Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Correlation to Toxic Shame & Compulsive Eating

April 10, 2019

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a mental health disorder. People with this disorder feel entitled, have no empathy, think their intelligence makes them special.  They also are smart and engaging. They are not irredeemable. They are wounded from the toxic shame they thought was normal.

Narcissism - The New Buzzword

Narcissistic Personality Disorder or just plain Narcissism has become a buzzword as of late. It’s used in the court system to shame the person that meets the criteria, it’s used in the internet world to shame, and the husband/wife, etc. as the person that is the sickest in the relationship. Never mind that we attract at the level we are at. This begs the question of what diagnosis does the other person in the relationship/family have, and does that matter in the big scheme of things?

I can’t think of how many groups that have popped up online with this word prominent in the group's label and mission statement. The issue that I have had with this subject is that it is the current diagnosis that appears in social media. It seems to be a way to attack, and or shame the Narcissist for their imperfections. However, as humans don’t, we all have some type of imperfection, and what gives us the right to decide their imperfection is worse than ours?

In the Recovery World, we hear the slogan, but there is not one of us that doesn’t struggle in one place or another. So why is it ok to point the finger at the Narcissist as wrong, bad and broken? Does labeling that person as worse than us fix a marriage, a relationship, a mother and child, or is this label designed to create the very thing that destroys relationships. Just because you have a mental disorder or because we don’t like the traits of the Narcissist, that can keep us from ignoring our faults and keeping our eyes on their imperfections, not how we need our healing.

Is there a hierarchy in the mental health arena? A diagnosis is just that, a diagnosis, or let’s consider it instead of a series of hoops that are used in the insurance world. Could there possibly be a positive spin on this subject? Could this be information that could be considered an opportunity for healing which sounds like a more empowered position?  I believe one position can offer HOPE and the other condemnation.

Defining Narcissistic Personality Disorder

To define Narcissistic Personality Disorder as per the current DSM-5. (The DSM-5 is the book and instrument, we as therapists use to diagnosis a client/patient, based on the organization we are working for, i.e., private practice, nonprofit, the bigger the business or contract the greater necessity for evidenced-based practices to treat the disorders we diagnose in the DSM-5.)  This entire subject is controversial, and although I am willing to tackle this subject, it easily could be an article of its own and an entire book.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a mental health disorder. The criteria that we consider for this diagnosis is a sense of entitlement, lack of empathy, grandiosity, and a need for excessive admiration. Yes, a Narcissist can see themselves as set apart from others in their intellect. I am sure you can see that if someone has Narcissistic Tendencies, they tend to be thought of as selfish.

The problem is that as an ego-syntonic disorder, they really see everyone else as selfish and themselves as wonderful and endearing.

Are there positive traits with these individuals? Heck yeah, otherwise why would we be attracted to them?  They can be charismatic, funny, definitely intelligent and charming. Many of us seek out these traits in our mates and then, later on, condemn them for the very reasons we chose them. It’s almost a set up to prove we are as unworthy having picked them as a mate.

As with any disorder, there are comorbidities, other diagnoses that go hand in hand with the primary diagnosis. For instance, depression and anxiety are very commonly diagnosed along with Narcissism. Can you imagine why? The truth is that underneath this grandiosity is the sadness and anxiety that may very well stem from Trauma within their family system.  Trauma that isn’t called Trauma; it’s just called a normal life.

Maybe you have never experienced emotional or physical trauma, but let's imagine that you did.  If you experienced Trauma would you feel good about yourself? Only you can answer this for yourself.

Toxic Shame

A definition of Toxic Shame is a profound sense of unworthiness. A feeling that has been inflicted onto an individual through repeated, traumatic experiences often, rooted in childhood. Toxic shame can manifest as self-loathing and often ties into a need to self-medicate the feelings that we as humans are told not to feel, certainly not to discuss. The problem is we are only as sick as our secrets.

How does food into this scenery? Imagine you feel unworthy to the depth of your being and may not even realize it. Wouldn’t you want to avoid those feelings?  Thus, one of the manifestations of toxic shame is some type of eating disorder.  For many of us it is called emotional eating and or compulsive eating.

Another way this hits us in the Food Addiction world may sting a bit, we are often attracted to Narcissists. Oh crud, is that you?  If so, you may be attracted to this person for many reasons, the least of which is that we, the people that compulsively eat, already feel unworthy. If we hook up with a Narcissist, this can cause our addiction to escalate. Our addiction compliments their disorder in a twisted way; it fulfills our in-depth need to prove our unworthiness, however subconscious or as I call it under the water line that those thoughts may be.

Is One Disorder Worse Than The Other?

The question is where does my compulsive food addiction fit into the so-called hierarchy of mental disorders? Is one disorder worse than the other? The likelihood that during a relationship, both parties are manifesting evidence of trauma, and shame in different ways. Working with a mental health professional or 12 step recovery is but one way to see the dysfunctional patterns in the family system. People often prove they are unworthy because they are an alcoholic or an addict or the partner that marries them; we are just as sick as the people we seek.

The message of this article is important when we manifest emotional pain, this shows up in our lives in many ways. Just look at the list of online support groups, online discussion, 12 step meetings, or even television shows out there. They include alcoholics, addicts, gambling, eating, hoarding; I could go on and on.  We as humans on this earth are not primarily irredeemable. Just wounded from the toxic shame they thought was normal and from the trauma they call a normal life. It is no wonder than compulsive eating. It is just changing our drug of choice.

Please don’t lose HOPE; that is what the shame cycle is designed to do. There are many resources that are available to help you break this toxic shame cycle, including therapists, 12-step recovery, coaches, etc. It’s easier to break than you think. HOPE is a new insight away.


Carol Adkisson is an author, speaker, and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She is the owner of a private practice, founder and CEO of a non-profit group, The Trauma and Healing Foundation. Carol specializes in anxiety, depression, trauma, couples therapy, ADHD, substance issues, weight loss & bariatric surgery, and 12 step recovery. Join her Facebook group Emotional/Mental Support for Bariatric Patients!

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