They’re abrasive, abusive, and don’t engender much sympathy. But narcissism is a form of mental illness. Like other mental illnesses, it doesn’t often occur alone.
Psychologists have begun to uncover the deep link between narcissism and depression.
If someone you love is showing a narcissistic attitude, it’s a good idea to look for signs of depression, too.
Below, we’ll take a look at the link between the two and how you can recognize narcissistic signs of depression.
Supply and demand
It’s helpful to understand the narcissistic worldview before we delve into the link between narcissism and depression.
The narcissist is characterized by a dependency on their own perfection. They react to external challenges to this worldview by shifting it outward, apportioning blame to events, people or other factors outside their control.
Note that it isn’t a belief in their own flawlessness that defines a narcissistic attitude. In fact, an evident lack of self-esteem characterizes the mindset. This leads to projection and a ‘thin skin’ that always seeks to attribute flaws to anything other than the self. They have a crippling need for perfection but, as humans, are unable to accomplish this state of perfection.
This leads to projection and a ‘thin skin’ that always seeks to attribute flaws to anything other than the self. They have a crippling need for perfection but, as humans, are unable to accomplish this state of perfection.
As a result, narcissists tend to overestimate their own abilities.
So it’s obvious why narcissists manifest controlling behaviors. By doing so, they control elements that might distract from their perfection. They can also deflect admiration and praise for others onto themselves.
This is a concept known as ‘Narcissistic Supply’. This is a form of interpersonal sustenance, a resource that the narcissistic ‘takes’ from others in the form of admiration and positive feedback. This becomes a negative trait when they do this without regard to the welfare and emotional state of their supply’s source.
By understanding the difference between dependency and belief, we can start to understand why narcissism can be a sign of depression.
Influence of Environment
Genetic markers for narcissism show the condition is heritable, but environmental factors are also thought to play a huge part.
This is an important piece of the puzzle linking narcissism to depression. Narcissism often results from a lack of attention in the developmental stages. This leads to difficulty forming a meaningful emotional attachment with peers.
The narcissistic attitude often develops from the isolation and lack of self-esteem that results from these poor relationships. They react by over-compensating. The lack of emotional training causes them to communicate in a way that doesn’t reflect social norms.
Another route to narcissism is through over-praise from parents without realistic criticism. But the end result of this is largely the same: a person who struggles to communicate with others.
It’s a psychological fact that social isolation causes depression in the vast majority of people. So it’s not hard to see how narcissism may be a sign of a deeper, hidden depression.
Conflict With Reality
The narcissistic attitude exists in permanent conflict with reality. They exist in a world in which they (by proxy or otherwise) are completely perfect in every meaningful way.
These conflicts with reality contribute to the narcissistic feeling of isolation and in turn deep-seated depression.
Unfortunately, the narcissist doesn’t have any inbuilt way of relieving these feelings. Their reaction is often to double-down instead of open up to help. This stems from their poor social communication skills and an inability to see flaws in their own behavior.
Dysphoria is a major source of depression in the narcissist. It occurs when expectations from the outside world are no longer met. This can cause the narcissist to slip into a brooding, insular mood, or go the other way and attempt more controlling and abusive behavior. Both are signs of a deeper depression.
Types of dysphoria common to the narcissist attitude include:
The narcissist relies on their Narcissistic Supply to maintain a stable mental state. When this supply disappears, the narcissist is left without the reinforcement of self-worth that they feed on.
This can occur in any number of situations and the source of narcissistic supply varies wildly. For example, a child moving away from home can leave the parent without a proxy source of praise and endearment.
This kind of dysphoria will usually result in the narcissistic moving on to find a new source of supply. But they will usually go through a depressive period first.
Self-Worth Dysregulation Dysphoria
Narcissists don’t like a challenge, even constructively. Questioning a narcissist’s actions suggests they have room for improvement, which isn’t aligned with their worldview.
But most of us experience challenges constantly in our daily life. We can expect constructive criticism on a professional level. We can expect feedback from friends and family.
For a narcissist, even the slightest criticism can be cause to enter a depressive mood. It will often cause them to turn even more insular, deepening the existing problem of deep-seated social isolation.
One of the biggest factors in narcissistic depression is that the narcissist is never satisfied.
The narcissist is in a constant state of thirst, like an alcoholic. In this case, it’s a thirst for Narcissistic Supply.
But as they can never satisfy the thirst, it causes feelings of resentment, bitterness, and aggression. This tends to result in destructive behavior to themselves and others.
Without an alternative victim, this can even lead to self-harm. A ‘cry for help’ suicide attempt is of particular appeal to a narcissist – it combines sympathy, attention, and an outlet for their depressive mood.
As narcissists are in a constant struggle to maintain their self-image, they never find a point of true emotional stability. This tenuous grip on their self-worth and confidence leaves them ‘under attack’ constantly.
Getting Help for a Narcissistic Attitude
Ultimately, mental illness should be dealt with by experts. If you recognize signs of narcissism and depression in someone you love, you should urge them to seek help as fast as possible.
But be careful not to be drawn into an abusive relationship with them, and don’t ever feel like you alone are responsible for their well-being.
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