Friday, 9 February 2018

A mother's guilt.

By special guest author - Blaze

Although I refer predominantly to 'mothers' in this article, I do of course I appreciate that the 'normal' instincts discussed generally hold true for fathers, too. (Normal fathers, that is.)

This was originally one (very long) article but because of the numerous complex themes involved, I've split it into two parts. Very few psychologists have dared speculate about the McCanns' potential pathologies, so I am primarily basing this first part on some interesting (and bold) observations made Dr Christian Ludke during an interview in the early days of the investigation (September 2007). For me, this provides an entirely accurate, unflinching and incisive assessment by an experienced mental health professional, specifically a criminal psychologist. 

You can read the interview here:

Dr Ludke's matter-of-fact candour makes a refreshing change from the unquestioningly sympathetic and infuriatingly deferential approach adopted by almost every other commentator and journalist. 

Dr Christian Ludke
This article focuses on what I consider to be one of the most inexplicable and alarming aspects of the case: a seeming total absence of guilt or conscience in both parents but most notably Kate, who has nevertheless been confidently and repeatedly appraised by herself and by others as a "good, responsible, loving mother"... Two of her 'close friends' even went so far as to describe her as "the perfect mum":

This habitual avoidance of critical reflection (even in the face of what undoubtedly amounts to the most diabolical and calamitous 'mistake' a parent could possibly make) is highly significant. It's effectively delusional. Even the most impressively accomplished and devoted mother in the world is unlikely to describe herself as anything more than "just about adequate". 

As Dr Ludke elucidates: "I have, in recent years, cared for many parents who lost their children due to acts of violence. Most of them were under severe shock, feeling helpless, desperate and withdrawn. Many also quarrelled. They blamed themselves hugely for not having looked after their child adequately."

This reaction is normal. It is expected. Mothers (and fathers too of course, but mothers in particular) feel guilt on a daily basis: guilt is as inevitable as, and commensurate with, our overwhelming feelings of love. Motherhood is pretty much an endless guilt trip, and that is completely natural and normal. We beat ourselves up daily over every perceived inadequacy, misjudgement or mistake. Guilt is an integral, vital part of the experience of parenthood.

If you leave your child unattended - even if you merely take your eye off them for a few seconds - and, as a consequence of that fleeting lapse of vigilance, something terrible happens to your child.... the consequent parental guilt, the shame and the self-blame would be immediate, powerful and thereafter incessant. It would be debilitating, relentless, torturous. The guilt would eat you up from the inside, day after day after day. It would wear you down and burn you out, it would age and enfeeble you progressively until you became a shell of your former self. That is what real guilt does to you. 

If you are a relatively normal parent with reasonably normal mental and emotional states and responses, feeling guilt and anxiety about your child on an almost continuous basis is something you just have to learn to live with. This isn't a supposition or a generalisation, it is a fact. It doesn't mean the guilt is always rational or particularly desirable or 'healthy', it just means that to feel guilt is as natural a part of normal parenthood as noise, mess, stress, perpetual exhaustion, CBeebies, smelling of vomit, learning how to unwrap a Chupa-Chup in under 30 seconds, and stepping on Lego.
I keep coming back to that rather arbitrary word 'normal'. By Kate and Gerry's own accounts and unabashed admissions, the loss of their daughter did not cause night after night of frantic, sickened sleeplessness. (A mere ten days after the disappearance, Kate McCann wrote in her diary that she was sleeping well. Gerry even managed a cheeky little power nap on the night of the 'abduction'.) It did not cause unbearable marital strain, save for Kate's distasteful public admission via a gruesome redtop front page splash that she was temporarily indisposed to getting intimate with her husband... a prospect that would surely leave any sane woman stupefied with repulsion. 

It certainly did not impede Gerry's meteoric career trajectory or prevent Kate from maintaining her lovely highlights or matching her earrings. Neither parent felt disinclined to continue to enjoy the leisure facilities at the Ocean Club, including the consumption of free food and drink. It did not delay them from instigating a complex and calculated global campaign, setting up legal/ PR teams and securing lines of communication between 'helpful' contacts. Incredibly, it did not move either of them to break down inconsolably during any of their hundreds of carefully prepared interviews.

It did not cause either of them to publicly express shame or regret, apart from occasionally proffering the most superficial, insincere and perfunctory lip service to the vaguely guilt-tinged emotions they supposed they *should* be feeling and expressing.

