If you know what it’s like to experience narcissistic abuse, then you might understand the level of damage that narcissists can do. It is profound and life-altering – and not in a good way. Narcissists destroy you, but if you want to put yourself together again, you can absolutely do it – starting with focusing on understanding what happened to you. Your next (and most important step) is then moving forward into intentionally healing and embracing your true self. Let’s talk about it.
How do narcissists destroy you?
Narcissists are masters of manipulation and control, but the effects of being in a toxic relationship with someone affected by narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) are life-changing. The narcissist’s form of psychological and emotional abuse is so harmful that most survivors find it impossible to go back to the way things used to be after recovering from narcissistic abuse. Their trademark lack of empathy and compassion spills into every interaction with you.
Not only do they tend to fly under the radar more often than male narcissists, but their toxic behaviors are often attributed to the fact that they’re a mother or that they’re “more emotional” than their male counterparts, among other things. But trust me when I tell you that they are just as toxic as any other narcissist, if not more so. So let’s talk about it.
You might already know that narcissists in general, regardless of sex, will continuously manipulate to get what they want. They usually show certain symptoms pretty universally – grandiosity, an inflated sense of self-importance and they tend to feel “superior” to others around them, whether they say that out loud or not.
Since their feelings of superiority are typically “bloated” versions of the truth, most narcissists, whether they are male and female, will spend a lot of time focusing on reinforcing their fragile self-perceptions – and that leads to their various forms of manipulation.
When many people think about narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder, they think of men who are more often stereotyped as violent, and full of rage.
And most narcissism experts would tell you that these stereotypes will more often manifest in narcissistic males when they feel threatened that their source of supply will disappear – or if we’re being honest – when they feel that they have been crossed in any way.
Despite popular assumption, narcissistic women are just as toxic and nearly as plentiful as narcissistic men. Studies vary on actual numbers and percentages, but in general, researchers estimate that just over half of all diagnosed narcissists are men. But those are DIAGNOSED narcissists – and you and I both know that most people who have the toxic qualities of a narcissist aren’t likely to be diagnosed.
With that being said, I personally think the numbers are most likely fairly equal. In addition to the fact that narcissistic women slide under the radar because they are often mothers, there’s the fact that fewer men are willing to admit to themselves or anyone else that they might be being abused by a woman. For that reason, fewer women are reported and diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder.
Key Identifiers of the Narcissistic Female
So clearly, there are plenty of narcissistic women around. And if you are a child of a narcissistic mother, you would most definitely know how true that is, based on your own first-hand experience. But whether or not your mother is or was a narcissist, you may not know the signs of a narcissistic female. Let’s talk about that now.
Women With NPD Express Anger Differently Than Men With NPD
Many people will assume that the malignant narcissist who becomes explosive and aggressive is always male. But that could not be further from the truth. In fact, women with NPD can be the same. There are a shocking amount of physically and emotionally abusive women – and it doesn’t only affect their children. Some women even physically and/or emotionally abuse their partners – male, female, or otherwise. They may also abuse their friends, coworkers or subordinates at work, their siblings, parents, and literally anyone else they feel they have the right to control – or who they feel is less than or otherwise wrong in any way, to put it nicely.
Some common ways female narcissists punish you for not doing what they want is by withholding affection or attention, or by making you feel very guilty to the point that you feel you have no choice other than to beg for their forgiveness. They will gaslight and manipulate you, sometimes covertly, but often blatantly and without remorse. And of course, as I said, many are physically abusive as well.
Women With NPD Appear To Be Martyrs
Women with NPD are more likely to play the victim or the “put-upon” martyr. They might even sacrifice more than is necessary, or appear to, as a play for attention and praise from the people around them. Plus, they are certain (and they expect you to know and recognize) that their pain is worse than the pain that anyone else has and that they suffer more than anyone else. To be fair, this is usually seen in women who might be considered covert narcissists, but any narcissistic woman can display this trait.
Women With NPD Are Extremely Superficial
Male narcissists are just as superficial as female narcissists, and they both care very much about image. They are concerned about their material items such as having the best car, house, and they will brag about how wonderful their kids are – all the while telling their kids the opposite behind closed doors. They do this to hide any insecurities they have just like their male counterparts. They may or may not want designer, name brand everything – and whatever they prefer, they’ll assume the other choice is wrong.
The Female Narcissist Dress Code
One more reason female narcissists slip under the radar so frequently is that most of us would expect a narcissistic female to at least attempt to appear attractive on some level. We might expect that she would appear to be overdone or expensively dressed, and we might think these are the women we would see in the plastic surgeon’s office to get their weekly botox touchups. And in some cases, we’d be right.
But despite this unfortunate stereotype, women who care about how they appear can be narcissists or not. See, the way a woman chooses to present herself really has nothing to do with toxic narcissism. It’s really all about their personality traits and specifically how they perceive and treat others in their lives.
And let’s just put it out here – just as many female narcissists will judge women who focus on their appearance, and in these cases, they will be very “practical” in their attire, or even completely neglect their appearance. This is when you’ll see them calling other women “shallow” or “materialistic” or worse, they’ll imply that these women are somehow beneath or less than them because they are “attempting to get too much attention,” to put it politely.
Then there are female narcissists who are involved with certain types of religion or spirituality who may dress as dictated by their faith. In those cases, they will judge and feel superior to women who dress in other fashions. And they’ll even judge women who are in the same faith but who don’t, in their opinion, follow all of the specific rules their religion requires. For example, if a religion requires a woman to never cut her hair, but someone gets her ends trimmed, the narcissistic female might tell everyone she knows how that woman is a bad person.
