Attacking women in visible or leadership roles in any field sends a clear “get back in your place” message.

There’s everything from internalized misogyny to garden variety projection to petty jealousy happening all at once.

Women who go against the grain and don’t act the way others want them to act, or who don’t make others feel the way they want to feel or tell them what they want to hear are especially targeted.

That’s multiplied if the woman is in the spiritual field. To paraphrase Osho, there’s never been a place for women in religion. When women try to get involved, they get called witches. So, fine. We’re witches. We don’t answer to outside authority.

People don’t like to hear it, but we have all been socialized to keep other people in line and stay in their place to maintain the social order. Even if that training didn’t take very well, or we worked through it, we have our own projections and insecurities to contend with.

We have unconscious beliefs and judgments about women and power, period.

If a woman is conventionally attractive, she’s self-absorbed and doing it for attention, and probably not even that smart. If she’s not conventionally attractive then who cares what she has to say or how smart she is, she’s not to be taken seriously. If she wanted to be taken seriously, she should make herself more attractive. And around and around that trap we go.

If that woman holds a position or status another person (especially another woman) else wants, you bet the jealousy is going to come up. Jealousy tells all kinds of lies to make the jealous person feel better. For men, it’s not jealously as much as entitlement. Women in positions of power or leadership bring up conditioning around who is supposed to have the power or authority and why.

Some people consciously or unconsciously think women should be nice and polite and make us feel better. This is the “nice girl” role at work. When a woman is not in the “nice girl” trap, they’re mean and bitchy and manipulative. Maybe she’s even a narcissist or a sociopath! It’s a great way to dismiss the hard truths she’s telling, and not have to look at the painful things.

For the consciously aware, it’s a great way to look at your own shadows, which include all the cultural conditioning around women and power. And for women, the internalized misogyny. For the unaware, it’s a great way to just project every bit of that crap.

We just don’t need anyone’s permission to be where we are. If anything, we aren’t nearly prominent enough and don’t hold nearly enough leaderships roles. Yes, even self-appointed ones. The old paradigm is to ask permission and be sanctioned by existing authority and institutions even when you are not seeking a title that belongs to them (psychiatrist, therapist, doctor, attorney, priest, etc.). The new paradigm doesn’t have prevailing authority or prevailing institutions. It says, “I have experience, and I have something to offer because of those experiences, but I am none of those institutional titles, and you’re free to take what I have to offer or leave it.”

Now, what if they’re actually a problem?

I know very well that there are charismatic narcissists and sociopaths, men and women alike, that get themselves into influential positions. There’s also a lot of negligent people in influential positions who’re just bad at their jobs. I’ve personally dealt with both, and the proof will always be in the pudding. As for the real trouble, the pathological narcissists or sociopaths, they don’t tend to offer much of value beyond their carefully curated personality and manipulation skills that lends itself to gaining sycophants (and deterring dissenters), and when they do, their pursuit of power or status will eventually overshadow it and ruin it.

They’re ultimately bullies whose main goals were always status and power. Money can be a first or second priority, as the high some of them get from their power trip can be better to them than money. They love drama and encourage an “us vs them,” “good guys vs bad guys” mentality with their group being the good guys of course. They will create drama and create an enemy for their sycophants to go after anytime they either need to get spotlight off them, to rally their group because people are bored or beginning to think for themselves, or they need to get their fix. Sometimes they like to play hero, and “look what I did.” If they have a bunch of charity work on their resume but treat people like crap, they did it precisely because it looks good on that resume, and probably they did it to play hero to some poor unfortunate people who so obviously needed their superior help.

Pathological narcissists have to be the center of attention, they require constant praise and admiration for being so awesome, and they subtly manipulate people to want to give it to them.

In fact, here’s what I want you to do (and do so at your own risk) when you’re with someone you think might be a narcissist or at least a power tripper in a leadership position. Validate them. Compliment them. Praise them. Tell stories, however long or short, of their greatest achievements especially when others are around. Tell them you really need their expert advice on something.

Do you suddenly have a new best friend now, or do you feel kept at arm’s length? Do you feel like they can’t get enough of you, or do you feel like they’re watching you, reading you? Or alternately, are they having no real reaction at all to your praise and validation?

Pay attention and you’ll get your answer.

Everyone has insecurities, and everyone loves praise and attention at some level to some degree. We like being appreciated, and it is a human emotional need, and that’s normal. A normal person who just doesn’t get validated enough or has insecurities around not getting validated enough will still soon get tired of it, and suspicious, and probably creeped out. Pathological narcissists never tire of it, ever. They live and breathe it. Unless you accidentally tip them off that you’re testing them and they get suspicious, you are the shiniest new chess piece on their board, and they love you for it.

Here’s my caveat, and it’s a VERY big one. We need to stop with the black and white thinking we have about other people. There is no person on the planet who is not “problematic” sometimes by some standard. Everyone is just a flawed human being with their own set of issues and even the people with the best of intentions and not a hint of pathological narcissism in sight can act badly at times. They can lose their temper with someone, they can project their own crap onto other people, they can experience conflict, they can also just clash personalities and simply not get along with some people. It doesn’t mean anyone was mistreated or that anyone is a narcissist or sociopath.

Watch your own bias in the process. If you want to dislike someone, you will absolutely find reasons to validate that conclusion.