, inadequate, responsible, frustrated, ashamed and many other things. And then the child uses this against the parent, often for years, making the parent upset all over again by reminding them of the so called physical violence, which may even have been a one off thing! This is a particularly nasty tactic of many psychopaths and if the children learn it early in life, they can have devastating results with it.
If the child is a psychopath in the making, you can expect lies. A flood of lies, an avalanche of lies. These children even lie when it would be better for them to tell the truth. But remember that they don't care about the consequences. In fact, if they are caught out in a lie, they simply change the story to try and make things fit.
Notice how these psychopath symptoms begin to stack up and play one into the other. This amplifies the effect of each and can lead to such horrific situations with the child that when the parents try and explain things to someone who does not understand psychopathy, the situation may seem so far fetched to them that they have difficulty believing it.
Because the child does not feel shame, guilt, fear, remorse or embarrassment, they are good liars. There are often none of the usual tell tale signs that exist when a normal feeling human being is telling a lie. It can be very difficult to know when the child is lying and the best idea is to assume that you cannot trust a word out of the child's mouth unless you have evidence from some other source that what they are saying is true.
Watch, also, what they say and what they do. Invariably you will find a mismatch.
What adult or teen psychopaths write about their experiences is quite enlightening. It is common for them to point out that as a child, it was quite easy to manipulate adults, which they may have been doing from the age of 2 or 3! They realize that the adults don't suspect the child of being a manipulator and this allows them to get away with a lot of things. They also write that it's often much easier to fool the adults than it is to fool the children of their own age.
They also note that as some point they realize (at least the good manipulators do) that they are not limited by emotions in the same way that other people are and this adds to their sense of superiority as well as gives them a huge advantage in terms of manipulating other peoples' emotions.
This is another big issue with this group. They believe that if they can take it, they deserve it. And not having any guilt, remorse or fear, they may steal just for the sake of it. Remember they are also impulsive, need stimulation and are risk takers, so stealing and other forms of breaking the law or breaking rules is fair game as far as they are concerned.
These children are often the leaders of gangs and may be bullies in school. They like to dominate and control others so gang leader is their chosen position in groups and if they can make others feel inferior, all the better.
They may not have the socializing emotions but they do have anger and rage. This is often used to bully the parents into giving them what they want. Remember that instant gratification thing? A major tantrum to get something minor is common with these children. And these tantrums can go on for a long time.
Like the adult psychopaths, the child psychopath often prefers to spend a long time manipulating someone into doing something for them rather than spending the 2 minutes it would take for them to do it themselves.
This is a very typical thing with the adult and child psychopaths. They are masters in the art of distorting and twisting things to blame and point the finger at others for things that go wrong. It's actually impressive at times how they can manage to do this.
Children often learn quickly to act charming and friendly to manipulate adults. It's often difficult for the adults to understand or accept how cold and calculating a psychopath can be in manipulating others and this difficulty is amplified when the 'psychopath' is 5 or 6 years old.
Like the adult psychopaths, children consider that social norms are for others and they prefer to make up their own rules. Of course, these rules can also change when it suits the child and this often makes it very difficult to deal with them.
Breaking the rules means there is often run ins with the law and even spells in detention centers or prison early in life.
The result of these characteristics means that many parents live in horror stories. Speaking about their characteristics as I have above does not do justice to the damage these children do and the terror they cause.
There are parents who have reinforced doors on their bedrooms to stop their children harming them or killing them during the night. There are parents who have seen their psychopathic child cut a sibling with scissors on purpose, push siblings off buildings on purpose and have witnessed the 'psychopath in the making' torment brothers and sisters for years, without being able to put a stop to it.
There are children with conduct disorder/psychopathic traits who have had child services investigate their parents over and over again. Others accuse their parents and family members of sexual abuse, they threaten family members at knife point, they physically beat brothers or sisters repeatedly, they break siblings bones, they kill the neighborhood animals, they rape other children, and they burn down family homes, hay barns, and factories. 7 year olds leave their houses and wander the neighborhood at night. 8 year olds steal cars and write them off. The list goes on and on.
Answering yes to the question 'is my child a psychopath?' has all sorts of ramifications. Being a parent to a child like this is devastating. Having such a sibling is terrifying. Even if the child is not wrecking the neighborhood, the damage they do in their own homes is profound.
There are all sorts of consequences for the parents. They often believe it's their fault that the child is this way. There is often a nagging doubt that if only they had done things differently, or treated the child differently, or said different things, the situation may have been better. (There is actually little you could have done!)
While the child is living at home with the parents, the parents lives are consumed with the antics of the child and there is little time or attention for anything else. The arguments, the abuse from the child, the humiliation and criticism from the child, at times it's all consuming. The parents become worn out, frustrated, depressed, anxious and often submissive, trying not to upset the monster they live with. But it doesn't matter what they do, or how hard they try, the abuse continues.
They may hate their child and then feel bad for having these feelings because society says that you should love your children. But society was not thinking of these types of children when it came up with it's rules.
And even when the child leaves home, the parents may feel relief, but the shame, the guilt and the fear that the child has used to control them for years does not disappear on it's own. These things have been installed with such strong influence techniques that it persists for years.
The parents may feel that they have lost years of their lives to the monster. There may be regret that they hadn't more time to spend with the more 'normal' siblings. There may be frustration, anger, rage even, grief, sorrow, and a whole range of emotions that persist after the departure of the manipulator. They may hope that the manipulator does not come back, and feel upset at thinking that.
All these things can actually be sorted out by learning about the subtleties of psychopathy and sociopathy as well as understanding the details of mind control and the influence techniques used by the manipulator. It's not always easy to undo the damage, but fully recovering from this is always worth it.
You can also read more about other difficulties in making a diagnosis of psychopathy/sociopathy...
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