Hear the word psychopath and most of us think of violent, dominant men. There are lots of male psychopathic monsters from movies to illustrate this point. Think Alex in A Clockwork Orange, or Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.
But we do have some female examples: Annie Wilkes in Misery, and who could forget Alex Forrest’s bunny-boiling character in Fatal Attraction? These frightening fictional femme fatales stay with us – I’ve heard the term “bunny boiler” used to signify a woman behaving irrationally and violently – but they are unusual. We largely expect psychopaths to be men.
Research indicates there are likely to be fewer female psychopaths than male. This may well be true. However, a compounding factor leading to the underestimation of the true occurrence rate of psychopathy in women could be behavioural differences that cause them to slip under society’s radar. This is important to acknowledge as female psychopaths can be just as dangerous as their male counterparts.
What is psychopathy?
Psychopathy is a personality disorder characterised by a number of abnormal behavioural traits and emotional responses. These include lack of empathy, guilt or remorse, and being manipulative and deceitful. People with psychopathy are often irresponsible and have a disregard for laws or social conventions.
Listen: David Gillespie explains what happens when a psychopath has a child. (Post continues after audio.)
Psychopaths often get away with these behaviours because they can be superficially quite charming. They are true observers of human behaviour, often being able to mimic love, fear, remorse and other emotions well enough to go undetected.