Narcissism and vulnerability

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1. PSYCHOANALYTIC PSYCHOLOGY, 12(), 115-126Copyright © 1995, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Adult Attachment Style and Narcissistic Vulnerability M. Carole Pistole…
  • 1. PSYCHOANALYTIC PSYCHOLOGY, 12(), 115-126Copyright © 1995, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Adult Attachment Style and Narcissistic Vulnerability M. Carole Pistole Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey Although attachment theory has traditionally emphasized adaptive responses in the child-parent relationship, researchers have more recently applied attach- ment theory to adult love relationships. Both the child and adult literature have explored individual differences in attachment behavior and identified stylistic categories of secure and insecure attachments. Although the insecure categories are characterized by overt behavior which appears quite different (i.e., clinging vs. distance), in adult relationships where attachment is reciprocal, these stylis- tic patterns may achieve a similar function. In this article, I argue that, in adult relationships, insecure attachments reflect strategies for managing a greater level of narcissistic vulnerability than exists in secure attachment.Attachment theory, which has a long-standing history and extensive liter-ature in child development, has recently been extended to investigatingadults love relationships. Both the child and adult literature have ad-dressed qualitative or stylistic differences in how relatively healthy per-sons function in attachment relationships. In the adult literature,researchers have focused on individual differences in secure and insecurecategories and have not yet considered how insecure attachments, whichseem different from one another, may serve a similar purpose. Such adistinction may be relevant only for adult attachment relationships, inwhich the partners serve as attachment figures for each other and in whichthe caregiving and sexual systems are also active in the relationship(Shaver, Hazan, & Bradshaw, 1988). In this article, I link attachment andnarcissism to illuminate how different insecure categories of adult attach-ment may be similar despite different overt characteristics. Requests for reprints should be sent to M. Carole Pistole, Department of Educational Psy-chology, Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University, 10 Seminary Place, New Bruns-wick, NJ 08903.
  • 2. 116 PISTOLE ADULT ATTACHMENTAttachment (Bowlby, 1979, 1988) influences development, psycholog calorganization, and adult love (Shaver & Hazan, 1988; Shaver et: al., 19 !8).According to Bowlby, attachment is a behavioral system experienced . s abond with a particular other who is sensed as a source of security and sal ;ty.As a safe base, the attachment figure facilitates exploration and the qus lityof development throughout the lifespan. More successful exploration re-duces a stronger sense of capability, and this in turn contributes to appro m-ate self-reliance, autonomy, and success in relationships and work. Behavior within attachment relationships is planned and guided b / acognitive-affective schema or "internal working model" that is origin .11 yconstructed in infancy from interactions (Bowlby, 1979, 1988). This mo lei,which also mediates the experiencing and meaning of the relationship, in-cludes (a) expectations about the others caring and responsiveness, (b)beliefs about the selfs worthiness of care and attention, and (c) rules foraffect regulation (e.g., in negative or distressing situations; Kobak & Sc& rj,1988; Mikulincer, Florian, & Tolmacz, 1990). These working models arethought to underlie individual differences in adult attachment style. Stimulated by an interest in love (Shaver & Hazan, 1988) and building onthe work of Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, and Wall (1978) with infants, Ha :anand Shaver (1987) identified three forms of adult attachment relationshi DS:secure, insecure-anxious-ambivalent, and insecure-avoidant. More rec ;ntresearch (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991), which conceptualized styleslogically by crossing positive and negative models of both self and otl er,suggests that a four-style model (secure, preoccupied, avoidant-fearful, ; ndavoidant-dismissing) may more accurately describe adult attachment. I i acomparison of the three and four-style models, Brennan, Shaver, and Tot ey(1991) found systematic correspondence between the frameworks. The c is-cussion in this article is organized along a three-style model because feai : u.and dismissing are both avoidant styles with much in common.1 Briefly, the research indicates that the securely attached are more coi fi-dent and competent in their emotional interactions, more "happy, frienc lyand trusting" (Hazan & Shaver, 1987, p. 515). Preoccupied (or anxious-a n-bivalent) attachment is characterized by clinging and neediness and anintense focus on the partner (Feeney & Noller, 1990; Hazan & Shaver, 198 7).Avoidant attachment is distinguished by emotional distance and a comp il-sive self-reliance (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991; Hazan & Shaver, 198 7). NARCISSISMAs introduced by Freud (1914/1961), the term narcissism has been used todescribe a variety of clinical phenomena, including the libidinal investmi nt Distinctions between fearful and dismissing avoidance are articulated when meaningful.
