Pathological narcissism and depression: the mediating role of emotional processing
The present study investigated the possibility that impaired emotional processing mediated the relationship between pathological narcissism and depression and, secondly, investigated how this effect would lead to deterioration in social functioning.
Advertising message Pathological narcissism is a complex personality syndrome that contributes to significant difficulties for both patients and those around them. The dimensions of arrogant, self-exalting and exploitative behavior (narcissistic grandeur) as well as the propensity to shame, resentment and interpersonal hypersensitivity (narcissistic vulnerability) can fluctuate in response to failure, rejection or lack of admiration from others. Numerous studies have investigated the link between pathological narcissism and depression. Although little is known about narcissistic depression today, difficulties in processing emotions seem to play an important role. Therefore, individuals with narcissistic characteristics may find it difficult to integrate and constructively process feelings about their sense of self and their relationship with others; this makes negative feelings more annoying and lasting, contributing to depressive gravity. Furthermore, pathological narcissism and associated emotional processing deficits could contribute to the perception of a depressive disorder linked to social functioning, i.e. narcissistic individuals consider social exposure as an adverse event.
The present study examined the possibility that impaired emotional processing mediated the relationship between pathological narcissism and depressive symptoms and, secondly, investigated how this effect would lead to the deterioration in social functioning perceived in the context of depression. The specific hypothesis was that narcissistic characteristics would be indirectly related to depression through emotional processing processes.
The final sample was made up of 99 psychiatric outpatients between 12 and 35 years of age; most of the subjects were female. The tools used for the survey were:
Advertising message Among the demographic variables considered, only age was positively associated with depressive symptoms. In relation to the ways of regulating emotions, two mediation models were created: the model that examines narcissistic grandeur included emotional dysregulation and emotional impoverishment as mediators; while the model that examines narcissistic vulnerability included failure to process emotions, emotional dysregulation and emotional impoverishment as mediators. Suppression is not significantly related to depressive symptoms.
Narcissistic grandeur was not significantly associated with depression, but a significant indirect effect of narcissistic vulnerability on depressive symptoms was found, through the lack of emotional processing as a mediator. The results suggest that narcissistic vulnerability causes persistent and intrusive negative feelings, which in turn contribute to the severity of depressive symptoms. Consequently, social functioning is also affected. In fact, individuals with narcissistic vulnerability prefer rumination and constant concern rather than the recognition of their own state of mind; the hyper-vigilance and hypersensitivity involved in narcissistic vulnerability increase the attention on negative experiences and, consequently, the chances of developing depressive symptoms increase. Similarly, hypersensitivity to shame in interpersonal relationships can preclude the request for social support to alleviate distressing emotions.
Although the study has limitations, such as a small sample and an exclusive use of self-report tools, the study of emotional processing deficits and narcissistic vulnerability in the treatment of depression remains an interesting area for future research, extending the evaluation also to individuals with narcissistic personality disorder.
In conclusion, treatments on emotional processing skills can be the fundamental target of intervention against patients with depression in the context of narcissistic vulnerability.