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The Narcissism Spectrum Model: A Synthetic View of Narcissistic Personality

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The narcissism spectrum model synthesizes extensive personality, social-psychological, and clinical evidence, building on existing knowledge about narcissistic grandiosity and vulnerability to reveal a view of narcissism that respects its clinical origins, embraces the diversity and complexity of its expression, and reflects extensive scientific evidence about the continuity between normal and abnormal personality expression. Critically, the proposed model addresses three key, inter-related problems that have plagued narcissism scholarship for more than a century. These problems can be summarized as follows: (a) What are the key features of narcissism? (b) How are they organized and related to each other? and (c) Why are they organized that way, that is, what accounts for their relationships? By conceptualizing narcissistic traits as manifested in transactional processes between individuals and their social environments, the model enables integration of existing theories of narcissism and thus provides a compelling perspective for future examination of narcissism and its developmental pathways.
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Article
There are at least two facts upon which everyone agrees: first,
that the concept of narcissism is one of the most important
contributions of psychoanalysis; second, that it is one of the
most confusing.
—Pulver (1970, p. 319)
Although more than 40 years old, the above quote still cap-
tures a long-standing state of unrest in psychological science.
On one hand, narcissism is constant fodder for journalists
and intellectuals as they respond to the public’s endless fas-
cination with anything to do with narcissism or people pre-
sumed to be narcissistic. In psychology itself, the topic of
narcissism is undergoing an exponential explosion in scien-
tific attention. On the other hand, the narcissistic personality
stubbornly persists in puzzling psychologists attempting to
understand it, all the while perplexing clinicians attempting
to treat its pathological manifestations. Both this fascination
and the confusion are fueled by the flexible use of the term
“narcissism,” denoting everything from a self-oriented moti-
vational state, a normal phase of psychological development,
a configuration of personality traits, to a personality disorder.
Coupled with a bewildering complexity of proposals regard-
ing narcissistic individuals’ thoughts, emotions, and behav-
iors, it should be of no surprise that there is little consensus
about what constitutes the narcissistic personality. This lack
of consensus has fueled persistent confusion about the nature
of narcissism, sometimes even threatening the ontological
status of this century-old psychological construct. Moreover,
instruments measuring narcissism are often themselves
limited by narrow or shifting conceptualizations, rendering
the empirical literature on narcissism both incredibly com-
plex and impressively vague.
Nevertheless, the body of empirical evidence on narcis-
sistic traits is now sufficiently comprehensive to enable an
integrative theoretical account of narcissistic personality. In
this article, we review this evidence and present a new theo-
retical model of narcissism, the narcissism spectrum model
(NSM). By synthesizing extensive personality, social–psy-
chological, and clinical evidence, the proposed model builds
on existing knowledge to reveal a view of narcissism that
respects its clinical origins, embraces the diversity and com-
plexity of its expression, and reflects extensive scientific evi-
dence about the continuity between normal and abnormal
personality expression. In general, this spectrum approach
offers a synthetic account of how narcissistic traits manifest
by representing them as diverse combinations of distinct
approach-oriented (i.e., bold and grandiose) and avoidance-
oriented (i.e., reactive and vulnerable) qualities of entitlement
and self-importance. This approach enables long-overdue
integration of existing theories of narcissism (often focused
on distinct measures or domains) within a broader personality
685018PSRXXX10.1177/1088868316685018Personality and Social Psychology ReviewKrizan and Herlache
research-article2017
1Iowa State University, Ames, USA
Corresponding Author:
Zlatan Krizan, Department of Psychology, Iowa State University, W112
Lagomarcino Hall, Ames, IA 50011, USA.
Email: zkrizan@iastate.edu
The Narcissism Spectrum Model: A
Synthetic View of Narcissistic Personality
Zlatan Krizan1 and Anne D. Herlache1
Abstract
The narcissism spectrum model synthesizes extensive personality, social–psychological, and clinical evidence, building on existing
knowledge about narcissistic grandiosity and vulnerability to reveal a view of narcissism that respects its clinical origins,
embraces the diversity and complexity of its expression, and reflects extensive scientific evidence about the continuity
between normal and abnormal personality expression. Critically, the proposed model addresses three key, inter-related
problems that have plagued narcissism scholarship for more than a century. These problems can be summarized as follows:
(a) What are the key features of narcissism? (b) How are they organized and related to each other? and (c) Why are they
organized that way, that is, what accounts for their relationships? By conceptualizing narcissistic traits as manifested in
transactional processes between individuals and their social environments, the model enables integration of existing theories
of narcissism and thus provides a compelling perspective for future examination of narcissism and its developmental pathways.
Keywords
narcissism, entitlement, grandiosity, self-importance, spectrum
2 Personality and Social Psychology Review
structural and developmental framework and thus highlights
important new research directions on narcissism and its
developmental pathways.
Critically, the proposed model addresses three key, inter-
related problems that have plagued narcissism scholarship
for more than a century. These problems can be summarized
as follows: (a) What are the key features of narcissism, (b)
how are they organized and related to each other, and (c) why
are they organized that way, that is, what accounts for their
relationships. First, we review these three problems, simulta-
neously illustrating important opportunities for consensus
regarding each issue. Second, we outline the NSM and
describe how it addresses each of these problems. We also
present original empirical data to illustrate the proposed
structure of narcissistic personality as conceptualized by the
model and to provide evidence about its proposed tempera-
mental bases and functional attributes. Third, we discuss the
implications of the model for measurement and theory of
narcissism, elucidating the following: (a) How it provides a
shared framework for evaluating narcissism measures, (b)
how it integrates existing accounts of narcissism that have
been restricted to disparate sets of narcissistic features (i.e.,
based on different measures of narcissism), (c) how it aids in
understanding the nature of narcissistic personality disorder
and its overlap with other personality pathologies (e.g., psy-
chopathy, borderline personality disorder), and (d) how it
helps illuminate the paradoxical qualities of narcissism.
Finally, after considering the model’s limitations, we provide
recommendation for moving the study of narcissism forward
by stressing the need for conceptual clarity and longitudinal
studies.
What Is Narcissism? A Tale of Three
Persistent Debates
A key idea examined in this article is that some individuals
exhibit a “narcissistic personality,” that is shown in a persis-
tent pattern of self-involvement, arrogance, and entitlement,
which was initially labeled the “god-complex” by Ernest
Jones (1913; see also W. Reich, 1933/1949; Waelder, 1925).
In this vein, most theoretical development and empirical
research have focused on narcissism as a personality struc-
ture, a configuration of personality traits, or in extreme, a
personality disorder (American Psychiatric Association,
2000; Kernberg, 1975; Kohut, 1971; Levy, Ellison, &
Reynoso, 2011; Miller & Campbell, 2008; Millon, 1997;
Raskin & Hall, 1979; Ronningstam, 2005; Wink, 1991).
Although narcissism is not just personality pathology, clini-
cal accounts of narcissism are important to any theory of
narcissism because they have canonized the narcissistic phe-
notype. In fact, most personality measures of narcissism
have been inspired by these accounts or based on formal
diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder
(American Psychiatric Association, 1994; Hyler, 1994;
Pincus et al., 2009; Raskin & Hall, 1981). In this vein, our
analysis focuses on individual differences in narcissistic per-
sonalities, including their pathological manifestations.
Although virtually all scholars accept the existence of a
narcissistic personality, intense disagreements persist about
(a) what its core features are, (b) how these features are orga-
nized, and (c) what accounts for their organization. As men-
tioned earlier, these three issues have plagued this scholarly
domain for almost a century, with divergent opinions on
these matters often falling along the lines of scholars’ own
sub-disciplines or the instruments they use to assess narcis-
sism (Ackerman, Hands, Donnellan, Hopwood, & Witt, in
press; Miller & Campbell, 2008), raising the proverbial
question of “Will the real narcissism please stand up!?” Note
that achieving at least a preliminary consensus on these
issues is essential not only for advancing narcissism theory
and clinical practice, but also for uniting views across social,
personality, and clinical psychology—views that have often
strayed uncomfortably apart. We first discuss each of the
three core problems in more detail and foreshadow the solu-
tions suggested by the model.
What Are the Core Features of Narcissism?
Early clinical description of narcissistic personalities focused
on self-centeredness, vanity, and a lack of empathy (Jones,
1913; Waelder, 1925). Although these features are remark-
ably consistent with the broader modern definition of narcis-
sism as “too much interest in and admiration for your own
physical appearance and/or your own abilities” (http://dic-
tionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/narcissism),
subsequent descriptions of narcissism incorporated many
additional attributes, ranging from ambition, aggressiveness,
leadership, and attention-seeking (Freud, 1931/1955; Murray,
1938; Nemiah, 1961; W. Reich, 1933/1949), to withdrawal
and feelings of inferiority, shame, and resentment (Alexander,
1938; Jones, 1923; Murray, 1938; A. Reich, 1960).
