The Female Psychopath I

 By M.K. Styllinski

“After my involvement with the psychopath I got the strange feeling that he really didn’t have a gender. When I learned that psychopaths have no identity – they only create one as needed – it started to make perfect sense. If they have no identity it only seems logical that they have no identity either doesn’t it?”

– A.B. Admin, psychopaths and love.com


Many people might think that the existence of female psychopaths is negligible, if they exist at all. Television, plays, movies and pulp fiction have all portrayed the female psychopath alongside her male counterpart drawn from myths, folklore and fables since time immemorial. The femme fatale and scheming devil-woman have all gone through the mill of the artist’s imagination feeding off the potent archetype of the feminine vampire.

Admittedly, the influence of male prejudice and patriarchal residues still echo through literature and cultural mores of the day, but taking into account such bias, we seem averse to the idea that female psychopathy could be a significant reality. A serious lack of data and knowledge regarding the dynamics of the female psychopath has stemmed from our preconceived ideas about gender roles largely sourced from ideas of Mother Nature and nurturing; that women are passive, weak and non-violent. A male can be evaluated and found to be psychopathic, whereas a female can take advantage of these cultural stereotypes, often playing on the dominance of male bias in law enforcement and related institutions thereby escaping true diagnosis, usually in favour of histrionic or Narcissistic Personality Disorder. (NPD) [1]

Marlene DietrichHollywood Femme Fatale Marlene Dietrich

Since the female psychopath has both a mask of sanity and the imbedded cultural bias  she has a double advantage which allows her to escape detection. Robert Hare asks us not to be deceived as the: “… variety and severity of criminal acts performed by these women, as well as their capacity for cold-blooded violence, are similar to those committed by their male counterparts.” [2]

The pathological narcissist, the Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD) and the female psychopath all conform to the archetype of the feminine vampire. Of course, this energy sucker is neither male nor female in reality but the methods of energy extraction are different for each. The female vampire goes for the pity hook of a damsel in distress while the male stimulates the “mother instinct” in the guise of the “little boy lost” playing on the passivity, sensitivity and vulnerability so enamoured of gender stereotypes. This has particular relevance in that so many ordinary people exhibit these traits to a greater or lesser degree and as a general symptom of a society saturated in narcissistic values.

Jungian psychologist Barbara Hort described the feminine vampire archetype as “… the Spider – the incarnation of the Terrible Mother as a devouring weaver of fate and bringer of inevitable death.” No mincing of words there. If pathological narcissism is just one variant of psychopathy then this describes the “dance” that is created between vampire and victim: a fly becomes more and more trapped as it struggles, the spider closing in to extract the nourishment she craves for her continued existence. The image of the Great Spider on her web becomes “…symbolically synonymous with another ancient image of the negative Feminine, one that is found at the center of many web-like labyrinths. The image is that of the Gorgon Medusa…” [3]

Medusa

Medusa by Arnold Böcklin, circa 1878 (wikpedia)

Hort elaborates on this ancient process:

It may seem incomprehensible that a powerful person could be victimized by a psychic vampire who seems to be completely disempowered. Yet there are few lures more potent for a powerful champion than rescuing a grateful waif in distress. How exciting it is to save someone from the jaws of tragedy, particularly if the recipient is adoring and appreciative! You, the noble champion, journey alone down the desolate nighttime road, when there appears by the wayside a sweet little mist who is weeping in loneliness and alluring despair. Ah, you think, here is a perfect chance for me to put my sword to its proper use! Here is someone to save! And how charmingly pathetic she is! Perhaps there will be some love for me at the end of the heroic rescue! […]

… our gullibility is no mystery. When we embark on the path of the Champion, when we don the armor of empowerment, we expect our vampires also to be draped in the cloak of power. We never suspect that a vampire might veil itself in the guise of weakness and vulnerability. What’s more, when the Champion Archetype is active in our psyche, we strive to serve those less fortunate than ourselves, so when we come upon the sweet mist by the side of the road, is it any wonder that we bleed on its behalf? What a cruel ruse this is, for in fact the mist is a vampire who will feed on us by exploiting the very nobility of which our Championhood is based. […]

