Female Narcissists - Gender and the Narcissist
Frequently Asked Question # 34
The psychodynamics of male and female narcissists are the same.
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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Are female narcissists any different? You seem to talk only about male narcissists!
I keep using the male third person singular because, according to the DSM-5, most narcissists (50-75%) are male and more so because there is little difference between the male and female narcissists.
In the manifestation of their narcissism, female and male narcissists, inevitably, do tend to differ. They emphasise different things. They transform different elements of their personalities and of their lives into the cornerstones of their disorder.
Women concentrate on their body (many also suffer from eating disorders: Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa). They flaunt and exploit their physical charms, their sexuality, their socially and culturally determined "femininity". They secure their Narcissistic Supply through their more traditional gender role: the home, children, suitable careers, their husbands ("the wife of…"), their feminine traits, their role in society, etc.
It is no wonder that narcissists – both men and women – are chauvinistic and conservative. They depend to such an extent on the opinions of people around them – that, with time, they are transformed into ultra-sensitive seismographs of public opinion, barometers of prevailing social fashions, and guardians of conformity. The narcissist cannot afford to seriously alienate his "constituency", those people who reflect his False Self back to him. The very proper and on-going functioning of the narcissist's Ego depends on the goodwill and the collaboration of his human environment.
True, besieged and consumed by pernicious guilt feelings – many a narcissist finally seek to be punished. The self-destructive narcissist then plays the role of the "bad guy" (or "bad girl"). But even then it is within the traditional socially allocated roles. To ensure social opprobrium (read: attention), the narcissist exaggerates these roles to a caricature.
A woman is likely to label herself a "whore" and a male narcissist to self-style himself a "vicious, unrepentant criminal". Yet, these again are traditional social roles. Men are likely to emphasise intellect, power, aggression, money, or social status. Women are likely to emphasise body, looks, charm, sexuality, feminine "traits", homemaking, children and childrearing – even as they seek their masochistic punishment.
Another difference is in the way the genders react to treatment. Women are more likely to resort to therapy because they are more likely to admit to psychological problems. But while men may be less inclined to DISCLOSE or to expose their problems to others (the macho-man factor) – it does not necessarily imply that they are less prone to admit it to themselves. Women are also more likely to ask for help than men.
Yet, the prime rule of narcissism must never be forgotten: the narcissist uses everything around him or her to obtain his (or her) Narcissistic Supply. Children happen to be more attached to the female narcissist due to the way our society is still structured and to the fact that women are the ones to give birth. It is easier for a woman to think of her children as her extensions because they once indeed were her physical extensions and because her on-going interaction with them is both more intensive and more extensive.
This means that the male narcissist is more likely to regard his children as a nuisance than as a source of rewarding Narcissist Supply – especially as they grow older and become autonomous. Devoid of the diversity of alternatives available to men – the narcissistic woman fights to maintain her most reliable Source of Supply: her children. Through insidious indoctrination, guilt formation, emotional sanctions, deprivation and other psychological mechanisms, she tries to induce in them a dependence, which cannot be easily unravelled.
This article appears in my book, "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"
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But, there is no psychodynamic difference between children, money, or intellect, as Sources of Narcissistic Supply. So, there is no psychodynamic difference between male and female narcissist. The only difference is in their choices of Sources of Narcissistic Supply.
There are mental disorders, which afflict a specific sex more often. This has to do with hormonal or other physiological dispositions, with social and cultural conditioning through the socialisation process, and with role assignment through the gender differentiation process. None of these seem to be strongly correlated to the formation of malignant narcissism. The Narcissistic Personality Disorder (as opposed, for instance, to the Borderline or the Histrionic Personality Disorders, which afflict women more than men) seems to conform to social mores and to the prevailing ethos of capitalism. Social thinkers like Lasch speculated that modern American culture – a narcissistic, self-centred one – increases the rate of incidence of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder. As Kernberg observed:
"The most I would be willing to say is that society can make serious psychological abnormalities, which already exist in some percentage of the population, seem to be at least superficially appropriate.”
femme fatale is an ingénue, an innocent child poised on the verge of
decadent corruption. She is surrounded by salivating wolves and yet is the only
true predator among them, hunting with the joy and abandon of a toddler in a
The true femme fatale is never cunning or malicious - that would be off-putting. She is not mature, an adult, or an intellectual - that is boring. She is not a busty blonde - she is never vulgar.
Never mind what she wears, with or without makeup, just woke up, night or day - the femme fatale makes your heart leap out of its cage, thump and throb. She is an infarct in the flesh, in installments, and in slow motion. She is as ineluctable as death and as foreordained as self-destruction. And equally delectable.
Regardless of how she looks, the femme fatale is always the most beautiful and irresistibly seductive woman you will have ever seen. She is both sex and femininity reified.
But the true power of the femme fatale rests with her absentminded indifference to the consequences of her actions: a puerile psychopathy that is never malignant and always devastating.
She is selfish in the purest sense: she pursues her needs and wishes because she cannot do otherwise: she experiences them as overwhelming, intolerable urges and anxiety-inducing drives. She hurts even her loved ones because she has no other choice.
The true femme fatale is utterly unaware of her "fataleness" and of her unbridled power over men!
This obliviousness to her impact is irresistible: it makes her a relentless, ruthless, and callous huntress and an impersonal force of nature.
