What makes a psychopath?

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What makes a psychopath?

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ag. 23, 2006, 8:49am

From all the reading I do about true crimes and psychopaths, I seem to have come to the conclusion that in every case I can recall, the ultimate progenitor of a psychopath is the mother. Even if she is absent after giving birth, her actions seem to lay the groundwork for the psychopathic personality. But I also suspect I may be totally off-base and that I am elevating maternal behavior above environment, interactions with other people in the psychopath's life, and simply the serendipitous concurrence of bad genes.

Agree? Disagree? Other thoughts?

Editat: ag. 26, 2006, 11:21pm

kageeh, I've been thinking about this for a couple of days, sifting through my collection of psychopaths (so to speak), and there does seem to be something to "blame everything on mother."

Charles Manson certainly had mother issues, so did Charles Sobhraj, so did Ted Bundy -- all three were illegitimate and that seemed to prey on their minds. Manson's mother was a sorry excuse -- promiscuous, in and out of prison, neglectful of her child. I'm not sure about Sobhraj's mother, though I know she kept him and married a decent-enough man. But Louise Bundy seems to have been a decent sort whose worst mistake seems to have been getting pregnant while unmarried, then keeping her child (which was unusual at the time). It's interesting to speculate whether Bundy would have turned out the way he did if he had been adopted. The "Son of Sam" guy was an adopted child who turned out to be a horror to his adoptive parents, but I don't know if his biological mother had problems herself or the very fact that she gave him up for adoption caused him to be psychopathic. Kenneth Bianchi, one of The Hillside Stranglers, was also an adopted child, but his partner in crime, his adopted cousin Angelo Buono, couldn't blame his behavior on the trauma of being adopted because he wasn't. (This interests me because my husband is an adopted child who has never had the least interest in his biological mother, and he's always seemed perfectly normal -- we've been married over thirty years and I've known him for thirty-five years.)

There are a few psychopaths who seem to have had more issues with their fathers than their mothers -- William Bradfield Jr. of The Main Line murders fame and Buck Walker, the killer of Mac and Muff Graham on Palmyra Island (And the Sea Will Tell by Vincent Bugliosi), are two that I can think of.

What about female psychopaths? Do they have mother issues or father problems more often? I don't know about Diane Downs or Marie Hilley, two that I can think of at the moment, though Hilley was rather spoiled as a child (Black Widow: The True Story of the Hilley Poisonings by R. Robin MacDonald).

ag. 30, 2006, 7:44am

I've been thinking about what you've said. It's strange, I suppose, that I never considered father issues but they have to have an impact also, especially if the mother cannot provide a correspondingly contrary environment. And, as you said, there is so little written about this angle.

On the other hand, even though Hitler's father reportedly beat him brutally, I have a hard time believing physical abuse alone causes psychopathy. I just came across an interesting online 7-part article by Katherine Ramsland, a well-known forensic psychologist and writer, at http://www.crimelibrary.com/criminal_mind/psychology/psychopath/1.html (cut and paste -- I don't know how to make hyperlinks here). I haven't read it yet but I will. The title is "The Childhood Psychopath: Bad Seed or Bad Parents?". Looks like it's right up our alley. I'll come back after I've read it. It also has an interesting bibliography -- an excuse to buy more books!

ag. 30, 2006, 8:07am

In my experience, neighbours are enough to turn most of us into a potential killer !

The ideal home has a moat and drawbridge, that`s what I say !

Being serious, I have some concerns about the `bad genes` argument - are we really saying some people are potential psycopaths from before they were born ?

Then again, the old `society is the real criminal` arguments seem glib and unconvincing.

