Judge’s ruling against Woody Allen for custody

Recently, I stated that what I would most like to see come from this Woody Allen controversy is simply that there is no exonerating trait that precludes a person from being a child molester. And for that matter, no trait that precludes Dylan from having told a truthful and accurate account of events. What conclusions we all come to are less important than that we keep open minds instead of jumping to conclusions based on anyone’s social status.

For those who want to go further and attempt to solve the mystery to their own satisfaction, here is a link to the judge’s original ruling in the custody hearing. I strongly recommend reading it in its entirety. For those who can’t or won’t, I’ll present a little summary – which leaves out a lot – and then explain the significance of it with some psychology references. If you’ve already read it, you can skip the section “Summary.”


After having promised Mia he would never attempt to get custody of Dylan, Moses or Satchel (Ronan), Woody Allen filed a suit for custody of Dylan, Moses and Satchel seven days after learning of Dylan’s accusation of sexual abuse. Multiple witnesses reported seeing Allen behave inappropriately around Dylan, including kneeling before her with his face in her lap while she stared vacantly at the TV. The judge takes issue with the team of two social workers and a pediatrician who concluded that no forensic evidence of a finger in a vagina = no assault, because they weren’t qualified and that’s an unfounded conclusion. He also took issue with the family therapists (already seeing Allen about his inappropriate fixation on Dylan) who thought there was no abuse – one of them changed her story at least once, and the judge felt their main loyalty might be toward Allen, and that they might be reluctant to admit a sexual assault happened on their watch.

He finds no evidence that Mia brainwashed or coached Dylan, and points out that they had a household rule that Allen never be left alone with Dylan. When Mia learned of Dylan’s assault, she had no reason to think Dylan had been alone with Allen on the day it happened, so why would she have concocted a story about abuse happening in a setting where lots of witnesses were around? He refers to Allen’s “stereotypical ‘woman scorned’ defense.” He finds that Mia has been an imperfect mother (probably failing Soon-Yi at some point in her teenage years) but overall a good custodian. She has allowed supervised visits between Allen and Satchel, which counters Allen’s contention that Mia wants to turn the kids against him. The judge finds that probably Farrow’s worst fault as a parent is having stayed with Allen for so long.

He also finds that Woody doesn’t know anything about the kids. Not who their pediatricians are, their pet’s names, their friends, how they’re doing in school. Nothing seems to indicate he has any sort of fatherly potential.

He finds that Allen separated Soon-Yi from her family and had no regard for the fact that, from the kids’ perspective, their father was now dating their sister (legal though it might be).

He says, “In short, I find Mr. Allen so self-absorbed, untrustworthy, and insensitive that he should not be permitted to see Satchel without appropriate professional supervision.” (Satchel was Woody’s biological child, in whom he’d shown no interest, ignored completely when Dylan was around, and once threatened to “break your fucking leg” because the little boy, then five, kicked him. This is all in the court ruling.) Needless to say, he also concludes Dylan is in danger from Allen and must not see him outside a family therapy setting, and then only if it benefits her well-being.

The judge refers to this lawsuit as a “frivolous action.”

He lays out his reasoning very thoroughly so you can question it and decide if you agree or not.

Psychology references

I’m not going to tell you what to think. First, you have to decide if you find the judge’s thinking and reasoning persuasive – judges can be wrong. What I am going to tell you is this.

The judge paints Allen as a narcissist – so self-absorbed that other people’s needs and concerns don’t factor into his thought process at all, and blaming others for his problems. Narcissism is strongly associated with child abuse and in particular child sexual molestation:

Of course all narcissists are not sex offenders, but child sex offenders display narcissism in its most destructive form…But, enter the profile of a sex offender…the ultimate narcissist. Whose needs are more important? Does that offender think of the child and what that child needs? Are the child’s needs put above their own? Is the offender aware of the life-long devastating effects on the child? Do they consider the fact that self-esteem, trust, and healthy sexuality will be a life-long struggle? And, that the child is at risk to carry the shame forever? Do they care? No they don’t. Then add the child’s burden of keeping the secret that is embedded by the sex offender’s manipulation and grooming. Pile on a culture that sadly encourages this denial.

Sam Vaknin has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (the most extreme and virtually untreatable version of narcissism). When his self-absorption landed him in jail and a therapist diagnosed him, he was sufficiently motivated to get treatment (a set of events that unfortunately rarely befalls narcissists). He is still very self-absorbed – this cannot be changed – but he claims he’s learned to behave with consideration (even if he doesn’t feel the empathy, deep down) and now channels his self-absorption into writing about his condition with tremendous frankness. You should take him as a primary source to be vetted, not an academic research source, but on the subject of why narcissists molest their siblings or children, what he says matches up with what is understood about the disorder generally (and in any case, is one of the few glimpses we have into the NPD’s possible motivation for this crime):

At first, he perceives his offspring or siblings as a threat to his Narcissistic Supply, such as the attention of his spouse, or mother, as the case may be…

As siblings or progeny grow older, the narcissist begins to see their potential to be edifying, reliable and satisfactory Sources of Narcissistic Supply. His attitude, then, is completely transformed. The former threats have now become promising potentials. He cultivates those whom he trusts to be the most rewarding. He encourages them to idolise him, to adore him, to be awed by him, to admire his deeds and capabilities, to learn to blindly trust and obey him…

It is at this stage that the risk of child abuse – from emotional incest and up to and including outright incest – is heightened.

To believe someone is a child molester, you must believe they are narcissistic – that is, so self-absorbed that they have no respect for the boundaries of others. This is the picture the judge painted.


