Grandiose and vulnerable narcissists have different responses to infidelity

Narcissistic people tend to respond differently to infidelity depending on whether they’re grandiose or vulnerable narcissists, according to new research published in the
Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

Vulnerable narcissism is marked by excessive self-absorption, introversion and insecurity, while grandiose narcissism is characterized by an exaggerated sense of superiority, extroversion, and domineering behavior.

“My collaborators and I have been interested in studying what motivates narcissists’ destructive behavior in their romantic relationships. Some of our prior work has suggested that narcissists are more likely to intentionally induce jealousy in their romantic partners as a relational strategy, but what motivates this strategy depends on the type of narcissist,” said study author Gregory Tortoriello of The University of Alabama.

“Both ‘grandiose’ and ‘vulnerable’ narcissists seem intent on pursuing power and control over their romantic partners, but vulnerable narcissists also seek reassurance, relational security, and compensation for a tenuous self-worth. For our present study, we were interested in how these motives in grandiose and vulnerable narcissists might be instigated by jealousy-inducing threats from their romantic partners and whether these motives predict jealousy-related narcissistic behaviors.”

In the study of 269 undergraduate students, the participants completed the Narcissistic Personality Inventory and Hypersensitive Narcissism Scale before responding to brief descriptions of their romantic partners committing sexual or emotional infidelity.

The researchers found that grandiose narcissists and vulnerable narcissists differed in their response to infidelity.

“Our data suggest that in jealousy-inducing situations, grandiose narcissists want to regain power and control over the romantic partners, which explains their greater likelihood of responding with verbal threats, physical aggression, and restricting their partner’s access to rivals,” Tortoriello told PsyPost.

“Vulnerable narcissists exhibit the same motives and behaviors when jealousy-inducing threats are sexual (for example, their partner cheats on them). However, when jealousy-inducing threats are emotional (for example, their partner spends more time with someone else), they are more worried and feel a greater intensity of negative emotions. As a result, vulnerable narcissists not only want to regain power and control in their relationship, but they also seek more reassurance, relational security, and compensation for low self-esteem.”

The study — like all research — includes some limitations.

“Our study design prohibits cause-and-effect conclusions, meaning that we cannot determine whether narcissists’ heightened motives from experiencing jealousy-inducing threats actually cause their narcissistic behavior,” Tortoriello explained.

“Furthermore, all jealousy-inducing situations were imagined and simulated, so we did not expose narcissists to actual threats which may elicit some different psychological and behavioral responses. We are hopeful that some of these limitations might be addressed in future research.”

“Dysfunction in narcissists’ romantic relationships is pervasive,” Tortoriello added. “Although research in this area is burgeoning, the study of narcissism in relationships is complex and requires a multidimensional approach for examining narcissists’ thoughts, feelings, motivations, and behaviors. Certainly, more research is still needed to advance our preliminary understanding of narcissists’ experience of jealousy.”

The study, “Modeling the interplay between narcissism, relational motives, and jealousy-induced responses to infidelity threat“, was authored by Gregory K. Tortoriello and William Hart.