  • 3. ATTACHMENT 11 7of the self (Moore & Fine, 1990; Sandier, Person, & Fonagy, 1991). Incurrent usage, the term narcissism, despite theoretical differences betweenauthors, is often used in the context of self-esteem and refers to an aspect ofpersonality, (i.e., of ego organization) that manifests in both healthy andpathological ways (Blanck & Blanck, 1979; Kernberg, 1985; Kohut & Wolf,1978; Moore & Fine, 1990; Sandier et a l , 1991). Narcissism is related to the cognitive-affective patterning or structuringof the intrapsychic self (Blanck & Blanck, 1979; Kernberg, 1985; Kohut &Wolf, 1978). With a well-patterned or solid intrapsychic structure, the personis able to (a) soothe and comfort self (i.e., regulate esteem internally; Baker& Baker, 1987), (b) sustain goals and relationships (Patton & Robbins,1982), and (c) value both self and significant others (i.e., there is an evendistribution of self-esteem and other-esteem; Blanck & Blanck, 1979; Moore& Fine, 1990). If, however, the self-structure is less patterned or morenondifferentiated, positive valuing of the self and management of esteemfunctions depend more on others behaving in ways that support the self—that is, provide valuing, confirming, or comforting functions (Baker &Baker, 1987; Patton & Robbins, 1982). With a more fragile self-structure,the person has more difficulty maintaining an inner sense of comfort andesteem and so is more easily wounded or hurt (i.e., more narcissisticallyvulnerable). ATTACHMENT AND NARCISSISMAlthough attachment and narcissism share some theoretical components,they target separate phenomena. Both theories involve cognitive-affectivepatterning, address affect regulation, and can accommodate healthy as wellas pathological development and functioning (see Armstrong & Roth, 1989;Belsky & Nezworski, 1988; Bowlby, 1988; West & Sheldon, 1988). Attach-ment, however, addresses the persons "need for proximity, care, and secu-rity from another who can be experienced as separate from the s e l f(Silverman, 1991, p. 183). Although Bowlby (1988) proposed that the attach-ment system becomes integrated as an aspect of personality, the emphasis ofthe theory is on interpersonal behavior and its representation. In contrast,narcissism encompasses more general self-regard and undifferentiated ormerged aspects of ego organization. When pathological, narcissism ad-dresses a "sense of self lacking sufficient inner resources to give meaning tolife simply by living it fully" (Bromberg, 1986, p. 441). Nevertheless, look-ing at adult attachment relationships without reference to narcissism mayobscure how attachment patterns are related to esteem and self-protection. Inthis article, I argue that insecure attachment is characterized by a greaterdegree of narcissistic vulnerability than secure attachment. Concomitantly,preoccupied and avoidant attachment reflect different strategies for manag-ing vulnerability and self-esteem.
  • 4. 11 8 PISTOLE ATTACHMENT AND SELF-ESTEEM MANAGEMENTAll persons experience fluctuations in self-esteem (Kohut & Wolf, 19 8),but persons with less narcissistic vulnerability are more able "to man igsfeelings like inadequacy, weakness, incompetence, or guilt" (Kinston, l c 87,p. 220). Being appropriately self-reliant, experiencing competence and n as-tery in relation to internal standards and goals, is also a way of manag ngesteem (see Elson, 1987; Kernberg, 1985). In addition, self-esteem is reh tedto feelings about ones worth and value (Solomon, 1989). Although theprevious components have not been examined directly in adult attachm> nt,research can be construed as supporting the notion that the securely attac ledare more capable at managing esteem. In secure attachment, more compel sntaffect regulation is suggested by a more frequent occurrence of posii iveemotion (Simpson, 1990), fewer symptoms of distress (e.g., anxiety, ho; til-ity, loneliness; Hazan & Shaver, 1990; Kobak & Sceery, 1988), and gre; terego resilience (Kobak & Hazan, 1991; Kobak & Sceery, 1988). Sec ireattachment is also associated with lower levels of self-conscious anxi ;ty(Feeney & Noller, 1990). Other research indicates that the securely attaci edhave more competency or mastery experiences with which to regulate ss-teem by living up to internal standards. Securely attached adults have a 1 ;s:>emotionally permeated approach to goals evidenced by greater satisfact onwith work, less difficulty completing tasks, and less fear of failure or rej ac-tion from co-workers (Hazan & Shaver, 1990). In addition, attachment in: lu-ences college students adjustment arid career maturity (Blustein, Walbrid *e,Friedlander, & Palladino, 1991; Kenny, 1987a, 1987b; Lapsley, Rice, &Fitzgerald, 1990). Secure attachment is also associated with more success rulrelationship functioning as demonstrated through longer relationship