We often think of narcissism as a particular set of traits or characteristics typically displayed in a man. But what about the female narcissist? How does narcissism manifest differently in women versus men?
The reality is that narcissistic women often display different traits and behaviors than their male narcissistic counterparts.
Research on the differences between male and female narcissists suggests that NPD traits in women may be fewer in number and less severe. Specifically, female narcissists are less entitled, impulsive, aggressive, and more empathetic than males diagnosed with NPD. However female narcissists also may display certain distinct traits such as a preoccupation with their appearance or being more prone to envy and jealousy than males.
Differences Between Female & Male Narcissists
The specific narcissistic tendencies someone exhibits depends on a number of different factors, including their gender and the type of narcissism they have.
Some research suggests that covert narcissism is more common in females, while grandiose narcissism is more common in males. This difference may be at least partially explained by the different traditional gender roles created in society for men and women, which is also believed to explain some of other key dissimilarities.
As opposed to male narcissists, a female narcissist may:
- Have less severe NPD traits than male narcissists
- Display as less grandiose and entitled than male narcissists
- Be less physically aggressive than male narcissists
- Have more empathy than male narcissists
- Struggle with emotional sensitivity and reactivity more than male narcissists
- Run under the radar and be more difficult to detect than male narcissists
- Be misdiagnosed more than male narcissists
Common Female Narcissist Traits:
1. Being Self-Absorbed
Self-centeredness is a hallmark sign of NPD in both men and women. A female narcissist may spend a lot of time talking about herself and her life, without thinking to ask how others are doing. When people do interject to talk about themselves, the female narcissist may show little interest, and quickly turn the conversation back to herself.
2. Avoiding Blame
Another telltale sign of narcissism is never admitting fault or apologizing, and instead finding ways to project blame outwards onto other people or situations. For example, narcissistic women will often deflect blame by making excuses for their mistakes or finding ways to twist the situation and paint someone else as the bad guy.
Narcissistic women can have a tendency to be petty. They often get stuck on small details or perceived wrongdoings of other people, even when they don’t really matter. For instance, a female narcissist may be unable to stop obsessing over the smallest criticism or slight, and may even become hyper-focused on getting revenge. This inability to let go of small grievances can become problematic for the narcissistic woman, making her seem jealous, petty, and bitter to others.
4. Materialistic / Status and Money Obsession
Being shallow or superficial is a common trait in both male and female narcissists. In women with NPD, this might show up as a tendency to be overly materialistic or preoccupied with brand name, luxury items or other status symbols associated with being wealthy. Other times, this may include excessive concern about social status, reputation, social media, or appearances.
5. Addicted to Social Media
All narcissists are self-absorbed, but this can be exhibited differently in female narcissists than in males. Women with NPD may be more likely to get wrapped up in social media, post selfies, and become obsessed with getting likes and followers online. Some may even be addicted to social media and unable to pull themselves away from the virtual realities they’ve created online.
6. Exploitative of Relationships Surrounding Them
Narcissists are known to exploit other people for personal gain or self-serving interests, but men and women may have opposing ways of doing so. For example, women with NPD will often use manipulative or passive-aggressive behaviors to fulfill their needs, while men may use force, intimidation, or physical aggression.
7. Coersion Using Sex Appeal
Women with NPD may be more likely to capitalize on their sex appeal or physical attractiveness. Recent studies have found that many female narcissists dress in sexually provocative ways–like dressing in revealing clothing or wearing a lot of makeup. Some may use sexual seduction as a way to manipulate or financially exploit others, or engage in sexual narcissism. They may even become involved in parasitic sexual relationships with people who can support or help them in some way.
While both men and women with NPD are prone to vanity, research shows that women with NPD are more likely to be preoccupied with physical appearance. Also, women with NPD may be more sensitive to criticisms about their physical appearance, weight, or attractiveness than men with the disorder. Narcissism in women may lead to excessive cosmetic procedures, extreme dieting, or an unhealthy obsession with appearance or weight.
9. Faking Insecurity, Shyness, or Being Reserved
Women with NPD are more likely to display signs of covert narcissism, experiencing traits that differ from the stereotypical portrayals of narcissism. A covert narcissist may not seem arrogant, grandiose, or entitled, and may instead present as shy, quiet, and even insecure. When insecurity and low self-esteem are coupled with other signs and traits of narcissism, this often indicates covert narcissism.
