Narcissism Or Avoidant Attachment? Here's How To Tell The Difference

Narcissistic personality disorder and avoidant attachment are traits that can negatively impact a person's relationship with others and the wider world. Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition that is typically seen in early adulthood, according to Psychology Today. The causes of the disorder are little understood, but parental influence and cultural environments are said to be contributory factors to those who later develop the characteristics associated with the disorder. Potential sufferers of NPD display numerous personality traits, including needing to be lauded, an absence of empathy, jealous instincts, and a sense of entitlement.

In contrast, avoidant attachment individuals tend to be purposely withdrawn from relationships and steer clear of forming close bonds, as per Psychology Today. This behavior is said to be influenced by early childhood experiences where relationship bonds may have been absent. Let's take a closer look at the similarities and differences between these complex behavior patterns.

What are the similarities?

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and avoidant attachment have some behavioral cross-overs. Still, it is important to emphasize that clinical diagnosis is the best way to identify whether you or someone you know has concerning personality traits. A 2017 study published in Personality and Individual Differences involved a questionnaire distributed to Chinese middle-school students. The results from this questionnaire enabled the authors to conclude that avoidant anxious behavior can directly lead to manifestations of narcissistic personality traits.

Clinical research has identified two variations of narcissism. Vulnerable narcissists are typically introverted, and veer between extreme emotions, explains Psychology Today. Whereas, grandiose narcissists are more extroverted and display an exaggerated sense of self-importance. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Personality explored these two variations. The results of this helped the authors establish a connection between narcissism and attachment styles. Their assessment found links between vulnerable narcissism and anxious attachment, while grandiose narcissism paired with a more secure attachment style.

Narcissism and avoidant attachment are often linked

It is important to highlight that there are no clear distinctions between narcissistic personality disorder and avoidant attachment behaviors as clinical research has found these are connected. However, in contrast to this, clinical psychologist, Hal Shorey, Ph.D, explained in Psychology Today, "One cited study, for example, found a .15 correlation between dismissing [avoidant] attachment and narcissism and a .14 correlation between secure attachment and narcissism. First, that means that dismissing [avoidant] and secure attachment only overlap with narcissism by 2.25 percent. That is about as close to zero as you can get ... "

Despite this, research has often found a correlation between a person's childhood attachment history and narcissistic tendencies emerging in adulthood. A 2015 study published in the journal of Psychoanalytic Psychology explored the inter-relationship between attachment styles and narcissism. This study concluded that analyzing an adult's attachment history can provide a helpful framework for understanding their narcissism. However, this framework may require delving into a person's parental history and childhood development, as explained by a clinical psychologist, Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. in Psychology Today. "For the narcissistic individual, it may also be helpful for him or her to recognize the influence of their own attachment history, so they can better understand themselves and develop more self-compassion," she said.