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Mental Health Expert Dr. Todd Grande discusses Psychopathy, Narcissism, Rage, Infidelity & Murder Related to the Chris Watts Case

I appreciate that this licensed professional counselor of mental health, and also a licensed chemical dependency professional has taken the time to familiarize himself with the minutiae of this case.

Interestingly Dr. Grande said he formed and recorded an initial prognosis but felt, on second thoughts, that it didn’t sit well with him and so he went back, did additional research and reconsidered.

The Chris Watts case seems perfectly simple.  It’s not.

Your thoughts?


  1. CBH

    This guy is very reasonable and not given to excess (as contrasted with say, a Dr. Phil type).

    He does accept the 2nd confession as factual (I don’t).

    He rightly views Shannan as perplexed and Nichol as growing in confidence.

    He’s moderate in saying Watts had some vulnerable narcissism characteristics, and some psychopathy , while still recognizing that he’s an introvert in the midst of an affair. Nothing we cannot figure out for ourselves, but kuddos to him for not acting like Dr. Phil.

    • nickvdl

      Thanks for your feedback CBH. He also made a point, not Rocket Science by any means, but worth pondering – that Watts was attracted to Kessinger not necessarily because he liked her or was attracted to her but because she was “pursuing him”.

      That’s quite an interesting observation and I think it shows Watts’ low self-esteem. I don’t think that aspect has been addressed much. Low self-esteem has some classic connections to narcissism and how they artificially project confidence.

      A lot of the discussion so far has been at face value, that Watts pursued Kessinger and Kessinger pursued Watts. But there’s little thought around why she did, and why he did. It’s taken as a given. But it’s very different to pursue someone out of a position of strength or attraction, than weakness. In this case there’s an impression that both Watts and Kessinger pursued one another for the wrong reasons – envy on her side [possibly], egoism on his.

      One could take it further and say Watts wouldn’t have felt flattered by Kessinger’s attention if he wasn’t feeling diminished somewhere else. We know that he said he could be himself when he was with Kessinger. Does that sounds about right?

      I was surprised to learn he wasn’t allowed to park his truck on the driveway [ever] because it might leak oil or wake the kids. It’s hard to imagine a status quo like that – just that – wouldn’t be a source of resentment, especially for a mechanic and a petrolhead.

      One also has a sense that having three members of law enforcement hanging onto his every word [whether what he was saying was true or not] was a new experience for him. In his marriage maybe he got used to being dismissed and not listened to.

      The dynamic between Watts and Kessinger reminds me of a relationship I observed not that long ago. The woman was pursuing a man who made a lot of bold and frankly not credible claims to having money, and the man was pursuing her because she was the daughter of wealthy parents. In other words, they both had no money of their own but were interested in one another in terms of the other’s apparent claim to wealth. Both were in it not to give something, and not because they were necessarily recognizing who they were in terms of the other, but because of *what* they thought they might get out of it.

      • JC

        Brilliant. Those are good words. (If i say it, I mean it.)

      • Sheis

        Agree! I’ve always questioned the story that Chris was the one who relentlessly pursued Shanann from the start. I think they recognized in each other the things they would get out of it – exactly as in your example.

        Chris recognized Shanann as a strong woman who would stand up to his mother (he certainly couldn’t or wouldn’t), and that was probably thrilling to him. SHE wasn’t afraid to tangle with Cindy! Shanann probably recognized him as a pliable and steady provider. All those times she pushed him away were just a test to see how far he’d go for her. Apparently he went the distance.

        When things got unbearable for him with Shanann, how convenient that there was another bossy woman to take charge of his mess!

      • Ralph Oscar

        “that Watts was attracted to Kessinger not necessarily because he liked her or was attracted to her but because she was “pursuing him”.”

