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The Impact of Psychopathy on the Family

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Abstract Psychopathy is the amalgamation of personality disorder traits associated with criminal and other antisocial behavior. Although current theory postulates that psychopathic individuals do not form lasting bonds with others, this chapter provides ample evidence that psychopathic individuals are highly social and maintain ties over years. Psychopathic individuals have relationships with friends, co-workers, relatives, siblings, parents, romantic partners, and children. These relationships serve their social and material needs. This chapter presents all available studies to date on the friendship, filial, sibling, partnering, and parenting behavior of psychopathic individuals. The impact of psychopathic individuals on organizational and family functioning is also addressed. Keywords: antisocial personality disorder, psychopathy, coercive control, intimate partner violence, child abuse, intergenerational transmission, parenting
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The Impact of Psychopathy on the Family
Liane J. Leedom
Additional information is available at the end of the chapter
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© 2017 The Author(s). Licensee InTech. This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons
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distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Provisional chapter
© 2016 The Author(s). Licensee InTech. This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons
Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution,
and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.70227
The Impact of Psychopathy on the Family
Liane J. Leedom
Additional information is available at the end of the chapter
Abstract
Psychopathy is the amalgamation of personality disorder traits associated with crimi-
nal and other antisocial behavior. Although current theory postulates that psycho-
pathic individuals do not form lasting bonds with others, this chapter provides ample
evidence that psychopathic individuals are highly social and maintain ties over years.
Psychopathic individuals have relationships with friends, co-workers, relatives, siblings,
parents, romantic partners, and children. These relationships serve their social and mate-

sibling, partnering, and parenting behavior of psychopathic individuals. The impact of
psychopathic individuals on organizational and family functioning is also addressed.
Keywords: antisocial personality disorder, psychopathy, coercive control, intimate partner
violence, child abuse, intergenerational transmission, parenting
1. Introduction: psychopathy a family problem
The belief that psychopathic individuals do not form lasting bonds with others [1], argu-
ments over nomenclature1  
study of psychopathy and the family. Although the connection between psychopathy and
crime perpetration is well-documented, rate of victimization of friends and relatives is
unknown [2, 3-
ject of epidemiologic investigations; however, the connection between familial victimization
The term psychopathy is used in this chapter to refer to a disorder that is dimensional. This chapter does not distinguish
   
   
refer to a person with psychopathy. So-called “narcissists” described by lay people victimize others and manifest the

the “successful psychopaths” described in the research literature.
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Psychopathy2
and symptoms of psychopathy in perpetrators is not established. If psychopathy is indeed
the Unied Theory of Crime [4], risk for family and friend victimization likely increases lin-
early or perhaps exponentially with symptoms of the disorder. Two recent handbooks
regarding psychopathy and law have chapters outlining family psychopathy and its legal
consequences, but lile data are presented in them [5, 6]. None of the most authoritative
edited academic books regarding psychopathy published between 2001 and 2015 contains
any discussion on the impact of psychopathic individuals on their family members and
friends [7–11]. In this chapter, case vignees and a comprehensive overview of available
quantitative and qualitative studies are presented to motivate and provide a framework for
further investigation.
Cleckley mentioned the plight of numerous family members in 15 case studies he presented in
The Mask of Sanity (Table 1) [12]. Although Cleckley’s writing is over 60 years old, descriptions
of psychopathic individuals’ relationships have not changed. One recent edited book [13]
details the initial evaluation of “Frank” an individual with psychopathic traits. Like Cleckley,
the evaluating clinician obtained history from family members when Frank himself was not
forthcoming with information. The psychosocial history described Frank’s victimization of
family members including his younger brother, maternal aunt, maternal grandparents, two
cousins, pets, lifelong friend, and wife. Frank’s case illustrates the extent to which community
clinicians rely on family members when evaluating and treating individuals with psychopa-
thy [14]. The impact of psychopathic individuals on family members is thus well known to
clinicians who have heard numerous detailed accounts of victimization during history taking.
Clinicians are also aware of psychopathy when there is a co-occurring substance use disorder.
Co-occurring substance use disorders, gambling, and “sex addiction” place additional stress
on the family, above and beyond that caused by psychopathy.
The plight of family members of psychopathic individuals (a predominant theme in 14/15 cases reported in
Cleckley’s Mask of Sanity)
Family relationship Hardship endured
Parents Regarding “Walter’s” father, “His grief and shame seemed almost,
but not quite too much for him”
Regarding “Roberta,” “such conduct of course suggests she might
have been deliberately trying to hurt her parents”
“Stanley’s” mother is quoted, “…and it’s just killing us, all the things
he does”
Siblings “Jack’s” story, “In time he became an all but unbearable burden on
the other members of his family (4 siblings)”
Spouses Spouses are described in 9 cases, suering desertion, nancial abuse,
indelity and assault (2 cases)
Children Children are only mentioned in two cases and no details are given
regarding parenting behavior
Table 1. Family members in 14/15 cases detailed in Cleckley’s Mask of Sanity.
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The Impact of Psychopathy on the Family 3
Although epidemiologic data are lacking, it is possible to estimate the scope of the problem
of family psychopathy using data from “Frank” and the United States Census as a model.
The prevalence of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) is about 4% of the adult popula-
tion [15] and severe psychopathy may be 0.06% [16]; there are 219,726,708 adults between
18 and 65 years in the USA [17]. Hence, there are an estimated 8.8 million individuals with
ASPD including 1.3 million with severe psychopathy. If Frank is typical of those with mod-
erate psychopathy and each person with ASPD adversely aects eight close others, then the
public health problem of psychopathy may impact 70.4 million Americans or nearly a third
of the adult population. Given the familial nature of personality and related disorders, many
impacted individuals also have their own psychiatric morbidity, and many families are cop-
ing with more than one psychopathic individual [18].
2. Psychopathic sons/daughters: coercion starts early
To coerce means to compel or force another to comply. Coercive behavior reects reactance
and a motive to dominate others; it is a tool for obtaining control over resources and other
people [19, 20]. Paerson identied “coercive family interactions” that occur in the families
of children and teens with the externalizing disorders that are precursors to adult psychopa-
thy. He hypothesized that children learn coercion tactics early in life because such tactics
are an eective strategy for the procurement of reinforcers. Strong dominance motivation
facilitates learning of coercive tactics because dominant individuals are sensitive to reward
[19]. Coercion is associated with negative emotions—trait anger and irritability (these often
accompany trait dominance motivation [19]). According to Paerson, “It is the paerned irri-
table exchanges between the problem child, his mother, and his siblings that dene the ‘basic
training’ for coercion” [21]. Paerson brilliantly observed that not only is the problem child
trained in coercion during these family interactions, but also parents are trained to submit to
the child who uses coercive tactics: the externalizing child asks for something; parent refuses,
child then escalates his/her demands until the parent submits. The dierence between nor-
mative and problem children is that the former are not excessively driven to dominate their
parents and problem children are not hampered in their demands by the presence of empathy
[22]. Because problem children are decient in (or dissociate from) emotional empathy, they
are not concerned that their behavior distresses their parents.
Children’s coercive behavior and lack of rewarding child-parent interaction has negative
eects on parents’ aributions and behavior [23]. Parents of problem children are more likely
to view the motives of their children as malevolent. Negative parenting behavior results from
the impact of the child’s externalizing disorder on the parent; it is not necessarily the sole
cause of the problem child’s behavior. Because problem children emotionally drain their par-
ents, they are robbed of the opportunity to learn enjoyment of aection and empathy in their
relationships with them. Studies of the causes of psychopathy reveal that genes contribute
about half of the risk; the rest of the risk primarily comes from a child’s unique environment
[24]. Therefore, the dysfunctional relationships between problem children and their parents
are likely to be important to developmental continuity of disorder. Treatment of externalizing
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Psychopathy4
children involves helping parents break the cycle of coercion and negativity, and cultivate
aectionate interactions [25, 26].
While some parents of children with externalizing disorders also have psychopathic traits,
many do not. These unaected parents suer a great deal trying to meet the needs of their
disordered children who age to maturity but often are not independent (Table 1). Parents con-
tinue to give care and may be subjected to parasitism and abuse [12, 14]. In my work, I have
interviewed many mothers and fathers who partnered and had children with psychopathic
men and women. I discovered that when the children from these relationships develop psy-
chopathy, it becomes impossible for these parents to escape the victimization experience that
began with their psychopathic partner. In middle adulthood, they nd that the life-energy
expended parenting was spent on a child who now preys on others and is unable to assume
adult roles. The golden years many dreamt of living, with grandchildren and mature relation-
ships with adult sons and daughters are fraught with loneliness and stress.
