As this is our first Annual Report, I want to begin by thanking you for your interest in the Aftermath Foundation! Over the past several years we have grown from a small group of individuals interested in doing something about the impact of psychopathy on individuals and society to a federally recognized non-profit foundation dedicated to providing resources to those in need on the global stage.
Because this is our first Annual Report, it seems an appropriate time to consider the origins of our organization. The group was formed only in 2006. During the previous five years, I had received several calls and emails from people looking for help in dealing with someone who appeared to have psychopathic traits, and I had always declined to help because I was a researcher and was not taking on clinical cases. Conducting research is a long-term abstract investment; you hope your work will help in the long run, and you do not really know if you are on the right track. But it became increasingly obvious that a lot of people needed help immediately, and I began to see the need for an organization that could provide people with the resources they needed.
While I continued to teach and conduct studies, I became more and more concerned that everyone with an understanding of psychopathy was too busy with other things to put in the energy necessary to address this problem. It seemed clear to me that researchers were divided into two main groups: those (like myself) who were working to understand the mechanisms underlying psychopathy and its ultimate causes, and those who focused on the usefulness of information on psychopathic traits for predicting outcomes, such as violent crime or recidivism. There was virtually no research on the impact of psychopathic traits on other people. The sole exception to this was an early study by Dr. Liane Leedom and Sandra Brown. Moreover, despite the research on the nature of psychopathy that has been conducted over the years, there was (and still is) a good deal of nonsense about psychopathic individuals on the internet and in movies. It became clear to me that there had to be a place where people could find accurate information about the nature of psychopathy and pragmatic ideas about what to do when facing individuals with psychopathic traits.
And that is why, with the encouragement of my wife, I eventually decided to start the Aftermath Foundation. I wrote to Dr. Robert Hare and requested his help in advertising the “not yet formed” group on his website. Bob has helped many people over the course of his illustrious career, and he immediately recognized the value of an organization like this. With the support of the administration at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, I obtained an email address where people could write to me (at email@example.com) and gradually, very gradually, people began to write to offer their help.
The organization grew slowly at first but, over time, a wonderful group of people lent their talents to our mission. Several of the early volunteers were people who had gone through traumatic relationships themselves, and, with great courage, devoted substantial time to helping us figure out the basic principles and goals that became our Mission, our Vision, and the action plans of the Foundation.
As a relatively small organization, we have tried to focus more on getting the work done rather than talking about it. We built a website that included a moderated forum which serves as an on-line support group. We began writing articles to provide research-based information about psychopathy where possible (even though most of this research did not take us all the way to pragmatic applications). I began asking my friends to pitch in as well, and, with their help, we were able to register as a non-profit organization which was eventually approved by the Internal Revenue Service back in 2010.
The Nature of the Problem
We knew it was important to encourage researchers to expand their research efforts to include the impact of people with psychopathic traits on other people. The more we learned, the more obvious it became that people with psychopathic traits leave a great many hurt people in their wake. When children develop psychopathic features, they often turn their families upside down, hurting their siblings and putting parents through confusing and sometimes hellish situations. Adolescents with psychopathic traits are often abusive to their friends and romantic partners and, as they grow up, they do tremendous harm to those who fall in love with them, almost always including emotional abuse, and, often physical and sexual abuse. The damage created by their deceptions and manipulations are often compounded by attempts to alienate their partners from friends and family. As a result, victims sometimes come to mistrust their own perceptions and sometimes even doubt their own sanity, until they find information about the syndrome of psychopathy, some of it accurate and some of it not. And, even when they do understand what has happened to them, they often find that nobody else seems to see what they see. Worse, their friends and families sometimes do not believe them because they themselves have been manipulated and charmed.
Understanding Traumatic Relationships
We believe that relationships with psychopathic individuals are often traumatic relationships. Moreover, we believe that current definitions for the psychiatric syndrome of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are inadequate because people who have the kind of complex psychological and emotional reactions resulting from traumatic relationships with psychopaths often do not meet diagnostic criteria for PTSD (as listed in the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-V). This makes it difficult for them to get the help they need. [Unfortunately, even psychopathy itself is not very well described in the DSM-V.] Furthermore, clinicians who attempt to help them but do not really understand psychopathy sometimes do more harm than good when they themselves are manipulated by a client’s partner who can lie and manipulate convincingly.
Because of the tremendous generosity of one anonymous individual, we began giving out research grants to fund graduate student research studies on victims of psychopathy. To date, we have funded three such studies. (An example of one of these projects is discussed later in this report.) But these are just a beginning! We hope to raise enough money to catalyze the development and expansion of this whole area of research. We have also conducted workshops for therapists, for family court judges and attorneys, for clergy, and for court appointed special advocates (also discussed in more detail later in this report) so that they are better prepared to resist the manipulations of the psychopath.
Going forward, we have developed a set of initiatives which now include: 1) improving our website to make it even more useful to more people; 2) conducting more workshops to educate professionals so that they can deal more effectively with psychopathic individuals; 3) expanding our referral service to help victims and families to find clinicians and other professionals who understand psychopathy; and 4) continuing to fund research to identify factors that can reduce the negative impact of psychopathic features .
We envision a world in which there is substantial knowledge about psychopathy that is accurate and freely available to all who seek it. We will continue to explore and disseminate information about a) the factors that reduce the likelihood of psychopathy in children who begin to display callous unemotional traits; b) pragmatic advice on how to reduce the negative impact of a child with these traits on other kids within a family as well as those factors relevant to parenting such a child; and c) how psychopathic traits impact romantic partners, spouses, and work colleagues and how they impact the parenting of one’s own children.
We are motivated by our belief that with the spread of more information about psychopathy society will start to change. We believe that someday many people will have the knowledge to better protect themselves and will become faster at spotting when someone is abusive and manipulative; there will be policies that make it easier to identify when people are manipulating societal systems; and judges and attorneys and social workers and therapists will have a strong base of understanding that will make them more resistant to the manipulation of psychopathic individuals with whom they interact.
With your help, we are making substantial progress, which you will read more about on the pages of this report. Thanks for your continued support of the Foundation!