People tend to associate the term “psychopath” with an evil criminal or serial killer. We have books, television, and movies to thank for that distorted perception. In reality, though, a psychopath is not necessarily evil. Psychopathy typically refers to those with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), a condition in which one exhibits signs of manipulative and anti-social behavior. Studies show that show psychopaths, i.e., people with ASPD, account for 2% to 4% of men and 0.5% to 1% of women.
When we talk about a psychopath’s anti-social behavior, it doesn’t refer to someone who is a loner or is anxious in social situations. It means someone who behaves in a way that defies the rules of society. Those who are labeled psychopathic often lack empathy, guilt, or shame, and do not care about the ethical or legal ramifications of their actions. They are therefore more likely to engage in illegal, dangerous, or even violent behavior. That does not mean, though, that every person who has this diagnosis commits violent murders or crimes.
While psychopaths make up 1.2% of the population, it’s important to note that this only accounts for those who have been diagnosed as meeting the criteria for a personality disorder with psychopathic features. Many likely meet the criteria for psychopathy but evade a diagnosis due to avoiding interactions with medical and mental health professionals.
What Distinguishes Female Psychopaths?
Researchers generally conduct their research where psychopaths can be found in abundance; in prison. One particular study indicated that the rate of female psychopaths in prison is about 17%, which is much less than the prison population of men. However, not all psychopaths are criminals or behind bars. In fact, some psychopaths use their manipulative behavior to achieve personal success.
While male and female psychopaths share a lack of remorse and empathy, studies show that they display different behaviors. Men tend to exhibit the traditional symptoms of psychopathy, such as aggressive and violent behavior, while female psychopaths tend to be less violent although they can be just as manipulative and deceptive and tend to rely on their charm to get their way.
Women can capitalize on their femininity and put themselves in situations where they seem nurturing and loving before they set out to harm their victims. Since women are often deemed to be more trustworthy, people are less likely to suspect their ulterior motives.
Signs of Psychopathy in Women
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the manual that mental health professionals use to diagnose their patients, does not have a specific diagnosis of psychopathy. Instead, it places these kinds of behaviors under the category of antisocial personality disorder, as mentioned above.
Technically, to receive a diagnosis, you need to be 18 years of age, but early signs of psychopathy can be detected in early childhood. If there’s a woman in your life that you believe may be psychopathic, she would need to display some of the symptoms of antisocial personality disorder, including:
- Engaging in behavior which warrants or results in criminal arrest
- Deception and manipulation for profit or self-amusement
- Impulsive behavior
- Irritability and aggression
- Frequently fighting or assaulting others
- Blatant disregard for her own safety and that of others
- Pattern of irresponsibility
- Lack of remorse for actions
In a therapeutic setting, psychopaths are likely able to manipulate their therapists. While it remains unclear if, or what treatments exist to cure psychopaths, there are things to be done to help those that are diagnosed with ASPD. In particular, cognitive behavioral therapy and problem-solving interventional training are commonly incorporated into treatments.
In case you have concerns regarding your safety or the safety of someone dear to you, it is advisable to seek guidance from a mental health expert who can provide you with insights into psychopathy and suggest possible actions you can take.
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- Wynn, R., Høiseth, M. H., & Pettersen, G. (2012). Psychopathy in women: theoretical and clinical perspectives. International journal of women’s health, 4, 257–263. https://doi.org/10.2147/IJWH.S25518
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- van den Bosch, L., Rijckmans, M., Decoene, S., & Chapman, A. L. (2018). Treatment of antisocial personality disorder: Development of a practice focused framework. International journal of law and psychiatry, 58, 72–78. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijlp.2018.03.002