3. Psychopathic siblings
Most children in Western countries have at least one sibling, therefore most psychopathic
individuals have a sibling [27, 28]. Sibling abuse is the most common form of domestic abuse
[29], and sibling sexual abuse is the most common form of familial sexual abuse [30]. Sibling
violence reects risk for violent behavior generally and hence may point to psychopathic
traits [31]. Sibling assault leading to injury is linked to psychopathy [31]. Despite these sta-
tistics, the impact of children with externalizing disorders on their siblings and the extent to
which sibling abuse is associated with morbidity in either perpetrators or victims is not well
documented. Paerson [32], and his group described two ways older siblings increase risk
for antisocial behavior in younger siblings. First, externalizing children train their siblings in
coercion. This training results from both imitation of coercive interactions with parents and
from direct practice in coercive behavior during sibling conict. Second, externalizing sib-
lings recruit their younger brothers and sisters into antisocial activities (Table 2) [33].
One study directly examined dyadic interactions between antisocial teens and a same sex
sibling, friend, and romantic partner during problem-solving tasks. Negative dyadic interac-
tions included: (a) negative verbal statements (e.g., disapproval) and (b) nonverbal behav-
ior (e.g., negative facial expressions); (c) verbal aacks (e.g., name calling); (d) coercive and
ambiguous coercive behavior (e.g., threatening directives that express a demand); (e) requests
and ambiguous requests; (f) commands and ambiguous commands (e.g., directives); and (g)
physical aggression (e.g., shoving) [34]. These interactions occurred at a relatively high rate,
and interestingly, although the teens treated siblings and romantic partners coercively, they
were less aggressive toward their friends. The researchers observed a high rate of talking
about antisocial activities with siblings. Antisocial talk predicted persistence of antisocial
behavior into adulthood. Such verbal exchanges reect the assumption of an antisocial iden-
tity that may be imparted to younger siblings. Dominance relations in adolescent romantic
relationships resemble familial relationships more than they do friendships—evidence that
schemas of coercion learned in early family interactions are directly transferred to schemas
regarding sexual partnerships (see Section 5).
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The Impact of Psychopathy on the Family 5
4. Psychopathic friends
An insincere and evil friend is more to be feared than a wild beast; a wild beast may wound your body,
but an evil friend will wound your mind.”—Buddha
In this discussion, the terms “friend” and “companion” are synonymous such that a friend
is a preferred, familiar companion. In my role as professor of psychology and psychopathy
researcher, I have been approached by members of the public, students, and sta who have
shared their stories of friendship with psychopathic individuals. I am impressed by the level of
lasting distress caused by abuse from psychopathic friends. It is not unexpected that psycho-
pathic individuals maintain familial ties that serve their material needs; it is contrary to cur-
rent theory that many also actively cultivate friendships. Current theory should be amended
to account for sociability in psychopathic individuals. Studies by Kosson demonstrate that
psychopathy is negatively associated with schizoid personality or a preference for solitary
activities [35]. That psychopathic individuals report companions is further evidence for the
My stepfather sexually molested me when I was eight. My sister who was nine, was also molested; I know because I saw him
go to her. We never talked about what happened. When she was 20, I asked her and she denied it then admied it happened to
her when I said I saw him. My father was shot and killed when we were very young. He used drugs and had a bad temper, so
someone shot him. My sister was always wild when we were growing up. We fought a lot and there wasn’t much aection in my
family.
My sister has been sexually promiscuous since her teen years. I never had any friends because if she would nd out that I had a
friend, she would have sex with that friend’s boyfriend. My mother would say I had to stick up for my sister. But, my sister has
sex with nearly every man she knows. When she sees a married couple, she wants what they have, so she sleeps with the husband.
When he leaves his wife to be with her, she grows tired and drops him. My sister has been with all kinds of men, black, white and
Hispanic. She becomes whatever that man is. When she’s with a black, she acts black. She’s white when she’s with a white guy.
I don’t think my sister ever uses protection when she has sex, look she had a baby a year ago. I don’t know how she can do this to
herself…all those men. According to a friend of mine, the men in the town even talk about my sister. They have all had sex with
her and think she’s good. I left home when I was 16 because my sister convinced me that my mother didn’t want me. She often
told me that my mother didn’t like me. My sister told me a lot of things my mother didn’t really say. My sister has two children
that I worry about, especially her son who is seven. She switches men every few months, each time there is a new guy she says to
her son, “This is your father.” Then when she gets tired of the guy, she gets rid of him and her son never sees the man again. She
left her son’s father when he was in jail. Her son’s father has 8 kids and he only cares for two of them. My nephew has problems
and my sister just ignores him. She is into her baby now. The baby girl is one. I don’t think she knows who the baby’s father is.
My sister spends all her money on the men in her life, while her children go without clothes and doctor visits. She never pays
any of her bills. She has furniture from a rental place she never paid then moved away with the furniture. She doesn’t feel she
should have to pay any of her bills. She has a job. She keeps it because she lies to her boss and makes her feel sorry for her. She
tells everyone that she is a single mother and that she has no family. She is a single mother, but we want to help her. My sister
is not sorry for any of the bad things she has done. Instead, she lies to cover things up. It seems she believes her own lies. I can’t
believe how much my sister lies. She doesn’t tell the truth about anything.
My sister is beautiful and very nice. I keep thinking she is a good person, then when I think about the way she treats my nephew,
I get mad. She says she doesn’t want him, but she won’t give him to us. She wants to be in control. I keep thinking that my sister
acts this way because she was molested. My mother says she has always been wild and dicult. Even when my father was alive,
she was oppositional. I remember she did everything he told her not to do. Although my sister does not steal from my mother, she
takes advantage of her. If my mother has a boyfriend, my sister will call him behind my mother’s back, and ask him for favors,
even if he and my mom aren’t that close. Although my sister doesn’t admit to having any problems, she blames my mother for
everything. My mother never showed us any aection.
Table 2. “Mary” describes life with her sister. This wrien account was provided by a woman who wanted her story
shared to help others. The account is hers and illustrates the familial nature of psychopathy and the plight of those
exposed to psychopathy in multiple family members; details were altered to further conceal “Mary’s” identity.
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Psychopathy6
idea that they do not prefer to be alone. Although psychopathic individuals may lack “aec-
tion,” there is some reward connected to the company of others. If psychopathy produced an
indierence to companionship, theory would predict that psychopathic individuals would be
loners and that they would be less likely than other oenders to join gangs. The social nature
of psychopathy is evidenced by the positive association between gang membership and psy-
chopathy and between gang leadership and the interpersonal features of psychopathy [36,
37]. The interpersonal features of psychopathy are also positively associated with social bonds
in prison [38]. If psychopathic individuals are truly devoid of aection, these observations
challenge the notion that aection and caring are necessary determinants of human social ties.
4.1. What motivates psychopathic individuals to cultivate friendships?
There are three sources of information regarding psychopathy and friendship: forensic stud-
ies, surveys of the general population, and anecdotal accounts. Forensic studies support the
social nature of psychopathy indicating that it is associated with co-oending as opposed
to solo-oending [39]. Accordingly, psychopathy does not reduce the likelihood of gang
membership and gang membership appears to causally relate to callous-unemotional traits
[36, 37]. Forensic studies demonstrate the interactive nature of friendship and personality
traits. Psychopathy may predispose to the choice of antisocial friends and gang membership
and in turn, these associations strengthen the stability of psychopathic personality traits [36].
In college students, DSM 5, Section 111 personality traits associated with ASPD including
antagonism, correlate with aempts to be close to others and warm as opposed to cold domi-
nant behavior (as reported by friends) [40]. There is also no negative association between
psychopathy and the need to belong in young adults [41]. Community studies of psychopa-
thy in adolescents demonstrate that youth high in psychopathic traits are “as likely as others
to have important peers in their lives,” though these friendships may have less temporal
stability [42]. Adolescents tend to associate with friends who have similar levels of psychop-
athy and friends engage in antisocial behavior (including substance abuse) together [39].
Psychopathy is associated with more reciprocated relationships in male adolescents, and
does not aect levels of perceived support in relationships. As with adolescents, adults asso-
ciate with others who have similar levels of psychopathy [43]. In contrast to forensic seings,
psychopathy in college seings may not be associated with leadership [44]. Psychopathy is
moderately associated with self-reports of not helping friends [31].
