Today I want to revisit the previous post “Nature or Nurture – A Bad Seed of Offspring” to explore other questions and to identify some of the obvious personality traits that were depicted in this classic psychopathic thriller.
The question of “Nature vs Nurture” is not going to be relevant to this post, but rather we will explore the character of Rhoda Penmark, the 8 year old psychopath who deceives and kills as if it’s childs play. A close look at her character will reveal most, if not all, of the traits that are on the continuum of DSM-5, and the scale of Narcissist Personality Disorder (NPD), as included in manual.
Just as relevant, is the definition taken from Brown’s Dictionary.
I will also point to the eerie similarities between the movie character, and the sister who is the inspiration for this blog.
NPD Personality Traits
- Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from other people
- Fixation on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
- Self-perception of being unique, superior, and associated with high-status people and institutions
- Need for continual admiration from others
- Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
- Exploitation of others to achieve personal gain
- Unwillingness to empathize with the feelings, wishes, and needs of other people
- Intense envy of others, and the belief that others are equally envious of them
- Constantly demeans, bullies and belittles others
An Overview of the Central Character in “The Bad Seed”.
The Bad Seed is the story of an 8 year old Rhoda Penmark, a bright, overly polite, extremely well mannered, and meticulously dressed girl who radiates a smile that gives the child an image of perfection.
The perfect child that parents could be proud of.
Or, was she?
We soon discover that with the manners, neatly pleated dresses, and a smile that charms the adults, a hidden malevolence is bubbling just under the surface of this carefully crafted facade of perfection.
Symptoms and Alerts for Malignant Narcissists and Psychopaths
Grandiosity of ego and heightened sense of self worth, as well as envy are at the core of her character. She displays an grandiose entitlement of her wants and desires, leaving the impression of being a spoiled brat in need of some humility. But, it’s much deeper than that.
Rhoda’s only emotion is that of rage. During the moments where she is “acting”, you’ll see her as a happy and charming girl who’s also a perfectionist in all she does, whether it be her stylized fashion, her meticulously braided hair, her vocabulary, or the perfect curtsy.
Most chilling, is the total lack of empathy or conscience that is at her core being, The coldness of her “true” self, and the viciousness of her verbal attacks allow the viewer to get an understanding of the deep disturbance that the psychopathic narcissist keeps hidden from view.
Her perfectionism is accentuated by her pathological need for control
“Hidden in plain sight, and a gross failure to ask questions about behavior that doesn’t seem right, they enable evil by not having the courage to look beyond the surface of perfection.”
But, she has no conscience and will kill if necessary to get whatever she wants, whether that be a penmanship medal she felt she should have won, the silence of a janitor who knows more than she wants him to, or an opal pendant.
Rhoda’s glibness and superficial charm that she portrays to most adults, including her mother, is nothing short of calculated, with the intention to confuse matters and to change the subject or shift blame. These are scenes that are typical of the gaslighting techniques used by sociopathic narcissists, which causes doubt and confusion in the target’s mind. That is, until the target has caught on to their deceit.
With cunning, she freely manipulates others, and is completely focused on acquiring what she wants by any means necessary, including murder. As an effective liar, her lies are wrapped in an innocence that is again, manipulation and gaslighting.
Key Traits to Watch Out For
How do you know a proper psychopath when you meet one? Dr. Robert Hare’s notorious Psychopathy checklist PCL-R outlines the criteria. He defines psychopaths as
“predators who use charm, manipulation, intimidation, sex and violence to control others and satisfy their own selfish needs. Lacking in conscience and empathy, they take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without guilt or remorse. What is missing, in other words, are the very qualities that allow a human being to live in social harmony.”
Rhoda Penmark is a classic psychopath, ticking all of Hare’s boxes. She’s described as
“one of the most satisfactory pupils the school had ever had. She’d never been absent a single day: she’d never been tardy; she was the only child in the history of the school who’d made a hundred in deportment, each month, in the classrooms, and a hundred in self-reliance and conservation, on the playgrounds, for a full school year…”
Having taken a close look at the study of psychopathy and malignant narcissism, we see that Rhoda is a high achieving malignant narcissist ie: psychopath. You can see that the character in study possesses all 9 of the key traits on the spectrum of NPD as stated in the DSM-5, as well as Dr. Hare’s PCL-R.
As the story climaxes, we learn that Rhoda’s grandmother was a notorious serial killer who killed her family for their money and for the insurance proceeds. One infant daughter survived and was adopted by her maternal grandparents. The daughter that survived the mass killing became Rhoda’s mother.
Hence, the nature vs nurture narrative throughout the book and movie.
In conclusion, “The Bad Seed” is a highly recommended book for the study of Psychopathy and Malignant Narcissists. Even as it is written as a fictional novel, the characters of this story portray real life drama of the players surrounding the evil that lurks in front of them.
Hidden in plain sight, and a gross failure to ask questions about behavior that doesn’t seem right, they enable evil by not having the courage to look beyond the surface of perfection.
There are no winners in this story.
I do not own the rights to this WB trailer. Video courtesy of YouTube creative commons license.