Psychopathic Women: What Are They Like?

Although there are fewer psychopathic women than men, there are still some out there. In fact, they tend to be more devious and manipulative. Furthermore, in some cases, they tend to commit violent acts.
Psychopathic Women: What Are They Like?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, Hannibal Lecter… When you think of the word psychopath, you probably usually think of men. But aren’t there also psychopathic women? Studies and the discipline of criminology itself claim that there are. However, their behavior differs quite a bit from what you’ve seen at the movies or read in books.

If you look at prisons, you’ll see that the male inmate population is quite frequently double that of female inmates. And when you look at the male inmates, you’ll see that a lot of them that have committed violent acts have quite considerable clinical histories. In fact, many of them have histories of psychopathic personality disorder.

A study conducted by the Department of Forensic Psychiatry at the University Hospital of North Norway concluded that 30 and 17 percent of male and female inmates respectively have the clinical profile of a psychopath. This data confirms what experts say, which is that psychopathy occurs less often in females.

However, there’s another important factor to consider: not all psychopaths commit violent acts. Neither do they all carry out acts they can be prosecuted for.

Around one percent of the population is affected by this disorder. Furthermore, most psychopaths are just average members of society. Indeed, they might be your doctor, vet, lawyer, best friend, or even partner.

Identifying female psychopathy, with its unique characteristics, can be both useful and interesting.

A woman.

Psychopathic women: traits and behaviors

Caroline Logan, a forensic psychologist at Manchester University, conducted an interesting study. It concerned the characteristics and behavior of psychopathic women. Her study makes it clear that many myths and misconceptions surround this subject.  

You probably think of a female psychopath as the traditional femme fatale type character. In addition, fictional figures like Annie Wilkes from Stephen King’s book Misery probably make you think of a brutal and vengeful woman. However, Dr. Logan has chosen instead to focus on the very serious implications that the female psychopath’s behavior has on her family and close friends.

Here are the most traditional characteristics that define a female psychopath.

A discreet and devious narcissism

Narcissism is one of the defining characteristics of the psychopathic personality. Men tend to openly express these feelings of superiority. Indeed, they might boast, humiliate others, and show off their qualities, achievements, and exploits.

However, psychopathic women tend to act in a far more covert way. In fact, they rarely stand out and don’t openly boast about themselves. What they often do is praise those around them, thus reinforcing their self-esteem, in order to control them.

These women still feel superior to everyone else. However, they also understand that if they treat others in a friendly and attentive way, they can earn their trust. Therefore, this puts them in a very favorable position, and they’re able to manipulate those around them as they please.

A scathing, silent, and destructive form of aggression.

If the male psychopath resorts to violence, it’ll be behavioral. For example, it’s common for boys to start off their psychopathic behavior by hurting or torturing animals. Then, as they get older this behavior might progress to physical assaults on people.

However, in the case of psychopathic women, it’s different. Their aggression isn’t behavioral but psychological. For example, they’re very good at spreading rumors. They’re also adept at manipulation, blackmail, control, and humiliation. In fact, they can psychologically wear down their victims in quite a devastating way.

A mentally distressed woman.

Emotional disorders and relationship problems

The Center for Criminological and PsychoSocial Research of Örebro University in Sweden conducted some interesting studies. These studies discovered that psychopathic women have more emotional disorders than male psychopaths.

On average, they’re less emotionally controlled. They suffer from increased anxiety, stress, and depression. In addition, this tends to impact their relationships. For example, it’s common for their close relationships to be violent and traumatic.

In this study, Dr. Oliver F. Collins highlighted that psychopathic women often have a track record of sexual abuse and assault.

Psychopathic women who kill

As we mentioned above, the percentage of psychopathic women who carry out violent acts is much lower than men. However, 17 percent of these women locked up on assault and/or murder charges have a psychopathic personality disorder.

Psychologist Marvin Zuckerman highlighted the cases of 64 women. These are women who, due to the seriousness of their crimes, have passed into the annals of criminology as “psychopathic women”. The most striking and sad thing about these women is that 44 percent of them murdered their own children.

Nannie Doss, one of the psychopathic women who kill.

This was the case of Nannie Doss of Blue Mountain, Alabama. Known as the “Giggling Granny”, this woman spent nearly 30 years of her life murdering family members with arsenic. She killed four husbands, her mother, her children, and her grandchildren. This is one of the many stories that show us that crime, like mental illness, is genderless.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Monhonval, P., Linkowski, P., & Leistedt, S. (2011). [The female psychopath: a review]. Rev Med Brux32(3), 158–168.
  • Nesca, M., Thomas Dalby, J., & Baskerville, S. (1999). Psychosocial profile of a female psychopath. American Journal of Forensic Psychology17(2), 63–77.
  • Logan, C. (2011). La femme fatale: The female psychopath in fiction and clinical practice. Mental Health Review Journal16(3), 118–127.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.