Is your difficult child a psychopath?

Stress Bunny

Active Member
I know we all think of the classic psychopaths as terrible criminals, including rapists, murderers, and serial killers. But, psychopathy is actually a spectrum of traits and behaviors. Many psychopaths function among us. I have read and learned a lot about this topic, and I am stunned by the characteristics matching our difficult child's behavior.

Check out the Hare Psychopathy Checklist

JT presents nearly all of these characteristics, especially the grandiosity, lying, lack of empathy, lack of personal responsibility, shallow affect, impulsivity, and parasitic lifestyle.

I'm sure JT would score very high on the narcissism scale as well. JT is the biggest braggart we have ever known. He truly believes he is smarter and superior to most everyone. For example, he claims that he is the "best welder" at his workplace, though he is only 20 and surrounded by veteran welders with decades of experience. He also claims he never makes mistakes (I am dead serious!). He even cajoled his college friend into telling us that JT rarely ever makes a mistake. Really? It's unbelievable that he thinks this way!

He thinks he can do anything - any profession (underwater welding, fire jumping) - any feat - any project. People shake their heads in annoyance when he proceeds to tell them how things are and should be done when they are the experts and he is the novice. In 5th grade, JT believed he knew more about math than we do. My husband is a math teacher, and I am a CPA! He is in his own world! This is why he flunked out of college too. He believed he already knew everything and therefore, did not have to study or even read the textbooks. He felt that he was above the classes he was required to take. I begged him to read and study, but he told me I was ignorant and didn't understand the extent of his superior knowledge and that all of the material was so EASY for him. When he failed out of college, he blamed his "stupid" teachers that didn't teach anything "worthwhile".

JT believes he is so superior that he practically needs no training at all to secure the same jobs others have had to earn degrees to get. He wanted to be a Fire Medic in the worst way, but then did not have any ability whatsoever to motivate himself to do the work to get there. He seemed almost insulted that he would be required to train for it.

We have endured many, many insults from him over the years - relating to our intelligence, skills, and even our vehicles. He constantly puts down others, even his boss, about whom he posted derogatory remarks on Facebook. He has no respect for anyone.

With JT, everything is about JT. He doesn't care about others. He doesn't care in the least that it was a hardship for us to pay for his college opportunity. I worked plenty of overtime to save for it, and he couldn't be bothered even to show up for class. In tears, I told him how disappointing it was that I had worked so hard to come up with the funds and he was wasting this opportunity that HE wanted. But, his face was just blank and expressionless. He is completely unfazed by anyone's display of emotion.

He doesn't care to check in when he heard his dad was ill. But he checks in when he wants something for himself. I can't recall having seen JT cry - ever. When he's been sad, it's only been because he has been caught or has had to suffer consequences. I have not seen him empathize with others. In fact, he seems to take delight in upsetting people. A therapist I was seeing in the past told me that she believed he was getting a rise out of hurting us emotionally. She said he was getting his jollies in the power and control of it all.

When we set boundaries with JT financially, he sent us a text message stating that he was going to move in with his birthmom. We adopted JT out of foster care at age 2, as parental rights were terminated due to severe neglect. Moving in with bio mom never happened, and I don't think that was ever on the radar. I think it was a manipulative ploy to scare me into giving him money. Never mind how his adoptive mom might feel about him threatening to do something like that. He has smirked when caught stealing, when recounting breaking up with his girlfriend on the day her beloved cat died, and most recently, when we bailed him out of jail. He enjoys these things. He enjoys hurting us in whatever way he can, and he knows which buttons to push. For example, he knows I have wanted to be a good mother, so he will berate me as a mother. He sent me a one-liner that I will be a grandmother, and I don't even know if that is really true. In the case of my husband, JT will insult his mechanical abilities because husband is not very mechanically inclined. For both of us, JT calls us ignorant and stupid and Nazis, etc. He insults everything about us, from our intelligence to our religion to the cars we drive. Yet, astonishingly, he still seems to feel entitled to our money and jail bail-outs, and family activities!

