Interview with the mother of a psychopath
In which I interview Tina Taylor about her experiences as a mother of two (Pauleen, a psychopath and Marc, a neurotypical). What she talks about is as interesting as it is important to anyone reading who has a psychopath in the family. The interview was originally conducted last year.
James Renard: Thank you for agreeing to do this. If I ask a question you don’t like, please just say so rather than making up an answer. Alright, could you briefly state the names and ages of your children, then tell us a little bit about their infancy?
Tina Taylor: My children are Pauleen, now 25, and Marc, now 18. Pauleen was a very easy baby. She only cried twice her whole life, and never as an infant. I just put her on a schedule for feeding because she might otherwise starve to death without a peep. I thought I was so lucky because of how easy I had it. She didn’t have terrible twos nor terrible threes. She only had one tantrum (because she wanted something in a store) but I didn’t give in. Starting at age two, she said, and did, some bizarre things out of the blue that stuck in my head – saying things such as, “Mommy, everybody thinks that I’m prettier than you.” I guess it was a competition. Other than that, I thought everything was smooth sailing until she hit age 6 when the lying was noticeable. Marc was a handful as a baby. He cried a lot during the first few months. He was very emotional during his twos and threes, but he did not stress me because he was so loving and cooperative. Starting from age two, he spoke truthfully, and I trust him completely. I did notice during their childhood that Marc’s behavior was markedly different from Pauleen’s. Marc was a difficult baby, but grew to be just such a joyful and helpful person. Pauleen was an easy baby but grew to complaining about everything and making offhand remarks.
JR: I can imagine even psychopaths are terrible liars at 6. What was the most outrageously unbelievable lie that sticks out in your mind? Also, would you say that even while they were very young, you found it easier to get on with Marc than Pauleen?
TT: I always had fun with Marc at every age. Pauleen switched from easygoing to impossible at age six. Her first grade teacher evaluated her and she was put on ADHD meds. It only partially helped. She pretended to take the meds and had us wondering why it wasn’t working. Did you know that psychopathy is a form of attention deficit, too? When Pauleen was 4 she said a man came in the apartment and put a knife to her belly. That was the whole story. It was very matter-of-fact, no hysterics, nothing. At the time, I did not know what to make of it.
JR: No, I didn’t know that about attention deficit, and though I’m not surprised there’s a connection, it might be more a case of psychopathic behaviour being mistaken for ADHD.
I’m sure it became noticeable to Pauleen that you were more easygoing with Marc. Do you think she may have ever felt less loved than her brother? Might she have been jealous of your closeness to Marc? So when she switched from “easygoing to impossible”, how did you react? Did you feel positive about your ability to overcome the problem or were you lost? How did the way you treated her change?
TT: When Marc was just newborn, Pauleen told her grandmother that I don’t love her anymore. Pauleen and I could never develop a closeness because what she did and said made me want to hide from her. Of course she noticed that I was more easy going with Marc as time went by. I was totally lost. I couldn’t understand why. I didn’t even realize how odd it was that she never cried, until she finally cried when she was a teenager and I was dumbstruck. She had never needed comforting her whole life. It looked fake because her face was not stressed, she just had tears. It gave me a weird feeling. The way I treated her was terrible. I could not handle her behavior and I did not know what to do at all. I went to counselling, but I still grew distanced from her every day. We used to sit and watch TV and say absolutely nothing to each other like strangers. This is why psychopathy badly needs to be identified in children. Parents could do a better job than I did at raising a psychopath. Psychopathic adults could advise what their needs were as children. I am very accepting of her psychopathy nowadays, but it is too late. Well, even though I accept that she has a condition that is not her fault, I don’t trust her at all. There is the matter of lying to me and stealing from me that makes me uncomfortable about having her in my home.
JR: What can I say except thank you for having the courage to share that. It does take courage to admit screwing up as a parent. And gives a lot of context to your work and makes it very easy to see the motivation for your work.
So you were parenting from a position of ignorance, through no fault of your own, but you made those mistakes. That you have raised a well-adjusted son is evidence that you are a good mother, but you were completely unprepared to deal with a psychopath. Looking back, what would you have done differently? More importantly, what mistakes did you make that you would bunch together in a list of “don’ts” for other parents of psychopaths?
