Psychopathy : Further Research into Its Link to Childhood Trauma

childhood-trauma-fact-sheet

‘When I was a boy I never had a friend in the world.’

– Heinrich Pommerencke, convicted German serial killer.

Traditionally, psychological research into psychopaths (or, as they are now more accurately referred to, individuals with anti-social behaviour disorder) has tended to focus upon their aberrant behaviour as opposed to the factors which led to them developing the disorder.

Furthermore, in the past, any research that did look at causal factors of the condition tended to show something of a bias in concentrating upon biological factors (genetic make-up and brain chemistry) whilst neglecting to focus sufficiently upon the (now known to be enormously important) role played by environmental factors, specifically, adverse childhood experience.

childhood_experience_and_psychopathy

Research conducted since the start of the 1980s, when meta-analyzed (ie when the studies are considered as a whole) show that those who went on to develop psychopathy almost invariably suffered catastrophic psychological damage during their childhood from exceptionally severe physical and/or psychological abuse.

childhood_trauma_and_psychopathy

WHAT KIND OF PARENTS DO THOSE WHO BECOME PSYCHOPATHS TEND TO HAVE?

The psychologist Gullhaugen found that those who go on to develop psychopathy tend to have parents who have extreme parenting styles in terms of how they carry out :

a) CARE OF THEIR CHILDREN

b) CONTROL OF THEIR CHILDREN

Both the above, Gullhaugen explains, run along  spectrums, ie :

a)  CARE runs along a spectrum from, at one extreme, NO CARE (ie the child is ignored and severely neglected) to, at the opposite extreme, obsessive overprotection.

b) CONTROL runs along a spectrum from, at one extreme, COMPLETE INDIFFERENCE/DISINTEREST IN THE CHILD’S BEHAVIOUR to, at the opposite extreme, CONTROL ACHIEVED BY TERRORIZATION, INTIMIDATION, THREATS, PHYSICAL VIOENCE etc.

Whilst most children are brought up by parents whose parenting styles in relation to both care and control fall somewhere in the middle of the above two spectrums, Gallhaugen’s study revealed that over 50% of psychopaths had been brought up by parents whose parenting styles were at the extreme end of these spectrums.

RELATIONSHIP PROBLEMS AT THE HEART OF PSYCHOPATHY.

Stemming from the dysfunctional relationships and rejection psychopaths will typically have experienced during childhood, they have severe problems relating to others in adulthood. Indeed, most psychopaths feel insecure and uncomfortable in connection to their interpersonal relationships.

FURTHER FINDINGS FROM GALLHAUGEN’S STUDY :

It was also found that psychopaths tend to experience more negative emotions than average, and to experience such emtions more intensely, eg :

– hostility

– shame

–  irritability

– anxiety

– anger

However, it was also found that they experience a marked lack of guilt.

Because the seeds of psychopathy are clearly planted in childhood, my next post will examine the signs a child may display who is in danger of developing into a psychopath.

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David Hosier BSC Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Copyright 2013 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

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