        One of the ways that cults and MLMs hook people in is by giving them abundant positive attention and feedback at the beginning of the interaction. As you can easily imagine, it is the lonely, the frustrated, the isolated, the ones with low self-esteem who see all these people paying so much attention to them, lavishing praise, nonsexual touch, and affirmations on them, and think, “I’ve finally found my *tribe*! These are my new best friends!” They’re surrounded by people who are behaving as if they are the most interesting, insightful, intuitive, brilliant, charming, fascinating person they’ve ever EVER seen! The target comes away thinking, “THIS is the type of community I’ve always dreamed of – these people GET me! They see me the way I’ve always wanted to be seen!” It’s basically identical to the “honeymoon phase” of a new relationship, when everyone’s on their best behavior and treating their partner like a king/queen. The goal there, as with cults and MLMs, is to get the target hooked.

        A well-adjusted, mentally healthy person will feel instantly suspicious at all the attention: “What do they want from me?”

        “Watts wouldn’t have felt flattered by Kessinger’s attention if he wasn’t feeling diminished somewhere else.”

        Yeah, that’s true. It’s complicated, though. What if he was someone who was just *tired* of the humdrum rut of life with SW and their children? What if he simply yearned for excitement and the way a brand new relationship feels when it’s just getting going? I see CW being diminished, definitely, and treated like a king in his new relationship, and I also see that he was drowning in his marriage. It was just *not working* for CW, and given the dynamic that had been established over 10 years with the domineering SW, there appeared no way to address anything, work on anything, fix anything, change anything. It was apparently the way SW wanted it, and she intended to keep things exactly as they were – even though that was choking the life out of CW.

        So, I dunno. I guess I have nothing new to add. I can just so easily see the appeal of a new and different relationship, with someone who just *wants* him so bad, is so *eager* to be with him, and just *basks* in his presence. What a difference that must have been for CW. Intoxicating.

      • Jo Hubbard

        Your observation, nickvdl, that it was a new experience for Chris Watts to have “…three members of law enforcement hanging onto his every word…” was exactly what I felt. Chris was described as a quiet person who stood back from group conversations at work and in social situations, yet he very excitedly told his other story to these investigators and seemed to enjoy the attention.

        Further, I do not believe this “confession” of having a psychotic break when his wife told him he would never again see his children. I believe he could be preparing for a change in his sentence by confessing to rage and the snap decision to commit the murders instead of a calculated and planned first degree murder. He tells his story with what seems to be a certain amount of pride in his making all those decisions without guilt or remorse.

        I question how Chris Watts was capable of making all the decisions on his own to annihilate his entire family. I believe he may come forward with even another “confession” after he fantasizes about another scenario that is more favorable to himself and continues to divert attention away from Kessinger.

        Dr. Todd, I enjoyed your observations and descriptions of different personality types.

  2. CBH

    Great insights as always.

    Yes, I did pause at the psychologist’s statement about Kessinger pursuing Watts. To me, it lends an extra thrill (and no, men don’t always want to play the aggressor.) Not necessarily anything to do with self esteem.

    I think we can safely say that in the end, Shannan’s being so controlling would be enough to make anyone sick. Imagine even having her as a roommate. Ugh.

    The couple you describe in your closing sound just awful: They were scamming each other. How charming.

  3. Sylvester

    I like Dr. Grande’s analysis. I think he’s taken the time to think about it and acknowledges that not everything fits, but it’s the intersection of several aspects in this case, psychopathy, narcissism, rage, fantasy and infidelity and a bad relationship that contributed to the root cause(s) of the murders. Narcissism not so much though. He’s analyzing Watt’s second confession, treating it as true, and working within that framework. He hit all the main points of psychopathy, but the one that was the most interesting was “criminal versatility” – two different kinds of murder – impulsive rage with Shan’ann (and again, he’s going with what Watts himself said), and a cold calculated murder of his daughters. He states that fantasy is dangerous, and that Watts was indulging in this, as was Kessinger, but he didn’t say Shan’ann was as well, only that she had a failure to understand what was going on with Watts and I would tack on that that failure to understand her husband until it was too late, had to do with Shan’ann herself living in a fantasy world. He used another word I hadn’t heard of – “low neuroticism”, which is calm under stress. Certainly Watts did exhibit that behavior in the aftermath – texting his girlfriend, calling the realtor, the Primrose school and I would add the porch interview. He stammered several times but his smiling inappropriately and that he wasn’t convincingly stressed, sad, or anxious about his family missing was a huge tell and what we all saw.

