Narcissism and Eating Disorders

Today we will take a look at how narcissistic personality disorder manifests alongside eating disorder behavior.

Based on meta-analysis of Cassin & Ranson, 2005, narcissistic personality disorder is diagnosed in 2% to 16% of eating disorder patients, with the lower estimate of 2% arising from the more reliable assessment procedures.

Research suggests that bulimic attitudes and behaviors are associated with classic narcissistic personality traits (Brunton, Lacey, and Waller, 2005), and that restrictive eating is associated with the “poor me” form of narcissism in which others are viewed as abusive and the individual must, like a martyr, place the needs of others first (Brunton, Lacey, and Waller, 2005). As such, there is evidence that narcissistic wounding is indeed related to eating disorder development and maintenance. Below we explore the concept of narcissistic wounding in relation to eating disorders

The Symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

  • Similar to the traits of individuals with strong self-esteem and confidence
  • Narcissists have such an elevated sense of self-worth that they value themselves as inherently better than others
  • Narcissists have a fragile self-esteem and cannot handle criticism, and will often try to compensate for their fragility by putting down others in an attempt to validate their own

How Does Narcissism Develop?

  • If children see disappointment in their parental mirrors, they believe they are disappointments and develop an ongoing struggle for acceptance.
  • Children use self-centeredness and grandiose narcissistic behaviors as defenses against cold and unemphatic parents.
  • Grandiosity becomes the compensatory strategy to deal with feelings of inadequacy and helps a child to focus on what the child perceives their parents value.
  • Narcissistically wounded eating disorder patients commonly come from families that value fitness and thinness and disdain people who are overweight.

If children do not experience validation and healthy praise this narcissistic wounding obstructs and distorts the development of their identity, creating feelings of inadequacy and a constant need to seek out mirrors. The goal is to get the mirrors to reflect back a desirable image of self. Such individuals hope to see in others what they did not see in their
parents: acceptance, approval, love and a sense that they are special and important. When a narcissist sees this image reflected back, they feel good. But sooner or later, the mirroring other will criticize or say “no” to the individual or focus on someone else. This perceived rejection becomes a narcissistic insult that opens up past wounds, resulting in extreme pain and rage, known as narcissistic rage. Individuals then use compensatory strategies to deal with the pain and protect themselves from humiliation.