Some Thoughts on Bruno Bettelheim Symbolic Wounds and The Female Psychopath

Transvestism is a type of perversion. A perversion is a psychological strategy. It differs from other mental strategies since that it demands a performance. The overall strategy operates in the same way for males and females. What makes all the difference between the male and female perversions is the social gender stereotype that is bought into the foreground of the enactment. The enactment, or performance, is designed to help the person to survive, moreover to survive with a sense of triumph over the traumas of his or her childhood. The perverse strategy is unconscious. The actor, or protagonist, knows only that he feels compelled to perform the perverse act and that when deterred from doing so he feels desperately anxious, panicky, agitated, crazy, even violent. The protagonist does not know that the performance is designed to master “events” that were once too exciting, too frightening, too mortifying to master in childhood. The performer cannot, dare not, remember those terrible events. Instead, his life is given up to reliving them, albeit in a disguised, symbolic form. An adult, male or female, who is compelled to perform a perverse ritual expends a great deal of energy and devotes a considerable portion of each day and night attempting to master and control emotions and affects that were overwhelming and uncontrollable in childhood. A perversion, for as long as it lasts — a decade or an entire lifetime — is a central preoccupation of the person’s existence. (4) (Photo: Ru Paul)

An anthropological study of an aboriginal tribal village’s religious rituals has uncovered symbolic enactments, staged seductions, in which the ruling male class attempted to deceive the females. This ritual was written about by Bruno Bettelheim in his book Symbolic Wounds. It is a staged deception in performing a coming of age ritual, the religious initiation rite of young boys which thereby transforms them into men. These men attempt to metaphorically steal the woman’s vagina through an act of penile subincision. This surgical procedure marks the underside of the penis with scaring that resembles a woman’s vulva. It has psychoanalytically been viewed as vagina envy. Thus, it has been interpreted as attempting to steal the procreative power of the female. This stealing of the procreative power is an act of established dominance over what psychoanalysts imagine to be the “castrating mother figure.” In men who rape, the resulting act of rape is the side effect of some psychic threat to his power. Once the rape has been completed his psychic state returns to a state of equilibrium until some other “perceived threat“ acts upon it. Thus we see the repetitive cycle of a behavior pattern that cannot be fixed until he relinquishes his delusional fears that dictate complete control. “What psychoanalysis actually reveals is simply that boys attach their first genital affection to those maternal adults who have taken care of them. They develop their first sexual rivalry against the other persons who appear to them as owners of the maternal figure(s).” That is, those subjects (biological females) who have been endowed with the same genital apparatus as the mother.

“I have come to understand that types of behavior that appear to be and that could be interpreted as expressions of the most violent hostility, of “the id in the raw,” are actually the result of frantic efforts by the ego to re-establish it’s (rational) control over a total personality overwhelmed by irrational instinctual forces.” ~Bruno Bettelheim, Symbolic Wounds

Little girls undergo a form of genital attachment to the affection of those maternal adults who have taken care of them as well. This has been theorized about in psychoanalytic theories addressing homosexuality. However, these genital attachments do not necessarily have to manifest as homosexual desire but can manifest as perverse strategies that “deal” with other women in intersubjective relations. Envy and jealousy are found at the roots of these theories as was uncovered in the male tribe members’ vagina envy. The metaphorical stealing of another woman’s sexuality has been seen in acts of men who rape women, in acts of disfigurement, clitorectomy, and markings. These types of violent acts are predominantly done by males and have been historically dictated by religious ruling authorities. (1) But since we now know that predatory female psychopathic personalities are distinctly different than that of male psychopaths, it becomes imperative that we understand the social manipulations performed by these females. The female psychopath does not typically control her environment through violent acts of force as a means of quelling her anxieties and fears. Women approach the management of castration fears in a much different way. Hysterical anxiety was a disorder that was predominantly assigned to women. That is, in lateral jealousy in response to a fear of displacement by women living in polygynous societies, such as those of northern Somalia. The wife who fears replacement develops a ritualized mode of behavior which can range in a diverse variety of human behaviors. (2) Some of these behaviors may become morbid and sadistic modes of “dealing” with others in intersubjective relations. Since I’ve learned from other social scientists studying in the field of violence that the female psychopath maintains a high priority of impression management, it is no wonder that female psychopaths are more likely to get away with the antisocial acts they commit. The number one attribute of psychopathy is camouflage. These women are more likely to commit offenses against someone they know, rather than complete strangers. That is, someone they may already have an established intimate relationship with. The top three character traits may be pathological lying, conning and manipulative behavior, antisocial and criminal activity. Since competition is a very common human aspect of everyday living, as it is in many animal species, it makes sense these individuals would want to control their environments in antisocial ways. (3)

