Why are female sociopaths rare
How to Identify a Female Psychopath
In one, I discussed how to recognize a psychopath by looking for three distinctive traits. When we hear the word psychopath now, we usually think of men. When it comes to psychopaths, most of the examples are men. This applies to fictional characters like Hannibal Lecter and Jim Moriarty, as well as real psychopaths like Charles Manson and Ted Bundy.
But what about women? Is there such a thing as a psychopath?
The truth is, we don't hear much about female psychopaths. They're rarely depicted in fiction - the only notable exceptions I can think of are Glenn Close's character in Deadly attractionAnnie Wilkes in miseryand Amy Dunne in Ex girlfriend. And they are seldom studied in the scientific literature. But that doesn't mean there aren't any female psychopaths.
In fact, the few studies that have been done tell us that an estimated 17% of incarcerated women qualify as a psychopath (compared to 30% of incarcerated men). But what about outside of the prison system? What are the chances that a psychopath is lurking in your life right now?
In truth, the odds are pretty good. It is estimated that 1 in 100 people fits the definition of a psychopath. But most of them aren't crazy killers. In fact, most psychopaths escape detection. They can be your doctor, your lawyer, your boss, or your co-worker. So chances are that you have at least one psychopath in your life and that person may be a woman.
But here is the problem. Because we rarely talk about, or see on the news or on, female psychopaths, we cannot spot them as well as male psychopaths. This is in part because female psychopaths don't necessarily look and act like male psychopaths.
It is important to keep this in mind. Psychopathy is a personality disorder. As such, it is classified as a mental illness, and many of these illnesses manifest themselves differently in men than they do in women. For example, the symptoms we usually associate with a heart attack - chest pain, tingling in the left arm, sweating - are symptoms that are most common in men. When women have a heart attack, they tend to experience various symptoms such as shortness of breath and nausea.
The stereotypical signs of a psychopath, including animal abuse in violent psychopaths and superficial charm in "successful" nonviolent psychopaths, are far more indicative of male psychopathy. Female psychopaths show different, and often less violent, signs. As a result, female psychopaths are more likely to go undetected.
So if you want to recognize a female psychopath, you need to know how female psychopaths differ from male ones. Here are two major differences:
1. Differences in Narcissism
All psychopaths have a high level of narcissism. This means that they see themselves as superior to those around them. But how this narcissism is expressed is different for men and women. Male narcissists tend to shout self-praise from the rooftops. They tend to brag about their accomplishments and superiority on social media. They have no problem telling you to your face that they are better than you.
Female psychopaths are different. They are more covert about their narcissistic tendencies. They smile and praise you face to face but think that behind your back they are better than you.
2. Differences in aggression
Male psychopaths tend to show their aggression behavioral. They carry out physical assaults, abuse animals or commit violent crimes. This explains why the percentage of psychopaths in male prisons is twice that of female prisons. Because male psychopaths are more likely to be violent, they are more likely to be caught and imprisoned.
Psychopaths are better equipped to fly under the radar. This is because they tend to show their aggression relational. They spread gossip about you at work. They gas light you to the point that you doubt your own health. They let go of you and manipulate you to place their bids (think Jennifer Jason Leigh's character in the movie Single white woman). If you refuse to join in, you risk harming yourself. They are master puppeteers, pushing all the buttons and pulling people's strings to get what they want.
In the end, the difference is that male psychopaths throw punches; Psychopaths cast shadows.
So what should you do if you suspect that a psychopath is lurking in your life?
The first step is to identify them, which is harder than you might think. Regardless of what the films lead us to believe, most psychopaths aren't psychotically angry killers. Instead, most are what psychologists call - they are your CEO, doctor, attorney, or beloved celebrity (all professions with a high percentage of psychopaths). So this is the good news: if there is a psychopath in your life, they probably won't kill you. But here's the bad news: they'll likely make your life miserable and harm you in less obvious ways. That is why recognition is key.
But before you feel paranoid, you know this. Not every woman who gossips or threatens to harm herself is a psychopath. Psychopathy is a narrowly defined disorder that consists of a combination of three traits, not just one (to learn more about the three traits you can use to identify a psychopath, see mine).
But what if you've identified a psychopath in your life?
The truth is, there is little you can do to change a psychopath. Being a psychopath is not a choice, it is something that is firmly entrenched in people's brains. For example, when people look at stressful images or immoral behaviors, psychopaths (both men and women) show reduced activity in the amygdala, the part of our brain that controls and processes emotions compared to non-psychopaths. This explains why psychopaths are not affected by the suffering of others; their lack of empathy runs deep within their neural architecture. In a sense, psychopathy is a disease of the emotional circuits of the brain, especially the part that deals with interpersonal emotions.
What can you do when you can't convince the psychopath in your life to change? Unfortunately, often the only way to beat a psychopath at your own game is to refuse to play. Don't get into their little gossip. Don't take the bait when they push your buttons. Stand up and don't be intimidated. And when all else fails, do what the victims do in all of these serial killer films. Run!
To learn more, read this excellent book by Dr. Robert Hare
Facebook picture: Pascal Krumm / Shutterstock
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