The female narcissist is shrouded in stereotypes: the femme fatale, the self-absorbed selfie-taker, the materialistic frequent shopper, and the black widow. While it’s true that female narcissists can be vain, focus on their appearance and use their sexuality to garner attention, these traits on their own don’t necessarily mean they are full-fledged narcissists. Even if they are, these are usually not the most harmful traits which make them dangerous to others.
Research indicates that partners and relatives of narcissistic people are subjected to a distinct pattern of harmful behaviors associated with their narcissistic traits. These include behaviors related to attention-seeking and admiration-seeking, arrogant or haughty attitudes, envy and jealousy, devaluation of others, narcissistic rage and vengefulness. In addition, a recent meta-analytic review of 437 studies indicated that narcissism is associated with multiple forms of bullying and aggression – including unprovoked aggression. The female narcissist is no exception.
While vanity and self-absorption can still certainly be part of their repertoire, the “real” female narcissists of the world aren’t always necessarily the ones checking themselves out in the mirror or posting scantily clad selfies. They’re usually the ones going out of their way to bully the women they’re envious of and threatened by. Not only do they exploit and abuse their romantic partners, but they also target both their female friends and strangers with unprecedented cruelty. Female narcissists attempt to steal the spotlight to compete with other women they perceive as a threat and diminish the confidence of their children – especially their own daughters. They sabotage talented coworkers in the workplace to climb the corporate ladder, defend abusers and predators while shaming their victims, interfere in the relationships of their female friends to “one-up” them, and pursue partnered men as a lifestyle.
These behaviors go beyond “regular” internalized misogyny and can be chronic, sadistic, deliberate and calculated. The key in distinguishing between “just” an insecure woman and a female narcissist is all in her frequent patterns of behavior: an insecure woman may harbor feelings of jealousy, envy, and resentment toward someone occasionally, but she will be unlikely to go out of her way to harm or bully that person or try to sabotage her life.
That is because her empathy for others and moral sense of right or wrong will limit her behavior. A female narcissist, on the other hand, experiences malicious envy that research links to both narcissistic and psychopathic traits, as well as an excessive sense of entitlement. She will pull out all the stops to cruelly devalue the target of her envy, with no empathy for the targets she scapegoats, in order to establish her false sense of superiority.
Here are some tell-tale signs you may be dealing with a female narcissist:
1. She love-bombs you to keep you close, just so she can learn more about you, exploit and devalue you. Whether you’re a friend, partner, family member or foe, the female narcissist is just like any other narcissist in that she will subject you to love-bombing (excessive attention and praise) if she wants something from you. She will idealize you and make you feel special and “chosen” in being her friend or partner. However, once she’s identified your strengths and vulnerabilities, she will spearhead a campaign of using these same strengths and vulnerabilities against you. While she usually uses her male partner’s vulnerabilities to further exploit him (often for material resources) she will use her female friend’s vulnerabilities to upstage her in addition to benefiting from whatever resources she provides as well.
After reaping some of the benefits of your friendship, she will begin to covertly attack and put down your perceived strengths – such as your appearance, skills, intelligence, or success – while pointing out your assumed weaknesses with a sadistic smugness. This can occur either during one-on-one conversations or in front of others with covert put-downs to mock, humiliate, taunt, and covertly insult you. Similarly, narcissistic mothers who are envious of their own daughters will go out of their way to put them down, hypercriticizing and shaming their looks, skills, and personality on a daily basis to instill insecurities in them. This is because they see their daughters as a representation of youth, beauty, and potential – as a threat to their false sense of superiority, grandiose sense of self and entitlement.
2. She will adopt aspects of your personality as her own, even if she criticizes these facets of your identity initially. At the workplace, she may even steal your work and claim the credit. Female narcissists are chameleons in that they can “steal” the identities of others to reap the benefits of temporarily donning the qualities and traits they’ve observed in others. This means you may find her mimicking aspects of your appearance, your gestures, phrases, hobbies, interests, mannerisms, style of clothing, beliefs, ideas, and philosophies. Female narcissists will use all these characteristics to masquerade in the world as “you” in an attempt to get the same praise and appreciation as you do. This “identity theft” is not just limited to the circle of female friendships: it can also occur in the workplace as well as in business endeavors. Female narcissists are notorious for sabotaging their talented, hard-working co-workers or employees in the workplace. They may spread misinformation about you to your superiors, attempt to get you demoted while they fight for the promotion you deserve and even steal credit for your work while reaping the fruits of your labor.
