It is very common for narcissists to struggle with feelings of emptiness. Emptiness can describe a wide range of emotions such as feelings of loneliness, sadness, or feeling numb or disconnected.

Narcissists struggle with feelings of emptiness because they depend on the admiration of others to build self-esteem. This prevents them from developing a positive emotional connection with themselves and makes their loneliness, sadness, numbness, disconnectedness, and emptiness even more profound.

In this article we are going to help you understand the feelings of emptiness that narcissists struggle with so you can grasp a better understanding of their behavior patterns.

Narcissists Feel Empty Inside Because They Depend on the Admiration of Others to Build Self-Esteem

The reason that narcissists depend on the admiration of others to build self-esteem and are incapable of overcoming their feelings of emptiness is because they have low emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict.

A teacher talking about emotional intelligence.

People who are considered to be emotionally intelligent are capable of acknowledging their feelings of emptiness and using healthy forms of emotional regulation (i.e. the ability to exert control over one’s own emotional state) to overcome it.

Narcissists Depend on the Admiration of Others Because They Have Low Emotional Intelligence

As we mentioned before, narcissists have low emotional intelligence, which means the inability to accurately perceive emotions (in both themselves and others) and to use that information to guide their thinking and actions.

We can trace a narcissist’s low emotional intelligence all the way back to their childhood upbringing.

You see, it is the belief of many mental health professionals that narcissism originates from an abusive or unhealthy childhood with emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers. Now, before you write this off, it is important to note that this belief has a very, very, broad spectrum of possibilities.

A teacher warning students learning about the emptiness narcissist have.

An abusive or unhealthy childhood upbringing doesn’t always mean that the child had primary caregivers who were physically abusive (e.g. slapping, punching, spanking).

Sometimes children have an abusive or unhealthy childhood because the emotional availability, responsiveness, and consistency of their primary caregivers was unhealthy (e.g. too much pampering, being overprotective, lack of boundaries).

This is an important detail to remember because we often associate the terms “abusive” or “unhealthy” with physical abuse, or more evident forms of emotional abuse such as invalidation, devaluation, degradation, or humiliation. But as you can see, that isn’t always the case.

Narcissists Have Low Emotional Intelligence Because of Their Childhood Upbringing

Now that we have clarified things a bit, let’s get into the consequences of having the abusive or unhealthy childhood that many mental health professionals believe narcissists had.

A group of doctors studying a narcissist.

When a child has emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers, they can’t get the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they need to develop a realistic sense of self and have a healthy cognitive development.

This is because the neglect that the child experiences prevents them from having their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs mirrored properly. What does this mean? Well, the concept of mirroring involves a parent’s accurate reflection of a child’s expressed thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

When a child has a healthy parental mirror throughout their development stages, the healthy forms of validation, admiration, and reassurance they receive gets internalized and the child enters adulthood with self-acceptance and self-awareness.

Without healthy parental mirroring, narcissists were left to figure out both their internal and external environment on their own. 

A confused child.

That’s not all…

The neglect that narcissists experienced destroyed their self-esteem and caused them to develop an incredibly negative self-perception, which is a person’s view of themselves or of any of the mental or physical attributes that constitute the self.

This is where a narcissist’s story gets incredibly sad but it is important that you remember that their troubling upbringing is not an excuse for their behavior. Now, the negative self-perception that narcissists developed made them feel unlovable, unwanted, weak, worthless, inadequate, and subsequently, empty.

Narcissists’ Neglectful Primary Caregivers Forced Them to Seek Out the Admiration of Others

Sadly, there wasn’t much that a narcissist could do about their low self-esteem and negative self-perception because of the low emotional intelligence they acquired from having an unhealthy cognitive development.

A confused child.

Therefore, to prevent themselves from crumbling under the pressure of their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions, narcissists mirrored society to create a falsified identity that could get them the validation, admiration, and reassurance that their primary caregivers could not, or would not, give them. 

We mentioned mirroring earlier but in this context, mirroring refers to a narcissist’s ability to absorb an extraordinary amount of information about someone’s or a group of people’s identity and use that information to create a falsified identity that others can identify with.

On paper, this approach to getting validation, admiration, and reassurance seems like it would work. 

However, for narcissists, all it did was make their feelings of being unlovable, unwanted, inadequate, worthless, weak, and empty even more profound because they were not able to be their true authentic selves; only a version of themselves that they believe others would admire, validate, and reassure.

a narcissist hiding their true identity.

In a last-ditch Hail Mary attempt to protect their emotional stability, narcissists compartmentalized all of their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions with the help of the narcissistic supply that they were getting from their external environment. 

In psychology, compartmentalization is defined as a defense mechanism where someone suppresses their thoughts and emotions. Obviously, this is a horrible approach to protecting their emotional stability but narcissists don’t have a choice!

They are condemned to a lifetime of a mindless pursuit of narcissistic supply (i.e. the validation, admiration, reassurance, power, and control that they receive from their external environment) to keep all of the painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions suppressed and that is why narcissists feel so empty inside.

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

Narcissists struggle with feelings of emptiness because they depend on the admiration of others to build self-esteem. Even though they do a really good job at putting on a happy face in public, it is very common for narcissists to struggle with feelings of emptiness behind closed doors.

In fact, we conducted a survey among 100 survivors of narcissistic abuse where we asked them,

“Did you ever notice that the narcissist in your life was struggling with feelings of emptiness? Some of the most common signs that someone is struggling with feelings of emptiness are unfulfilling relationships, struggling with overdependence, feeling perpetually bored, being emotionally numb, and being unhappy even though they have everything that they want.”

Guess what? 96/100 of them said yes.

A survey about a narcissist's feelings of emptiness.

A Quote from One of Our Community Members:

“I wish I knew about emptiness and narcissism sooner because I spent years and thousands of dollars trying to fill an unfillable void in my ex’s life. I bought him a new car. I got a tummy tuck. I funded his business. I moved to a new state. The list goes on forever but nothing I did was ever good enough because of his emptiness. It all makes sense now.” – Olivia

A narcissist’s dependence on the admiration of others prevents them from developing a positive emotional connection with themselves and makes their loneliness, sadness, numbness, disconnectedness, emptiness even more profound.

Suggested Reading:

Our article How Are Narcissists Made? has a lot of helpful information about a narcissist’s upbringing that will help you better understand their feelings of emptiness.

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All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

References:

Feeling Empty? What It Means and What to Do

Parental Mirroring