Vulnerable Narcissism and Authenticity: Alienation from the Real Self and the Pathway to Reconnection

Date of Award


Document Type

Doctoral Research Paper

Degree Name


Organizational Unit

Graduate School of Professional Psychology

First Advisor

Michael Karson

Second Advisor

Judith Fox

Third Advisor

Risa Muchnick


Vulnerable narcissism, Authenticity, Shame, Real self, Self psychology


Theory and research indicate that narcissism involves two seemingly opposite yet connected poles of self-experience: grandiosity and shame. In contrast to grandiose narcissism, which involves grandiosity, arrogance, and self-aggrandizement, vulnerable narcissism predominantly involves shame, emotional sensitivity, hypervigilance to criticism, and intense fear of rejection. In this paper, I will discuss treatment and conceptualization considerations for patients who present with the following characteristics of vulnerable narcissism: (1) frequent shame and self-criticism; (2) perfectionistic standards for the self; (3) grandiose self-experience, though this may be fleeting or covert; (4) tendencies to idealize or devalue others; (5) anxiety about “performing well” and pleasing others; and (6) lack of connection to their authentic self-experience (including genuine emotions, beliefs, desires, and preferences). I will explore research and theories on the developmental origins of vulnerable narcissism, drawing heavily from self psychology. I will then outline Karen Horney’s framework of the real self versus the idealized self, which I believe provides a critical roadmap for therapy with vulnerable narcissists. Through exploration of a case example, I will illustrate what I believe to be the central goal in working with vulnerable narcissists: increasing connection to and expression of the authentic self.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. Permanently suppressed.


41 pgs

This document is currently not available here.