Narcissism is a personality characteristic that includes feelings of self-absorption, entitlement, grandiosity, and often a willingness to exploit others for one’s own gain. People high in narcissism tend to be low in empathy. Narcissists tend to revel in praise and admiration but often react badly to criticism. A narcissist may be charming and charismatic and may even be good at feigning humility, but an arrogant point of view is more authentic to his/her character.
It probably isn’t a surprise to learn that clinicians, not just the general public, recognize that a large number of sex addicts behave in fairly narcissistic ways. What may be surprising, however, is that narcissism is not actually an indication that a person experiences an authentic sense of self-worth. Instead, narcissism is a defense mechanism protecting the ego from underlying insecurity. Underneath all the grandstanding, narcissists are terrified of inadequacy.
Sex Addicts Use Narcissism To Escape Feelings Of Shame
There’s an old-timer saying in AA: “You can’t get sober if you’re too smart, too rich, or too good-looking.” The reason is that being “too” smart/rich/attractive, or really “too” exceptional (literally: with exceptions) of any variety creates psychological permission an addict can pretend to have.
A narcissist can believe he is too good for the rules other people play by in order to have functional lives and thereby trick himself into thinking he deserves his acting-out behaviors. If anonymous sex is his particular addictive tendency, he may tell himself the women or men he sleeps with are blessed to have the honor. He will do this in order to continue feeding his addiction, but most importantly, to minimize the shame that comes afterward.
Narcissism Encourages The Sex Addict
As sex addiction expert and clinician Linda Hatch, Ph.D., writes:
“Sex addicts use narcissistic beliefs to experience a sense of control and therefore emotional safety, since the prospect of genuine intimacy causes them to feel too vulnerable and therefore out of control, their worst fear. This is true because, more than anything, the narcissist-sex addict fears rejection and abandonment.
In truth, all sex addicts feel this way because sex addiction is an intimacy disorder. Narcissistic sex addicts have merely found an extra way to cope with their fears of intimacy—by not only using addictive sex to self-medicate but by creating a belief in their own superiority. If they’re better than everyone else, they are untouchable; they are impervious to rejection.
Recovery For The Narcissistic Sex Addict
The problem for narcissist sex addicts is that sex addiction itself tends to create life dysfunction, and the dysfunction tends to escalate over time as acting out behaviors become more extreme. As the behaviors amp up, so does the addict’s narcissism. And both of these things are life and relationship WMDs.
People who rate high in narcissistic traits tend to also rate high in depressive tendencies, and it is usually for this reason that they find their way into therapy. Their narcissism—the behavioral and personality traits that most severely impact their lives—is more notoriously hard to treat.
While many sex addicts find their way into the rooms or onto their own paths of recovery, the narcissism that fed their addictions often remains and threatens their recovery. But it can be treated. Clinicians who are able to express empathy and compassion for the addict’s person and path, and show a greater understanding of their client’s deeper nature, are most successful.
In the end, we are all essentially the same: people require care, compassion, and commitment, even when we are unable—just yet—to give it.