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. 

Kids Say the Darnest Things; Parental Controls of Your Divorce

This morning I, with toddler & iPad in tow, went to the salon to have my nails done for the photo shoot this coming Friday. article-1262377-08EEBE03000005DC-546_468x544

Just your normal morning; updating and getting updated with all the local and personal gossip, living the small town USA life. While my nails are getting done the toddler is playing on the iPad and the ‘Girls’ and I are happily chatting. Until somebody mentions something innocuous about a video they saw.

Muppet looks up from the iPad and inserts into the conversation. “Dad has 2 videos on his laptop”. We all look adoringly at Muppet and smile, oh how adorable toddlers can be. “He hangs up his undies and then dances with Shelly” follows while making a thrusting movement.

Jaws drop. Dead silence.

My brain goes a million miles an hour. How to handle this? Don’t destroy innocence. Muppet has no clue what was seen. I’m speechless, yet I know I have to say something to ‘save the situation’. Say something smart, say something witty, SAY SOMETHING………..

“I enjoy dancing, dancing is fun!” Yup, a failed comeback, but the best I could come up with.

This has been a consistent problem during the divorce, the children are consistently exposed to way too much. The oldest knows about motions and affidavits. I get questions using language that even I don’t know (“Sorry hun, let me look up that word before I answer you”. English is my 2nd language), let alone what is appropriate for a 7-year-old. It is simply not fair to a child to do so, it is putting adult issues onto innocence and demanding them to grow up too fast.

It is a lack of boundaries.

A child is not your ‘brother in arms’. To protect the child you need to take actions to protect them from being exposed to conflict.

Password Protect All Things Electronic

Computers, tablets, smartphones are part of society. Kids at some point will pick up your phone, will want to play on your tablet. You may be busy cooking dinner, or finally taking that shower. Murphy’s Law, you’re not looking, or it is a really inconvenient moment.

Don’t take the risk. It is so easy to set up a password.

Set Up Separate User Accounts with Parental Controls

In this day and age, you can’t deny access to computers and internet. They need it for school, homework, and social networks. All operating systems have the possibility to set up different users, which have access to different things on the computer and internet.

You really don’t have an excuse to allow children to see inappropriate adult content or things related to the divorce. Curious minds will read. Seeing the desktop files with ‘dadsucks’ ‘momisbad’ is inexcusable.

Don’t Keep Paperwork Laying Around

While we all may at times leave paperwork and bills out on the kitchen counter, when dealing with divorce related paperwork one should be really conscientious. Seeing a bill is a totally different for a child than seeing documentation that talks about your mom and dad breaking up. It rips a wound that should be healing over time, right back open.

Hold Divorce Related Phone Calls Out of Earshot

I’ve always had all my conversations outside, out of earshot, but with the children in my line of view. A couple of month ago the oldest wanted to talk to GAL. Walked right outside, right to where I always make my phone calls. I smiled.

Just remember “Little teacups have ears”.

Don’t Use the Kids as Messengers

This should be so obvious, yet time and time again I hear it in our household, and stories from others. Put on your big girl panties or be a man, if you have to say something to your ex, do it in person, or via a phone call, text or email.

As a parent it is your duty to protect the children from harm. Being exposed to conflict, being exposed to the divorce going ons is harmful. Cherish the young years your children have, they will thank you for it later. Be that safe haven, their rock, when all around them is changing.

Child Custody Battles; a Lesson from My Child at Dave’s & Busters

“Sometimes the most poignant revelations in life can come from observing the innocence of children.” — Unknown

Custody Battle

Last night we went for dinner at Dave’s and Buster, the kids were all excited and they were going to ‘win BIG and get lots of money’. I smiled and told them to just enjoy the games and if they won prices, that was a bonus and a gift, but not to have expectations. They ran off in excitement discussing which game to play first. Upon returning they were beaming; the oldest with lots of tickets, the younger with just a few, which were actually given by the oldest. We ate our dinner and they went to get their ‘prizes’, having high expectations. They returned with each a ‘nerd stick’. I hugged both of them and told the oldest how proud I am. The biggest winner assured that both came out equally.

Depending on whose research you read, about 80-95% of custody situations get resolved at least reasonably amicable. These parents are excellent candidates for joint or shared custody and their children have great long-term outcomes.

So in about 5-20% of the cases there is high conflict. Conflict is a huge detrimental factor in the wellbeing of the child. Researchers state that parental conflict is the biggest predictor of poor outcome for children. The most powerful determinant is the level and intensity of the conflict. Joint custody is just then harmful for the child. Continued exposure to conflict as a child, whether in a marriage or during/after divorce, leads to depression, low self-esteem, self-blame, acting out, poor social skills and poor relationships as adults.

