Narcissistic defensiveness: Hypervigilance and avoidance of worthlessness

Clinical theories of narcissism postulate the paradoxical coexistence of explicit self-perceptions of grandiosity and covert fragility and worthlessness. To examine the operation and time course of the latter component at a very early stage of information processing, a sequential priming study was conducted. Consistent with predictions high narcissists appear to be hypervigilant for ego-threats; they initially activated worthlessness and then rapidly and automatically inhibited it. In contrast, low narcissists neither activated nor inhibited worthlessness after ego-threat. A second study showed that conscious suppression did not elicit parallel effects among narcissists, thus supporting the idea that the effects in the first study were the result of unconscious repression processes. Differences between intentional and automatic processes in self-regulation are discussed. The findings demonstrate the importance of worthless-ness in narcissistic self-regulation and help clarify how narcissists protect and defend their grandiose self-views.

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