Vulnerable narcissism as a mediator of the relationship between perceived parental invalidation and eating disorder pathology

  • Danushika SivanathanEmail author
  • Boris Bizumic
  • Elizabeth Rieger
  • Elizabeth Huxley
Original Article
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Personality and eating and weight disorders



Parental invalidation and narcissism have been proposed to play an important role in understanding the etiology of eating disorders. The current research aimed to address two main gaps in the literature. The first aim was to determine the differential associations of grandiose and vulnerable narcissism with eating disorder pathology. The second aim was to find a common mediator between both maternal and paternal invalidation and eating disorder pathology. It was hypothesized that when controlling for vulnerable narcissism, grandiose narcissism would not predict eating disorder pathology. In addition, it was hypothesized that vulnerable narcissism would be a mediator of the relationship between parental invalidation and eating disorder pathology.


Participants were 352 women aged 18–30 years who were recruited from the general and tertiary student population, and as such constituted a community sample. Participants completed the Invalidating Childhood Environment Scale, Brief-Pathological Narcissism Inventory, Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire, the Avoidance of Affect Subscale of the Distress Tolerance Scale, and the Emotional Expression as a Sign of Weakness Subscale of the Attitudes Towards Emotional Expression Scale in an online survey.


Results showed that, when controlling for vulnerable narcissism, grandiose narcissism was no longer associated with eating disorder pathology. It was also found that parental invalidation had a positive indirect effect upon eating disorder pathology, via vulnerable narcissism.


The findings indicate that vulnerable narcissism is more strongly associated with eating disorder pathology as opposed to grandiose narcissism and help to further elucidate the mechanisms via which parental invalidation might exert its negative effect on eating disorder pathology.

Level of evidence

A cross-sectional survey (Level V).


Eating disorders Narcissism Parental invalidation Mediation analysis 



There has been no funding received in conducting the study and in the preparation of this manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in this study involving human participants were in accordance with the Human Research Ethics Committee of the Australian National University (ANU) and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Ethics approval was obtained from the ANU Human Research Ethics Committee prior to conducting this research.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Data availability

The data sets generated during and/or analyzed during the current study are available in the Open Science Framework repository,

Supplementary material

40519_2019_647_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (319 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 318 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research School of PsychologyThe Australian National UniversityActonAustralia
  2. 2.School of PsychologyUniversity of WollongongWollongongAustralia

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