Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Diana Diamond

Subject Categories



attachment, DSM, narcissism, personality disorders, psychopathology, reflective functioning


This study examined the relationship of adaptive and pathological (grandiose and vulnerable) expressions of narcissism to attachment style and the capacity for reflective functioning (RF). Narcissism serves a relevant personality construct in clinical theory, social psychology and psychiatry but remains inconsistently defined across these disciplines. Theoretical accounts support the notion that attachment difficulties and maladaptive patterns of mentally representing self and others serve as the substrates for narcissistic pathology but are less pronounced in adaptive narcissism. A multiple regression analysis was conducted in a college student sample of 345 participants applying a cross-sectional, survey design. It was hypothesized that pathological narcissism (grandiose or vulnerable) is associated with higher degrees of attachment-related anxiety and avoidance and lower levels of RF than is adaptive narcissism.

Results: With respect to convergent validity, measures of adaptive and pathological narcissism exhibited a differential pattern of correlations to general psychopathology, thereby supporting the notion that distinct constructs crystallize within narcissism's heterogeneity. Multiple regression analysis confirmed the two-component structure of pathological narcissism representing narcissistic grandiosity and narcissistic vulnerability. Narcissistic vulnerability significantly predicted higher levels of attachment anxiety, an effect that remained after controlling for narcissistic grandiosity and adaptive narcissism. In contrast, adaptive narcissism significantly predicted lower levels of attachment anxiety. Contrary to expectation, this effect was not observed for avoidant attachment, i.e. pathological narcissism was not found to be a stronger predictor of avoidant attachment than adaptive narcissism. This study further found that pathological narcissism was not a stronger predictor of poor reflective functioning than was adaptive narcissism. In sum, these findings illustrate how overall psychopathology and attachment anxiety vary across the three narcissistic expressions, thereby weakening narcissism's clinical utility as currently defined in the DSM-5. Theoretical and treatment implications are also reviewed.

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