One of the most upsetting and tragic realities in our society is recognizing that there are predators who will physically or sexually abuse our children. It is difficult to comprehend that someone could even consider perpetrating some of the violent behaviors that are reported about victimized children. It is a “worst nightmare” scenario for parents concerned about the safety of their children.
Be aware of the relationships that surround your children
I am a strong believer that parents need to be aware of the relationships that surround their children. Parents also need to know where their kids are and who they are with at any given time of the day because, unfortunately, there are predators—often labeled as sociopaths—that will harm our children. I do not wish to scare parents, but we need to understand some facts about sociopaths so we can recognize them or their behaviors in order to better protect our children.
Learn to recognize sociopathic and psychopathic behaviors
“But what does 4% really mean to society? As points of reference to problems we hear about more often, consider the following statistics: the prevalence rate for eating disorders is estimated at 3.45%, deemed to be nearly epidemic, and yet this figure is a fraction lower than the rate for antisocial personality. The high-profile disorders classed as schizophrenia occur in only about 1% of us—a mere quarter of the rate of antisocial personality—and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that the rate of colon cancer in the United States, considered ‘alarmingly high,’ is about 40 per 100,000—100 times lower than the rate of antisocial personality. Put more succinctly, there are more sociopaths among us than people who suffer from the much-publicized disorder of anorexia, four times as many sociopaths as schizophrenics, and 100 times as many sociopaths as people diagnosed with a known scourge such as colon cancer.” [p. 8]
Stout further explains…
“About one in twenty-five (25) individuals is sociopathic, meaning, essentially, that they do not have a conscience. It is not that this group fails to grasp the difference between good and bad; it is that the distinction fails to limit their behavior. The intellectual difference between right and wrong does not bring on the emotional sirens and flashing blue lights, or the fear of God, that it does for the rest of us. Without the slightest blip of guilt or remorse, one in twenty-five people can do anything at all.” [p. 9]
The Key Factor Defining Sociopaths and Psychopaths: Absence of Conscience
Dr. Stout and other experts on the subject of sociopathy and psychopathy agree that the one key element that differentiates a sociopath or psychopath from the rest of the world is his or her lack of conscience….
“The presence or absence of conscience is a deep human division, arguably more significant than intelligence, race, or even gender. What differentiates a sociopath who lives off the labors of others from one who occasionally robs convenience stores, or from one who is a contemporary robber baron—or what makes the difference between an ordinary bully and the sociopathic murderer—is nothing more than social status, drive, intellect, blood lust, or simple opportunity. What distinguishes all these people from the rest of us is an entirely empty hole in the psyche, where there should be the most evolved of all humanizing functions.” [Stout, p. 10]
Helping parents and caregivers identify possible sociopaths
It is apparent that sociopaths can be so deceptive and clever that many people, including professionals, struggle to identify them. Therefore, Dr. Stout points out that she helps her patients become more astute in deciding who to trust by suggesting that, rather than looking for some sinister person who uses threatening language or is violent, look for someone who uses the pity play.
…“The most reliable sign, the most universal behavior of unscrupulous people is not directed, as one might imagine, at our fearfulness. It is, perversely, an appeal to our sympathy.” [p. 107]
She goes on to say that pity makes a person momentarily defenseless because it signals us to be compassionate, giving an open door to those who have no conscience. We respond with tenderness to the person who is pathetic. She says that looking for someone who preys on gaining pity and sympathy is a potentially useful danger signal.
A scary world: better safe than tragically sorry later
The fact that sociopaths and psychopaths exist in our society makes our children’s world sometimes very scary. These individuals intentionally find ways to get sympathy and compassion to set-up our children who, by nature, are innocent, naïve, helpful and wanting to please adults. It is a very good reason to impress strongly upon our children a basic distrust of strangers who will attempt to gain their sympathy and engage them so that they may victimize them.
This is a sad but stark reality that we all need to be aware of. It is vitally important for parents to be very engaged, alert and aware of who encounters their children. We also need to help other parents by watching children who may be in places where victimization can occur.
These may be the most important parenting commitments we will ever make. We never want our children to be victimized or traumatized. Therefore, if we recognize suspicious behaviors, we need to remove our children immediately from those situations. Better safe than tragically sorry later.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network
Information taken from Deepening Trauma Awareness, Diane Wagenhals, 2008. All rights reserved. Licensed materials.