ife(Hazan & Shaver, 1987); use of an integrating style of conflict resolut on(Pistole, 1989); and higher levels of passion, commitment, and satisfact on(Levy & Davis, 1988). Furthermore, measured in various ways in seve rastudies, self-worth is consistently higher among the securely attached (C j -lins & Read, 1990; Feeney & Noller, 1990; Hazan & Shaver, 1987; Ryar &.Lynch, 1989). Research suggests, therefore, that secure attachment is disl n-guished by more effective self-esteem management and, by implication, v, tha more solid self-structure and less narcissistic vulnerability. INTERPERSONAL EFFECTS OF NARCISSISTIC VULNERABILITYNarcissistic vulnerability affects the management of adults love relatii n-ships (Elson, 1987; Solomon, 1989), because the person needs to obt inself-functions from the environment. Relationships that are not driven oynarcissistic vulnerability involve "a mutuality in which the focus on the s ;li
  • 5. ATTACHMENT 11 9is balanced by recognition of another as a separate, autonomous self (Solo-mon, 1989, p. 47). The self is solid enough that the partner is intellectuallyand emotionally experienced as different and separate from self (i.e., withseparate interests and desires). Although involvement with the partner doesheighten self-esteem, esteem enhancement is provided through a sense ofmastery or competence including success in the relationship and apprecia-tion of the partner as a way of fulfilling internal values and standards. Research indicates that secure attachment relationships demonstrate asense of self and the partner as separate. For example, secure attachment hasbeen associated with more positive views of others (Collins & Read, 1990;Hazan & Shaver, 1987), interdependence (Simpson, 1990), intimacy(Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991; Levy & Davis, 1988), trust (Feeney &Noller, 1990; Hazan & Shaver, 1987), and mutuality (Feeney & Noller,1991). Securely attached adults have reported "being able to accept andsupport the partner despite the partners faults" (Hazan & Shaver, 1987, p.515); and in describing their relationships, they "emphasize the importanceof openness and closeness . . . while at the same time seeking to retain theirindividual identity" (Feeney & Noller, 1991, p. 208). The picture thatemerges of secure attachment includes an appreciation of both self and otheras well as a capacity for openness and cooperativeness. This description isconsistent with others being perceived as separate people and with esteembeing distributed between self and other.Narcissistic Use of the PartnerMore narcissistically based relationships are characterized by the needs ofthe self assuming a primary importance. The self is more fragile, and esteemis more difficult to manage internally—that is, there exists a greater degreeof narcissistic vulnerability (Solomon, 1989). The person is more sensitiveto emotional injury, focuses attention more on personal needs than on thepartner, and expects partner to behave in affirming and self-enhancing ways.Interactions with the partner are often dictated by the need to stabilize asense of worth and to regulate feelings, especially negative feelings aboutself (see Kinston, 1987). More narcissistically vulnerable persons, in adapting, organize defensivestructures (i.e., patterns "of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors"; Patton &Robbins, 1982, p. 880) that attempt to cover over or compensate for thevulnerability and thereby protect the self. Rather than regulating esteemneeds through an internal self-confirming process, self-regard is accom-plished through a pattern of approaching (e.g., merging; Kohut & Wolf,1978) or distancing from (Akhtar & Thomson, 1982) significant others. Theother persons importance stems more from bolstering or maintaining theself and less from an appreciation of the other in his or her separateness (i.e.,likeness and "differentness") from self. For example, the person phenomeno-
  • 6. 120 PISTOLElogically enhances self-esteem through fusion with a partner who is >er-ceived as possessing "all greatness, all power, all esteem, all worth indvalue" (Elson, 1987, p. 40). With the partner serving as a selfobject (Kc hut& Wolf, 1978), the power and worth are experienced as belonging to s ;lf.The partner is valued as part of the self (Elson, 1987, p. 40) and "for thsinternal functions and the emotional stability" (Baker & Baker, 1987, p 2)he or she augments. Moreover, as a part of the self, the partner is expectei tointeract in a way that is congruent with the selfs defensive strategies. If the partner does not meet the selfs narcissistic needs (e.g., for ck se-ness or distance), then the person is subject to an awareness of differentr sssbetween self and partner. This incongruence would be experienced a > aseparation threat and trigger