Psychopaths both fascinate and frighten us, particularly the female psychopath because many people believe that a female cannot be one. Few understand the way she thinks, since it seems to defy human nature. Her psychopathic personality and behavior are bizarrely paradoxical.1 On the one hand, she may be a convincing liar, while on the other hand, she may be blatantly frank, to the point of being cruel. She could look a person square in the face and say something deliberately hurtful and then walk away thrilled at the offense. She may sound sympathetic and sincere while offering advice and assistance – only to change her mind at a moment’s notice, providing a poor excuse with no help. She may be industrious at getting what she wants, while the most important tasks are left undone.
Exhilaration and contempt
The female psychopath experiences exhilaration, a contemptuous delight, at deceiving other people. She is astute at sizing up a person and knows exactly which buttons to press to create misery while scoring points for herself. Her own children are not exempt from these tactics. She does this in a calm and cool manner that is second nature to her. The female psychopath intentionally hurts or disappoints others, leaving her exhilarated by her success and feeling superior. The exhilaration is short-lived. Afterward, she thinks how stupid the other person must be to have fallen for her scheme.
Fundamentally, the female psychopath feels she is inadequate or compromised. To compensate, she seeks to be the center of attention. She uses gatherings to garner attention for herself, milking every bit for her personal advantage. She uses people to serve her own selfish desires and preys on them. She wanders through life, selecting who she will use for what purpose and then schemes how to exploit them. “Friends” are to be used.
The psychopathic female is sane
Psychopaths are not mentally incompetent. They are classified as sane and are free from any mental disease.2 Brain imaging shows that most psychopaths do not have brain damage, just brain differences.3 The amygdala, the brain structure associated with emotion, is smaller than in a normal brain. Conversely, imaging studies of people who are compassionate, prosocial, and empathetic have oversized amygdalas – the opposite of the psychopathic brain.4
What makes these people what they are? The answer is “no one knows.”5 Psychopathy is said to be a disorder, a deficit, a defect: Something is missing. Since she is completely rational, she knows what she does. Not only that, but research has shown her behavior "is the result of choice, freely exercised.” 6
The emptiness of the female psychopath
What is locked inside? Many have heard a female psychopath say, “I feel empty.” The feeling is connected with a poor self-image, but its expression is often fleeting and transitory. I have personally witnessed this in my own family. In one case, my psychopathic female relative actually blurted this aloud to herself. She sounded truly upset as if frustrated when she said it. A moment later, like flipping a switch, she began a telephone conversation full of laughter and animation. I witnessed this and similar episodes countless times.
If you want to feel sorry for the female psychopath, don’t. She projects a facade that is glib and convincing, thereby concealing her predatory and calculating plans. She will undercut you in a moment, whether verbally, emotionally, psychologically or physically. Who is she? She may appear wonderful from a distance. Up close, you might capture a glimpse of her devious manner. But if you get too close, it may be too late.
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1. Yochelson, Samuel & Samenow, Stanton E. (1989). The Criminal Personality, Volume I: A Profile for Change, Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc. 95-96.
2. Cleckley, Hervey. (1988). The Mask of Sanity, 5th Edition, https://cassiopaea.org/cass/sanity_1.PdF. 369.
3. Kiehl, Kent (neuroscientist and psychopathy researcher). Email to Winifred Rule. 04 October 2021.
4. Dahl, Melissa, (2014). Who Would Donate a Kidney to a Stranger? An 'Anti-Psychopath.' New York Magazine, http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2014/09/who-would-donate-a-kidney-to-a-str….
5. Kandel, Eric., MD, (Columbia University neuroscientist and Nobel-prize winner). Email to Tom Karski. 21 June 2012.
6. Hare, Robert D. Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us (New York: The Guilford Press, 1990) 22.
Smith, Jason M., Gacono, Carl B. & Cunliffe, Ted B. (2021). Understanding Female Offenders: Psychopathy, Criminal Behavior, Assessment, and Treatment. Cambridge, MA: Academic Press.