Women are caregivers, and may already be well versed in understanding their role in the social hierarchy of established power. Thus, establishing felt security may be an early learned social skill that provides the best method of success. They are, are they not, the guardians for the well-being of their husbands and children. Already groomed for second class status, it is this very status that supports their necessity to, not only utilize the best modes of behavior but find the best avenues that will promote her success.(5) It is, in my opinion, for this reason, women make excellent female intelligence operatives. Whereas men use brute force, women look for subtle angles and avenues that don’t require physical violence utilizing coercive control like sex or the physical attributes of her sexuality. (6) This has nothing to do with mathematical computation. Bees like honey. Honey traps are successful in capturing bees.

When the misfiring of genital attachment manifests in female psychopathy it represents a splitting of the psyche. This psyche splitting has been labeled the paranoid-schizoid position. (7) However, this only addresses one element found at the core of identity. There are many different personality disorders with varying character traits. Although personality disorders are considered part of the paranoid-schizoid position, a diagnosis like Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and Dissociative Personality Disorder will additionally reveal specific behavioral traits. In any event, the aboriginal tribe that was the focus of Bettelheim’s book clearly demonstrates a paranoid character trait in dealing with their female counterparts in attempts at establishing their power dominance.

When the misfiring of genital attachment manifests in female psychopathy it can manifest itself in one of two primary ways in terms of predominant expression; (1) primary masochistic (sadism against the self) or (2) primary sadistic (sadism against others). When primary masochism manifests itself in identity we see disorders like bulimia, anorexia, self-cutting, trichotillomania, and the desire of the female to be beaten during acts of sexual intercourse (playing the bottom) in sex and bondage. It has also been postulated that women tend to be more masochistic by nature due to their desire to have children (self-induced pain that may repeat given the number of pregnancies and the self-sacrifice of motherhood. This same scenario of repeating pain is seen in women who enjoy sadomasochistic sex).

When primary sadism manifest itself what we see are acts that use passive-aggressive modes of violence against others. We witness staged seductions, enactments that incorporate pathological lying against another. Acts such as prostitution where the woman acts sexually interested to satisfy male sexual desire. These acts by women use their bodies as props in staged seductions such as entertainment acts of burlesque (exotic dancers). We also witness the conning and manipulation of people for personal gain. Attempts at bolstering one’s superiority by tearing down another with manipulative lies. (8)(9)(10)(11) We witness other modes of antisocial behavior as well that are typically seen in the narcissistic personalities of spoiled teenage cheerleaders who taunt and bully other girls. Except these female personalities are grown, adults. Cruel, callous, and unsympathetic modes of social actions in intersubjectivity relations. When females become envious or jealous over other females' attributes or achieved successes we witness the public shaming of female personalities over social media regarding their parenting styles. It is almost as if the female psychopath says, “Well if I can’t have what she has, I’m going to destroy her image and reputation.” This enactment can be compared to the aboriginal tribe’s behavior discussed in Symbolic Wounds as the act of stealing the female’s sexuality through ritualistic enactment of penile subincision.(12) Except these psychopathic women aren’t stealing the genital apparatuses of their targets, they are attacking the female’s identity at the core. That is, by attempting to damage their reputations, image, and egos. This is equivalent to the stealing of their procreative power in an act of established dominance, much like rape. It is an attempt to overthrow them. This enactment is done in what psychoanalysts imagine to be an enactment of overthrowing the “castrating mother figure.” (13)

When these female personalities engage in violent fights, they typically do not impose or sustain any real injury. Pulling hair, pushing, shoving, slapping, and scratching with nails in envious or jealous fits of anger. Two of the main reasons female psychopathy may remain well hidden is because one, they are experts at manipulating and conning their male and female counterparts; and two, the injuries imposed rarely cross any criminal lines as the physical injury is minimal. Most people have a tendency to overlook small losses. Especially small losses of bruised egos which culminate in no real property damage. These female personalities may generate conflicts or high conflicts perhaps even an assault but since they are primarily victimizing the people they know, the people they know either tolerate it, get rid of them entirely, or confront the narcissistic psychopath. And since they are really good at impression management these psychopaths are very successful in conning others such as co-workers superiors into believing their lies.

