What is the object relations theory of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)?

Updated: May 16, 2018
  • Author: Sheenie Ambardar, MD; Chief Editor: David Bienenfeld, MD  more...
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Answer

According to Kernberg, NPD is the result of a young child having an unempathetic and distant mother who is hypercritical and devaluing of her child. [3] As a defense against this perceived lack of love and to guard against emotional pain, the child creates an internalized grandiose self. Kernberg believed that this grandiose self was a combination of the following 3 elements:

  • The child’s own positive traits

  • A fantastical, larger-than-life version of himself or herself

  • An idealized version of a nurturing mother

In keeping with the object-relations model, on which Kernberg based much of his theory, the child eventually splits off the unlovable and needy image of himself or herself and relegates it to the unconscious, where it later forms the basis for the fragile self-esteem and sense of inferiority present in NPD. [3]


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