Motivation and emotion/Book/2016/Sexual motivation and narcissism

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Sexual motivation and narcissism:
What is the relationship between sexual motivation and narcissism?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Sexual motivation can be defined in multiple different circumstances. Evolutionary theory would suggest that sexual motivation comes as a direct result of the subconscious and animalistic instinct to reproduce ("The Evolutionary Theory of Love: Definition, Examples & Predictions - Video & Lesson Transcript |", 2016). However it can be generally defined as the impulse to gratify sexual needs[factual?].

Human sexuality is linked directly to emotional intimacy and physical pleasure. Both of these two traits are identified and characterised as basic human needs (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). Additionally, sexuality is an essential aspect to any romantic relationship. Narcissism has been examined to have a direct influence on sexuality and this may have many implications for how a narcissist might approach, maintain or behave in a romantic relationship (Foster et al, 2006).

Individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder tend to possess agentic qualities such as a need for power, dominance and extraversion[factual?]. As they tend to have a higher focus on these agentic qualities, characteristics such as intimacy and caring tend to be outweighed by the need for knowledge and aesthetics. Furthermore, the same agentic qualities that are possessed can be linked to high levels of infidelity (Campbell & Foster 2002), low levels of emotional intimacy (Foster, Shrira, et al., 2003) and low commitment levels (Campbell & Foster, 2002) which may all be attributed to poor relationship functioning. Overall, narcissists are reported to have very low levels of satisfaction with their relationships (Foster, Shrira, et al., 2003).

Sigmund Freud directly analysed an individual's need for sexual pleasure and developed psychoanalysis as a direct method of examining a person's unconscious, subconscious and conscious desires. Narcissism and sexual motivation can be linked together from the writings of Freud (1914) and his psychoanalytical theories. Therefore, we can examine the correlation between narcissism and sexual motivation by outlining psychodynamic theory. Another theory that will be outlined includes the Agency Model of Narcissism (Campbell et al., 2006) which examines how an individual with Narcissistic Personality Disorder forms and maintains interpersonal relationships. Additionally, attachment theory will be examined to assess how and why a narcissistic individual forms attachments.

Narcissism[edit | edit source]

Narcissus was the son of the Greek river god Cephissus and the nymph Liriope. Greek mythology tells a story how he falls in love with his own reflection ("The myth of Narcissus, Echo and Narcissus", 2010). Over time, narcissism has developed as a trait applied to individuals with abnormally high levels of self-esteem, a grandiose sense of self-importance and who require excessively high levels of admiration. It has further been examined and defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to be a psychological disorder[factual?].

DSM-5 defines Narcissistic Personality Disorder as a disorder that significantly impairs personality functioning and self functioning in relation to an individual's identity and self-direction. Identity traits that may be identified include the need to gain the appraisal of others to regulate their self-esteem, exaggerated self-appraisal, and emotional regulation problems that may parallel their present fluctuations in self-esteem. Self-direction traits that may be identified include goal setting as a method to gain approval from others, exceptionally high, or exceptionally low personal standards, and a sense of entitlement (Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 2000).

To further define Narcissism, we can divide the disorder into two separate subgroups: overt narcissism and covert narcissism.

Whilst these types differ in specific characteristics, they can both be generally characterised by an underlying sense of entitlement and an exploitative personality. By defining these two subgroups we are able to better understand how narcissism may effect sexual motivation. Whilst narcissism can further be split and divided into multiple subgroups, this chapter will examine only sexual motivation in regards to Narcissistic Personality Disorder as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health disorders IV and these two subgroups.

Overt narcissism[edit | edit source]

Overt narcissism involves openly holding a sense of superiority, smugness and self-absorption, boastfulness, arrogance, exploitativeness, and power-hunger ("The Difference Between Overt And Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder", 2016).

With the most obvious form of narcissism a Overt Narcissist, as implied by the name, is overtly absorbed. Overt narcissism is characterised by an overwhelming need for dominance with openly self-absorbed personality traits. An Overt Narcissist is likely to be suspicious of others, and lack affiliative concerns (Smolewska & Dion, 2005).

Covert narcissism[edit | edit source]

Covert narcissism involves quiet self-absorption and disinterest in others, passive-aggressive, un-empathetic, sensitive ("7 Signs of a Covert Introvert Narcissist", 2016) [grammar?].

Covert narcissism can be characterised by self-focussed attention, hypersensitivity, feelings of unworthiness and negative emotionality (Smolewska & Dion, 2005).

Theories[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Attachment Theory[edit | edit source]

To further examine narcissism and how this effects sexual motivation, we must examine how a narcissist forms attachments. As there are two subgroups of narcissism we can expect that a covert narcissist may form attachments differently to an overt narcissist (Smolewska & Dion, 2005).

Attachment can be defined as characteristic patterns of experiencing relationships that stem from beliefs about the self and others originating from early childhood (Smolewska & Dion, 2005). As psychodynamic theory would suggest, a child’s psychosexual development can be directly linked to their future styles of attachment. As a result of this it could be argued that a parental influence may have some effect on the development of narcissistic personality disorder and how somebody with this disorder may approach interpersonal and romantic relationships. Whilst there has not been much conclusive research linking attachment theory to narcissism, we are able to examine narcissistic personality traits and link them to particular attachment styles. Smolewska & Dion (2005) theorised that an overt narcissist would be most likely to have an anxious attachment style which would result in jealousy, preoccupation, fear of abandonment and fear of rejection. As a result they may be unlikely to form deep interpersonal or romantic relationships. A Covert Narcissist was theorised to have a high level of both an anxious attachment style, and a avoidant attachment style. An avoidant attachment style may be characterised by a discomfort with closeness and the avoidance of intimacy which may be a result of the rejection from caregivers during the developmental period. It is likely that a covert narcissist would have a avoidant attachment style as a manifestation of a defence mechanism for hypersensitivity.[factual?]

