The Human Equation

Serial killers, self-reliance, and everything in between

The Psychopathic Mother

Children growing up without empathy or love

“Good luck.  Do a good job.”  Many of us have heard these encouraging words from our loving mothers, perhaps on our first day of kindergarten or before our first job interview.”  Kenny Kimes heard them from his mother, Sante Kimes, after she instructed him to kill David Kazdin, a colleague who had threatened to exposure the mother/son duo for mortgage fraud after discovering that the pair had illegally obtained a $280,000 loan in the victim’s name.  After completing the job, Kenny stopped to buy his mother flowers, believing that he had “completed a great duty for my mom.”  As it turns out, this was the third person they’d killed.

While the above story is extreme, there are many adult children who grew up under the influence of a toxic parent. For a minority, the toxicity of the parenting was a result of a parent’s psychopathy, a personality disorder that, by its diagnostic criteria, makes it impossible to establish a normal parent-child bond.  When the mother is the diagnosed psychopath, the child may grow up in a world like the rabbit hole Alice fell into.  Nothing is what it seems.

The Female Psychopath

Research suggests that male and female psychopaths are a lot alike in terms of their core personalities.  They are self-centered, deceptive, shallow emotions, and lack of empathy.  They exploit others for self-serving reasons, lack remorse for their actions, and blame others for the consequences of their actions.  Both also use their charm and physical appearance to manipulate others although women may use sex more often, and outright violence less often, than men.  (As the story intro demonstrates, female psychopaths are quite willing to resort to brutal violence to attain their needs when deceit, manipulation and charm either fail or are not available).

However, there are some gender differences.  Female psychopaths are much less common than males and may use different strategies to get their needs met, perhaps as a result of gender role expectations.  In comparison to male psychopaths, for instance, female psychopaths were less likely to engage in animal cruelty or physical threats and more likely to use flirting and verbal manipulation.  In addition, because of their primary care taking role, female psychopaths are more likely to target their children.   

See What A Good Mother I Am

Psychopathic mothers play "Super Mom" when others are watching.  She will make sure anyone who will listen knows what a great parent she is.  In fact, she may come across as something of a martyr, i.e., a mother who sacrifices her own wants and needs for those of her offspring.  Behind closed doors, though, she shows little or no genuine interest in nurturing or caring for the child and may subject him/her to abuse or neglect. 

The psychopathic mother doesn’t see her child as a separate person.  Instead, the child is viewed as a personal possession whose sole purpose is to meet her mother’s needs.  Mother-child interactions are very controlling and any affection is tied to behavior that feeds the mother’s ego.  Natural resistance or rebellion on the part of the child is viewed as betrayal and is met with harsh criticism or punishment to bring him or her back in line.  In fact, she cannot allow her child to develop “normally” because of her need to mold him or her into exactly who she wants him/her to be. 

Sadly, the inability to feel empathy, a benchmark characteristic of psychopathy, is especially destructive to an emotionally developing child.  Any hint of weakness or pain from the child is criticized or invalidated unless it can be used to the mother’s benefit; consider the response of a psychopathic mother, who had married a known sex offender even though, at the time, she had a five year old child. When the child finally told her mother that her stepfather had raped her, her only response was, “Why didn’t you tell me at the divorce settlement so we could have gotten more money out of him?”

The Bottom Line

Most of us grow up with a few emotional bruises from the well-meaning mistakes of our parents.  A child who grows up with a psychopathic mother, on the other hand, may inherit a legacy filled with self-doubt, confusion and guilt as s/he struggles to differentiate who s/he is from the object a psychopathic mother attempted to create and manipulate.

Joni E. Johnston, Psy.D, is the author of Complete Idiot's Guide to Psychology.

more...

Subscribe to The Human Equation

Current Issue

Just Say It

When and how should we open up to loved ones?