In summary, although psychopathy may cause friendships to have less temporal stability,
psychopathic individuals seek out companionship and engage in their preferred activities
with others. Researchers have labeled such relationships “shallow” and “lacking in depth”
because psychopathy is associated with low closeness and reduced helping [31]. Those psy-
chopathic individuals cultivate friends to meet their material and companionship needs,
receive admiration and aention, and to dominate others is supported by anecdotal accounts
[2, 45]. Clinicians and researchers should work to beer understand the nature of social
reinforcement for psychopathic individuals. Informed application (or deprivation) of social
reinforcement has the potential to enhance individual, group, and family therapy for psycho-
pathic adolescents and adults.
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The Impact of Psychopathy on the Family 7
4.2. How are friends and friendship aected by psychopathy?
“Friendship does not mean the same thing to them. They'll use the word love a lot, but they really don't
know what love means. They've never properly experienced it” [46]Adrian Raine, Ph. D.
The individuals with psychopathy seek relationships to meet material and companionship
needs and then abuse and often fail to help others create diculties for friends with low
levels of psychopathic traits (who have dierent relationship expectations). I nd that such
friends are distressed and perplexed by abuse, betrayals, and lack of reciprocity (also noted
in [6]). Friends are often very reluctant to sever ties with psychopathic individuals even those
who have abused them. This reluctance reects both eective manipulation on the part of the
psychopathic friend and the presence of a social bond. I could not nd any research regarding
whether psychopathic individuals leave relationships on their own accord or whether rela-
tionships are terminated by abused friends. There is also no systematic data available regard-
ing the time and energy psychopathic individuals invest in maintaining their friendships.
Anecdotal data from spouses verify that even highly psychopathic individuals do invest
energy into friendships [47].
4.3. How is a social network aected by the level of psychopathy in its individual
members?
Psychopathic individuals impact their friendship networks in addition to impacting individ-
ual friends. There is too lile information regarding psychopathic traits and gangs to make
denitive statements about the way individual psychopathy impacts the organization of the
gang collective. Decker and Curry state that members murder their “brothers” and that gang
murders are often related to intra- as opposed to intergang rivalry. They also suggest that
gangs are not well organized [48]. Murder of associates and lack of organization could result
from psychopathy in gang members. Poor organization could result from the impaired exec-
utive function in members related to the lifestyle facet of psychopathy [49]. Non-criminal
organizations are also impacted by members’ psychopathy. In corporations, psychopathy is
associated with passive leadership [50] and employee dissatisfaction with supervision [51].
Anecdotal evidence suggests that psychopathy is related to corporate crime and organiza-
tional dysfunction [52]. The impact of psychopathy on family organization is discussed below.
In the family, facets of PCL-R psychopathy have dierential eects on functional dynamics.
5. Psychopathy and romantic partnerships
Sexual promiscuity and multiple short-term marital relationships are part of the denition
of psychopathy [53, 54]. Psychopathy is associated with a ludic love style and self-reports of
uncommied sex (Table 3) [55]. These symptoms convey the impression that psychopathic
individuals easily navigate from one relationship to the next without much investment. Lack
of investment and ease of relationship mobility would be consistent with the view that psy-
chopathy is associated with a lack of social bonds. Unfortunately for victims and theories
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Psychopathy8
NDenition of
psychopathic traits
Findings Publication year
[References]
431
(Individuals)
LSRP Psychopathy associated with low well-being and
ill-being. Psychopathy associated with relationship
quality measures. Relationship quality measures
mediated link between psychopathy and well (ill)-
being. Eects stronger for women
2010 [18]
297
(Individuals)
LSRP Primary psychopathy was positively associated
with latent relationship factor. Secondary
psychopathy was negatively associated with
life satisfaction and intimacy. Psychopathy
and sociosexual orientation equally related to
commitment
2016 [59]
45
(Couples)
SRP-II Psychopathy associated with assortative mating
and decreased relationship satisfaction in dating
couples
2014 [68]
140
(Couples)
LSRP In men, primary and secondary psychopathy
associated with own aachment anxiety and
avoidance and partner’s aachment anxiety
and aachment avoidance Psychopathic traits
in women correlated with own and partner’s
aachment anxiety and avoidance. Assortative
mating was for primary psychopathic traits
2015 [69]
140
(Couples)
LSRP Neuroticism linked to global, primary and
secondary psychopathy. Perpetration of
psychological aggression linked to global, primary
and secondary psychopathy
Relationship satisfaction negatively related to
secondary psychopathy
Assortative mating: primary > global > secondary
psychopathic traits
2011 [70]
152
(Couples)
LSRP Dyadic adjustment related to global and secondary
psychopathy in men. Relationship distress at Time
1 associated with increases in men’s psychopathy
scores a year later (time 2)
2006 [71]
1805
(Couples)
DSM III-R Adult antisocial behavior and CD linked to
negative dyadic adjustment; eect not fully
explained by low constraint
2010 [72]
1255
(Couples)
DSM III-R Adult antisocial behavior associated with lower
cohesion, satisfaction, consensus on important
issues and aective expression
2013 [73]
1408
(Couples)
DSM III-R Assortative mating for CD. History of CD linked to
marital discord and decreased family adaptability
2000 [74]
1477
(Couples)
SCL-90 Hostility
Subscale, Self-
reported behavior
Antisocial behavior moderately associated with
relationship conict
2012 [75]
112
(Couples)
DSM III-R Men’s ASPD predicted physical abuse, partner
negative psychological adjustment and reduced
marital satisfaction
1999, 2003 [76, 77]
Table 3. Relationship variables, marital adjustment and psychopathic personality traits.
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The Impact of Psychopathy on the Family 9
of psychopathy, the behavior of many psychopathic individuals does not comport with this
view. A survey of self-help message boards and clinical experience indicates that far more
people are distressed by ongoing victimization and psychopathic individuals’ refusal to sever
ties than by psychopathic partner abandonment [45]. Stalking by psychopathic former part-
ners is also reported [56]. Psychopathic individuals may become vindictive when threatened
with abandonment even when they have been unfaithful [6, 57]. If vindictiveness, stalking,
and/or refusal to sever ties is connected to a specic variant of psychopathy (perhaps second-
ary psychopathy), then the relative prevalence of this variant should be determined.
5.1. Do psychopathic individuals cultivate and remain in long-term romantic
relationships?
One study of 1805 long-term married couples (average relationship length 19.6 years) found
49 (3%) women and 283 (16%) men reported three or more symptoms of APSD. Anecdotal
reports also indicate that psychopathic individuals cultivate long-term romantic partnerships
although indelity is common [45, 47, 58]. Psychopathic individuals often con prospective
partners by making misrepresentations regarding core aspects of their lives and identities.
They then move the relationship along quickly, seeking early cohabitation and commitment
[6, 45, 47, 58]. Partners meet in a variety of seings including through friends, work, place of
worship, or school [58]. Passion is high early in the relationship when psychopathic individu-
als are noted to give material gifts and expressions of love and aection [58, 59]. Contrary to
prevailing theory, partners report that even highly psychopathic individuals appear aec-
tionate, especially in the beginning [47]. The beginning phase of the relationship can last sev-
eral years depending on the circumstance and during this time, abuse is uncommon and the
relationship may be harmonious [47]. In retrospect, partners can identify reasons why they
were treated well in the beginning. Many say they were used as “cover” and that the psycho-
pathic individual was trying to impress others or appear normal [45, 47, 58]. Others realize the
motivation was parasitism. Pregnancy and childbirth are often the turning point where rela-
tionships become abusive. Boredom, indelity, and escalation of substance use or gambling
may also trigger partner abuse [60].
5.2. Is there a specic type of person who partners with a highly psychopathic
individual?
There is evidence for assortative mating for psychopathic characteristics (see Tables 3, 68)
[61–63]. Assortative mating may contribute signicantly to intergenerational transmission
[64]. Partner’s personality type may be inuenced by ACOA status as children of alcoholics
may also tend to pair with psychopathic alcoholic individuals [65]. To test the hypothesis
that women who partnered with psychopathic men might be temperamentally similar to
their partners, the Temperament and Character Inventory was administered to a group of 35
women who were seeking support recovering from abusive relationships with psychopathic
men. Narratives regarding the relationship were also collected from the women [58]. In com-
mon with psychopathic men, many women in the group had elevated Novelty Seeking scores.
