Motivation and emotion/Book/2022/Narcissism and emotion

Narcissism and emotion:
What is the relationship between narcissism and emotion?


Figure 1: The Narcissist

Narcissism, otherwise known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), has intrigued the public since it's inception. Originally discovered in 1898, by British essayist and physician, Havelock Ellis, it was named after the mythological character Narcissus (see Figure 2), and has been a subject of fascination ever since. In the modern age, this fascination has become widespread, with a myriad of online articles breaking down narcissism and its signs. Headings such as '11 Sings you're dating a Narcissist' and 'When It’s All About Them: Being Involved With a Narcissist'. Narcissists have been portrayed as emotionless, manipulative beings with an overinflated sense of self-importance, [grammar?] is this an accurate portrayal? Is there a 'normal' level of narcissism, [grammar?] if so where is that line?

Figure 2. Narcissus and his reflection

While spreading awareness is important, the image portrayed by modern media can often be overly broad, encouraging the overuse and improper diagnosis of the term narcissism. NPD is a clinical diagnosis, with a wide array of symptoms that can do real harm to those involved with the narcissistic person. Understanding those symptoms, and (potentially) how to manage them is crucial to minimise victimisation. This chapter analyses the connection between narcissism and emotion, what impacts NPD can have on emotion perception, processing and regulation as well as explore therapy as a mitigating tool[grammar?].

Focus questions:

  • What makes someone a Narcissist?
  • How does narcissism impact emotional processing?
  • What impact does the disorder have on the wider community?

What is Narcissism?Edit

Narcissism, or NPD is a mental disorder characterised by entitlement, grandiosity, lack of empathy, grandiose fantasies and a heightened sense of uniqueness and self-importance (Miller et al., 2018). This can be identified in a therapy setting, as well as through testing (surveys, etc) and trait-based tools like the five factor model. The key areas here are vulnerable and grandiose narcissism, as well as overt and covert narcissism. These subtypes have distinct variations that separate them.

Grandiose (Overt)Edit

Grandiose narcissism is the more well-known of the two key subtypes of NPD, characterised by high self-esteem, overconfidence, entitlement, exploitation of others and extreme hostility and aggression when challenged or emotionally injured (O’Reilly & Hall, 2021). Those with grandiose narcissism are impulsive, manipulative and maintain their sense of self through blame-shifting. Thus a lot of negative emotions, particularly self-conscious emotions are not experienced (Miller et al., 2017). Grandiose narcissists usually have outward charisma due to confidence and boldness, consequently, they land more leadership roles (O’Reilly & Hall, 2021). However, grandiose narcissists' own goals outweigh those of the organisations they lead, thus leading to negative outcomes for the organisation as a whole (Braun, 2017; Brunell et al., 2008; O’Reilly & Chatman, 2020). This type of narcissism causes the person to seek outcomes that prove they are superior, leading to more risk taking behaviours. Because they deem themselves as special, negative outcomes are perceived as less risky to them. This sense of superiority also increases manipulation efforts (lying, stealing, cheating) and increased hostility if not recognised as superior (Bogart et al., 2004). Grandiose narcissism is overtly hostile and extraverted, scoring low on agreeableness and high on extraversion (Schalkwijk et al., 2021). It is known that the DSM symptoms emphasise the grandiose dimension over the vulnerable, and can be lacking in representation of narcissistic vulnerability.

Case study: Kyle has been the CEO of a company for 4 years. His confidence and ease in social situations made him a top pick for upper management and he quickly became friends with those on the board. Kyle's company works in stocks, it gives him a thrill to trade large sums and the admiration he receives when his decisions pay off makes him a rockstar among his underlings[grammar?]. When approached with a risky but high-reward gamble, he quickly takes it, despite his advisors[grammar?] warnings, investing a hefty portion of his budget. When this deal falls through, Kyle blames his advisors for the poor choice, screaming at them and throwing things in a fit of anger.

