7 Devious Traits of a Covert Female Narcissist
Narcissistic women are not always obvious. They can appear fragile, charming, insecure, and even selfless. So you have to look past their disguise. Here are 7 little-known traits of a covert female narcissist.
But before we delve into that, let’s first answer these questions.
- What is narcissism?
- The two main types of narcissism: what are they?
- What is the difference between a male and a female narcissist?
What Is Narcissism?
Narcissism (or narcissistic personality disorder — NPD) is a type of personality characterized by a pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
It’s a Cluster B disorder, which refers to disorders that are dramatic, emotionally manipulative, self-centered, and chaotic.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), to be diagnosed with NPD a person must exhibit five or more of the following symptoms:
- A grandiose sense of self-importance
- Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- A belief that one is special and can only be understood by other exceptional people
- A need for excessive admiration
- A sense of entitlement (to special treatment)
- Exploitation of others
- A lack of empathy
- Envy of others or the belief that one is the object of envy
Most people who exhibit narcissistic traits would not meet a clinical definition of a narcissistic personality disorder.
Still, a woman with narcissistic tendencies can be just as devious as someone with an NPD diagnosis.
Overt Vs. Covert Narcissism
There are two basic subtypes of narcissism: grandiose narcissism and vulnerable narcissism.
The grandiose (overt) subtype is your “typical” narcissist who is bold, aggressive, and arrogant.
The vulnerable (covert) subtype is a less studied type of narcissism that presents with hypersensitivity, defensiveness, and even shyness.
It’s more difficult to identify because it hides behind self-deprecation and doesn’t fit the mainstream idea of what narcissism is.
While some women are grandiose narcissists, it is rare. The majority of female narcissists are the vulnerable (covert) type.
Male Vs. Female Narcissist
How are male narcissists different from females?
For starters, there are way more narcissistic men than women.
For that reason, when people talk about narcissism, they usually reference men. However, female narcissists do exist.
They may display the same behaviors and attitudes as their male counterparts, or they may present a more subtle, discreet, covert persona.
This is because every child goes through the socialization process that instills gender roles in them.
For example, girls are socialized to suppress their aggressive or dominating impulses, while boys are taught to hide their vulnerability and project hypermasculinity.
In our society, to be “feminine” is to be sweet and agreeable, and to be “masculine” is to be strong and brave.
For that reason, women typically don’t exhibit transparent, aggressive narcissism. They cloak it in vulnerability, selflessness, or victimhood.
But at the heart of it, there’s still a fervent need to project a certain image, gather sympathy and admiration, and use lies and manipulation to get what they want.
Research (see the References section) confirms that there are differences between narcissistic men and women, such as:
- Narcissistic men tend to be the grandiose type, whereas women are more likely to exhibit covert or vulnerable narcissism
- Female narcissists are more concerned with physical attractiveness than males, although both genders display vanity and exhibitionism
- Narcissistic men are more likely than women to have a sense of entitlement, exploit others for self-interest, and desire power
- Narcissistic women are more likely to use covert, relational aggression that causes psychological or social harm rather than direct aggression
What is a Covert Female Narcissist?
To put it simply, a covert female narcissist is a self-centered woman who uses indirect aggression to manipulate others for her own benefit and/or cause psychological harm.
She sees herself as a superior being and expects special treatment. But at the same time, she has an extremely fragile ego that needs constant bolstering.
What other signs are there to help you spot a female narcissist?
7 Covert Female Narcissist Traits
She is Toxic to Be Around
As a rule, narcissists are not a happy bunch.
Their wounded ego (“narcissistic injury”) constantly needs bolstering, so they are rarely satisfied.
And their negative attitudes about other people and life, in general, make them insufferable to be around. You know what they say: misery loves company.
When you’re dealing with a covert female narcissist, she may present a fake happy-go-lucky front and even refer to herself as a “positive” person who other people bring down with their “negativity.”
In reality, she’s the one who sucks others into the whirlpool of her toxicity.
If you’re sensitive to other people’s energies, you will soon feel drained, exhausted, and irritated. Your good mood will turn into a bad mood, all because you’re around her.
You may not even be able to put your finger on it — something will just feel “off” and you’ll have a strong urge to leave or end the conversation with her.
She Expects You to Be a Mind-Reader
A covert narcissistic female expects you to know or “guess” what she needs without her actually telling or asking you.
She feels that asking for something is beneath her. So how do you get something without asking for it? You manipulate people into thinking that it’s their job or responsibility to be attuned to her needs at all times and to meet them without fail.
Just like she can’t communicate her needs, she can’t communicate her emotions. Instead of telling people how she feels, she makes them feel what she feels.
So if she’s upset, she’ll make everyone around her upset and scrambling to make her feel better. This is called “emotional contagion,” and her family members are the first targets.
Although she doesn’t show any empathy, she expects people closest to her to be hypersensitive and empathetic to her slightest variations in mood. If they fail to do so, shame and guilt-tripping will follow.
That is why children of narcissistic parents often develop hyperawareness when it comes to “reading” other people and anticipating their needs.
They were taught that their needs and desires didn’t matter. So as adults, these children find it hard to set boundaries or prioritize themselves in a relationship.
They may also develop narcissistic features themselves due to the contagious nature of narcissism.
She Assumes the Worst of You
She is the kind of person who always has something critical to say about anyone she meets. But she will do so behind their backs, trying not to expose herself as a gossip.
As critical as she is of other people, it is nothing compared to how critical she is about the people who are closest to her.
For example, a narcissistic mother is most critical of her own children. The really pathological ones will even “compete” with their children, especially their daughters.