This elevation was due to Exploratory Excitability and not Impulsiveness, Extravagance or
Disorderliness. In narrative accounts, many described being exhausted by the energy level of
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Psychopathy10
and chaos caused by their former partner. It may be that a certain need for excitement and tol-
erance for chaos is required by those who remain in a relationship with a highly psychopathic
person. As one woman said, “It was the best and worst all rolled into one. I’ve never loved so
much and in the same breath I’ve never hurt so much. Despite all his horrible qualities, he’s
still the most exciting person I’ve ever known (p. 86).” The women also had elevated scores
in Reward Dependence, Cooperativeness, and Self-Determination, traits that would tend to
facilitate a person remaining in (but also recovering from) an abusive relationship. In this
and two other surveys of people seeking to recover from abusive relationships, participants
identied their own vulnerabilities, including losses just prior to meeting the psychopathic
partner and a history of child abuse or prior sexual assault [45].
5.3. Does psychopathy impact marital quality and relationship satisfaction?
There is lile doubt that many psychopathic individuals are highly abusive of partners (see
below). Partners who are not subjected to high levels of abuse are often distressed by sexual
indelity and nancial concerns. In long-term partnerships, psychopathy is associated with
marital dissatisfaction [18]. The Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development examined rela-
tionship satisfaction and durability longitudinally in men, some with high PCL-SV scores and
criminal involvement. In this study, psychopathy was negatively associated with relationship
satisfaction and this was aributable to high scores in the aective facet [66]. However, at age
48, most men were cohabitating with a female partner (82%) and endorsed (88%) “gets on well
with female partner.” These responses were not signicantly associated with either criminal-
ity or psychopathy [67].
Twelve studies reveal a consistent negative inuence of psychopathy on relationship quality
(Table 3) [18, 59, 6877]. Psychopathy is associated with reduced relationship satisfaction in
both dating and cohabitating couples [59, 68]. Studies using the LSRP have found that sec-
ondary psychopathy impacts relationship quality more than primary psychopathy. The asso-
ciation between secondary psychopathy and decreased dyadic adjustment is not surprising,
given high neuroticism and low conscientiousness in secondary psychopathy [71, 78] and the
association between these and poor dyadic adjustment [71, 79]. Primary psychopathy is less
robustly associated with low relationship satisfaction. In one study, primary psychopathy
predicted a latent factor composed of passion, intimacy, and commitment [59]. Perhaps, indi-
viduals high in primary psychopathy are more adept at manipulating partners and using rela-
tionships for instrumental purposes [80]. The negative impact of psychopathy on well-being
is mediated in part through poor quality of intimate relationships [68]. Turmoil in intimate
relationships also predicts increases in self-reported psychopathy over time [71]. Poor parental
dyadic adjustment also leads to increases in externalizing symptoms in children [18, 7376, 81].
5.4. Is psychopathy associated with partner abuse?
Psychopathy underlies community violence including violence toward partners and friends
[82]. DSM III-R links ASPD to “spouse or child beating” [54, p. 342]. Psychopathy is associated
with intimate partner violence perpetration [83, 84] and intimate partner terrorism [85]. In
intimate partner terrorism, all forms of abuse serve the purpose of coercive control of partners
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The Impact of Psychopathy on the Family 11
[86–88]. Psychopathic men and women’s use of coercive control with partners is an exten-
sion of coercive familial behaviors learned during childhood and adolescence [34]. Learning
of coercion occurs through both practice and modeling as witnessing domestic violence is a
risk factor for the development of psychopathy [89]. Although some link coercive control to
patriarchy [86], case histories of perpetrators suggest psychopathy [86, 90] and women perpe-
trate coercive control [87, 88]. It is likely that psychopathic personality traits associated with
Factor 1 predispose to coercive control and also increase susceptibility to messages regarding
patriarchy [91].
The extent to which psychopathy considered dimensionally responsible for the public health
problem of intimate partner violence has not been established. Certainly, the degree of psy-
chopathy that increases risk for violence is far below that required for a categorical diagnosis
[52]. In one study, abuse of partners was associated with psychopathy and this association
was mediated by low Big Five and Agreeableness [92]. Partners of psychopathic individu-
als endorse all forms of abuse including physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, social,
nancial, and legal [45]. The repercussions of nancial abuse for victims have not been sys-
tematically investigated. Anecdotally, nancial abuse causes poverty in middle age for people
who otherwise would have been nancially secure [42]. Interestingly, some highly psycho-
pathic individuals contribute nancially to their families [47]. Legal abuse occurs through the
criminal court when psychopathic individuals recruit unwiing partners into their crimes
and through civil court when partners aempt separation [6, 47]. Some psychopathic indi-
viduals are skilled at using the family courts to punish former partners [6, 93]. Social abuse
occurs when psychopathic individuals spread rumors (a behavior victims have dubbed “the
sociopath’s smear campaign” [94]) or behave in ways that damage their partner’s standing
with others.
5.5. Couple therapy in the context of psychopathy
Couples present for couple therapy for reasons that “involve relational maers, such as
emotional disengagement and waning commitment, power struggles, problem-solving and
communication diculties, jealousy and extramarital involvements, value and role conicts,
sexual dissatisfaction, and abuse and violence [95]”—all factors expected to be prevalent in
the context of psychopathy. Given the association between psychopathy and relationship dis-
tress, this disorder is likely common in community couple therapy practice. Current guide-
lines stipulate that couple therapy not be oered to couples where: (1) the perpetrator of
abuse lacks remorse, and does not take full responsibility for the abuse; (2) the perpetrator
of abuse has a personality disorder; (3) the victim expresses fear; or (4) there is an ongoing
threat of violence [96, 97]. Given that therapists are known not to adequately screen for these
contraindications to couple therapy [98, 99], it is reasonable to hypothesize that many couples
where these conditions are present do participate in couple therapy.
There are no published studies of couple therapy in the context of psychopathy or ASPD. In
a preliminary study [60], 281 people (255 women, 26 men, all heterosexual) reporting rela-
tionships with a psychopathic partner (as assessed through DSM 5, Section III symptoms)
answered an online survey regarding their experiences in couple therapy. All participants
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Psychopathy12
reported psychological abuse and most reported multiple other forms of abuse including
physical, nancial, and sexual. Although open-ended survey responses describing relation-
ship and partner characteristics clearly pointed to the presence of psychopathy, disorder
was identied by a minority of therapists even when abuse was severe. Sixty-two percent
of therapists appeared to participants to lack knowledge of psychopathy. Some therapists
were reported to have learned about psychopathy only after interacting with the participant’s
partner. The combination of DSM 5, Section III Antagonism and Disinhibition symptoms,
and therapist knowledge explained 60% of the variance in therapist identication of partner
disorder. Therapist detection of partner symptoms was associated with the perceived help-
fulness of treatment. One woman stated, "For the rst time, someone wasn't manipulated by
him to the point of thinking he was the victim instead of me. She called him on his ‘red her-
rings’ and got him back on track when he tried to talk about other things to pass the time.”
Participant responses indicated that couple therapists aempted the same communication
exercises with them that are recommended for non-personality disordered couples (Table 4).
Abused partners feel invalidated during these exercises that may also place them in danger
[100]. Therapists who helped participants understand the nature of their partner’s emotional
decits and manipulative behavior were judged most helpful. Only 11% of relationships
continued; some therapists assisted participants in exiting the relationship. The responses of
survey participants point to a gap in the literature that should be lled by more systematic
investigation of community couple therapy practices.
5.6. Individual therapy for recovering partners of psychopathic individuals
At present, there are no evidence-supported interventions for partners or former partners
of psychopathic individuals. A survey of 301 people, who had received individual psycho-
therapy for issues related to a long-term relationship with a psychopathic individual was
conducted to determine interventions found most helpful and unhelpful by victims [101].
Also of interest was whether therapists were judged knowledgeable regarding the construct
of psychopathy and the problem of psychopathy and the family. A minority of therapists
were reported to have knowledge of psychopathy and its impact on the family. Participants
reported invalidating responses, unhelpful, and harmful therapy when therapists lacked
knowledge of psychopathy. In open-ended and Likert responses, participants stated that
Partner descriptions of communication exercises used in couple therapy
We were coached in active listener techniques, seeing the others point of view, using “I” statements and other non-aggressive
communication strategies. The result was that my partner got beer at communicating in a way that was manipulative, and he
got beer at making me feel guilty when I expressed the fact that I felt manipulated.
