Poor relationship with father associated with increased symptoms of muscle dysmorphia via vulnerable narcissism

According to new psychological research published in Personality and individual differences.

Muscle dysmorphia, also known as “bigorexia” or “reverse anorexia”, is a type of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) that is characterized by an excessive preoccupation with musculature and body size, combined with an image of self distorted. Muscle dysmorphia is more commonly reported in men than in women and often coexists with other mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The researchers wanted to explore the associations between muscle dysmorphism, narcissism, and father relationship in a male population, as this area had not been studied previously. They hypothesized that a negative relationship with the father would lead to an increase in muscle dysmorphic symptoms due to a lack of a positive male role model, resulting in a loss of self-esteem. The study aimed to determine whether this relationship was explained by vulnerable or grandiose narcissism.

“Muscle dysmorphia is a growing health problem in today’s society, with serious consequences for the health of those affected,” explained study author Sebastian S. Sandgren, associate professor at the University of Stavanger.

“We therefore need more research to better understand this mental health disorder in order to effectively prevent and treat symptoms in the future. Exploring the associations between personality characteristics (narcissism) and the father/son relationship is one step further in understanding risk factors for the development of muscle dysmorphia.

To conduct the study, researchers recruited 503 English-speaking men between the ages of 18 and 78 through non-probability sampling via social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Reddit over a period of nine months. To protect potentially vulnerable individuals, those who reported a history of clinical diagnosis of a mental health disorder were excluded. Participants completed self-report measures of muscle dysmorphism, narcissism, and relationship with father.

The results of the study found a negative indirect effect of the relationship with the father on the symptoms of muscle dysmorphia via vulnerable narcissism but not via grandiose narcissism. In other words, those who disagree with statements such as “My dad is very important to me” and “My dad helped me learn new things” were more likely to accept with statements such as “I often feel like I need compliments from others to be assertive”, which in turn was associated with increased muscle dysphoria.

Grandiose narcissism and vulnerable narcissism are two subtypes of narcissism that differ in their presentation and their underlying psychological mechanisms.

Grandiose narcissism is characterized by an exaggerated sense of self-importance, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. People with grandiose narcissism tend to display grandiose behaviors and beliefs, such as believing they are superior to others, seeking attention and admiration, and feeling entitled to special treatment.

On the other hand, vulnerable narcissism is characterized by a more fragile sense of self-worth and self-worth, combined with feelings of insecurity and anxiety. People with vulnerable narcissism may have a strong need for validation and attention from others, but may also feel ashamed or inadequate when they do not receive it.

The new findings suggest that a perceived poor relationship with his father can lead men to develop an unhealthy view of themselves characterized by low self-esteem and self-centeredness. Attempts to seek validation and build self-esteem can then manifest as an unhealthy preoccupation with musculature.

“This study shows that men’s poor relationship with their fathers may indirectly increase symptoms of muscle dysmorphia through vulnerable narcissism,” Sandgren told PsyPost. “Young men need to be aware of their relationship to weightlifting and their motivations for training, and have the courage to ask for help and talk to someone if needed (for example, if you feel often anxious when you miss a workout and/or feel your workout is taking over your life in a negative way). There is support available.

Overall, this study offers new insights into potential risk factors for the development of muscle dysmorphic symptoms in men. The results underscore the importance of positive male role models in male development and suggest that interventions aimed at building positive self-esteem may be effective in preventing the development of symptoms of muscle dysmorphia.

“An important area for future muscle dysmorphia research is to develop and test interventions to help treat symptoms,” Sandgren said. “Many people with muscle dysmorphia do not seek support or help, likely because of the stigma attached to the disorder and to men’s mental health in general and that the treatments or interventions available for the disorder diet may not appeal to many men with symptoms of muscle dysmorphia.”

“It will be imperative that future interventions are participant-centered and consider the needs of the target population. There is still a lot to do, but this important work has finally begun (my research team has started a new project called MDID – Muscle Dysmorphia Intervention Development).

The study, “My Dad, Myself, and My Muscles: Associations Between Muscle Dysmorphia, Narcissism, and Father Relationship in Working Men,” was authored by Matt W. Boulter, Tom Wooldridge, Vegard E Bjelland and Sebastian S. Sandgren.

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