We have gone into so much detail on this site about all the toxic and destructive behavior psychopaths engage in, but just how are psychopaths created? Indeed, are they created at all, or rather born as a psychopath?
The issue is still widely debated, with the nature vs nurture (born vs made) sides of the discussion both having valid arguments. Sometimes the distinction of the term psychopath referring to a person being born with pathological traits, and the terms sociopath referring to someone who was more made that way by their environment, is used, but even this is not fully agreed on and there is still not consensus on the issue.
One perspective on how psychopaths are created which appears to be true much of the time is that they are simply passing down to others what has been done to them in their earlier years, particularly by invalidating and abusive parents. They are projecting their inner rage and grief at mistreatment in their own lives onto others as a form of revenge and retribution.
Whilst there is quite possibly a genetic basis for psychopathy to some extent, where some people are more likely to become psychopaths given the wrong environment, we want to emphasize the issue of a person’s early life and environment as a crucial factor in how all abnormal personalities form, including psychopaths.
Even if there doesn’t appear at first to be any childhood disturbance with these characters, it is important to look deeper. Let’s look at why in more detail.
The Nature vs Nurture Arguments For The Creation of Psychopaths
This is a debate which continues on among researchers into psychopathy. Are psychopaths born or made? Is is caused by purely hereditary and genetic factors, or more from environmental influences, or a combination of both?
There is a lot of talk about the possible existence of “genetic markers” for psychopathy, but the discussion here doesn’t seem to go past speculation. No actual marker has yet been found, despite extensive research and the science of genetics being quite well advanced by now. Is it fair to say that if a psychopath gene existed, it would have been found by now?
The nurture or environmental argument seems far more interesting to us, since from a purely genetic and evolutionary perspective, many of the common traits of psychopathy (lack of empathy or community, isolation, divisiveness, stopping the growth of others) are anti-human and anti-evolution and should therefore be bred out of the human race over time.
Instead, we find psychopathic traits persisting and even increasing in the general population as time goes on, not decreasing. This suggests there is something happening within society and family units which is increasing the prevalence of psychopathic/sociopathic traits among the population, and straight away this points towards dysfunctional and oppressive upbringings as a key potential source for psychopathy.
Many psychologists who have studied psychopathy and profiled psychopaths are in agreement with this point. They find in many or all cases that there are factors in their childhood which have led them to be the way they are, with their destructive behavior representing a kind of psychological “pass the parcel”, where they offload things onto others which are still unresolved in them and which they do not want to face.
To understand this dynamic more, we need to look at psychological dynamics such as grief, trauma, power and projection to see how from the nurture argument, a psychopath effectively does to others what has been done to them.
Psychopathy as a Projection of Grief and Anger Onto The World
Criminal Profiler on The Creation of Psychopaths
The video above from an experienced criminal profiler perfectly describes how psychopathy forms in so many people she has examined as a reaction to severe abuse and trauma suffered in their own childhood. Rather than deal with it in a harmonious way and come to peace with it, the psychopath is acting out all the rage and anger they feel inside themselves and passing this psychological wounding onto others. See this quote:
“Their anger and acting out is a reformation of grief, intense deep grief. And grief is a very annoying sentiment. You can only undergo it, you can’t do anything. If someone dies in your family and you grieve for the person, there’s nothing you can do.
But if you can transform grief into anger, you can do so many things. You can use the energy of the anger to change things. But some people use that anger to get even and they take the most vulnerable amongst us, to have a kind of god-like feeling for a moment. To have the feeling “I’m in control”….
Michael Tsarion from the Unslaved Podcast on psychopathy basically makes the same point in another way, recasting the issue as simply a power dynamic which is repeating from their childhood, hence their obsession with power and control over others:
“There is no doubt that if (the psychopath) had come from cold, indifferent, unloving parents, who kept on using the will to power to destroy and humiliate him, then he’s very likely to be forced into submission, and then become a disciple of the will to power.
He may become a disciple of the master-slave dynamic, because he’s trying to find the power that he was denied. He’s trying to exercise it on other people. He’s trying to be the master before he can be mastered. You’ll read this in numerous books on the subject….these specialists are always telling you that these guys want to kill before they’re killed. They do see the world as a very frightening place…..
