narcissists watch more pornAn intriguing new study in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy found that the more narcissistic people were, the more internet pornography they watched. For both men and women ranging in age from 18 to 61 years, those who watched more porn scored higher on tests of general narcissism and sexual narcissism.

The researchers came up with their hypothesis based on more than just the narcissistic person’s self-centeredness and pleasure seeking nature. Rather they argued that certain narcissistic traits have been shown to be linked to sexuality, such as the seeking of the ideal sexual fantasy, thrill seeking and the need for control. They cite research findings supporting the following:

“Sexual narcissism has been positively correlated with sexual sensation seeking, sexual preoccupation, sexual magazines and books, and sexual aggression…..the more control narcissists have over their sex object the more gratifying the object becomes to them…the internet is a narcissistic medium that allows individuals to act out sexual impulses of fantasy and grandiosity.”

I believe the connection between narcissism and porn use is not just a direct result of the narcissistic personality traits. I believe that the connection is very likely mediated by eroticized rage and that the narcissistic sex addict is particularly susceptible to and triggered by that rage. This link is more obvious in sex addicts but may also be the mediating factor with narcissists in general.

The narcissistic false self

Most sex addicts we see in treatment are notoriously narcissistic. But it is not usually the pathological narcissism that borders on sociopathy. In reality the narcissism of most sex addicts is skin deep. They may seem grandiose and self-important, as though they had a very high opinion of themselves. But most of the sex addicts I see have what is called a narcissistic defense or a narcissistic false self: A true narcissist would not sit still for treatment very long, let alone seek it out in the first place. This narcissistic false self covers very deep insecurities and feelings of inadequacy.

The narcissist’s veneer of superiority and fragile self esteem are very easily punctured. This is know as the “narcissistic vulnerability”. Any challenge to the narcissist’s facade, any criticism or suggestion that they are wrong, inadequate or unimportant is likely to wound the person to the core. Their self image crumbles and they may exhibit extreme rage, resentment, and aggression against the source of the criticism. Narcissists are vulnerable precisely because they need to be flawless. Rage and self hate are just below the surface at all times.

In my experience with sex addicts, it is very often the case that when something bursts their narcissistic bubble or reminds them of their inner feelings of worthlessness they turn to acting out with sex and porn. They will tell you that at such times they feel bad, lonely, bored or hopeless, but I believe that anger plays a bigger role than they realize.

Eroticized rage

Researchers have established that strong emotions such as fear and anger add intensity when associated with sexual experiences. Fear, risk, pain and anger can serve as neurochemical escalators in regards to sex. Thus it is easy for strong emotions to be linked to sexual arousal. The specifics of sexual acting out, the repeating of a particular sexual scenario in one arena or another can reflect early formative or traumatic experiences. For some addicts sexual arousal is most powerful when paired with physical pain or with risky activities such as exhibitionism.

For addicts who turn to internet porn the trigger can easily be seen to be rage and the relief they seek can be seen to be a result of acting on that rage.

Why porn relieves the narcissistic wounding and quells the rage

For the narcissistic sex addict, compulsively seeking out pornography on the internet does more that just provide sexual arousal and gratification. Remember, the narcissist who cannot resist internet porn may be being triggered by an intense need to rebuild his fragile facade. The addict is feeling unworthy, rejected, and “less than”. But porn can and does put that fragile Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Patrick Carnes in his article on eroticized rage describes the mechanisms by which sexual acting out behavior can be a way to cope with anger. The average person whose ego has been somehow deflated may feel embarrassed, humbled or dejected. But the person whose narcissistic bubble has been burst feels mostly outraged and resentful. There is no soul-searching, only the feeling of something intolerable and the impulse to change it.

Porn is a fantasy outlet offering a perfect escape from narcissistic wounding. It takes a person who feels outraged and victimized and offers them a quick fix through:

• Restoration of parity

The scenarios depicted in online porn images and videos have the power to change feelings of being one-down or undesirable and make them into their opposite. This restores the person’s sense of self. I had a client whose addictive pattern was to hang around coffee shops and look at attractive, much younger women. He would then realize that he could not “have” these women and go home to a marathon of pornography use. He particularly liked the fact that these fantasy women were “always there for me.”

• Getting even
When the addict feels victimized he or she may respond by using pornography to get even or turn the tables. The fantasy scenarios involved may be ones of revenge or humiliation but not always. For the person who feels abandoned and rejected by a partner, the mere fact of indulging in porn may be a violation of trust and therefore an act of revenge.

• Defiance of convention

Doing what is seen as perverse provides an outlet for anger and an affirmation of one’s own uniqueness and importance. Once again, it reaffirms the battered ego by means of getting away with something exciting and risky. It says “I am important enough that I play by different rules.”

Because the fantasy escape into porn merely restores the narcissist’s false self, it does not last. There is no permanent strengthening of the sense of self, only the repairing of the narcissistic facade.

But what about the “true” narcissist, the one whose sense of importance is pervasive and imperturbable? Interestingly, the study outlined above also looked at what they categorized as “pathological” narcissists and found no correlation between pathological narcissists and porn use. This is consistent with the notion that the person with a narcissistic false self, i.e. a narcissistic defense system is a different breed. And it is consistent with the hypothesis that it is the puncturing of that defense that results in the kind of sexualized anger that is acted out in pornography.

As a note for further investigation, this acting out of eroticized rage online is not confined to viewing pornography. It is also not confined to sex addicts. It is seen in the increasing use of online social networking for sexual threats, humiliation and victimization of various kinds. (For a comprehensive review of this field see the recent online article in The Atlantic “The Unsafety Net: How Social Media Turned Against Women.”) It remains to be seen whether we as a species are more narcissistic and therefore more subject to sexualized rage than at earlier times in history or whether we simply have newer and more efficient technological outlets for acting it out.

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