10. Dependency or Neediness
Female narcissists (especially covert narcissists) may display needy or dependent patterns in their relationships with others. The female narcissist typically needs a lot of validation, praise, and reassurance from her friends, family, and lovers, which betrays her underlying insecurities. Without this validation, she may become jealous, upset, moody, brooding, or experience emotional outbursts.
11. Sensitive & Reactive
Female narcissists are often more emotional than male, which also makes them more likely to be sensitive and reactive. While all narcissists tend to be sensitive to criticism, female narcissists may be more prone to being hurt, offended, or upset by others. This can also make them more likely to lash out, become moody and adopt a victim role.
12. Manipulation through Playing the Virtuous Victim
One of the more common traits of Narcissistic women is for them to play the victim by being submissive or seemingly helpless. This may be a tactic that female narcissists use to get things they want or lure people in. Once they do, they will often use the martyr or victim card to exploit people or convince them to do things for them.
Research on the sex differences in NPD has consistently found that female narcissists trade in physical aggression in favour of passive-aggressive strategies. Someone who is passive-aggressive doesn’t like to take control over a situation but rather exert control in a less direct or recognizable way. By doing so, they are able to manipulate the situation by coercing other people’s thoughts and feelings.
14. Bullying or Meanness
Female narcissists may use different types of aggression like gossiping, spreading rumors, gaslighting, name-calling, exclusion or giving people the cold shoulder. These are all forms of narcissistic abuse that can be just as harmful and damaging as more overt forms of aggression.
15. Instability in Work, Life, or Relationships
It’s often possible to gauge the severity of narcissism by the overall level of functioning of the person. Female narcissists with more severe versions of NPD will usually show more instability in their personal and professional lives and relationships. They might be unable to hold down a steady job, maintain their finances, or unable to develop healthy, lasting friendships and romantic partnerships.
16. Being Superficial
In an attempt to mask their insecurities or flaws, female narcissists tend to be overly concerned with their physical appearance and social image. The female narcissist is not genuinely interested in things like character and values unless it is used as part of her image. Some female narcissists will even place an emphasis on their children’s image to help elevate their own.
17. Competition and Jealousy
A female narcissist will be fiercely competitive and has the desire to be the smartest, prettiest, most successful, and charming woman in the room. Female narcissists always circle conversations back to their own experiences. If other women appear more interesting or “threatening,” the female narcissist might use shaming tactics to silence them or even exile them from the social group.
18. Being Overbearing or Controlling as a Parent or Mother-in-law
An overbearing and over-controlling parent will show up at their kid’s houses and start rearranging furniture, rewashing the clothes, or telling them how to discipline their kids. This is because they believe they have a superior way of doing things. They also view themselves as experts in all situations. Additionally, a narcissistic mother or mother-in-law will be “jealous” of her daughter or daughter-in-law. She will employ tactics to make them look bad, erode their self-esteem and even undermine their child’s relationship.
Narcissist Women: In Relationships
- Use relationships for their own gain and validation.
- Collect admirers to provide themselves with a narcissistic supply, craving attention and being the object of desire.
- Often have ex-partners that they keep ensnared, may instigate love triangles to feel validation, and are prone to cheating both emotionally and physically.
- They’re often very seductive.
- They flaunt their sexuality to gain attention and admiration.
- They may also do this to manipulate their intimate partners.
- They may try to inspire feelings of jealousy in order to gain a sense of power over their partner.
- They also frequently inspire an idealization phase: they will make you believe they are too good to be true.
Narcissist Women: At Work
- Often very divisive.
- They use passive-aggressive tactics, such as divide and conquer, to gain power within their work and social circles.
- They are also duplicitous and backstabbing.
- They belittle their co-workers or team.
- They often take credit for your work.
- They are obsessed with status.
- They pursue outward recognition and validation through awards, degrees, or a large social media following.
Narcissist Women: In Friendships
- Extremely competitive with other women.
- Female friends who are narcissists will constantly put you down.