“In the beginning, the man was happy to rescue the pathetic damsel, who, coincidentally, had just one or two more little traumas that she hoped he would be kind enough to rectify. Thus began a long series of heoric rescues, each one of which was appreciated by the woman only long enough to resuscitate her hero before she needed his next valorous deed. [4]

Though common to any sexual preference, the primary emotional hook in the ensnarement of the male is pity, coupled with sexual seduction. Nigerian writer Ben Okri’s debut novel: Astonishing the Gods paints a vivid picture of a spiritual quest and the meeting of a strange woman, a siren or a long lost lover: “She lay down beside him and her lust spread a curious darkness over the bed. He seemed to be afloat in her desire. He seemed to levitate in her passion. He surrendered his senses to her power. Gently, she made him lie down. Then she whispered these words into his ear: ‘I am the mystery that will unlock your life.’” [5]

Ulysses_and_the_Sirens_by_H.J._Draper

Odysseus and the Sirens by Herbert James Draper, c. 1909 (wikipedia)

It is the sense of hidden depths and mystery that the feminine vampire cultivates in order to draw men into her web, taking great lengths to disguise the emptiness within. The more pernicious the disorder the more external energy is needed to fill the void which is why engaging with the vampire can leave you stripped of your soul:

“… the creature that best embodies the inner nature of the feminine vampire is the needle-fanged, cold-blooded, venom- spewing serpent. …The Medusan vampire slithers up in silent hunger behind her unwary prey, freezing her target with her stare (pitifulness and wiles of the damsel in distress), and then sinks her fangs into the petrified victim, spitting out the venom of her embittered rage, and then leaves the lifeless body behind as she gathers her sinuous coils of deceptive lethargy and sniffs the air for the scent of hot blood, waiting for the next victim who will prolong her life… The Medusan vampire relies on snakelike subtlety to capture her prey.

“The true hero MUST be able to sense the Medusan viper who lurks under the veil of imploring vulnerability… note the term ‘sense’ rather than ‘see.’ The myth tells us that it is extremely dangerous to look directly on the truth of this entity, for the vision will immobilize and destroy us.” [6]

And no doubt many men have been turned to stone by looking directly into the heart of the female narcissist and psychopath. When socio-cultural norms actually reinforce the illusion that such pathology has the air of seductive mystery and enticing sensuality then this can only the increase the number of victims. With the underlying basis of vampirism informing societies’ foundations to an increasing degree, how does the female psychopath take advantage of such an unequal playing field – even between the male of her psychopathic species?

1ef3f2b04e8a3ad7a14d493fa79b1ee2Freud’s psychoanalysis will occasionally pop up throughout this series as one of the causes of our large-scale problems rather than its antidote. In terms of female psychopathy he has a peculiar part to play in its genesis. Freud’s views increased the perception that aggression was mostly male and instinctual where women provided a calming effect on men’s unbridled sexual drives and the rage that lay just beneath the surface of even the mildest of choir boys. [7]

Women who allowed their anger to fly free were considered to harbour too much masculine energy, which perpetuated the belief that aggressiveness in women was abnormal. Buttressed by the simplistic views of Darwin’s theories of evolution as well as the flowering of eugenics in America and England, this contributed to the patriarchal structure of the twentieth century and to the present mess of gender roles. This also allowed the diagnosis of psychopathy to stay hidden, while at the same time shaping the “normal” society of men and women. It is little wonder that such myths about the “passivity” of women persists where expressions of radical feminism only serve to increase the promotion of extreme and unrealistic aims, the latter of which we will presently explore.

Women have traditionally been seen capable of only reactive, non-pre-mediated violence which is counter to all the studies so far on a range of anti-social personality disorders. Dr. Robert Hare shows that there are many cases of female psychopaths doing all the same things of which male psychopaths are capable though the processes and strategies involved may differ. A tiger may wait patiently in a tree before it pounces on the gazelle, or a lion may stalk its prey in the tall grass over many kilometres. Different species, yet both predators and part of the same genus, utilising different strategies that lead to the same result: Lunch. Or to put it another way, the only difference in female psychopaths is that “…they may be less prone than males to use overt, direct physical aggression to attain their needs.” [8]

doris-day2_1976055c

The innocent, girl-next-door and the pity-me, victimised, submissive female persona are among the arsenal of psychological ploys employed by the female psychopath.

