As a researcher specializing in narcissism and psychopathy, I’ve written before about the manipulation tactics of female narcissists and how they can affect their loved ones in majorly harmful ways. Yet there are even more subtle signals you may be dealing with a female narcissist that you might not notice at first until they culminate. Here are insidious micro-habits of a female narcissist’s aggressive behavior and how they can be displayed more covertly, especially in friendships.
They pit people against one another covertly under the guise of concern. You may only notice these micro-betrayals when you see the reactions of others.
A skilled female narcissist doesn’t just spread gossip or rumors. She suggests what she wants people to believe about you under the guise of faux concern. That way, she can depict herself as a caring and compassionate friend rather than a cold-blooded snake all too willing to throw you under the bus for the validation of others. She’ll seem all too kind-hearted when she expresses her worry over your mental health and dating life to your social circles, or tell another friend you were gossiping about them when you weren’t. In reality, she is envious of how likable and popular you are and is hoping to plant seeds of doubt in everyone’s minds about your personality, capabilities, and assets so she can find or retain her “Queen Bee” status. That is why you may only “notice” her relationally aggressive behavior in the suddenly abrupt changes in the friends around you. If you notice your friends seem uncomfortable when you walk into a room whereas before they greeted you warmly, it may be because the female narcissist has told them something false about you to give them pause.
They take on your identity – starting in subtle ways.
When we think of the female narcissist, we think of movies like Single White Female or The Roommate. A sinister woman who starts wearing our clothes, stealing our jewelry, seducing our love interests, and taking over our lives. Yet the female narcissist in real life operates a bit less blatantly in the beginning. They often begin by stealing your words, gestures, and mannerisms. You may have told an amazing joke to your friends, only to hear it parroted back by the female narcissist in another context. Or you may have shared a heartwrenching story of trauma to the narcissist, only to have her repeat it back to others word-for-word in an attempt to gain sympathy and credibility. This callousness in what they steal is what differentiates the female narcissist from “just” a garden-variety toxic person. Not only will they attempt to steal credit in both social and professional settings, but they will take on entire facets of your identity for themselves. They may even start to “look” like you by dressing the way you do or changing their hair color. This is a violation that can feel incredibly invasive.
They pretend to ask you innocent questions in public which are actually coded “dog-whistles” to taunt you, just so they can use your reactions against you.
The female narcissist is most evident in her microexpressions of sadistic glee when they provoke you. That is why you may find her issuing covert put-downs or asking questions that put you in an uncomfortable position in front of your social circles. They may attempt to humiliate you by asking a question about a dating situation they knew didn’t work out or mentioning an insecurity they know you have. They might compare you to other friends (i.e. “Rebecca’s got a boyfriend now! We’re all coupled up. When are you going to come join us and leave the single life?”), minimize your achievements, or rub recent distressing events in your face while pretending they feel sorry for you (i.e. “Congratulations on your job promotion! Too bad you’ll be working all those long hours though”).
They attempt to dim your light especially if they think you surpass them in some way.
Studies reveal that narcissistic rivalry and psychopathy are both associated with malicious envy – the type of envy related to taking actions to sabotage others. The narcissistic or psychopathic woman is no exception. The female narcissist can be bizarre in her methods to erode what makes you stand out and shine to others; her micro-habits in this area can range from petty to absurd. She might be the friend who deliberately posts unflattering photos of you on social media because your beauty threatens her. Or she might be the co-worker who rapidly tries to monopolize attention in conversations when she notices you getting praise from your colleagues. Either way, she’s trying to hold on to the spotlight.
They attempt to “partner poach,” especially if they have psychopathic traits.
Research has shown a consistent link between partner poaching and psychopathic traits (moreso than “just” narcissistic traits) in women. Even if the female psychopath has a loving and doting partner themselves, one is simply not enough. They want the partners of other people as well. That is why they’ll often engage in embarrassing and desperate attempts to get the attention of your boyfriends or love interests. They want to feel like they can “one-up” you. You might notice them asking you to bring your boyfriend along even during events that were originally supposed to be one-on-one to set up scenarios where they can try to “flirt” with your partner. Or you might identify a pattern of them routinely engaging with married men and speaking negatively about his innocent spouse. This is the type of friend that is not to be trusted.
They express hints of envy at your success.
The female narcissist may pretend to be happy for you and your success, but you will notice flashes of envy and rage when you share your accomplishments. As noted before, this malicious envy can be a key characteristic of narcissism according to research. They might attempt to detract from these accomplishments, brag about their own, to take the spotlight away from you in small ways – especially in front of other friends. They might even attempt to sabotage your success by pressuring you to engage in reckless activities like partying or drinking before big interviews or exams. They could cheerlead your progress explicitly while at the same time deterring it behind closed doors.
They pry into your personal life even when they don’t know you.
One powerful micro-habit to look out for is the eerily mechanical interrogation female narcissists subject you to when you first meet them. While they may disguise it as genuine interest, it can feel intrusive. They want to know about your childhood, your traumas, and feel entitled to know about your past friendships and relationships. They might pretend they share the same experiences to get you to trust them. Beware: this is the way they collect information they can use it against you later on.
They devalue and discard you once you’re no longer “useful” to them.
Genuine friendships are built on true connection, mutual empathy, and trust. A friendship with a female narcissist is purely a transactional one based on what kinds of resources you’re able to offer them. Whether it’s social capital or professional opportunities, the female narcissist will love-bomb you for as long as it takes to ensure they maintain access to what you can offer them. They will piggyback off your success without regard to reciprocity and demonstrate an entitlement to the fruits of your labor. When you begin setting healthier boundaries, you’ll find that they devalue and discard you in cruel and callous ways. If you are dealing with a female narcissist, it is important to detach and engage in healthy self-care. You deserve only healthy relationships and friendships.