intense separation anxiety, which would aro lsethe attachment system (Bowlby, 1988). The ensuing attachment beha iormight also be contaminated by defensive behavior designed to regulate ; ndprotect self (rather than regain security). That is, the needs of the attachm ;ntsystem would be to experience the partner as either symbolically or ph1 si-cally available. Defensive needs would be to protect the self "from expi ri-encing needs for love, understanding, and validation" (Basch, 1987, p. 31 8). Preoccupied attachment. Preoccupied attachment can be constri edas a defensive strategy in which narcissistic vulnerability is manaj ec.through merger with the partner. In research, preoccupied romantic relati< >n-ships were characterized by high levels of idealizing the partner and arextreme approach to love which includes obsessive preoccupation (Peer ey& Noller, 1990; Hazan & Shaver, 1987), hypervigilance to separation,greater distress over separation (Mikulincer et al., 1990), and attending tcdistress (Kobak & Sceery, 1988). These characteristics indicate more inti n-sity in attention to partner than is required for interdependency and intim; -y(see Elson, 1987), which indeed are not so well accomplished in preoccup: sdattachment. In addition, the strong clinging and idealized focus on partnei isconsistent with gaining affirmation through merger—that is, experienci igthe idealized other, who contains worth and value, as if he or she were a p irtof self, were a selfobject. Moreover, although subtle, language also indicates fusion with the pa :t-ner. In one study, persons with a preoccupied attachment exhibited a higl erlevel of couple references ("we" vs. "I") associated with the perception ofproblems in the relationship (Feeney & Noller, 1991). Only when there ; reproblems (i.e., incongruence between self and partner) is a "we" (two ps o-ple) versus an "I" (fusion) recognized. Other relationship characteristics also suggest that a component of nee< !i-ness directs the relationship behaviors. Studies have found that preoccupi ;dattachment is characterized by more emotional dependence, a desire i :>rmore commitment (Feeney & Noller, 1990), greater reliance on the partn ;r,more use of others as a safe base (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991), a id
  • 7. ATTACHMENT 121inappropriately high levels of self-disclosure (Mikulincer & Nachshon, 1991). Further, persons with a preoccupied attachment experience moreemotional ups and downs within the relationship (Hazan & Shaver, 1987). Insum, they seem to "depend on others to maintain positive self regard"(Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991, p. 234). The interpretation of clinging preoccupation as a defensive strategy issupported by other research. Preoccupied attachment has been associatedwith lower levels of esteem (Collins & Read, 1990; Feeney & Noller,1990), and research indicates that low self-esteem persons use interper-sonal behavior "to enhance their self-affect" (Baumgardner, Kaufman, &Levy, 1989, p. 919). Consistent with this view, Mikulincer et al. (1990)concluded that persons with preoccupied attachments "do not emphasizethe caring component in close relationships and their behavior is notmotivated by consideration of others interests" (p. 278). Other researchfinding lower levels of friendship in their love relationships (Feeney &Noller, 1991) and a control component in their pattern of interpersonaldifficulties (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991) also supports the view thatpreoccupied relationship behavior is motivated by self-sustaining needs.There appears to be an "overwhelming need . . . to simply be in a relation-ship, no matter what or with whom—the primary goal is emotional secu-rity" (Newcomb, 1981, p. 134). Avoidant attachment. In avoidant attachment, narcissistic vulnera-bility is managed through distancing from the partner, thereby, avoidingcloseness and intimacy (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991; Hazan &Shaver, 1987). These relationships are associated with low levels ofrelying on others, using others as a safe base, romantic involvement(Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991), self-disclosure (Bartholomew & Horo-witz, 1991; Mikulincer & Nachshon, 1991), intensity (Bartholomew,1990; Feeney & Noller, 1990), and higher separation distress than thesecurely attached (Mikulincer et al., 1990). Further, affect is regulatedthrough dismissing the importance of attachment (Bartholomew & Horo-witz, 1991), dismissing distress (Kobak & Sceery, 1988), directing atten-tion toward nonemotional domains (e.g., work; Hazan & Shaver, 1990),and idealizing self or other (Hazan & Shaver, 1987). The need to wall offor reject a portion of experience (e.g., intense f
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