    Psychopathic behavior doesn’t suddenly appear in your mid 30’s though. Although I’m sure shallow affect (superficial charm) was likely evident to many but many likely bought it as real.

  4. Ira

    It does make sense that Watts fell for her because he was being pursued by her . He supposedly had little to no experience with women before Shanann. So when a woman makes it known she’s into him , it made it that much easier for him , plus the fact his wife was making him miserable and he’s an introvert who had just started to become a bit more confident on himself but not quite there yet , it makes sense that he would need that little push that she initiated . Him not having much life experience with women and all of a sudden having one that was nice to him , helped expedite his infatuation with her to great heights to the point he felt he was in love but I’m actuality it was really something more fleeting .

  5. Sideaffected

    I like the fact that he made a video and reconsidered-shows integrity-and he makes a few good points. However…

    He is not using the items from the PCI-r in their right context. It’s supposed to evaluate the person’s life in many areas over time. For example a high score for “criminal versatility” would be someone with a record for for theft, credit card fraud, assault, robbery, and murder. Not “he killed her this way and then this way.” I also don’t think Chris is particularly impulsive nor sensation-seeking (which often is shown by frequent moving of relationships, places, jobs, as well as drug/alcohol use.) The affair wasn’t the norm, rather than being part of an ongoing, nomadic lifestyle. What is evident is callousness and lack of empathy, failure to accept responsibility, shallow affect (“Cleckley observed that they never experience grief, honesty, joy, or genuine despair. They don’t ruminate on anything. If you ask if they’ve ever worried about leaving the stove on they will stare at you in stunned disbelief.”) He has no juvenile delinquency, early behavioral problems, and many short-term marriages.

    With the vulnerable narcissism, it’s much the same-some things, like showering someone with attention and then devaluing, discarding them while showering someone else with attention, being passive-aggressive and resentful, saying “yes, sure, that’s fine” then not doing it or sabotaging, are like him. Other things, like needing constant attention, always needing help, anger outbursts-do not.

    I think this is why the FBI is wanting to “study” him. He is shockingly callous but would not qualify as a psychopath. The brains of psychopaths also all look the same. I’d love to see an MRI of his brain! I bet it would be frustrating-just the brain of “an ordinary, helpful kinda guy.”

    • Amanda Collins

      The needing constant attention, always needing help, anger outbursts… do not. Hard to truly know, actually.. since Shan’ann would be the one to ask. CW is sooooo like my ex husband, it chills me to the core. He showed a different person to the outside, than he did to me. Something that stuck out was the mention CW made of a cousin….. where Shan’ann said something about “how come you don’t act that way around ME?”… Always needing help… there was some stuff w/ NK that stuck out to me there, too… She seemed to be the one who was always looking stuff up FOR him. Always making the plans FOR him. Just like Shan’ann did… Shan’ann took care of the house, of everything… There was never a thoughtfulness or concern on CW’s part imho, if you needed to get something done….. better off to just do it yourself kind of thing! The bad seed that most certainly is CW imho…. didn’t fall too far from his narcopath family tree. I think you are correct about the vulnerable/covert narcissism. There could be other things too. Imho, he’s also absolutely still lying about pretty much.. .everything. There were some things that stood out that just didnt line up w/ the evidence/autopsies. Some BIG things too imho.

      • Ralph Oscar

        You didn’t see the pics/videos of CW mowing the lawn after a long day of hard work in the oil fields? Sometimes with a child in a backpack or sitting on his shoulders? After having gotten up at 4:00 AM?
        CW cooked, you know, and did ALL the laundry. He vacuumed, mopped, etc., in addition to bringing home ALL the bacon, while SW was sitting on her ass, neglecting the children, making Thrive videos and getting manicures all day.

