Do You Know a Female Psychopath?

Shannon V. McHugh, PsyD
Updated on February 11, 2021

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 (ASD), where a person exhibits signs of manipulative and anti-social behavior. Statistics show that psychopaths make up 1 percent of the population, and a large portion of people who meet the criteria of psychopaths happen to be men.

Female Psychopath

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.

What Distinguishes Female Psychopaths?

While it is true that psychopaths make up 1 percent of the population, it’s important to note that this 1 percent only accounts for those who have actually been diagnosed as meeting the criteria for a personality disorder with psychopathic features. There are many who likely meet the criteria for psychopathy but evade a diagnosis due to avoiding interactions with medical and mental health professionals.

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 percent, 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 female and female psychopaths 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 own 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

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 into a personality disorder category called “Antisocial/Psychopathic.” 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, should 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 one’s own safety and others
  • Pattern of irresponsibility
  • Lack of remorse for actions

Getting Help

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 ASD. If you are concerned about your safety, or the safety of a loved one, consult with a mental health professional who can help you understand psychopathy and what you can do..

Shannon V. McHugh, PsyD

Dr. Shannon McHugh is a Licensed Clinical and Forensic Psychologist in Los Angeles, California. She specializes in assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and adults who have developmental and social delays, behavioral difficulties, and those who have experienced traumatic events

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