Vulnerable (Covert)Edit

The vulnerable narcissist is the lesser known subtype of NPD, with lower extraversion and more outwardly antisocial motivations. This subtype has a tendency toward negative emotions, an insecure-avoidant attachment style, with grandiosity stemming from deep-seated insecurity, and serving to obscure feelings of inadequacy and incompetence[factual?]. Vulnerable narcissists are hyper-sensitive to rejection, often distrust others, display a tendency toward self-imposed isolation and increased levels of anger and hostility (Miller et al., 2018).

Figure 3. Vulnerability

The key difference here is the vulnerable motivations that underly[spelling?] the narcissistic tendencies. It has been concluded that negative emotions, like fear and anger are felt more acutely by vulnerable narcissists, thus mockery, criticism and rejection are all magnified (Blasco-Belled et al., 2022). Those who score high on vulnerable narcissism scales are more likely to fear being laughed at (Hofmann et al., 2020) and more likely to enjoy laughing at others (Ruch et al., 2013). Gelotophobia (the fear of being laughed at) is a key source of stress for vulnerable narcissists, thus drastically decreasing quality of life, causing struggles in the workplace, social situations and leading to anti-social behaviours (Ruch et al., 2013). Self-isolation and withdrawal are also used to avoid interactions where shame, vulnerability or inferiority would be experienced (Blasco-Belled et al., 2022). Trait theory has identified high neuroticism, as well as lowered agreeableness and extraversion, thus this subtype is considered an internalising trait (Miller et al., 2013). Two key dimensions of this type of narcissism are neurotic introversion (withdrawal to hide fragile self), and antagonism (projecting aggression onto other people) (Blasco-Belled et al., 2022). Vulnerable narcissism injures both the narcissist and those around them, due to poor emotion regulation, fragility of self and sensitivity to perceived mockery or slights. Depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses all correlate with this subtype[factual?].

Case study: When Jenny presents her thesis to her mentor, he tells her to rewrite it. Listing multiple errors within the material and expressing disappointment at the final result, his frustration is evident. Jenny becomes enraged, lashing out and blaming her mentor for not helping her research the idea. When her mentor states she is being unreasonable and should work harder next time to avoid this kind of subpar work[grammar?]. Jenny spirals into self-hatred, throwing more insults at him before storming out of the office. She then holes [awkward expression?] in her home for the next week, avoiding all social contact.

Test yourself!Edit

Which of the following is not a type of narcissism?

Overt Narcissism

1 Grandiose Narcissists will often self-isolate to avoid criticism. They are very sensitive, despite being overtly confident.


2 Gelotophobia is the pleasure derived from laughing at others.


Name the character that inspired the name Narcissism

Narcissism and EmotionEdit

Two areas where narcissism and emotion connect are;[grammar?] processing and negative affect, and emotional manipulation to achieve a goal. The skewed emotional perception and processing of the two narcissistic subtypes was briefly touched on, but does the self-absorbed qualities of a narcissistic disorder negatively impact wellbeing? Narcissists have no empathy[factual?], does this mean that manipulation techniques are not accompanied by self-conscious emotions like guilt?

Emotional ProcessingEdit

Vulnerable narcissists feel negative emotions stronger than non-narcissists[factual?]. Negative affect, as it is referred to in literature, concerns the hyper-fixation and overabundance of negative emotions that are felt by a person (Besser & Zeigler-Hill, 2010). Negative emotions are stronger and felt more regularly[than?], having a tendency to overwhelm the person[factual?]. This greatly reduces quality of life, and is positively correlated with anxiety and depression[factual?]. However, while daily hostility has shown to be increased with grandiose narcissism, overall wellbeing was positively correlated with narcissism (Giacomin & Jordan, 2016). Its[grammar?] important to note that this does not translate across all aspects of narcissism, with high-level pathological narcissistic people experiencing increased guilt and shame[factual?]. Giacomin and Jordan (2016) concluded that grandiose narcissism is associated with significantly increased well-being, positive affect and greater hostility[Provide more detail]. Research in this area is somewhat conflicted, however, grandiose narcissism is typically associated with increased positive emotions, while severe narcissism and vulnerable narcissism have more negative and maladaptive experiences[factual?]. While narcissists experience emotion, the process is not the same as those of the normal population, with stronger emotions, skewed perception and no empathetic understanding[factual?]. Thus the relationship here is varied, and hard to discern. What can be clearly understood is that Narcissism has a strong impact on emotional regulation, perception and manipulation.

