Positive Self-Esteem and Narcissistic Personality Styles


This week’s discussion focuses on the difference between high self-esteem and Narcissism.  To answer the question adequately, a synthesis of a variety of materials is required.  For instance, relevant elements to this discussion include the stability of self-knowledge, implicit versus explicit measures of self-esteem in addition to the actual categories of high self-esteem, low self-esteem, and narcissism.

Stability of Self-Knowledge

Stability of self-knowledge refers to consistency of an individual’s self-esteem over time.  According to Crisp and Turner (2010), self- esteem is most stable from early adulthood (approximately early 20s) through mid-adulthood.  Stability of self-knowledge is relevant because researchers have determined that “higher levels of self-esteem stability are associated with superior psychological well-being … people are more likely to pursue everyday goals for intrinsic reasons rather than extrinsic reasons, and they feel less anxiety associated with the pursuit of such goals.  People higher in self-esteem stability also report fewer depressive symptoms in the face of daily stressors” (Fiske, Gilbert, & Lindzey, 2010, p. 596).  It would appear a stable self-esteem is, at least indirectly, related to a variety of positive outcomes.  On the other hand, individuals with unstable self-esteem “appear hypervigilant for social feedback, and they react to negative performance with heightened anger, hostility, and defensiveness” (Fiske et al., 2010, p. 596).  Hence, an unstable self-esteem seems related to a variety of negative emotional states, which could further result in negative life outcomes.

Implicit versus Explicit Measures

Explicit self-knowledge typically obtained through self-report measures is fairly deliberate and accessible, while implicit self-knowledge is subconscious or automatic, sometimes without the individual’s complete awareness (Fiske et al., 2010.  The results from these types of measurement become important when it is realized that implicit self-knowledge of “shapes people’s thoughts, feelings, or behaviors.  …  and self-guide many of their most important life decisions, including choice of occupation, romantic partner, and residence” (Fiske et al., 2010, p. 592).  Consistency between results on these two measures is beneficial; however, “emotional and behavioral implications of discrepancies between people implicitly and explicitly measured self-knowledge.  … people who display favorable self-views on implicit measures, but relatively unfavorable self-views on implicit measures, are characterized by heightened levels of self-aggrandizement, verbal defensiveness, and belief conviction…Thus, it appears that discrepancies between implicitly and explicitly measured self-knowledge may predict a defensive tendency to present the self in an overly zealous manner” (Fiske et al., 2010, p. 592).  Dissociation between these two measures is one feature typical of Narcissistic individuals, as will be further discussed hereinafter.

Positive Self-Esteem

Intuitively, it is expected that individuals with a stable high self-esteem would benefit from positive outcomes interpersonally and professional.  The research appears to bear this intuition to fruition.  “Unambiguously high self-esteem is associated with a number of positive outcomes.  Positive self-regard is associated with healthy social relationships and relationship satisfaction, as well as positive evaluations by others.  High self-esteem also predicts occupational success, subjective well-being, and positive response to failure” (Fiske et al., 2010, p. 377).  Further, individuals with high self-esteem appear to handle life challenges more constructively and successfully regulate their mood in the face of disappointment (Crisp & Turner, 2010).

Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem is included because there is a possible indirect relationship between some individuals with narcissistic personality style and individuals with low self-esteem as will be further clarified.  Contrary to their high self-esteem counterparts, “findings indicate that people with lower self-esteem make less effort to regulate their mood; they do not try and maintain a good mood after a positive life event, neither are they motivated to elevate their mood after a negative life event.  These findings demonstrate that having lower self-esteem can be maladaptive, and explain why people with lower self-esteem tend to feel worse than those with higher self-esteem after a negative event” (Crisp & Turner, 2010, p. 24)

Intuitively, it is anticipated that individuals with lower self-esteem would have more difficulties facing and overcoming life challenges.  The research bears this out.  “Consistently low self-regard is associated with a number of negative outcomes, including depression and other health problems.  People with low self-esteem react more strongly to failures, experience greater reduction in motivation after a lack of success, and exhibit more anxiety during a confrontational interview.  In fact, low self-esteem can prospectively predict depressive symptoms, as well as criminal behavior and reduced economic prospects” (Fiske, et al., 2010, p. 377).

Narcissistic Personality Style

Straightforward descriptions and/or characteristics of individuals with Narcissistic Personality Style include: “Narcissists consider themselves to be different or unique as well as superior to or better than others.  They maintain this grandiose self-concept both internally, by fantasizing about fame, power or love, and externally, by defending the self against criticism, associating with high-status others, and seeking admiration and attention” (Campbell, Finkel, & Foster, 2002, p. 341).

In discussing Narcissistic Personality Style, clarification needs to be made on a couple of points and connections.  First, there appears to be some links between explicit versus implicit measures of narcissism and dissociation in the results.  For instance, narcissistic individuals may score relatively high on explicit measures of self-esteem, while scoring low on implicit measures.  Dissociation between explicit and implicit measures of self-esteem is evident in narcissism, “which is associated with high explicit pair with low implicit self-esteem” (Fiske et al., 2010, p. 377).

These results beg the question; does the narcissistic individual behave as a person with high self-esteem or low self-esteem?  Apparently, their behavior may mimic high self-esteem, but due to instable nature, the person is driven to constantly revalidate their explicit self-esteem.  Narcissistic individuals “tend to have extremely high self-esteem, believing they are somehow special and superior to others, but at the same time, their self-esteem is unstable.  As a result, they are reliant on validation from others in order to maintain their fragile positive self-concept” (Crisp & Turner, 2010, p. 25).

