Non-Pathological Narcissism and Emotional Armor

Non-pathological narcissists have an emotional armor to protect their weak and fearful selves. However, where does such a fragile self come from?
Non-Pathological Narcissism and Emotional Armor
Gema Sánchez Cuevas

Written and verified by the psychologist Gema Sánchez Cuevas.

Last update: 09 August, 2022

Talking about non-pathological narcissism may seem, at least in part, to be a contradiction. However, it’s a way of naming the type of narcissism that’s present in people we usually call ‘ordinary’, that is, those who don’t cross certain lines to exalt their own selves.

The truth is that this non-pathological narcissism is more common than might be thought in today’s world. Although it doesn’t give rise to the devastating consequences of pathological narcissism, it does generate an important self-destructive force for those affected by the condition. Above all, it prevents sufferers from living in a natural and fulfilled manner.

It could be said that we live in a society in which non-pathological narcissism predominates. Indeed, a significant number of individuals display traits associated with this condition. This is expressed, in particular, in their emotional armor. It takes the form of a notorious lack of empathy

“A typical way a sufferer of a narcissistic disorder thinks is that it’s easier to control things if they don’t have feelings.”

-Pedro Jimenez-

narcissistic man
Non-pathological narcissism evidences a lack of empathy.

The origin of non-pathological narcissism

The origin of non-pathological narcissism can be traced back to the earliest stages in a person’s life. Some claim that it’s the consequence of a defective relationship with the mother or with whoever assumes that role. As a rule, it’s connected to experiences that occur during the first two years of life, but can also be before and after that time.

In the gestation process, an extremely strong maternal-filial bond is usually formed. The mother is the reference point for the baby when it’s born. In fact, at the beginning of its life, there’s really nobody who can replace her. She attends to her child’s first needs which makes the child’s self begin to take shape.

On the other hand, if the baby doesn’t receive the affection and support that it requires from its mother, a false self can be produced, characterized by a lack of references. For example, if the baby gestures to the mother and she responds in an inappropriate or strange way, the infant may feel helpless.

When this is repeated frequently, the result is a bond in which the baby stops expecting anything. The distance from the mother that this marks causes them pain. At the same time, that pain finds no way of expressing itself as the child views the mother as indifferent or threatening. Then, the child begins to close themselves off.

Emotional armor

In non-pathological narcissism, the fundamental experience could well be the rejection of the mother and the armor that this generates. It often expresses itself in different modalities of muscular tension. The child’s body becomes more rigid because it’s in defensive mode. Furthermore, it causes a blockage that imposes a tendency for the infant to deny their feelings.

In this way, instead of forming an open and flexible self, they form a defensive false self. In fact, they end up withdrawing from the world and reducing that world to their own self. This defends them from those initial feelings of emptiness, in the absence of a response from their mother. It also protects them from fear, due to their vulnerability in the face of the situation.

The false self avoids feeling. Ortega y Gasset said that the human being is the only being that lives from within. Other animals remain expectant of what happens outside. They stay alert to discover sources of sustenance and avoid danger. In other words, they live from the outside. Something similar happens in non-pathological narcissism. It forces sufferers to adopt a hypervigilant attitude toward the external world which is a product of fear and mistrust.

Man suspicious of his friend
People with non-pathological narcissism tend to hide their feelings of helplessness and emptiness.

The absence of empathy

In both pathological and non-pathological narcissism, there’s a marked absence of empathy. The false self, which is defensive, closes down but also inflates. This is the mask that sufferers use to hide their feelings of helplessness and emptiness.

Under these conditions, the sufferer is incapable of loving themselves as they’re inhabited by fear and emptiness. They try to compensate for this lack of self-esteem by a continuous and often desperate search for ‘mirrors of acceptance’. In other words, other people’s approval, admiration, praise, and acceptance. When they can’t count on that, their self collapses and they fall victim to depression.

Success, fame, power, and status are the goals that people both with non-pathological and pathological narcissism aim for. However, their emotional armor prevents them from connecting with themselves.

To turn this kind of situation around, whatever the cause of the narcissism may be, psychotherapy is required.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Ferruta, A. (2011). Continuità o discontinuità tra narcisismo sano e patologico Configurazioni oscillatorie. Rivista di Psicoanalisi57(1), 17-34.
  • Grunberger, B. (1979). El narcisismo. In El narcisismo (pp. 283-283).
  • Trechera, J. L., Millán Vásquez de la Torre, G., & Fernández Morales, E. (2008). Estudio empírico del trastorno narcisista de la personalidad (TNP). Acta colombiana de psicología, 11(2), 25-36.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.