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The Unrecognized Problem of Female Psychopaths

Updated on November 18, 2015

The Reality of Psychopathy

Some people do not have a conscience. This is an idea that developed during the last century, based upon psychological observations of male inmates.

Consequently, the anti-social behavior observed in this prison population forms the basis for much of what we now know about psychopathy, or what mental health professionals refer to as "anti-social personality disorder."

Since then, it's been widely accepted that most people with strong anti-social traits are male. Now, though, a handful of social scientists are beginning to question this assumption, pointing out that malignant narcissism, or psychopathy, may take a different form when the perpetrator is a woman.

Male psychopaths may be more prone to run-ins with the law. This is why an estimated 25 percent of male prison inmates seem to fit the clinical definition for this disorder.

Women, it's believed, have developed ways to abuse and deceive people in more subtle and socially acceptable ways, which allow them to skirt the law. They use what's known as "relational aggression" to hurt people. If this happens in the workplace, it typically turns into mobbing and the target is often fired. Although mobbing is evil and heinous, it's not illegal.

Unfortunately, there are very few studies exploring whether some woman are just as motivated to harm others, whether it be for personal gain or just for the sake of doing so. (Sadism and malignant narcissism often travel together.)

We do see the occasional accounts of female serial killers, and female con artists, such as those who bilk people out of a lot of money by claiming to be cancer victims. There are also the stories of black widows who mysteriously lose one husband after another, in rapid succession.

Yet, these sensationalized cases are probably just the tip of the iceberg. What about the female executive who claws her way by lying, cheating and sabotaging anyone who gets in her way?

She's not breaking the law and she won't wind up in jail. But she's certainly not conforming to appropriate social boundaries? She's also displaying all the elements of psychopathy, including shallowness, ruthlessness, deception and lack of remorse.

Research Needed on Female Psychopaths


Female Psychopaths Who Get Caught

There are some very dramatic stories involving women serial killers and others who physically harm people. When they get caught, it is clear that some women without a conscience do operate in a similar manner to their male counterparts.

One of the most notorious female serial killers operated in Florida, during the late 1900s. Aileen Wournos was convicted of killing six men, and was later sentenced to death. She died by lethal injection in 2002.

Although I don't want to label anyone as a psychopath, since I am not privy to their interior intentions, it is fair to say that Wournos' actions are consistent with this disorder.

There have been numerous other accounts of women who have killed others, even their own husbands and children. When this happens, it generates headlines, because this type of female behavior is so rare.

But what about the more "socialized" psychopaths, who fly under the radar, but are still highly dangerous? They may not have a criminal record, but society would be much better off if they were locked up.

Psychopaths are Devious


Females Who Evade the Law

It's possible to engage in "criminal" acts that, technically, aren't illegal, but probably should be.

For instance, consider the case of a middle-aged women who "befriends" an elderly neighbor? She provides much needed companionship. She drives this woman to her medical appointments. Because of failing eyesight, the younger neighbor offers to help write checks. Before long, she's handling all the money.

Unfortunately, the younger person also tries to isolate her elderly friend, who has no children of her own, from her nieces and nephews, who live out of town. Every time they call, they learn their aunt is "sleeping."

Then, there's the will. After their aunt passes, the legitimate heirs learn she left everything to this new neighbor. However, it isn't much, since their aunt has already given nearly everything she had to her "friend," before the younger woman skipped town.

Although pulling this off involved a lot of deceit and subterfuge, the younger woman technically didn't break the law, because she had the full consent of her neighbor, who was of sound mind.

More Socialized Psychopaths

I am not a mental health professional, but I write about malignant narcissism from personal experience, after a bizarre run in with a potential female narcissist I met at church. (Yes, truth is stranger than fiction.) Although I'm not an expert, I agree with those in the profession who believe the number of female psychopaths is greatly underestimated.

It appears as if there is a huge number of socialized female psychopaths walking among us. It used to be assumed that only 1 percent of the population suffered from this disorder. New insights into this condition, however, lead us to believe it's even more prevalent. Dr. Martha Stout, PhD, author of The Sociopath Next Door, believes the incidence of psychopathy is as high as 1 in 25.

If this is true, and the number of female psychopaths is similar to what's found in the male population, then there are many more dangerous women walking among us than we've been led to believe.

Female Malignant Narcissists


Socialized Psychopaths and Malignant Narcissists

The term "socialized psychopath" seems almost interchangeable with what Dr. Erich Fromm described in the 1960s, when he observed individuals with "malignant narcissism." He described their very peculiar behavior as "evil."