Situations that run contrary to their expectations result in difficulties and negative outcomes.  “Research has shown that narcissistic individuals, who have a high but fragile (unstable) self-esteem are more likely to be aggressive than people with lower self-esteem, particularly if their self-esteem is threatened in some way” (Crisp & Turner, 2010, p. 26).  Therefore, it would appear, narcissistic persons suffer from many of the same negative physical and emotional outcomes as lower self-esteem, individuals, in additional to added anxiety and aggression issues.

Two types of recognized narcissism discussed in the Handbook of Social Psychology are Grandiose Narcissism and Vulnerable Narcissism.

Grandiose Narcissism.  Characteristics of Grandiose Narcissism include “high self-esteem, vanity, entitlement, a willingness to manipulate and exploit others for personal gain, and high levels of defensiveness in response to self-threats” … have ‘fragile’ high self-esteem because their self-esteem is easily threatened and requires constant validation” (Fiske et al., 2010, p. 598).  “According to Morf and Rhodewalt (2001), those high in narcissism have a grandiose self-view, often overestimate their own abilities, and are insensitive and unempathetic to others’ needs and feelings (as cited in Fiske et al., 2010, p. 598).

Vulnerable Narcissism.  Vulnerable Narcissism differs from Grandiose in that although they may “entertain self-aggrandizing fantasies about themselves, and demonstrate a heightened sense of entitlement and a willingness to exploit others, they report feelings of inferiority, shame-proneness, and low self-esteem…  Moreover, vulnerable narcissists tend to hide their feelings of grandiosity behind a façade of modesty.  Thus, whereas grandiose narcissists demand admirations and respect from others, vulnerable narcissists crave approval but are too inhibited to demand it” (Fiske et al., 2010, p. 598).

Jeannette – Narcissist

Jeannette’s responses to the Boss immediately strike a warning bell when she responds, “OK, let me just say that it’s been really, really, really busy this past year, and I just haven’t had time to work a lot with other departments.  They don’t make it easy though.  Everyone seems to be just as busy as I am and not interested in what I’m doing.  The difference is that I’m definitely more of a silent observer.  You probably already know this, but I’m always paying attention to what other groups and departments are doing and making lots of mental notes.  You could easily say that I’m an expert in the company in what everyone is doing.” (Laureate Education, Inc. [Laureate], 2011, p. 1)

In this very first interaction Jeannette manages to be defensive, blame others, and at the same time allege she is “an expert” on what everyone else is doing in the company.  She takes zero responsibility for the Boss’ concerns, pretty much invalidating his comments. “When narcissists are thwarted in their drive for superiority, they may simply take credit for others’ success and blame others for failure” (Campbell et al., 2002, p. 341).

Jeannette continues in this vein when the Boss discusses the packaging error.  She again, passes the blame off, while at the same time pushing her positives of being a trusting person and keeping her promises all the time.  When the Boss gives her a compliment for doing a good job planning and prioritizing Jeannette is not satisfied with a simple thank you.  Instead, she takes it to the uber-level claiming she is the queen of planning and prioritizing.  “Narcissism involves a struggle to maintain interpersonal relationships while experiencing a conflict between focusing on oneself and focusing on others.  This suggests that an individual high in the narcissistic personality trait may be more likely to derogate relationship partners when they are threatened by another’s success rather than to reduce the importance or relevance of the particular task domain to their self-worth.”  (Nicholls & Stukas, 2011, p. 202-203).

Lastly, when the Boss gives her the bottom line she immediately gets defensive.  Then she begins to self-enhance by diminishing others’ assuming everyone else probably got lower scores.”

Outcome 1.  As indicated by the resources this week, Jeannette’s future does not look very bright at this company.  Her overly inflated view of her abilities, in addition to poor interpersonal skills are likely to continue alienating her from the rest of the people in the company, and the department the Boss wanted her to be collaborating with.  “Their inflated self-views are thought to have other important consequences for interpersonal behavior.  For example, narcissists are said to be exploitative, lacking in empathy, and envious of others’ achievements and abilities” (Campbell, et al., 2002, p. 341).

Outcome 2.  It is also a strong possibility that unless something dramatic happens to help Jeannette become a team player, she will be forced to leave the company simply to save face.  Her likely continuing difficulties with her coworkers will force her to choose between blaming the company and those that work there as not a good fit, thus finding a new job, or struggling with a reduction in her self-esteem and how she values herself.  The research seems to indicate that as a narcissist she is more likely to separate herself from the problem in an attempt to self-enhance by finding greener pastures.




Campbell, W. K., Finkel, E. J., & Foster, C. A. (2002).  Does self-love lead to love for others?  A story of narcissistic game playing.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(2), 340-354.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1037//0022-3514.83.2.340

Crisp, R. J., & Turner, R. N. (2010).  Essential social psychology (2nd Ed.).  Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Fein, S., & Spencer, S. J. (1997).  Prejudice as self-image maintenance: Affirming the self through derogating others.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(1), 31-44.  Retrieved from http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/psp/73/1/31/

Fiske, S. T., Gilbert, D. T., & Lindzey, G. (Eds.).  (2010). The handbook of social psychology (Vol. 1, 5th ed.).  Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer).  (2011). Week 2: The virtual office .  Available from Walden University.

Nicholls, E., & Stukas, A. A. (2011).  Narcissism and the self-evaluation maintenance model: Effects of social comparison threats on relationship closeness.  The Journal of Social Psychology, 151(2), 201-212.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00224540903510852


3 thoughts on “Positive Self-Esteem and Narcissistic Personality Styles

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