3. They rage and seethe when they’re not the center of attention and go to excessive lengths to ensure the spotlight is focused on them. They tend to exhibit extreme “pickme” tendencies. Being friends with a female narcissist means you’re unwittingly forced into a competition you did not even know existed. If the female narcissist perceives that you are more attractive, intelligent, successful, or popular than her, she will go to absurd lengths to ensure the spotlight stays focused on her. This is similar to the attention-seeking tactics of histrionic individuals. This means that if you’re out partying together, she’ll go out of her way to talk to the men who have expressed interest in you – just to see if she can “win” them over and one-up you in some way. Or, if your friends are congratulating you on your latest accomplishment, she will interrupt the conversation with a covert put-down to point out something you “lack” or center her own achievements in an attempt to steal your thunder.
4. Female narcissists habitually pursue people already in committed relationships and try to sabotage the relationships of their female friends with no empathy for those involved. Female narcissists are not just deceptive and prone to infidelity in their own relationships – they also have a tendency to try to sabotage the relationships of others. Even if they have a loving, doting partner who spoils them, they will make frantic, often cringe-worthy attempts to “seduce” the partners of their female friends or try to flirt with men in committed relationships as a sport. Narcissistic family members such as narcissistic sisters or narcissistic mothers may even take this a step further by trying to pursue the boyfriends and husbands of their family members. Whether they succeed or fail, the key feature of this behavior is they engage in this behavior actively, chronically and knowingly, taking a sadistic pleasure and thrill in the idea that they could potentially “steal” someone’s attention away from their primary partner. They also have no problem harming their own intimate partners through their various affairs and transgressions, manufacturing love triangles and using jealousy induction to make their partners feel chronically jealous and insecure in the relationship.
5. They perpetuate victim-shaming and throw victims under the bus to defend abusers and predators. One of the most dangerous behaviors heterosexual narcissistic women engage in is centering male attention to the extent of defending abusers and serial predators – all while throwing their innocent victims under the bus. Much like the women who wrote love letters to Ted Bundy in prison, female narcissists take “Pick Me” tendencies to a whole new level. They often view victims of abuse as “weak” and criticize them for being victimized in the first place. Some may even do some of the abuser’s dirty work by helping to carry out degrading and persistent smear campaigns of their victims, attacking these victims with intense misogyny and a sadistic glee that is unsettling. They will also enable, protect, and defend abusers with a fury that can appear nonsensical and appalling to outsiders.
6. They pit people against one another using gossip, slander, rumors and triangulation. Research indicates that multiple forms of bullying behaviors, including relationally aggressive bullying behaviors like spreading gossip, are associated with narcissistic traits. Female narcissists will manufacture false rumors, pit people against one another, and slander the reputation of people just to climb the corporate and social ladder. This is to ensure that they remain in control of the narrative and get ahead, positioning themselves as the ultimate authority over the lives of others.
If, for example, they feel threatened by a female friend who appears to be more popular in their social circle, she may begin to spread unflattering rumors about this person or even claim that this friend is talking about their other friends behind their back – just to maintain her own social position of “Queen Bee” in her friendship group. In a familial context, this may look like the narcissistic mother pitting siblings against one another to establish ultimate power and control, scapegoating and abusing one child while giving the other “Golden Child” treatment. She may idealize or devalue either child at any point just to maintain that control and dominion over her family life.
When considering these malignant behaviors, it’s important to recognize that narcissism in women entails far more than taking a few too many self-appreciative pictures or being vain. As a society, we must identify the true indicators of a narcissist’s cruelty and harm: their malicious envy, lack of empathy, entitlement, and the underhanded bullying tactics they use to demean their victims just to get ahead, or to punish them for threatening their fragile ego.