This very aptly describes someone who patiently plots to destroy another person, while, somehow, being able to maintain a saintly outward appearance. It's this very ability to move about in society, while not breaking any laws, that makes them so dangerous.

Socialized psychopaths are very adept at appearing normal. Most people who first meet them like them right away, because they are so witty and charming. Oftentimes, they present a "perfect" face to the world. They may be married with children, and they hold a high-powered position as well.

Yet they are very disturbed, despite the fact they appear to function so well.

Symptoms of Psychopathy

Charming and charismatic
Able to elicit sympathy
Your first impression of a psychopath will probably be favorable. You may think they are the "nicest person in the world."
A psychopath has no regard for others.
Lying and psychopathy go hand in hand
Some psychopaths cannot hold a job, and will leach off of others.
Throwing down a "pity card" may be one of the first indications you're dealing with a psychopath

How to Recognize a Psychopath

Female Psychopaths at Work

Malignant narcissists are actors on a stage, so they need an audience. They also need a gaggle of adoring fans. Possessing a mean streak, they also need a target.

The modern workplace provides all three. In America there are no laws against bullying someone in order to destroy their career or drive them out of a job. Efforts by various states to get anti-bullying legislation passed in the workplace have met with no success. It appears as if some women are taking full advantage of this lack of regulation.

According to very good data supplied by the Workplace Bullying Institute, run by a husband and wife team, the number of bullied workers in America is staggering. Right now, about 35 percent of US employees say they've been bullied on the job.

Most of the time, the perpetrator is a male. But in at least 40 percent of the cases, the corporate psychopath is a woman.

Even though workplace bullies are able to stay above the law, they still engage in anti-social behavior characterized by highly immoral actions.


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  • LindaSmith1 profile image

    LindaSmith1 2 years ago from USA

    Psychopaths are scary people and manage to find those that will continue to enable them.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi Linda, yes they do. They are very scary and destructive.

  • Ericdierker profile image

    Eric Dierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

    These numbers are disturbing but they seem about right just from experience.

  • OldRoses profile image

    Caren White 2 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

    I'm so glad that you wrote this hub. I have a female psychopath in my family but no one believes it because she is a women. You have described her to a tee. She was born that way. She exhibited the classic behavior you describe from the time she was a child. It was really scary. People need to be aware of female psychopaths so that they can protect themselves. Voted up and shared.

  • MizBejabbers profile image

    MizBejabbers 2 years ago

    I find it interesting that workplace bullying is on the rise. The question is whether this is just a reflection of society as a whole or is it because of the cutthroat competition for jobs and promotions? I was mobbed by a pack of six, including two women, and documented their accusations and actions. Then I threatened to file a slander suit. I kept my job, but there was retaliation that I couldn't do anything about. Now a couple of them are after somebody else. Thanks for bringing these despicable people to our attention. You are giving us a way of trying to understand them.

  • RachaelOhalloran profile image

    Rachael O'Halloran 2 years ago from United States

    We always think of men first when we hear the word psychopath and we don't give women a second thought. Like your example of an elderly neighbor, we are caught unawares to be duped or worse.

    Thank you for bring attention to this lesser known subject.

  • Nell Rose profile image

    Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

    Hi, Those symptoms gave me the chills! it was identical to a certain woman I used to work with! I knew it! she was just 'not right' if that makes sense. She came across as so nice, but complained others 'didn't understand her'. She would call everyone luvvy darling, with a smile, then metaphorically stab you right between the shoulder blades! I see her occasionally and I try to avoid her! Great read and really interesting! nell

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi MizBejabbers, you are one of the rare ones who fought back and won. This is usually not what happens. Good for you. Unfortunately, so many people are having trouble at work. No surprise they went after someone else. This is what bullies do.

    Hi Rachael, thanks for reading. Nell, judging from yours and some of the other comments, their behavior is soooo predictable. Or else they're all getting together and comparing notes. :)

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi Eric, unfortunately, these numbers do seem correct, if not conservative. OldRoses, people do not expect antisocial behavior from a woman, which is partly how they are able to get away with so much.

  • JamaGenee profile image

    Joanna McKenna 2 years ago from Central Oklahoma

    I'd heard to be on my guard with women who talk "baby talk" (like "luvvy darling" above) to gain your trust, because those are the ones who'll knife you in the back. That proved to be way too true with a supervisor whose M.O. was to humiliate any employee she'd decided to fire as she pretty much frog-marched them through the offices for all to see and out the front door...usually someone about to expose her for illegal activities.