Note that clinical views of narcissism have always under-
scored that self-involvement presents with grandiose
thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (e.g., vanity, exhibitionism,
overconfidence) as well as vulnerable thoughts, feelings, and
behaviors (e.g., defensiveness, withdrawal, and resentment;
see Cain, Pincus, & Ansell, 2008). Although these personal-
ity descriptions typically originated from case studies of dis-
tinct individuals, early writers often assumed grandiosity to
be a dynamic reaction against feelings of inferiority, or alter-
natively viewed shame as a reaction to unfulfilled narcissis-
tic needs (Freud, 1914/1955; Rank, 1911; see Levy et al.,
2011, for a review). Over time, these psychodynamic propos-
als blended to form a popular image of a narcissist who is
vain and boastful, while secretly insecure and ashamed
(Bosson et al., 2008). More importantly, they resulted in an
extensive list of occasionally contradictory narcissistic fea-
tures (e.g., beliefs in superiority along with feelings of inad-
equacy) that have awkwardly co-existed throughout the
history of the construct.
Krizan and Herlache 3
To illustrate just how diverse notions of narcissism always
were, we provide representative excerpts from the earliest
foundational descriptions of narcissistic personality (Table 1;
see Akhtar & Thompson, 1982; Levy et al., 2011, for the his-
tory of narcissism). We present them in chronological order to
emphasize their gradual diversification, as well as their for-
malization as the construct of narcissistic personality emerged
(e.g., from case study descriptions to a system of personality
traits). The list of narcissistic attributes by Henry Murray
(1938) is particularly instructive given it formed the basis of
the first narcissism measure ever developed and that it encom-
passes both vulnerable and grandiose qualities.
However, key theories have placed differential emphases
on the importance of grandiose and vulnerable themes in
constituting narcissism. They have offered divergent views
on their origination or functional role in the narcissistic per-
sonality (see Cain et al., 2008, for review). For example,
within clinical theory, grandiosity has been proposed both as
a façade that controls lingering doubt and insecurity, as well
as a hidden narcissistic force responsible for enacting anger
and shame-based feelings (Kernberg, 1967; Kohut, 1968; A.
Reich, 1960). A more contemporary view characterizes gran-
diosity and vulnerability as reflecting deployment of primi-
tive versus mature regulatory mechanisms in service of
pursuing needs for admiration, recognition, and acceptance
(Roche, Pincus, Lukowitsky, Ménard, & Conroy, 2013).
Some views that focus on grandiose themes have proposed
narcissism as an adaptive agentic quality often desirable for
success in a ruthless and competitive world (Campbell &
Campbell, 2009). One result has been a proliferation of nar-
cissism measures and accompanying theories that seek to
explain how the particular measure illuminates narcissistic
behavior.
A key problem is that researchers hold divergent views on
which personality measures are the best or even appropriate,
largely due the disagreements about which aspects of narcis-
sism are necessary or sufficient for assessing this construct.
In this vein, a recent survey of narcissism researchers found
strong disagreement about whether narcissists have low or
high self-esteem, disagreement arising partially as a result of
the findings based on distinct measures valued by different
scholars (Ackerman et al., in press). Moreover, even a single
measure is often conceptualized in different ways by differ-
ent researchers. For example, the Narcissistic Personality
Inventory (NPI) frequently used by social-personality psy-
chologists has been argued to capture “normal” (e.g., Foster
& Campbell, 2007), “adaptive” (e.g., Barry, Frick, Adler, &
Grafeman, 2007), a mixture of “adaptive” and “mal-adap-
tive” (e.g., Ackerman et al., 2011), and “grandiose” narcis-
sism (e.g., Krizan & Johar, 2015). Such numerous
conceptualizations obfuscate the core elements of narcissism
and do not offer clarity regarding the conceptual linkages
between its distinct features and the measures used to assess
them.
Table 1. Foundational Descriptions of Narcissistic Personality.
Ernest Jones
(1913)
“Thus, the type in question is characterised by a desire for aloofness, inaccessibility, and mysteriousness, often
also by modesty and self-effacement. They are happiest in their own home, in privacy and seclusion, and like to
withdraw to a distance. They surround themselves and their opinions with a cloud of mystery, exert only an
indirect influence on external affairs, never join in any common action, and are generally unsocial. They take great
interest in psychology, particularly in the so-called objective methods of mind-study that are eclectic and which
dispense with the necessity for intuition. Phantasies of power are common, especially the idea of possessing great
wealth. They believe themselves to be omniscient, and tend to reject all new knowledge.” (p. 223)
Robert Waelder
(1925)
“His attitude towards those around him was one of marked superiority, which certainly had some actual
foundation in his intellectual gifts. He had the least possible capacity for inner adaption to other people. He felt
different than mankind in general; he was perfectly able to understand others intellectually, but their nature
seemed alien to him. In his mind he was independent of the opinion of most people (he made an exception of a
few individuals he esteemed highly), and his chief problem in life was fostering of his own self-respect, an attitude
which determined most of his mental sensations.” (p. 264)
Sigmund Freud
(1931/1955)
“The subject’s main interest is directed to self-preservation; he is independent and not open to intimidation.
His ego has a large amount of aggressiveness at its disposal, which also manifests itself in readiness for activity.
In his erotic life loving is preferred above being loved. People belonging to this type impress others as being
"personalities"; they are especially suited to act as a support for others, to take on the role of leaders and to give
a fresh stimulus to cultural development or to damage the established state of affairs.” (p. 3)
Henry Murray
(1938)
“Narcism (or Egophilia) is technical for self-love. The term designates the object upon which positive cathexes are
localized, namely the self. It is often accompanied by obliviousness or disrespect of others. Direct manifestations:
(1) Self-absorption, self-admiration, self-pity, autoerotism, (2) Superiority feelings and delusions of grandeur;
(3) Self-display and extravagant demands for attention, praise, honour, aid, compassion or gratitude; and (4)
Susceptibility to neglect or belittlement, hypersensitiveness, excessive shyness and delusions of persecution.
Indirect manifestations: (1) Ruthless self-seeking, demands for benefits, attempts to dominate and demonstrate
power, delusions of omnipotence, (2) Object depreciation: indifference, belittlement, exploitation, suspicion or
hatred or others, misanthrope; and (3) egocentricity and projectivity; the perception and apperception of the
world from an entirely personal or subjective standpoint.” (p. 180)
4 Personality and Social Psychology Review
Narcissism defined. To seize this opportunity and achieve a
synthetic definition of the construct, the proposed model
defines narcissism as entitled self-importance. In other
words, narcissistic individuals are those who view their own
needs and goals as more significant than others’ and exhibit
an inflated sense of importance and deservingness (syn-
onyms include egotism and arrogance). This definition has
several key advantages. First, it is inclusive of the founda-
tional descriptions of narcissistic personality (see Table 1),
the lay notion of narcissism, and previously proposed broad
definitions of narcissism (e.g., “as a cognitive-affective pre-
occupation with the self,” Westen, 1990). In this vein, it
emphasizes features widely agreed upon as central to narcis-
sism and the narcissistic personality disorder (i.e., self-pre-
occupation and entitlement, see Ackerman et al., in press),
features still listed as central “symptoms” of Narcissistic
Personality Disorder both in the Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.; DSM-5; American
Psychiatric Association [APA], 2013) and the International
Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health
Problems, 10th revision (ICD-10; World Health Organiza-
tion, 1995). Second, this definition of narcissism is specific
enough to differentiate narcissism from disagreeableness and
hostility more broadly (which need not be entitled nor self-
involved), as well as related personality dysfunction (e.g.,
psychopathy, which necessitates excessively mean and cal-
lous behavior). At the same time, it is also comprehensive
enough to include varied manifestations of narcissism repre-
sented by both grandiose and vulnerable themes across
social, personality, and clinical psychology (Cain et al.,
2008; Krizan & Johar, 2012). Finally, it is not overly spe-
cific; it does not burden the construct with extensive devel-
opmental or process-based assumptions (see Westen, 1990,
for a similar argument).
As a result, this definition does not obfuscate the pursuit
of many important questions plaguing the narcissism litera-
ture, questions that should ultimately be settled empirically
(e.g., do narcissists have high or low self-esteem; are they
good leaders; are they prone to shame). Note also that this
conceptualization of narcissism clearly delineates it from
related self-referential constructs such as self-esteem and
self-consciousness. Although the term narcissism has been
applied to refer to self-reference and self-esteem more
broadly or to a general confidence about one’s goals and
ambitions (Kohut, 1968; Malkin, 2015), for conceptual clar-
ity, we caution against such use of the term as it blurs con-
ceptual boundaries (for similar arguments, see Brummelman,
Thomaes, & Sedikides, 2016; Donnellan, Trzesniewski,
Robins, Moffitt, & Caspi, 2005; Horney, 1939; Westen,
1990).
