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Do narcissists have avoidant attachment?

Narcissistic personality disorder and avoidant personality disorder are two distinct conditions, but they can co-occur in some individuals. Both disorders originate early in life and involve dysfunctional patterns in how people relate to others. Some key questions around the two conditions include:

What is narcissistic personality disorder?

Narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by an exaggerated sense of self-importance, a lack of empathy, and a need for excessive admiration. People with narcissistic personality disorder typically have an inflated view of themselves and their abilities, a strong sense of entitlement, and a lack of interest in others’ perspectives. They may exploit relationships for personal gain and believe they are superior to others.

What is avoidant personality disorder?

Avoidant personality disorder is characterized by intense social discomfort, isolation, anxiety, and hypersensitivity to criticism or rejection. People with avoidant personality disorder often avoid work activities and interpersonal relationships out of fear of being embarrassed, shamed, or rejected. They may view themselves as socially inept, unappealing, or inferior to others.

The connection between narcissism and avoidant attachment

While narcissistic personality disorder and avoidant personality disorder are distinct conditions, research suggests there can be some overlap between the two. Specifically, many narcissists have an avoidant attachment style rooted in their early childhood relationships.

What is attachment theory?

Attachment theory proposes that early bonds between children and caregivers lead to internal working models or relational styles that persist into adulthood. There are four main attachment styles:

  • Secure attachment – characterized by comfort with intimacy and autonomy
  • Avoidant attachment – avoidance of intimacy and dependence on others
  • Anxious attachment – preoccupation with relationships and fear of abandonment
  • Disorganized attachment – lack of clear strategy for relating to others

How is avoidant attachment connected to narcissism?

Many narcissists develop avoidant attachment styles due to early childhood emotional neglect or rejection from caregivers. They learn to rely heavily on themselves, suppress vulnerable emotions, and avoid depending on others or showing weaknesses. This results in both grandiosity and fragile self-esteem. Outwardly they may display arrogance, while inwardly they feel a sense of emptiness and fragility.

Signs of avoidant attachment in narcissists

There are several behaviors that can signal an avoidant attachment style in someone with narcissistic traits:

Discomfort with intimacy

Narcissists with avoidant attachment often eschew emotional intimacy and depth in relationships. They favor more superficial connections that support their self-image rather than vulnerability.

Independence and self-sufficiency

Avoidant narcissists are fiercely independent and may refuse to ask for help. They want to prove they can succeed entirely on their own merits.

Problems with trust and closeness

These narcissists may struggle to trust partners fully and allow them to get close. They avoid too much interdependence in relationships.

Difficulty expressing feelings

Narcissistic individuals with avoidant attachment tend to repress feelings and shy away from articulating emotions or inner experiences. They want to project an image of strength and invulnerability.

Discomfort when others need them

When romantic partners or friends become more dependent, avoidant narcissists often withdraw further and feel trapped or pressured. Their self-focus makes them uncomfortable when the spotlight is off them.

Focus on themselves

In relationships, these narcissists tend to focus interactions back on themselves and may lack empathy and interest in partners’ lives. Their avoidance of dependence leads them to prioritize their own needs.

Treatment considerations

For narcissists with avoidant attachment styles, key treatment goals include:

Building self-awareness

Increasing insight into their relational patterns, fear of intimacy, and underlying insecurities can motivate change.

Working through past hurts

Exploring painful childhood experiences that shaped their avoidance and self-protection can open them up to creating new relational styles.

Developing empathy

Learning to understand others’ perspectives and feelings, rather than focusing solely on their own experience, can improve their relationships.

Taking emotional risks

Practicing vulnerability and interdependence in therapy helps avoidant narcissists become comfortable with intimacy.

Modifying relational habits

Making concrete changes to how they interact with romantic partners and friends can help counter avoidance.

With compassion, patience, and hard work, therapeutic change is possible. Narcissists with avoidant attachment can discover new relationship patterns leading to greater fulfillment.


While narcissistic personality disorder and avoidant personality disorder are distinct conditions, many narcissists develop avoidant attachment styles due to childhood emotional neglect or rejection. This leads to both grandiose external behavior and underlying insecurity and fear of dependence. With self-awareness and effort, those with narcissistic and avoidant tendencies can learn to create more meaningful relationships.