The Genetics of Psychopathy and Why it Matters in Child Custody

“The last scan in the pile was strikingly odd. In fact it looked exactly like the most abnormal of the scans I had just been writing about, suggesting that the poor individual it belonged to was a psychopath—or at least shared an uncomfortable amount of traits with one….When I found out who the scan belonged to, I had to believe there was a mistake….But there had been no mistake. The scan was mine.”

Oops.

psychopathbrain

Brain scans of Dr Fallon and family

You are a world leading expert on brain imaging for violent criminals and psychopaths and you find that your own brain image is that of a psychopath. YOU are a psychopath. That has to be hard.

Wrong.

That is what a normal person would think; we have empathy, we have emotions. The psychopath doesn’t, (s)he will look how to turn this into a personal gain. And so did Dr Fallon; without empathy for what this public knowledge would do to his immediate family, he turned his discovery into a book about entering the dark side of the brain of a psychopath, included his family history of violent murderers and psychopaths. To top it off he then sought publicity with a huge media campaign. Book sales = money.

And I’m hopping on the band wagon, because his story is of extreme importance for child custody and there are 4 reasons why;

  1. Psychopathy has a genetic link; it passes on from parent to child. A child of a psychopath is at risk.
  2. Psychopathy is in the brain, it is not curable. Forced joint custody, parenting coordinators, therapy, etc will not improve the situation.
  3. Hitler vs Dr Fallon; Society’s misconception about the violent vs socially ‘adapted’ psychopath.
  4. Make or break the child; Influences in the early years.

1. The genetics of psychopathy

Yes, psychopathy passes on from parent to child through genetics. Dr Fallon in his book talks about several violent (and infamous) murderers that are related to him. He has a very interesting family tree to say the least.

Research has shown that Antisocial Personality Disorder (psychopathy) has an about 56% genetic component to it. Just to compare, breast cancer also has a genetic component. Women who have the mutated genes BRCA1 or BRCA2 have a chance of getting breast cancer in about 55-65% or 45% respectively. Angelina Jolie in 2013 went public with her double mastectomy because she has the gene mutations.

That is a different perspective, isn’t it? They are in the same range.

Just because you have the breast cancer gene, doesn’t mean you get breast cancer. If you have the gene for psychopathy, doesn’t mean you actually become a psychopath. But your chances of becoming a psychopath or getting breast cancer are the same when you have the gene for it.

Kids get some genes from Mom, some genes from Dad, it is a mix. This means children of psychopaths are at risk. It doesn’t mean they are guaranteed to have the gene, but there is a considerable possibility they do.

And when the kids do have the gene, it takes outside factors for psychopathy to become present, just like it takes outside factors for a woman to develop breast cancer.

2. Psychopathy is in the brain

Well-meaning people will say: ‘O, it will get better, it just takes time’, ‘Why doesn’t he go into therapy, that will help’, ‘If he just realizes what is going on, he will change’. I’ve heard my attorney say it, I’ve heard friends and family say it and I have to admit, I was of the same mindset during the marriage as well. I believe in human goodness and thought it would get better. I now know better.

Looking at the brain scan of Dr Fallon is sobering. It is clear that certain parts of his brain are functioning differently than his family members do. Sure, I read the research that psychopathy is not curable, I talked to experts, I preached and told it. Yet deep down inside I hoped it would be different; for the children’s sake. When I saw the scan, reality hit.

A psychopath is not going to change, no therapy will cure him/her. Nothing can change their brain.

3. Hitler vs Dr. Fallon

When we think about psychopaths, we think about Hitler, Charles Manson, Ted Bundy and perhaps even Jodi Arias, Ariel Castro or the Newtown school shooter Adam Lanza. We think of creeps, we think of violent criminals.

Certainly not of a well-respected neuroscientist, husband and father like dr Fallon.

And that’s where society and the judicial system go wrong. The world’s leading expert in psychopathy, Dr Babiak and dr Hare, wrote the book ‘Snakes in Suits‘ and as you probably guessed, it is not about violent criminals. The percentage of psychopaths in high-powered positions in society is similar to the percentage in prison.