Most critically, positioning entitled self-importance at the
center of narcissistic personality enables meaningful theo-
retical and empirical linkages between grandiose and vulner-
able narcissistic traits across a wide breadth (i.e., a spectrum)
of personality features. These features are linked by a
common psychological core: a sense of oneself and one’s
needs being special and more important than others’. As we
will argue and empirically illustrate, entitlement and self-
importance are the personality characteristics that most con-
sistently co-occur with both grandiose and vulnerable
features of narcissism in both normal and clinical popula-
tions. This makes them the ideal conceptual and empirical
anchors for understanding the surprisingly broad spectrum of
narcissistic personality.
How Are Narcissistic Features Organized?
Although achieving a coherent definition of the construct of
narcissistic personality is essential, it is only preliminary. In
fact, arguably the more important goals are the determination
of what the essential versus peripheral features of narcissistic
personality are, how they relate, and when they constitute a
personality disorder. At some level, all of these questions
inquire about the organization of narcissistic features. How
do they present across individuals? Are pathological features
of narcissism fundamentally distinct from their more mun-
dane manifestations?
Note that one basic requirement for any theory of narcis-
sism is to integrate the evidence on narcissistic personality
traits and narcissistic personality disorder, given that the rec-
ognition of the disorder codified and guided personality
assessments of narcissism (Raskin & Hall, 1979). The NSM
introduced here does so by building on the emerging consen-
sus that views personality disorders as extreme manifesta-
tions of basic individual differences that propel culturally
anti-normative behavior (e.g., manipulativeness, violence,
suicidality). Specifically, the model conceptualizes both dis-
ordered and non-clinical expressions of narcissism as func-
tions of a single underlying spectrum of narcissistic traits.
Understanding personality disorders as extremes of the basic
forms of personality expression has already provided a parsi-
monious and powerful account of the data on personality
pathology and comorbidity of its extreme manifestation
(Krueger, Markon, Patrick, & Iacono, 2005). A similar per-
spective has also motivated the personality disorder adden-
dum to the DSM-5 that focuses on dimensional assessment
and reflects empirical data on personality functioning
(American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
The structure of narcissistic traits. When conceived this way,
the nature of narcissistic personality is reflected in the orga-
nization of individual differences in narcissistic traits. As a
result, it can be examined by modeling the inter-relationships
among the various measures of narcissism and identifying
core dimensions of narcissistic personality. The need for
such an analysis is clear; all the evidence indicates that nar-
cissism is a multidimensional construct. First, specific mea-
sures of narcissism themselves often reflect quite distinct
sub-factors, with the exact factorial structures sometimes
proving rather elusive (Ackerman et al., 2011; R. P. Brown,
Krizan and Herlache 5
Budzek, & Tamborski, 2009). Second, distinct measures of
narcissism often themselves do not correlate strongly (or at
all), leading to a variety of distinctions referenced earlier, or
even to calls to “sever” the construct into multiple entities
(Pincus et al., 2009). Resolving these complexities has
increasingly motivated researchers to identify underlying
dimensions of narcissism and to illustrate their differences
(R. P. Brown et al., 2009; Cain et al., 2008; Krizan & Johar,
2012; Miller, Price, Gentile, Lynam, & Campbell, 2012;
Roche et al., 2013). Together, these observations make clear
the need for an integrative account of individual differences
in narcissism; the present model directly addresses this need.
What Accounts for the Organization of
Narcissistic Features?
The final and most complex issue involves explaining the
presence and form of individuals’ narcissism. Traditional
clinical accounts have focused on what leads specific indi-
viduals to develop extreme narcissism. These pathological
attributes are often considered categorical entities (i.e., mani-
fest or not), mirroring traditional clinical conceptions and a
view of personality disorders as discrete conditions diag-
nosed through a set of fungible “symptoms” (Cooper, Balsis,
& Zimmerman, 2010; cf. Kernberg, 1975). However, over-
whelming empirical evidence on normal and abnormal per-
sonality functioning reveals that problematic personality
qualities (including narcissism) reflect varying degrees of
extremity, from relatively low levels in most of the popula-
tion, to moderate levels in some, and finally extreme (patho-
logical) levels in a few (Krueger & Markon, 2006b). In other
words, individual differences in narcissistic (and other) fea-
tures are continuous, following a smooth—albeit skewed—
curve, with most individuals showing sub-clinical levels of
problematic traits. Moreover, the “symptoms” common to
many personality disorders depend on shared personality and
genotypic dimensions, producing frequent comorbidity
among personality disorders (Krueger & Markon, 2006a).
From an empirical perspective, the rudimentary question is
what accounts for the observed structure of individual differ-
ences in narcissistic attributes
This issue draws the most intense disagreement, mainly
because specific accounts of narcissistic personality are
closely tied with specific developmental assumptions or par-
ticular features of narcissistic personality disorder. For
example, Kohut (1966) viewed the narcissistic personality
disorder as marked by distress and low self-esteem resulting
from a failure to outgrow infantile narcissistic needs (“the
grandiose self”), whereas Kernberg (1975) viewed narcis-
sism as an aberrant personality structure reflecting superfi-
cial social adaptation that masks manipulativeness and a lack
of empathy (cf. Millon, 1969). Critically, empirical investi-
gations attempting to provide diagnostic tests of these per-
spectives have generally yielded evidence that cannot settle
meta-theoretical differences among them (Gottschalk, 1988).
This is either because these propositions deal with concep-
tual entities, which are rarely the subject of independent or
systematic empirical scrutiny (e.g., an object investment; a
grandiose self; idealizing transference), or because direct
tests are often limited by retrospective or self-report method-
ologies open to multiple interpretations (e.g., Cater, Zeigler-
Hill, & Vonk, 2011; Glassman, 1988; Otway & Vignoles,
2006; Shulman & Ferguson, 1988).
We respectfully suggest that—however coherent and clin-
ically useful—these developmental assumptions or emo-
tional dynamics should be put to the empirical test and not
folded into the construct a priori. In words of Theodore
Millon (1981), “the viability of narcissistic personality does
not stand or fall on the vagaries of the future of psychoanaly-
sis” (p. 165). Only after a sufficient understanding of how
narcissism presents (i.e., understanding its phenotype) can
science most successfully address questions about its origins
and development. To quote a psychological pioneer, “before
we inquire into origins and functional relations, it is neces-
sary to know the thing we are trying to explain” (Asch,
1952/1987, p. 65). As a result, the model introduced here
presents a comprehensive framework for subjecting the
causes of narcissistic features and their inter-relations to fur-
ther empirical scrutiny.
Bold approach and reactive avoidance. To provide a prelimi-
nary account for the proposed structure of narcissistic per-
sonality, the model presented here attributes grandiose and
vulnerable manifestations of narcissism to excesses in dis-
tinct approach-oriented and avoidance-oriented functional
orientations, termed boldness and reactivity, respectively.
Positing distinct systems regulating reward-seeking behav-
iors (approach or acquisition) and threat-oriented behavior
(avoidance or aversion) has proven critical in understanding
personality differences at multiple levels of analysis, from
neurobehavioral learning systems and infant temperament,
to adult personality traits and self-regulatory styles (Carver,
Sutton, & Scheier, 2000; Elliot & Thrash, 2002; Gray &
McNaughton, 2000). Moreover, personality pathology can
often be characterized by excesses in one or both of these
systems that ultimately breed personal or social dysfunction
(Newman & Wallace, 1993). In short, by attributing diversity
in narcissism to a combination of bold grandiose and reactive
vulnerable tendencies, the NSM positions narcissism amid
broader forms of personality dysfunction and points to dis-
tinct genetic, developmental, and social influences on the
features of narcissism.
The Narcissism Spectrum Model
Having identified the key problems for understanding narcis-
sism as well as important opportunities for their resolution,
we now outline a model that provides a solution to these
seemingly intractable challenges. The NSM provides a com-
prehensive framework for understanding narcissistic
6 Personality and Social Psychology Review
personality; it accounts for the wide variety of functional
presentations that narcissism exhibits, situates them relative
to related personality pathologies, and integrates them within
a broader transactional perspective that fosters integration of
specific theories of narcissism within a general understand-
ing of personality and psychopathology.
First, we describe the notion of a personality spectrum
and specify how narcissism can be viewed as a group of indi-
vidual differences in self-importance and entitlement vary-
ing not just in the extremity of these features (i.e., severity),
but in their presentation—from emphasizing grandiose traits
to emphasizing vulnerable traits (i.e., expression). Second,
we examine the distinct functional orientations underlying
these separate manifestations of grandiosity and vulnerabil-
ity, namely, boldness and reactivity. Before turning to these
issues, however, we first consider the key assumptions of the
model and its domain of application.