I could go on and on about the manipulations, non-stop LIES, refusal to accept responsibility for his own actions (full of blame on others), impulsivity, conning, lack of remorse/guilt, legal issues, promiscuity, and failure to achieve goals. I realize only a professional can officially diagnose this, but in my heart of hearts, after years researching this, I am 100% certain JT scores high on the psychopathy checklist.

One of the items on the list that surprised me was the parasitic lifestyle. I never realized this was a psychopathic trait. But, JT is definitely parasitic. Just since graduating from high school, he has mooched off of a friend at college (until the friend's mother had enough of him not paying for anything and sticking her with his bills that she kicked him out), a couple of girlfriends, and his grandparents. JT has claimed workers comp several times at several different jobs in the past two years. He doesn't pay his bills and is in deep financial trouble right now. Our family has become wise to his conning and no longer enables him financially. He has openly stated that he looks for girlfriends who will do his laundry, cook, and clean his apartment, not to mention pay a share of the rent and let him use their trucks, etc. It's all just a con game to him. As soon as they lose their usefulness, he moves on. He has no attachments to anyone. He has had many two-week relationships.

When he breaks the law, he always has a reason or excuse. With his recent charges, he wasn't the least bit ashamed in the presence of his grandfather and grandfather's friends who told him they were disappointed in him. Instead of acknowledging this, he just stated that he "could have beat that rap".

JT cannot live with us ever again because he does not respect our wishes for our life and property. Against our agreement, he brought knives, painkillers, cigarettes, and lighters into the house and used our laptop to watch porn. In addition, he refused to get out of bed before 2 p.m., much less get a job or attend classes. He lied on his applications papers in an attempt to get into the military. He bought a large rifle, which he now leaves out in the open in his apartment (unloaded, he claims), but is insulted that we won't let his little brother visit him at his home unsupervised.

Despite all of this, he demands our respect. He says we should respect him; that he is so talented and smart and blah, blah, blah. He claims we do not respect him enough. Really? Wow!

My heart is broken as I come to a greater and greater realization that the 2-year-old, beautiful boy we adopted into our family never developed the capacity to love. What he does have is the capacity to inflict great harm upon others. Because of this, all hopes and dreams for him will never be. He never wanted parents, and he never will. He never loved or respected us or wanted to be like us. He is his own man making his own decisions. Our physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing are inconsequential to him because he doesn't love us. He never has, and he never will. It is not possible for him, and therefore, he has no empathy and no ability to be concerned about anyone but himself. He cannot sustain relationships with anyone.

I am so down today over all of this. I am experiencing a tremendous sense of loss, grief, and fear. The reality is that JT will not change due to the fact that most psychopaths do not seek help voluntarily and even when they do, treatment success is limited. In all likelihood, we will need to spend the rest of our lives protecting ourselves from him.


Well-Known Member
My difficult child is must definitely a psychopath. He presents every single characteristic on that list. No remorse, manipulative, cunning, parasitic, etc. It's describes him to an absolute "t".

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Your post sure hit me in the gut. husband and I believe our difficult child is a sociopath, not based on a "real diagnosis". His sister is a psychological examiner and steered us to reading about the traits. Your post prompted me to Google the differences between sociopath and psychopath and I did not see too many. Lack of empathy, frequent job changes (WHEN he works), parasitic living, etc., etc.---USING people and never caring about the impact on those same people.

For somebody of my generation (58yo), i consider myself fairly liberal. When difficult child was 19 (he is 33 now), he was receiving unemployment checks. It flew all over me how a healthy 19yo old would draw unemployment. I knew that was NOT the intended use. I lectured, i was appalled ; guess how much good it did.

Please stay close to the board---the collective wisdom & experience will help propel you toward freedom. There is just not much we can do except love/pray.


