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

Eating and Weight Disorders - Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity Aims and scope Submit manuscript



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).

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  1. The full break down of the ethnicities and country of origin of the participants are included in Appendix A of the supplemental materials.


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Correspondence to Danushika Sivanathan.

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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.

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

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

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This article is part of the Topical Collection on Personality and eating and weight disorders.

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Sivanathan, D., Bizumic, B., Rieger, E. et al. Vulnerable narcissism as a mediator of the relationship between perceived parental invalidation and eating disorder pathology. Eat Weight Disord 24, 1071–1077 (2019).

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