- They’re often conniving and manipulative.
- She will speak ill of others behind their backs.
- She might also act inappropriately with your partner.
- She will be jealous of other women who receive male attention or are in healthy relationships.
- She may try to sabotage your relationship or undermine your confidence with your partner.
- She may play the martyr role.
- She will blame others for her problems.
- She will pit friend against friend
- She will divide friendships within a group
- She will betray confidences
- She will isolate those she views as competition
How to Deal With a Female Narcissist
Dealing with a narcissist is often difficult and stressful, so having some tips on ways to interact with these challenging personalities can help. If you have a female narcissist in your life, there are some methods to try that can protect your mental health, as well as provide some distance from any toxicity.
Here are some tips for dealing with a narcissistic woman:
- Learn her patterns: Narcissists use different patterns and tactics to manipulate and coerce other people. Paying attention to the specific tactics she uses (i.e. playing the victim, guilt trips, etc.) can help you quickly identify when she’s up to something.
- Check your expectations: By keeping your expectations of a female narcissist realistic, you can avoid the frustrating ups and downs that come with being constantly let down, disappointed, or blindsided by her.
- Practice compassion: Remember that they are limited by this disorder will help you be more understanding of the Narcissist. Do not pity them – they will recognize this, see it as a slight and target you.
- Limit your interactions: Limiting how often and how much you interact with a female narcissist can prevent you from getting too close, becoming a target, or getting wrapped up in her drama.
- Keep things superficial: It’s also a good idea to keep your interactions with female narcissists friendly, but superficial. Giving her personal information only give her ammunition to be used against you at a later date.
- Set firm boundaries: Creating and maintaining boundaries with a narcissist can be challenging. However, without these the lines between where you end and the narcissist begin, the relationship is almost impossible. In additon, boundaries set the expectations and parameters for interaction. This gives a boost of confidence to the person attempting to maintain a relationship with the narcissist.
- Don’t fall for her act: Female narcissists can be charming, seductive, and skilled at getting people to believe them. Keep a safe distance, protect yourself emotionally and remind yourself of her tactics (like narcissistic gaslighting, love bombing, etc.) to avoid being fooled by them and blindsided later.
- Don’t feed into her need for validation: Narcissists rely on external validation to feel good about themselves, so giving them too much attention, praise, or validation can make you a target.
- Don’t threaten her self-esteem: Female narcissists are often highly sensitive to any criticism or perceived slight, as it threatens her fragile self-esteem. When possible, avoid criticizing, threatening, or challenging her to lower the chances of becoming a target.
- Refuse to compete with her: Narcissistic women can be highly competitive, but it usually isn’t a good idea to play this game with her. Doing so makes it more likely that you’ll be seen as a threat, and susceptible to additional abuse and even humiliation.
- Try to find win-win solutions: Win-win solutions are ones where no one ‘loses’, and are often the best way to negotiate with a narcissistic female.
- Keep your cool: Narcissistic women can be difficult and frustrating to interact with, but losing your cool only places more power and control in her hands. Letting her upset you gives her more knowledge about how she can pull your strings and set you off in the future.
When to Seek Help
It’s a good idea to consider seeking help from a therapist if you start to notice signs of narcissistic abuse. If your mental health is being negatively affected by your interactions with a narcissist, this is also an indicator of a need for intervention. Some of the signs that may indicate a need to seek professional help include:
- Lowered self-esteem
- Increased self-doubt
- Emotional instability
- Questioning your reality
- High levels of anxiety or panic attacks
- Symptoms of depression
- High levels of stress or burnout
In truth, narcissistic women are more likely to go under the radar than their male counterparts.
Because women are often misdiagnosed as having a different disorder, narcissistic women could be more dangerous than their male counterparts. It is believed that this type of abuse can often go unnoticed.
If this article has helped you to recognize that you might have a narcissistic woman your life, then reach out and seek help.
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Katrina Murphy is a Professional Intuitive Mindset and Confidence Coach in Ontario, Canada, serving clients across Canada and internationally. Katrina helps professionals to change the relationship that they have with themselves so they can reconnect both in their relationships and at work. She’s been featured in various publications and is the creator of the Power-Passion-Purpose Framework.