However, not only is our view of psychopaths skewed, our perception of their ‘damage’ is also clouded. Violence and murder are tangible concepts. We see the horror. Psychological trauma is so much more difficult to grasp, especially when you are not the victim.

Caregiver behaviors …… negatively affect the child’s cognitive, social, emotional, and/or physical development. Psychological maltreatment has been linked with disorders of attachment, developmental and educational problems, socialization problems, disruptive behavior, and later psychopathology. American Academy of Pediatrics

Despite the fact that the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics have policies in place that recognize the frequency and long-term injury of psychological abuse, family court dismisses or even fails to recognize its existence. Yet the psychological damage of being raised by a personality disordered parent is well researched in the field of psychology, this is an unmistakable and devastating disconnect for the child.

4. Make or break the child

So how is it possible that Dr Fallon turned out ‘reasonably well’ and others have gone off the deep end? It is the early years. It is the environment the child grows up in.

holdhandsinfant

Picture by Steve Corey (Flickr)

Nurture

Dr Fallon explains he was loved as a child. He was the first-born after several miscarriages. He was wanted. He was important to his parents, or at least by 1 emotionally and psychologically healthy parent. A parent who was able to form secure parent-child attachments. So there was at least a 1-way of love.

As I’ve written about before, psychopaths cannot form secure attachments, but the love of Dr Fallon’s parent(s) provided him with a cushion to soften the impact of his genetics.

Just like smoking can cause lung cancer, red food coloring can aggravate ADHD, so is lack of love a trigger for becoming a psychopath. A psychopathic parent per definition can not express love; they are incapable of having empathy and without empathy there is no love. And a parent without empathy can not teach a child empathy.

Love is a deep concern for the other. Love is caring for the other. Children of psychopaths often endure neglect at best, or worse, physical abuse. This environment encourages the next generation to be psychopaths when they are at risk.

Dr Fallon emphasizes over and over again that the timing of the emotional/psychological injury determines the effect on the brain and what type of psychopath you become. For the gene to be expressed, the child needs to be exposed to trauma before puberty. Having the gene and being exposed to violence, or child neglect, is the recipe for disaster. The more severe the exposure, the more violent the psychopath becomes later on.

Family Courts Responsibility

‘Best Interest of the Child’ is the legal standard, not what is fair to each parent, or what a parent would like. Yet the courts do not follow-up on this, they would rather cater to Parental Rights organizations and work on a compromise between the 2 parties as if the children are property that needs to be divided equally. The legal standard is blatantly ignored to favor what can be agreed upon, not what is in the best interest of the child.

First of all courts need to put aside their misconception that psychopaths are violent criminals and realize that ‘upstanding’ members of society can be psychopaths as well. All persons involved in child custody decisions need to put the child first, and not the glorified theory of coming to an agreement and divide the property equally. This is the wellbeing of the next generation decisions are being made about.

When a child is at risk because 1 parent is a psychopath it is particularly important one limits the environmental influence of said parent. This could be a tipping point for the child to develop a personality disorder. It is extremely important that the child be around the parent that can express love, values, care and empathy. That does not mean the psychological disordered parent should be eliminated out of the life of the child, but the influence needs to be managed appropriately.

I can not repeat this enough; conflict is the single most predictable factor for the worst outcome for children of divorce. Forcing joint custody is perpetuating conflict for children. It is making the situation for children who are already at risk even worse. The acrimonious behavior of the psychopath is not going to change. They can’t change, their brain is set.

It is the courts responsibility to protect and safeguard the child, failure to do so has long-term consequences for the child and society. It is time courts recognize and take appropriate actions when there is a parent with a personality disorder and not stick their heads in the sand to cater to parental rights organizations. Our children are not 2nd rate citizens, they are our future. 

Procrustean bed of Joint Custody.

