Navigating romantic relationships can be complex, particularly when one or both partners exhibit narcissistic traits. Narcissism in relationships often leads to a dynamic where self-interest prevails and empathy takes a back seat. This imbalance can create a host of issues, from power struggles to a lack of emotional depth, making it difficult for partners to connect on a deeper level.
There are two main types of narcissism that affect relationships differently: grandiose narcissism (GN) and vulnerable narcissism (VN). Individuals with GN traits often display a sense of entitlement and require constant admiration. They tend to engage in behaviours that are self-aggrandising and detrimental to the health of the relationship. In contrast, VN is characterised by defensiveness, anxiety, and a tendency to withdraw, which strains romantic bonds in different ways. These contrasting traits create complex interpersonal scenarios, often leading to instability and dissatisfaction in relationships.
A recent study published in The Journal of Psychology has brought a new concept into the limelight: communal activation (CA). This psychological approach focuses on shifting individuals’ mindsets from a self-centred perspective to a more community-oriented one. By promoting empathy and prosocial behaviour, CA aims to mitigate the negative impact of narcissistic traits in relationships.
The study aimed to explore whether CA could reduce problematic behaviours and attitudes, such as criticism, and enhance positive ones like commitment and empathy, in romantic relationships involving individuals with GN or VN. Researchers adopted an extreme group approach for the study, targeting individuals with high or low levels of GN or VN. The participants, recruited online, were in committed relationships. The methodology involved assessing various aspects such as narcissistic traits, level of commitment, desire for closeness, communication patterns, and overall relationship satisfaction.
Using hierarchical linear modelling, the study examined the relationship between CA and changes in various aspects of the participants’ relationships. The analysis included factors such as relationship satisfaction and gender to provide a comprehensive understanding of the influences on romantic dynamics.
The results of the study were enlightening. CA showed a significant positive impact on the attitudes and behaviours of individuals with GN and VN in their relationships. It notably reduced tendencies towards criticism and enhanced other aspects such as commitment, communication, and empathy. This suggests that CA can be an effective tool for improving romantic relationships affected by narcissistic traits.
The implications of these findings extend beyond the academic realm into real-world applications. They suggest that focusing on communal aspects within relationships can be transformative, especially for those affected by narcissism. This could revolutionise counselling techniques and educational programmes, providing new strategies for fostering healthier relationships.