It is my opinion that these female psychopaths go on campaigns to tear down another’s reputation. Social media and cyberbullying campaigns would be their desired mode of attack because it is passive-aggressive. These attacks are more difficult to uncover and many people, no longer wanting to be hassled, may just walk away from their social media platforms or have their accounts deleted. I believe Facebook traced the social media smear campaign of the 2016 election against Donald Trump to a Russian female. I don’t know if the Russian female was a bogus identity or not, but this may help prove my case.

We can interpret further through a reading of Chasseguet-Smirgel’s Creative Perversions and the anal-sadistic universe (sadism) in Chapter 3, Narcissism and Perversion the following quote:

“On the one hand with the help of certain mechanisms he rejects reality and refuses to accept any prohibition; on the other hand, in the same breath he recognizes the danger of reality, takes over the fear of the danger as a pathological symptom, and tries subsequently to divest himself of the fear.” (14)

Subnote: This post was originally published over on May 30, 2019. It has been edited for proper grammar and spelling. I wrote this post before I became accustomed to collecting my source of references. The below list is a “best guess” recollection at some of the various books I had been reading at that time. It also includes some journal articles acquired after it was published that are relevant to my theories. My apologies for any omissions.


(1) Bettelheim, Bruno. (1954). Symbolic Wounds: Puberty Rights and the Envious Male. Glencoe, Ill. Free Press. (*) “Rudimentary forms of religious beliefs and rituals were probably the first inventions of the human mind once it ceased to be occupied solely with physical survival.”

(2) Mitchell, Juliette. (2000). Mad Men and Medusas: Reclaiming Hysteria. New York Basic Books.

(3) Psychopathy: Antisocial, criminal and violent behavior. (1998). New York. Guilford Press. Edited by Theodore Million et al.

(4) Kaplan, Louise J. (1987). Female Perversions: The Temptations of Emma Bovary. New York. Doubleday. Translation copyright 1991. Female perversions : Louise J. Kaplan : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

(5) Fox, James Alan, and Fridel, Emma E. Ph.D. Gender Differences in Patterns and Trends in U.S. Homicide, 1976–2015. Violence and Gender. Vol. 4, №2. June 1, 2017.

(6) Chodorow, Nancy J. (2012). Individualizing Gender and Sexuality: Theory and Practice. Relational Books Perspective, Volume 53. New York. Routledge; Taylor & Francis Group.

(7) Jacobs, Amber. (2007). On Matricide: Myth, Psychoanalysis, and the Law of the Mother. New York. Columbia University Press.

(8) Johnson, L., Plouffe, R., & Saklofske, D. (2019). Subclinical Sadism and the Dark Triad. Journal of Individual Differences, 40(3), 127–133.

(9) Krick, A., Tresp, S., Vatter, M., Ludwig, A., Wihlenda, M., & Rettenberger, M. (2016). The Relationships Between the Dark Triad, the Moral Judgment Level, and the Students’ Disciplinary Choice. Journal of Individual Differences, 37(1), 24–30.

(10) Haslam, N. (2006). Dehumanization: An Integrative Review. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 10(3), 252–264.

(11) Haslam, N., & Loughnan, S. (2014). Dehumanization and Infrahumanization. Annual Review of Psychology, 65, 399–423.

(12) Hobson, N., Schroeder, J., Risen, J., Xygalatas, D., & Inzlicht, M. (2018). The Psychology of Rituals: An Integrative Review and Process-Based Framework. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 22(3), 260–284.

(13) Jacobs, Amber. (2007). The Potential of Theory: Melanie Klein, Luce Irigaray, and the Mother‐Daughter Relationship. Hypatia, 22(3).

(14) Chasseguet-Smirgel, Janine. (1984). Creativity and Perversion. London. Free Association Books. Chapter 2 “Perversion as Exemplified by Three Luciferian Characters.”

Mother, Daughter, Student, Graduate, Lover of Books, Reader of Philosophy, Interested in Psychoanalysis, Criminology, Sexual Deviance, Social Justice&Law