Narcissistic Personality Disorder Today
Any Difference Between Male and Female Narcissists?
By: Sam Vaknin, author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited
You keep writing about male narcissists. Is there any difference between male narcissists and female narcissists?
Based on "Gender and the Narcissist"
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 things:
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 traits. 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."
Visit Mental Health Matters for information and articles on a variety of mental health topics; Get Mental Help to find a therapist or list your practice; and Psych Forums for message boards on a variety of mental health topics.