Assumptions
As mentioned earlier, the proposed model applies to the
domain of individual differences in narcissistic personality,
although it does extend to diversity in personality pathology
more broadly. Specifically, it seeks to represent the empirical
manifestation of narcissistic personality features across indi-
viduals, including their pathological manifestations. A theo-
retical understanding of how narcissistic traits and their
structure develop is best achieved within a broader context of
personality development, optimally conceptualized as a
series of transactions between different aspects of individu-
als (e.g., interests, abilities, or emotions) and different
aspects of their environments (e.g., partners, opportunities,
or work demands). According to this transactional perspec-
tive, personality traits both mold and are molded by individ-
uals’ life situations and experiences, as different patterns of
influence interweave over time (Caspi, Roberts, & Shiner,
2005; Wood, Gardner, & Harms, 2015). This transactional
approach has been productively used for understanding per-
sonality development and change more broadly, while also
providing specific sets of processes that help explain the con-
tinuity of personality (Buss, 1987; Caspi, 1993; Caspi &
Roberts, 2001).
In this vein, the NSM assumes narcissistic features are a
result of multiple developmental processes that involve per-
son–situation transactions over time. As a result, it does not
provide (nor seek) singular answers about the reasons for
narcissism (which are numerous), but rather affords a com-
prehensive framework for understanding the presentation
and development of narcissistic personalities. In this vein,
development of narcissism should reflect principles of equi-
finality and multifinality, namely, notions that distinct devel-
opmental paths can lead to similar personality configurations
(equifinality) and that environmental experiences can pro-
duce different outcomes for individuals with similar predis-
positions (multifinality, Cicchetti & Rogosch, 1996). This
perspective has already proven useful when applied to under-
standing other complex personality pathologies, given mul-
tiple co-occurring processes are typically involved (e.g.,
psychopathy, Patrick, Fowles, & Krueger, 2009).
The Spectrum of Narcissism
Stemming from physics, the concept of a “spectrum” as
applied in psychiatry and psychology denotes a collection of
conditions that are distinct in their level of severity or manifes-
tation, yet are connected by underlying generative processes.
This type of an approach has been successfully used to inte-
grate clinical and sub-clinical presentations of many related
disorder clusters, including bi-polar, schizophrenia, and social-
anxiety disorders (e.g., Benazzi, 2006; Dell’osso et al., 2003).
In this vein, narcissism can be conceptualized as a spectrum of
personality characteristics that reflects variation in self-impor-
tance and entitlement as a shared phenotype, with narcissism
exhibiting different forms of expression spanning distinct
dimensions of temperament and functioning.
Uniting diverse presentations of narcissism. The central premise
of the model is that psychological processes that produce
individual differences in narcissism (i.e., self-importance)
reflect two distinct functional patterns of influence, based on
approach-dominant and avoidance-dominant functional ori-
entations supported by re-enforcing social experiences (Wood
et al., 2015). Ultimately, these processes manifest themselves
in two related but distinct dimensions of narcissistic personal-
ity, namely, narcissistic grandiosity (marked by boldness and
approach) and vulnerability (marked by reactivity and aver-
sion). While sharing attributes of self-importance and ego-
tism, these dimensions are the result of separate, sometimes
opposing, forces. In short, narcissism involves a spectrum of
personality characteristics that generally involve entitlement
and self-importance, but reflect vulnerable and grandiose fea-
tures to varying degrees. How the spectrum model represents
the structure of individual differences in narcissism is illus-
trated in Figure 1, together with key features anchoring the
three cardinal axes of the spectrum.
Critically, the spectrum anchors on self-importance and
entitlement, features we argue are the essential attributes of
narcissism that tie its diverse presentations (see the discus-
sion above and Table 1). The variation of these personality
features is represented by the vertical vector from the origin
point at the center of the spectrum (Figure 1). Similarly, the
level of any feature in the narcissism spectrum is represented
as a vector from the origin point (collectively, these indicate
extremity or severity of narcissism). Importantly, the relative
angles of features along distinct parts of the spectrum repre-
sent the co-variation of different features of narcissism, with
angles smaller than 90° representing features positively
linked in the population, perpendicular angles representing
independent features, and angles larger than 90° represent-
ing negatively linked features. As a result, the extent to which
Krizan and Herlache 7
individual differences in any narcissistic feature (i.e., move-
ment along any vector) imply differences in any other feature
(i.e., movement along any other vector) reveals the pattern-
ing of narcissistic traits in the population. In essence, this
representation provides a heuristic elaboration of factorial
space. Besides both being adjacent to entitlement, note that
features of grandiose and vulnerable narcissism are also
positioned sufficiently close to each other (i.e., at an angle
smaller than 90°), indicating they all co-occur to at least
some extent. We stress that Figure 1 represents relations
between narcissistic features, not narcissistic individuals.
Assuming a more extreme narcissistic feature in an individ-
ual, the model basically expresses the likelihood that any
other feature of narcissism would also be more extreme. For
example, elevation on grandiosity features will accompany
considerable elevation on entitlement features (more adja-
cent in the spectrum), but only slight elevation on vulnerabil-
ity features (less adjacent in the spectrum).
Entitlement and self-importance as a shared narcissism
phenotype. Positioning self-importance at the core of the nar-
cissism spectrum reflects the premise that this feature defines
narcissism in the broadest sense. This phenotypically ties
manifestations of narcissistic vulnerability and grandiosity,
one of the few premises that received widespread support in a
recent survey of narcissism researchers’ views on the subject
(Ackerman et al., in press). Note that narcissistic entitlement
extends above justifiable expectations of fair treatment and
happiness to a sense of superior importance over others (Les-
sard, Greenberger, Chen, & Farruggia, 2011). In short, entitle-
ment and self-importance are the key common “ingredients”
of both grandiose and vulnerable features of narcissism.
In support of this premise, there is considerable evidence
that entitlement, arrogance, and self-centeredness are shared
attributes of various narcissistic personalities, regardless of the
study population (normal vs. clinical) or the focus of assess-
ment (i.e., grandiose vs. vulnerable traits). For example, Wink
(1991) reported that grandiosity and vulnerability factors
extracted from numerous self-report measures of narcissism
were both associated with spousal ratings of being “arrogant”
and “opportunistic.” Moreover, the considerable body of
research using the Psychological Entitlement Scale, which
measures a general sense of deservingness (e.g., “Things
should go my way,” Campbell, Bonacci, Shelton, Exline, &
Bushman, 2004), reveals entitlement to be consistently and
substantially associated with both grandiosity and vulnerabil-
ity (e.g., R. P. Brown et al., 2009; Campbell et al., 2004;
Grubbs & Exline, 2016; Krizan & Johar, 2012, 2015; Miller &
Campbell, 2008; Miller et al., 2012). Similarly, the Entitlement
sub-scale of the Five-Factor Narcissism Inventory (e.g., “I
deserve to receive special treatment”) was found to be one of
the most consistent correlates of other narcissism measures
from both clinical and personality–social domains (mean r =
.42; Glover, Miller, Lynam, Crego, & Widiger, 2012).
Behavioral evidence also implicates both dimensions of nar-
cissism in arrogant and selfish behavior, such as refusing help
or taking more than one’s due (e.g., Campbell, Bush, Brunell,
& Shelton, 2005; Lannin, Guyll, Krizan, Madon, & Cornish,
2014). Finally, reports of clinicians who treat patients suggest
that feelings of privilege, entitlement, and special treatment
are the most indicative and distinctive markers of narcissistic
pathology (Russ, Shedler, & Westen, 2008).
Given an exaggerated sense of self-importance, one
would also expect narcissistic individuals (of whichever
stripe) to be very concerned about their social image, rank,
and self-worth, all the while showing little genuine interest
in the needs and emotions of others. To provide a direct test
of this idea, we linked narcissism measures that capture both
vulnerability (i.e., the Hypersensitive Narcissism Scale
[HNS]) and grandiosity (i.e., the Grandiose-exhibitionism
factor of the NPI) to measures that tap concerns and pre-
occupations with one’s esteem, public image, and social
rank. The results appear in Table 2 and uniformly reveal that
narcissistic individuals are more vigilant about their social
worth and value, as well as more conscious of their body and
image (the appendix contains information on all the samples
and methods reported throughout the article). In concert with
these findings, existing evidence shows that both vulnerable
and grandiose individuals are especially sensitive to threats
to their esteem (Besser & Priel, 2010). Moreover, both nar-
cissistic grandiosity and vulnerability are associated with
impaired perspective taking, low need for intimacy, and defi-
cient empathy toward others (Baskin-Sommers, Krusemark,
& Ronningstam, 2014; Carroll, 1987; Given-Wilson,
Mcllwain, & Warburton, 2011; Hepper, Hart, Meek, Cisek,
& Sedikides, 2014; Lannin et al., 2014; Vonk, Zeigler-Hill,
Mayhew, & Mercer, 2013). Taken together, these findings
consistently support our conclusion that entitlement, self-
centeredness, and self-importance are core phenotypic attri-
butes of narcissism that are consistently linked to quite
diverse presentations of narcissistic personality. Whereas
these narcissistic attributes also share general features of
Figure 1. The narcissism spectrum model.