“O weary traveller, come and sleep in my magical bed and all your troubles will be resolved.” — Procrustus

Divorce is the end of the nuclear family and the start of new beginnings. Theseus_Procrustes-600x450Parents each go into different directions and the child is in the middle. Enter the theory of ‘joint custody’, or the inherent right of a child to have a ‘meaningful relationship with each parent’.

And in ‘Utopia’ we all live ‘happily ever after’. Or do we?

Research data shows us that children who have a meaningful relationship with both parents do better in life than children who don’t. This of course is a good argument for joint custody. What is often failed to mention, is that those studies compare divorced single parent families with nuclear non-divorced families.

This is comparing apples and oranges. And this data is manipulated in the media to either advocate against divorce, or pro joint custody. It is not that simple. It would mean that children who lose a parent due to military service or death of a parent are essentially doomed and that is not necessarily the truth, nor is that supported by other research.

There is one thing that all researchers agree upon. What makes the biggest contribution to a child’s failure to adjust well long-term, is the level of conflict between the parents. Both in marriage and after divorce. The worse the conflict, the worst the outcome for the child. The NY court of appeals and appellate courts have it right, when the acrimony between parents is such that they can not communicate and get along, joint custody is out of the question. It is not in the best interest of the children. The emotionally and psychologically more healthy parent that contributes to most to the child’s life should be the sole custodian. It is now also mentioned in the bible of psychology:

Child affected by parental relationship distress: “…. if the negative effects of parental relationship discord (e.g., high levels of conflict, distress, or disparagement) on a child in the family, including effects on the child’s mental or other physical disorders.”  DSM-V

There are other situations where it is very clear that sole custody is the only option. Sole custody does not mean that a parent is or should be eradicated from the children’s’ life.

When there is (sexual) child abuse, it should be clear that sole custody with supervised visitation of the other parent is the only option. Too often we hear that joint custody is still given to the abuser (M/F). And lets not forget that statistically the most severe abuse takes place at the hands of the stepparent. Courts simply can not exclude stepparents from coming to a custody decision.

With a parent in prison, joint custody is going to be hard. Though Bill Eddy in his book ‘Splitting’ talks about taking kids to visit their parent in prison. Supervised visitation is also warranted when there is mental illness like schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder.

But there is also hidden abuse, abuse that courts fail or even refuse to see. Just because they turn the blind eye, doesn’t mean it isn’t cruel to the children involved.

Parental Alienation is now in the DSM-V as psychological child abuse. The makers of the DSM-V had to stay ‘politically correct’ and therefore the term Parental Alienation is not named per se:

Child psychological abuse: “nonaccidental verbal or symbolic acts by a child’s parent or caregiver that result, or have reasonable potential to result, in significant psychological harm to the child.”  — DSM-V

Science won, lobbyist for some parental rights organizations lost. Finally, so now we have to get the courts on board and recognize the damage that is done to children.

Who perpetuates most of the alienating behavior? A normal healthy psychologically parent may be angry at the beginning of the divorce and say and do some things that they later regret, but they will have no problem to admit their mistakes to their children and ex-spouse and assure the children love the other parent.

However, personality disordered parents per definition can not change, it is an enduring character flaw, and they are defensive of their mistakes. It is always the other, the target’s, fault. As time passes on, the children also become the target of the personality disordered parents defensive behavior.

We expect from the justice system, be it judge or jury, to be a trier of fact. We expect them to look at the evidence presented at trial. The 6th amendment assures each of us have a right to a fair trial, criminal or civil. In custody cases the stakes are high, the decision is about the emotional, physical and psychological health of the next generation, the generation that carries our country and future. It wouldn’t get to a custody trial if there weren’t severe issues to be addressed.

Procrustean bed: And arbitrary standard to which exact conformity is forced

Procrustus persuaded travellers in Greek Mythology to come and sleep in his bed. He claimed his bed was perfect and would fit each traveller. The iron bed in fact was a torture device, where Procrustus (meaning ‘The Stretcher’) would stretch the person who was too small and would cut off the legs of those that were too long.

