Is there a connection between sex addiction and narcissism?

by | Jul 3, 2022 | Uncategorized

Anyone who has ever faced an addiction or who has supported a loved one through the difficult process, will be all too familiar with the fact that addiction is a selfish condition.

We know that once addiction really takes hold, people find it incredibly difficult, if not impossible to abstain from the very behaviours they’re addicted to. A person with a sexual addiction may for example be unable to stop having sexual relationships with complete strangers despite the fact that they’re married. Even if they feel incredibly guilty and ashamed of their actions, they will find themselves repeating the same patterns of behaviour again and again, until they seek sex addiction treatment.

You could argue that being selfish is a consequence of addiction. This is supported by the fact that sexual addiction is very rarely about sex itself. Someone struggling with this isn’t out seeking sexual encounters behind their partner’s back because they get off on hurting the person who loves them. It’s because they’ve failed to address an underlying issue, typically to do with trauma or undiagnosed mental health issues. On a simple and basic level, they’re trying to mask the uncomfortable emotions they’re experiencing. On a deeper level, they are using their behaviours to “help” them with something that they are struggling with.

Even if someone is being incredibly selfish, it doesn’t mean that they don’t feel remorse or empathy for the person they’re hurting. In many sex addiction cases, the remorse that the person with the addiction feels is very often the thing that pushes them further into a downward spiral.

What if someone doesn’t feel bad about their actions however? Perhaps they even feel they have a right to sleep with whoever they want even though they have a loving and very forgiving partner supporting them through all their troubles.

This is when we cross the line into narcissism. Interestingly, a study published a few years ago in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy found that there’s very often a link between addiction to sex and the tendency to display narcissistic tendencies.

The evidence went as far as to suggest that both men and women with sex and porn addictions are nearly always self-centered and self-absorbed, and often to an extreme degree. This wasn’t just the case sexually either. This behavior often carried over into almost every other aspect of their lives including in the workplace and in their relationships with friends, family and partners.

What is narcissism?

Narcissism produces a distorted self-image, an oversized ego and a presumption of superiority which isn’t based on any real-world accomplishments. Narcissists reveal their feelings about themselves and others through their actions, which are often manipulative and self-centered.

Despite the depth of feeling narcissism generates, and the deep-seated insecurity it compensates for, people diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder can learn to manage their symptoms and reduce the disorder’s influence over their lives.

Although there is no cure for narcissistic personality disorder, with long-term psychotherapy, those with NPD can learn to manage their symptoms and control the effects of their tendencies. In addition, by dealing with the insecurities and feelings of unworthiness, often a person will be able to get to a place where their narcissistic parts are no longer in charge.

What are the signs of narcissistic personality disorder?

The signs that you’re dealing with a person with narcissistic tendencies typically include some or even all of the signs below.

  • Lack of empathy – a person with NPD simply cannot relate to or understand the suffering of others, even if they’re the ones responsible for causing the pain. If confronted with the truth about how their behavior has caused harm, narcissists will react with denial or confusion, asserting their innocence while demonstrating no real sympathy or compassion.
  • An exaggerated sense of self-importance – narcissists truly believe that they’re destined to accomplish great things and if they haven’t done so already, it’s only a matter of time. Rather than adjust their expectations if they haven’t achieved what they want, they will instead blame others for holding them back.
  • Feelings of entitlement – if someone has narcissistic tendencies, they expect to be pampered, waited on or otherwise taken care of by everyone they encounter. When this doesn’t happen, they react with moral outrage and see it as a sign of disrespect.
  • They’re very selfish – people with NPD aren’t good to be in a relationship with and it’s unlikely that they have the ability to hold down a healthy romantic relationship. They often mistreat, manipulate or abuse the people close to them to get what they want. They see nothing wrong with doing so, since they always put themselves first and don’t consider the needs of others to be as important as their own.
  • They’re jealous or suspicious of other people – narcissists very often envy the accomplishments and status of others they consider to be successful. NPD sufferers also believe others are envious of them, dismissing criticism of their behavior as driven by envy or jealousy. In general, narcissists see bad intentions everywhere and are cynical towards those who claim to be motivated by compassion or ethics.
  • They have a need for excessive praise and attention.
  • They’re arrogant and judgmental.
  • In line with their belief in their own power and importance, narcissists prefer to associate only with those they consider to be nearly equal in stature.
  • Despite coming across as incredibly arrogance, narcissists often battle with feelings of inferiority, insecurity, and low self-esteem. They also have an extreme need for the approval of others. Their apparent sincere belief in their own superiority is actually a coping mechanism that helps shield them from their deep-seated insecurities and poor self-esteem.

What’s the link between sex addiction and narcissism?

As mentioned above, several studies have established a strong connection between addiction to sex and the likelihood of someone displaying narcissistic tendencies. What causes the link between the two conditions, however?

