Narcissism, from its origins in attachment to the relationship with the partner
If it is true that the narcissist is enough for himself, if he is already so great and satisfied, what need does he have to find a partner? And when he found it, what need does he have for other relationships? Isn’t a partner or companion sufficient? Where does this need for parallel relationships, for continuous confirmation from others, come from?
Advertising message How many times have we heard, read and reread this sentence? We can define it the business card of the narcissist, who would not find it difficult to answer this question with: “But it’s me, of course!”, Because the mirror simply reflects what is a great image with which one cannot help but be in love.
Having said that, a reflection seems almost spontaneous. If it is true that the narcissus is enough for itself, if it is already so great and satisfied, what need does it have to find a partner? And when he found it, what need does he have for other relationships? Isn’t a partner or companion sufficient? Where does this need for parallel relationships, for continuous confirmation from others, come from?
This article was created in an attempt to understand the behavior of narcissistic people in sentimental relationships, with the intent to understand how the narcissistic trait already develops in relationships with attachment figures.
In mythology, Narcissus is a handsome man and hopelessly in love with his reflection in the water. So unable to stop looking at his reflection, to drown in the river. Narcissus’ description is the emblem of what is called narcissistic personality trait in psychology. Narcissistic people are distinguished by the great idea they have of themselves, they feel superior to others, build fantasies on their personal successes, almost always attributed to themselves and rarely to causes or external people, and they believe they deserve special treatment . Consequently, when they experience feelings of humiliation or criticism, that is, in stark contrast to the idea they have of themselves, they often react aggressively. Accepting the idea that someone can devalue their person is so painful that it triggers a reactive anger in which the need to make the other feel the same is central, as if you could not afford to think badly of someone so great it is special. The narcissist is also traditionally lacking in empathy towards others, a factor that contributes to fueling a mode of relationship that does not care about the emotions of the other.
But what are the origins of this complex and fascinating personality?
The origin of narcissism is currently unclear and the studies conducted so far have not allowed, due to their transversal nature, to identify the precursors of the development of this personality trait. The literature highlights, among the factors triggering the development of narcissism, the first relational contexts in which the child experiences himself and, more specifically, the educational style that parents adopt on him. In this regard, the results of one of the few longitudinal studies conducted by Brummelman et al. Are interesting. (2015) in which two antithetical theoretical models on the development of narcissism in children are compared: the theory of social learning, according to which the child develops narcissistic traits as he is exposed to a parenting education based on hypervaluation, “My son is more special than the others.” As a result, the child can develop the belief that he or she is truly more special and feels empowered to obtain privileges. Psychoanalytic theory, on the contrary, maintains that narcissism derives from a parenting education characterized by a scarce affective manifestation, a reduced expression of appreciation, support and positive emotions. Consequently, the child would place himself “on a pedestal” in an attempt to obtain approval from others that he did not receive from his parents. The research by Brummelman and colleagues (2015) involved children aged 7 to 12 years, a period in which the first individual differences of the narcissistic traits and their parents emerge.
The results of this study supported social learning theory: narcissism is related to parental overestimation and not to a lack of parental affectivity and appreciation. These results support the prospect that the child sees himself in the way he believes he is seen by people who are significant to him, as if they learn to see themselves “through the eyes of others”. When children are seen by parents as special and different from others, they can acquire the idea of being superior people, the central theme of narcissism. It should be stressed that parental overvaluation is not the only variable at stake in the origin of narcissism. In fact, other aspects come into play, such as the traits of temperament: being narcissism in part heritable, as well as for other personality traits (Vernon PA et al., 2008), some children with specific genetically acquired traits may be more vulnerable than others to developing narcissistic traits when exposed to parental overestimation. These results could contribute to the development of interventions aimed at preventing or reducing the development of narcissism.
So the narcissistic personality traits are already present from childhood, but it is in adulthood, and especially within interpersonal and couple relationships, that do not go unnoticed, especially in the eyes of the partner. But how does the narcissist live the interpersonal world? And how does it behave in conflicting relationships? It is the model of Rhodewalt and Morf’s self-regulation (Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001; Rhodewalt, 2001) that gives us a perspective on the interpersonal correlates of narcissism. The authors argue that the narcissistic self is characterized by three nuclei: self-awareness, self-evaluation processes and self-regulation processes. What unites the three characteristics of the narcissistic self is the motivational fulcrum: the desire to maintain a grandiose and positive self-image.