A covert narcissistic mother will methodically target the child’s self-esteem and sense of self so that they never become confident, independently-minded adults who can challenge her. This is systematic psychological destruction, and it happens far too often.
She Will Never Admit Her Wrongdoing
One of the most telling narcissistic traits is the inability or unwillingness to admit a mistake or some wrongdoing. That’s why a close relationship with a narcissist is always punctuated by frustration and suffering.
A covert female narcissist, like any true narcissist, will also deny that anything is her fault. But instead of going on the offensive, she will play the victim (or the martyr) and attempt to manipulate you into feeling guilty.
Let’s say you’re dating a female narcissist and you find out that she cheated on you. When you confront her, she will respond with indignation, flat-out denying the affair. If you have proof she can’t deny, she’ll jump into the victim role and turn the tables on you. For example, she might say:
What did you expect? You hardly pay any attention to me. It’s like you don’t even care.I’m not important enough for you. All you care about is (insert something you care about). I’m tired of feeling like I’m the last on your list.
Now you’re forced to defend yourself and convince her that you do love and care about her. Her infidelity becomes secondary to what you did to make her cheat on you.
Whatever she says, you’ll never hear her admitting that it was wrong or apologizing.
She is a Pathological Liar
To a narcissist, truth doesn’t mean what it means to other people. It’s not about being genuine or having an accurate concept of reality. Rather, it’s a relative construct meant to reinforce the narcissist’s ego.
A covert female narcissist will operate on a mixture of truths, half-truths, and outright lies fused together to fit her agenda. She will do it so skillfully and convincingly that you’ll be doubting yourself before you start doubting her.
And if you actually catch her in a lie, be prepared for an avalanche of gaslighting meant to completely disorient you and make you question your sanity.
She will even accuse you of being a liar – a tactic called “projection.” All of this is done to evade accountability and maintain control.
The scary thing is, she seems to believe her own lies, even in the face of facts that clearly contradict them. She even pulls other people into her web, and those people have no idea they’ve been duped by a narcissist.
She’s Preoccupied With Projecting a False Image
Which image a covert female narcissist chooses to project depends on her cultural values and desires.
If she is from a culture that values traditional female gender roles, she may want to project an image of a perfect wife and mother. She will “care” for her family but not out of concern for their needs. Rather, her care is the byproduct of her need to be perceived in a positive light by others.
Social media is a perfect tool for that. If you take a deep dive into your Instagram, you’ll probably find a few “mommy accounts” where an attractive scantily clad female is a prime focus, with her children and husband as the props for mommy’s ego.
Another role a covert female narcissist is likely to take on is the philanthropist. She might volunteer or take on a noble cause, performing multiple (and very public!) charitable acts. There is even a term for this: the communal narcissist.
This “do-gooder” gets ego boosts not from bragging about achievements or obsessing about her looks. She gets off on letting people know how giving and caring she is. For example, if on her way to work she gave $5 to a homeless man, she will make sure to tell everyone about it. But she’ll do it subtly, like:
I feel so bad for all the homeless people! Gave $5 to one this morning but I wish I could do more. What is the city doing about this?
The objective here is to carefully craft an image that’s completely the opposite of what she really is. After all, true charity is anonymous.
She is Emotionally Shallow
A covert narcissistic woman lacks emotional depth and warmth.
She is adept at imitating emotions but real emotions are not in her wheelhouse.
Of course, it doesn’t mean she can’t feel anything. If your narcissistic mother or girlfriend cries at a funeral, it doesn’t mean she’s suddenly cured.
There is a certain range of basic emotions narcissists are still capable of. But in private, intimate relationships they are usually cold, distanced, and superficial.
For example, if you’re married to a narcissistic woman, you may feel like you can’t talk to her openly or be yourself. There is something restricting about her. A normal process of “mirroring” each other’s emotions that couples engage in is distorted in narcissistic relationships.
You can mirror her; she can’t mirror you. So you feel that your relationship is one-sided, shallow, and emotionally unfulfilling.
The same can be said if you have a covert narcissistic mother or another female relative. You want to be close to her but you can’t because she isn’t interested in nurturing emotional bonds. She’s only interested in appearances.
As long as you maintain a perfect image of your relationship, she’s happy. But if you dare to tarnish that image, then you will see the true face of the narcissist — vindictive, cruel, and unforgiving.
Grijalva, E., Newman, D., Tay, L., Donnellan, M.B., Harms, P. D., Robins, R., & Yan, T. (2015). Gender differences in narcissism: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 141 (2): 261 DOI: 10.1037/a0038231
Hoertel, N., Peyre, H., Lavaud, P., Blanco, C., Guerin-Langlois, C., René, M., Schuster, J. P., Lemogne, C., Delorme, R., & Limosin, F. (2018). Examining sex differences in DSM-IV-TR narcissistic personality disorder symptom expression using Item Response Theory (IRT). Psychiatry Research, 260, 500–507. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2017.12.031
Kalemi, G., Michopoulos, I., Efstathiou, V., Konstantopoulou, F., Tsaklakidou, D., Gournellis, R., Douzenis, A. (2019). Narcissism but Not Criminality Is Associated With Aggression in Women: A Study Among Female Prisoners and Women Without a Criminal Record. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 10. https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00021
Mitra, P., & Fluyau, D. (2020). Narcissistic Personality Disorder. [Updated 2020 Nov 19]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan. Available from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK556001/
Stinson, F.S., Dawson, D.A., Goldstein, R.B., Chou, S.P., Huang, B., & Smith S.M. (2008). Prevalence, correlates, disability, and comorbidity of DSM-IV narcissistic personality disorder: results from the wave 2 national epidemiologic survey on alcohol and related conditions. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 69(7), 1033–1045.