Criminal trial attorney Frank S. Perri, JD, MBA, CPA; and clinical psychologist Terrance G. Lichtenwald, PhD are also convinced that the study of the female psychopath has been greatly lacking thanks to gender stereo-typing and the subsequent lack of awareness in law enforcement, the justice system and forensic science. They consider female psychopathy to have only really taken off in the last fifteen years therefore knowledge as to whether differences in female and male psychopathy: “…reflect actual gender-based differences or are the result of potential biases in sampling, diagnostic criteria, and/or assessment instruments” is difficult to ascertain at this stage.” [9]

Perri and Lichtenwald state that there are two kinds of female psychopaths. The first is characterised by “… interpersonal deception, sensation seeking, proneness to boredom, and a lack of empathy. The second category shows “… early behavioral problems, promiscuous sexual behavior, and adult, nonviolent antisocial behaviour.” Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD) (inappropriate sexual seductiveness and exaggerated or shallow emotions) has the strongest relationship to psychopathy in female samples whereas Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is more likely to be found in male psychopaths than female psychopaths:

Female psychopaths were comparable to psychopathic males in terms of irresponsible lifestyles …. Female psychopaths typically have higher unemployment rates, relationship instability, and dependency on social assistance programs, while male psychopaths tend to have higher rates of unlawful behavior and violent crimes …Analysis of adolescent populations found gender differences in psychopathy related to violence. Specifically, nonviolent antisocial behavior appeared to be key to understanding psychopathy in females, whereas violent antisocial behavior was more important in males …Sexual conduct has emerged in several studies differentiating between male and female psychopathy; specifically, female psychopaths appear to engage in more promiscuous sexual behaviour than males … These findings are likely due to gender specific socialization in which assumption of strong, dominant roles is expected and accepted more so for men than it is for women. [10] [Emphasis mine]

Certain distinct preferences in the male and female psychopath and the methods they use to achieve their aims have become apparent. The use of “impression management” seems to be much more of a concern for the female psychopath which means portraying themselves in the best possible light is paramount.  It is here that the gender myths might play a vital role in adding an extra camouflage to the diagnosis of female psychopathy in both the caring professions and in custody cases. Proto-typical findings on male psychopaths as overt aggression, cruelty to animals and bullying and threats were nothing like as common for female psychopaths. Covert tactics and more subtle approaches seem to be favoured by psychopathic females such as complex strategies of emotional manipulation, flirtation and sexual seduction to achieve similar results. [11]

Female serialists kill for money, excitement, and power. They gravitate towards occupations that conform to the traditional female roles, occupations like nursing and babysitting, but also the non-conventional such as stripping and prostitution. They are generally older than their male counterparts and play on being the last person one would think to be responsible for the most heinous crimes, hence, the targeting of small children and the elderly who serve as suitably vulnerable and defenceless victims. Poisoning or suffocation is the preferred means of murder with a meticulous attention to leaving the crime scene free of material evidence.

Conversely, male psychopaths are more likely to kill for sexual gratification and power over others and favour more overt means such as bludgeoning, stabbing and strangling. They are less than careful in the aftermath of their murders. [12]

Yet of the 20,000 or more murders every year in the United States alone there are no exact figures of how many of those were committed by serial killers. Dr. Schurman-Kauflin, an expert on serial killers and founder of the Violent Crimes Institute explains that this is due to the difficulty in determining “…the number of killer who are active at any one time…” and because “…there is no clear definition of the term. There are almost as many definitions of serial killers as there are researchers.”

hi-homolka-852

Karla Leanne Homolka after sentencing. Source: Canada Live

Homolka was a convicted Canadian serial killer who helped her husband Paul Bernado rape and murder at least three women. More specifically: the 1991 and 1992 rape-murders of two Ontario teenage girls, Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French, as well as the rape and death of her sister Tammy. However, she cut a deal with prosecutors and served just 12 years in prison for manslaughter after a plea-bargain.  Today, she lives in Guadeloupe with her three children. One wonders how much Perri and Lichtenwald’s conclusions could be applied to this case and many others.