He wanted to soften me up and that was extremely unsafe to me. Using “I feel” was dangerous since husband would use those
against me later. We had already been taught this communication years before but husband would never use the tools. Instead of
listening to me, counselor would say “well done, you two!” like this was a major breakthrough. HUH? I often would confront
him and ask why he was taking husband at face value (since he's a lying manipulator) He would come back with “well, how am I
supposed to take him?” Well, maybe like an abuser????
Table 4. Example of open-ended response from two participants who described communication exercises used in couple
therapy where partner had psychopathic personality traits.
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The Impact of Psychopathy on the Family 13
understanding their former partner’s personality disorder helped them make meaning of
their experiences. Eective meaning making reduced self-blame and assisted in overcoming
the distorted cognitions imparted to them by their abuser. Traditional approaches to family
violence that aribute abuse to patriarchy as opposed to personality disorder may not be
well suited for family members of psychopathic individuals. Such approaches do not assist
with meaning making and risk of re-victimization related to pairing with another psycho-
pathic individual. Furthermore, men victims of psychopathic partners require therapeutic
assistance and do not t the traditional model of domestic violence [88]. Former partners
who share children with a psychopathic parent may not be able to cease having contact with
their abuser. They need help learning eective strategies for dealing with the psychopathic
co-parent (unfortunately, there are no data on eective strategies to provide them). These par-
ents also need extensive support to provide the kind of nurturing parenting that will mitigate
genetic risk for psychopathy [102].
6. Psychopathic parents
Parenting behavior and the family environment caused by psychopathic traits are important
in the intergenerational transmission of psychopathy [103]. When I was trained in psychiatry,
neglectful parenting behavior was part of the denition of ASPD in DSM III-R (Table 4) [54].
We were taught that people with ASPD neglect and abandon their children. In response to
my presentations at scientic meetings, colleagues have opined that “psychopaths2 [sic] are
disinterested in parenting.” Several years ago, I sat in family court observing a custody case
regarding a father I knew to be highly psychopathic. The father paid a psychologist to testify
on his behalf to rebut the neutral forensic evaluator who had diagnosed psychopathy. The
paid expert testied that since this father wanted a relationship with his children, he could
not be “a psychopath.” The court transcript quotes the psychologist, “Robert Hare in his book
says that psychopaths have no use for, or interest in children3…This man wants a relationship
with his children and that is not typical for a psychopath.” This belief may be rmly ingrained
in mental health professionals and may be the reason why parenting in relation to psychopa-
thy is understudied. As with romantic partners, the problem of psychopathy and parenting is
not abandonment [105]. It is psychopathic parents’ motivation to maintain ties with children
who they neglect, abuse, and expose to antisocial activities.
6.1. Studies of parenting behavior in people with psychopathic traits
A comprehensive list of studies of paternal [103, 105115], maternal [116122], and parental
[73, 75, 93, 123126] behavior in relation to psychopathic traits is provided in Tables 68. There
is one large-scale study of parenting and psychopathic traits [123]. Dimensional Psychopathy
2It is not within ethical guidelines to refer to a person by their diagnosis. The use of particular cut points for diagnosis of
categorical psychopathy has not been adequately justied.
3Dr. Hare (with whom I shared this story) did not say this in Without Conscience [104], nor does he endorse the statement
of this psychologist. Without Conscience (p. 63) clearly states that psychopathic parents often claim to love their children,
even when they neglect and abuse them.
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Psychopathy14
correlates with reduced closeness, parenting stress, and unhappiness with the parenting role
(Table 6). The three parenting studies that examined the correlation between paternal and
maternal psychopathic traits found small to moderate correlations [107, 110, 126]. Psychopathy
in fathers is associated with abandonment and IPV perpetration, especially in the context of
maternal psychopathic features [110, 125, 126]. Outcome for children is worse when antiso-
cial fathers maintain contact [105, 107, 110, 111, 127]. Psychopathic traits are associated with
coercive, hostile and neglectful fathering, and low warmth. Paternal psychopathy impacts the
structure of children’s lives due to poor marital quality, unstable housing, a chaotic home envi-
ronment, and poverty [103]. Maternal psychopathy is associated with lower age at rst birth
[109, 125]. Regardless of age, psychopathic mothers may be abusive and neglectful, and show
inappropriately low levels of monitoring and inconsistent discipline; their mothering tends
to be hostile, coercive, and shaming with low levels of warmth (Tables 5 and 6). Outcome for
children is related to the home environment and parenting practices of psychopathic mothers
[117, 119, 120]. There are no studies examining whether there is a dose-eect of exposure to
psychopathic mothers as there is with psychopathic fathers with respect to negative outcome.
Anecdotal reports and qualitative studies provide rst-hand accounts of the human suering
caused by parental psychopathy [6, 93]. Children and adults describe a confusing combina-
tion of loving and abusive experiences; this mix of experiences and the trauma associated
with parental psychopathy produces disorganized aachment and dissociation of parental
object representations [64, 83]. Children (who often carry genetic risk [105]) may develop
internalizing and/or externalizing disorders. Psychopathic parents may select both favorites
and targets for abuse from among the children of the family [93]. Favorites are overindulged
and provided lax supervision, while targets are subjected to shaming and other abuse [93].
Psychopathic parents may enjoy inducing fear in their children and they may maintain poor
sexual boundaries [93]. Psychoticism, dened as unusual beliefs and experiences, eccentric-
ity, and perceptual dysregulation (DSM 5, Section III) is apparent in descriptions of parents
provided by adult ospring and former partners [45, 47, 58, 93]; psychoticism manifests in
the psychopathic individuals’ distorted worldview. The family takes on “cult-like” character-
istics when psychopathic individuals demand that family members endorse their distorted
views and unusual beliefs [93].
Parenting behavior diagnostic of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD)
(4) repeatedly fails to honor nancial obligations, as indicated by defaulting on debts or failing to provide child
support or support other dependents on a regular basis.
(8) if a parent or guardian, lacks ability to function as a responsible parent, as indicated by one or more of the
following:
(a) malnutrition of child
(b) child’s illness resulting from lack of minimal hygiene
(c) failure to obtain medical care for a seriously ill child
(d) child’s dependence on neighbors or nonresident relatives for food or shelter
(e) failure to arrange for a caretaker of a young child when parent is away from home
(f) repeated squandering, on personal items, of money required for household necessities
Table 5. Parenting behavior in DSM III-R criteria for antisocial personality disorder.
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The Impact of Psychopathy on the Family 15
NDenition of
psychopathic traits
Findings Publication year
[References]
478 PCL-SV Paternal psychopathy linked to unstable employment,
unstable housing and substance abuse, and psychopathy
in ospring
2015 [103]
34 ASPD+/SD+ SCID II;
DSM III-R ASPD
Children of ASPD+/SD+ fathers had higher externalizing
and internalizing psychopathology and association with
deviant peers than both ASPD−/SD+ and ASPD−/SD−.
2002 [106]
161 SCID II;
DSM IV ASPD
ASPD associated with paternal abandonment. ASPD in
mother and father correlated.
2001 [107]
20 PSCAN;
Partner report
Children exposed to IPV; father abused children by lying to
them, ignoring them, failing to provide for them, bullying
and terrifying them, breaking promises to them, and
destroying their toys
2005 [108]
1116 DSM IV ASPD “When fathers engaged in high levels of antisocial
behavior, the more time they lived with their children, the
more conduct problems their children had”
2003 [105]
980 DSM IV CD CD was associated with earlier age at rst birth, IPV,
negative parenting practices and DBDs in children
2006 [109]
1626 DSM III-R Mother and father ASB correlated. Mother ASB negatively
correlated with father residence. Father ASB correlated
with non-residence. Child behavior problems increased
with amount of time with father. “As the length of time that
the father was present in the home increased, so too did
the strength of the relationship between father and child
antisocial behavior”
2008 [110]
230 MMPI-TRI
Agreeableness
subscale from the
NEO-Five factor
inventory
Child behavior problems were associated with more
time spent with antisocial fathers. Coercive fathering was
predicted by antisocial personality features in fathers
2010 [111]
261 ASB ASB was associated with harsh discipline and low warmth.
ASB associated with internalizing and externalizing
symptoms that increased with the amount of contact
between father and child
2011 [112]
543 ASB Father-child contact mediates intergenerational continuity
of ASB, eect mediated by dysfunctional parenting
2009 [113]
96 Antisocial behavior Antisocial fathers with alcohol use disorders, family shows
less engagement during interactions
2000 [128]
145 PDQ-4 ASPD Paternal ASPD and Borderline PD traits were correlated;
ASPD traits correlated with psychological and physical
aggression and predicted children’s overall psychosocial
impairment and externalizing problems
2014 [13]
8IPV perpetration Qualitative study of children’s lived experience. Children
observed to dissociate. Had diculty integrating
conicting observations of and feelings toward father.
