The personality traits in the dark triad in psychology are narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. Dark triad personalities (DTPs) are manifested by excessively high self esteem, a manipulative attitude and a lack of empathy. Psychopaths are often self-obsessed, which is why their relationships tend to be abusive. Their romantic partners are often in the line of fire – they are generally manipulated and used before being suddenly undermined and rejected. But what about their children? Are they treated in the same way, or differently? Can psychopaths in fact love their own children?
According to Perpetua Neo, a psychologist and therapist who specialises in the dark triad, the answer is no. “Narcissists, psychopaths, and sociopaths do not have a sense of empathy, they do not and will not develop a sense of empathy, so they can never really love anyone,” she explained to the Business Insider. And apparently this doesn’t change when they have children. They don’t possess the primal instinct to protect and encourage their progeny, because they don’t consider the children as distinct entities. They see them only as tools that are at their disposition. The psychologist follows that “rather than saying, ‘I’m going to nurture you so you can grow up to be the amazing person you’re meant to be,’ [they say] ‘you’re supposed to grow up and do this so that you’re my trophy.’”
The environment in which a child grows up is therefore unhealthy: the child doesn’t develop their own sense of self, and suffers as a result of their parent’s condition. According to the Business Insider, “narcissists tend to be very unhappy people, with low self esteem, so they unload a lot of unnecessary emotional baggage onto their children.”
The child of a psychopath is therefore considered the “property” of their parent, used as they grow up as a listening ear to their parent’s problems, or used for emotional support. Neo reports that some of her clients have said to her that they were told by their parents, “the only reason I had you was so you could take care of me for the rest of your life.” The psychopath therefore protects their “trophy”, or their possession, saying things like “You’re not allowed to have children, and you’re not allowed to get married.” Neo adds that “the parent would be meddling in all these different relationships, left right and centre, creating all sorts of drama, so the child stays single.”
This unhealthy relationship becomes more difficult as the child grows up. The child becomes stronger and develops a better sense of themself, while the parent becomes more fragile, which leads to them attacking their child’s self confidence to compensate for this loss of ground. In the eyes of the parent, the child needs to be put down. “There becomes this unhealthy competition, putting the child down, telling the child they’re fat, they’re useless, they’re ugly.”
On the other hand, every time the child accomplishes something, the parent takes the credit. “Every single thing is always brought back to them,” Neo explained. “So the child is brought up thinking, ‘I have no sense of self, I have no say, and I do not matter.'”
So do psychopaths’ children become like their parents? According to psychotherapist Michelle Piper, this is only true in the minority of cases. She explains that “one less common way children of DTPs react is by growing up with a “siege response”, which is when you become used to protecting yourself by becoming less sensitive, walled off, and extremely independent.” However, she continues that the most common response is the “compliance response”, in which the child gets into the habit of ignoring their own needs, and doing everything they can to please everybody else.
The children of narcissists in fact tend rather to compulsively try to serve others, concludes the psychologist. “That’s when they become completely empathetic, over-giving, and are used by more narcissists and more dark triad people in their lives.”