...and vent, but that is for us

Stress Bunny

Active Member
Thanks JKF. I'm sorry to hear that your son also shares these traits. It is like putting a puzzle together without knowing what the picture looks like and then finally placing the last pieces and discovering it.

Seeking, you're right that there is some confusion on nomenclature between psychopaths and sociopaths. I believe psychopath is the proper term although I think antisocial personality disorder exists as well and is defined more by external behavior than internal disposition.

By the way, J.T. texted tonight to say that I'm not going to be a grandma afterall. Hmm mm

Are we surprised?


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Im trying hard to compose this post.

You most likely adopted a broken child. They say a child is formed by the time they are 3. Whatever put him into foster care most likely left him too damaged to be able to form ties. Lots of times children who are diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) end up diagnosed with psychopathy or antisocial PD later on in life. It does make sense.

In your case I think you have to protect yourself. Your emotional well being. You will always love that little boy you adopted but he is not that little boy anymore. Most likely he never will be again.

My son has a diagnosis of Personality Disorder not otherwise specified because he has the symptoms of several different personality disorders. One being Antisocial. He doesnt fit all the symptoms of any one thing.

I know what I can expect now from my son. I had thought that we had turned a corner with him but I was wrong. I have had to go back into protection mode. It is sad for all of us. One thing that keeps him off the complete scale is he is very upset that he has failed us....again. That doesnt keep him from continuing to make mistakes but he knows it upsets us which upsets him.

I dont know what the answer is in how we manage to cut ties. I dont think I could ever do that. Most probably for me it would be extremely difficult because of my granddaughters.

Stress Bunny

Active Member
DJ, I agree. In that sense, blame is of no use because no one is to blame for this. The reality that we are dealing with a personality disorder vs a phase is discouraging, to say the least. I have a lot of letting go to do and have no idea how any decent relationship is possible going forward.


one day at a time
I don't think difficult child fits this profile but there are some definite characteristics here that he has.

But let's say he does fit it, and I believe we would all agree this would be a very sobering diagnosis. It would be like hearing somebody has terminal cancer.

There's nothing that can be done.

Really? Yes, I have read the literature that is very hard to treat this mental illness. Hard, but not impossible.

Like all other mental illnesses---addiction included---the person has to WANT to change. The person has to let go of their denial and their grasp on their life---to be completely sick and tired---to turn and walk in a different direction.

Isn't this always the key? Always? Everything hangs on this, I believe. If you WANT something, you will work for it. You will turn over every single rock to try to find a way to make something happen.

This is the same for difficult children. Unless a person is completely delusional, completely out of it, not recognizing reality, I believe there is still responsibility there.

Our difficult children have to want to change before they have even a prayer of changing.

And this is their responsibility---not ours.

I have never once yet seen my son vulnerable, open, honest about his life and about wanting to change except one brief time, in the ER, after he had superficially cut his wrists, he was lying there on the guerney and he looked up at his dad and me and tears in his eyes and rolling down his cheeks, said, please I want to come home. I just want to come home. Please let me come home.

We said no. He went to the state hospital for a week, got out and the whole cycle started all over again.

Was he telling the honest-to-God truth that day? I will never know and I still think we made the right decision that day.

I also believe that if he really wanted to change that day or any other day, we would have seen more evidence of that.

SO says once he really truly wants to change, you'll know it. You'll hear it in his voice. You'll hear it in what he says and doesn't say. You'll see it in what he does and doesn't do.

That hasn't happened, and that is what HAS to happen for anything to change.


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When I first started posting here I was very much convinced that my son was a sociopath. If you have read "The Sociopath Next Door" by Martha Stout, the man who married the woman for her pool could have been written about my son. The only thing I had trouble accommodating was that if this was part of his personality, why did it not show up until his teens? My son has been clean and sober for several months now and many of the sociopathic traits I saw in him are either no longer there or are much less pronounced. I have no doubt that if he starts drinking and using again he would be right back to where he was, almost reptile-like in the way he sees others as little more than what they can do for him. I will probably always be very careful in my relationship with him because of that.

