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Why Women Are Often Mislabeled Narcissists, 2 of 2

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The label of narcissist*** is often misapplied, as mentioned in Part 1, and more often to the female gender. Wittingly and unwittingly, whereas most narcissists are male, the women in our lives are more likely to be given the label of narcissist. There are other reasons to consider for why women are easily mislabeled narcissists, listed below, which invite readers to consider the cultural milieu we live in.

1. Cultural expectations, in the treatment of others, are incomparably high for women.

One reason women are easily mislabeled narcissists has to do with the cultural milieu we live in. Overall men and women are raised, for the most part, to hold the women to incomparably higher standards for moral conduct, more specifically, when it comes to the treatment of others’ feelings and key relationships. Women are socialized, expected to prove they are “nice” even when they are not being treated nicely. In contrast, we hold minimal, if any, expectations for men in caring for the feelings of others. Indeed, we’re conditioned to reject this notion, as it is not “masculine” for men and boys to feel remorse in how they treat others. We go to great lengths to protect men or silence complaints against them. We’re socialized to be accomplices for those considered “superior” and thus entitled to misbehavior. Both men and women, in response to boy’s misbehaving, robotically repeat words, such as “well, you know, boys will be boys, right?” In contrast, for misbehaving girls, to include girls that “tattle” on boys who hurt them, we’re more likely to say, “she likely asked for it” or “deserved it.”

In other words, women are expected to prove they are “good women” by never saying or doing things that hurt or make others, men in particular, feel uncomfortable. Indeed, it is not uncommon for this expectation to be so extreme as for male and female partners in a couple relationship to consider it a problem when the female partner expresses her feelings or frustrations with complaints or anger outbursts etc.! Women with anger outburst problems, albeit harmful ways of coping, are often branded by their partners as “bipolar” or “borderline personality disorder.”

In other words, these toxic norms make both male and female automatically attribute blame and responsibility to female partners for “failing to protect the feelings or image of male partners.”

They are expected to disregard the wrongdoing of male partner, and to put their feelings “as men” as a priority at the thought of complaining.

Sadly, this dynamic plays out even in rape and sexual assault cases where the emphasis is automatically on protecting the alleged attacker’s reputation, career, and life, and so on; whereas the victim’s character and behavior are intensely scrutinized with no regard to equivalent outcomes.

This sets a precedence in our society that legitimizes institutional male rape and assault of women, children, and other men deemed weak.

We’re all raised to hold women to high standards for moral conduct in their relationships and treatment of others, particularly in roles of wives and mothers. Women are socialized with fantasies and illusions that “sacrificing” themselves to protect a man’s ego as sacred and honorable, eventually, will turn their man into a prince; that is, once she can prove her love and loyalty, make him happy, prevent him from feeling insecure or unhappy or angry, then he will stop abusing her, no longer disregard her feelings or deprive her of feeling she exists and matters as a human being.

2. Labels of selfish, controlling, domineering have always been used to shame women into silence.

Typically, labels of “selfish” or “controlling,” and the most dreaded, “emasculating,” have been used to shame women to give in to pressure to conform, while simultaneously hiding the double standard for men. Based on social mores, it’s “okay” and even normal, for men to be selfish, controlling, and so on.

In contrast, women are shamed from girlhood to socialize them — into codependency– that is, to be selfless, in other words, to conform to ideals of “toxic femininity.”

And shaming is a culturally accepted practice to maintain the “social order,” for example, men are shamed when they express hurt or pain, empathy and softer vulnerable emotions in general. Shaming is a cultural practice of societies organized as cults to maintain hierarchical divisions between those entitled to benefits and those who are not, who are expected to “keep their place,” others punished and, or labeled as nonconforming, crazy and dangerous to society.

Both genders engage in the use of these labels to obtain women’s conformity to femininity ideals, and men’s to masculinity ideals, and the practice of shaming overall is widespread. It is highly regarded in varying degrees in cults, religious and secular, as a practice of socializing followers to “obedience without questioning” norm.

