Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Focusing on the Victim of the Psychopath

Serious psychological and emotional abuse is easily and often overlooked.

At the 2019 conference of the Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy, SSSP President Adelle Forth centered her keynote on the victims of psychopaths. She called for a greater focus on the victims and noted that they had “a lot of very important things to say, but simply haven’t been heard."1 Psychopathy research has principally focused on the psychopath, the perpetrator, but has largely ignored the psychopath’s victims. Few tools exist to help those who have been victimized understand what happened. Firsthand accounts have been invaluable in helping researchers and victims.2

Victoria Model/Pixabay
Source: Victoria Model/Pixabay

Psychopathic abuse often remains hidden

Having lived with a psychopathic mother and sister, I experienced psychopathy firsthand. At an early age, I was able to detect behavioral differences in my mother and sister compared with other people. I was unable to identify what was wrong and give it a name until many years later. Those with a loved one who exhibits psychopathic traits often are in denial. Children may internalize their feelings and be reluctant to criticize their caregivers. Criticizing other family members, especially a mother, can be an unwelcome topic, met with rebuke and disbelief. Those who have a psychopathic caregiver often claim they did not know any better—“that they have grown used to the behaviors and events that took place in their life and viewed their treatment as normal.”3 As a result, the abuse remains hidden and further victimization occurs.

Psychopaths evade abuse-reporting laws

Laws exist throughout the country that mandate child abuse reporting,4 but in the absence of observable signs of physical abuse, victimization often goes undetected. Serious psychological and emotional abuse is easily and often overlooked. The psychopath’s innumerable victims suffer dreadfully, and the perpetrator, the psychopath, frequently evades detection. Friends, relatives, and even outsiders sensing a problem may fear reprisal and, as a result, are reluctant to speak up and take appropriate action. Even when someone does speak out, the psychopath, skilled at weaving a story, can appear beyond reproach and cleverly maneuver their way out of the situation.

The damage disbelief can cause

One victim from the United Kingdom who suffered at the hands of her psychopathic mother is now in a wheelchair and deaf from severe reactions to medications prescribed to cope with the years of abuse she endured.5 In this case, social services had attempted to intervene but were duped by her mother. After listening to the psychopath’s explanations, they walked away, satisfied with her story. The psychopathic mother fooled those in authority who had the ability to intervene. This is exactly what the psychopath intends to do. She sized them up, accurately assessing how to outwit them. The victim, severely stressed from her mother’s cruel treatment, realized her mother was psychopathic many years later when she was informed by her psychiatrist of her mother’s disorder. The psychiatrist cried openly, insisting that she must never see her mother again. Still today, years after her abuse, the victim cannot utter the word “mother.”

Psychopathic mothers treat children as property

A psychopathic caregiver or mother creates a lifetime of unhappiness. The psychopathic mother treats her children as property serving her needs.6 In her mind, she is entitled to make her children miserable because they belong to her. The offspring may suffer from innumerable health problems that can lead to anxiety, depression, and debilitating diseases, some quite serious. Some victims lose their will to live. Still, other victims feel guilty because they cannot make their psychopathic caretaker happy. They are disappointed and saddened by the warm and happy relationships that exist in so many other families, relationships that they will never have. This sadness can be particularly profound during traditional holidays.

When one is tormented or abused by someone in their life, even if that person happens to be their own mother, the rule of thumb is “No Contact.”7 This is the only way to get back the life that was taken away, the life that was laden with abuse and lost in misery.


1. Interview of Professor Adelle Forth by Winifred Rule. May 2, 2019.

2. Smith, Jason M., Gacono, Carl B. & Cunliffe, Ted B. (2021). Understanding Female Offenders: Psychopathy, Criminal Behavior, Assessment, and Treatment. Cambridge, MA: Academic Press. 216.

3. Stout, Martha. (2006). The Sociopath Next Door. New York: Three Rivers Press. 147.

4. 42 U.S. Code Chapter 67.

5. E-mail to Winifred Rule. November 4, 2022.

6. Smith, Jason M., Gacono, Carl B. & Cunliffe, Ted B. 458,462.

7. Stout, Martha. 100.

More from Psychology Today

More from Winifred Rule

More from Psychology Today