Puffed-Up But Shaky Selves: State Self-Esteem Level and Variability in Narcissists

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Abstract

Different theoretical conceptualizations characterize grandiose narcissists by high, yet fragile self-esteem. Empirical evidence, however, has been inconsistent, particularly regarding the relationship between narcissism and self-esteem fragility (i.e., self-esteem variability). Here, we aim at unraveling this inconsistency by disentangling the effects of two theoretically distinct facets of narcissism (i.e., admiration and rivalry) on the two aspects of state self-esteem (i.e., level and variability). We report on data from a laboratory-based and two field-based studies (total N = 596) in realistic social contexts, capturing momentary, daily, and weekly fluctuations of state self-esteem. To estimate unbiased effects of narcissism on the level and variability of self-esteem within one model, we applied mixed-effects location scale models. Results of the three studies and their meta-analytical integration indicated that narcissism is positively linked to self-esteem level and variability. When distinguishing between admiration and rivalry, however, an important dissociation was identified: Admiration was related to high (and rather stable) levels of state self-esteem, whereas rivalry was related to (rather low and) fragile self-esteem. Analyses on underlying processes suggest that effects of rivalry on self-esteem variability are based on stronger decreases in self-esteem from one assessment to the next, particularly after a perceived lack of social inclusion. The revealed differentiated effects of admiration and rivalry explain why the analysis of narcissism as a unitary concept has led to the inconsistent past findings and provide deeper insights into the intrapersonal dynamics of grandiose narcissism governing state self-esteem.

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