This semester I am teaching a course on personality and psychopathology to graduate students in counseling. I am very excited about this course and am considering making it available online to everyone. I sat down with a colleague this week and explained the content of the course. During that conversation the topic of gender differences in personality came up. My colleague said something like, “Yeh, we expect men to compete, sometimes act aggressively and to spread their seed, women are biologically preprogrammed to stay put and to nurture.”
I countered by saying , “While that formulation has some truth, we often fail to appreciate that females also have aggressive tendencies rooted in their biology.” For every social mammal there are two opposing tendencies- affiliation/affection and competition/dominance. The manner in which males and females compete and establish dominance may be different, but the drive for dominance is present in females as well as males. Furthermore, the drive for dominance can lead to violence and aggression in females. For example, while female chimpanzees readily affiliate and form groups to go and forage for food, they have to be on guard with respect to one another. Infanticide is not all that uncommon, female chimps will kill their friend’s babies. Scientists say this is their way of reducing the competition for food.
I explain all this to wake you up to the fact that antisocial and aggressive tendencies are part of being female. Females of social species also have to compete for limited resources (food, territory and mates) and sometimes that competition gets nasty. My hope is that eventually the human brain systems involving this competition and aggression will become vestigial organs kind of like the appendix. However for humans today, the brain motivational system that makes us want to compete and dominate is quite functional. It is this brain system that leads to antisocial behavior- behavior that harms others and so disrupts our social order.
Studies of antisocial behavior in women indicate that it has a strong genetic component. Women whose lives are characterized by pervasive antisocial behavior are more likely than men to have offspring with the same pattern. That is true even when children are given up for adoption at birth.
Women have pervasive antisocial behavior when they harm and exploit nearly everyone in their lives. When this antisocial behavior is present in young girls, it carries with it a worse prognosis than it does for boys.
For Driven to Do Evil I put together the following chart regarding antisocial behavior:
If you consider these behaviors, none of the very antisocial behaviors on the left are illegal or violent. In fact most antisocial behaviors are not violent. Studies show that while there are gender differences in violent antisocial behavior there are not gender differences in non-violent antisocial behavior. A woman who is pervasively antisocial is less likely to be criminal but all of her relationships center around manipulating, lying and intimidating as a means of dominating others. Some female “caretaking behaviors” can also fall under the category of coercive control.
Sexual coercion and rape are less commonly perpetrated by women. However, we should all appreciate the fact that for the victims of these assaults the behaviors are all too common.
This week someone wrote in asking about borderline personality disorder in women and its relationship to sociopathy/psychopathy. My answer is to look at the list of antisocial behaviors above. To the extent that a woman diagnosed with borderline personality has pervasive antisocial behavior as manifested by behaviors on that list, she is also a sociopath/psychopath.
This week I also had the honor of speaking with a man who calls himself BloggerT7165. He is probably the nation’s leading expert on antisocial behavior in women. He developed this expertise through personal, educational and occupational experience. I highly recommend his blog: What about when mom is the abuser?
BloggerT7165 has posted his personal story on his blog. He says, “What about when MOM is the abuser and is a psychopath and malignant narcissist? I ask those questions because that is exactly what my childhood consisted of. I will give a brief background so you can understand where I am coming from and my own biases and experiences.” I’ll let you read the rest of his story yourself. He also discusses cases of female rapists and child molesters.
I told Mr. BloggerT7165 that he is a treasure to me. I hope all you ladies will take note of this. In spite of all his horrific experiences with women my new friend does not believe that “all women are jerks.” He has also had the inner strength to overcome his own genetics/temperament, make good choices and to be very productive. He is a valued worker, cherished husband and devoted father.
BloggerT7165 is a victor not a victim.
I receive many letters from people (primarily women) who are stuck. I try as best I can to motivate them to get unstuck. These victims have a whole host of excuses as to why they can’t function or work on their own recovery. Many women are also stuck in the belief that “all men are jerks.”
If you are stuck, please consider the example of the boy who was raised by an antisocial, psychopathic mother but who still knew in his heart that loving is the source of meaning in human life. He will tell you that overcoming being a victim in order to become a victor takes work. We make a choice to do that work or not.
Choose today to heal your own ability to love and pursue your own well-being. Don’t wait for that monetary settlement, child custody or some other act of the legal system. Start today. See a therapist if you need to. Set small daily goals and a few larger long term goals for yourself. A year from now the Earth will have gone around the sun one more time, and you will have either made progress or not…that is up to you!