Female Narcissism: Does It Take One to Know One?
Narcissism is the latest buzzword used around social media to describe bad character traits and qualities in a man. There are 1000’s of posts on social media of people being diagnosed a narcissist when in fact the person they are describing is indeed NOT a narcissist. They just toss this word around willy nilly style, carelessly. I have had several requests to cover this subject from………………….wait for it……………………………………MEN. Men are saying hey we see a lot of women mis-categorizing us as narcissists. Why is that? Do they know what a narcissist is? Or is it “it takes one to know one?” I said, okay fellas, say less.
Female Narcissism: What is a narcissist?
A narcissist is a person who has a heightened sense of importance. Someone who has a high desire to be admired, appreciated, the center of attention, and the expectation of special treatment reflecting perceived higher status. The major trait of a narcissist is the lack of empathy . They generally have fragile self-esteem that is masked by extreme confidence, and they are very sensitive to the slightest criticism.
Narcissism is recognized as a personality disorder according to the Mayo Clinic. There is no cure and can be treated with psychotherapy.
Signs and symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder and the severity of symptoms vary. People with the disorder can:
- Have an exaggerated sense of self-importance
- Have a sense of entitlement and require constant, excessive admiration
- Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
- Exaggerate achievements and talents
- Be preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty, or the perfect mate
- Believe they are superior and can only associate with equally special people
- Monopolize conversations and belittle or look down on people they perceive as inferior
- Expect special favors and unquestioning compliance with their expectations
- Take advantage of others to get what they want
- Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
- Be envious of others and believe others envy them
- Behave arrogantly or haughtily, coming across as conceited, boastful, and pretentious
- Insist on having the best of everything — for instance, the best car or office
At the same time, people with narcissistic personality disorder have trouble handling anything they perceive as criticism, and they can:
- Become impatient or angry when they don’t receive special treatment
- Have significant interpersonal problems and easily feel slighted
- React with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make themselves appear superior
- Have difficulty regulating emotions and behavior
- Experience major problems dealing with stress and adapting to change
- Feel depressed and moody because they fall short of perfection
- Have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability, and humiliation
Three themes came out of this analysis:
The analysis illustrated that perceived expressions of female narcissists depicted presentations of narcissistic vulnerability. It also demonstrated that gender-related norms further shaped motives and self-regulatory strategies for females to obtain positions of power and control. These were established through adopting a ‘victim status’, playing the ‘mother card’, and using legal and societal benefits to their advantage. Female narcissists were perceived to employ strategic attempts at self-construction in sinister and abusive ways governed by what society allows them to express. It is concluded that narcissism describes a phenomenon in females that moves beyond the overt grandiose stereotype.
Now there are a few things I must cover first because I understand some will interpret this as men are trying to not be accountable and responsible for their narcissism if they are indeed a narcissist. According to the American Psychiatric Association, up to 75% of the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder are male.
Empirical research indicates there are differences in the NPI(Narcissistic Personality Inventory) where men have higher scores than women. There is an observed gender bias clinically, theoretically, and empirically that narcissism is described as a different phenomenon in women. So the saying of it takes one to know one, may or may not fit here? Let’s see.
Males tend to lean towards grandiose narcissism. This is one of the reasons it is as easily identified in men as opposed to women. What is a little bit harder to identify is vulnerable narcissism. Women who are narcissists tend to be vulnerable narcissists. The vulnerable narcissist is thought to present themselves with shyness, hypersensitivity, and low self-esteem that obscures feelings of inadequacy, negative affect, and incompetence. Underlying this outward presentation, however, are elements of grandiose fantasies and entitled expectations (Pincus & Lukowitsky , 2010).
Interpersonally, vulnerable narcissists often rely upon the validation they receive from others to modulate self-esteem and experience greater interpersonal distress to cues of rejection and abandonment given the tenuous nature of their self-esteem ( Valashjardi & Charles, 2019). For them, having their entitled expectations unmet and experiencing disappointments are thought to often result in hostile and angry responses followed by conscious feelings of shame and depression (Besser & Priel, 2010). The traits of the vulnerable narcissist are maybe more difficult to recognize by the average person.
Let’s get to the analysis. First, we are going to look closely at the themes manifested in the analysis.
We see here a perceived shift in outward expressions in female narcissists during the course of the relationship. Here we see several masks. This falls in line with how a narcissist treats you differently in public than in private. The following is statements from study participants:
“She was always like that perfect angel in public, happy you know, but the second she left public view, she always talked about being depressed and always the victim about something.” (Erik)
“She was quiet and almost like demure, very kind of playing the kind of soft-spoken woman in some way but there was always an underlying kind of energy of anger when she spoke to people.”
These reveal the overt narcissism that aligns vulnerable manifestations in which narcissists were initially perceived as shy, timid, hypersensitive, insecure, fearful of abandonment , depressed, and feminine.
Paradoxes in self-presentation
The results here indicate narcissism present that was perceived to function as masking an underlying state of covert grandiosity, entitlement, and exploitation. Example:
“When I first met her she came across as sexy, fun-loving but also very sensitive and emotional and very feminine and soft. And you know the sort of lady that would cry about a movie 14 about a dog getting lost. And would be very gentle and loving. You know, delicate and make me want to protect her. I found that very attractive, it’s the sort of woman that I like and as I got to know her this aggressive personality started to come out, controlling and aggressive, and very, very different from that loving woman that she portrayed to me.” (Fredrick)
This perceived dual presentation — or dramatically differently perceived self-presentation — showed a degree of congruence in the participants’ accounts. More importantly, these participants’ depictions of their narcissistic partners are consistent with much of the theory and research on vulnerable narcissism (Grijalva et al., 2014; Pincus et al., 2009; Wright et al., 2010).