There are multiple implications for the research conducted in this area including the development of strategies to assist individuals suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder with forming healthy attachments and the ability to teach parents suitable parenting styles to ensure the mental health of their children.

Psychosexual Development and Narcissism[edit | edit source]

In 1905, Sigmund Freud formed the proposition that the psychological development in childhood occurred over a series of fixed stages ("Psychosexual Stages | Simply Psychology", 2016).

During these stages of psychosexual development, Freud theorised that any conflict that might occur would affect the child’s development and hinder how the child addressed particular issues later in life. The “Phallic” Stage of a child’s development refers to the period in time where the child’s erogenous zone is in the genital region. As the child becomes more interested in their genitals and the genitals of other individuals the conflict of the Oedipus and Electra Complex arise. During this period, it is theorised that a child will form an unconscious desire to eliminate the same-sexed parent and to have the opposite-sexed parent for themselves. A fixation that occurs in this stage may result in reckless, self-assured and narcissistic characteristics ("Psychosexual Development", 2016). Freudian theory (1905) suggests that a child with a fixation in this particular phase may struggle to form interpersonal relationships later in life and may be potentially incapable of withholding a close romantic bond with another individual.

The implications of this research may indicate the root source of the development of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Furthermore, this may assist us in more thoroughly understanding how and why a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder may struggle to form attachments.

The Agency Model of Narcissism[edit | edit source]

The Agency Model of Narcissism was originally developed to examine how interpersonal relationships occur within narcissism (Campbell et al., 2006). The term “agency” was introduced by Bakan (1966) to describe an individual [missing something?]. In contrast, the term ”communion” was developed to describe a group of people. When referring to "agentic qualities", self-enhancing functions are emphasised. This model outlines the relationship between agentic personality traits and narcissism and how this may be applied to their romantic relationships. Some of the agentic qualities that a narcissist may posses include a lack of interest in nurturing qualities, self-absorbed characteristics (Buss & Chiodo, 1991), and a need for dominance and sensation seeking (Raskin & Terry, 1988). As a result of narcissistic individuals attempting to pursue this[grammar?] agentic goals rather than the communal goals needed to maintain a healthy relationship, narcissists are reported to have very low levels of satisfaction with their relationships (Foster, Shrira, et al., 2003).

This theory outlines the subconscious reasoning behind the motivation for a narcissist to engage in a romantic relationship. It is suggested that motivations include boosting their own social status and strengthening themselves (Campbell, Rudich, & Sedikides, 2002). As a result of this a narcissist is likely to posses[spelling?] high levels of infidelity and low levels of commitment in romantic relationships (Campbell & Foster, 2002).

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Sexual motivation can be defined in multiple different aspects[vague]. Why do people engage in romantic and interpersonal relationships? How do people maintain romantic and interpersonal relationships? What influences a person to engage in sexual activity with another individual? For the average individual this can all be explained by examining human sexuality, human instinct, emotional intimacy and the human need for physical pleasure. A narcissist, however, may have alternative motives. An overwhelming need for a high social status, power and extraversion directly influences an individual with Narcissistic Personality disorder to make decisions when it comes to interpersonal and romantic relationships. As a result of this, however, it is unlikely that a narcissist will be satisfied in a relationship[factual?].

Attachment Theory examines how an individual forms attachments and can be used to further understand how somebody with Narcissistic personality Disorder may form attachments and why. Psychodynamic theory delves further into why someone with this disorder may form these attachments by psychoanalysing their psychosexual development. The Agency Model of Narcissism more deeply examines the interpersonal relationships of a Narcissist and attempts to explain the sexual motivation and influences that direct a narcissist in choosing a romantic partner.

The relationship between sexual motivation and narcissism can be best defined by examining all three of these theories. By doing this we can understand why an attachment is formed, what type of attachment it is and what the implications of the attachment are. By understanding what influences these relationships we can aim to deepen our understanding of Narcissistic Personality Disorder and sexual motivation so as to assist individuals who are suffering as a direct result of having the disorder, or individuals who are suffering as a result of knowing someone, or engaging in a relationship with somebody who is affected.

References[edit | edit source]

Simply Psychology. (2016). Retrieved 16 October 2016, from

Psychosexual Development. (2016). Retrieved 9 October 2016, from

Bakan, D. (1966). The duality of human existence: An essay on psychology and religion.

Buss, D. M., & Chiodo, L. M. (1991). Narcissistic acts in everyday life. Journal of personality, 59(2), 179-215.

Raskin, R., & Terry, H. (1988). A principal-components analysis of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory and further evidence of its construct validity. Journal of personality and social psychology, 54(5), 890.

Campbell, W. K., Rudich, E., & Sedikides, C. (2002). Narcissism, self-esteem, and the positivity of self-views: Two portraits of self-love. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 358–368.