Emotional ManipulationEdit

Narcissists are significantly associated with concepts of gaslighting, manipulation, masking and mimicry of emotions to achieve a goal[factual?]. While manipulation is more often associated with grandiose narcissism, both types actually engage in emotion manipulation to achieve goals[factual?]. A study conducted by Casale et al. (2019) compared emotional intelligence (EI) and emotional manipulation capabilities across vulnerable, grandiose and non-narcissists. Convenience sampling yielded a sample of 584 undergraduates from the University of Florence (Italy) with a mean age of 22.61. The study concluded that vulnerable narcissists scored significantly lower on EI dimensions, while grandiose narcissists scored higher than non-narcissists in intrapersonal intelligence. Thus, while both vulnerable and grandiose groups are prone to emotionally manipulate others to achieve their goals, grandiose narcissists are better equipped to engage in successful manipulation, with higher emotional and intrapersonal intelligence (Casale et al., 2019). Of course, though this study is likely to have limited generalisability due to its sampling, it is an important direction to continue studying in order to help prevent emotional manipulation as well as rehabilitate those who experience significant manipulation from a narcissistic relation (familial, social, romantic, etc). By understanding the mechanisms used to manipulate, more countermeasures and awareness can be spread, hopefully reducing victimisation.

Romantic RelationshipsEdit

A key area that this emotional manipulation can occur is in romantic relationships. Narcissistic individuals tend to use their romantic partners to enhance their own positive self-image and reputation (Sauls et al., 2019), often seeking out partners with highly desirable qualities (success, beauty, intelligence) to foster their self-image and increase their social position. Despite this, narcissistic people tend to devalue their partner to maintain feelings of dominance and superiority (Campbell et al., 2002) in addition to not being fully committed to the relationship (cheating, flirting, etc) (Campbell & Foster, 2002). Studies have also found that narcissists intentionally make their partners jealous (Tortoriello et al., 2017) and that heightened levels of aggression and hostility are present in these relationships (Lamkin et al., 2017). These different aspects often result in severely dysfunctional relationships.

Can Narcissists Benefit from Therapy?Edit

A key characteristic of narcissism is poor emotional regulation (Chesure et al., 2020), in a therapy setting, is this able to be worked on[grammar?]? If we were able to successfully regulate narcissistic tendencies, rehabilitation could be undergone to some extent. Narcissism exercises harm on both those who have it[Rewrite to improve clarity], as well as those they encounter, thus we should explore the potential minimisation of what makes narcissism so destructive.

Narcissism and TherapyEdit

Figure 3. Poor Emotional Regulation[Provide more detail]

Those with NPD are difficult to engage in therapy, as early dropout-rates are high, emotions and thoughts are often masked by the patient, and power struggles or disagreements may escalate, leading to early termination (Ronningstam, 2017). Due to the nature of narcissism, self-reflection and acceptance of wrongdoing is significantly difficult to achieve without emotional outbursts and self-isolation. Any adverse reactions could undo the progress of therapy and alienate the patient, this needs to be successfully avoided to increase the success of long-term NPD treatment (Janusz et al., 2021)[grammar?]. While the process is difficult, the outcomes of successful long-term treatment include improved emotional regulation (Zhang et al., 2015), reduced narssistic injury, reduced grandiose perceptions of self and a more rounded understanding of self (Mosquera & Knipe, 2015).

Alliance Building to avoid terminationEdit

Therapy in this area requires a balancing act of power dynamics, alliance building strategies and the avoidance of adverse reactions that alienate both therapist and patient. As this pathology is prone to narcissistic injury and adverse reactions to potentially confronting statements or expressions, aggression, fear, detachment and dismissiveness. Alliances must be built slowly in order to create that relationship that is necessary for successful therapy (Ronningstam, 2017). This can be done by redirecting clinician's focus beyond their own negative reactions which can derail the conversation and lead to objections about treatment. This is often exacerbated by limited emotional regulation abilities, thus a small disagreement or comment can be perceived as a slight and a severe reaction follows (Czarna et al., 2015). These negative reactions often occur early in the clinical process, when insufficient motivation has been built to encourage self-reflection and curiosity necessary for gradual change (Trumpeter et al., 2006). A few key areas are controlled with this technique; the need for control in couples therapy, the fluctuating sense of self-esteem that can encourage hostility and numerous self-destructive tendencies (Kernberg, 2004) The type of narcissism being experienced significantly influences treatment, requiring a dimensional view of functioning with three levels: neurotic, borderline and psychotic. These levels allow for the categories of fragility and sturdiness to be identified, with fragility being associated with vulnerable narcissism of any level and sturdiness for grandiose (Ronningstam, 2017), this helps with measuring progress and avoiding early termination due to rushed progress (Ellison et al., 2013).


