Narcissistic personality traits in adulthood: The role of experience of childhood parenting, attachment orientation and emotional regulation
A narcissistic personality disorder may cause substantial suffering to those grappling with it as well as others around them. Despite clinical studies conducted, the disorder’s etiology remains unknown, and its causes are still being researched. The present study will attempt to trace the associations between the experience of childhood parenting, attachment orientation and emotional regulation, and narcissistic personality traits.
Attachment theory focuses on the initial bond between child and his/her primary caregivers, and the implications of this bond in adulthood. Studies and theoricans describe how an insecure attachment system is formed, and how it affects emotional regulation and mental health (Bowlby, 1969/1982; Mikulincer, & Shaver, 2008). Experience of childhood parenting plays a key role in informing individuals’ ability to construct their ‘self’ and ‘others’ represantations. , and develop emotional regulation.
The study hypothesizes that a non-benovelent experience of childhood parenting and an insecure attachment style may be associated with narcissistic personality traits in adulthood. Another study hypothesis emanates from the fact that various scholars and theorists argue that emotional regulation plays a major role in the functioning of individuals with narcissistic personality traits. The study model also assumes that emotional regulation mediates the connection between the predicting variables (experience of childhood parenting and attachment style) and dependent variable – narcissistic personality traits. Finally, the study examined the role of gender, exploring whether there is any difference in attachment style and narcissistic personality traits between men and women. Life events served as a control variable.
In the present study, 141 women and 75 men (N=216) were asked to fill out the following self-report questionnaires: A demographic data questionnaire; The Parental Bonding Instrument – PBI; The Experiences in Close Relationships Scale – ECR; The Pathological Narcissism Inventory – PNI; The Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale – DERS; and The Traumatic Life Events Questionnaire.
The study hypothesis whereby a link would be found between high levels of avoidant or anxious attachment style and high levels of narcissistic personality traits (grandiose and vulnerable) was partially supported, as an anxious attachment style was found to be associated with higher levels of grandiose narcissistic traits. However, contrary to the study hypothesis, an avoidant attachment style was not found to be associated with a grandiose personality. Nevertheless, both avoidant and anxious attachment styles were found to be associated with higher levels of vulnerable narcissism.
The second study hypothesis whereby an association would be found between experience of father’s and mother’s childhood parenting (parental caring/control) and narcissistic personality traits (grandiose/vulnerable) was also supported in part. The study found that a mother’s controlling parenting was associated with higher levels of vulnerable narcissism. However, contrary to the study hypothesis, maternal parenting perceived as more caring was found to be associated with higher levels of a grandiose narcissistic personality. Caring paternal parenting was associated with lower levels of vulnerable narcissism.
The third study hypothesis whereby a high level of insecure attachment (avoidant or anxious) would be associated with a lower level of emotional regulation was fully supported, so that both anxious and avoidant attachment styles were found to be connected to higher levels of difficulty in individuals’ emotional regulation.
The fourth hypothesis explored the link between low parental caring, high control, and emotional/physical abuse, and a lower level of emotional regulation. In line with it, the study found that when fathers are perceived as having been less caring, more controlling and abusive, lower levels of emotional regulation were reported. Contrary to this finding, no association was found between experience of mother’s childhood parenting and emotional regulation.
The fifth study hypothesis examined the mediating effect of emotional regulation on the link between attachment style and narcissistic personality traits were partially supported. Insecure attachment was found to be associated with low levels of emotional regulation which, in turn, were associated with vulnerable narcissism. No associatin, however, was found between levels of emotional regulation and grandiose narcissism.
Finally, the sixth hypothesis examined emotional regulation as a mediator between experience of childhood parenting and narcissistic personality traits. This hypothesis was fully supported, as low levels of parental caring and high levels of parental control were found to be associated with greater difficulty regulating emotion. This, in turn, was found to be associated with both vulnerable and grandiose narcissism.
With respect to gender differences, men were found to be with higher levels of avoidant attachment than women. However, no significant differences were found between men and women in levels of anxious attachment. Moreover, men reported higher levels of grandiose narcissism than women, while vulnerable narcissism levels displayed no gender differences.
Literature indicates a lacuna in understanding the connection between relationship with parents in childhood and the development of narcissistic personality traits (Smolewska, & Dion, 2005; Rohmann, Neumann, Herner, & Bierhoff, 2012). The present study sought to deepen knowledge on the connection between insecure attachment and narcissistic personality traits in adulthood. It further attempted to trace the differences between insecure attachment orientation (anxious/avoidant) and the kind of narcissistic traits reported (grandiose/vulnerable) (Dickinson & Pincus, 2003).
The study’s key contribution lies in its finding that anxious attachment was associated with the vulnerable narcissism. Understanding and acknowledgment of these relationships may have a clinically applied contribution in the treatment room.
Last Updated Date : 18/07/2019