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How psychopathy reproduces in families

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Psychotherapists often experience a recurrence of personality disorders (especially the anti-social and borderline personality disorder) in families, and this leads to assumptions about the heredity of these disorders. We may, however, well be talking about learned models of behavior, because most sufferers of borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder are women, and when heredity is suspected it concerns children who grow up with BPD and antisocially disordered mothers, very often without the presence of a father. Thus understanding the personality disorders (I will use the somewhat outdated concept of ‘psychopathy’ here, because I consider it warranted given the traditional features of psychopathy such as a lack of empathy or sense of moral relationship to one’s choices) is key to making any conclusions about whether it is hereditary or not.

One of the key aspects of psychopathy is that psychopaths do not have a proper moral relationship to their decisions, especially to their relationships with others. Thus they come across as exceptionally manipulative (characteristic of Borderline), exploitative and untruthful. The behavior of a psychopath is in fact that of a morally disordered person, and this is why Louis Charland argued that the so-called ‘Cluster B Personality Disorders’ in the 4th version of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual by the American Psychiatric Association) are in fact described in moral, and not in clinical terms (Charland, ‘Moral nature of the DSM IV Cluster B Personality Disorders’, Journal of Personality Disorders 20, 2 (2006): 116-125).

The psychopath will thus lie, cheat and exploit any agreements or good will by others as they see fit, and will feel no guilt about breaking agreements, betraying good will or manipulating others to their own benefit. In most cases they develop a high level of skill in these types of behavior and maintain a semblance of social functionality by abusing any kind of leeway they might have to advance their goals. The children who grow up with psychopaths learn by repetition and copying the same kinds of behavior and as a consequence, become psychopaths themselves. From an early age they behave in morally unacceptable and ego-centered ways and as a result of the lack of proper normative socialization they develop the same personality traits as their parents, typically their mothers. Thus it may be the case that the so-called ‘heredity’ is merely the result of learning and the systematic failure of institutions to first diagnose, and then react to psychopathy in mothers by sanctioning the removal of children from such mothers and their entrusting to the other parent. If this is true, then the epidemic of personality disorders, which has reached the stage where we call the modern age ‘the age of personality disorders’ is in fact the outcome of a failed social policy, where children are routinely left to the custody of mothers who show psychopathic traits and behavior, and by failing to react to the low standards of psychiatric and judicial work whereby such traits are not properly recognized and adequately diagnosed.

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