Stress Bunny

Active Member
This is an interesting conversation. I hesitated before posting the initial thread because I worried how it would be perceived, i.e. "What an awful thing to think about your own son!" But, I know this group understands, and I think it is important to face the truth.

COM - You are right about choices and wanting to change. So often, as parents, we experience guilt and shame related to our difficult child kids' behavior. As adults, especially, though, they are responsible for their own decisions and actions. I have spent so much time lamenting my shortcomings as a parent, blaming myself, and wallowing in despair, that I failed to realize the truth in this.

Albatross - I am reading that book right now, so I will watch for the marriage for the pool story you mentioned. Building on what COM stated, the book mentions that sociopaths often are completely satisfied with themselves and their lives. Therefore, they see no need to change. It's working for them, in many cases, to use other people. Unfortunately, it is not working for others around them.

JT is like that. He is completely fine with his life. We're the ones with a problem, in his mind. He has also demonstrated the characteristics of a psychopath his entire life. He has never shown empathy or care for others, and all the rest. So, I have very little hope, because, between the fact that these traits have been present all along and that JT sees no need to change, as COM mentioned, there doesn't seem to be much hope at all. In your case, Albatross, maybe there is a good deal of hope if the negative personality traits could be explained largely by your difficult child's addiction.


Well-Known Member
Mine does not have ASPD, but it is something I did give a lot of taught few years ago. One reason for that is, that he does have an addiction that is very common among psychopaths and narcissists, in different studies up to one third of compulsive gamblers are psychopaths or narcissists and that is a huge over presentation. He was also being much more difficult at the time, but being a minor then, his psychiatrist only toyed with Conduct Disorder diagnosis. I gave a lot of consideration to Borderline (BPD), but years after that has shown that difficult child's behaviours and issues are not quite as inflexible than is typical for personality disorder. PTSD is much more fitting diagnosis for him especially when he is showing some maturation out of the most bothersome 'personality disordered' traits. Tendency for splitting, certain aloofness and emotional distance and difficulties to commit will likely always be part of him, but even those have lessened significantly and are more close to normal range already.

In the way personality disorders are about immaturity, basically psychopath is someone with two-year-old's moral and emotional maturity. My difficult child is slow, but he keeps moving in maturity road, so PD diagnosis do not really fit.


Well-Known Member
I was going to mention Sociopath Next Door, it is a really interesting and illuminating read..I suggest it for all of you, as we try to navigate our lives.

My son certainly suffers from a social dysfunction..he has no empathy for people, or at least not family, and doesn't understand why we carry grudges when he steals things from us, including important memorabilia. Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD)/not otherwise specified and ASpergers have both come up as diagnoses for him, but nothing fits particularly well, they are all just handles that may help us better understand or better deal with his behavior, with him. He himself holds no grudges, which is interesting. He has tremendous empathy for animals, and seems to both love and "get" them.

He isn't a sociopath, though. Plenty of other unfixable problems, just not that particular one.

He told me the other day, as he works rather earnestly on trying to get me to embrace his life choices, that "I know I am not all there. I have accepted that about myself".

I think that was open and vulnerable. It just doesn't change the reality we live in.



Well-Known Member
My son has traits and also traits of mood disorders and anxiety and narcicism.

The problem with treating people who are basically without that they are without empathy. It is almost impossible to change, even if you want to change, if you lack empathy. I have read a lot on this topic and they are starting to think that maybe having no empathy is a biological glitch that maybe can be inherited sometimes. They are just starting to do research in this area.