    When I was tipped off that I was about to suffer the same fate - never mind I had NO idea at the time what she was actually doing, she only assumed I did! - I simply QUIT, effective immediately. She was out Christmas shopping, but made a mad dash back to do the humiliation thing anyway. Except that by the time she got across town, I'd already said my goodbyes to everyone along the way to the lobby, where Her Highness and a male employee were blocking the only other hallway back into the rest of the building. She didn't do herself any favors then by coming across the lobby, announcing for all to hear that I had to leave the building IMMEDIATELY, and getting behind me as if she was herding me out. At the door, she pushed it open, expecting me to go on through.

    Surprise! I turned, looked her straight in the eye and in front of a dozen staff who until then had been terrified of her, pointed out that I was NOT being fired, and that she needed to learn to treat employees leaving under ANY circumstances with DIGNITY. Then I walked out, laughing all the way to my car.

    Calling her bluff like that was pretty much the end of her reign of terror. It would be discovered a few months later that she'd been running a "phantom employee" scheme that netted her almost $25,000 over 8 years, and this is what she (mistakenly) assumed I was on to. Alas, she wasn't arrested, only "strongly encouraged" to find a new career where she had NO part in hiring or firing.

  • Huntgoddess profile image

    Huntgoddess 2 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

    Wow, good for you, JG!!

    ologsinquito: I don't know what "mobbing" means? I've never heard that before.

    Nell: Glad you got away from that person. It sounds like your experience is similar to JG's?

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Jama, Wow. It's so good to hear stories of people standing up to these bullies. I'm so happy you could leave, because she would have made life miserable for you. You brought out an excellent point. Because people with strong narcissistic traits are impulsive, and they also think they're smarter than everyone else, they eventually trip themselves up.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi Huntgoddess, mobbing is when a group of people gang up on one person. It's happening a lot in the workplace nowadays.

  • JamaGenee profile image

    Joanna McKenna 2 years ago from Central Oklahoma

    Mobbing doesn't just happen in the workplace. My mother and three of her sisters were my introduction to mobbing. Definitely NOT the "huggy, kissy" side of the family. Later on in the workplace, any situation that included two or more females older than myself in positions of authority would instantly turn me to stone. Most of the time I wasn't being paranoid...if they gathered as a "herd", they were out to get me, and I'd be powerless to defend myself.

    One-on-one, I could hold my own, but never if two or more singled me out. Which is how the mob dynamic works, right, intimidation by ganging up on one person?

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    That's how the mob dynamic works. No, this definitely happens outside of the workplace. It's just today, the workplace is where most adults congregate. But it can happen in families, in social circles and in volunteer groups also.

  • WiccanSage profile image

    Mackenzie Sage Wright 2 years ago

    Interesting hub. I love reading about criminal psychology, serial killers, etc. and it's true-- women are under-represented but I doubt it's because they're any less likely to be psychopathic. It probably just manifests differently. It would make sense that women psychopaths would be more emotionally manipulating than outright aggressively violent.

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

    Women have a long history of having to be more covert in their intentions and actions. It would be interesting to see whether the reported incidence of female psychopathy increases as females gain more traction in society. The female psychopaths I have encountered are forces to be reckoned with -- social predators indeed, no conscience, no empathy. Broken souls.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi Flourish, these types of very broken, and as you said, with no conscience or empathy. They are indeed forces to be reckoned with, especially for people who don't have the experience dealing with them. Thanks so much for reading. As you said, it would be interesting to see if the reported incidence rises. Maybe someone will do a study, if they haven't already.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi WiccanSage, it is very interesting to read about criminal minds, for some reason. Thanks so much for reading.

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

    This is very interesting. It's scary to think about how many female psychopaths may exist.

  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Isaac Weithers 2 years ago from The Caribbean

    "Although mobbing is evil and heinous, it's not illegal." This backs the victim into a corner without any protection. All the more reason to be careful with these kind of people.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi MsDora, my sentiments exactly.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Alicia, it is frightening. One researcher believes the incidence is 1 out of every 25 people.

  • Writer Fox profile image

    Writer Fox 2 years ago from the wadi near the little river

    Evil is not gender-specific. Certainly we can expect to find male and female psychopaths. The serial kills, however, are predominantly male. That could be because men are more prone to physical violence and are generally larger and more muscular than women.

    Someday maybe there will be a vaccine against evil and people can be inoculated from birth. Imagine a world without sociopaths or the Internet without trolls. It's a fantasy, but I would like to live there.

    Enjoyed your article and voted up and interesting!

