Researchers Find Narcissism Can Fuel Depression Or Depressive Symptoms

mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant By Sarah Regan
mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant
Sarah Regan is a writer, registered yoga instructor, and Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Reflection of a Thoughtful Woman

Image by A.J. Schokora / Stocksy

We all know those people who seem to like themselves a little too much. But it might be surprising to learn there may be a deep unhappiness running beneath the confident facade. Narcissism—characterized by excessive interest in or admiration of oneself—can be incredibly hard for other people to deal with. But despite narcissists having an elevated sense of self-worth, a new study has found they may actually be more prone to depression.

According to a team of researchers from the University of British Columbia, the University of Sherbrooke, and Penn State University, it comes down to another characteristic of narcissism: emotional regulation, or lack thereof, and how narcissistic vulnerability makes people susceptible to depressive symptoms. Here's what researchers found.

Grandiosity versus vulnerability.

To understand the relationship between pathological narcissism and depression, David Kealy Ph.D.; Olivier Laverdière, Ph.D.; and Aaron Pincus, Ph.D.; conducted a study on 99 psychiatric outpatients. They specifically wanted to examine how emotional processing and regulation affected narcissistic grandiosity and vulnerability, two qualifiers of a narcissist.

"Grandiosity," or an inflated sense of self-importance and superiority, is a classic sign of a narcissist that most people are familiar with, but another telltale sign that's considered much less often is "narcissistic vulnerability."

Narcissistic vulnerability has a different effect than grandiosity, and it was also correlated with depression in the research. Imagine being self-absorbed but in a self-pitying, hypersensitive way, in which any actual or perceived slight is magnified and overreacted to. That's essentially what narcissistic vulnerability looks like, and it can end up fueling depressive symptoms.

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Narcissistic vulnerability contributes to depressive symptoms.

Based on the findings, the researchers contend that narcissistic vulnerability can give rise to "persistent and intrusive" negative thoughts and feelings, which then contribute to depression or depressive symptoms.

While the exact process isn't fully understood, it's thought that an inability to process and regulate emotions is related to the depressive symptoms observed in narcissists. More research is necessary to fully understand how narcissistic traits affect an individual, but it would seem that, like the rest of us, narcissists could benefit from mindfulness or emotional intelligence practices, to help identify when they're being overly sensitive and process those feelings in a more rational way.

But all hope is not lost for narcissists, by the way. Research has found self-absorbed behaviors, like being overly sensitive to criticism, generally decrease over time, suggesting narcissists can learn to self-regulate and change for the better.

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