Can Narcissism Affect Women?

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) affects both males and females alike, it is a fallacy to think that narcissistic traits belong only to the male population of society.  Such an error in thinking is dangerous in that it denies the harm that women can do to their victims; female narcissists render their victims to just as much pain, humiliation, chaos and destruction as that wielded out by their male counterparts.

American statistics would show that more men present with narcissistic traits then women, however the most up-to-date research also shows that there is a marked shift in the numbers of women presenting with narcissistic behaviors.  In my own practice, working with victims of narcissistic abuse, I have found the ratio of male and female narcissistic abuse to be more in the region of about 50/50.  What I have also found when listening to the victims is that narcissistic men and narcissistic women often employ different behaviours in order to achieve the same aim.

What is the cause of narcissism?

According to most experts, narcissism would seem to be related to a failure in empathic responding, usually by a mother, towards her child, and this seems to result equally in both males and females developing a deficient internalized structure of self as adults, which is acted out in different ways of behaviour (which seem to be related to gender differences).

What causes gender differences between male and female narcissistic behaviour?

I suspect that the reason for the difference between male and female behaviours may well be related to social structuring between the genders, and this creates a need for male and female narcissists to develop different psychological strategies to compensate for their deficiencies.  For example, social western norms tend to accept dominance in males as “macho”, and therefore very acceptable, while dominance in female behaviour is decisively regarded as a “no no”, and therefore unacceptable by society at large.  For that reason, narcissistic females (when in the public eye) are inclined to conform to the pressures of social constraints.  Society likes to think that all women are sweet, caring, kind, nurturing good-mother’s etc, unfortunately they are not, at least not when they suffer from a narcissistic personality disorder.  For that reason I believe that narcissistic women are more likely to behave in a more subtle and indirect fashion than male narcissists do because society expect them to be “nice”, and they conform to cultural stereotypes, gender roles and social expectations.  For that reason alone they are less likely to be recognized as narcissists by society at large.   In short, you could say that females are forced to hide their less appealing narcissistic aspects because of gender expectations within society.

Are male narcissists more aggressive than female narcissists?

It is a common misperception that male narcissists are more aggressive in general than female narcissists.  In fact, both sexes are equally narcissistically aggressive, but it is displayed differently.  From a descriptive analyses approach, the male narcissist is seen to be “overtly aggressive”.  That means that he acts out physically violent interactions, (such as hitting, yelling, threatening body shaping etc), whereas, the female narcissists are more likely to use “relational aggression” (RA).  Distinct from male physical aggression (where acts are meant to harm another person’s physical well being), female relational aggression is a covert means of harming others through damage of social relationships.  This is likely to be acted out through emotional violence, (i.e. manipulation, threats, purposefully silent treatment, spreading rumors, telling others not to engage with someone, talking about their victims to others etc).  This behaviour harms others through damage (or the threat of damage) to relationships or feelings of acceptance, friendship or group inclusion.

This subtle art of emotional devastation is acted out every day by narcissistic women everywhere.  Regardless of whether it is in the home, the workplace, or in community settings, this bullying behavior pervades all of the female narcissist’s relationships.  This type of aggression uses the threat of social isolation to hurt the victim, and its advantage resides in the value the victim places on belonging to a family, school, workplace or other group. As the female narcissist have no corresponding fear of social isolation, they do not value relationships, and therefore perceive themselves as having nothing to lose one way or the other.

Another factor that helps to keep narcissistic females off the radar is the fact that their victims (both male and female) are more likely to remain silent about female relational aggression then they would be about male physical aggression.  Male overt physical aggression has the advantage of being better understood by everybody, and instantly recognizable to the victim (and observers), whereas covert relational aggression is often very hard to identify or explain.  Often the victim is at a loss to identify the psychological abuse that they are experiencing.  The female narcissist is also very clever not to show her rage to witnesses, however when she gets her victim alone she will become absolutely malevolent.

Having said that however, when it comes to narcissism generally, both males and females are Dr. Jekyll’s and Mr(s) Hyde’s, and both are equally emotionally abusive and treat others as a means to an end.  I for one would welcome further research on female narcissistic relational aggression, and have it entered into the DSM V in order to simplify a diagnostic criterion.

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Christine is a Psychotherapist, Educator, Author and Supervisor of mental health professionals for over 28 years. She was part of a team in the Trauma Unit of St. Brendan’s Psychiatric Hospital, Dublin, and has worked specifically with victims of pathological narcissistic abuse in her private practice for many years.
Her books, “The Three Faces of Evil: Unmasking the Full Spectrum of Narcissistic Abuse” and “When Shame Begets Shame: How Narcissists hurt and shame their victims” set out to to help those who have been affected by a narcissist and also to address the shortfalls in a therapist’s education, so that they become better equipped to work with survivors of narcissistic abuse.Much of her knowledge has come from her post-grad studies in Criminology and Forensic Psychology, and it is through these disciplines that she has gained her understanding of “The Dark Triad”, (Narcissism, Machiavellianism and Psychopathy).
These three faces of evil are vital information for understanding the full spectrum of narcissistic abuse and the dire effects on the victims.It is her vision that narcissistic abuse becomes part of the curriculum of all Mental Health clinicians.
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