At the end of the day, narcissism does harm in the wider community, thus understanding how to control and ease this impact benefit our society. Vulnerable narcissism exacerbates negative emotions, and poorly regulates these intense feelings, leading to significant dissatisfaction in the narcissist which is externalised. Grandiose narcissists have a similar lack of control, with emotional responses correlating with manipulation, bullying and impulsivity. Narcissism breeds poor emotional control, lowered emotional intelligence (for vulnerable narcissists) and increased negative emotions. Other narcissistic tendencies include a lack of empathy, sense of entitlement, grandiose self-perception and high self-esteem.

Narcissism breeds unhealthy power dynamics, unnecessary aggression and victimises others. Widespread understanding of how to identify a narcissist, the escape routes available, and what can be done to reduce harm are crucial to growth as a community and the avoidance of silent suffering[grammar?]. Both types of NPD have significant impact on emotional processes, injuring those who are vulnerable. Working towards a solution and staying educated to keep ourselves safe from narcissistic relationships is a crucial step in addressing this problem.

See alsoEdit


Besser, A., & Zeigler-Hill, V. (2010). The influence of pathological narcissism on emotional and motivational responses to negative events: The roles of visibility and concern about humiliation. Journal of Research in Personality, 44(4), 520–534.

Blasco-Belled, A., Rogoza, R., & Alsinet, C. (2022). Vulnerable narcissism is related to the fear of being laughed at and to the joy of laughing at others. Personality and Individual Differences, 190, 111536.

Bogart, L. M., Benotsch, E. G., & Pavlovic, J. D. P. (2004). Feeling Superior but Threatened: The Relation of Narcissism to Social Comparison. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 26(1), 35–44.

Braun, S. (2017). Leader Narcissism and Outcomes in Organizations: A Review at Multiple Levels of Analysis and Implications for Future Research. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 773.

Brunell, A. B., Gentry, W. A., Campbell, W. K., Hoffman, B. J., Kuhnert, K. W., & DeMarree, K. G. (2008). Leader Emergence: The Case of the Narcissistic Leader. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(12), 1663–1676.

Campbell, W. K., & Foster, C. A. (2002). Narcissism and Commitment in Romantic Relationships: An Investment Model Analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28(4), 484–495.

Campbell, W. K., Foster, C. A., & Finkel, E. J. (2002). Does Self-Love Lead to Love for Others? A Story of Narcissistic Game Playing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(2), 340–354.

Casale, S., Rugai, L., Giangrasso, B., & Fioravanti, G. (2019). Trait-Emotional Intelligence and the Tendency to Emotionally Manipulate Others Among Grandiose and Vulnerable Narcissists. The Journal of Psychology.

Cheshure, A., Zeigler-Hill, V., Sauls, D., Vrabel, J. K., & Lehtman, M. J. (2020). Narcissism and emotion dysregulation: Narcissistic admiration and narcissistic rivalry have divergent associations with emotion regulation difficulties. Personality and Individual Differences, 154, 109679.

Czarna, A. Z., Wróbel, M., Dufner, M., & Zeigler-Hill, V. (2015). Narcissism and Emotional Contagion: Do Narcissists “Catch” the Emotions of Others? Social Psychological and Personality Science, 6(3), 318–324.

Ellison, W. D., Levy, K. N., Cain, N. M., Ansell, E. B., & Pincus, A. L. (2013). The Impact of Pathological Narcissism on Psychotherapy Utilization, Initial Symptom Severity, and Early-Treatment Symptom Change: A Naturalistic Investigation. Journal of Personality Assessment, 95(3), 291–300.