Shaming is a key tool of dominance, now a studied component of thought control used in cults to obtain conformity. Its effectiveness lies in activating an individual’s core fears of adequacy, rejection and abandonment, and getting them to silence themselves, in other words, rendering another person’s wants, needs, pain, and so on, as insignificant, irrelevant or invisible. Institutions of family, school and church continue to coordinate efforts, wittingly or unwittingly, socializing men and women to regard arbitrary standards for “might makes right” and “oligarchic rule” and “male superiority and dominance, etc., as biological or god-ordained norms. We’ve all been conditioned to link “strong, ruthless male leaders” with social benefits of protection and safety for all in society.

(By the way, shaming is also used to shape men into conformity, however, the shaming is distinct! Men are shamed to conform via use of labels, such as “sissy” or “weak” or “girly” or ‘gay,’ and the like.)

3. Gendered roles hold women responsible for other’s unhappiness or relationship failures.

Women are more often mislabeled narcissists as part of pre-existing conditioning to hold themselves responsible for the failures or unhappiness of others. From girlhood, women are socialized to make men feel good, prop their ego, avoid making men feel uncomfortable, and when necessary give men credit for what she does that is successful. She learns to hold herself, and other women, responsible for the success or failure of their marriages and family relationships, for example. Indeed women are socialized to critique and judge themselves, link their value as human beings to their success in maintaining relationships in tact or bringing happiness and comfort to key others. In other words, we socialize women into codependency.

Male abusers know this well, by the way, and take full advantage of women to shift-blame and instill them with highly intense self-blame patterns. This and other socialized fantasies ultimately lead to addictive relating for both men and women, stunting the growth and development of both genders. These cultural norms make it easy for women to fall prey or become unwitting accomplices in exploiting or harming others. In combination with gaslighting and other crazy-making lies and tactics, the fantasies women are led to believe from childhood make it easier, and possible, for a pathological abuser to systematically instill, literally, a topsy-turvy world in a woman’s mind — where no wrong can be pinned on her abuser, and she accepts blame, even for her own abuse falls.

4. Both men and women are socialized to blame women.  

Women are taught to blame, check and conform to ideals of being selfless, nice, not make demands or attract attention to their wants and needs. If they veer from these ideals, they are likely to shamed into taking their place by being called selfish, controlling, emasculating, and the new label on the block, narcissistic. Both genders tend to expect women to keep hurts or mistreatment to themselves, or complain to other women, and to give priority to protecting the feelings of male offenders. When women veer from the norm and stand up for themselves, ask for what they want, go after their goals and dreams, or take pride in their achievements, they are at risk of being labeled narcissists.We expect more from the women in our lives, much less from the men. For boys and men, we shrug our shoulders and say “boys will be boys”! Not so, for women. This norm continues to prevail. It also makes us turn a blind eye to any abuse a woman endured, past or present. And thus, a wife (or mother) who stands up to say it’s not okay to be mistreated, and to call out a husband’s (or child’s) behavior, is at risk of being labeled a narcissist.

This is an important understanding. It’s important because a narcissist uses the data they collect from their prey, such as complaints about their parents, in order to slowly turn someone against the persons who most love and support them.

5. Misinformation that links healthy human traits to narcissism — and the NPI itself.

There is a lot of misinformation on narcissism. And some of the most confusing are those that link healthy or relatively harmless human traits,” such as vanity, need for attention to narcissism, admiration or the esteem of others, as narcissistic traits!

Truth be told, nothing is more human than yearning for attention, admiration or esteem from others. To seek the esteem of others is after all a normal, human striving. Every healthy person, male and female, deep down yearns to feel admired or valued by others. These are healthy emotion-drives connected to other drives, among others, to belong, to contribute — to matter!

It’s only narcissism when a severe double standard is at play, for example, when only one partner gets the attention, admiration, while the other is gaslighted and made to feel ashamed, guilty, selfish for asking for attention and time with the other. In other words, when there is a narcissist, they will hoard the attention and admiration, and do specifically, to intentionally deprive their partner from a sense of feeling visible in the relationship.