Robert Hare has some awesome books. "Without Conscience" comes to mind. They are starting to find that psychopaths/sociopaths (very little difference, really) do lack empathy and you can see their "differently wired reactions" to life if you check the brain. They do not react to fear like a "normal" person. In fact they rarely FEEL fear. They do not have the same brainwaves pattern that most people do when shown a person who is in a horrific accident. They do not show the same degree of emotion. In fact, if I recall correctly, in the documentary I watched, the psychopath didn't react much at all to seeing an injured person or some other tragedy. I could be wrong. I don't think I am, but it's possible.

I have also seen studies on these brainwave tests watching Investigative Discovery, a true crime channel and one of my favorites. They showed the documentary that I saw on psychopaths and brain waves and reactions to things that normal people get upset over and the psychopaths tended to be very calm and non-reactive.

36 would probably fit about halfway there, but I'm not sure he'd get the diagnosis. Maybe "traits." Now there are things about him I don't really know about. He hides himself well. So maybe he IS a psychopath. But he does keep a job, and, while he loves to get free money, will not ask for it just to feed himself and he has a snooty look down attitude toward anyone on government assistance of any kind. He considers them losers. He has no problem painting millions with a broad brush and he doesn't want to be a loser, in his mind of what one is. So he makes sure he keeps insurance and has a house and pays on time...I wonder if he is just a high functioni9ng psychopath. There ARE higher and lower functioning ones. I know he would break the law if he didn't think he'd go to jail for it. Maybe he has. But he is capable of living a "normal" life, or what looks like one. He does have some empathy challenges, but is not completely void of empathy....still, it is not where it should be.
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Stress Bunny

Active Member
Suzir, it sounds like your son's situation is complex, but I'm glad to hear that you don't think he is full blown psychopath.

Echo, it's a great sign that your son loves animals. A conscience is defined as a sense of obligation to other living creatures or people.

MWM, I have read the book Without Conscience, and it was excellent. I agree about the genetic disposition toward lack of empathy. J.T.'s bio mom was the same way. Also, the lack of motivation to change is not helpful in terms of hope.

by the way, after J.T. texted me that I'm not going to be a grandma after all, and he was sorry if he freaked me out, I responded that I wouldn't be freaked out anyway because I have detached from his drama. He texted back that he has asked some on-again-off-again g.f. to marry him and she said yes. The drama continues!


Active Member
For sure my difficult child is a sociopath and/or psychopath. For me it's almost a relief, if you see what I mean, because now I can better understand what I'm dealing with and I can investigate more ways to deal with him.

Yes it is horrible that we have to face this kind of diagnosis but really for me I'd rather know there wasn't a cure than to have false hope.


Active Member
I'm a little surprised at the idea that someone who is mentally ill has to want to change.

I'm not being a smart alec here, but do they have the capacity to want to change? Is it all a matter of how serious their mental illness is?

My difficult child has flashes of remorse and empathy (which may disqualify him from being a true socio/psychopath-MY diagnosis, by the way, NOT a medical one. So you know how solid THAT is, haha!) but sometimes I wonder if those feelings come through to serve HIM. And when things work out for him, he doesn't WANT to change. Know what I mean?


one day at a time
I'm a little surprised at the idea that someone who is mentally ill has to want to change.
I'm not being a smart alec here, but do they have the capacity to want to change? Is it all a matter of how serious their mental illness is?

Hi BG, it was me who wrote that. I believe that anybody who is aware of their issues can decide if they want to change or not. I believe many mentally ill people---at least many of the ones I hear about here on this board---have been made fully aware of the help that is available. Many don't seek it, or once they do, they don't comply.

It's just like people with high BiPolar (BP) or diabetes or heart disease. We get the information, but we don't want to do the work.

Addiction---my son's issue---is a mental illness. He is well aware of the help available but says he doesn't have a problem and doesn't want help. Really? He says that from a jail cell or the street. Well, how is your life working for you? From my standpoint his life isn't. But from his standpoint, maybe it is. On some level it's working because he obviously doesn't want to change because he has never yet made a serious attempt to do so.