People with NPD have usually experienced a host of life complications as a result of their personality distortions. This can include troubled and chaotic interpersonal relationships, turbulent work and/or educational histories, financial difficulties, encounters with the legal system, and co-occurring mental health or substance abuse conditions.

Below we discuss why there is commonly a link between narcissism and addiction.

Undiagnosed conditions

Those with sex addiction will nearly always have experienced some form of trauma in their early life. This could be anything from sexual abuse to growing up in a dysfunctional family. If someone has been struggling with undiagnosed mental health issues, a stressful event such as divorce or losing a job can trigger an addiction as the person finds it incredibly difficult to cope with their life circumstances.

According to statistics which were gathered during the 2004-2005 Wave 2 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC II):

  • 6% of people suffering with NPD have had a co-occurring substance use disorder at some point in their lives
  • 40% of NPD sufferers have also experienced a co-occurring anxiety disorder
  • 6% of people with NPD have had a co-occurring mood disorder

This tells us that just as is the case with sex addiction, narcissistic personality disorder often goes hand-in-hand with other addictions and/or mental health problems. This is more than likely because anyone suffering with any of those conditions will be more vulnerable to experimenting with drugs, alcohol or other compulsive behaviors in a bid to cope with their problems or the anger they feel because they cannot understand why they feel or act in certain ways.

Trying to re-gain control

Sadly, chronically low self-esteem and various forms of profound narcissistic wounding are nearly always universal among those with sex addiction. Most often, inadequate parenting, childhood emotional neglect or abuse and being the victim of sexual abuse are the most common underlying culprits for sexual addiction.

These complex trauma issues cause people to feel shame about who they are and in turn, this influences the ways in which they can and cannot connect with others. Their addictive sexual desires and behaviors don’t just provide sexual intensity and pseudo emotional connections, more importantly to the sufferer, they provide a perceived control over that intensity and feeling of connection. This is especially true with Internet porn, where the user controls their entire experience and therefore remains emotionally safe and insulated from the highly interpersonal experience of shame.

The issue of control which is so common in both sex addiction and narcissistic personality disorder, will have likely stemmed from a time in the sufferer’s life where they felt they had no control over what happened to them. They may worry that if they ever lose control again that they might not be able to protect themselves from the traumatic experiences they encountered in the past. It may also be an attempt to block off any feelings they have about their past because they’re too afraid to confront them.

Moments of pleasure may allow sufferers to regain a sense of control over their lives because they’re exerting emotional power over others. What’s more, the process of seduction and the thrill of having sex serve as a distraction from the person’s painful thoughts.

Low self-esteem

In many cases, narcissism is a way to disguise poor self-image and hide the scared child within. In one study, narcissistic men were found to have significantly lower self-esteem. They also had more negative attitudes towards sex and greater egocentric patterns of sexual behavior. The men in this study seemed to fall into more conservative or traditional gender roles and were highly preoccupied with sex.

Although narcissists may put up a good front about their own greatness, they simply don’t feel it inside.

If someone is a sexually addicted narcissistic, they may have developed these tendencies as a self-defense mechanism to help combat overwhelming feelings of guilt, worthlessness or inadequacy.

Narcissists are also constantly seeking validation from others and having someone agree to have sex with them fulfills this need.

Is a narcissist and a person with sex addiction disorder a good match?

Generally, therapists don’t recommend two people facing addiction issues being romantically involved. This is very common however because humans naturally bond over shared experiences or beliefs and it’s understandable how someone facing addiction issues and a narcissist would initially attract each other.

Many people with sex addiction are narcissists themselves. They believe they’re special and not like other people facing addiction issues. They don’t think they have to follow the rules and that of course, they’re immune to the consequences of their actions.

Until someone enters sex addiction therapy, there’s a strong possibility that they will continue to attract dangerous and unhealthy people and invite maladaptive relationships.

When a person is going through recovery, they’re going to have to work hard to put their needs first and will spend a lot of time with a therapist trying to discover the underlying cause of their addictive behaviors. It’s unlikely that a narcissist would be able to accept that their partner is working on their needs and not making the narcissist the center of their world. This could hold back or even completely stop progress as the person in recovery may not dedicate the time and effort they need to overcome addiction.

Are all narcissists addicted to sex?

No. Just like not everyone with sex addiction has a drug addiction or every alcoholic has depression, not all narcissists are addicted to sex.

If you would like further information about sexual addiction and narcissism or would like to discuss sex addiction treatment, please feel free to contact Toronto Trauma and Addiction Counselling in the strictest of confidence and we will be more than happy to help.

You can find out more about the signs of sex addiction on our website as well as complete a Sexual Addiction Screening Test (SAST). This has been designed to assist in the assessment of sexually compulsive or addictive behavior and will be able to help you identify whether you or a loved one is displaying addictive or non-addictive behaviors.

If you have any concerns, we strongly encourage seeking treatment and while doing so, you can incorporate these healthy changes into your life to help aid the recovery process and reduce the likelihood of relapse.