A diary study published in the Journal of Research in Personality offers evidence for the role of shame in narcissistic personality, suggesting that those high in vulnerable narcissism experience more shame in everyday life.
Previous research has suggested that the occurrence of shame can lead to harmful behaviors in those with narcissistic tendencies. However, findings on the subject have been mixed. As study authors Marco Di Sarno and colleagues say, clarifying the relationship between shame and narcissism is important for clinicians hoping to formulate successful treatment plans for patients with pathological narcissism.
“The present study investigated whether feelings of shame are typical of pathological narcissism, and examined if narcissistic traits modulate the impact of situations on such emotional experiences,” Di Sarno and associates say.
Using a longitudinal design and multiple measures of narcissism, the researchers hoped to overcome some of the limitations of previous studies.
A sample of 196 young adults, with an average age of 22, took part in a diary study. At baseline, participants completed self-report measures of narcissism using the Brief Pathological Narcissism Inventory (B-PNI) and the Five-Factor Narcissism Inventory – Short Form (FFNI-SF). They also completed measures of shame-proneness and self-esteem.
Next, all participants downloaded an app where they would be prompted to respond to a short survey once a day for 28 days. The daily questionnaires assessed how participants were feeling that day in terms of shame, grandiose narcissism, vulnerable narcissism, and self-esteem.
First, results showed that trait vulnerable narcissism was positively correlated with daily shame, as averaged across the 28 days. This was true according to both the B-PNI and FFNI-SF measures of vulnerable narcissism. Simply put by Di Sarno and team, “the higher vulnerable narcissism, the more participants experienced shame.”
Moreover, a number of components included in the assessments of vulnerable narcissism were also positively correlated with daily shame. “Participants with fragile self-esteem (i.e., B-PNI contingent self-esteem), a tendency to devalue intimacy for fear of disappointment (i.e., B-PNI devaluing), and pronounced needs for admiration (i.e., FFNI-SF) were more likely to experience shame.” Only the entitlement rage assessment from the B-PNI was negatively correlated with shame.
“In other words,” the researchers say, “the present study leaves little doubt that conscious experiences of shame are typical of those who score higher on measures of vulnerable narcissism, with the probable exception of those who tend to react with hostility to unmet entitled expectations.”
As the authors emphasize, on days when participants reported feeling more vulnerable, they reported feeling more shame, as well. When subjects reported feeling more grandiose, they indicated feeling less shame. “Conscious experiences of shame may be to some extent incompatible with simultaneous conscious experiences of grandiosity (Broucek, 1982). In a sense, if dispositional grandiose narcissism does not necessarily protect against shame, feeling grandiose in the moment usually does,” Di Sarno and colleagues suggest.
Limitations of the study include its reliance on self-report measures and a nonclinical sample of young adults, who were mainly female. The authors suggest that future studies should aim to include a more diverse sample of participants.
The study, “Shame behind the corner? A daily diary investigation of pathological narcissism”, was authored by Marco Di Sarno, Johannes Zimmermann, Fabio Madeddu, Erica Casini, and Rossella Di Pierro.