Forcing joint or 50/50 custody on embattled or personality disordered parents, despite the evidence presented, discarding hard evidence that does not fit your theory and embellishing unsubstantiated accusations as being truthful, or justifying lies, undermines the justice system and hurts children. A personality disorder is a game-changer in custody decisions; it is time the courts realize the damage they are doing.

Dear Lady Liberty, I Kissed the Wrong Frog.

Dear Lady Liberty,

I’ve visited you again last weekend, and I’m always mesmerized by you and what you stand for.451268880_9dd7aa3c7c_b Freedom. You are a promise. A promise to oneself.

On 10 January 1998 I sat at the window seat of KL 691 trying to get a glimpse of Lady Liberty, the promise of this wonderful new country where I was enrolled in a prestigious PhD program.

I was trembling with excitement. I was in my early 20s and the world was my oyster. With just 2 suitcases and my dreams I landed in this wonderful and beautiful country.

After about a year I met Ex and I have to admit now, I kissed the wrong frog. I kissed the psychopath frog, and he did not turn into a prince.

Psychopaths are exceedingly charming, it is clear from our whole divorce proceedings that our female judge and female GAL are absolutely smitten with Ex. And so was I. It wasn’t until the end of the marriage that I, like Little Red Riding Hood, started asking questions, and no longer took the lies, gaslighting and manipulations for truth. The spell of the charm was gone on the 8th of July 2011 when I kicked him out of the house. O, and how he has held it against me that I kicked him out during the proceedings. The rage, he was insulted beyond. How dared I do this to him.

Hervey M. Cleckley wrote the ‘Mask of Sanity’ in which he describes the elusive psychopath, the master deceiver, who secretly possesses no moral or ethical restraints, yet behaving in public with excellent function.

Like a snake charmer mesmerize the snake, the psychopath with his/her superficial charm enchants the victim with the determined focus of a predator on its prey. Through a web of blatant lies, subtle lies, lies by omission, half-truths and truths the psychopath maneuvers its victim to where (s)he wants them to be.

And so did Ex. He knew from the get-go that 50/50 as a father was likely the best he could do through court. To him that was not a problem, as he would from there on proceed to full custody through the children, aka ‘Parental Alienation’. During the divorce proceedings he worked relentless on them.

And he succeeded with the court. I rejected an offer from the judge, where the children would spend 6 months of the year with the father first and then 6 months of the year with the mother.

Nobody familiar with Parental Alienation would take this idiotic proposal in consideration. This offer would have assured the bond between 1 parent and the kids would be broken. The judge assured me that she ‘would make sure the children were allowed to contact me’, despite a 2 year trail of evidence and admittance by Ex himself, that the children were not allowed to contact me, or talk about Mom, that the kids would be punished with a time-out if they failed to obey.

Six months are a long time without contact with a parent for a toddler and young child.

But both the judge and the GAL were smitten with the idea, Ex had cleverly maneuvered them in an advantageous position for him. Probably how he did during the marriage, like it was ‘my’ idea. Both the judge and GAL lost sight of the best interest of the child and had become puppets of the psychopath, they were enchanted. Ex could not conceal his victorious smile walking out of the judge’s chambers. I had no idea what had happened, but it send chills down my spine.

In criminal court these manipulations can not happen to the same extend. Apart from the Judge, there is the jury and the rules of evidence and sentencing are strict. Family Court is ruled by subjectivity. The Family Court judge becomes the ‘trier of fact’, in my case giving credibility to the parent who scored 2x the standard deviation above the norm on the Lie Scale in the MMPI. The seductiveness of charm; throwing away objective data to succumb to the psychopath.

It is in Family Court that most Life Sentences are given, ironically not Criminal Court. The lower standards and rules of evidence favor a bias, where subjectivity determines what happens to the child.

Do I regret my marriage? In a strange way I do and I don’t. For one, there are 2 beautiful kids and I wouldn’t want to have missed out on them for the world. Furthermore, not the marriage, but the divorce has grown me as a person. I wish I had learned my life lessons in a different way, but that is the past.

