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Buren, B.R. Meehan, K.B. (2015). Child Maltreatment and Vulnerable Narcissism: The Roles of Shame and Disavowed Need. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 63(3):555-561.

(2015). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 63(3):555-561

Child Maltreatment and Vulnerable Narcissism: The Roles of Shame and Disavowed Need

Brian R. Van Buren and Kevin B. Meehan

Exposure to maltreatment during childhood (physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, physical or emotional neglect) is associated with increased risk for narcissistic personality pathology (Lobbestael, Arntz, and Bernstein 2010), although studies examining this relationship have looked primarily at DSM-IV criteria for narcissistic personality disorder rather than narcissistic character styles. Yet recent conceptualizations of narcissistic pathology have noted that narcissistic personality disorder likely reflects only one subtype of narcissistic pathology, referred to as “grandiose narcissism(Cain, Pincus, and Ansell 2008). As a result, most investigations of the developmental precursors of pathological narcissism, including child maltreatment (CM), have focused only on its grandiose presentation. However, an alternative presentation of narcissism, marked by self-consciousness, shame, and helplessness and collectively referred to as “vulnerable narcissism,” has been shown to be equally maladaptive (Pincus et al. 2009). There is thus a need to empirically evaluate the potential risk factors for vulnerable narcissism in survivors of CM.

Kohut's developmental model of pathological narcissism (1971) lends theoretical support to the notion that early maladaptive experiences with caregivers, including CM, may result in the type of emotional and relational internal experience that has since been conceptualized as vulnerable narcissism. In Kohut's formulation, caregivers are experienced as “selfobjects,” or emerging parts of one's sense of self. Caregivers fulfill needs considered central to optimal narcissistic development, which for Kohut is the bedrock of optimal personality functioning. When needs are unmet, the infant is left with impaired abilities to regulate self-esteem and may defensively avoid and disavow them. The end result of disavowed needs may therefore be the phenomenon now known as narcissistic vulnerability. However, few studies have examined the specific maladaptive developmental experiences associated with avoidance of selfobject needs.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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