Streep, P. (2018). 6 Ways a Narcissist Can Hide in Plain Sight. Psychology Today.
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How to Recognize Someone With Covert Narcissism
Most of the time, it is easy to spot the narcissist in the room. They are the ones who are working the crowd, loudly sharing fabulous stories that convey a sense of importance and accomplishment so that they can feel admired. Someone behaving like this tends to send out a clear signal to those around them that they are not approachable or compassionate.
Could there be other people in the room with those same exaggerated motivations for admiration and importance, yet possibly harder to identify? Yes, in fact, there could be someone close to you who is a narcissist but shows up in less obvious ways.
What Are Narcissistic Traits?
Common narcissistic traits include having a strong sense of self-importance, experiencing fantasies about fame or glory, exaggerating self abilities, craving admiration, exploiting others, and lacking empathy.
What Is Narcissism?
The word narcissist is a term regularly used in common discussions to describe anyone who seems a bit self-involved. However, in terms of clinical mental health, someone needs to meet a specific criterion in order to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder.
In general, people with narcissistic personality disorder are those who are preoccupied with their own success and with a grand sense of self-importance that influences their decision-making and interactions.
Narcissists find it difficult to build or maintain connections with others because of their manipulative tendencies and lack of empathy. They often feel entitled and lack compassion, yet crave attention and admiration. Here are some elements of narcissism.
- Having a sense of self-importance or grandiosity
- Experiencing fantasies about being influential, famous, and/or important
- Exaggerating their abilities, talents, and accomplishments
- Craving admiration and acknowledgment
- Being preoccupied with beauty, love, power, and/or success
- Having an exaggerated sense of being unique
- Believing that the world owes them something
- Exploiting others to get what they want (no matter how it impacts others)
- Lacking empathy toward others
What Is a Covert Narcissist?
In the field of psychology, behavior can be described as overt or covert. Overt behaviors are those that can be easily observed by others, such as those of the traditional narcissist described earlier. Covert behaviors, however, are those that are more subtle and a bit less obvious to others.
A covert narcissist is someone who craves admiration and importance as well as lacks empathy toward others but can act in a different way than an overt narcissist.
When considering the behavior of narcissists, it might be hard to imagine how someone could be a narcissist and be inhibited in their approach and behavior. A covert narcissist may be outwardly self-effacing or withdrawn in their approach, but the end goals are the same.
For example, this might be described as listening to your favorite song while blasting the volume, compared to listening to that same song on a low volume. The song itself hasn't changed, just the volume in which you are listening.
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Overt vs. Covert
Covert narcissists are only different from overt (more obvious) narcissists in that they tend to be more introverted. The overt narcissist is easily identified because they tend to be loud, arrogant, and insensitive to the needs of others and always thirsty for compliments.
Their behaviors can be easily observed by others and tend to show up as "big" in a room. When we think of an overt narcissist, we could say they demonstrate more extroverted behaviors in their interactions with others.
Researcher and author Craig Malkin, PhD suggests that the term "covert" can be misleading. In his work he states that the term covert is often used to suggest that the covert narcissist is sneaky or that their strive for importance is not as significant as an overt (more extroverted) narcissist. In fact, he reports, the traits of the overt narcissist and the covert narcissist are the same.
Both covert and overt narcissists navigate the world with a sense of self-importance and fantasizing about success and grandeur.
Both individuals need to meet the same clinical criteria to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, whether they are extroverted or introverted. Both have deficits in their capacity to regulate their self-esteem.
Many people have fallen victim to the manipulative behaviors of a covert narcissist without realizing what has happened until they are already in emotional pain. It might be more accurate to suggest that the extroverted (overt) narcissist would be a lot easier to see coming than the introverted (covert) narcissist.
It is not unusual for people to find themselves in long-term relationships with covert narcissists only to be hurt by a sense of a lack of partnership or reciprocity in the relationship.
Signs to Look For
Although there are some clinical criteria that need to be met in order for someone to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, there are some general traits and patterns to look for in everyday interactions if you suspect you might be dealing with a covert narcissist.
Being aware of these traits can help empower those who are interacting with the covert narcissist, helping them to recognize and better navigate potentially unhealthy interactions.
Where the more overt, extroverted narcissist will be obvious in their elevated sense of self and their arrogance when interacting with others, the covert narcissist may be less obvious.
The covert narcissist certainly craves importance and thirsts for admiration but it can look different to those around them. They might give back-handed compliments, or purposefully minimize their accomplishments or talents so that people will offer them reassurance of how talented they are.
The reality for both the overt and covert narcissist is that they have a fragile sense of self.
The overt narcissist will demand admiration and attention, where the covert narcissist will use softer tactics to meet those same goals. The covert narcissist will be much more likely to constantly seek reassurance about their talents, skills, and accomplishments, looking for others to feed that same need for self-importance.
Blaming and Shaming
Shaming others is a wonderful tactic of the narcissist in order to secure their sense of an elevated position in relation to others. The overt (extroverted) narcissist might be more obvious in their approach to gaining leverage, such as explicitly putting you down, being rude, criticizing you, and being sarcastic.
The introverted, covert narcissist may have a more gentle approach to explain why something is your fault and they are not to blame. They might even pretend to be a victim of your behavior or engage in emotional abuse to put themselves in a position to receive reassurance and praise from you. At the end of these interactions, the goal of the narcissist is to make the other person feel small.
Although not always sneaky, some covert narcissists can take joy in creating confusion for someone they are interacting with. They may not engage in blaming or shaming, but instead, causing people to question their perceptions and second-guess themselves.