8 Personality and Social Psychology Review
disagreeableness (e.g., inter-personal antagonism and a lack
of empathy) with other “dark” personalities (Paulhus &
Williams, 2002), entitlement and self-importance give nar-
cissistic traits a common distinction from these other aspects
of disagreeableness and antagonism.
A Factor-Analytic Test of the Narcissism
Spectrum
According the narcissism spectrum model, narcissistic per-
sonality has a core of entitlement, arrogance, and self-
involvement, which spans functionally distinct dimensions,
namely, narcissistic grandiosity and vulnerability. This theo-
rizing suggests that narcissistic personality features have a
complex structure that is a function of multiple dimensions
and yields the following predictions for a structural analysis
of any comprehensive set of narcissism measures. First, a
single-factor model should approximate a common factor of
self-importance and entitlement (i.e., these narcissistic attri-
butes should show the highest loadings), with more specific
vulnerable and grandiose features showing lower loadings.
However, such a uni-factorial model is not expected to repre-
sent the data well and should have poor fit (given that narcis-
sism reflects multiple dimensions of functioning). Second, a
two-factor model should reflect two correlated dimensions
of grandiosity and vulnerability, with entitlement and self-
involvement indicative of both dimensions (i.e., cross-load-
ing across the two factors). Finally, a three-factor model
should reveal correlated factors of entitlement, grandiosity,
and vulnerability (because neither measures of grandiose nor
vulnerable features fully describe entitled and self-involved
personalities). As this three-factor model is expected to more
fully represent the narcissism spectrum, it should account for
individual differences in narcissism relatively well and pro-
vide a good fit to the data. Note that the precise order of fac-
tors is difficult to predict given that the relative strength of
any given factor will be a function of the specific measures
included in the analysis, with the amount of variance they
explain changing following factor rotation. Critically, there
are plausible empirical structures that would not support the
proposed model, such as a general factor that emphasizes vul-
nerability rather than entitlement, or emergence of two clearly
distinct factors that do not share entitlement attributes.
To directly test our proposal that narcissistic features vary
along two distinct dimensions of grandiosity and vulnerabil-
ity tied by self-importance and entitlement, we examined
self-reports of narcissistic personality from a large sample of
young adults who completed a comprehensive set of narcis-
sism measures. Specifically, we administered five narcissism
inventories, which contained 26 distinct sub-scales of spe-
cific narcissistic features. These measures included scales
commonly used in social (e.g., NPI), personality (e.g., HNS),
and clinical psychology (e.g., Pathological Narcissism
Inventory [PNI]) and were representative of the broad
domain of narcissistic personality features. Although some-
times used to assess clinically relevant expressions of narcis-
sism, most of these measures are extensively used and
validated in the general population. We factor-analyzed pre-
viously developed and validated scales (rather than specific
items) to situate existing narcissism measures within the
framework of our model and evaluate their validities as indi-
cators of postulated underlying narcissism dimensions
(Zuckerman, Kuhlman, & Camac, 1988). Moreover, utiliz-
ing internally reliable scale scores that reflect relatively
homogeneous features minimizes noise that would be inher-
ent in modeling individual items and avoids significant mod-
eling problems when using scales with different response
formats.
To test our structural predictions about narcissistic per-
sonality, we submitted participants’ responses to exploratory
maximum likelihood factor analysis (Muthén & Muthén,
2012). Although confirmatory factor analysis is often used in
confirmatory tests of trait structure, this approach has serious
limitations when applied to complex trait patterns, including
misspecification of loadings and overestimation of correla-
tions between latent personality factors (Marsh et al., 2009).
As a result, in cases where underlying constructs are multidi-
mensional and personality features represent simultaneous
influences from distinct systems, this technique is either
inappropriate or suboptimal (see Asparouhov & Muthén,
2009; Church & Burke, 1994; Marsh et al., 2009; see
McCrae, Zonderman, Costa, Bond, & Paunonen, 1996, for
discussion). As a more appropriate alternative, we utilized
exploratory maximum likelihood factor analysis with
Geomin rotation in Mplus because it does not require factor
indicators to load on only one factor and allows formal
Table 2. Self-Importance and Self-Centeredness as Shared
Aspects of Narcissistic Grandiosity and Vulnerability.
Grandiosity
(GE-NPI)
Vulnerability
(HNS)
Hypercompetitive Attitudes
(HCA)
.54* .42*
Insecure Striving (SAIS) .24* .50*
Body-Consciousness (PBCS) .26* .24*
Public Self-Consciousness (PSCS) .11* .29*
“Me” vs. “Others” visual analog
scale
.25* .14*
Note. Raw correlations from top two rows are from Sample 2, those
from the middle two rows are from Sample 1, and those from the bottom
row are from Sample 4. The “me vs. others” scale involves picking a
visual representation of self relative to others, with each represented
by circles of differing size (higher scores reflect seeing oneself as larger
and more important than others). Grandiosity is measured with the
grandiose-exhibitionism factor of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory,
whereas vulnerability is measured with the HNS. GE-NPI = Grandiose
Exhibitionism factor of the Narcissitic Personality Inventory; HNS =
Hypersensitive Narcissism Scale; HCA = Hypercompetitive Attitudes
Scale; SAIS = Striving to Avoid Inferiority Scale; PBCS = Public Body-
Consciousness Scale; PSCS = Public Self-Consciousness Scale.
*p < .05.
Krizan and Herlache 9
evaluations of model fit as a variant of exploratory structural
equation modeling (Muthén & Muthén, 2012). Table 3
includes scale loadings for the one-factor, two-factor, and
three-factor models (internal consistencies for all scales
exceeded .77). Recall that the model predicts that entitle-
ment-oriented features will show the strongest loadings on
the general factor and that specific factors representing enti-
tlement, grandiosity, and vulnerability will be distinctive yet
correlated with one another.
On the whole, the loading patterns of specific narcissistic
features are consistent with predictions from the NSM. First,
the general factor most strongly reflected entitlement and
associated features of social antagonism (with scales assess-
ing grandiosity, entitlement and entitlement rage, devaluing,
arrogance, and manipulativeness showing loadings higher
than .65). Moreover, many emotional–motivational attri-
butes showed very low loadings (e.g., shame, self-sacrificing
self-enhancement, authoritativeness, acclaim-seeking),
resulting in a very poor fit (Table 4). Second, the two-factor
model revealed two correlated factors that closely resemble
vulnerability (Factor I, marked by contingent self-esteem,
need for admiration, and devaluing) and grandiosity (Factor
II, marked by arrogance, exploitativeness, and leadership).
As suggested by the proposed model, these two factors pro-
vide a much better account, yet do not sufficiently represent
the entitled and antagonistic aspects of narcissism. This is
reflected in significant cross-loadings of many entitlement-
oriented features (e.g., exploitativeness, devaluing, entitle-
ment rage, distrust), as well as the still inadequate fit of the
model (Tables 3 and 4). Third and most important, a three-
factor solution revealed a relatively well-fitting model that
produced separate dimensions reflecting narcissistic vulner-
ability (Factor I, marked by contingent self-esteem and enti-
tlement rage), narcissistic grandiosity (Factor II, marked by
authoritativeness and exhibitionism), and narcissistic entitle-
ment (Factor III, marked by a lack of empathy and manipu-
lativeness). Finally, note that all the dimensions were
correlated (Table 3), consistent with our proposal that narcis-
sism reflects a spectrum of features.
Building on previous structural analyses, our modeling
results confirm that individual differences in narcissism
reflect multiple dimensions of functioning tied by presence
of entitlement, arrogance, and self-centeredness. Critically,
they reveal that self-important, entitled individuals embody
varying expressions of narcissistic grandiosity and vulnera-
bility; although an especially self-important person is some-
what more likely to simultaneously display both arrogance
and fragility, he or she may exhibit mostly one, mostly the
other, or a mix of both. This is an especially important point:
This multidimensional view allows both for the presence of
apparently distinct types (i.e., more purely exhibitionistic
individuals contrasted with more purely defensive individu-
als) and individuals who embody a complex mix of both
qualities (i.e., individuals with both sets of tendencies).
These possibilities are consistent with clinical views, which
have proposed that pathological narcissists appear in distinct
types (i.e., are dominant in one quality or the other), and also
with the premise that some individuals will show both quali-
ties existing uncomfortably alongside each other (Crowe,
LoPilato, Campbell, & Miller, 2015). How the model repre-
sents narcissism holds key research implications as it sug-
gests that it is shortsighted to consider narcissism as a unitary
or isolated trait. This renders theorizing about narcissistic
individuals based on assessments of single traits limited in
applicability to actual people.
Distinct Functional Presentations: Boldness and
Reactivity
Although universally characterized by self-importance (i.e.,
entitlement and arrogance), the structural analyses presented
above confirm that narcissistic individuals can present with
remarkably distinct constellations of personality features
reflected in grandiosity and vulnerability. In terms of the
underlying socio-behavioral processes, the NSM accounts
for these two distinct tendencies as reflecting two separate
functional orientations, namely, boldness and reactivity.
