Are Narcissists at Risk for Developing Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are a group of mental illnesses that are complex. People suffering from an eating disorder develop it based on a combination of factors— there is no one single cause. These factors widely range from genetics to brain chemistry to environmental.

Other psychological conditions can also be a factor and put people at risk for developing eating disorders. One personality disorder that may be a risk factor is narcissism.

Grandiose vs. Vulnerable Narcissism

Narcissism is a personality disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own self-importance. They crave attention and admiration and cannot handle criticism. Narcissists basically fall into one of two categories: grandiose or vulnerable.

In short, a grandiose narcissist will think you're delusional if you point out their flaws; a vulnerable narcissist will be aware of those flaws and feel humiliated when they are highlighted.

Researchers have discovered a link between vulnerable narcissism and eating disorders. The link comes down to two basic factors: the desire for validation, or to become a martyr.

Vulnerable Narcissism and Validation

Vulnerable narcissists crave validation from others but don't receive it well. Because of this, the desire to reach a certain standard of beauty could turn into an eating disorder.

Danushika Sivanathan, Ph.D., tells the Australian National University in the publication Medical Press, "People with this personality type are more susceptible to eating disorders because they have a high focus on receiving validation from others to maintain a positive sense of self... However, at the same time, they are not very good in situations with others, which makes them unable to receive this validation."

"This means they can't maintain their positive sense of self and they have additional negative feelings which they manage through some of these eating disorder symptoms," Sivanathan adds.

Vulnerable Narcissism and Martyrdom

Vulnerable narcissists may also embrace behaviors associated with eating disorders as a form of martyrdom.

"The ‘poor me’ [defense] style sees oneself as being poorly treated by others. Thus, the presentation is a ‘martyred’ one, where self-esteem is maintained by seeing the self as being misunderstood and subject to intolerable demands," writes Raj Persaud, M.D. et al., authors of the study Narcissism and Narcissistic Defences in the Eating Disorders.

It's a Noteworthy Link

Not every vulnerable narcissist will develop an eating disorder, and not every person with an eating disorder suffers from narcissism. Still, the link is something health care providers should take into consideration in formulating a treatment plan.

Sources: Medical Xpress, Tremr

Photo: Pexels

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