Another way to create leverage between them and another person, the covert narcissist needs to use tactics like this to elevate themselves and maintain power in the interaction. If they can get you to question your perceptions, then this allows them the opportunity to manipulate and exploit you more.
Procrastination and Disregard
Because their need for self-importance reigns supreme, covert narcissists will do whatever they need to do in order to keep the focus on themselves. So, where an extroverted narcissist will blatantly push you aside or manipulate you to accomplish their goal, the covert narcissist is a professional at not acknowledging you at all.
It is not a coincidence that narcissists, in general, tend to gravitate toward interacting with caring and compassionate people. The covert narcissist recognizes those opportunities for manipulation as well.
They have no problem letting you know that you are not important.
Rather than explicitly telling you that you're not important, they might stand you up on a date, wait until the last minute to respond to texts or emails, always show up late for events with you, or never make confirmed plans with you at all. There is no regard for your time or interests, leaving you feeling small, unimportant, and irrelevant.
Narcissists are inept at building and nurturing emotional bonds with others. How could they know how to do maintain bonds with others if their energy is always focused on themselves? The covert narcissist is no different. So, although they may appear kinder and less obnoxious than their extroverted counterpart, they are not emotionally accessible or responsive either.
You will likely not receive many compliments from a covert narcissist. Remembering that they are always focused on staying elevated to maintain their sense of self-importance, it is easy to understand how a covert narcissist would find it difficult to compliment you. There is usually little regard for your talents or abilities—usually, the narcissist has no regard for these things at all.
Just as with overt narcissists, you will likely find yourself doing most of the heavy emotional lifting in a relationship with the covert narcissists. Although the covert is more likely to appear emotionally accessible, it tends to be a performance and usually done with intent to exploit or eventually leave the person feeling small through disregard, blaming, or shaming.
Since one of the hallmark traits of narcissistic personality disorder is lack of empathy, the covert narcissist is not going to be emotionally responsive to their partner in a healthy way.
Giving With a Goal
In general, narcissists are not givers. They find it difficult to put energy into anything that doesn't serve them in some way. A covert narcissist might present themselves in a way that looks like they are giving, but their giving behavior is only demonstrated with the intent of getting something in return.
A simple, everyday example could be something like putting a tip in the jar at your local coffee shop. A covert narcissist would be much more likely to put their tip in the jar when they know the barista is looking, in order to help facilitate some kind of interaction that allows them to be praised for giving.
The intent of giving for a covert narcissist is always more about them and less about those to whom they are giving.
What to Do
You may currently be in a personal relationship with a covert narcissist, whether it be a family member, a coworker, or your significant other. It may be helpful to note that although we cannot control with the narcissist does, we can take control of how we are behaving and interacting with them. There are certain steps that you can take to protect yourself if having to deal with a covert narcissist.
Avoid Taking It Personally
When we are dealing with a narcissist, whether covert or overt, their manipulative behavior can feel very personal. The lack of regard, sense of entitlement, patterns of manipulation, and deceptive behaviors of a narcissist can feel very personal when we are on the receiving end of their ways.
No matter how painful the impact of the behaviors of a narcissist might feel in the moment, it is important to remember that it has nothing to do with you.
The narcissist is behaving in negative ways because of something unhealthy within them, not because there is something unhealthy about you.
It is okay to look at the situation and the interactions in regard to how you contribute to them. However, it is very important when dealing with a narcissist that you let them "own" their part.
The narcissist wants you to take it personally because that is how they maintain leverage. Remember, a narcissist feels small, so they have to make themselves "big" somehow.
Narcissists do not have healthy boundaries. Because covert narcissists lack empathy, have a strong sense of entitlement and exploit others, boundaries are something that get in the way of their goals. The more you can practice setting boundaries with the narcissist, the more consistently you are conveying to them that their tactics are not working.
Setting boundaries can be very difficult, especially if you have never done that before. Not only is it possibly unfamiliar to you, but setting boundaries with a covert narcissist can be pretty intimidating.
Remember that boundaries are just a way for you to let someone else know what your values are. Consider what is important to you, what your values are, and work to create boundaries to support them.
Understanding why you are setting particular boundaries can help you have more confidence in establishing them and can keep you on track if a narcissist attempts to violate or disregard your boundaries.
Advocate for Yourself
When interacting with a covert narcissist, it can be easy to lose your voice. Because the patterns of interaction are so manipulative, it may take time for you to realize that the relationship left you in this place of not knowing how to advocate for yourself.
Take time to tune back in with yourself, who you are, what you are about, your values, your goals, and your talents. Strengthening your relationship with yourself is key in being able to speak up during interactions with a narcissist.
When advocating for yourself, the narcissist gets a chance to meet the part of you that is aware and knowledgeable of their tactics, making it less appealing for them to keep trying those things with you.
Create a Healthy Distance
Being in a relationship with a covert narcissist can feel frustrating and overwhelming. There are times when it can be difficult to create distance between you and that person, such as with a family member or coworker. However, there might be opportunities for you to create some healthy distance between you and the narcissist.
Limiting personal interactions, asking to be moved to a different location in your office, taking breaks at a different time, or simply cutting off contact might be what is necessary if you are feeling hurt by someone's narcissism. Remember the goal of creating distance is not to hurt the person who is narcissistic. The goal is to protect yourself and create space for you to heal.
What Is a Malignant Narcissist?
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It is quite easy to overlook female narcissists and their even more ruthless cousins, sociopaths. Since female narcissists engage in the same type of relational aggression that teenage girls do, they can easily fly under the radar as the “mean girl” motif coming to life in high definition – something we all assume they will eventually grow out of.