I am sure there are people with severe mental illness who are so ill they don't have the capacity to consider change, of course. I'm not talking about them.

I believe we let our difficult children off the hook when we simply say, well, they have a mental illness and so that's it, there's nothing to do.

They can figure out how to steal and lie and use and take advantage of other people---but they can't figure out that change is possible? I don't buy that.


Well-Known Member
COM, another great post.

If a person is psychotic, as in out of touch with reality, the person does not often know it. Sometimes after an episode, he/she doesn't even remember it and often you hear about people calling the cops and the cops taking the poor sick person to a psychiatric hospital where they are given anti-psychotic shots often against their will because t hey don't even understand they are sick. Often, they quit their medications and get sick again...THAT is their choice if they make the decision while they are sane. But...

Our difficult children are not insane. Some have mood disorders. Some are drug addicts. Some if not most have personality disorders. They are cognizant of where they are, who they are, what they do. The understand right from wrong. They are not hallucinating. COM made an excellent point at how well they can think out a devious plot to manipulate us, steal, deliberately lie to get a certain result, and some...the fine art of dealing drugs. I don't think any of us are dealing with psychosis. I have a mood disorder without psychosis and it does not impair your thinking to the degree that you can not decide you want to feel better. In fact, many of our difficult children use depression as a reason/excuse for why they are taking drugs, although there are better alternatives and they have been told...

Their quirky, hard-wired, opinionated, stubborn, self-destructive personalities don't help them, but that CAN be overcome. Also, many are lazy and don't want to do the hard work to change. It IS hard work. And some just plain are fine with their lifestyles as they are, even if it makes US cringe. They want to live outside the box and hope Mom will pitch in with some $$$.


one day at a time
Let's face it. Change is so much harder than doing what is known and comfortable and familiar. Change is brand new territory. It doesn't feel safe or comfortable. We don't know what will happen with change. It's a brand new pathway ahead.

We do know what happens if we stay and same. Even if it's awful, it's known.

The devil you know is better than the devil you don't know.

And with this type of change, that we here are ready to pursue, it goes against our own DNA, our culture, our belief system, our hopes and our dreams. We also have to look at ourselves and admit that what we did was wrong. Nobody likes to do that.

And then, because many others---friends, family, acquaintances---don't understand addiction, they are critical of what we are doing.

So it's double-hard. Triple-hard. Quadruple hard.

It's a lonely path.

In life, it's so hard to know what is right, many times. I believe in many cases, there is no one right decision. There are multiple right decisions. Which college to go to? What course of study? What job to take? What person to marry? Etc.

So once we start on this path of recovery ourselves, recovering from enabling and trying to control and manage other people, we often aren't sure of what is right. We are shaky, and perhaps that is a safeguard.

We start to get affirmation as we begin to feel better. But feelings aren't facts? right, so that can't be the only barometer. That is why I have read and read and read about addiction, to try to understand what experts know about it.

Understanding addiction more is affirming about stopping enabling.

And also many of you, who say when you stopped, finally, the difficult child started to do some thing on his or her own and started to get better. That is so important for me to hear, since my difficult child has not done this. Yet.

Also, it is common sense that if I am doing something for somebody else that they should be doing for themselves---the responsibilities of life---that isn't good for me or them. That rings true to me.

It's natural to fight against this path of recovery, and that is exactly why we have to be so sick and tired before we are ready to try it.


Well-Known Member
My father was a socio/psychopath. I agree with MWM, there's really not much difference and even the experts do not agree on all the traits.

He also drank and gambled heavily.

I remember the day I was reading the traits and every single of one of them fit. I was in a fog for days, but it sure explained a lot of his behavior that made my upbringing hellish in many ways. Lots of books about dating, marrying, knowing, but nothing much about being raised by one.

Anyway...I worry that Son has some of the traits. He can be so very cruel like my Dad. Considering there's a suspected genetic component, it wouldn't be far-fetched.