A study conducted by McCullough et al. (2016) highlighted how, in interpersonal conflictual relationships, the narcissist tends to place himself in the role of “victim” of wrong behavior by others. Consistent with the model of Rhodewalt and Morf (Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001; Rhodewalt, 2001), the narcissist would describe himself as a “victim” precisely to preserve his self-image: for example, he could tell his past experiences as very painful to emphasize the goals achieved, or it could tell experiences in which it has not achieved results because of others (“although people have hurt me in the past, I have achieved my goal against all odds”). Consequently, describe yourself as a victim can be a valid reason to justify your privileges and “manipulate” others for your own purposes, as a form of personal redemption. Just as, in the sentimental sphere, he could distort his memories of previous relationships with his partner after experiencing a love disappointment.
But why do narcissists tend to take this role in interpersonal dynamics? According to McCullough and colleagues (2016), it is possible that precisely to maintain a grandiose self-image, the narcissist is more likely to pay particular attention to negative interpersonal situations that can harm him. As a result, the narcissist would become more suspicious and interpret their interpersonal world in a hostile way (Rhodewalt and Morf, 1995). This particular sensitivity to negative events could manifest itself in the way the narcissist expects to be treated by others. For example, narcissistic people may conceive of certain behaviors as indecorous (such as not giving someone a compliment, not thanking), when for most people these same behaviors can be simple innocent mistakes. The central aspect of the narcissist of “feeling right” would lead him to expect so much admiration and respect to feel constantly disappointed and offended.
Another possible explanation of the authors is that the narcissist would actually be the victim in negative interpersonal situations precisely because, because of his feeling entitled to exploit others, it would lead to neglect his interpersonal world, stimulating others to react in a negative way towards him.
To date, therefore, numerous researches have highlighted how narcissistic traits negatively influence the relationship world in general, and specifically the trend of a love relationship. It is no coincidence that infidelity corresponds to an ever lower marital satisfaction in both partners involved, it is one of the most common causes of divorce, it can compromise self-esteem and increase psychological stress (McNulty & Widman, 2014). Yet, surprisingly, studies that have tried to demonstrate the relationship between narcissism and infidelity have shown inconsistent, or in any case not significant, results in order to be able to affirm with certainty that a narcissist is often unfaithful to his partner.
According to some data, infidelity is more common than we can think of. It is estimated that more than 25% of married men and 20% of wives incur extra-marital relationships over the course of their stories (McNulty & Widman, 2014). Are they just people with narcissistic disorder or can there be something more?
Although research cannot confirm this, there are multiple reasons to think that narcissism and betrayal are highly correlated. The narcissist doc in fact, is naturally oriented towards sexuality, it does not matter that it is addressed exclusively to one’s partner. Indeed, if this were the case, it would not receive enough confirmation of its value.
So isn’t a lover enough? Often not. It is like a mathematical equation. As highlighted by Sassaroli and Lorenzini (2015), if a lover is used to inflate my ego even more, why not go overboard? Having one or more lovers, for the narcissus, is a further confirmation of his greatness, of the fact that he can have all the partners he wants, increases his already high self-esteem. So the more I am the better, and above all the more people know it, the better. It would not be surprising if it was he, the unfaithful narcissus, who told his love adventures around: everyone must know what it is worth!
Advertising message But if everyone knows, will the husband or wife also know about it? Most likely yes, but this is certainly not a problem. The partner is not chosen randomly. Often these are people in need of protection, who would never leave a husband or wife so great. And this the narcissist knows. He knows that the partner would never leave him, that he would also accept “some” escapade, if the price to pay is to be able to have the man or woman of his dreams. The narcissus leverages on this, precisely because the fact of being able to be a good consort and at the same time an exceptional lover for more people is an enrichment for him, the demonstration that he can manage and have everything he wants and always to a greater extent.
It comes spontaneous to think: but a little guilt? And why should it? From his point of view, he does not miss anything to his partner (Sassaroli, Lorenzini, 2015). This could be related to the low levels of empathy that characterize the narcissist, as reported by several studies (McNulty & Widman, 2014).
Recent research (Tortoriello & Hart, 2018) shows how narcissus also has feelings of jealousy, as well as arousing it in the partner. Why, since it is certain that the spouse will never leave him? This study considered two types of narcissism: one grandiose and one vulnerable. This differentiation was fundamental since, although having the same foundation, these two “faces” of the same disorder are different in many respects. While the so-called vulnerable narcissist has a high sensitivity to jealousy, both cognitively and emotionally, the same has not been confirmed for the grandiose subtype. Following a betrayal, the vulnerable experiences a destructive self-image, experiences negative emotions, unlike the grandiose who does not seem to be sensitive to jealousy or threats to his relationship. Indeed, the research seems to confirm that a possible threat of betrayal by the partner acts as a reminder of his grandeur: a possible threat external to his bond, in fact, could arouse in him the concern not to be “unique, special and irreplaceable” and hence the need to re-establish the image of power and dominance (Tortoriello & Hart, 2018).
