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SALT LAKE CITY — Most parents do their best to protect their children, but what if it's the parents who need protection from their kids?
A Utah woman says she is terrified of her son. In fact, she is so frightened she asked we conceal her identity.
"Why lock the front door when you've got the enemy living in the house?" says "Karen."
She says her family was held hostage for 18 years. During that time, she says they lived in fear, tormented and manipulated by someone determined to destroy their lives.
Why lock the front door when you've got the enemy living in the house?
This "enemy," as she calls him, lived under the same roof. It was her firstborn son.
"If somebody is hurting your child, they are the enemy — and he was hurting himself," Karen says. "He was self-destructing, so he was turning into the enemy. And then he was doing his best to take down everybody else in the family."
Karen says her son, who we'll call "Justin," was a challenging child. He was charming and smart, yet defiant and manipulative even as a toddler. As he grew, so did his desire to control everything and everyone around him.
"[He] just kind of wanted to be in control — very oppositional to a lot of things, like trying to teach him his colors," Karen says. "I thought, ‘Why can't he learn his colors?' Well, he was just tricking me. He just didn't want me to think he had learned them.
As a teenager, Justin was popular, handsome and knew how to get what he wanted — particularly from young women. Money and valuables disappeared, and he would twist words to make his parents believe they were at fault.
But soon, Justin's behavior went from disturbing to dangerous. He had an explosive temper, threatened his brother at gunpoint, and severely beat up his pregnant girlfriend.
"When you're living in fear of that child, you're having to lock up everything," Karen says.
For Karen, "everything" included her other children."I knew I had to protect my daughter," she says. "I would lock her in her room at night and wear a key around my neck so she could get out but he couldn't get in."
"I just knew in my heart that he had no self- control and that he had no empathy, no compassion, and that he would take what he wanted," Karen says.
After one of many arrests, Justin was diagnosed with conduct disorder. It's a personality disorder closely linked to sociopaths and psychopaths. Those who have this disorder have no respect for rules or consequences, lack empathy and conscience, and are narcissistic.
When Justin ran away or was arrested, Karen was forced to bring her son back home, as his legal guardian. Yet, she says he was a danger to her family.
"We have a situation here where there's no cure, there's no medication," Karen says. "The only way to save yourself is to distance yourself and love them from a distance."
After Justin turned 18, Karen and her husband severed ties with him. She believes her son is a sociopath, just waiting for the right opportunity to cross over into a psychopath.
"[They'll] lie, steal. They'll sell their mother, rob their sister. People are just pawns in their game of life," Karen says. "They don't see us as people. They don't' love us. They don't love themselves, and people are just pieces in a game to be manipulated.
"There is nothing that interferes with what they have in mind and the extent that they will go to, to accomplish what needs to be done," says Dale Schipaanboord, psychologist and director of mental health services at the Utah State Prison.
That's where Justin, now in his early 20s, is currently serving time for home invasion and armed robbery.
Schipaanboord says the majority of inmates at the prison are sociopaths. The most horrendous crimes are usually committed by psychopaths.
The good news is that many sociopaths are not dangerous — most of us know one. It's psychopaths who pose the most threat. But it can be difficult to tell the difference because they will usually appear as normal as everyone else around you.
One of the most famous psychopaths in Utah's history is Ted Bundy. The serial rapist and murderer was caught and captured here in 1975. The good-looking, charismatic Bundy later admitted to killing at least 30 young women across the country.
Bundy's case is the extreme. But Karen says she fears the day Justin is released from prison. "I don't know that all of them have the potential to become psychopaths, but I really feel in our case that our son does," she says.
"I have kind of adjusted to the fact that that may be how I leave this life, is at his hands," Karen continues, "because I'm willing to stand up and not just accept it."
There are very few resources for the families of sociopaths and psychopaths, since they typically aren't very responsive to treatment. While the National Association for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) doesn't turn anyone away, they don't have any specific support groups.
Karen has created a support blog for family members. CLICK HERE to visit the blog.
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