Inheriting Evil

Speak See Hear no Evil
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I was left a very thoughtful comment today in response to my post about why I’m not going to have children because my father is a sociopath.

In Balbrouchan’s comment, which you can read here, she brings up some good issues. The first is that socipathy isn’t 100% inheritable, since she and I are not sociopaths, and neither are her kids, even with first order relatives that were.  She says:

“Since you are not, yourself, an antisocial psychopath, I would say your children, if you had felt like having any, would not have been at risk from inheriting it from their grandfather – since the fact that you don’t have that behavior, plainly shows that you have not inhedited it…”

She also says:

“But I think it’s very harsh to tell fellow incest survivors they have high risks of having sociopathic children. If the survivors themselves don’t exhibit “antisocial behavior with psychopathic tendencies”, and are not married to a psychopath, the risk on their children is pretty low, even with a first order relative who is a psychopath.”

Balbrouchan is right, it is harsh to say children of sociopaths are more likely to have sociopaths for children, and I wouldn’t have the gall to say it if it didn’t apply to me too, and if it wasn’t what I honestly believe. Given the magnitude of damage my father did in his lifetime, ‘pretty low’ chances are just too high for me.

More importantly, though, I think my post could be read as perpetrating the ‘survivors are more likely to be child molesters’ prejudice, and I’m not trying to do that here, at least partly because it actually doesn’t bear out. Child molesters will report being abused themselves at fairly high rates, but when they did studies that were structured to eliminated any benefits from claiming to be abused, and backed it up with a lie detector test, the self-reports of abuse by child molesters went down to the same rates as the general population. (I got this from Anna Salter’s book on predators  )

She also brings up an issue common to many survivors with children, the fear of turning into the kinds of parents we survived and abusing them too.

“The good part is that, while I was very afraid of “turning pedophile” on my own children, it has not happened. Time and time again I have checked with myself if I had any sexual desire toward my children and I’ve found absolutely nothing, to my own relief – and to my deeper disgust of my own father. I have never had even nightmares of sexual contact with my children (and you know one can’t control one’s nightmares – at almost 40, I still have nightmares where I end up willingly f*ing my father). I don’t have sexual desires towards other children as well, so all’s good on this side.”

I too, had a big period where I watched myself carefully for child molester tendencies (also something a sociopath wouldn’t do) and have always been extremely careful of treating children correctly. As a survivor and a lesbian, I know the stereotypes and prejudices attached to both of those categories, and have always been scrupulous in avoiding even the perception of creepiness. I go so far as to not usually initiate physical contact with children. Whatever stray hostile feelings I’ve had toward children (barring noisy disruptive ones in quiet restaurants) I’ve always recognized as being truly directed against my own inner child and dealt with them as such.

I’ve done a lot of reading about sociopathy, and one common thread I’ve found is that researchers think it’s partly or mostly genetic. Once a child is born and they’re exhibiting empathy, they’re not going to be a sociopath. They may do bad things, but they won’t be an actual sociopath, because that’s about the ability to feel empathy.

Balbrouchan points summarizes the situation nicely here:

The article you’re citing states that “in children with psychopathic tendencies, antisocial behaviour was strongly inherited. In contrast, the antisocial behaviour of children who did not have psychopathic tendencies was mainly influenced by environmental factors”.

“If I understand well, if your child has no early-onset psychopathic tendencies, then all is well and provided you give a right environment, no antisocial tendencies will appear. On the contrary if he has early-onset psychopathic tendencies, then his antisocial behavior will be mostly inherited and you’re in big trouble.

Strictly speaking, this research paper doesn’t mean that psychopathic/sociopathic tendencies are inherited. It shows “antisocial behavior with psychopathic tendencies” is mainly inherited. That’s a different story altogether.”

I’m not sure I get, in this last paragraph, how it’s a different story. Seems the same to me. Maybe I’m missing something.

It’s the ‘early onset psychopathic tendencies’ that I’m wanting to prevent, since I believe that’s what my dad had. If I’m technically wrong to say that’s sociopathy, then fair enough (although I don’t really get it), but that’s what I mean. I also, even if my kids are fine, don’t want to be responsible for passing a greater risk for ‘early onset psychopathic tendencies’ on to my grandkids or great-grandkids either.  We can be carriers of the gene without having the problem.  It’s like people who know that epilepsy, schizophrenia or hemophilia run in their family thinking twice about passing the genes on (all of these while serious, are at least treatable, unlike psychopathy), except in my case, it’s not just my descendants who would bear the impact of my decision, but their victims as well.

My kid (or grandkid or great-grandkid) is more likely to be born with great difficulty feeling empathy, and once he or she is born and I figure that out, I’d better be on my A game to make sure I parent in a way that corrects and compensates for that. Even good parents screw things up, and making sure my potential empathy-impaired kid isn’t a monster is a huge responsibility. Even if he or she isn’t, she or he will still carry the gene I carry and one of his kids could be born to parents who aren’t equipped to teach remedial empathy and we end up with someone like my dad again. Adoption or childlessness area perfectly viable options, and one way I can help prevent people like my father from being born. I realize we’re talking eugenics here, which is usually a bad thing, but unlike the Nazis, I’m not forcing anyone to follow my example, and really, is trying to prevent the birth of people with early onset psychopathic tendencies that will predispose them to behaving monstrously such a bad thing?

From talking to my relatives, and observing my dad’s relatives reactions to him, I think that my father exhibited lack of empathy pretty young, and it does seem credible that he was born that way. I think there are child molesters who aren’t sociopaths, and vice versa. They’re not one and the same. Raping me was only a small fraction of the antisocial, ugly and violent things my dad did in his lifetime. He’s not one of those ‘compulsively fixated on kids sexually’ types as far as I can tell, he ‘just’ likes to hurt people and animals and in general get away with things, which is classic for a sociopath.

Anyhow, thanks to Balbrouchan for pointing out I might be perpetuating stereotypes against survivors, something I’d never want to do.