        Tell me some more about what a parasite CW was.

    • Mo


      I think that you’re right. His history suggested constancy and being well-liked, nothing suggestive of psychopathy or sociopathy.

      Something changed.

      There may have been an episode of ‘rage’ or extreme disinhibition, as he strangled and felt that he could not stop. This was described like a ‘made act’, (a compulsion to act, one being ‘made to continue’).

      Then we have the facile indoor giggling despite the enormity of what has occurred, furthermore in the face of the neighbour’s video recording, and all parties aware of there being no way that Shan’ann could have left by the front door to be picked up with the daughters.

      He knows that Shan’ann is furthermore easily to be found in a shallow grave at his worksite, with a sheet blowing hither and thither, all around the mound.

      Not much to giggle about.

      Then there is the manner of how his daughters were dealt with.

      Is there evidence of his being unable to feel emotions in the normal manner? Is this, too, new?

      What’s this about low neuroticism under stress?

      If any person is in a situation of high stress, how may anxiety be reduced?

      You mention MRI scanning of the brain.

      An fMRI scan of the brain would be of possible value.

    • Ralph Oscar

      “showering someone with attention and then devaluing, discarding them while showering someone else with attention”

      This is a good example of the “love-bombing” that cults and MLMs do to their new recruits. But it can’t last for the target – once they’ve committed to the group, the group’s “love-bombing” efforts are then turned to the new people, because the goal is to Always Be Recruiting. Just as in an unhappy relationship, the target believes that they can somehow do something just right and recapture those first few weeks, when they were being treated so wonderfully. They cling to the delusion that the “honeymoon phase” was the REAL relationship, and all the ick after that was an aberration, rather than being the reality of being involved with that person/group.

      That approach – lavishing attention on the target, only to withdraw it once they’re hooked and start lavishing the attention on a different target – is abusive.

  6. Sylvester

    It’s so very tempting to explain Watts as exhibiting psycho-pathological tendencies as Dr. Grande pointed out the obvious – 1) pathological lying; 2) shallow affect; 3) criminal versatility; and 4) low neuroticism (calm under stress). The affair would then be seen as a symptom – he wasn’t in a good relationship, he chose to stray – and he was indulging in fantasy. But once he met his wife in NC I think the fantasy part of it was over. He continued to give NK hope, which was also wrong. Watts wore a mask with virtually everyone in his sphere.

    • Laura Thompson

      I’ve thought for quite awhile that the affair was more a symptom than a cause.

  7. angie yates

    Live Abuse Free on You Tube also has good analysis of the psychology of this case

    • Amanda Collins

      Agreed. Imho, CW was, has been & is still.. snowing everyone around him. Lying, twisting, manipulating… Why would he if it werent true? He hasn’t told a truthful version yet, imho. He’ll do/say just about anything to protect his own & family image. Deep down, he is SOOOO immature, emotionally underdeveloped, fragile & insecure to his core… He will pour salt into the already gaping wounds of those suffering… as long as people think he snapped. That his lifetime image is maintained… So that HE isnt forever known to be “that OTHER Chris” they spoke of in the first interrogation!!! Thing is, that’s exactly who he is &….. it would be a helluva lot closer to the truth!!!! His mom/family speaks to him daily, he says… NO doubt they have been feeding him info from the outside/internet, allowing him to come up w/ this latest spewing of bs & fkery, ya know? Hell, according to him the coward hadn’t even admitted that it was HIM who killed the kids & not Shanann, to his own family (again, that he speaks to daily) So, they…. under the impression he’s innocent (on those counts anyway) are feeding him ideas to “fight it”.. They/SHE.. doesnt want her parenting challenged… for people to believe she could possibly have a family annihilator for a son. One who calculated & planned that complete disconnect; the devalue & discard of his entire family, while love-bombing someone else. That, in his mind… it could have been as simple (& ridiculous) as… he found a shiny new toy to play with, so suddenly.. his usual favorites, werent as fun OR useful anymore. He felt justified to just… get rid of them. =/

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