A surprising fact that most people find difficult to believe: sociopaths are everywhere.
They can be found in places you would never expect, and doing things you would never imagine. They are our grandparents, siblings, and friends. And, perhaps most shockingly: they are sometimes our mothers and fathers.
Many therapists will tell you — because they see it surprisingly often in their offices — that the world is filled with people who have no idea they were raised by a sociopathic parent. Yet these parents do an incredible amount of damage to their children. They are, to say the least, the most harmful kind of emotionally neglectful parent one can have.
Sociopathic parents are the most difficult to spot for several key reasons. Like a chameleon in the desert, they know exactly how to hide. But before we talk about that, I am sharing an excerpt from my book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. It comes directly from the section outlining the 11 types of emotionally neglectful parents; the chapter called “The Sociopathic Parent.”
The Sociopathic Parent
Who comes to your mind when you hear the word “sociopath?” Hannibal Lecter? Tony Soprano? Mussolini? These are indeed iconic representations of the concept. But they are the most extreme, dramatic and obvious versions of sociopathy.
The kind of sociopath we’re interested in is different. This sociopath quite possibly never breaks a law and has never been to jail, is far less obvious but far more commonplace. Most people would not ever think of this person as a sociopath. In fact, she may have a charisma that draws people to her. She may be admired and appear selfless and kind to many. But deep down, she is not like the rest of us.
Sometimes no one can see that something is wrong except the people who are closest to her. Often her children can feel it, but that doesn’t mean they understand it.
There is one main feature that sets sociopaths apart from the rest of us. That one thing can be expressed in one word: conscience. Simply put, a sociopath feels no guilt. Because of this, he’s freed up to do virtually anything without having to pay any internal price for it.
A sociopath can say or do anything she wants and not feel bad the next day, or ever. Along with a lack of guilt comes a profound lack of empathy. For the sociopath, other people’s feelings are meaningless because she has no ability to feel them.
In fact, sociopaths don’t really feel anything the way the rest of us do. Their emotions operate under a very different system, which revolves around controlling others. If the sociopath succeeds in controlling you, he may actually feel some “love” for you. The flip side of that coin is that if he fails at controlling you, he will despise you. He uses underhanded means to get his way, and if that doesn’t work, he’ll bully. If that fails, he’ll retaliate by trying to hurt you.
Having no conscience frees up the sociopath to use any underhanded means to get her way. She can be verbally ruthless. She can portray things falsely. She can twist others’ words to her own purposes. She can blame others when things go awry. It’s not necessary to own her mistakes because it’s much easier to blame someone else. The sociopath has discovered the value of playing ‘the victim’ and plays it like a virtuoso.
Yes, sociopathic parents are the most pain-inducing kind of emotionally neglectful parent. Yet they are, in many ways, the most difficult for the child to see. Why? Because, as I said above, they do know exactly how to hide.
5 Things Sociopathic Parents Hide Behind
- Charity work: Whether it’s fundraising, volunteerism, or the PTA, few things provide better cover for a person with no conscience. Everyone assumes that if you are offering your time and work to others, it must be done for selfless, caring reasons. But the sociopath will often use their involvement in this work as an avenue to control or manipulate people. If you look closely, you will see that they bask just a little too excessively in the illusion of kindness they have created for themselves.
- Success, power or wealth: Most folks suspect that people who are highly successful have some special knowledge that has propelled them to their place. But some have achieved their success by stepping on the backs of others, secretly treating people as objects or movable chess pieces. Fortunately, this “cover” is becoming less effective since many have become aware that wealth does not necessarily say anything meaningful about a person.
- Religion: The vast majority of religious people are goodhearted folks who genuinely want to be their best selves. And this provides the perfect camouflage for the sociopath. In their attempts to present themselves as good people, sociopaths often go overboard, becoming zealous, controlling or competitive in their religious ways. Even when others around them catch a glimpse of this, they are likely to distrust their own perceptions and give the highly religious sociopath the benefit of the doubt.
- Charisma: Since sociopaths are not held back by conscience and care for others they exude an energetic presence that draws others to them and then holds them under a spell. When we feel drawn to someone, we tend to trust them. And this puts you directly in their untrustworthy hands.
- You, their child: And by this I mean parenthood. In the world today, mothers and fathers enjoy a great deal of latitude. Mothers are generally assumed to be caring and to love their children and want what’s best for them. This makes it quite difficult for folks to imagine that a parent might be a sociopath. On top of this, the brain of the human infant is wired to its parents’ in a way that is difficult to describe. All children are born needing to be known, appreciated, and loved by their parents. Children automatically trust that their parents feel all of the above unless proven otherwise. When you have a sociopathic parent, your intense need to receive these basic things from your parents makes it very, very difficult to accept that they are not there. You are born to believe that your parents are good, genuine people who love you. This makes a sociopathic parent almost impossible for his child, or anyone else, to see, believe, or accept.
The Sociopathic Parent & Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)
Few parents fail to notice or respond to their children’s feelings (the definition of Childhood Emotional Neglect) in a more thorough or twisted way than the sociopathic one. And no other type of CEN parent literally uses their position as a parent as a cover-up to hide who they actually are. As the child of a sociopath, you sadly play the roles of both cover and casualty.
If you were raised by such a parent, you are likely unaware. You are probably suffering in silence, quietly wondering what is wrong with you.
And fortunately, for you, there are answers! Because once you understand what’s really wrong, you can heal.
Even if your parent was not a sociopath, CEN is difficult to see and remember. To learn whether you grew up with Emotional Neglect visit EmotionalNeglect.com and Take the Free Emotional Neglect Test (link below).
To learn much more about CEN, how it happens, sociopathic parenting and the other 10 types of emotionally neglectful parents see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect (link below).