Sociopath women are present among us, in some of our families and social groups, in some of our workplaces and in the public eye, throughout history and in literature.

They may be fewer in number than male sociopaths and viewed with less fear but do we have cause to be concerned about them?

How do sociopath women differ from sociopath men?

Sociopathy is a disorder of personality. At it's core is a pathological level of narcissism. The self-esteem of the sociopath is poorly regulated because the sociopath acts to protect and sustain an inflated, but ultimately fragile and unstable sense of self. Emotion regulation is compromised by difficulties in experiencing, processing and moderating certain feelings, most especially anger, shame and envy.

The sociopath acts to protect and sustain an inflated, but ultimately fragile and unstable sense of self.

Relationships with other people are generally dysfunctional because the sociopath tends to protect and enhance their own self-esteem at the cost of cooperative relationships and intimacy. The sociopath’s actions are often determined by the dominance of aggression over shame. They often show marked paranoia, experience shallow emotions and lack sincerity. It is thought that sociopaths (some use the term psychopath) constitute one to four percent of the population.

As well as being responsible for over half of all serious crime they cause considerable devastation in the form of physical, psychological and financial damage for people who have been exposed to them. With few exceptions, prevalent studies show that there are more male sociopaths than female ones. Because of this much of what we know and is written about sociopathy has been gleaned from research into its presentation in men. Sociopaths frequently perceive threats from others as acts of disrespect, disloyalty, criticism, or disobedience and seek retribution. The more severe the personality disorder, the more severe, persistent and pervasive the harm done.

Sociopaths frequently perceive threats from others as acts of disrespect, disloyalty, or disobedience.

Where sociopathic men may use physical dominance and control over their intended target, sociopath women often rely on another approach: manipulation of the minutiae of their close relationships. What motivates sociopaths of both genders is the achievement of power and control over others and the expectation of some sort of gain, which is used to provoke the admiration and envy of others, and in turn glorify the self. Sociopaths tend to single out individuals or groups for abuse. Sociopathic women tend to do this most in the sphere of their control - in their intimate relationships with partners, children, family members, friends and colleagues. Her abuses most often manifest as verbal attacks and covert aggression.

The sociopathic woman may opt to manipulate social networks, for instance, in an attempt to exclude their chosen target from a community. Alternatively, her ploy may take the form of threats of self-injury, with consequences for family and friends. Unlike male sociopaths, sociopath women are not particularly characterised by superficial charm and a grandiose self-image. This could be related to cultural conditions. However like her male counterpart, the sociopathic woman’s response to other people is characterised by a persistent lack of empathy, care, and commitment.

Sociopath women are less likely to physically leave or move on from relationships (e.g. with a child or parent), and their damaging nature is less likely to be detected (emotional abuse as opposed to physical abuse) and therefore may be enduring. Sociopathic tendencies are thus often more subtle and covert in women. They use their powers of emotional manipulation to gain an understanding of the particular vulnerabilities of their chosen target and show a profound absence of empathy at their exploitation.

How sociopath women commonly abuse other people:

By way of illustration, here’s an episode in the life of a young woman called Sally, whose sociopathic and manipulative mother often tries to damage Sally’s relationships with other people. Sally’s mother, Adrianna, became convinced that her daughter had spoken about the emotional neglect and abuses she’d experienced as a child to her mother-in-law, a kindly woman to whom she had increasingly become close since she married some months ago. Adrianna felt injured and angry with her daughter because of her belief Sally had been speaking ill of her, so she sought revenge. She devised an elaborate hoax, sending bogus emails from an anonymous ‘concerned’ friend saying that her mother-in-law was of questionable character. In one anonymous email she claimed that Sally’s mother-in-law and confidante had, at 17 years of age, given up her first born child for adoption because she didn’t want to put an end to her hedonistic lifestyle!

None of the claims were true of course, and Sally had enough experience of her mother to suspect her of the ruse, but the emails and injurious accounts of her mother-in-law caused both Sally and her mother-in-law needless distress. Adrianna exhibits traits commonly seen in sociopaths. First, her harmful conduct is motivated by a desire for revenge by way of humiliating her daughter’s mother-in-law. However, her plans are grossly disproportionate to the perceived harm of Sally talking to her mother-in-law; indeed Adrianna had no tangible evidence that Sally had spoken to her mother-in-law about her childhood. Nonetheless Adrianna perceived she had been slighted and viewed this as an act of rejection. Therefore her thoughts turn to exacting revenge by way of humiliating the mother-in-law and hurting Sally.

Adrianna is manipulative and deceitful. It is her usual way to plot and scheme for months before she enacts her plans, during which time she has many opportunities to reflect upon the harm she is causing Sally, but she never stops to reflect on her thoughts and actions in this way. She does not stop for empathy and instead makes use of the time to firm up her plans so nothing will go wrong. In this situation she feigns compassion and concern for Sally’s mother-in-law when Sally tells her she received the emails from an anonymous ‘concerned’ friend, but in fact she seeks further opportunity to harm and exploit both women. She feels no remorse for doing so. Instead she criticises Sally and Sally’s mother-in-law at every opportunity. Unfortunately because sociopathic women do not always hurt and maim the people they target in ways that result in visible harms, their acts of cruelty and misdemeanours often remain undetected.

Emotional abuse in relationships can be very damaging and those who have experienced it may struggle with low self-esteem, anxiety and/or depression and may find building trusting relationships difficult in the future.If the issues in this post have affected you and/or you have dealt with these situations in your life, you may find seeing a counsellor can be helpful, you can explore our directory to find out more.

You can read more from Jane McGregor and other experts in A Happier, Healthier You: The Welldoing How To Guide, available free to Kindle Unlimited users and at just 99p ($1.51) for others.