You keep writing about male narcissists. Is there any difference
between male narcissists and female narcissists?
I keep using the male third person singular in my writings ("he") because most narcissists (75%) are males and because there is no difference between the male and female narcissists except in two
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 personality and of their life
into the cornerstones of their disorder. They both conform to cultural stereotypes, gender roles, and social expectations.
Women, for instance, concentrate on their body (as they do in
eating disorders: Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa). They flaunt and exploit their physical charms, their sexuality, their socially and culturally determined "femininity". In its extreme form this is
known as HPD or the Histrionic Personality Disorder.
Many female narcissists secure their Narcissistic Supply through
their more traditional gender roles: the home, children, suitable
careers, their husbands ("the wife of..."), their feminine traits, their
role in society, etc. It is no wonder than narcissists - both men and women
- are chauvinistically 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 winds and guardians of conformity. Narcissists cannot
afford to seriously alienate those who reflect to them their False Self.
The very proper and on-going functioning of their Ego depends on the goodwill and the collaboration of their human environment.
Even the self destructive and self defeating behaviours of
narcissists conform to traditional masculine and feminine roles. Besieged and consumed by pernicious guilt feelings - many a
narcissist seek to be punished. The self-destructive narcissist 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, i.e., narcissistic supply), the narcissist cartoonishly exaggerates these roles. A woman is likely to label herself a
"whore" and a male narcissist to 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 they react to treatment. Women are
more likely to resort to therapy because they are more likely to admit
to their 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 anything available to obtain his (or her)
Narcissistic Supply. Children happen to be more around the female narcissist
because women are still the primary caregivers and the ones who 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 extortion, deprivation and other psychological mechanisms, she tries to induce
in them a dependence, which cannot be easily unraveled.
But, there is no psychodynamic difference between children as
sources of narcissistic supply - and money, or intellect, or any other Source
of Narcissistic Supply. So, there is no psychodynamic difference
between male and female narcissists. 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 masculine social mores and to
the prevailing ethos of capitalism. Ambition, achievements, hierarchy, ruthlessness, drive are both social values and narcissistic male
Social thinkers like Lasch speculated that modern American culture
- a narcissistic, self-centred one - increases the rate of incidence of
the Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
To this Kernberg answered, rightly: "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."
Good stuff! Now, see Dr. Irene on the
female narcissist and use the box below
to post your comments. (The box on this article and Doc's article
point to the same board.) Dr. Irene