Narcissistic traits in young people and how experiencing shame relates to current attachment challenges

Publication Name

BMC Psychiatry


Background: Young people with pathological narcissistic traits may have more maladaptive ways of relating to themselves and others. In this study, we investigated how the experience of shame may be a mechanism by which vulnerable and grandiose pathological narcissism relates to negative and positive internalised models of the self and others, manifested as attachment styles. Methods: Participants (N = 348) were young people who reported on pathological narcissism, the experience of shame and their model of self and others (secure, dismissive, preoccupied and fearful attachment). Mediation of the experience of shame between vulnerable and grandiose narcissism on the one hand and secure, dismissive, preoccupied and fearful attachment on the other hand, was tested using a path model. Results: Shame mediated the relationship between vulnerable narcissism and a more negative model of others and self (i.e. less secure, more fearful and more preoccupied in attachment). Higher grandiose narcissism traits were related to a more positive model of others and self (i.e. more secure attachment) and were unrelated to the experience of shame. Conclusions: Young people with vulnerable narcissism traits tended to report more shame, and struggled to be close to others. It may be that shame experiences highlight a discrepancy between the ideal and actual self that may contribute to a more insecure attachment style. A good working alliance and fostering self-compassion may counter some negative effects of shame in those most vulnerable, but dismissal in those most grandiose presents a clinical conundrum requiring further research.

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Funding Sponsor

NSW Ministry of Health



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