Giacomin, M., & Jordan, C. H. (2016). Self-focused and feeling fine: Assessing state narcissism and its relation to well-being. Journal of Research in Personality, 63, 12–21.

Hofmann, J., Heintz, S., Pang, D., & Ruch, W. (2020). Differential Relationships of Light and Darker Forms of Humor with Mindfulness. Applied Research in Quality of Life, 15(2), 369–393.

Janusz, B., Bergmann, J. R., Matusiak, F., & Peräkylä, A. (2021). Practices of Claiming Control and Independence in Couple Therapy With Narcissism. Frontiers in Psychology, 11.

Kernberg, O. (2004). Aggressivity, Narcissism, and Self-Destructiveness in the Psychotherapeutic Rela: New Developments in the Psychopathology and Psychotherapy of Severe Personality Disorders. Yale University Press.

Lamkin, J., Lavner, J. A., & Shaffer, A. (2017). Narcissism and observed communication in couples. Personality and Individual Differences, 105, 224–228.

Miller, J. D., Gentile, B., Wilson, L., & Campbell, W. K. (2013). Grandiose and Vulnerable Narcissism and the DSM–5 Pathological Personality Trait Model. Journal of Personality Assessment, 95(3), 284–290.

Miller, J. D., Lynam, D. R., Hyatt, C. S., & Campbell, W. K. (2017). Controversies in Narcissism. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 13, 291–315.

Miller, J. D., Lynam, D. R., Vize, C., Crowe, M., Sleep, C., Maples‐Keller, J. L., Few, L. R., Campbell, W. K., & Maples-Keller, J. L. (2018). Vulnerable Narcissism Is (Mostly) a Disorder of Neuroticism. Journal of Personality, 86(2), 186–199.

Mosquera, D., & Knipe, J. (2015). Understanding and Treating Narcissism With EMDR Therapy. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 9(1), 46–63.

O’Reilly, C. A., & Chatman, J. A. (2020). Transformational Leader or Narcissist? How Grandiose Narcissists Can Create and Destroy Organizations and Institutions. California Management Review, 62(3), 5–27.

O’Reilly, C. A., & Hall, N. (2021). Grandiose narcissists and decision making: Impulsive, overconfident, and skeptical of experts–but seldom in doubt. Personality and Individual Differences, 168, 110280.

Ronningstam, E. (2017). Intersect between self-esteem and emotion regulation in narcissistic personality disorder—Implications for alliance building and treatment. Borderline Personality Disorder and Emotion Dysregulation, 4(1), 3.

Ruch, W., Hofmann, J., Platt, T., & Proyer, R. (2013). The state-of-the art in gelotophobia research: A review and some theoretical extensions. Humor - International Journal of Humor Research, 27.

Sauls, D., Zeigler-Hill, V., Vrabel, J. K., & Lehtman, M. J. (2019). How do narcissists get what they want from their romantic partners? The connections that narcissistic admiration and narcissistic rivalry have with influence strategies. Personality and Individual Differences, 147, 33–42.

Schalkwijk, F., Luyten, P., Ingenhoven, T., & Dekker, J. (2021). Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Are Psychodynamic Theories and the Alternative DSM-5 Model for Personality Disorders Finally Going to Meet? Frontiers in Psychology, 12.

Tortoriello, G. K., Hart, W., Richardson, K., & Tullett, A. M. (2017). Do narcissists try to make romantic partners jealous on purpose? An examination of motives for deliberate jealousy-induction among subtypes of narcissism. Personality and Individual Differences, 114, 10–15.

Trumpeter, N., Watson, P. J., & O’Leary, B. J. (2006). Factors within Multidimensional Perfectionism Scales: Complexity of relationships with Self-Esteem, Narcissism, Self-Control, and Self-Criticism. Personality and Individual Differences, 41(5), 849–860.

Zhang, H., Wang, Z., You, X., Lü, W., & Luo, Y. (2015). Associations between narcissism and emotion regulation difficulties: Respiratory sinus arrhythmia reactivity as a moderator. Biological Psychology, 110, 1–11.

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