These orientations reflect distinct personality–environment
transactions shaped by different forms of temperament and
reinforced by matching self-regulatory styles. As we will
show, focusing on these orientations helps provide a novel
account for a wide range of evidence distinguishing grandi-
osity and vulnerability, from trait differences in personality
and temperament to process-based inter-personal and self-
regulatory strategies. Note that these orientations are not
themselves developmental causes of narcissism; rather, they
are psychosocial features of individuals, which support var-
ied expressions of narcissism and thus shed light on the
diversity of narcissism. Recognizing these orientations is
instrumental for identifying (likely numerous) causes of nar-
cissism, which span genetic–temperamental influences,
socialization processes, and environmental affordances.
The functional orientation proposed to underlie grandios-
ity is boldness: an eager and hardy disposition driven by high
approach (relative to avoidance) motivation and manifested
in seeking and satisfying self-aggrandizing goals. The orien-
tation proposed to underlie vulnerability is reactivity: a
stress-prone and volatile disposition dominated by high
avoidance (relative to approach) motivation and manifested
in detecting and combating threats to self-image. In essence,
the left “grandiose” quadrant of the narcissism spectrum in
Figure 1 reflects a bold aspect of narcissism, whereas the
right “vulnerable” quadrant reflects a reactive aspect of nar-
cissism. Put another way, the full narcissism spectrum is
anchored by the core feature of entitled self-importance
whose manifestation is shaped by distinct functional orienta-
tions (boldness and reactivity), similar to a pathoplastic rela-
tion. The NSM thus provides an integrative framework for
understanding diverse presentations of narcissism, their
inter-relations, and their links to underlying personality
10 Personality and Social Psychology Review
diatheses. In this vein, we now turn to evidence in support of
our contention that distinct functional orientations, namely,
boldness and reactivity, underlie the presentation of narcis-
sistic grandiosity and vulnerability across both personality
and social–behavioral levels of analysis.
Narcissistic satisfaction seeking: Grandiosity as boldness. Accord-
ing to the model, narcissistic grandiosity reflects a bold func-
tional orientation underlying entitled and arrogant self-views.
Boldness can be broadly described as a heightened motiva-
tional orientation toward seeking rewarding experiences,
often trumping concern about risks or costs associated with
reward pursuit (Block & Block, 1980). Critically, narcissistic
boldness parsimoniously captures grandiose individuals’ (a)
approach-dominant personality/temperament and (b) a self-
regulatory style focused on self-enhancement benefits over
costs revealed by boastful, assertive, and exhibitionistic
social behavior. We now briefly review the evidence in
support of this formulation, as well as provide an additional
empirical test (Table 5).
A reward-driven personality. First, boldness characterizes core
aspects of grandiose individuals’ temperament and personal-
ity. Closely related concepts include fearless dominance,
daringness, and eagerness (Patrick et al., 2009). All these
constructs share strong appetitive and exploratory tendencies
that typically overpower avoidance tendencies. In terms of
bio-behavioral motivational systems governing the responses
to rewards and punishments, this implies a strong behavioral
activation coupled with muted inhibition, that is, a strong
desire for, and sensitivity to, opportunities and rewards that
outweighs concerns over costs (Carver et al., 2000; Depue &
Collins, 1999; Gray & McNaughton, 2002). Moreover, nar-
cissistic grandiosity may involve unique tendencies toward
dominance and assertion of power, as suggested by theoriz-
ing about narcissism and biological bases of dominance
Table 3. Structure Matrix of Narcissism Measures for One-, Two-, and Three-Factor Solutions (Sample 1).
Number of factor (variance explained) I (49%) I (28%) II (34%) I (29%) II (28%) III (13%)
Grandiosity (SGIS) .71 .23 .51 .28 .67 .01
Hypersensitive Narcissism (HNS) .45 .60 .11 .65 −.24 .21
Leadership–Authority (NPI) .42 −.13 .52 −.20 .76 .04
Entitlement–Exploitativeness (NPI) .52 .22 .43 .24 .18 .31
Grandiose Exhibitionism (NPI) .45 .08 .41 .06 .55 .02
Contingent Self-Esteem (PNI) .52 .91 −.04 .96 −.25 −.01
Exploitativenessb (PNI) .57 .21 .43 .19 .56 .02
Self-Sacrificing Self-Enhancement (PNI) .26 .50 −.15 .50 .17 −.41
Hiding the Self (PNI) .31 .54 −.10 .56 .02 −.22
Grandiose Fantasya (PNI) .46 .63 −.01 .64 .24 −.31
Devaluing (PNI) .63 .68 .23 .72 −.04 .19
Entitlement Rage (PNI) .77 .68 .37 .71 .14 .20
Reactive Anger (FFNI) .68 .41 .47 .43 .17 .34
Shame (FFNI) .22 .59 −.17 .64 −.35 −.03
Need for Admiration (FFNI) .50 .71 .09 .76 −.20 .13
Exhibitionism (FFNI) .37 .08 .28 .03 .69 −.23
Authoritativeness (FFNI) .34 −.16 .42 −.25 .89 −.16
Grandiose Fantasiesa (FFNI) .45 .13 .34 .11 .67 −.17
Manipulativenessb (FFNI) .66 −.02 .79 −.02 .51 .50
Exploitativeness (FFNI) .64 −.02 .84 .00 .27 .77
Entitlement (FFNI) .66 .05 .80 .08 .22 .76
Lack of Empathy (FFNI) .45 −.10 .70 −.08 .02 .84
Arrogance (FFNI) .67 .02 .80 .02 .43 .57
Acclaim-Seeking (FFNI) .09 .05 −.06 .00 .55 −.53
Thrill-Seeking (FFNI) .45 −.02 .50 −.04 .50 .18
Distrust (FFNI) .52 .42 .23 .45 .01 .24
Factor inter-correlations rF1,F2 = .19 rF1,F2 = .19
rF2,F3 = .22
rF1,F3 = .18
Note. Loadings (uncorrected for factor correlations) are from an exploratory structural equation modeling analysis with correlated factors and Geomin
rotation (Sample 1; N = 303). Variances accounted for by each factor are listed below the factor numerals, whereas loadings .50 or higher are shown in
bold. Scales that share a common subscript (a, b) have correlated error terms due to overlapping item content. SGIS = Superiority and Goal Instability
Scale; HNS = Hypersensitive Narcissism Scale; NPI = Narcissistic Personality Inventory; PNI = Pathological Narcissism Inventory; FFNI = Five-Factor
Narcissism Inventory.
Krizan and Herlache 11
(Johnson, Leedom, & Muhtadie, 2012). In terms of adult
temperament and personality, this implies especially high
positive emotionality, extraversion, and assertiveness, with
only somewhat lower negative emotionality (Clark & Wat-
son, 2008).
The research on personality correlates of narcissism is
remarkably consistent with this proposal. Heightened narcis-
sistic grandiosity is strongly and positively linked with
approach-oriented constructs such as high extraversion,
dominance, behavioral activation, overconfidence, and posi-
tive affect. Specifically, existing evidence consistently finds
grandiosity to strongly correlate with extraversion, espe-
cially facets of dominance and assertiveness most closely
tied to social boldness (Miller & Campbell, 2008; Miller
et al., 2012). Similar links are observed with Behavioral
Activation Scale, intended to capture individual differences
in chronic approach motivation (Foster & Trimm, 2008).
Moreover, studies of both trait-level and daily affect show
that grandiose individuals have higher than average positive
affect (with smaller differences in negative affect; Rhodewalt,
Madrian, & Cheney, 1998). Consistent with the conception
of boldness, this positive affect often reaches the level of
hypomania (Fulford, Johnson, & Carver, 2008). Finally,
grandiosity reflects a chronic propensity toward sensation-
seeking and daring behavior such as jumping out of planes
and diving with sharks (Emmons, 1981; Miller et al., 2009).
Whereas grandiosity is sometimes negatively linked with
avoidance-oriented constructs such as neuroticism, shyness,
distress, doubt, and negative affect, these links are weaker
(A. A. Brown, Freis, Carroll, & Arkin, 2016; Miller et al.,
Table 4. Fit Statistics for One-, Two-, and Three-Factor Models of Narcissistic Attributes.
Statistic One-factor model Two-factor model Three-factor model
χ2(df) 2,945.83 (297) 1,773.37 (272) 781.30 (248)
CFI .43 .68 .89
SRMR .16 .12 .04
RMSEA .17 (90% CI = [.17, .18]) .14 (90% CI = [.13, .14]) .08 (90% CI = [.08, .09])
Mean scale R2 (range) 26.7% (0.7%-59.7%) 39.4% (0.5%-81.4%) 52.2% (26.4%-82.1%)
Note. Mean scale R2 refers to the average amount of variance accounted for across all the measures in the model. CFI = comparative fit index; SRMR =
standardized root mean square residual; RMSEA = root mean square error of approximation.
