Narcissism of Eating Disorder Sufferers

by Philip Jonkers

People suffering from eating disorders, mostly young women, have in common that they all are dissatisfied with their bodily appearance; they feel themselves to be too fat and have a overriding desire to be “thin”. They are ashamed of themselves with the way they look and as a consequence feel inferior and suffer from low self-esteem. They transmute this sense of guilt and shame into an ultimately pathological motivation to lose weight, in a rather desperate and tragic attempt to gain approval and acceptance.

This motivation — rooted in a potent but self-destructive admixture of shame, inferiority and selfishness coupled with a craving for admiration — is what they have in common with that of the classic narcissist. Both the narcissist and the ED sufferer are bound together in an history of being shamed, either by parents or by peers or by others,  for either their unfortunate misdeeds, or their very existence itself. It should come as little surprise that…

…studies have also found that people with bulimia or anorexia are often highly narcissistic and tend to:

  • Have an inability to soothe oneself.
  • Have an inability to empathize with others.
  • Have a need for admiration.
  • Be hypersensitive to criticism or defeat. Source

But there is a difference between the two. While the narcissist seeks to identify himself with a self-salutary inflated self-image, the EDS on the other hand pursues a self-image that is extremely deflated and humble. Whereas the narcissist wishes to be praised for his boldness and grandiosity, the ED sufferer seems to like nothing better than to be as minimally obtrusive and intrusive as possible. Whereas the narcissist projects once suffered shame outwardly onto others, by casting scorn and encouraging awe and envy for his “supreme” self-image, the ED sufferer holds on to that festering shame by keeping on projecting it inwardly. In short, the mentality of the narcissist is that of the sadist and the ED sufferer that of the masochist.