Men Vs. Women Narcissists: Surprisingly Different Gameplay

Narcissism means an excessive need to impress others or feel important. Based on how strong that need is, it can be healthy or pathological.

  • Healthy or “positive narcissists” can function well in society without hurting anyone.
  • Pathological narcissists show extreme forms of grandiosity, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. It drives them to do things that hurt themselves and those around them.

The clinically diagnosed form of pathological narcissism is Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

Narcissism appears differently in boys and girls, and male narcissists develop into a different type than female narcissists. This difference could affect how we understand, diagnose, and treat it.

Are Men Really More Narcissistic?

  • Emily Grijalva condensed 31 years of narcissism research, involving 475,000 people, to conclude that men are up to 75% more likely to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and report significantly higher scores on the narcissism scale, compared to women.
  • The Cleveland Clinic says 50-75% of NPD cases affect men.
  • A 2008 study found that the lifetime prevalence of narcissistic personality disorder is 7.7% for men, compared to 4.8% for women in the general population.

So, are men truly more narcissistic, or are we leaving the women narcissists undiagnosed and untreated?

Are Women Narcissists Missing Diagnosis

Men vs. Women Narcissists: Social And Scientific Biases

Gender socialization is learning how to act as a man or a woman, based on what our parents, people, and environment teach us.

And that could influence how narcissism develops in men vs. women.

  • Society encourages boys to be more independent, controlling, and powerful. This could lead them to develop grandiose narcissism, as they strongly learn to express their grandness, need for admiration, and high entitlement.
  • Girls are often encouraged to form close, emotionally dependent relationships with their mothers, often under pressure to become “an ideal woman.” This makes them rely heavily on their mother’s approval. However, if the mother’s support is inconsistent, they can develop low self-worth and sensitivity to criticism. In time, it can then lead to vulnerable narcissism, where they feel insecure and emotionally unstable, always needing reassurance.

The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is the official guide that doctors use to diagnose mental health conditions. But it focuses more on Grandiose Narcissism — which is more common in male narcissists. And neglects Vulnerable Narcissism — more common among female narcissists.

Gender socialization and the DSM can affect how a doctor diagnoses Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

  • Doctors are more likely to diagnose men with NPD — since “grandiose narcissism” (showing off and thinking you’re the best) is more common in men.
  • Doctors are also more likely to make wrong diagnoses, miss diagnoses, and give the wrong treatment to women with “vulnerable narcissism.”

So, what is narcissism in women being diagnosed as?

Currently, it seems more likely that many women are being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) instead of the vulnerable form of NPD.

Male Narcissists Vs. Female Narcissists

Male and female narcissists have different behavior and emotional patterns.

Vocal Females vs. Aggressive Males

  • Men tend to report higher levels of narcissism, self-esteem, and aggression than women. Narcissistic males display high proactive and reactive aggression.
  • Women with high narcissism, on their part, show more hostile and angry communication patterns.

The physical violence of men narcissists and verbal violence of women narcissists might be due to the different ways they are socialized.

Male vs. Female Narcissists In Partner Violence

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is physical, sexual, and psychological abuse towards an intimate partner.

Green & Hart (2024) found narcissism is different for men and women perpetrators of IPV:

  • Female perpetrators show higher narcissistic traits compared to male perpetrators.
  • Women score quite higher on vulnerable narcissism as compared to male narcissists.
  • For men, both grandiose and vulnerable narcissism predict emotional abuse, while only vulnerable narcissism predicts physical/sexual abuse.
  • For women, only vulnerable narcissism predicts physical/sexual and emotional abuse. They report more behaviors like shoving, hitting, destroying property, or verbally demeaning their partner.
  • While grandiose narcissism is a risk factor for men being violent to their partner, vulnerable narcissism is a stronger risk factor for women.
  • Women with narcissistic mothers are more likely to carry out IPV, while men with narcissistic fathers are more likely to perpetrate IPV.

See this table of differences between male and female narcissists:

AspectMalesFemales
DiagnosisMore likely to be diagnosed with NPD due to grandiose manifestation of narcissism.Vulnerable narcissism may be unidentified or misdiagnosed as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
Development of NarcissismLikely to establish their ‘otherness’ through expressions of grandiosity, excessive need for admiration, and extreme self-centeredness.May overly invest in or identify with significant others in an attempt to recreate the relationship they seek with their mother, leading to a more vulnerable manifestation of narcissism.
Narcissism and AggressionNarcissistic males display higher levels of proactive and reactive aggression compared to female narcissists. The physical violence of male narcissists might be due to the different ways they are socialized.Women with high narcissism tend to have low self-esteem, show more hostile and angry communication patterns, and high levels of physical and verbal aggression. The verbal violence of female narcissists might be due to the different ways they are socialized.
Narcissism and Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)Narcissism is often associated with men’s perpetration of IPV.Narcissistic females in IPV exhibit higher clinically elevated narcissistic traits when compared to male perpetrators. They may pursue their narcissistic goals in more discreet and indirect ways.
Parenting Styles and NarcissismOverprotectiveness by the father is a significant positive predictor of both grandiose and vulnerable narcissism.Those who reported their mothers were less warm and caring as parents showed more signs of vulnerable narcissism as adults.
Narcissism and Self-esteemHigh self-esteem instability and narcissism are associated with increased levels of physical and verbal aggression.Men generally score higher in narcissism than women. The largest gender difference is for the Exploitiveness/Entitlement (E/E). So, men are more likely to exploit others and believe they deserve special treatment. The second-largest gender difference is for the Leadership/Authority (L/A) facet, where men show more assertiveness, stronger desire to lead, and a greater hunger for power.
Narcissism and Sexual CoercionUse of sexual coercion associated with socially desirable components of narcissism.Use of sexual coercion reflected the manipulative and sexually toxic aspect of narcissism.
Gender Differences in NarcissismMen generally score higher in narcissism than women. The largest gender difference is for the Exploitiveness/Entitlement (E/E). So, men are more likely to exploit others and believe they deserve special treatment. The second-largest gender difference is for the Leadership/Authority (L/A) facet, where men show more assertiveness, a stronger desire to lead, and a greater hunger for power.The smallest gender difference is for the Grandiosity/Exhibitionism (G/E) facet, with both genders equally likely to endorse characteristics consistent with vanity, exhibitionism, and self-absorption.
Table: Narcissism in Men vs. Women

Grijalva & Newman (2015) found the mean difference in narcissism between men and women remains the same from childhood to adulthood. That is, male and female narcissists at various ages remain “similarly different.”

Narcissism in Men vs, Women-Table
Picture: Differences between male vs. female narcissism

FAQs

  1. How do gender norms influence narcissistic traits?

    1. Stereotypes and Misdiagnosis: People’s ideas about how men and women “should” behave can influence how they see narcissism.

    2. Socialization and Development: The way we’re brought up, or “socialized,” can shape how narcissism shows up in different genders.

    3. Narcissism and Aggression: Men tend to report higher levels of narcissism, self-esteem, and aggression than women. Women with high levels of narcissism often show more hostile and angry communication.

    4. Narcissism in Relationships: Women who commit intimate partner violence (IPV) are more narcissistic than men who do it.

    5. How Narcissism Shows Itself: Narcissistic men tend to be arrogant, entitled, and sensitive to criticism. Narcissistic women might use more covert or subtle strategies to assert power and control, such as manipulation or exploiting societal benefits.

    6. Potential Biological Differences: Narcissism in males is linked with heightened stress responses.

    7. Cultural Differences: Narcissism can be more prominent than in individualistic societies than in societies that value community over the individual.

  2. How coping mechanisms differ for male and female narcissists?

    1. Different Diagnosis, Different Treatment. Doctors diagnose men with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) more frequently. Women with vulnerable narcissism may be misdiagnosed as having Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). This can lead to treatment plans that affect their coping strategies.

    2. Seeking Help and Treatment. Men are less likely to seek treatment, which can make them develop strong self-coping mechanisms. Women are more likely to seek treatment, increasing their chances of developing healthier coping strategies.

    3. Different Expressions of Aggression. When stressed, narcissistic males react with overt aggression, such as physical violence or threat, as a coping mechanism to reassert dominance and control. Stressed females might gossip, manipulate, spread rumors, or exclude others (“cancel”) to keep social control.

    4. Influence of Parental Styles. Narcissistic men might learn ways of coping from their fathers, based on aggression or dominance. Mothers may teach daughters to seek validation through social relationships or appearance, to cope with vulnerable narcissism.

    5. Coping in Relationships. Men with narcissistic traits may devalue their partners to boost their self-worth. This can manifest as emotional manipulation or withdrawal. Women narcissists might use tactics like bullying, disengaging, or playing the victim to cope with relationship issues.

    6. Biological Differences. Narcissism in males is associated with high stress, which can lead to aggression, isolation, or substance abuse. Females cope with stress using social strategies.

    7. Cultural Differences. In individualistic cultures, narcissists may learn to cope with a drive to acquire wealth, status, and success, to gain admiration.

Final Words

We have come a long way in understanding narcissism, away from its mythical origin in the story of Narcissus and Echo.

Still, current research is colored by a relative ignorance about gender differences in the way narcissists express, behave, and function.

Moving towards a more robust future, researchers should be gender-informed while assessing the condition. We can’t exclude inclusivity here.


√ Also Read: 20 Female Narcissist Cheating Patterns – The Typical Traits

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