Who knows ?

ag. 30, 2006, 11:57am

Read The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, to understand the bad seed issue better. The author claims certain people, psychopaths or sociopaths (can they really be distinguished?), are born without a conscience. They are incapable of having emotions about anything or anyone besides themselves. They can be very cunning and can certainly act human when necessary to achieve their diabolical ends. She feels that, regardless of parental environment, a sociopath is a sociopath is a sociopath -- incurable -- and that we (the normal ones!) must be ever vigilant against them. Opinions?

abr. 11, 2010, 6:34pm

I firmly believe that psychopaths are born, not made. I think the way their psychopathology is expressed has more to do with their upbringing. In many cases where a psychopath is illegitimate, the mother is blamed in some way, if not for being a bad mother or even just a single parent then for not resolving the child's issues regarding the absent parent. I think in some cases the absent father may have been a psychopath himself - walking out on a pregnant partner isn't uncommon with psychopaths - and therefore the genetic cause of the problem.

abr. 13, 2010, 10:55am

That's a very interesting theory and I will have to ponder that some. I always believed the mother was to blame for most of the killers portrayed in true crime books but I have no proof for that. She often is, unfortunately, a single parent but one incapable of being a responsible parent. Many of these killers are born as sociopaths (whom Mother Teresa could probably not save from crime) but the ones who aren't are often the ones who, through truly bad mothering (though I shouldn't neglect the father as single parent either but they're rarer) or life circumstances, are created. I can think of only one sociopathic person of my acquaintance but he's not a people-killer (at least not yet), preferring instead to be a workplace psychopath. He's been successfully employed until recently because few people can recognize the sociopaths among them.

abr. 13, 2010, 4:17pm

Of course, it'll be different in each case, but sometimes there isn't anything particularly telling in the family background and in these instances there's a tendency to blame very trivial things the family, but especially the mother, has done. In a lot of these cases there's an absent biological father who isn't really known about. I don't know that anyone has really looked into this, so it's only a personal theory and not based on anything I've read, but it seems like an area that is worth looking into.

I'm also struck by cases where the killer seemed to have serious issues from childhood and the mother's inability to handle them are often blamed. I read an article about a boy adopted into a well-off family who killed his parents for their money, and although he was eventually diagnosed a psychopath, the mother was heavily blamed in the article for being a terrible nag. He had an awful history of coldness, lying, grandiosity, theft and manipulation from an early age, and if true psychopathy is inherited, wouldn't it make sense for her to have problems parenting him? If he was born without a conscience, no parenting style would have worked well and a bad spin could have been put on whatever approach she'd taken.

A bad upbringing will always produce bad people, but I think brain studies are showing that psychopaths do have differences in the way their brains work, in terms of the way different parts communicate information to each other. I read somewhere that the theory that small scars to the frontal lobe as a cause is looking less likely and that made sense to me; these are very common in people who have had head injuries and I'd always wondered if cause and effect hadn't been mixed up - people who were more likely to be risk-takers and less likely to learn from fear and mistakes seem more likely to incur injuries to the head and elsewhere.

I just wonder if half the time the mothers are quite as responsible as some make out, although there's no denying that psychopathy AND mother issues would make for a very potent combination of factors.

abr. 13, 2010, 5:09pm

Should we write a joint dissertation on the role of mothers as a causative factor in the development of serial killers?

Everything you say is true. But I had to laugh at where a mother was blamed because she was a terrible nag. I am sure my children (now grown and reasonably responsible parents themselves) would identify me as a terrible nag. I suppose much of what we do read about the mothers is more or less self-reported. No mother, even a very bad one, will voluntarily describe herself in as bad a light as she might really be. Also, as a mother myself, I am certain I did absolutely appalling things to my children on occasion but I wouldn't have recognized them as such, at least not at the time. The "atrocities" I do recall my children have no memory of. But they describe incidences I am sure never happened :).

You seem to know a lot about this subject. What is your background (besides being a reader of true crime)?

abr. 13, 2010, 7:05pm

I think my son could have killed me 10 times over for nagging!

We could write a joint dissertation but I'm sure an expert would pull his or her hair out reading our armchair psychology! Seriously, my interest is purely personal but I'm fascinated by the science of it so have read quite a bit on it, and have had a bit of an interest in the whole nature/nurture thing since genetics in college.

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