Have you ever asked: How is it that siblings raised by the same parents can turn out so differently? One, for instance, can be moral to the max, while another has no detectible morality at all. In the latter’s case, it’s all about ‘what works’ to provide him or her with whatever he or she wants. Nothing else matters in the least, no matter the damage left in such a person’s wake.

Over the last several years, in conversations with a number of families, I was surprised to learn that nearly every one of them has a ‘black sheep,’ someone whose actions at minimum are a source of great and lasting embarrassment; and someone who couldn’t care less, as long as his or her narcissistic needs are met.  Self-gratification is all. I’ve heard story after story about family members who are drained of all their resources, drained emotionally, and even physically because of the impact on their health.

Whose ‘fault’ is it when a family member turns out to be what some call ‘rotten to the core’? Are there signs that could have been detected early on to arrest this development? Should parents feel guilt if they somehow don’t detect and take steps to stem or re-channel destructive behaviors early on? Or is it that, although the great preponderance of our youngest are hard-wired for empathy, others are more hard-wired for its opposite?

And what lessons are to be learned, even if the best, and best-intentioned, parents and all those from whom they seek support, guidance, counsel to address sociopathic behavior are unable to make any positive turnarounds in the family member, and the behavior gets ever more toxic as the years go on?

Under such circumstances, are there still opportunities — even unequalled ones — for those family members impacted by the actions of a sociopath to ‘child’?

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There can be incomparable opportunities born of such depressing and daunting circumstances. If you are strong enough, and have not been too damaged, the acts of such people can deepen your understanding and sensibility of how some might be so damaged that they not only try to cause afflictions in other members of their immediate and/or extended family, but even gain pleasure from it.

The greatest test is to empathize with those who themselves are incapable of it (all the while, of course, making sure that you mitigate any damage they can do to you, your family and others — have to keep your eyes wide open and understand they do not change, and can get even worse). Most of all, such acts of venom can deepen your appreciation for the good things you have in life, perhaps having others in your circle who give you stalwart support, who are constant sources of love and empathy — and recognizing that all too many others n the world are deprived of this.

As I write elsewhere, “If you can pass such a test, a new kind of artistry for living is born from it.”