  • teaches12345 profile image

    Dianna Mendez 2 years ago

    Interesting post and so informative! I guess I never think of women as a sociopath. I am not surprised at Florida being on the map for this - we get everyone down here.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi WriterFox, I think we're going to have to wait until we get to Heaven until we can live in a world without sociopaths and Internet trolls. We just have to stay on the straight and narrow and wait.

    Hi teaches, I've only been to Florida briefly, but I'll take your word for it.

  • WriterJanis profile image

    Janis 2 years ago from California

    These women are really scary to think about.

  • DDE profile image

    Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

    A very interesting hub title. I have watched several documentaries of the various women in this way. I had more of an idea from you.

  • Huntgoddess profile image

    Huntgoddess 2 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

    I've never heard or read the term "mobbing," but it sounds like what I've always known as "ganging up." Is that the same thing?

    Maybe there are different phrases in different places?

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Yes, I think these words mean the same thing, but mobbing is usually what they say happens when people gang up on somebody in the workplace. They call it workplace mobbing.

  • Huntgoddess profile image

    Huntgoddess 2 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

    H m m m . . . That is interesting. Thanks for the clarification.

    So, is it a physical "ganging up?"

    Like, do they surround one person's desk, or something, and shout insults? Or, is it behind the subject's back? Like, gossip?

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    No, I think, especially if a female bully is driving the train, it's more under the radar, and social exclusion is used. The target is made to feel so uncomfortable she may resign, or she is undermined so much that she is fired.

  • Huntgoddess profile image

    Huntgoddess 2 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

    Oh, dear, that really IS horrible!

    Wow. That makes me feel so sad. Just think. Some poor worker may have kids to support, yet . . . :-((

    I think I just have to pray. It makes me sick to think about this.

    Thanks, dear.

  • Efficient Admin profile image

    Efficient Admin 23 months ago from Charlotte, NC

    Huntgoddess - I was thinking the very same thing after reading this hub: people in the workplace really need our prayers, as it can be tough out there in the workplace.

    ologsinquito - thank you for bringing this subject to light. Very interesting and thought provoking hub.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 23 months ago from USA

    Hi Efficient Admin, thanks so much for reading. Have a great day.

  • Huntgoddess profile image

    Huntgoddess 23 months ago from Midwest U.S.A.

    Yes, definitely agreed, Efficient Admin. Thanks, dear.

  • profile image

    Survivor 12 months ago

    "someone who patiently plots to destroy another person, while, somehow, being able to maintain a saintly outward appearance. It's this very ability to move about in society, while not breaking any laws, that makes them so dangerous."

    Yes, I met one over a year ago .... Very charming, became my "best friend" immediately. She IS a (married) foster parent, she's one of the foster parent support group leaders, she's supposedly in school to be a therapist ..... She plotted for 10 months to get to my husband, she did, she's still with my husband a year later, he has no idea what she is, at first she mirrored him .... He thought he'd met his soul mate because they were so "alike" .... She did the same to me to be my best friend.

    I am now the mentally unstable one. She knows I'm on to her from my husband telling her I think she's personality disordered , he thinks I'm angry and bitter and she tells him I don't know what to keep him from talking to me for months now. We have children but he barely sees them. He's completely under her spell. He's gained weight, looks terrible.

    I researched and realized she's a psychopath/sociopath ... She planned this from day one. Subtly pushing our boundaries, very insistent, hard to say "no" to, very controlling.

    I didn't see it when it was happening to me but it's hard to watch this happen to my husband. Especially for my (young teen)children to watch. He filed for divorce as soon as he left, she's been married 25 years and isn't getting divorced "yet" (I doubt she will), he husband is a beaten down little shrew, he's ok with this. He helped my husband move into his apartment even .... Because I'm so unstable he had to move out .... Yet I'm the primary caregiver for our children.

    My husband and I had a good marriage for 16 years, we aren't codependent, no addictions , just nice people with not strong boundaries I realize now. :(

    now he doesn't speak to me or talk to me. Only messages on Our Family Wizard, mostly he ignores my messages, financial abuse is crazy ..... Spent money as I wished when we were together .... I know that's her influence. She's living with him, he denies it, but she's driving around in his car, her foster daughter too.

    My boys are angry and upset my his behavior. He's a implement different person now to them. Verbally abusing them, ignoring them, blowing them off to be with sociopath ..... And then blaming me. So far the courts have found in my favor for financial reasons and with our children. I'm grateful they can see what's happening.

    Our divorce is costing a fortune because he fights me on everything .... Says I'm manipulative and controlling .... No paul, that's your sociopath mistress ugh!

    One day he will deeply regret this. I hope he survives it for my children's sake.

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