Yet research indicates that adolescent girls who use high levels of relational aggression also demonstrate low levels of empathy and caring towards others (Centifanti, et. al 2015). This suggests that the behaviors of gossiping, exclusion and sabotaging relationships may actually be more common among those with existing narcissistic and antisocial traits.
The problem is, the malignant female narcissist rarely outgrows her excessive sense of entitlement, lack of empathy and thirst for interpersonal exploitation – she merely adjusts these traits to her changing environment. The female malignant narcissist is not just vain and self-absorbed. She is also a covert bully who ensnares fellow female friends, relationship partners and family members into her toxic web.
The female narcissist (or sociopath) is just as dangerous as her male counterpart and yet she is protected by prevailing stereotypes of the “gentle young girl,” the “maternal mother,” the “sweet old grandmother,” or minimized by archetypes like the “catty best friend.” No one suspects the older woman, assumed to be nurturing and sweet, to be vindictive, cruel and ruthless. Nor do they expect mothers to abandon, neglect or abuse their children.
Yet what happens when the demented narcissistic mother drives her adult children to suicide after years of chronic childhood abuse? Or when the catty best friend from middle school becomes the conniving co-worker in the corporate world, employing underhanded tactics to sabotage her colleagues? Or when the malignant narcissistic girlfriend uses her harem of male admirers to terrorize her significant other?
Female narcissists do not “grow out” of their childhood aggression; eerily enough, they evolve into even more effective aggressive behaviors in adulthood, using their manipulative tactics to serve their selfish agendas and to exploit others.
While it has been estimated that 75% of narcissists are male, this may be due to a bias of women being more likely to be labeled as borderline or histrionic; it may also be due to confusion resulting from differing presentations of certain disorders due to gendered socialization (Sansone & Sansone, 2011). It’s becoming clearer from survivor stories, however, that there are a far greater number of female narcissists than one would assume.
Female narcissists, especially if they also possess antisocial traits, can cause just as much psychological harm as male malignant narcissists. Here are the top five traits and behaviors to watch out for if you suspect someone might be a malignant narcissist and some tips on how to cope:
1. A sadistic sense of pleasure at someone else’s pain.
Perhaps one of the most understated qualities of the female malignant narcissist is the pleasure and joy she takes in bringing down others. She enjoys making covert jabs and watching gleefully as the formerly confident victim looks crestfallen, shocked and offended. She displays a lack of empathy when the conversation turns to more serious emotional matters, engaging in shallow responses or cruel reprimands that invalidate her victim’s reality.
She is ruthless in her ability to first idealize, then devalue and discard her victims without a second thought. She cannot engage in healthy, emotionally fulfilling relationships, so she enjoys sabotaging the relationships and friendships of others for her own personal entertainment.
2. An insatiable sense of competitiveness, due to pathological envy and the need to be the center of attention.
Relational aggression is thought to be a more common method of bullying among girls, who are socialized to be less physically expressive in their aggression than their male counterparts. The female malignant narcissist is no different; in fact, perhaps some of her most abusive tactics are deployed in the realm of female friendships.
In her group of female friends, the female malignant narcissist scopes out who is a threat and who is a blind follower. Those who threaten the female narcissist in any way (whether it be through their success, appearance, personality, resources, status, desirability or all of the above) must be extinguished, while those who are obedient will be kept around until their resources have been sufficiently depleted.
Those who present a threat are initially placed on a pedestal to keep up appearances in the social circle, but later set up to fail and promptly thrust off. The malignant female narcissist’s starry-eyed admiration of her target is soon revealed to bear an undercurrent of contempt, envy and rage.
As psychotherapist Christine Louis de Canonville puts it, “When it comes to envy, there is no one more envious than the narcissistic woman.”
3. She sabotages your friendships and relationships, stirring chaos within social groups.
The female narcissist may use her affiliation with her target to gain access to resources or status, but as soon as the idealization phase is over, the devaluation and discard follows. She then engages in rumor-mongering, smear campaigns and creates ‘triangles’ where she feeds others false or humiliating information about the victim. She may pit her friends against each other by claiming that they are gossiping about one another, when in fact, it is her falsehoods that are actually manufacturing conflict within the group. By subjecting her victims to covert and overt put-downs, she is able to then confirm her own false sense of superiority.
You are probably dealing with a female narcissist or sociopath in your group of female friends if:
- You notice an uncomfortable silence, a covert exchange of looks or odd energy when you enter the room. The friend who is overly friendly in contrast, happens to be the very person who is speaking about you behind your back.
- You are idealized by your female friend, sweet-talked, admired, praised and shown off in the beginning of the friendship. You might have found yourself sharing your most intimate secrets early on, due to her disarmingly sweet and trustworthy demeanor. Later, you find yourself being excluded by them in group conversations, social events or invites. You hear about your deepest secrets being spoken about with derision among the group or rumors based on vulnerabilities and fears you confided in your friend about. You also notice a chilling smugness when your female friend talks down to you or as she devalues your accomplishments.
- You bear witness to the narcissistic female friend frequently speaking ill of your other friends in an excessively contemptuous tone, while appearing friendly and engaging with them in public. This is evidence of her duplicity and ability to deceive. An authentic person might vent about others occasionally in the event of stress or conflict, but would not engage in excessive gossip or indiscriminate character assassination. He or she would be more likely to cut ties with those they thought were toxic or address it to them directly rather than bashing them unnecessarily. Make no mistake, the way they’re speaking about others is the way they’ll eventually speak about you.
4. She has an obsession with her appearance as well as a high level of materialism and superficiality.
This could also translate into a haughty sense of intellectual superiority, if the narcissist in question is more cerebral than somatic (focused more on her mind rather than her body).
As Christine Hammond, LMHC (2015), notes in her article, The Difference Between Male and Female Narcissists, the female narcissist “battles with other females for dominance” and while male narcissists use their charm along with their appearance to achieve their goals, “females use it to gain superiority.”
Female narcissists fit the ‘femme fatale’ stereotype quite well. Many of them are conventionally attractive and, much like the male somatic narcissist, use their sexuality to their advantage. Since females in our society are also socialized to objectify themselves, the female narcissist follows this social norm to use whatever physical assets she has to assert her power.
Hammond (2015) also observes that while males are more likely to obtain money, female narcissists tend to excessively spend it. This may result in a highly materialistic female narcissist who enjoys adorning herself with the best designer clothing, indulging in luxuries at the expense of her loved ones or allowing herself to be excessively catered to by a wealthy significant other. Female narcissists can also accumulate their own wealth and use it as an indication of her superiority as well.
For the more cerebral narcissist, the female in question might use her accumulation of credentials, degrees, and accomplishments to control and terrorize others. For example, a narcissistic female professor may routinely subject her students to hypercriticism, bullying and cruel taunts under the guise of “constructive criticism,” usually targeting her most talented and brilliant female students in the classroom. This is because, despite her own expertise and position of power, she is still threatened by any other female whose intellect might surpass hers.
5. A blatant disregard for the boundaries of intimate relationships, including her own.
In keeping with typical narcissistic behavior regardless of gender, the female narcissist is likely to have a harem of admirers – consisting of exes that never seem to go away, admirers who always seem to lurk in the background and complete strangers she ensnares into her web to evoke jealousy in her romantic partner. She frequently creates love triangles with her significant other and other males (or females, depending on her sexual orientation). She rejoices in male attention and boasts about being the object of desire. She engages in emotional and/or physical infidelity, usually without remorse and with plenty of gaslighting and deception directed at her partner, who usually dotes on her and spoils her, unaware of the extent of her disloyalty.
She also crosses the boundaries of her female friendships by attempting to “make a move” on the partners of her friends. She is disappointed and envious when her “seduction” falls flat or when her friends enjoy more attention from their partners than she does. To a baffled outsider, a female narcissist’s betrayal is incredibly hurtful and traumatizing – but to the observant eye, it is a clear sign of how far the female narcissist’s pathological sense of entitlement goes.
I suspect I am dealing with a female narcissist. Now what?
If you are dealing with a female malignant narcissist in a friendship, relationship or in a formal or professional setting, be on guard. Remember that they can “turn” at any moment, so don’t be fooled into thinking you will ever be the exception to their interpersonal exploitation. If you are dealing with one in a professional context, stick to e-mail or small talk that can be easily documented. Do not reveal personal information in the early stages of a budding relationship that can later be used against you.
If a female narcissist wants to spend all her time with you and is pressuring you to spend time with them constantly, minimize communication and slow things down. According to life coach Wendy Powell (2015), this can be an excellent way to discourage narcissists from dating you as well. In addition, it can reveal her ‘true self’ more quickly, whether in a relationship or friendship.
A female narcissist’s response to your boundaries will tell you all that you need to know. Most narcissists cannot stand to be ignored; they feel entitled to your constant attention, so they will continue to make persistent efforts until they get it or attempt to sabotage you if they fail.
If you notice that a female friend of yours tends to spread rumors or engages in malicious gossip, try to cut the interaction short and excuse yourself – remember that the toxic person will try to convince others that you are the one speaking ill of them, so anything you say in agreement can and will be used against you.
Stay calm whenever a female narcissist tries to provoke you; your indifference and courage in the face of their threats or insults is actually your greatest ‘tool’ against their tactics. It unsettles them when a target is not so easily rattled, because that means there is something more powerful about their victim than they expected.
If you’re being smeared by a female narcissist, calmly state the facts of the situation to your friends and take note as to who stands up for you and who believes in the female narcissist.
Remember that in the presence of a persuasive narcissist or sociopath, there will always be a few people who are fooled. Do not waste your energy on trying to convince them; if they are that easily fooled by someone else’s claims rather than your track record of loyalty and support, they do not deserve your friendship. You’ll find that they will uncover the truth for themselves eventually – and even if they continue to enable the narcissist’s behavior, they still get the short end of the stick because they chose the fake friend who can turn on them at any point.
Detach from the narcissist’s harem and stick with the people who do support and defend you. Do not be swayed by flattery or charm in the early stages of any interaction – if it is genuine, it will be given as positive feedback throughout your friendship or relationship and you will not be blindsided by a sudden personality transplant.
Remember that a narcissist’s greatest fears are exposure and a victim that they cannot control. So long as you are deeply grounded in your own self-validation, any narcissist – whether male or female – cannot truly use the threat of tarnishing your reputation or friendships against you, because they know you will see any loss of such disloyal friends as a gain. They also know that deep down, while they will spend their entire lives trying to protect their false image, your own integrity will continue to speak for itself.
Bressert, S. (2016). Antisocial Personality Disorder Symptoms.Psych Central. Retrieved on May 18, 2017.
Centifanti, L. C. M., Fanti, K. A., Thomson, N. D., Demetriou, V., & Anastassiou-Hadjicharalambous, X. (2015). Types of Relational Aggression in Girls Are Differentiated by Callous-Unemotional Traits, Peers and Parental Overcontrol. Behavioral Sciences, 5(4), 518–536. http://doi.org/10.3390/bs5040518
De Canonville, C. L. (2014, November 10). The typical narcissistic woman as friend. Retrieved July 24, 2017.
Hammond, C. (2015, July 2). The difference between male and female narcissists. Retrieved July 24, 2017.
Lancer, D. (2016, November 10). Are you dealing with a sociopath or a narcissist? Retrieved July 24, 2017.
Powell, W. (2015, February 3). 10 ways to discourage narcissists from dating you. Retrieved July 24, 2017.
Sansone, R. A., & Sansone, L. A. (2011). Gender Patterns in Borderline Personality Disorder. Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, 8(5), 16–20.
This was first published on Psych Central as The Female Malignant Narcissist Is Just As Dangerous As Her Male Counterpart.
Do you know a woman who is self-absorbed, often cruel, jealous, and critical?
She may be a narcissist.
Female narcissists are often overlooked.
Because they exhibit some of the same behaviors as typical teenage girls, female narcissists can go unnoticed and be passed off for simply being a “mean girl” — or a grown woman.
It’s often assumed that mean girls grow out of their bad behaviors, however, habits like gossiping, excluding other people, and sabotaging relationships can be more common among females with existing narcissistic traits.
Dominant females who are narcissists are almost as threatening as their male counterparts, but females have a certain protection through stereotypes such as “sweet young girl,” a “nurturing mother,” and the “kind little grandma.”
No one thinks the sweet older woman can be vindictive, menacing, and ruthless.
Nor do people expect mothers to be so self-centered that they are willing to abandon or abuse their own children.
The difference between a female and a male narcissist is that females tend to be in competition with other females for superiority, while male narcissists use their charm and appearance to meet their goals.
The truth is, female narcissists never “grow out” of their childhood behaviors.
Instead, they develop more effective aggressive behaviors in their adult years, using their manipulative traits to employ their selfish agendas and to exploit other people.
How to Deal With a Female Narcissist
There are two types of female narcissists: the vulnerable narcissist and the grandiose narcissist.
Whether you are dealing with a vulnerable narcissist or the more severe grandiose type, you need to recognize where their behaviors are coming from, which is typically a sense of insecurity.
When you are face to face with a narcissist, don’t let yourself get off track. You may lose your sense of purpose when a narcissist tries to take center stage.
But the truth is, you don’t need to pay attention to everything this person does, no matter what she is doing to gain your attention.
Try not to engage or allow yourself to be drawn into passive-aggressive manipulation or outright ugliness. Try to keep your cool, recognizing that you won’t get far by trying to change this person or talk sense into her.
You may have to find a balance between moving forward with your goals and reducing the narcissist’s insecurities, but still, keep your own wellbeing as your top priority.
If you are dealing with a grandiose narcissist, you may want to acknowledge her feelings, but ultimately move on if you can.
This can be hard to do if the female narcissist is a member of your family, but you can create boundaries to help you maintain your dignity and emotional well-being. Just be warned — she may ignore your boundaries and do as she wishes.
Female Narcissists and Relationships
Studies have shown that both partners engage in more vicious behavior when the female in the couple is the narcissistic one.
Men tend to display more anger when they have to interact with a narcissistic partner, but the man’s level of narcissism has no correlation to these behaviors.
This suggests that narcissistic women are more hostile in relationships, which in turn causes their partners to exhibit more hostile and angry behaviors as well during an interaction.
This sets up a pattern of emotionally abusive behaviors that will inevitably destroy the trust and happiness in the relationship.
Why Are Female Narcissists So Cruel?
Cruelty can result from a female narcissist’s dissociation from the situation at hand.
This usually comes out when the narcissist is handling a lot of stress, like when they are engaged in an argument with their partner.
They dissociate with any of the positive feelings that they have toward their partner while they experience the negative feelings.
This is black or white thinking because the narcissist views her partner as being either all good or all bad. She becomes like a toddler having a tantrum, unable to see or feel anything except the tremendous anger or frustration she’s experiencing.
Do you think you might have a woman in your life who is a narcissist? Let’s review the traits of female narcissists so you can know for sure.
27 Of The Most Glaring Traits Of A Female Narcissist.
1. The narcissist feels pleasure from other’s pain.
Female narcissists gain pleasure and joy when they bring other people down. She often makes jabs at people to simply hurt them or make them feel inferior.
She has no empathy when people are talking about serious things or emotions. She also chooses to only provide shallow responses or voices cruel reprimands to invalidate other people’s feelings.
2. A woman narcissist quickly goes from love to hate.
She has a strong ability to first glorify, then devalue and dump her victims without thinking twice. Once she gets what she needs out of a relationship, she is done with it.
Because she is unable to have healthy and fulfilling relationships of her own, she finds it fun to sabotage the relationships of others for her own personal entertainment.
3. The narcissist is extremely competitive with her friends.
In her group of female friends, the narcissist figures out who is a threat and who is just following along with the rest of the group.
Those who threaten the narcissist through their success, appearance, personality, status, or all of the above are targeted for removal, while the obedient people can be kept around until they can no longer benefit the narcissist in any way.
4. The female narcissist pits her friends against each other.
In order to feel superior to the people in her life, the narcissist will pit her friends against each other by saying that they are gossiping about each other when the truth is that her own fabrications are creating tension or conflict within the group.
5. A female narcissist is overly concerned with her appearance.
Female narcissists may be conventionally attractive, but regardless, they use their sexuality to help them get what they want.
Female narcissists put a heavy focus on their physical appearance, and often overestimate their attractiveness and display or flaunt their physical attributes.
Because females in today’s society are socialized to objectify themselves, a narcissistic woman uses this social norm to try to assert her power.
6. She is materialistic.
While males are more likely to be focused on making money, female narcissists enjoy spending it.
She usually enjoys treating herself with the most expensive designer clothes, revels in luxuries at the expense of her loved ones, or allows herself be spoiled by a wealthy significant other for whom she hardly has feelings.
Her outward image is more important than her inner reality. Female narcissists may also build their own wealth and use it as evidence of superiority.
7. A female narcissist disregards boundaries.
Female narcissists tend to have a group of admirers, such as exes that stay in the picture or even admirers who tend to lurk in the background.
She will use these people to disregard the boundaries of her relationships and try to make other people jealous.
She often creates love triangles and loves the drama of the conflict and the excessive male attention.
You may ask her to respect your feelings, time, money, or material things, but she will find a way to thwart your boundaries and make you feel bad about setting them.
8. A narcissist expects favorable treatment.
Not only does she seek favorable treatment, but she expects it.
She also believes that people should automatically comply with her.
She assumes that she is special, and therefore deserves fame, wealth, success, and satisfaction, even if that results in a cost to others.
9. Female narcissists are often jealous.
She is often envious, even though she appears to be very confident.
She looks for opportunities to undercut other people, and often buddies up to a friend to discuss how the two of them are superior to others in some way.
10. She thinks everyone is jealous of her.
While she feels jealousy on the inside, she also truly believes that other people are jealous of her, and she uses this excuse to explain her lack of close, intimate friendships.
If her friends are experiencing accomplishments of their own, she will find a way to downplay their achievements.
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11. The narcissist places blame.
Female narcissists blame other people for their problems.
They believe they could never make a mistake, so anything that goes wrong must be the fault of someone else.
They never feel ashamed because they believe they can do no wrong.
12. A female narcissist often appears unstable.
Female narcissists typically engage in risky behaviors, have addictive personalities, and are prone to becoming aggressive if and when they are rejected by others.
They are often either very happy or very upset without much of a middle ground, which leads others to think they are unstable.
13. She is overly sensitive to perceived slights.
If she thinks that someone is doubting her or speaking negatively of her, she is quick to react and fight back.
This often happens in a manner that is out of proportion to whatever she thinks someone is saying about her. She will make a huge mountain out of a molehill.
14. The narcissist will never apologize.
Female narcissists believe they can do no wrong, so they are never in a position to offer an apology to someone.
If she does do something wrong, she is quick to blame it on someone else rather than taking responsibility.
15. She has an exaggerated sense of self-importance.
Two of the most noticeable signs of female narcissists include their feelings of entitlement and their belief they are more important than the people around them.
They will brag about their accomplishments and fish for compliments from other people.
16. A woman narcissist lacks common courtesy.
A narcissistic woman does not exhibit the socially normal behaviors of courtesy to other people.
She firmly believes that she exists in order to make the world complete, and therefore she sees no reason to acknowledge the needs of others.
Her mere presence is a gift to those around her.
17. The narcissist “punishes” her partner.
When she is in a romantic relationship, female narcissists typically disengage from their partner when they feel like they have been mistreated.
She may use neglect and abandonment to make her partner feel punished. She may also punish her partner by refusing sex.
18. A female narcissist lacks empathy.
She is unwilling to try to understand what other people are feeling and has no remorse for making someone feel inferior in any way.
She never attempts to put herself in another person’s shoes to empathize or understand their point of view because her perspective is the only one that matters.
19. The female narcissist loves to talk about herself.
A narcissistic woman’s favorite topic to discuss is herself. She will often jump into conversations and turn them around to her in some way so she has everyone’s attention.
20. She shows off on social media.
She is active on social media and tries to gain as many friends or followers as she can.
She relishes in self-promotion and frequently posts selfies while looking picture-perfect.
But never make a negative or amusing comment at this woman’s expense on social media. Her retribution is fierce.
21. A narcissist takes more than they gives.
The friend or lover who once showered you with her love and attention has made a sharp turn and is now a constant taker.
She thinks she deserves everything and could care less if you have nothing. If you complain too much, you’ll find yourself quickly pushed aside.
22. The female narcissist is a drama queen.
Her behavior is unpredictable and her reactions are often excessive.
An angry narcissist is able to continuously shock people with her rage and punishing ways towards other people.
She loves to stir the pot and watch other people scramble or react to her dramatic outbursts or behaviors.
23. She is a control freak.
People tend to overuse the word “controlling” when referring to a partner, but once you are in a relationship with a narcissist, “control” takes on a whole new meaning.
A narcissistic woman will not back down until your formerly loud voice is a quiet whimper. It’s her way or the highway.
24. The narcissist loves to manipulate.
Manipulation is fun for narcissists, and female narcissists are masters at using passive-aggressive behaviors to confuse or hurt you.
You may get the silent treatment, be blocked on social media, your texts will go unanswered, or she will leave the house for extended periods of time, all to force you to do what she wants.
25. She is unfaithful in relationships.
She is an unfaithful partner, typically without remorse, and uses gaslighting and deceit directed at her partner.
However, her partner will usually spoil her and is unaware of her extreme disloyalty.
26. A female narcissist is exhausting to be around.
Between her constant demands and her not-so-subtle jabs, being around her is exhausting.
Trying to keep her happy while walking on eggshells in order to not set her off eventually just seems like a draining, neverending chore.
27. The narcissist thinks you are the one with the problem.
She certainly doesn’t realize that she is a narcissist, but if she were to read the traits listed above, she would think that you fit the bill.
The problem is never with her. It’s always with you.
When a female in your life has these narcissistic traits, she will negatively impact your self-esteem, mental health, and overall well-being.
It may be time to reevaluate her role in your life and cut back on the amount of time you spend with her.
If you are in a relationship with this person, it may be difficult to get out since she needs to be the one to leave, but in order to have a better life for yourself, you need to start taking steps to cut ties.
.Narcissistic Women - Dr. Ramani
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