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Why Women Are Often MisLabeled Narcissists, 1 of 2

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The term “narcissist” is commonly misapplied. Too often, the label is used to describe persons that trigger upsetting emotions in us in family or work settings, are intense or demanding, easily frustrated or angered, and so on. Difficult persons however are not necessarily narcissists. On the flip, neither are persons others judge as over-focused on looks or success, seeking attention or the spotlight.

These and other traits have added much confusion to identifying narcissism, as has the use of the term “healthy narcissism” by several well meaning authors and researchers.

Notably, narcissists have everything to gain when confusion rules. They are not only experts at orchestrating confusion by obfuscating truth with lies and half-truths and so on, the specific methods they use are scientifically proven by decades of research to neutralize the otherwise amazing critical thinking ability of the human brain’s frontal cortex.

By definition narcissism is a lust, an addictive craving if you will, to prove superiority and dominance by the intentional use of proven thought-control tactics that diminish — then take over — another human being’s sense of self and connection to their innate human strengths.

These con artistry tactics include gaslighting, pathological lying, smear campaigns, and the like, and the agenda is to hide their wrongs and shift blame to victims.

Like addicts, inflicting pain to prove dominance and superiority is their drug of choice.

Inflicting pain, in the mind of narcissists and psychopaths, is how they prove they’re not what they detest — human, in that:  They feel no empathy or remorse for the harm they inflict on their victim’s sense of self and agency, or the chaos and disconnect they orchestrate on victim’s network of family and friends in order to isolate them from key sources of love and support, more often persons, but also certain activities such as a job, career, education, etc.

The ultimate goal? To get their prey to “willingly” participate in their own abuse and exploitation, and serve at the narcissist’s pleasure in a slavish and subservient manner.

In the process, they also con others to wittingly or unwittingly collude and serve as accomplices.

The label of narcissist is best reserved for those that meet the diagnostic criteria. It refers to a serious thought disturbance, a character disorder that consists of a set of behaviors that meet the DSM criteria for either narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) — or its more extreme expression, antisocial personality disorder (APD), also known as psychopathology or sociopathology.

Notably, what makes these two disorders distinct from others listed in the DSM is that:

NPDs and APDs pose risks of (intentional) harm to others’ physical, mental and, or emotional well being, ranging on a scale from low to high, respectively.

There are other overarching reasons to consider before using the label. Namely that, whereas most NPDs and nearly all APDs are male, the most frequent misapplication of the label of narcissist is to women.

This should give us pause before using the label on women in particular. There are other reasons why women are often mislabeled narcissists. To be continued in Part 2.

**Note to readers:

This blog is not saying female narcissists do not exist. They do. They are far fewer in number; and this fact, in the opinion of this author, has nothing to do with biological gender differences — and mostly to do with how men and women are socialized. Overall, women continue to be socialized from girlhood into adapting codependency or empath ideals (!) for femininity, to prove their worth by selflessly denying own inner needs to serve at the pleasure of men and children in their lives. 

At the same time, men are socialized from boyhood to conform to narcissistic ideals for masculinity in order to prove their worth, to openly prove they reject human traits of empathy and caring about human feelings as weaknesses. This is fact, not opinion.

This socialization varies mostly in degree of pressure to conform. In cults and families organized to rigidly adhere to authoritarian relations, conformity to toxic ideals for femininity and masculinity is greater. The evidence for this is well documented in the last five decades, as is the enduring, traumatic effects of childhood experiencing and, or  witnessing violence and subjugation of those members identified as “weak” by those identified as “superior.”

With regard to female narcissists, more studies are needed. Like their male counterparts, in this author’s observation in working with NPDs and APDs over the last five years, female narcissists appear to identify and adopt to ideals for toxic masculinity. Also on topic of female narcissists, this therapist has noted overall differences; mostly with regard to emphasis and value placed on relationships, however, more research is necessary in this area.


Why Women Are Often MisLabeled Narcissists, 1 of 2

Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Relationship consultant, author, licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Athena Staik motivates clients to break free of anxiety, emotion reactivity, and other addictive patterns, to awaken wholehearted relating to self and other. She is currently in private practice in Northern VA, and writing her book, What a Narcissist Means When He Says 'I Love You'": Breaking Free of Addictive Love in Couple Relationships. To contact Dr. Staik for information, an appointment or workshop, visit, or visit on her two Facebook fan pages DrAthenaStaik and DrStaik

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APA Reference
Staik, A. (2019). Why Women Are Often MisLabeled Narcissists, 1 of 2. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 20, 2019, from


Last updated: 31 May 2019
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