real life

There is an age when a child discovers their parent is a psychopath.

Do you have a family member who is a lawyer, surgeon, chef, radio host or, ahem, journalist? Chances are you might be dealing with a high-functioning psychopath in the family.

Impulsive. Aggressive. Self-obsessed. Emotionally manipulative. Controlling. Just some of the character traits that a loved one can expect if they’re in a psychopath’s midst.

Determined to be in control, a psychopathic family member will, according to best-selling author David Gillespie, attempt to create “a cloud of emotional confusion” in an attempt to throw everyone off balance. They are expert manipulators, who will say what we want to hear in order to obtain more power – of any kind – for themselves because  “moment to moment, a psychopath is concerned about what gives them more”.

A psychopathic family member will be the one taking two scoops of ice-cream when everyone else is having one or stealing money in their role as the banker when playing a light-hearted game of Monopoly.

But what happens when a psychopath has a child?

According to David Gillespie, the author of Sweet Poison: Why Sugar Makes us Fat and his new book Taming Toxic People: The Science of Identifying and Dealing With Psychopaths At Work and At Home, “to a psychopath, a child is nothing more than a dog that needs to be disciplined because it’s not performing as required”.

Listen to David Gillespie talk to Mia Freedman about what happens when a psychopath has a child. Post continues below. 

To a psychopath a child is merely a possession and they should expect to be treated as such.


“As long it’s a well-behaved possession that’s fine, as soon as it’s not a well-behaved possession then it can be discarded or brought back into line,” Gillespie told Mia Freedman during their chat for the No Filter podcast.

Given that love is a higher order emotion that, according to Gillespie, psychopaths do not feel or understand, a child of a psychopathic parent should not expect a real emotional connection.

In fact, children of psychopaths can expect a range of different parenting personas as their parents attempt to perform parenthood.

According to Gillespie, it’s not uncommon for children with a psychopathic parent to assume that the performative behaviour they are witnessing is normal. Sadly, it’s not until they reach the age of about 13 and see the way that other parents act, that they realise something isn’t right.

psychopath in the family
Children get used to being treated as part of the furniture. Image via Getty.

As part of his research for Taming Toxic People: The Science of Identifying and Dealing With Psychopaths At Work and At Home Gillespie analysed case studies by children raised in homes with a psychopathic parent, with many recalling their parents projection of a completely different persona when their friends were in the room or they were in public, to when they were alone with them. Once they were alone with their parents they were treated as if they were part of the furniture again.

The public performance of 'correct' parenting ensures that a psychopathic parent can manipulate others into believing they are a great parent, allowing them to maintain control.

And according to Gillespie the main purpose is control. Although, thankfully, control does not always equal abuse.

"If the possession can be controlled without abuse, then it will be controlled without abuse," said Gillespie. "Abuse is used an ends to a means."

David Gillespie Knows How to Spot a Psychopath. Listen to his full interview for No Filter with Mia Freedman here.