The interesting result of this study shows that perhaps we cannot speak of narcissism in the broad sense, but that the key to being able to better explore its relationship with marriage, fidelity, perhaps lies in the different facets that this disorder presents. Similarly, as previously reported, no other study has managed to demonstrate a direct connection between narcissism and infidelity. Compared to this, Widman and McNulty (2010), in order to find a correlation between these factors, prefer to speak not of narcissism in a global sense, but rather of sexual narcissism, a precise aspect that concerns the desire to exploit the partner for sexual purposes , given the belief of having great gifts in this area. This aspect therefore, is strictly related to the sexual sphere, consequently it does not necessarily have to be common to anyone with narcissistic personality traits. Focusing on this particular, the two authors conducted two studies on 123 married couples to verify a specific relationship between infidelity and sexual narcissism. To this end, they developed a tool that made it possible to differentiate four aspects of narcissism from a sexual point of view, the Sexual Narcissism Scale (SNS). The four aspects considered are: sexual entitlement (sexual law, in the sense that sex is a due thing) sexual exploitation, low sexual empathy, inflated sense of sexual skills (exaggerated estimate of sexual abilities) . the two authors conducted two studies on 123 married couples to verify a specific relationship between infidelity and sexual narcissism. To this end, they developed a tool that made it possible to differentiate four aspects of narcissism from a sexual point of view, the Sexual Narcissism Scale (SNS). The four aspects considered are: sexual entitlement (sexual law, in the sense that sex is a due thing) sexual exploitation, low sexual empathy, inflated sense of sexual skills (exaggerated estimate of sexual abilities) . the two authors conducted two studies on 123 married couples to verify a specific relationship between infidelity and sexual narcissism. To this end, they developed a tool that made it possible to differentiate four aspects of narcissism from a sexual point of view, the Sexual Narcissism Scale (SNS). The four aspects considered are: sexual entitlement (sexual law, in the sense that sex is a due thing) sexual exploitation, low sexual empathy, inflated sense of sexual skills (exaggerated estimate of sexual abilities) . the Sexual Narcissism Scale (SNS). The four aspects considered are: sexual entitlement (sexual law, in the sense that sex is a due thing) sexual exploitation, low sexual empathy, inflated sense of sexual skills (exaggerated estimate of sexual abilities) . the Sexual Narcissism Scale (SNS). The four aspects considered are: sexual entitlement (sexual law, in the sense that sex is a due thing) sexual exploitation, low sexual empathy, inflated sense of sexual skills (exaggerated estimate of sexual abilities) .
The results show that three of the four components examined could play an important role in betrayal of one’s partner. Sexual exploitation correlates only partially positively with infidelity in both studies. On the contrary, the other three aspects examined correlate positively and statistically significantly with infidelity. Sexual entitlement and inflated sense of sexual skills positively correlate with infidelity, indicating that spouses of partners who are demanding of sexuality and with an excessive estimate of their sexual abilities are more likely to incur in a betrayal during the marriage. The lack of sexual empathy instead correlates negatively with infidelity in one of the two studies (only between wives, men positively correlate in both). This somewhat surprising figure indicates that those who are married to a partner who lacks sexual empathy are less likely to be betrayed. It is not clear whether this may be the relevant factor or whether these partners are unwilling to betray themselves. Future studies could deal with deepening this relationship. However, all the significant correlations found with infidelity concern a purely sexual, but not general, trait. Future studies could deal with deepening this relationship. However, all the significant correlations found with infidelity concern a purely sexual, but not general, trait. Future studies could deal with deepening this relationship. However, all the significant correlations found with infidelity concern a purely sexual, but not general, trait.
Based on the results obtained, therefore, it emerges that narcissism is not synonymous with infidelity: the two authors (2013) suggest that perhaps there is a link between infidelity and a trait of purely sexual narcissism (sexual narcisism), rather than narcissism in a global sense , and that the motivations that lead to cheating on one’s partner are linked to a sexual rather than interpersonal sphere. This association between sexual narcissism and infidelity can be useful in identifying risk factors for treason and acting preventively. Considering the results of the study cited above, making partners more aware of how demanding they are towards sexuality or increasing levels of sexual empathy could lower the probability of committing treason within the couple.
Everything said so far leads to the conclusion that perhaps the point in question is not “I am a narcissist and therefore I betray”, but that not all people with narcissistic personality disorder are equally unfaithful. The facets of the disorder should be considered, which probably play a different role in the approach to marital and extra-marital relationships. And the partners? Who can tell us that even the partners are not in turn unfaithful and that the infidelity of the narcissist cannot be attributed to other reasons than to confirm his grandiose image?
To date there are still few researches that have dealt with this specific area and there are still many doubts about the possible link between narcissism and infidelity. Compared to this, future studies could investigate these aspects considering the various facets of narcissism, in order to better investigate the processes involved, with the aim of intervening preventively and contributing to marital well-being.