TT: Looking back, had I known that Pauleen had psychopathy, I would not have taken her biting remarks so hard. I would have seen her differently. For the most part, I believe I did a good job of making her mostly prosocial. I always believed in the positive reward system for children instead of punishment, and I did my best to do that. Pauleen especially was more motivated by rewards because the threat of punishment meant nothing to her. I hear now there are studies in the prisons on that philosophy for psychopathic antisocial criminals. I would not say that my son is well-adjusted. He has been living with his psychopath father since he was eleven. His father does rotten things to him and my son is a doormat, just like how I became from being raised by my psychopath father. I am not going into detail about why he lives there, but at the time he started living there, we only saw the mask of Harlan’s good-guy act. A list of don’ts is only one thing – don’t let distancing set in. I would say primarily to parents of psychopaths: Understand that your child is stuck at age 5 emotionally. This means that when the psychopathic child acts selfishly or impulsively, try to remember that it’s their permanent neurological condition.
JR: No matter how much in the dark you were, there was another person in your daughter’s life who should have understood her better: her father, a psychopath. Were there any signs that he recognised what Pauleen was and had a better idea of what he was doing with her?
TT: Both Pauleen’s father and step-father are psychopaths. (They are completely different from each other.) Pauleen’s father refused to have anything to do with her until she was 16. That was after he had a stroke. Maybe it changed something. Harlan is Pauleen’s stepfather, and he oddly made her the scapegoat and butt of his jokes. At the time, I thought he was unkind because she was his stepchild. I subconsciously made excuses for him because I was raised in the same type of environment. I did not realize what a dysfunctional family I had until it was too late. Harlan told me, after our separation, that he could not recognize others like him. That was probably a lie.
JR: We’ve clashed on this 5 year-old thing before (though I think last time you said 2 year-old, so it looks like I’m winning, forcing you to concede years of development!). But the essence of what you’re saying about the permanence of the state is excellent advice. Furthermore they should, as parents, accept and love their child regardless. Everyone else gets a choice. If your friend, colleague, brother, girlfriend etc is a psychopath and you want out, you know where the door is. If your child is a psychopath, tough. You stick with them for as long as they need you. Anyway, since I’ve gone all Fox News and am moralising at the interviewee (I’m thumping the desk as I type), let’s move on…
TT: Your lack of empathy is quite apparent. What you did is very FOX, in that all of their employees are psychopaths, right? Telling me about how people should stick by their children no matter what is bizarre since you have no frame of reference. It would be considered abusive – it is called shaming. Psychopaths are famous for it. On top of that, you can’t possibly know anything about sticking with someone. You drop people all the time. I’m sure parents give their kids over to foster care all the time because they can’t deal with them. Your lecture on human behavior holds no water. I can’t be shamed anymore. If someone doesn’t like how I do things, that’s their problem, not mine.
JR: You keep saying “until it was too late” as though someone went on a murder spree because you didn’t act quick enough. You’re not in that shitty relationship anymore, you’ve woken up to reality and nobody’s dead (I assume), so it’s more of a victory for you than some terrible defeat.
TT: I said it’s too late for 2 reasons: If I had known about the psychopathy at the time that I was dealing with it, I would have tried different things. My daughter had a few neurofeedback sessions to treat her ADHD and that worked very well for improving her self-control. I would have had her continue the sessions longer, and made it a priority in spite of the hardships I was having at the time. My daughter and I might still have a relationship today. Secondly, if I had known about the psychopathy at the time, I would not have felt so bewildered and off-balance by my husband’s peculiar words and actions, and I would not have gotten divorced. I would have dealt with it differently and the kids would not have had to suffer the consequences. Those are things that can’t be undone.
JR: “I believe I did a good job of making her mostly prosocial.” Tell me about that. What makes her prosocial? And how do you reconcile this confidence in your success with the complete lack of trust in her to not steal your belongings?
Pauleen is mostly prosocial. That is a contradiction of sorts because really no psychopath is truly prosocial. You all make your own rules and only pretend to be a part of society. I guess Pauleen plays her part, she works, she goes to college, and she is not a jailbird. But, she has lots of secret antisocial parts, too.
JR: Don’t we all.
Thank you, Tina, for taking the time to talk to me. I’m sure the readers will agree you’ve given a fascinating insight into the mind of a psychopath’s mother.