You may have heard about a recent study authored by post-graduate students linking High Sensitivity and a type of Narcissism (“Vulnerable/Hypersensitive“). So are HSPs Narcissists? No. Here’s the scoop…
Elaine Aron has just released a rebuttal of this study, noting both issues with the study itself and the lack of clarification of considerations that led to the authors’ determination. Her article, not surprisingly, offers a very sound explanation of the issues and asserts that there’s no direct correlation between High Sensitivity and Narcissism.
She notes that while some of us focus on using our trait as our SuperPower, or feel marginalized, and feel very different from non-HSPs, it doesn’t suggest that overall we feel more special or entitled than others—key traits of Narcissism. She acknowledges that some HSPs are likely to be Narcissists, depending upon their upbringing, just as in the general population, because it’s a personality trait/disorder, unlike the innate nature of high sensitivity. They can co-exist, but it’s not the norm, and they’re not the same.
And just as people on the Autism spectrum can experience high sensitivity levels without suggesting that the reverse is true, sharing some experiences found on the V/H Narcissism inventory doesn’t suggest that HSPs are Narcissists.
There are definitely some questions on the Vulnerable/Hypersensitive Narcissism inventory that may resonate with many HSPs, especially regarding feeling different, judged, not understood, criticized and trying to avoid rejection. When I saw a list of 8 sample questions from this inventory in the article by Scott Barry Kaufman in Psychology Today, discussing the recent study, I found myself thinking that I could be labeled a Hypersensitive Narcissist based solely upon those 8 questions.
Overall, Elaine noted several significant failings of the study and issues with the meaning given to the results, as well as generalized comments regarding HSPs. Her article and that by Mr. Kaufman are worth a read, even if you don’t wish to read the actual study, and I think helpful in alleviating any fear that you may be narcissistic just because you’re highly sensitive.
I do want to talk about the idea of entitlement, which is part of the narcissism diagnosis, and I really hope that in my ongoing urge to have my fellow HSPs feel special and to embrace their sensitivity, I haven’t appeared to suggest that we are entitled to special consideration and should achieve that at all costs.
I still see High Sensitivity as a superpower, believing that every person has a superpower of some version or other. My goal is always to empower HSPs to live to their full potential, but not for them to feel entitled to more than anyone else, nor to see themselves as better than anyone else.
This is key to the self awareness and growth process. It’s all about becoming our best selves, regardless of what others say and do and regardless of our childhood programming, but never at others’ expense.
Is it Narcissism?
It’s also important to note that not everyone who treats us with perceived disrespect or selfishness is a Narcissist. There is a wide range of sensitivity in all humans and there will be many people who don’t resonate with us or are not healthy for us, but it doesn’t mean we’re better than them nor that they’re Narcissistic. We can feel slighted due to our difference in level of sensitivity, life view, morals and ideals, or the other person could be abusive, even Narcissistic. The term Narcissist has become too commonly used and it would seem that many HSPs have a tendency to label anyone who’s hurt them as narcissistic, which it’s not necessarily true.
And there are people who abuse others but aren’t Narcissists. It IS important to stand up for ourselves, as it is for anyone feeling belittled, judged, criticized or disrespected, and we need not condone nor allow abusive behavior. But, it works against our personal development and empowerment to immediately label and blame anyone showing the above perceived behaviors as Narcissistic and therefor bad.
Self growth requires honest self reflection and awareness of our own shortcomings, and a willingness to make positive changes. If we become mired in the habit of blaming we remove our impetus to learn, adjust and grow. We need to discern when we need to step up and acknowledge our part and develop tools for change, and when we need to set boundaries and perhaps even end relationships.
Do HSPs attract Narcissists?
Highly Sensitives may have a greater likelihood of attracting those who aren’t healthy for us, including Narcissists, especially if our childhoods were challenging rather than supportive; this is due to the high level of compassion and empathy and a tendency to put others first and perhaps not maintain healthy boundaries, and the messages we heard and assimilated while growing up. It’s important to take care of ourselves, maintain healthy boundaries, manage our energy and emotions and honor ourselves, as should everyone. If we find ourselves in relationship with anyone who is abusive, including Narcissists, it’s important to acknowledge our worth, seek support and end those relationships.
It’s my mission to help other HSPs reduce and avoid overwhelm, release what’s not serving and come to honor themselves and embrace their sensitivities. We are as good as, and not better than, anyone else, and it’s time for our light to shine!
Please do reach out if you have any questions about this topic or my commentary, or wish to chat about your own journey:
Take care, Sensitive Soul. .