Men are rarely labeled narcissists for these traits. They expect to get attention, admiration, by esteemed and complimented women in particular. And since women are socialized to prop up men’s egos, men received this attention from the women in their lives, mothers, sisters, teachers, daughters, etc., without even asking for it!

Never label someone a narcissist because they seek the admiration of others! Also consider that men rarely have to ask for attention, as the women in their lives are socialized to give this, without being asked.

In large part, the confusion is also related to the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, or NPI. According to the authors, Robert Raskin and Calvin Hall, this inventory was developed in 1979 solely to measure “subclinical” or “normal expressions of narcissism”; more specifically the inventory sought to measure “personality” traits of how assertive, confident, daring, adventurous, and achievement- or success-oriented one is — aiding social psychological research on the personality trait of narcissism as “excessive self love.”

The authors themselves note that the inventory is not an assessment of NPD. A glance at the items on the inventory itself speaks for itself. Based on the inventory, one is a narcissist to the extent they are assertive, confident, and, or achievement-oriented person. Wittingly or unwittingly, this sets up women to label and thus silence themselves and, or participate unknowingly as accomplices is labeling and silencing other women.

According to one Handbook on Narcissism, for example, the NPI confounds narcissism with self-esteem and contains items that do not measure narcissistic qualities per se such as the human desire for success or admiration or attention! These are all healthy universal human drives, and differ in degree, more present in some than others. They are traits of some of the most admired speakers, actors, singers, tv hosts, comedians — and the like! It is misleading to refer to these traits as narcissistic per se. They are only pathological when fueled by NPD traits, such as the neediness to prove superiority with no remorse for exploiting, tearing down another’s sense of self and esteem for their own personal gain.

Coincidentally or not, this inventory has made it easier for NPD and APD partners to hide, and to engage in a common practice of blame-shifting wrongdoing, and thus the label of “narcissism” onto their victims.

In large part, the confusion is related to the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, or NPI. According to the authors, Robert Raskin and Calvin Hall, this inventory was developed in 1979 solely to measure “subclinical” or “normal expressions of narcissism”; more specifically the inventory sought to measure “personality” traits of how assertive, confident, daring, adventurous, and achievement- or success-oriented one is — aiding social psychological research on the personality trait of narcissism as “excessive self love.”

In Conclusion:

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 little if anything to do with biological differences — and everything to do with how men and women are socialized to behave within the major institutions of our society, namely, family, education, church. 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 and promptings to serve at the pleasure of men and children in particular. These feminine ideals set women up to act as “weak arguments” (strawmen) and thus to enable men and society to regard male dominance and superiority (and white male dominance in particular) and to, not only promote this ideal as “normal” or biologically natural or god ordained, to fight out of fear against anyone that attempts to change this ideal as “dangerous” to the “social order” and thus society at large.

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

It is no wonder that women have a hard time to “see” an abuser as an NPD or that refuse to admit they are in a domestic violence relationship.  abuse. a socialization that literally trains women to varying degrees of codependency, a set of fantasies that leaves them vulnerable to be targeted by and, or enable narcissistic abuse.

Whereas narcissism fits the ideals for toxic masculinity, we refrain from associating any negativity to men as selfish and controlling.  do not label them as such, in order to protect male ego. The label of narcissist, in other words, is just an add-on to an old ploy most of us, men and women.

This socialization of men and women from childhood differs 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 experiencing and witnessing violence in childhood. (Human agency and choice also factors in; for example, some children reject conformity at some point.)

*** 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 adopt an inner core identity that links their self-worth to dominance, rightful entitlements to double stand treatment, and no remorse for physical and, or psychological violence to prove superiority by subverting a target’s will and mind. (In other words, like male counterparts, all pathological abusers in varying degrees identify and link their self-worth to the ideals for toxic masculinity, overall relating to self and other as objects of scorn and pleasure.) 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.


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Why Women Are Often Mislabeled Narcissists, 2 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. (2020). Why Women Are Often Mislabeled Narcissists, 2 of 2. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 8, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 May 2020
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