Childhood Trauma : Early Signs of Psychopathy

childhood trauma, psychopathy

Child Psychopaths

First, it is important to state that diagnosing childhood psychological disturbance is fraught with difficulties as, once the child enters adolescence, behavioural problems are very far from uncommon, especially irritability, mood fluctuations, boundary testing/defiance and breaking social rules.

However, the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual) does list six conditions related to childhood conduct problems. It should be noted, however, that about two-thirds of children displaying antisocial behaviours such as those I am about to list, do NOT go on to develop anti-social personality disorder (APD)  – sometimes referred to as psychopathy –  as adults.

childhood_trauma_and_psychopathy

The conditions listed in the DSM relating to child conduct problems, together with their symptoms, are as follows :

1) CONDUCT DISORDER (CD) :

– persistent violation and disregard for other people’s rights

– truancy

– a developing pattern of aggressive behaviour (towards people and/or animals)

– persistent lying and deceitfulness

– serious violations of rules at home and/or at school

– destruction of property

2) OPPOSITIONAL DEFIANT DISORDER (ODD) :

– frequent resistance against authority figures

– frequent arguments/confrontations with adults

– recurring temper tantrums

– a general pattern of defiance and disobedience

– enduring and significant anger and resentment

(if, of course, there are blatantly good reasons for defiance of authority/anger/resentment etc these should not be viewed as abnormal reactions)

3) DISRUPTIVE BEHAVIOUR DISORDER NOT OTHERWISE SPECIFIED (DBD-NOS) :

–  ongoing signs of above two conditions but not so severe that they meet the criteria for these diagnoses

4) ADJUSTMENT DISORDER WITH MIXED DISTURBANCE OF EMOTIONS AND CONDUCT :

– shows a variety of anti-social and emotional symptoms that become apparent within three months of a stressor but these do not meet the diagnostic criteria to be categorized above.

5) ADJUSTMENT DISORDER WITH DISTURBANCE OF CONDUCT :

– similar to above but with anti-social behaviour symptoms only

6) CHILD OR ADOLESCENT ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR :

– this category is for those who have displayed a significant, but isolated, anti-social behaviour but this is not indicative of a psychiatric condition.

 

It has already been stated that just because a young person falls into one of the above categories, this in no way implies that they will go on to develop APD in adulthood. However, there are certain symptoms which have been highlighted as risk factors that a young person might go on to develop APD later in life :

RISK FACTORS FOR DEVELOPING APD IN ADULTHOOD :

– hyperactivity and impulsivity

– particularly the early onset of conduct disorder

– committing a large variety of different types of anti-social behaviour

– displaying anti-social behaviour in a variety of different contexts/environments (eg not just at home)

– grandiosity

– high degree of irresponsibility

– prone to become very easily bored

– frequent deceitfulness

– aggression

The more of the above behaviours the young person displays, and the more severe they are, the higher the probability that the child or adolescent is at risk of going on to develop APD in adulthood.

NEUROLOGICAL DEFICIT THEORY :

It has been theorized that both conduct disorder in young people and APD in adults is underpinned by the same neurological deficit – it is thought this deficit is linked to problems constraining behaviour in those that have it.

EARLY RELATIONSHIP DISRUPTION THEORY :

The view has also been put forward that those who do not bond securely to their mothers in the first year of life are at greater risk of developing APD as adults. Indeed, those at risk of APD frequently have significant problems relating to others in general when growing up. At the extreme end of the APD scale, it has been observed that child killers have frequently experienced problems relating to others.

 

Psychopathy: Further Research into Its Link to Childhood Trauma

 

 

‘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.

 

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.

 

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 (i.e. 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 TO / DISINTEREST IN THE CHILD’S BEHAVIOR to, at the opposite extreme, CONTROL ACHIEVED BY TERRORIZATION, INTIMIDATION, THREATS, PHYSICAL VIOLENCE 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 with 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 emotions more intensely, e.g .:

– hostility

– shame

– irritability

– anxiety

– anger

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

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

About David Hosier MSc

Holder of MSc and post graduate teaching diploma in psychology. Highly experienced in education. Founder of childhoodtraumarecovery.com. Survivor of severe childhood trauma.

Leave a Comment

Post Navigation