None of this - NONE OF IT - is 'normal'. None of it is natural, admirable, justifiable, reasonable, right, expected or understandable.

Instead, the loss of their little girl has been, from the start and ever since, utilised as an opportunity to raise, promote and enhance their own profiles and (attempt to) convince everyone of their innocence.

Regardless of whether these endeavours are because they really ARE innocent and desperate to 'prove' their innocence to the public, the fact that THAT is what they poured all their efforts and resources into is quite frankly one of the biggest and most conspicuous indicators of their true natures.

Where is their sense of instinctive, protective duty towards their child? Was it ever there? Where's their sense of decorum, of decency, of dignity and respect for their child, regardless of whether she is alive or dead, and regardless of whether or not they know if she is alive or dead? What mother or father truly gives a toss what people might think of them or how much cash they can accumulate if there's a possibility that their baby girl is out there, suffering in unspeakable ways? Or if she is dead and they know it, "beyond their concern" to use statement analyst Peter Hyatt's phrase, how can their concern for their daughter (if indeed it ever existed at all) switch exclusively to their own self-protection so seamlessly, and with such astonishing audacity and equanimity? Normal parents just don't work that way. "Good" parents certainly don't.

In their desperation to 'prove' their innocence, they have therefore categorically demonstrated the opposite.

Here's a selection of interview quotes, when the interviewer has (gently, diplomatically) presented either or both parents with the opportunity to accept and acknowledge at least a little bit of responsibility for what happened to their daughter. Every time, they diverted and dodged, self-justified or simply reiterated pointless and irrelevant facts such as the distance between the tapas restaurant and the apartment.

Jane Hill (BBC first interview): "You must look back and think "We did the wrong thing?" (A similar question was asked in another early interview, about how the McCanns deal with the criticism about leaving their children alone: the answer is always the same)
GM "...No one will ever feel more guilty than us for the fact that we were not with Madeleine at that time when she was abducted and whether we'd been in the bedroom next door we would still have felt as guilty, I'm sure, but, you know, you've seen the proximity of the restaurant; there was a line of sight to the apartment and it was not dissimilar to having dinner in your garden ..."

Kate: "At worst we were naive. We are very responsible parents, we love our children very much. I don't think any parent could ever imagine or consider anything like this happening."

Ian Woods (Sky News):
IW: "Do you blame yourselves regularly?"
KM: "Certainly in the first few days. I think the guilt was, was very difficult. But I think as time goes on, erm, you feel stronger and we felt very supported from that point of view."
IW: "Is there a lesson, do you feel, to other parents?"
GM: "I think that's a very difficult thing to say because if you look at it, and we try to rationalise things in our head, ultimately what is done is done and we continually look forward. We've tried to put it into some sort of perspective for ourselves. We're in a very safe resort. If you think about the millions and millions of British families who go to the Mediterranean each year, really the changes of this happening are in the order of a hundred million to one."

GM (to Piers Morgan): "the focus on our behaviour takes the focus away from the abductor" 

KM (to Jon Corner): "there's not a day goes by that I'm not kinda thinking to myself 'why did I think that was ok? Was I wrong in thinking that was ok?' All I can say to myself is that I know how much I love my children, I know I'm a responsible parent."

For "the first few days" there was some guilt, apparently. Only the first few days. At worst, they were "naive". Seriously, the mother of a missing/dead child said this. Three weeks later. She really said it. 

"What is done is done." Seriously, the father of a missing/dead child said this. Three weeks later. He really said it.

The material wealth and infamy that has arisen because of the McCanns' cold-bloodedly focused mission of self-preservation are merely (very welcome) side effects. Without doubt they love money and they love attention (even negative attention is preferable to being ignored), but even more than that, they love being perceived as victims. They love to call their doubters "haters", "trolls" and "a lynch mob", because lazy, vacuous ad hominem attacks are all they know, and all they've got. They love blame-shifting, misleading, diverting away from the facts and The Truth. They seek out whatever elevates them, and in turn whatever crushes or undermines their enemies: anything that steers away from The Facts.

If a mother (or father) is mentally unwell or has a toxic personality disorder such as NPD, that natural parental guilt, that nagging, anxious, reassuringly NORMAL feeling that underscores our every waking moment as parents, is typically pretty much non-existent, or it is otherwise distorted into a destructive and dysfunctional way of connecting with and attuning to their child. In other words, there is a catastrophic disconnect; a detachment.