What is more disturbing is that while it is still generally accepted that the number of murders by women is small, there are no reliable national or international data sets to analyse how common (or not) the incidence of female serial killers. Murders perpetrated by women and female serial killing are also on the increase the fact of which has been ignored by the media and encouraged by gender myths in the public: “…Of a total of about 400 serial killers identified between 1800 and 1995 in the United States, nearly 16 percent—a total of about 62 killers—collectively killed between 400 and 600 victims … More than a third of the female serial killers made their appearance since 1970, and the numbers keep increasing …” [13]

Perri and Lichtenwald believe the above figures are conservative due to the prevalence of female serialists carrying out their kills:

… at home or at work in the capacity of caretakers such as nurses, babysitters, etc. where a child’s mysterious death could be explained away as a medical anomaly or to old age. Attacks occur in accepted social and professional relationships, while the means to kill are often surreptitious like poison, drug overdose, or sudden suffocation; the murder in essence becomes hidden because of the belief that someone who established a bonding relationship with the child would not kill (such as a nurturing nurse, mother, caretaker, etc.) Many female serialists tend to use poison and trap their victims on territory that is familiar to them and is shared with the victim … Female serial killers tend to have longer killing careers than men, presumably because their crimes are more carefully planned, methodical, precise and “hidden” on the whole … As for other serial crimes committed by women, some aid their boyfriends and husbands in abducting, torturing, and killing women; such was the kind of assistance Karla Homolka gave her husband, Paul Bernardo, when they killed Karla’s sister and two other school girls. [14]

The absence of emotion tends to help psychopathic women in the law courts despite the high degree of instrumental homicide as oppose to reactive homicide they perpetrate. One of the myths of the feminine mind is that women react to events and thus commit crimes of passion, desperation or survival under accumulated trauma or other forms of duress. The idea is that they have been provoked or driven to carry out certain crimes that were the result of a temporary loss of sanity or the onset of psychosis rather than any premeditated or “instrumental” planning. The latter would suggest someone in control of the mental faculties which is not the province of the mentally ill. Yet, this is precisely the hallmark of the psychopath. “The absence of emotion actually assists them in planning the kill and not killing reactively because a time requirement to predation is not necessarily present.” [15] The authors list several examples of psychopathic caregivers’ crimes, female predators who “…located [in their] well-spring of power in maternity.” [16]

Award-winning journalist Patricia Pearson argues that generally women are more than capable of matching men’s propensity for violence. It is because of our denial of women’s innate capacity for aggression that she thinks “…women got away with their crimes for years..” and “…because so few of us are willing to acknowledge that women are as capable of cool and calculating brutality as men are, again relying on the myth that females are incapable of such monstrosities.” [17]

In the words of American serial killer Carol M. Bundy, a former nurse and a divorced mother of two: “Remember, I look innocent. Impression is worth as much as facts.”

This is where impression management in family courts is so useful to the pathological narcissist and female psychopath.[18]

 


Notes

[1] Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths go to Work by Dr. Robert D. Hare, Ph.D., and Paul Babiak, Ph.D. Published by Harper Collins, 1st edition, 2007 | ISBN-10: 0061147893. p.40.
[2] op. cit.Hare (p.102)
[3] p.136; Unholy Hungers: Encountering the Psychic Vampire in Ourselves & Others by Barbara E. Hort, Published by Shambahla first edition. 1996 | ISBN-10: 1570621810.
[4] Ibid. (p.132)
[5] Astonishing the Gods By Ben Okri. Published by Phoenix Paperbacks, 1999 | ISBN-10: 0753808641.
[6] op. cit. Hort (p.146)
[7] Behind the mask: destruction and creativity in women’s aggression By Dana Crowely-Jack, Published by Harvard University Press, 2001 | ISBN-10: 0674005376.
[8] The Last Frontier: Myths & The Female Psychopathic Killer by Frank S. Perri and Terrance G. Lichtenwald, The Forensic Examiner, Summer 2010.
[9] Ibid. (p.58)
[10] Ibid
[11] Ibid.
[12] p. 10-11; The New Predator: Profiles Of Female Serial Killers by Deborah Schurman-Kauflin. Published by Algora Publishing, 2000 | ISBN-10: 1892941589.
[13] op.cit;  Perri & Lichtenwald; (p.63)
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid. (p.60)
[16] p.96; When she was bad: how and why women get away with murder by Patricia Pearson. Published by Penguin Books, 1998 | ISBN 0140243887.
[17] op. cit. Perri & Lichtenwald (p.61)
[18] Ibid (Perri & Lichtenwald (p.63)

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