Gawker published a piece by a molestation survivor the other day entitled Woody Allen Is Not a Monster. He Is a Person. Like My Father. I recommend this article because while there are some variations from one molestation case to another, the larger point it makes is important: these people are humans. Twisted humans, but human. When we paint them as demonic freaks, we are pushing them away from our idea of people. It’s like victim-blaming in reverse – if we can see them as less than human, and see ourselves as fully human, then we think we are safe from becoming them.

And, okay – a mature adult personality doesn’t suddenly develop the urge to molest kids. But the reality is: you could have been a child molester. All it takes is a childhood full or learning that boundaries need not be respected, and you need not be accountable for your actions, and anyone accusing you of wrongdoing is automatically wrong and you should go forth and accuse your wrongdoer of all things and play a plausible victim so everyone will believe you and not the accuser.

It’s horrifying to realize we are so malleable as children that we cannot only be victimized, but turned into people who do monstrous things. But the good news is: we can do something about this. The more we learn about these patterns, the better we can learn to identify abuse and do something constructive about it. I’m talking child welfare, child psychologists, law enforcement, etc. If you are a parent who is at all concerned about whether you’re parenting your kids well, you’re very unlikely to produce narcissists. The parents of narcissists are usually pretty narcissistic themselves, and therefore do not care for advice.

Regardless of what conclusions we all draw about who did what to whom in this single case, the case itself provides a lot of thought-provoking material for those wondering how child molestation – and child molesters – look from the outside.


  1. Alex says

    While Woody Allen’s behavior is disgusting, unnerving, and indefensible, I’m not sure if he falls within the narcissistic umbrella specifically because of his film career. Most of what I’ve read about narcissism involves near-total mind-blindness. His films are entirely character-driven and revolve around the interplay of conflicting viewpoints. It seems unlikely a pathological narcissist could write anything like that, much less be both so prolific and consistently praised as a genius.

    Then again, I’m only a casual reader of psychology (mostly autism spectrum), so I’m not qualified to make any judgment here.

    • says

      Actually, if I understand “mind blindness” the way you do, NPDs don’t have it. NPDs are very good at “cold empathy” and this distinction can actually help clinicians can tell NPDs from people on the autistic spectrum. Sam Vaknin, the NPD I mentioned in the article, has a very useful piece on this: http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/cold-empathy-and-warm-empathy Vaknin says elsewhere that NPDs always know precisely the impact they are having on you, and fake not realizing how they effect you in order to trick you into forgiving them. Many of them read people as well as anyone else – they just don’t have the corresponding emotional pulls that go with warm empathy.

      NPDs are often also good at appearing contrite, humble, really really sorry they hurt you and what can they do to make it up… anything to get what they want.

      That said, I urge caution in ever trying to profile anybody from their work. I’ve seen other people remark that Allen’s films involve older men chasing very young women, therefore he’s guilty. One properly diagnosed NPD I have known was very good at incorporating the thoughts of others into his own work, so based on his writing you’d have thought he was progressive and leftist (that image suited him at that time and place) when in fact he is slightly to the right of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. 😉

      • Nuria says

        Also, WA’s characters are extremely repetitious and the protagonist is always himself or a version of himself. If that’s not narcissim, I don’t know what is.

    • Tzivya says

      It is entirely possible to deeply and passionately write about the experience of something that one does not, themselves, posses. I circle a few psychological definitions only because of the fact that I am aware of them, and consciously choose not to be them. By some reasoning, that means I cannot be what I know I am. Yet I am.

      For me, someone who delves deeply into the interpersonal relations and viewpoints of other may be doing so because, on some level, they know full well they lack that. They want to understand it, they perhaps even wish they had it. But being able to ‘fake it’ in writing is not the same as ‘having it’. I wish, very much, it was.

  2. Naomi says

    It’s just a shame that you use Sam as the ‘expert’ here. He is the ultimate game player, and yes, he is a self-confessed sufferer of a full blown narcissistic personality disorder. And that is precisely why his version of this disorder should never be regarded as ‘expert’ in any way. His Phd is from an online ‘shop’, and when questioned about this by bone-fide professionals, he kind of laughed… as if to say “Why would you think that anything about me was real? Why would you think that I’d actually put in any real research into this, or anything else? I told you, I do everything for SAM!” … Gotcha! That’s all he does, and he told you so!! He is a narcissist, but he is not an expert on the matter… far from it! So, if you want to write a credible article, please refer to someone other than Sam as your source!

    • says

      Naomi, I was reluctant to use him as a source for that reason, but couple of questions for you: first, who IS an expert on this? No one’s claiming expertise on NPD, and I’ll say more on this in a minute. Second, you need to take Vaknin as a primary source, not an academic expert. I’ll add in a note in the post about this.

      When the FBI interviews serial killers to learn more about them, they do not presume the killers are being 100% honest and without agenda. They assume the opposite, in fact, but you still need the primary source for in-depth research. Otherwise, no one is in a position to claim to be an “expert” on narcissism. Since most serial rapists and killers are NPDs (often comorbid with other diagnoses), the profilers are probably the most qualified to speak on narcissists… but unfortunately, due to the nature of what they are called to investigate, the FBI doesn’t have a lot of experience with familial child molestation cases.

      So the vast majority of “sources” available to us on the connection between narcissism and child molestation are unvetted victims writing on the net… and Vaknin. Since what he says about NPDs and child molestation – and the importance of protecting kids from NPDs – is absolutely scathing toward NPDs, and he claims to be one himself, it’s hard to imagine he has a self-serving angle here. It also makes him a more compelling source than victims who might be dismissed as “bitter.”

      I challenge you to find a more qquality source on the topic of why narcissists molest children. I did back him up with the references in Psychology Today, which has also seen fit to post some pretty unreliable source and therefore might be considered the worse source of the two by some. That’s just how lousy the state of research into NPD is.

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