Children felt “trapped in conict” and responsible for
father’s “inuence”
2015 [14]
66 IPV perpetration Greater contact with father, more externalizing problems
and more exposure to IPV
2016 [15]
Table 6. Parenting behavior and child outcomes for psychopathic fathers.
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Psychopathy16
An examination of the complete quantitative and qualitative literature reveals consistent pat-
terns in the relations between children’s experiences and the construct of parental psychopathy
(Figure 1). Although most quantitative studies assessed primarily traits related to PCL-R Factor
2, there is sucient evidence to conclude that Factor 1 traits also impact parenting and deter-
mine children’s experience. Pathological lying and the other interpersonal manifestations of psy-
chopathy link to severe emotional and psychological abuse [93]. Invalidation and “gas-lighting”
cause children to doubt their own perceptions of reality. Parental alienation (parental aempts
to distance the child from a loving co-parent) may be one manifestation of “gas-lighting” [6].
Aective decits and dominance needs cause parents to enjoy frightening and shaming children.
Parents’ aective decits produce guilt and confusion and impair trust [6, 93]. Lifestyle decits
cause unstable residence, neglect, and poverty [103] (see Tables 68). Early behavioral prob-
lems and juvenile delinquency may be markers for increased genetic risk in children. Criminal
behavior and poor behavioral controls cause modeling of antisocial behavior, coercive control
and physical abuse. The sexual symptoms of psychopathy cause exposure to multiple (perhaps
psychopathic) stepparents, exposure to sexually inappropriate material, and sexual abuse [93].
6.2. Assessment of children and custody recommendations
The clinical literature and the family courts may refer to couples where there is an abusive
psychopathic parent and a victimized partner as “high conict” [75, 128, 129]. Child victims
Figure 1. The relationship between parental psychopathy and children’s lived experience. Symptoms of psychopathy
are in the center of the circle, Factor 1 [Interpersonal (INT), Aective (AFF)] symptoms are on the left; Factor 2 [Lifestyle
(LIFE), Antisocial (ANT)] are on the right, sexual symptoms are on top. Children’s lived experience is portrayed in
Kristen ITC font in the outer circle adjacent to associated facets. Fear and shame are central to the experience of having
a psychopathic parent.
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The Impact of Psychopathy on the Family 17
are conceptualized as being caught up in “parental conict” rather than in a situation where
one parent has the burden of protecting them from abuse [130]. Such terminology conveys the
impression that the non-psychopathic victimized co-parent is partly responsible for the fam-
ily pathology. Although psychopathy in mothers and fathers is correlated, correlations are
modest. Professionals involved with the family should therefore assess psychopathy dimen-
sions in both partners using all available data. Evaluators should carefully consider the cred-
ibility of information they are given. If psychopathic traits are suspected, evaluators should
document the presence of symptoms from all four facets of psychopathy and consider the
dierential impact of these on the child (Figure 1). The presence of mood, anxiety, and sub-
stance use disorders in parents should be assessed. Domestic violence including all forms of
partner and child abuse should be documented. Clinicians should aempt to classify the fam-
ily according to whether psychopathy is signicant in one or both parents and as to whether
abuse is primarily unidirectional. There are sucient data (Tables 68) to recommend that if
there is a relatively healthy parent, contact with the psychopathic parent should be limited.
For further discussion of custody evaluations, see Refs. [5] and [6].
Relatively healthy parents should be referred for treatment of problems associated with any
trauma they may have suered. They should also be counseled regarding the detrimental
impact disordered stepparents might have on children. The risk for revictimization by another
psychopathic partner should be discussed. There are no data as to the frequency with which
NDenition of
psychopathic traits
Findings Publication Year
[References]
141 MMPI-2 ASP Scale Pd scale of MMPI had poor predictive validity with respect
to parenting measures. ASP scale antisocial mothers less
understanding, more abusive, used shame, and coercion
2014 [123]
1116 DSM IV ASPD ASPD mothers’ home environment poor; chaotic; reduced
happiness, reduced stimulation, parenting stress; ASPD mothers
had less positive parenting less warmth and more negativity.
Child neglect present in 16.2% ASPD only and 33.9% ASPD/
Depression
2012 [124]
88 PPI-R; PDQ-4 ASPD symptoms linked to poor monitoring, inconsistent
discipline, decreased involvement, boys’ CU, impulsive and
narcissistic traits
2012 [125]
83 LSRP Primary and secondary psychopathy associated with parenting
dysfunction and child conduct problems
2013 [129]
201 C-DIS-IV
(DSM IV)
Maternal ASPD associated with IPV exposure and child DBDs.
Maternal ASPD not associated with parenting indices, impact
of dysfunctional parenting mediated by IPV exposure and child
temperament
2010 [126]
299 Adult Self Report
(ASR)
Maternal ASB associated with depression, hostile parenting, and
child DBDs
2012 [75]
126 Family Informant
Schedule and
Criteria (FISC)
Maternal ASB associated with poor monitoring; maternal
CD associated with decreased punishment; other parenting
variables not associated with either ASB or CD
2013 [93]
Table 7. Parenting behavior and child outcomes for psychopathic mothers.
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Psychopathy18
children are forced to spend time with or are placed by the courts in the custody of abusive
psychopathic parents. My clinical experience and anecdotal evidence suggest this may be a
serious problem in all Western democracies [93]. Professionals can assist children who have
been victimized by recommending to the court that they be given truthful information as they
can tolerate it (to counteract pathological lying and gas-lighting). Children may do beer if the
relatively healthy parent is coached as to how to provide them with direct truthful answers to
questions [128] (although some localities have laws that prohibit parents from answering chil-
dren’s questions truthfully [93]). Professionals should be aware of the possibility that if there
is a marital separation, children may be jeopardized by a court decision to grant unsupervised
parenting time to a psychopathic parent. Circumstances may dictate that a co-parent remain
in an abusive relationship to protect (a) young child(ren).
NDenition of
psychopathic traits
Findings Publication year
[References]
15,701 Big 5 facets associated
with psychopathy
Reduced happiness with the parenting role; reduced
closeness; increased stress from children; overwhelmed
with role
2014 [123]
145 IPDE-S ASPD symptoms associated with lower quality
responsiveness by mothers and child aempts to
engage parent in social interaction. NPD symptoms
associated with controlling parenting in both mothers
and fathers
2012 [124]
99 mothers
72 fathers
ASB, arrest records and
self-report
3-generation study, mother and father ASB correlated;
father ASB negatively correlated with contact with
child; ASB in mother correlated with younger age of
rst birth
2012 [125]
1255 DSM–III–R
ASPD
Antisocial parents had signicantly lower levels
of cohesion and satisfaction, lower consensus on
important issues, and a lower overall marital quality.
Antisocial mothers and fathers dysfunctional parenting;
fathers less involved
2013 [128]
489 DSM IV
ASPD
ASB in mother and father correlated. ASB correlated
with adversity for children, parental neglect, and
exposure to violence
2010 [126]
1477 Antisocial behavior Antisocial mothers and fathers more hostile parenting,
these related to child ASB
2012 [75]
9PCL-R, DSM 5 Qualitative study; psychopathic parents can be granted
custody; psychopathy associated with abuse, neglect,
exposure to multiple antisocial adults, chaotic home
environment, unstable residence, poverty; children
report: fear, confusion, shame, and anger; some given
false information regarding their identity; children
also report positive family experiences and feelings of
love and loyalty toward psychopathic parent; family
resembles a “cult”
2013 [93]
Table 8. Parenting behavior and child outcomes for psychopathic fathers and mothers.
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The Impact of Psychopathy on the Family 19
7. Family involvement in the treatment of psychopathy
Studies of families, relationship quality, conict, and psychopathy show that marital prob-
lems and parent child problems worsen symptoms of psychopathy in mothers, fathers, sons,
and daughters (Tables 3 and 68). Families may thus get caught in a positive feedback loop of
worsening relations and psychopathic features. If therapy could reduce conict and enhance
relationship quality, symptoms of psychopathy in family members would likely decline.