In other words, regardless of what her physical look happens to be, this woman will judge anyone who chooses to look different than she does. The narcissistic female is ALWAYS right, no matter what, and she will not hesitate to tell you all about it.
Narcissistic Women Are Extremely Jealous And Competitive
Narcissistic women are highly competitive and will become jealous easily. They must be known as the prettiest, most successful, most endearing, and smartest around – or whatever their particular version of “best” happens to be. And watch out if you’ve got it going on yourself! Because if you are a woman who makes them feel threatened at all in any way, they will viciously bully you and shame you, and exile you from any social group. They will even do this to their daughters – often. You must remember that there are no limits to which a narcissist will not stoop to get their needs met.
Narcissistic Women Will Be Controlling Mothers Or Mothers-In-Law
While there are many neglectful narcissistic mothers who will simply ignore or refuse to take care of their kids, many will also actively control them without concern for how they feel or what they want. They will aggressively (or passive-aggressively) control the lives of their children and this will continue even when their kids are adults, unless and until they do happen to figure them out and go no contact. They might decide your house isn’t decorated right and start rearranging furniture for example, or they will demand that you raise your kids a certain way, or that you discipline them (or don’t discipline) them in the way they prefer. And in many cases, narcissistic mothers-in-law will be painfully cruel to their daughters-in-law as they see them as someone who took their son away or who is trying to “replace” them. They will also actively compete with them in weird ways – just as they will with their own daughters. Also worth noting: the narcissistic mother will often prefer her male children to her female ones for this reason, among others, and she is more likely to scapegoat her female child. But that isn’t always the case – male children can and are scapegoated often.
What Do Research Studies Tell Us About Identifying Narcissistic Females vs. Narcissistic Males?
I read about a study a while back that offered a few key findings of the major differences between male and female narcs, and in my own experience, a lot of the findings were true.
Male Narcissists Use Force, Female Narcissists Use Martyr Act
So, to begin with, men will often use a lot of force, directly or indirectly, to sort of “assert” themselves and their superiority over others, while women who are narcissists will often take a different form – usually a bit more of narcissistic injury or even seduction. So, in other words, they are more likely than males to either use the “poor me” martyr act mentioned earlier or to use their appearance and sexuality to manipulate people to get what they want.
Some of the study findings included some really interesting and telling key differences.
Male Narcissists More Likely to Self-Handicap
For example, male narcissists, but not female narcissists, will use a face-saving tactic called “self-handicapping.” This is defined as “a course of action to protect or enhance one’s self-evaluation in the face of an evaluation threat.”
In layman’s terms, that means that male narcissists will try to appear confident, but if they fear they will fail, they will “self-handicap” to avoid having to perform at all – they use this tactic to avoid feeling or seeming incompetent. So, for example, let’s say they’re a tennis pro and they’re going to play tennis with a new partner. To avoid humiliation (in case the new partner wins) they might claim this is the first time they’ve ever played. Or, they’ll feign an injury to avoid playing at all.
According to the study authors, this kind of manipulation is directly connected to a “failure in empathic responding by the mother, resulting in both males and females developing a deficient internalized structure of self. Strategies developed to compensate for it may take on different forms in the males and female.”
This means, according to the authors, that, “mothers may be responding to boys as a significant other figure (e.g. husband), but to girls as an extension of self. As a result, each gender uses different psychological resources to cope with the same deficient internalized structure of self.”
Male Narcissists Can Be More Blatantly Controlling
The study also noted that while male narcissists are likely to actively and openly assert their superiority over others in order to dominate them and for their own self-interest, they can get away with it because it is more socially acceptable for males in most societies. But this kind of behavior from females is less tolerated and will not benefit them as much, so they will often be a lot more subtle than their male counterparts with their brand of manipulation – another reason they slip under the radar so often.
Other points of note:
Female narcissists will use their bodies to get what they want, in many cases, and this includes their sexuality.
Female narcissists are more likely to have an eating disorder than male narcissists.
Female narcissists are more likely to have issues with getting older, especially when they use their bodies or sexuality to get what they want.
Female narcissists are more likely to secure their supply sources at home by controlling their family directly and using guilt to help secure their control.
Female narcissists tend to be less openly over-confident than male narcissists, who get much of their over-inflated confidence from inside their own heads – but females are more likely to take secret pleasure in their own perceived superiority over others.
Female narcissists are more likely to spend money frivolously while males are more likely to believe that money gives them power, control, status, and related conditions. (Neither concerns himself/herself with shame or remorse, of course).
While both female and male narcs are known to cheat, males are more likely to be serial adulterers. Females are more likely to idealize a guy and then emasculate him when they get him under their “spell.” In both cases, the more their partners give, the more they want and take from them – it’s an insatiable need for supply.
Male narcissists often see their kids as mostly a problem or an annoyance that gets in their way, as well as competition for the attention of their main forms of narcissistic supply (generally their wives and mothers), while females are more likely see the kids as an extension of themselves, even well into adulthood. So when the kid does good things, narcissist moms take credit – and when they do things that mom doesn’t like, she will take it very personally even and maybe especially when whatever they did was obviously not related to the mother or her efforts in any way at all.
Male narcissists are likely to openly treat other men as rivals or competition, while females are more likely to go nose-to-nose with other women in a more underhanded way (which often resembles “friendship” to the untrained eye). In other words, they are lifelong “mean girls.”
While this list isn’t all-encompassing, it does offer you a general overview of both male and female narcissists and their various differences in behaviors.