You write a lot about narcissistic men, but what about narcissistic women? My wife seems focused on how things don’t go her way, and seems to have little interest in my feelings. Help!
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
You’ve made a fair observation. I do write a lot about men, but in my defense, the vast majority of couples who seek my help are initiated by women married to narcissistic men. The truth is, a narcissistic woman creates as much havoc as any narcissistic man.
Case in point: I worked with a couple several months ago where the woman over-reacted to any slight. If her husband turned his attention away from her momentarily, she shouted, “You never really listen to me!” If he confronted her even slightly about her behavior, she blame-shifted and said, “You’re always criticizing me.”
Here are some characteristics of a narcissistic woman. This list is not exhaustive but gives a starting point for discussion.
- She can be very dramatic. She seeks, or creates, drama. She’s excitable and tends to gravitate toward situations where either she can be the center of attention or will create enough drama so she can at least be part of the drama. She may have symptoms of ADHD or at least attention challenges, so she’s always drawn toward excitement.
- She tends to be defensive. She often has little capacity to look critically at herself (much like a narcissistic man) and shifts the blame to her husband. She has failed to cultivate the humility to look frankly at her character issues.
- She is often critical of others. She knows how the world should run — according to her standards — and is critical of anything and anyone who does not conform to what she believes is right and best. Her standards, of course, are the only ones that matter.
- She can be angry and explosive. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” wrote a 17th-century playwright. This famous quote can be altered to read: “Hell hath no fury like a narcissistic woman challenged in her viewpoint, frustrated in her attempt to get what she wants, or imposed with boundaries of which she disapproves.”
- Finally, she has shallow relationships. Her degree of true caring is shallow, and the drama she creates keeps relationships that way. Make no mistake; a narcissistic woman can be dependent, and that dependency can take on a significant fervor. Yet, when asked to extend herself for the well-being of another, she falters.
Again, these traits are not exhaustive. More could be said about the sexuality, materialism, and friendships of the narcissistic woman, but I’ll leave that for another time. Let’s turn now to what can be done when you’re in relationship with such a woman.
Tell yourself the truth. “You will know the truth and it will set you free” (John 8: 32). If you live in denial, which is true for many of us, you will never find freedom. The truth in this situation is that you are living with an angry, narcissistic woman.
Stop tiptoeing around her. Change comes from facing the truth about oneself. This certainly holds true for your wife. She must come face to face with her character issues and be humble enough to acknowledge her need for change. You must be strong enough to calmly and clearly have a frank discussion with her — about her!
Prepare for change. Change does not happen outside of intervention. You must do all you can to interrupt dysfunctional patterns, accept your part in them, and prepare for change. You must have enough support and be clear that change must happen — and it begins with you.
Confront the problem. This requires you face the truth of your situation, whatever it may be, and confront the problem with honesty, courage, and consistency. When you talk to your wife, be very clear about what you see the problem to be.
Set boundaries. This change must include a firm resolution that the situation cannot stay the same. Then comes the critical conversation where you outline how YOU expect to be treated in the future. Since “we teach people how to treat us,” we can teach those same people what we will and will not accept in our lives. Share with your wife what is intolerable and what must change.
Stay the course. Few people, including a narcissistic woman, gladly accept painful feedback and hard boundaries. Most fight against change and won’t go down without some kind of fight. Be prepared for challenges to your boundaries. You must have support around you so you can stick to your limits. If you do, positive change may occur.
In summary, men are not the only ones who are temperamental and narcissistic. Women can be narcissistic as well. You cannot know how capable they are to change until you stop enabling dysfunctional behavior, establish healthy boundaries, and interact in a healthy way yourself. Then you will see how capable they are to change.