Case Study: Women in Russia and Ukraine
"Pathological narcissism" is as much a cultural construct as it is a clinical diagnosis. In fact, many scholars regard the entire Cluster B of personality disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual - DSM (Borderline, Narcissistic, Histrionic, and Antisocial) as a set of culture-bound syndromes. We pathologize these modes of conduct, choices, and attendant values owing to their adverse social outcomes. The fact is that most narcissists are "ego-syntonic" (happy go lucky, content with themselves and their lives). Normally, we do not administer therapy unless and until there is a marked dysfunction with which the patient is uncomfortable or unhappy. Cluster B personality disorders are the sole exception. Here, we administer therapy because society is uncomfortable and unhappy (or traumatized).
Eastern Europe is a part of the world whose denizens endured centuries of material deprivation. They were driven to identify freedom and liberty - both personal and political - with consumption and venality. The freedom to consume has come to be equated with the right to consume. Exercising this right is both the sanctified epitome of self-determination (an ideology) and an exclusive benchmark, the yardstick by which one measures oneself against one's peers. Eliciting envy in others is merely the visible and tangible confirmation that one "has arrived", has "made it", and has prevailed. It's a Darwinian contest with the survival of the wealthiest and the best outfitted as the dominant rule of selection. Like in Nature, ostentatiousness is a mode of efficacious communication, a transmission mechanism of relevant information regarding one's relative status within society and, of course, a way to attracts mates and preserve relationships.
Consumption is thus rendered compulsive and addictive. Many women in the former Soviet Bloc are junkies. Addicts display pronounced cognitive and emotional deficits; are oblivious to social cues, mores, and norms (are "autistic"); are one-track minded ("obsessed"); are prone to aggression ("temper tantrums"); and have narcissistic defense mechanisms (are solipsistically self-centred) and antisocial instincts.
What is the role of men in all this?
Ask Donald Trump. No wonder he ended up getting married to women from this part of the world. In Russia and Ukraine especially, men are supposed to conform to Hollywood's grotesque standards of "success" and glamour. Men are mere cardboard cutouts, caricatures, ATMs with musculature and a ravenous penis. Their "job" is to be "winners", to turn on the spigot of an infinite flow of cash and credit. The woman's role is to look good, like the trophy that she is. The ideal woman in East Europe is a combo, a double yummy (or whammy) of whore and bimbo (or, if she is more sophisticated, whore and supermodel).
This is the division of labour: by titivating, she makes her man look good and helps him to provoke envy among his peers. By enabling her shopping sprees, he provides her with the instruments of her trade, the tools required to render her the trophy partner, hanging on his manly arm. She is a piece of ornate decoration, a work of art, a toy, akin to a luxury car, a yacht, a helicopter, a mansion, or a private jet. She is merely a high-maintenance acquisition.
What about intimacy and sex?
Intimacy is completely out of the question. These women’s liaisons are business-like arrangements, a give-and-take affair, a joint venture. Intimacy is not only repugnant, but also minacious: it implies some kind of long-term emotional dependence or companionship, independent of the pecuniary nature of the deal.
Sex is a part and parcel of the transaction. But: (1) The man has to look the part: he has to be handsome (athletic, muscular, etc.), cultivated and to nurture his body, take care of his personal hygiene, etc. Far more importantly: (2) He must initiate the sex and forcefully so. He must all but rape the woman. By initiating and coercing the woman, the man claims his prize and acquiesces in the impersonal, fetishistic, and pornographic nature of the sex. By “raping” her, the man is actually saying: “I acknowledge that you are nothing but a whore and that our relationship is tantamount to that of a patron and a prostitute (i.e. devoid of emotions, attachment, or bonding). Not claiming his “prize” (not initiating sex aggressively) is an insult. It's humiliating because it impugns the woman's irresistibility. Such reticence also produces anxiety because it casts in doubt the longevity of the connection (without sex, the whole affair is quite one-sided and doomed to fail).
Quotes from the Literature
"Specifically, past research suggests that exploitive tendencies and open displays of feelings of entitlement will be less integral to narcissism for females than for males. For females such displays may carry a greater possibility of negative social sanctions because they would violate stereotypical gender-role expectancies for women, who are expected to engage in such positive social behavior as being tender, compassionate, warm, sympathetic, sensitive, and understanding.
In females, Exploitiveness/Entitlement is less well-integrated with the other components of narcissism as measured by the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) - Leadership/Authority, Self-absorption/Self-admiration, and Superiority/Arrogance- than in males - though 'male and female narcissists in general showed striking similarities in the manner in which most of the facets of narcissism were integrated with each other'."
Gender differences in the structure of narcissism: a multi-sample analysis of the narcissistic personality inventory - Brian T. Tschanz, Carolyn C. Morf, Charles W. Turner - Sex Roles: A Journal of Research - Issue: May, 1998
"Women leaders are evaluated negatively if they exercise their authority and are perceived as autocratic."
Eagly, A. H., Makhijani, M. G., & Klonsky, B. G. (1992). Gender and the evaluation of leaders: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 111, 3-22, and ...
Butler, D., & Gels, F. L. (1990). Nonverbal affect responses to male and female leaders: Implications for leadership evaluations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 48-59.
"Competent women must also appear to be sociable and likable in order to influence men - men must only appear to be competent to achieve the same results with both genders."
Carli, L. L., Lafleur, S. J., & Loeber, C. C. (1995). Nonverbal behavior, gender, and influence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 1030-1041.
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