Table 5. Distinct Temperamental Bases and Self-Regulatory Styles Associated With Narcissistic Grandiosity and Vulnerability.
Narcissistic
grandiosity (NPI)
Narcissistic
vulnerability (HNS)
Traits and temperament
Approach
Behavioral Activation Sensitivity (BAS)a.31* −.12*
Approach Temperament (ATQ) .14* .13*
Extraversion (BFI) .46* −.22*
Avoidance
Behavioral Inhibition Sensitivity (BIS)a−.28* .34*
Avoidance Temperament (ATQ) .02 .60*
Neuroticism (BFI) −.11.48*
Self-Regulatory Motives and Concerns
Approach
Skin-tanning frequencyb.20* .04
Promotion Regulatory Focus (RFQ) .11−.07
Power-Seeking (IPIP)c.59* −.28*
Avoidance
Angry Rumination (ARQ)a−.09 .61*
Prevention Regulatory Focus (RFQ) −.04 .32*
Paranoid Ideation (PADS) .14* .50*
Note. All raw correlations are from Sample 4, with exception of those with the subscript “a” (Sample 3), “b” (Sample 1), and “c” (Sample 3). Grandiosity
is measured with the NPI, whereas vulnerability is measured with the HNS. NPI = Narcissistic Personality Inventory; HNS = Hypersensitive Narcissism
Scale; BAS/BIS = Behavioral Activation/Inhibition Scales; ATQ = Approach–Avoidance Temperament Questionnaire; BFI = Big Five Inventory; RFQ = Regulatory
Focus Questionnaire; IPIP = International Personality Item Pool; ARQ = Angry Rumination Questionnaire; PADS = Prosecution and Deservedness Scales.
p < .10. *p < .05.
12 Personality and Social Psychology Review
2011; Rhodewalt et al., 1998, Table 2). In short, existing evi-
dence clearly implicates a highly agentic, dominant, and
excitement-drawn personality as a key aspect of narcissistic
grandiosity (see Campbell & Campbell, 2009 and Paulhus,
2001, for a similar argument). As a further test of the model’s
proposal, we empirically linked grandiosity to higher behav-
ioral activation sensitivity, approach temperament, and
extraversion; the results appear at the top of Table 5 and con-
firm the predictions from the model.
A confident and exhibitionistic self-regulatory style. How is bold-
ness embodied by social self-regulatory processes of those
exhibiting grandiosity? Grandiose individuals should be
intently oriented toward enacting their entitled self-views,
acquiring the riches they view as so rightfully theirs, creating
social impressions of superiority and status, and maximizing
social and sexual pleasure. In terms of person–environment
transactions, this social confidence and expansive thinking
are likely to fuel general satisfaction of narcissistic needs and
expectations, as a grandiose person surrounds himself or her-
self with a social circle ready to admire, follow, and listen
while dismissing those that do not. Existing evidence on self-
regulatory processes in those high on grandiosity is consis-
tent with these assertions. In fact, existing theoretical
perspectives on narcissistic grandiosity emphasize that nar-
cissists are driven by pursuing power, status, and admiration
while drawing on a flexible set of inter-personal and intra-
psychic self-enhancement strategies to keep themselves
going (Campbell & Campbell, 2009; Morf & Rhodewalt,
2001). Although we elaborate on how the NSM integrates
these theories on narcissism later on, the empirical evidence
overwhelmingly indicates that grandiosity reflects (a) high
self-esteem, overconfidence, and self-enhancement; (b) pur-
suit of social status, admiration, and power; and (c) engage-
ment in exploitative and self-serving relationships focused
on personal pleasure.
First, grandiose individuals have high self-esteem, posi-
tive self-views, and an exaggerated sense of ability. This per-
vasive pattern extends to high self-liking and self-competence
(Miller & Campbell, 2008; Rhodewalt & Morf, 1995), a sense
of clear superiority in ability and importance over others
(Campbell et al., 2005; John & Robins, 1994; Krizan &
Bushman, 2011), and exaggerated appraisals of status-related
attributes such as attractiveness and intelligence (Campbell,
Rudich, & Sedikides, 2002; Gabriel, Critelli, & Ee, 1994).
Second, fueling these qualities are dogged ambitions at being
the best, the most influential, and the center of attention.
These motivations are reflected in an eagerness to assume
leadership roles (Brunell et al., 2008; Watts et al., 2013), in
fantasies of power and in willingness to adopt overly ambi-
tious goals (Carroll, 1987; Fulford et al., 2008), and in sexual-
ized, exhibitionistic, and attention-grabbing behavior such as
wearing revealing clothes or recounting stories of conquest
and brilliance (Buffardi & Campbell, 2008; Vazire, Naumann,
Rentfrow, & Gosling, 2008). Third, these cognitive and
motivational qualities lead grandiose individuals to engage in
exploitative, self-serving, and ultimately shorter term social
transactions that suit their ongoing desires (Campbell &
Foster, 2002; Leckelt, Kunfer, Nestler, & Back, 2015). This
“you’re here for my pleasure” relationship mentality is
revealed by higher promiscuity and lower level of commit-
ment (Campbell, Foster, & Finkel, 2002; Reise & Wright,
1996); by sexual entitlement, aggression, and more self-ori-
ented love styles (Campbell & Foster, 2002; Mouilso &
Calhoun, 2012); and by less empathy and concern about the
partner’s wants and needs (Foster, Shrira, & Campbell, 2006).
The “reward-over-risk” motivational orientation is thus evi-
dent in exhibitionistic, exploitative, and risky behavior of
these individuals and is confirmed by original data at the bot-
tom of Table 5 on heightened appearance enhancement (i.e.,
skin tanning), promotion-focused regulatory style, and
power-seeking among those high in grandiosity.
Narcissistic frustration and conflict: Vulnerability as reactiv-
ity. Whereas narcissistic grandiosity builds on an approach-
dominant orientation, narcissistic vulnerability builds on a
reactive orientation focused on avoidance and “fight-flight”
responses. Emotional and behavioral reactivity can be
described as a general functional orientation toward tracking
obstacles, appraising setbacks, and combating threats, which
trump concerns about missed rewards or opportunities (Gray,
1982). Critically, the construct of Reactivity elegantly cap-
tures vulnerable individuals’ (a) avoidance-dominant person-
ality and emotional dysregulation and (b) a self-regulatory
style over-focused on self-preservation and revealed in shy,
dismissive, but ultimately volatile social behavior. We now
briefly review the evidence in support of this formulation, as
well as provide a further empirical test (Table 5).
An anxiety-driven personality. First, reactivity characterizes
core aspects of vulnerable individuals’ temperament and per-
sonality. Closely related concepts include anxiety, inhibition,
neuroticism, and emotional dysregulation (Ruocco, Amirthav-
asagam, Choi-Kain, & McMain, 2013; Scott et al., 2013). All
these constructs share strong aversive and avoidance tenden-
cies that interfere with approach goals. In terms of bio-behav-
ioral motivational systems governing the responses to rewards
and punishments, this implies a strong behavioral inhibition,
that is, a strong vigilance for threats that overshadows con-
cerns over missed opportunities for advancement (Carver
et al., 2000; Depue & Collins, 1999; Gray & McNaughton,
2002). In terms of adult temperament and personality, this
implies especially high negative emotionality, neuroticism,
and anger, with only somewhat lower positive emotionality
and extraversion (Clark & Watson, 2008).
The research on core personality correlates of narcissism
is remarkably consistent with this proposal. Heightened nar-
cissistic vulnerability is strongly and positively linked
with avoidance-oriented constructs such as high neuroti-
cism, distress, anxiety, and angry rumination. Specifically,
Krizan and Herlache 13
vulnerability is strongly correlated with self-consciousness
and depression, although it is broadly related to anxiety,
anger, and personal distress (Miller & Campbell, 2008;
Miller et al., 2010). Moreover, studies of both trait-level and
daily affect show that vulnerable individuals have higher
than average negative affect (with smaller differences in pos-
itive affect; Besser & Zeigler-Hill, 2010; Given-Wilson
et al., 2011). Consistent with the conception of reactivity, this
negative affect often reaches the level of clinically signifi-
cant depression, anxiety, or rage (Meier, 2004; Ogrodniczuk,
Piper, Joyce, Steinberg, & Duggal, 2009; Ryan, Weikel, &
Sprechini, 2008; Tritt, Ryder, Ring, & Pincus, 2010). Finally,
vulnerability reflects a chronic propensity toward shy and
anxiously inhibited behavior such as not asserting one’s true
wishes, dismissing opportunities, and passively resenting
others from afar (A. A. Brown et al., 2016; Dickinson &
Pincus, 2003; Krizan & Johar, 2012; Lannin et al., 2014).
Although vulnerability is sometimes negatively linked with
approach-oriented constructs such as extraversion, boldness,
confidence, and positive affect, these links are weaker
(Fossati et al., 2009; Miller et al., 2010, Table 5).