I have both professional and personal experience of toxic personality disorders. NPD parents, that is parents who have the *full-blown narcissistic personality disorder* (rather than simply possessing a few narcissistic traits) don't love their children any more meaningfully than you or I might say we 'love' our cars or our smartphones (i.e, if they are faulty or they fail to meet our expectations, we stop 'loving' them and seek to modify or replace them)... however NPD parents are generally able to recognise when it is appropriate to feign concern and affection for their children; in other words to 'put on a show'.

Because psychopaths (and narcissists generally) do not feel guilt or shame either, again, by necessity, they tend to have the acting skills to at least fake or exaggerate those 'expected' human emotions such as distress, guilt and grief when appropriate. In fact they typically thrive on the attention and sympathy that being 'grief-stricken' and dramatically martyred affords them. A NPD parent will always focus on their own suffering. The suffering of others is totally inconsequential, in fact they don't even give it a first thought, never mind a second thought. Some narcissists (the malignant kind) actually get a sadistic thrill out of the suffering of others. 

But crucially, most narcissists recognise that in order to win support, they will need to PRETEND to care about others. They will need to PRETEND to not be pathologically selfish, unconscionable, soulless beings driven solely by ego and avarice. Therefore, most narcissists are extraordinarily good at subterfuge, and the bigger the audience, the more imperative it is that they are *damn good* at pretending, at 'acting the part'. The McCanns have had a worldwide audience for over a decade, and yet.... it's as if they don't even need to TRY.

Accepting responsibility and showing contrition is something narcissists are acutely uncomfortable with, indeed it is an alien concept to them. They will never be held accountable for anything, but will think nothing of accepting undue and undeserved credit or praise. As such they are constantly seeking ways to shift and deflect blame or accountability for their wrong-doings, while expecting unwavering deference, grovelling admiration and preferential treatment. 

A parent who is a narcissist or a psychopath does not have any sort of conscience. Their thoughts and concerns are never specifically about their child, unless it is how the child affects and/or reflects them.

I am obviously not stating as fact that the McCanns are psychopaths or narcissists. I do not know for sure of course (and I can pretty much guarantee that neither of them will ever be diagnosed), but I do most DEFINITELY see the signs clearly in both of them: in the language they use, in what they say (and fail to say) and the way in which they say it, in their conduct and demeanour, in their actions and inactions, in their facial expressions and other non-verbal cues. 

However, even despite having extensive knowledge and harrowing experience of narcissistic personality disorder, I still cannot comprehend how neither of the McCanns were able to even adequately FAKE guilt or grief, or why it didn't occur to them, in the glare of the media spotlight, that it might be a good idea to at least convincingly *try to*. 

To go from having this precious little child in your life, to suddenly... not... the void that would leave for ANY PARENT - even an emotionally incapacitated parent - is unimaginable. As parents who went through the pain of infertility and the colossal stress and strain of IVF, their combined ferocious yearning for that child would surely have been all-consuming, even from before the moment they first saw her tiny pinprick of an embryonic heartbeat at the first pregnancy scan. 

Whatever the circumstances surrounding the loss of that desperately wanted child, it would surely, surely have left a seismic, obliterating void. And yet... it was as if it were a mere inconvenience; a blip in their otherwise ostensibly 'perfect' life.

So, while I know about and 'sort of' understand that narcissistic parents don't feel love (at least not the quality of love that most of us are familiar with), and I know and 'sort of' understand that they don't feel guilt, because NPD is fundamentally characterised by a lack (or a deficit) of those feelings, I find it impossible to rationalise their blatant lack of grief, even of faked grief. I'll discuss this in detail in the next chapter.


  1. So well presented and discussed .... highlighting all those things that we, as mothers, have felt were wrong as we watched the McCanns actions and behavior right from the get go. Could I have born to speak of the 'loss' of my child without breaking down and howling .... no way. Could I have born not to have spent the whole night and the coming days combing the resort screaming out her name .... no way. Their behaviour is beyond belief and totally alien to me.

  2. I could understand Kate not crying; she could have been emotionally shocked and numb. However, the makeup and clothes thing is incomprehensible. Was it Jon Corner who interviewed her when she was so poised and radiant?

  3. I dont know if they did it but their refusal to take a polygraph is damning. If they pass it all this negative attention goes away leaving all attention to find their daughter. I think most people think they killed her.