The mask of femininity
This theme shows the self-regulatory strategies and manifestations of IPV(Intimate Partner Violence) by female narcissists. The participants voiced sentiments that the abuse they were subjected to was often gendered and chauvinistic, in which their partners were perceived to use their female gender as a means to assume a ‘victim status’, playing the ‘mother card’, withholding intimacy and affection, making false accusations of abuse and using legal and societal benefits to their advantage. Examples:
“… every single thing in that house was decided by whether or not she would threaten to take our daughter away to where I could never see them again. So her manipulation was both quiet and final if I disagreed with the decision or I wanted to do things differently I couldn’t, because at the end of the day every single argument ended with that — so she used my daughter, access to my daughter, for seven years almost in a terroristic manner, and she would just throw it out there all the time you know like just make little threats to keep me in line…” (George)
Another participant, Erik, similarly remarked: “… because she’s mom, doesn’t matter if I’ve been dad for 8 years or even if they were biologically mine, she made that clear once too. That even if they were biologically mine, she is 15 mom and that gives her the right to control what happens. That gives her the right to decide what happens.” (Erik)
As you see here, self- regulatory strategies are being used in subtle and direct ways, through social norms and legal rights. Also , they may assert their femininity and receive affirmation from society to attain their goals, and at the same time deflect accountability and externalize blame.
Female narcissists in the study sought to achieve and maintain positions of power and control and did so in ways that violated traditional feminine assumptions. Example:
“… I would try and leave the house after arguments just to kind of get away and get some fresh air, and she had called the police and physically blocked the door from not letting me leave. […]… I think she just would tell them [police] that we got into an argument and that I had been abusive because when the police talked to me they were pretty pissed off even though I was the one covered in scratches and bruises.” (Jonathan)
The men’s reluctance to retaliate to the abuse subjected them to victimization with the female narcissists attack their masculinity and energy as a means to maintain power and control. Men often do not even recognize this as narcissism.
“… no one sees women narcissists coming. No one expects them to be this devious, to enjoy this much chaos, to basically torturing someone, but they are out there.[….] I would say women have the potential to be far more damaging as narcissists because of the entitlement they have to be given you know the benefit of the doubt in all situations.” (George) “… narcissism has typically been associated with the male gender and when it is there is a female, I think it tends, it tends to get overlooked. Because I think a lot of people say ‘oh she’s a woman there is no way she could be a narcissist’. Because women are typically thought to be very loving and caring and nurturing, and it’s, it’s quite the opposite. I think that women can be narcissists, can be controlling.” (Nick)
What’s terrible for men is our complaints and issues taken with it are trivialized and challenged by society, especially women.
“…I wanted to get a violence restraining order against her when I left because she kept harassing me and threatening my family, my mother, and myself. And the lawyer I went to see basically said that ‘you, more than likely you won’t get a restraining order against her, the judge would probably laugh you out of the court. You’re a six-foot-four dude, you’re fairly well built you know, he’ll take one look at you and won’t believe a word you say.”(Jonathan)
I have been in situations where I actually had the chance to press charges, but at the time I had more to lose by pressing charges than not. Now I had to lay the technical out on you because, well you cannot easily refute empirical data.
Female narcissists are actually easy to identify once you have the tools to do so. Look for the examples above. In addition, head over to my Instagram and see a lot of evidence of narcissism in certain comments on various posts I have made. Some I have deleted, but many I have left up, but does this indicate it takes one to know one, or is it pure denial? Many men call pure denial. There are men that say that women can’t recognize their own narcissism because they are looking for and can only recognize grandiose narcissism.
The symptoms displayed above are the more evident of the grandiose narcissists which generally male narcissists are. Here is what you need to look for with vulnerable narcissists:
- Are hypersensitive and easily hurt
- Are more introverted than grandiose narcissists
- Find it difficult to deal with any failure or trauma
- Are more neurotic and will worry and fret over how they are perceived
- Can turn on themselves when hurt or disappointed (whereas thick-skinned narcissists are more likely to turn on others)
- Feel shame when rejected — and will try to agree with the person who has rejected them as a way to reduce these feelings of shame.
- Can feel depressed, empty, and useless
- May withdraw from social situations if they feel they don’t match up to others
- Feel afraid of being let down and ashamed of needing others
- They May have rage-filled outbursts (followed by feelings of further shame) when their demands for recognition are not met
- Have a tendency to blame others
- May feel envy for what they believe should be theirs
Women may not see these traits in other women, especially within themselves. This is why many times you may not see women accuse each other of being narcissistic. I had one of my followers even make a comment about this very thing on a post about narcissism I made recently.
He went on to speak about how there are times women are really the narc in the situation and actually gaslighting the man. Narcissist women tend to not realize they have traits of narcissism. Many women who do not have the disorder believe they do not have traits of narcissism as well. Every human being can have narcissism as a personality trait to a small degree.
Fellas, it is imperative that you look out for these. Now, these do not replace the earlier listed symptoms, but because vulnerable narcissism is covert, you need to look harder for these traits in addition to the standard symptoms.
So what did we learn today? We learned that it DOES take one to know one another, and there is a sense of denial in women that they too can be narcissists and that they over-diagnose narcissism in men. We also learned that in the real-life study that the examples given by the participants are examples that many men have experienced, yet did not realize, were examples of vulnerable narcissism in women. We have also learned men do not diagnose a woman as a narcissist as frequently as women diagnose men.
I suggest you do the proper research before you label ANYONE as a narcissist. I also suggest that you take a look within to make sure you are not an agitator and not the problem or part of the problem in your relationship. The label narcissist should not be the go-to to describe an ex or a current problematic partner.
Do you need help on how to take the next step to leave a narc relationship?
Listen to my podcasts about narcissism below: