There are many depictions in media of the narcissistic man. Whether it’s the billionaire CEO who pushes everyone below him down to success or the violent boyfriend that stalks and kills his girlfriend, narcissism tends to be an attribute more commonly synonymous with men. In reality, this is not the case. While Narcissistic Personality Disorder affects men more than women, women are just as likely as men to develop narcissistic traits. However, the way the genders enact those tendencies may show up differently.
Narcissistic Traits vs Narcissistic Personality Disorder
First, since the term narcissism has garnered buzzword status in recent years, it’s important to distinguish between the diagnosis Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and traits of narcissism. One can have traits of narcissism and not reach the diagnosable criteria for NPD. In general, those with traits of narcissism typically display grandiose perspectives of themselves, are self-absorbed, manipulative, or highly conceited. Most people are capable of certain levels of mild narcissism, which is imperative to survival. However, having some level of narcissistic traits does not make one a pathological narcissist or constitute NPD.
As mentioned, those with NPD will display high levels of grandiosity, but pathological narcissists can show additional symptoms. These can include manipulation, frequent lies and exaggerations, entitlement, need for constant validation, frequent boundary violations and rule breaking, and more. Someone with these qualities will likely be unable to control themselves and struggle to maintain healthy relationships with friends, family, and romantic relationships. They may also struggle to successfully work within lower authority jobs without frequent reprimanding.
Narcissistic Men vs Narcissistic Women
It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that narcissism in men and women presents differently, as we know men and women, regardless of narcissism, are not a monolith. Though it may be easy to label certain traits as a “male trait” or “female trait,” that essentially just means separating the traits that have been socialized to fit in the parameters of stereotypical gender roles. While there are differences, there are also similarities of narcissistic personality traits in women in men.
Narcissism in Women
Ladies first. Let’s talk about narcissism in women. It’s important to note that the following traits are common, but not exclusive to narcissism. A woman with Narcissistic Personality Disorder may often place a lot of value on her appearance to a point of obsession. She likely would not be able to leave the house to add gas to her car without being dressed to the nines. She is likely described as high-maintenance and spends many hours grooming herself. While narcissists are generally highly charismatic and seductive, women narcissists can be known to use their sex appeal to manipulate or use people to get what they want.
A woman with narcissism can be hyper-sexual and use sexual allure to get their way with their romantic partners, friendships, and co-workers/employees. Because of the opportunistic nature of narcissists, she will likely weaponize her sexuality in a way to manipulate those close to her and then discard them when she gets what she wants. Another common trait of narcissism in women is a need to gossip or even character assassinate those who are a perceived threat to them. This can look like a woman going out of her way to talk negatively about her friends, family members, romantic partners, and co-workers/employees in a manner that seems compulsive. This is a common trait as the woman narcissist is attempting to tear others down in order to make themselves look better and feel better.
As mothers, a narcissistic woman can potentially be emotionally damaging to their child/ren, whether it’s overtly or covertly. Narcissistic mothers often select one of their children to be “the golden child,” or a child they place on an unfair and unattainable pedestal that her other children will seemingly never reach. This can also be called triangulation and it’s a manipulation technique used commonly amongst narcissists. While there is a child she boosts up, there inevitably will be a child she pushes down, usually by comparing them to the golden child, telling them they aren’t good enough, which can be particularly emotionally damaging to the child.
Narcissism in Men
Now, let’s look at the common ways narcissism shows up for men. According to a 2014 study on gender differences in narcissism, men tend to demonstrate entitlement more than women. This can look like an entitlement to a certain lifestyle or career path, a certain romantic partner, to sex, to other people’s time and energy, to money, and much more. This entitlement is present even if they aren’t necessarily making any steps towards deserving these things. For example, a male narcissist may believe he is entitled to living in a mansion, driving an expensive car, and owning a yacht. However, instead of working extremely hard to achieve his fantasies of power and wealth, he may find short cuts by means of exploiting people, lying, manipulation, and even stealing.
Dating a narcissistic man can be incredibly crazymaking. It’s not uncommon for narcissistic men to cheat on their romantic partners. Infidelity, whether the partner is a narcissist or not, can be incredibly damaging and even traumatizing. When the partner is a narcissist however, it can potentially be more painful as they likely have little remorse or accountability for their infidelity. In the narcissist’s mind, he is entitled to many different sexual partners as it fuels his ego to be loved or desired by as many people as possible. In tandem with the infidelity will likely be gaslighting, or a manipulation tactic that denies another person of their reality in order to confuse them or make them feel crazy.
Male narcissists commonly need to be in control of those around them. In a work setting, it may look like enforcing strict rules and firing someone without blinking an eye if one disobeys. In relationships, it may look like controlling their partner’s appearance as they often believe their partner is an extension of themselves as opposed to their own individual person. They often want to control the way their partner exists in the world, as well as how others view their partner. For example, a male narcissist may shame their partner for how they dress, how much or little makeup they wear, what kind of profession they have, how much or little they weigh, how much money they make, and anything else they unfairly take personal offense to.
Keep Your Boundaries In Tact
Whether one is around narcissism in men and women, it’s best to keep your boundaries close to the belt. Due to their expressed entitlement to the people around them, boundaries are often difficult for those with narcissism to accept and respect. Narcissists often interpret boundaries as an ego wound, also known as a narcissistic injury. Your boundaries will likely be met with defiance and potentially emotional/psychological consequences, however, the alternative is to give the narcissist access to your sense of self, identity, and autonomy.