Evidence supported family therapy for adult psychopathy has not been developed though
family therapies for adolescents with externalizing disorders do exist [131]. Studies of family
therapy for youth with externalizing disorders should assess parental psychopathy to assess
its impact on treatment eectiveness. Psychopathy is known to be a poor prognostic indicator
for baerer intervention [132].
Anecdotal reports note that some family members assist psychopathic individuals in evad-
ing arrest and capture and others hold them accountable [47, 93]. Forensic experts report
that marriage reduces criminal recidivism in psychopathic individuals [133]. In the case of
“Frank” mentioned in the Introduction, the treating clinician stated, “Frank’s wife has indi-
cated that she is invested in Frank’s recovery and remains connected to him. Her willingness
to support his recovery should be explored. The possibility of a pharmacologic intervention
may encourage her to remain supportive, given her forgiving nature (p. 190, emphasis added).”
There are no studies that assess the relative societal benet of spousal support in preventing
recidivism in the context of detriments to the health and well-being of the marriage partner or
children. I did study one case of a wife and mother who endured years of abuse at the hands
of her psychopathic husband to protect her daughter and other women from rape. Her relief
came only when her husband was convicted and jailed with her assistance [47, 134]. I could
not locate a discussion of the ethical issues raised when clinicians encourage spouses and
other family members to remain connected to psychopathic individuals.
8. Summary
Psychopathy is clearly a familial disorder and a disorder of the family. Dysfunctional fam-
ily relationships both worsen and are worsened by psychopathy. The long-standing belief
that psychopathic individuals do not form lasting bonds with others has hindered therapeu-
tic progress. While the nature of social reward for highly psychopathic individuals is yet
to be determined, they do not prefer to be solitary. Forensic and community studies reveal
that most psychopathic individuals maintain social ties over years and that these ties serve
their psychological and material needs. Taken in its entirety, the psychopathy literature sug-
gests that dominance reward [19] from both social power and material resource control [20]
motivates sociability for highly psychopathic individuals. Couple and family therapy for psy-
chopathy should be studied in the context of disorder severity. Also needed are evidence
supported therapies for recovering adult sons and daughters and former partners of psycho-
pathic persons.
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Psychopathy20
Author details
Liane J. Leedom
Address all correspondence to: lleedom@bridgeport.edu
University of Bridgeport, Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA
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... The small number of studies investigating the effects of interacting with individuals with psychopathic characteristics (e.g., Humeny et al., 2021;Kirkman, 2005;Leedom et al., 2012) indicate that these interactions cause considerable physical, sexual, emotional, and/or financial harm. These findings reinforce the view that although the prevalence of psychopathy in the general population is less than 1% (Coid et al., 2009;Neumann & Hare, 2008), the impact on victims' psychological and physical health is substantial (Boddy, 2014;Kirkman, 2005;Leedom, 2017;Mathieu et al., 2014). In light of the limited number of studies investigating the effects of interacting with individuals who have psychopathic characteristics, the current study was designed to focus on the experiences of victims who self-identified as being intimately involved with a partner with psychopathic traits. ...
Article
Limited research exists on the impact of psychopathy within romantic relationships. We examined mental and physical health consequences reported by intimate partners of individuals with psychopathic traits. Additionally, we explored whether psychopathy severity and coping impacted the severity of posttraumatic stress disorder and depression symptoms. Four hundred fifty-seven former and current intimate partners of individuals with psychopathic traits were recruited from online support groups. Victims reported a variety of abusive experiences and various negative symptomatology involving emotional, biological, behavioral, cognitive, and interpersonal consequences. Psychopathy severity and maladaptive coping were significantly related to increased PTSD and depression, while adaptive coping was only related to decreased depression. Regression analyses revealed that experiencing many forms of victimization predicted increased PTSD and depression symptoms. Examining the specific consequences experienced by intimate partners of individuals with psychopathic traits can aid the development of individualized treatment interventions aimed at symptom mitigation, recovery, and prevention of future victimization.
... The disproportionate amount of physical, emotional, social or financial damage caused by psychopaths (cf. Kiehl and Hoffman, 2011;Leedom, 2017) makes this doubtful. ...
Preprint
There is growing research into contributing processes and biological correlates of differences in moral judgements with process dissociation procedures allowing independent quantification of utilitarian and deontic tendencies underlying moral decisions. Recently, Park et al. (2016) reported that estimated utilitarianism showed negative associations with heart rate variability (HRV) at rest. Resting HRV is an indicator of cardiac vagal tone and thus of parasympathetic activity and has also been suggested to be a marker of neuro-visceral integration. We aimed to replicate and extend these findings. Using the same set of moral dilemmas in N = 157 young adults, we found no such association in the total sample. However, when taking sex and the use of hormonal contraceptives into account, we found a positive association between HRV at rest and estimated deontology in women using combined oral contraceptives and men, while in free cycling women there was a negative association. While we did not replicate the original findings , our results partly indicate similar behavioral consequences of increased HRV, since both reduced utilitarianism (cf. Park et al., 2016) and increased deontology are linked to decreased endorsement of harmful actions. Furthermore, there were no associations between sympathetic activity (assessed via electro-dermal activity) and moral judgements.
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Limited research exists exploring survivors' experiences in a relationship with a psychopathic abuser and their mental health following relationship dissolution. The present study examines the specific traits and patterns of abuse that have the most profound impact on survivors' mental health. Self-identified survivors of an intimate relationship with a psychopathic abuser (N = 454; Mage = 45.5) were recruited from intimate partner abuse support websites. They were assessed for abuse experiences, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptomology, and the extent to which their abuser exhibited psychopathic traits via self-report questionnaires. Multiple regression analysis revealed that abusers' psychopathic traits were predictive of survivors' PTSD symptomology. Specifically, when controlling for the duration since last contact with the abuser and relationship length, interpersonal and affective traits, and experiences of versatile forms of abuse contributed to more severe PTSD symptoms. The present findings are consistent with an emerging body of research showing that abusers' emotional disconnection and predatory nature facilitate their ability to maintain an intimate relationship while engaging in a wide range of abuse resulting in widespread harm to survivors' mental health.
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There is growing research into contributing processes and biological correlates of moral inclinations. Recently, a negative association between utilitarianism and resting heart rate variability (HRV) as an indicator of cardiac vagal tone / parasympathetic activity was reported. We aimed to replicate and extend these findings by additionally investigating the sympathetic parameter electro-dermal activity (EDA), but found no associations in the total sample (N = 157). However, when taking sex and the use of combined oral contraceptives (COC) into account, we found a positive association between HRV and estimated deontology in women using COC and men, while in free cycling women there was a negative association. While no direct replication, our results also point to associations between higher HRV and decreased endorsement of harmful actions that serve a greater good. Unlike HRV, EDA showed no associations with moral judgements. In addition, there were correlations between personality traits and moral judgement.
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The current study was designed to show the differentiation of narrative styles in individuals with high scores in Psychopathic deviate (Pd) scale and develop a method enabling identification of psychopathic personality traits based on linguistic indicators. 600 spontaneous narrations related to emotional topics have been examined for grammar, syntactic, and lexical indicators. The indicators have been selected based on a review related to language of psychopaths. The narrations were written by 200 persons who were also tested for psychopathic deviate and intelligence level, including prisoners diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. Independent judges identified the linguistic indicators which were then counted for each person with the use of computer software. The configuration profiles of the linguistic indicators/narrative styles were established using k-mean clustering method. Then, ANOVA was performed to show which clusters differentiate the levels of psychopathic deviate. The findings show there are two configurations of language features (important: single features were not examined) associated with high levels of psychopathic deviate patterns. Two narrative styles were identified, labelled demonstrative-digressive-egocentric-emotional-dogmatic and reserved-focused on the topic-repetitive, which indicate high psychopathic deviate traits. The ROC curves were applied to establish the prediction of the narrative styles for high psychopathic deviate scores.
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Survivors of psychopathic abusers are a valuable resource for understanding the manifestation of psychopathic traits during romantic relationships. However, their perspectives have been largely under-investigated. Self-identified psychopath survivors (N = 475) were recruited from the community and assessed for domestic abuse experiences and the extent their abuser exhibited psychopathic traits. Linear and multiple regression analysis revealed that abusers' psychopathic traits were predictive of domestic abuse that was frequent, versatile, and physically harmful. Factor 1 traits, particularly those under the affective facet, were predictive of a longer-term abusive relationship and versatile forms of abuse. Whereas traits under Factor 1 and Factor 2 were predictive of abuse frequency, only Factor 2 traits were predictive of the degree of physical injury sustained from the abuse (particularly those under the antisocial facet). Discussion of the findings center on the value of survivors' accounts in identifying psychopathic traits that are most salient in the context of domestic abuse. The findings parallel research that finds the emotional disconnection and predatory nature facilitated by Factor 1 traits underlie abusers' ability to effectively maintain their partner's relational commitment, while perpetrating frequent and versatile forms of abuse uninhibited by emotional lability and moral emotions.