Standing in front of you last weekend I realized that what I dreamt of when I landed on JFK I have become. I’m happy, I have inner freedom. My dream is not over just yet, there are so many more promises to fulfill. On to the future!

Love,

Ostara

Family Law’s Ultimate Guide on How to Treat and Cure a Personality Disorder

Sarcasm: the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say especially in order to insult someone, to show irritation, or to be funny”— Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Yup a little sarcasm on a Tuesday. Lucy TherapistThe brick wall that I, and other parents who deal with a personality disordered ex, keep running into is the persuasive but completely incorrect opinion that a personality disorder is something that can be cured. Like a depression, give some medication, have them in treatment and then magically *POOF* the perfect parent arises.

Just last week my attorney started uttering the words ‘what if Ex went into therapy….’.

I just about immediately wanted to bang my head into a wall. Why is it that Family Law attorneys and judges just don’t get that a personality disorder is a permanent character flaw?

These words from my attorney are just a symptom of how the justice system looks at personality disorders. They don’t grasp the concept, nor the extend of harm it causes children to grow up with a personality disordered parent.

“Personality” is a dynamic and organized set of characteristics possessed by a person that uniquely influences his or her cognitions, emotions, motivations, and behaviors in various situations.

Paper Mache Unfinished Comedy & Tragedy SetThe word ‘person’ comes from the Latin word ‘persona’, which means mask. In the ancient world, and in many cultures, masks were used in theatre and plays to typify a character.

A mask is not used to disguise the character, but to underline what the character symbolizes.

Your personality is what you are, it is your identity. In this multi-cultural society we recognize and even celebrate each individual is unique. It is not something that changes.

A healthy personality has a pattern of thoughts, feeling and social adjustments that assures the individual functions in society. A person with a personality disorder exhibit patterns of self-perceptions and attitudes that collide with society. They handle reactions to other people, problems and stress differently. It is a character trait that does not change over time.

Anti-Social Personality Disorder is particular resistant to ‘therapy’. The criminal justice system seems to recognize that and just puts individuals who commit a crime in prison. If they thought ASPD could be cured or even somewhat treated, then we would have Personality Disorder Clinics! We would live in a peaceful society! Utopia!

Research has shown that ASPD has a large genetic component (more than 50%). That is nothing new, Jang has done much research on fraternal and identical twins and came to the conclusion that about 46% of personality traits are genetically linked, not just ASPD.

So the Family Justice system is now in the gene-therapy business?

If Personality Disorders were harmless to children, it wouldn’t be such a terrible thing. Just force Joint Custody and eventually the bickering and fighting will stop. Joint Custody, the Family Law gene-therapy.

And NOTHING is more harmful to children then continuously being exposed to conflict.

During our trial the custody evaluator testified to such, experts testified to such. You look left and right in the literature and everybody (for once) agrees; continued exposure to conflict is harmful to children.

So, in the month or so that our latest court order went into effect we’ve had;

  1. Called CPS with false allegations
  2. Deliberately scheduled medical well visits when Mother is out-of-town, and went to great lengths to prevent Mother from access to medical appointments when she returned early. (repeated event)
  3. Not providing pre-school of Mother’s contact information (repeated event)
  4. Called law-enforcement to enforce a non-scheduled custody exchange (he wanted the kids, so they had to help him, even though it wasn’t his access time, he has a history of that too)
  5. Unilaterally reduced the court ordered support payment.

And psychopaths do things deliberately. It is with the intend to harm. Take for instance the medical appointment for Muppet. He had scheduled it 2 weeks prior, knowing I would be out-of-town those 2 days. I haphazardly found out from the Pediatrician’s office and this is not the first time Ex failed to notify me; oldest had surgery and he notified me after the fact.

