Editor’s Note: This letter to Lovefraud was sent in by a reader whom we’ll call Aaron.
This is part personal narrative and part informed amateur psychology suggestion. I am writing this because of my own traumatic experience and the need I believe for men to know what they may be dealing with. As most discussion and research involves male psychopaths there has only been recent dialogue on the female version. The most well-known writings on psychopathy have involved male prison populations, most notably by leading expert Dr. Robert Hare, and the notoriety of serial killers (Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy and others) and have not touched on those in the general population and specifically female psychopaths.
This is not just for men either, as the woman I was involved with was vicious towards other women, often stabbing her “friends” in the back when not around, pursued their boyfriends or husbands for a thrill and worked to get her “best friend” fired. Whereas she needed the thrill of control over men – she had no use for other women and “burned every one of them,” to quote a mutual female friend whom she targeted.
A Simple Starting Point – Tools of the Trade
If we are at risk to be damaged by these disordered individuals I would like to offer a simple starting point. As a father who raised three daughters on my own I reflect back on one simple message I gave them as they started dating. I think it is a good comparative for starters. I always warned them that:
Boys play at love to get sex
Girls play at sex to get love
In the disorder of psychopathy I think this can be restated:
Men play at love to get control and whatever the thrill is for a psychopath
Women play at sex to get control and whatever the thrill is for a psychopath
In other words men say the right words, act the white knight, and whatever makes a woman feel special until he has the keys to the kingdom of her heart. Then plays it out and moves on when it doesn’t work anymore or he is bored. Women will use the power of seduction and sexuality for the same purpose – the femme fatale if you like. They also play it out to get what they need and move on when confronted or bored.
A Proposed Different Phenotype – The Borderline Female Psychopath
Yet we don’t see much in the literature about female psychopathy. In addition if 4% of the population can be diagnosed with this disorder the great majority are men. However, in a recent study it was proposed that female psychopathy may present and be diagnosed as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) which is diagnosed in similar amounts of the population. Seventy-five percent of those diagnosed with BPD are women. This is not to say all women diagnosed with BPD are perhaps psychopathic – in fact the study linked below makes some suggestions about exceptions and many struggle with self-destructive behaviors. However there is a correlation in some subsets which is striking. I will provide a link to the study below but here are some of the notable quotes:
“…results suggest that BPD and psychopathy, at least as they are measured by current instruments, overlap in women and, accordingly, may reflect gender-differentiated phenotypic expressions of similar dispositional vulnerabilities.”
“In women, the symptoms associated with secondary psychopathy and BPD are likely to manifest within relational, interpersonal, and intimate contexts—given that women’s externalizing behaviors are most often directed toward intimates and acquaintances, whereas men are more likely to externalize in relation to strangers (Miller & Meloy, 2006). These gender differences are, in part, due to the socialization processes that promote women’s disproportionate sensitivity to relational contexts (Gilligan, 1993). Thus, for women, both disorders would be highly relational in nature and likely to revolve around destructive interpersonal dynamics.”
The complete link to the study is here:
So the scary part of that is that while men may target women they don’t know but may meet casually (in a bar – online), women are likely to be people we get to know and trust over time and will target us anyway.
For women entering into a relationship with a man who seems too good to be true it would be wise to try not to be drawn to the flame of his words and attention.
For men entering into a relationship with a woman who seems too good to be true it would be wise to try not to be drawn to the flame of her sexual excitement.
Remembering that the first personality trait is glib and superficial charm, these charm offensives will be the white knight or conversely the minx. Either way it will be over the top.
The Scary Cocktail – Shaken and Stirred
Starting with the symptoms which are present in psychopaths: glib and superficial charm, need for stimulation, pathological lying, cunning and manipulating, lack of remorse, callousness, poor behavioral controls, impulsiveness, irresponsibility, denial, parasitic lifestyle , sexual promiscuity, you can add a second ingredient.
As noted in another study, women with BPD are twice as likely to engage in risky sexual behavior (sex with someone they don’t know, i.e. one night stands) and promiscuity (sex with multiple partners). I say this from painful personal experience: you have someone whose method of control and manipulation is not only effective, it is their lifestyle. Win-win for that person and lose-lose for everyone else.
I know men don’t know what they are dealing with or don’t think with their head. The good news for women, I am sure they know who these women from a mile away (and what they are). From my personal experience, men can only know if they pay attention because these women can’t help but brag about the past (remember they are also grandiose).
Comment from Donna Andersen
Aaron brought up the overlap between psychopathy and borderline personality disorder. Dr. Liane Leedom has told me that some women are, in fact, psychopathic, but have been diagnosed as borderline personality disorder because the clinician simply doesn’t want to diagnose a woman as being a psychopath.
Also, many women who legitimately have borderline personality disorder were sexually abused while young.