….these are people who really want revenge on the world, because they think the world has hurt them. And in many cases maybe they’re right”
So from this perspective we see psychopathy as a misguided projection of unresolved internal toxicity onto the world at large, instead of against the one(s) who actually hurt them. They see the whole world as being at fault and not just the people who mistreated them, and take pleasure in causing damage and destruction in the lives of others, in a twisted way seeing it as some kind of “leveling up of the score”.
The old adage “Don’t make your problems my problems” is very relevant here, since this is exactly what the psychopath is doing from this perspective, passing down to others what has been done to them instead of dealing with it in a holistic, self contained manner. In fact it is a good phrase to use on someone who you find is projecting their internal disorder onto others, making other people’s life a misery as well as their own.
This is also why it’s commonly observed with the Cluster B disorders such as psychopathy, that these people are constantly looking outwards to others to manage their own internal state, often by provoking and annoying others to inflate themselves, creating chaos in the world to resolve their own internal grief in a dysfunctional way.
“Custer B is the .. definition of reaction seeking or dramatic personality disorders. This is not ‘I want to go away and sit on my own in my room’, this is ‘I need to annoy you to live. I need to hurt you to feel OK. I need to cause chaos and drama wherever I go just to feel basically alright’”.
Do Genetic Psychopaths Exist? (Born Psychopaths)
Again the research community is still undecided on this, since there do appear to be some cases of psychopathy where the person appears, at least on the surface, to have grown up in a very loving, supportive family and by all accounts had a happy childhood, yet somehow still displays these toxic personality traits such as manipulativeness, lack of empathy and so on.
Sometimes children appear to display these traits from very early on as well, leading some to speculate whether some people are simply born with the condition. Animal cruelty and mutilation is a common early sign of pathological disorders like psychopathy that is sometimes observed in troubled children.
We suspect however that if you delve more deeply into these family situations, then in almost all cases you will find abusive patterns there, perhaps just more cleverly concealed and covert in some families than others.
In many cases, perhaps it’s not so much the genes that are being passed down rather than the psychology – the toxic interpersonal patterns of relating and interacting with others that continue to propagate through generations of toxic families. It doesn’t really hold water to say “look, the son is just as bad as the father, psychopathy must be genetic”, because the similarities could have been created by psychological modeling rather than genetic similarity.
It’s very hard to separate the two factors out definitively; however, here’s a good broad summary quote that gives fair credence to both perspectives as regards the creation of psychopaths:
“You’ll find from all walks of life, some people were perfectly good parents and will have a child who displays (psychopathic) behaviors once they grow up, and it’s very confusing because they feel they did everything correct.
Then you’ll find (psychopathy) as a result of (what) are described as attachment disorders. So the person who was maybe supposed to give them care or give them love, either ignored them or rejected them or neglected them…
… I think it would make sense that in order to shut down the remorse and shame parts of the brain, something not so good has happened”
Jackson Mackenzie – see here
The psychological factors of inter-generational psychopathy may not be so easy to spot at first, since a psychopathic parent by their very nature will be very clever at hiding and presenting the image of the perfect, happy family when it is needed. Documented physical abuse is one thing; covert psychological abuse or “soul murder” is another and is harder to detect right away when observing a family or trying to put together a life history of a psychopath.
It may take a more skilled, experienced therapist or researcher to look past this marzipan veneer and spot signs of abusive dynamics within the family, or pick up on inconsistencies in accounts which are given by both parent and child of a supposedly “perfect” childhood.
The more intelligent psychopaths are masters of putting up a good front act or mask of sanity to present themselves to the world as a perfectly normal, kind person, just like everybody else. This is true for potentially psychopathic parents as well as the children who they may later also turn into psychopaths through repeated abuse.
They are often able to put up an image to the outside world as being the “perfect family” with no problems whatsoever. The real patterns of abuse that are going on behind closed doors are cleverly concealed from the outside world, and need more intelligent probing to uncover.
We suspect that most or all of the time you will find psychopaths do have a troubled past if you dig in deep enough. If they do exist, we suspect that the born genetic psychopaths are very rare. Most or all psychopaths appear to be made by growing up in an abusive and invalidating environment, which creates wounding and trauma which they then pass on to others later in life.