Dad is borderline sociopath


Dad is borderline sociopath


your avatar   Kara (15 year-old woman)

My mom was 16 when she got pregnant with me. My father was 17. I grew up without my father. He tried to "straighten out" for my mom, but he never did and he finally gave up and left.

My mom never talked much about my father but she said that he was abusive and crazy. He rarely paid child support, abused drugs, and in his early 20's was a compulsive gambler. Recently, through the state, I found his address and wrote him a letter. I have never talked to him or even seen a picture of him. I have lived my whole life wondering about my dad. (By the way, I am currently living with a friend because my mom and me have had a lot of relational problems). He immediately responded with a phone call and we talked for 3 hours. He says he takes full responsibility for not being in my life and apologized for the terrible things he had done in his past. He lives only 3 hours away, and is coming to see me this weekend. He says he is living a life of recovery. He is 33 years old.

I have had 3 conversations on the phone with him. During the last conversation we had, he admitted to being a borderline sociopath. This kind of scared me, but he said he is all clean and straightened out now. Based on the background information and everything, Can I trust him? And what exactly is a borderline sociopath?


    Bob Rich, Ph.D.

Dear Kara,

Let's start with your request for information. The combination of terms "borderline sociopath" doesn't occur in the official diagnostic reference books.

A "sociopath" is someone who breaks the rules of society. There is an implication that this is a sickness. It's like, a person is a thief, but a kleptomaniac is supposedly someone who can't help being a thief, has a "thieving disorder".

"Borderline" in this context could mean two different things. One is, he more or less breaks the rules of society, that is, not a serious sociopath. The other is "borderline personality disorder". This is a pattern of behavior where a person never learned how to form emotional bonds. Therefore, they have a great craving for love and acceptance. On first meeting they idolize a person, then at the first sign of lack of perfection they reject him/her. Then they flip back again.

Kara, I am very much against the use of such labels. Suppose that as a teenager your Dad was, well, a naughty kid. He might have stolen a few cars, got intoxicated on alcohol and other drugs, and perhaps was part of a gang engaged in vandalism. Many youngsters go through such a phase, and then grow out of it. But, some "wise" expert told him he was a sociopath. After this, he KNEW there was something basically wrong with him. He was faulty, and therefore there could be no hope for him.

From what you say, he has in fact grown out of being a rebellious teenager, despite the labels. Let us hope so.

If he were my Dad, I would not trust him, exactly. I would give him conditional acceptance: give him love and respect; try to form a friendship with him, but on trial. I would take what he says at face value -- until and unless disproved by his behavior. And I would do this honestly, telling him I was taking this attitude.

Your friendship and respect may be that final thing he needs for his full recovery from his troubles as a youngster. You have done a wonderful thing, tracking him down. You can be his link to the future, his reason to continue trying to become and stay a good person.

But, if he has elements of the problem called "borderline personality disorder", and from what you say he might, then you need to be careful. That 3-hour phone conversation is just the kind of thing a BPD sufferer might do. From the first, you need to make sure you are not "used up" for his needs, but that you are also respected as a person.

Here are some "rules" for dealing with anyone, but especially with a person suffering from BPD:

  • He has the right to ask anything at all -- as long as you have the right to say "'no", for any reason, or no reason you care to state. And he should agree in advance to accept this.
  • There is time together, but also both of you are individuals, with rights to time separately. You should not have to drop everything when he calls.
  • Nobody is perfect. Everyone has the right to have faults and make mistakes. This includes both him and you.

We don't know that he in fact suffers from BPD. If he does, this problem is a manifestation of the belief that no one could possibly love him, and therefore he needs to fight for love, tooth and nail. BPD can be overcome. If it really is a problem for him, get him to visit a wonderful web site:

He is now 33, and I would think he is genuine in trying to establish a life for himself as a mature adult. As I said, you can be of immense help to him in this. I wish you all the best, and I think he is lucky to have a daughter like you.

All the best,

Bob Rich

This question was answered by Dr. Bob Rich. Dr. Rich has 30+ years of experience as a psychotherapist. Dr. Rich is also a writer and a "mudsmith". Bob is now retired from psychological practice, but still works with people as a counselor.For more information visit:

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