Advances in neuropsychology have shown that when exposed to conflict, our brains release stress hormones that over time can actually change brain functioning.

That’s scary.

That is what you are doing to your child.

Bill Eddy of High Conflict Institute and many other researchers along with him, have repeatedly stated that in high conflict divorces there is at least 1, more likely 2 parents with a personality disorder. When there are 2 ‘normal’ parents, the issue, while maybe heated at first, will resolve, not maintain or intensify, like with personality disordered individuals. Thank heavens my personality testing came back normal.

A parent with a personality disorder will not stop. Even if they have full/sole custody, they want more, they want omnipotent control. Having physical possession of the child is not enough. They also need the psychological possession, so they will interfere with the relationship with the other parent. The DSM V now calls that psychological child abuse.

Just Googling ‘parenting capacity’ and ‘personality disorder’ will give you a host of links with the long-term detrimental effect of a parent with a PD on children. It is well-recognized that a PD parent is too self-centered to raise children.

A parent with a personality disorder keeps all the tickets and ‘buys the biggest price’ for themselves. It is about possession. The healthy parent may have more tickets, but realizes that a child is not a possession, their love is to be shared equally. The healthy parent must fight, as not fighting will result in loss or deterioration of the relationship with the child. At the same time the healthy parent realizes that ‘winning’ custody does not mean the other parent is out of the child’s life. Contrary, the healthy parent will share, the healthy parent will assure with actions that the other parent continues to receive the love of the child.

I’m still dumbfounded the judge in our situation faulted me for my willingness to share. She called me hypocritical for providing evidence that substantiated sole custody and at the same time being willing to share. Yes, while having a parent with a PD has long-lasting effects on a child, the child still loves that parent.   Having all the tickets, or being awarded sole custody, doesn’t mean I buy the biggest price. I can still share the love of the children.

So the kids bought 2 nerd sticks for $20, just like the expense of a custody battle does not affect the love of a child for their parents. The irony was not lost on me.

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.

6 Things Your Child Needs to Hear You Say During the Divorce Process

No matter what people try to tell you, divorce is an adult centered process. The Child has little or nothing to say about the huge changes happening in their life. In a previous post, I mused about the impact of divorce on children. It is the duty of the parent to support the child and make the process, the changes as easy as possible. To conquer the challenges together.

I Love You!

I Love You!

1. ‘I Love You’

It seems like an open door. Of course you tell your child you love him/her, but this can be a time of extreme emotional turmoil for kids, especially young kids. They need the assurance of your love during this time. They need to hear it!

2.’It’s Not Your Fault’

Teenagers respond different to divorce then young children, but unless they are really young, at some point they are going to wonder if they are at fault for causing the divorce. Assure your children that they are not the cause of the divorce.

3. ‘Both Parents Will Stay Involved in Your Life’

Joint custody or sole custody for 1 parent should make absolutely NO difference, the other parent will always be the other parent and as such should contribute to, and be part of the child’s life. Sometimes children (and parents for that matter too) think that because there are 2 houses, 1 parent is less important than the other. They are not! Research has shown time and time again that it is not the amount of time a parent spends with the child, but the quality of the time. Assure the child the other parent is still important, regardless of living in a different house, regardless of how much time they spend with the child.

4. “It’s OK to Love the Other Parent”

Because there are 2 houses some children think they have to choose sides. Nothing is more damaging to the long-term emotional wellbeing of children then having to ‘split’. I recently read the book by Melissa Jesperson Moore “Shattered Silence“. She is the daughter of a serial killer and despite the horrific things her father did, she still loved him. I doubt your ex is a serial killer. Assure your child they can express love for the other parent.

5. “Talk to me about your Feelings”

Just like parents go through stages before accepting and moving on from the divorce, children have stages of grief to get to acceptance. It is the parents job to help them with this. If you are too absorbed with the emotions of the divorce, it can be helpful to get the assistance of a qualified therapist. Realize that kids may express anger with you and/or your ex. Make sure the child’s emotions are reality based and don’t cultivate emotions (negative towards your ex and positive towards you) that are unjustified.

6. “It will be OK”

Their lives are up-side-down, your life is up-side-down, and you’re supposed to tell them “It will be OK”? But it will, it will be ok after some time. You can empower your children! Take this opportunity that life gives you, to teach resilience. You can teach them to overcome adversity by modeling how the negative things in life can lead to personal growth and success. When they see you succeed, they are armed with resources to overcome what life throws at them. And it will be OK, it just may take some time.

In the tumultuous time that is called divorce, parents can be a source of strength and stability for the child. You can help your child, hopefully together with your ex. Even if your divorce is high-conflict, you individually can ease the pain of divorce for your child(ren). That is what being a parent is all about, help them grow.