Narcissism and romantic relationships - Brunell, Campbell (2011) - Article

This text based on Chapter 30: The connection between narcissism and romantic relationships The handbook of narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder: Theoretical approaches, empirical findings, and treatments (pp. 344–350).

What is the paradox of narcissism and romantic relationships?

The big contrast is that on the one hand narcissists are experts in initiating romantic relationships, but on the other that their relationships are often problematic. They often cause many problems that are harmful to their partner.

In this chapter the writers discuss several models of narcissism and relationships. Which models?

The writers discuss three models, namely the Agency Model, the contextual amplification model and the Chocolate Cake Model. The first two focus on narcissism in relationships and the latter investigate the experience of relationships with narcissists, seen from the partner's perspective.


What is the paradox of narcissism and romantic relationships?

The big contrast is that on the one hand narcissists are experts in initiating romantic relationships, but on the other that their relationships are often problematic. They often cause many problems that are harmful to their partner.

In this chapter the writers discuss several models of narcissism and relationships. Which models?

The writers discuss three models, namely the Agency Model, the contextual amplification model and the Chocolate Cake Model. The first two focus on narcissism in relationships and the latter investigate the experience of relationships with narcissists, seen from the partner's perspective.

What do the writers mean by the term narcissism?

For the definition of the term narcissism, the writers use the assessment by the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. This means great narcissism.

What is the Agency Model about?

In this model, narcissistic romantic relationships are seen as part of a general self-regulatory system. These relationships have a functional role in the life of a narcissist. This is comparable to many other relational processes and behavioral processes. There are five fundamental characteristics, namely:

  1. the focus is on agency and not on communion
  2. a huge self-righteousness
  3. the self-regulatory processes focus on gaining and maintaining self-respect
  4. their own rights
  5. an approach orientation

The five fundamental characteristics from the Agency Model are linked to three mutual processes. Which processes?

The following three processes are mutually reinforcing:

  1. intrapsychic strategies
  2. interpersonal skills
  3. interpersonal strategies

According to the Agency Model, narcissists use other individuals to feed their own narcissistic self-regulation. In what different ways do they do this?

Narcissists do this by:

  • seek admiration from others in different contexts;
  • through the association process (they like to interact with people who are higher up the social ladder);
  • they use others as goals of their own social domination;
  • they use others as a storage plate for spreading (often their own) fault or failure.

What is the Contextuel Reinforcement Model about?

This model focuses on areas or contexts of life in which narcissists are the most successful. These are usually new or unstable contexts. For the Contextuel Reinforcement Model there are two additional elements, namely the experience of the narcissist's relationship partner and the change of life in the short to long term.

What is the Chocolate Cake Model about?

In this model the focus is on the experience of the relationship with the narcissist from the perspective of the partner. In this model, having a relationship with a narcissist is compared to eating a chocolate cake. In the short term, this seems to be a better choice than eating a salad, for example. After all, it is much tastier. But in the longer term, eating a salad is a better choice than eating a chocolate cake. The chocolate cake can, for example, cause excessive calorie intake or weight gain. Although eating the chocolate cake seems a better choice in the short term, it is not in the longer term. This is also the case when it comes to a relationship with a narcissist. In the beginning it all seems great and beautiful, but in the longer term it causes a lot of damage.

According to the authors of this article, is it possible for a narcissist to change?

No, according to the writer it is extremely difficult to change a narcissistic personality. One of the main reasons for this is that narcissists do not find it necessary themselves. After all, they often already feel superior to others. as a result, they lack the motivation to seek help for their own (seen by others as) problematic personality.

What conclusion do the writers draw at the end of this chapter?

Narcissism plays a paradoxical role in relationships because it is both a powerful force for initiating positive relationships in the short term and also the cause of significant relationship problems in the longer term. This is the optimal path for narcissists, but of course not for their partners or the social structure.

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