I rescheduled, so both parents could be there and notified him. Ex caused a stink with the Ped’s and rescheduled again for when I was out-of-town and failed to notify me (Ped’s office was on to him and called me directly). Actions to cause harm with psychopaths are intentional and deliberate. It was his intention to prevent the Mother access, it was his intention to cause harm with calling CPS, it was his intention to cause harm with not paying support. He has no excuse, it is like a cat playing with a mouse.

And it won’t stop, they can’t stop, it is in their genes. No matter what Family Court thinks. Instead, judges and attorneys should take a personality disorder very serious and think about the long term well-being of the children, who, as a recent UCLA study tells us, suffer. They are the future.

The Child’s Voice in Divorce; Trending Topics on Twitter

Yesterday I read that Topsy now has a database with analytics about all the Tweet in cyberspace since 2006. I casually browsed to the site and entered some random #s. As you know from my previous posts, I’m “slightly” annoyed with the lack of rights children have in a divorce, so I also entered #fathersrights, #mothersrights and #childrensrights.

Trending Topics on Twitter 8/15 - 9/15/2013The results were slightly disturbing, so this morning, coffee in hand, I decided to look a little more in-depth into these statistics. What are people really tweeting about? What is the relevance to family court, or custody disputes?

#childrensrights (316 tweets)

At first I was relieved that there were actual, and relatively many, tweets about Children’s Rights, until I started to dissect the tweets and their actual topics. There is a lot of injustice done to children all over the world. The child’s right to education, child brides, failed circumcision, rape, the underground child adoption exchange (this one leaves me speechless, but telling of our society), poverty, cannabis therapy.

None about the children’s rights in divorce…………

None…….

Read that again: None……..

They don’t have a voice.

#mothersrights (30 tweets)

29 Tweets are from attorneys tweeting their answer to a legal question on Avvo. These are questions from mothers seeking a solution or information when just starting the divorce or with regards to a father who, according to the mother, has abandoned the child(ren). 1 Question is from a mother who lost custody and wants to seek visitation. Usually the answer is to hire a lawyer. Shocker.

1 Tweet is about mothers dealing with a stillborn child.

#fathersrights (175 tweets)

And so the bitching starts, excuse my words, and it is not pretty either. My heart rate increases, and I’m not sure it is from my morning coffee. The hairs on my arms are raised with the tone of aggression, is that REALLY in the best interest of the child? It sounds more like bullying; the use of force or coercion to abuseintimidate, or to aggressively impose a certain type of domination over others.

The positive part of this is that most of the aggression is done by attorneys advertising their business. MONEY MONEY MONEY, father’s rights are big business and these attorneys show their teeth in their tweets. Who cares about the child?

Other tweets are about ‘winning’, dads-can-win. So that is the essence of the fight? The winning? Again, that shows aggression and has absolutely nothing to do with the best interest of the child. It is showing their true colors.

There are only a handful of tweets by fathers themselves.

Thankfully there are quite a few tweets about Baby Veronica. While I only know what was presented in the media, I emotionally side completely with the father. There is a great injustice done to the child that there even has to be a battle about this. The biological parent*, who by all means appears to be ‘fit’, who initiated proceedings in a timely manner (not 10 years after the fact), is the parent. Adoption is a wonderful thing for so many children, no question about that, but in this case it is clearly inappropriate.

I’m disappointed by the imbalance of coverage of the different interests. I’m appalled by the aggressive tone of advocates of Father’s Rights, which seems to be about winning and money, not the child. I make no judgement about parents tweeting about the loss of custody. There may be good reason they lost custody, there may be a great injustice done to the children by what happened.

* I specifically and respectfully, say ‘parent’, as I resent this gender war in custody battles. Where joint or shared custody is not in the best interest of the children, the most suitable parent should have sole custody to safeguard the long-term wellbeing of the child.

Time’s Up!: The Broken Custody Court System: Is there Reason for Hope?

I encourage you to read the blog by Barry Goldstein. It is long, but worth the read. The only way to reform the justice system is by using our voice.

“Time’s Up!”: The Broken Custody Court System: Is there Reason for Hope?