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Experts have long warned against psychotherapy with psychopathic offenders out of a fear that they will beguile therapists into believing they have been rehabilitated, only to commit new offenses upon release. Yet the question is not whether to communicate with psychopathic offenders, but rather how to do so in a way which can facilitate real change. In this article, we ask: What can we learn about psychopathic offenders by studying their communication? We review the literature and describe how psychopathy is manifested in communication, how psychopathy can be understood based on this communication, and how therapists may communicate with psychopaths to create change and avoid being fooled. We recommend that therapists do not withdraw from psychopathic offenders but rather study their communication more carefully.
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While there is growing evidence that suffering physical abuse during childhood is subsequently associated with psychopathic traits in both juvenile and adult offenders, there is considerably less research on whether exposure to domestic violence as a witness, rather than as a direct victim, influences the subsequent presentation of psychopathic traits in adulthood. Accordingly, the current study examined the relationship between witnessing domestic violence during childhood (i.e., witnessing, hearing, or intervening in abuse against a parent/sibling) and psychopathic traits in adulthood in a sample of n = 127 incarcerated male offenders. As predicted, witnessing domestic violence was significantly associated with overall level of psychopathy, with a particularly strong relationship to the interpersonal/affective features of psychopathy. Importantly, this relationship held when controlling for the experience of domestic violence as a direct victim. These results add to the growing body of literature linking adverse and traumatic events during childhood with psychopathic traits later in life, and suggest that domestic violence exposure may be one factor contributing to the manipulative, interpersonal style exhibited by individuals high in psychopathy.
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The purpose of this study was to investigate the role of period of incarceration, criminal friend index (a retrospective measure intended to quantify criminal associations before first incarceration), and four psychopathy factors (interpersonal manipulation, callous affect, erratic lifestyle, and antisocial behavior) in criminal social identity (CSI) while controlling for age and gender. Participants were a sample of 501 incarcerated offenders (males n = 293; females n = 208) from three prisons located in Pennsylvania Sate. Moderated regression analyses indicated no significant direct association between period of incarceration and CSI or between criminal friend index and CSI. However, a significant moderating effect of interpersonal manipulation on the relationship between period of incarceration and CSI was observed. Period of incarceration was significantly positively correlated with CSI (particularly with in-group ties subscale) only for those offenders who scored high (1 SD above the mean) on interpersonal manipulation and significantly negatively correlated for those who scored low (1 SD below the mean) on interpersonal manipulation. Also, criminal friend index was positively significantly associated with in-group ties for high levels (1 SD above the mean) of callous affect. The main findings provide evidence for the claim that prisoners are likely to simulate changes in identity through the formation of bonds with other offenders and that this can be achieved using interpersonal manipulation skills.
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Objective: Many depressed women have a history of antisocial behavior, but research into maternal depression has not ascertained if this has implications for children of depressed mothers. This study compared the developmental outcomes in and caregiving environments provided to children by depressed mothers with or without an antisocial history. Method: In the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study, a nationally representative study of 1,106 families, mothers were administered the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Major Depressive Disorder and interviewed about their lifetime history of antisocial personality disorder symptoms. Mothers and teachers provided information regarding the children's behavior problems at 5 and 7 years of age. The authors assessed the quality of the caregiving environment through maternal reports and interviewer observations. Results: Compared with children of mothers with depression only, the children of depressed and antisocial mothers had significantly higher levels of antisocial behavior and rates of DSM-IV conduct disorder, even after the authors controlled for numbers of symptoms and chronicity of maternal major depressive disorder. The children of depressed and antisocial mothers were at an elevated risk of experiencing multiple caregiving abuses, including physical maltreatment, high levels of maternal hostility, and exposure to domestic violence. Conclusions: If one ignores the common co-occurrence of an antisocial history in depressed mothers, it may obscure the significantly elevated risks in children's development. Clinicians treating women's depression should be aware that children of depressed and antisocial mothers constitute a group at extremely high risk for early-onset psychopathology.
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Reports an error in the original article by X. Ge et al ( Developmental Psychology , 1996 [Jul], Vol 32[4], 574–589). On page 584, Figure 2, negative signs were mistakenly inserted in front of 2 coefficients. The correct coefficients are given. (The following abstract of this article originally appeared in record 1996-01781-002 .). Using an adoption design to collect data on biological and adoptive parents of children adopted at birth, this study explored a possible mechanism through which heritable characteristics of adopted children evoke adoptive parent responses and lead to reciprocal influences between adoptive parent and adopted child behavior. Participants were 25 male and 20 female adoptees, 12–18 years of age, having either a biological parent with substance abuse/dependency or antisocial personality or a biological parent with no such history. The study found that psychiatric disorders of biological parents were significantly related to children's antisocial/hostile behaviors and that biological parents' psychiatric disorders were associated with adoptive parents' behaviors. This genotype-environment association was largely mediated by adoptees' antisocial/hostile behaviors. Results also suggest that the adoptee's antisocial/hostile behavior and adoptive… (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)
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Psychological abuse within intimate partner violence (IPV) is poorly researched. We investigated the impact of dark triad (DT) traits and personality on psychological, physical and sexual abuse, and whether DT traits have incremental validity over general personality dimensions in the prediction of IPV expressed psychologically, physically, and sexually. IPV was measured via the Multidimensional Measure of Emotional Abuse (MMEA) and the short form of the revised Conflict Tactics Scale, version 2 (CTS2S) in a general community sample (N = 128). Correlation and regression analysis indicated that low agreeableness and psychopathy had the strongest associations and most predictive relationships with both psychological abuse and physical/sexual abuse. Low agreeableness was predictive of both the participants' and their partners' perpetration of physical/sexual abuse. A significant positive relationship was also found between high scores on the MMEA and high scores on the CTS2S. A significant positive relationship was found between participants' high psychopathy scores and perpetration of psychological abuse, but this had a smaller effect than a measure of agreeableness alone. We did not find that the DT provides incremental validity for the prediction of either psychological abuse or physical/sexual abuse over basic low Agreeableness.
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Children’s contact with their mother’s violent partner is a potentially important variable for understanding conduct problems among children exposed to intimate partner violence (IPV). Within the context of a treatment study evaluating a parenting intervention (Project Support) for families exiting a domestic violence shelter, this study tested four hypotheses regarding children’s postshelter contact with their mother’s violent partner: (1) participation in Project Support decreases the frequency of children’s contact with their mother’s violent partner; (2) postshelter contact is positively associated with children’s conduct problems and is associated more strongly for girls than boys; (3) frequency of contact mediates Project Support’s effects on children’s conduct problems; and (4) frequency of contact is positively associated with IPV and partner–child aggression, and these latter associations help explain effects of contact on children’s conduct problems. Participants were 66 women (26 White) with a child (32 girls) between 4 and 9 years. Families were assessed every 4 months for 20 months after departure from a domestic violence shelter. Project Support reduced the extent of partner–child contact. In addition, within-subject changes in contact over time were associated with girls’, but not boys’, conduct problems, and it partially mediated effects of Project Support on girls’ conduct problems. Higher average levels of contact over time were also positively associated with further incidents of IPV and partner–child aggression, and partner–child aggression helped explain effects of contact on children’s conduct problems. Children’s postshelter contact with the mother’s violent partner relates positively to several negative family outcomes.
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Who is willing to expose himself or herself to narcissists on a long-term basis? Studies that address the interactions of narcissists focus mainly on their interactions with strangers. Hence, the aim of the present study was to investigate the extent to which two best friends’ similarity in narcissism would influence their similarities in other personality profiles. A total of 290 best friends’ dyads filled out measurements of the whole Dark Triad as well as the Big Five. For each personality domain, profile similarity and its dependence on the similarity in the Dark Triad were determined. Results showed that the friends’ similarity in narcissism significantly predicted similarity in all Big Five domains. For the general Big Five similarity as well as extraversion, the effect of narcissism similarity was stronger for male than female or mixed friends. Similarity in psychopathy and Machiavellianism significantly predicted all domains except for openness and extraversion, respectively.