In short, existing evidence clearly implicates a highly neu-
rotic, frustration-prone, and typically inhibited personality as
a key aspect of narcissistic vulnerability. As a further test of
the model’s proposal, we empirically linked vulnerability to
behavioral inhibition sensitivity, avoidant temperament, and
neuroticism; the results appear at the top of Table 5 and con-
firm the predictions from the model. We should note that nar-
cissistic vulnerability has been questioned as a distinct aspect
of personality pathology given it strongly reflects general dis-
tress and broad impairment in personality functioning (Sharp
et al., 2015). Critically, the proposed model addresses this
issue by drawing on the notion of reactivity as a broader per-
sonality diathesis underlying narcissism, thus explicating
links between neuroticism and emotional dysregulation that
typify most psychological disturbance, including most per-
sonality disorders, and its entitlement-oriented manifesta-
tions. In fact, we elucidate later on how both boldness and
reactivity help provide a useful account for the clustering of
personality disorders (i.e., sets of features).
A shy and vindictive self-regulatory style. How is reactivity
embodied by social self-regulatory processes of those exhib-
iting narcissistic vulnerability? Vulnerable individuals should
be intently oriented toward detecting threats, avoiding criti-
cism and inferiority, and finding flaws in others or their inten-
tions. Note that this social reticence, ruminative thinking, and
distrust reflect a general frustration of narcissistic needs and
expectations, as a narcissistically vulnerable person copes
with the lack of admiration and success they so desperately
fantasize about. Existing evidence on self-regulatory pro-
cesses in those high on vulnerability is fully consistent with
these assertions. In fact, existing theoretical perspectives on
narcissistic vulnerability emphasize these “pathological” nar-
cissists are driven by unmet fantasies of importance and prone
to a torrent of shame, anger, and anxiety over their frequently
frustrated narcissistic needs (Pincus et al., 2009; Roche et al.,
2013; Ronningstam, 2005). Although we elaborate on how
the NSM integrates such theories later on, the empirical evi-
dence overwhelmingly indicates that vulnerability reflects (a)
low self-esteem, pessimism, and inferiority; (b) avoidance of
the social spotlight, indirect action, and distrust of others’
intention; and (c) tumultuous relationships reflecting needy
and obsessive tendencies.
First, narcissistically vulnerable individuals have very
low self-esteem, uncertain self-views, and highly contingent
beliefs about their competencies. This pervasive pattern
extends to low feelings of self-worth (Miller & Campbell,
2008; Pincus et al., 2009), a sense of uncertainty regarding
one’s self-concept that is contingent on a variety of external
appraisals and supports (Zeigler-Hill, Clark, & Pickard,
2008), and a sense of inferiority plagued by envy and resent-
ment of others’ riches (Krizan & Johar, 2012). Second,
reflecting these doubts are many social anxieties, concerns
about being accepted and respected, and a resultant mistrust
of others’ intentions. These concerns are reflected in social
reticence and introversion (Fossati et al., 2009; Lannin et al.,
2014), in a sense of low relational evaluation and shame
(Freis, Brown, Carroll, & Arkin, 2015; Miller et al., 2012;
Ogrodniczuk et al., 2009), and in paranoid conclusion about
the world and others’ behavior (Herlache & Krizan, 2016;
Krizan & Johar, 2015). Third, these cognitive and motiva-
tional qualities lead vulnerable individuals to get tangled in
conflict-prone relationships with unclear boundaries that are
ultimately unstable given their constant need for validation
(Dickinson & Pincus, 2003; Miller et al., 2010). This “I need
you, but you should know when or why” relationship men-
tality is revealed by high anxiety about relationship intimacy
and a fear of rejection (Pistole, 1995; Smolewska & Dion,
2005), by prioritizing one’s own needs and having unrealistic
expectations of support or intimacy (Zeigler-Hill, Green,
Arnau, Sisemore, & Myers, 2011), and by engaging in pas-
sive–aggressive and retaliatory responses to relationship
conflicts (Besser & Priel, 2009). In terms of person–environ-
ment transactions, such individuals thus tend to over-react to
negative events, evoke abandonment and criticism from oth-
ers by their obsessive behavior, and ultimately end up in
more socially stressful situations that impede narcissistic
need satisfaction.
Note that these features are not reducible to more general
tendencies toward neuroticism or anxiety, as measures of nar-
cissistic vulnerability predict signs of “narcissistic injury” such
as envy, anger, and paranoia above and beyond measures of
neuroticism or general distress (Krizan & Johar, 2012, 2015).
Furthermore, it may appear that these vulnerable qualities are
inconsistent with the notion of narcissism given concomitant
low self-esteem and a sense of disadvantage. However, recall
that narcissistically vulnerable individuals nevertheless believe
they are more important and deserving than others and also
endorse fantasies of grandiosity and success (Krizan & Johar,
14 Personality and Social Psychology Review
Figure 2. Popular measures of narcissism in the context of the narcissism spectrum.
Note. The width of shaded areas roughly approximates the coverage of narcissism features by listed measures, and the saturation of the shading
approximates how well the measures reliably capture core features of narcissism (i.e., higher sensitivity). The pattern (plus signs) indicates whether the
measure also captures broader, non-specific features of narcissism (i.e., lower specificity). Dashed areas represent features falling outside the narcissism
spectrum (i.e., non-entitled boldness and reactivity, respectively). NPI = Narcissistic Personality Inventory; HNS = Hypersensitive Narcissism Scale; PES =
Psychological Entitlement Scale; PNI = Pathological Narcissism Inventory; NARQ = Narcissistic Admiration and Rivalry Questionnaire.
2012; Pincus et al., 2009; Table 2). In short, narcissistic vulner-
ability reflects entitled self-views that function within a reac-
tive self-regulatory framework. Narcissistically vulnerable
individuals are thus marred in the constant struggle for valida-
tion from others, which are inevitably pushed away by their
negativistic and volatile behavior driven by unrealistic self-
aggrandizing goals and relationship demands. These reactive
inter-personal transactions are thus evident in reticent, neurotic,
and unpredictable behavior of these individuals and confirmed
by original data we present at the bottom of Table 5 on height-
ened angry rumination, prevention-focused regulatory style,
and paranoid ideation about others.
Summary
The NSM accounts for the distinct features of narcissistic
grandiosity and vulnerability by tracing expressions of enti-
tlement and self-importance to distinct influences of bold and
reactive personality orientations, respectively. These two
expressions of self-importance are largely distinct given that
different psychobiological systems (and developmental
causes) govern approach-based and avoidance-based person-
ality as well as social processes. Their distinction is supported
by distinct expressions of boldness and reactivity at the geno-
typic level (Krueger & Markon, 2006b). Both are thus essen-
tial for explicating the diversity underlying entitlement and
self-importance. As a result, a key contribution of the model
is representation of narcissism on a continuous spectrum that
(a) varies in both extremity and expression, (b) faithfully rep-
resents blends of narcissistic features that characterize actual
individuals, and (c) points to different developmental pro-
cesses responsible for distinct expressions of narcissism.
Implications for Integrating Narcissism
Measurement and Theory
Having reviewed the model, in this section, we turn to its
implications for measurement of narcissism and its theo-
retical accounts. First, we review popular measures of
narcissism and show how the model provides a common
frame of reference for evaluating the coverage of narcissistic
features as well as the precision of existing measures.
Second, we briefly review contemporary theories of narcis-
sistic personality (often tied to specific measures) and dis-
cuss how the model enables their integration into a cohesive
whole. Third, we consider narcissism within the context of
related personality pathologies and discuss how the model
improves the understanding of their connections. Fourth, we
review key areas of controversy regarding the nature of nar-
cissism, showing a novel solution for the “narcissistic para-
dox” based on appreciating distinct personality variation in
narcissistic vulnerability and grandiosity.
Implications for Measurement of Narcissism
A key goal for any scientific area of inquiry is to develop a
common nomenclature and consensus about measurement. As
we argued earlier, the research on narcissism has so far failed
in this ideal as researchers still disagree about the nature of the
construct while using a variety of different measures to cap-
ture it. By centering the spectrum of narcissism on entitlement
and self-importance, the NSM unites prior approaches as
examining a common construct, while also offering a clear
and empirically based nomenclature to describe different trait
aspects of narcissism. In this section, we draw on the structural
findings such as those presented in Table 3 to review key simi-
larities and differences among narcissism measures in terms of
the aspects of the spectrum they assess and to offer recommen-
dations regarding their future use. To this end, we now selec-
tively review (in chronological order of publication) popular
self-report measures of narcissism and frame them in terms of
the NSM, that is, evaluate their validity in capturing the three
axes of grandiosity, entitlement, and vulnerability. Which
aspects of the spectrum are covered by each measure is
approximated visually in Figure 2 (based on prior literature
and loadings of narcissism measures presented in Table 3).
Although we have used Five-Factor Narcissism Inventory
in structural analyses reported earlier, we do not discuss it at
Krizan and Herlache 15
length here because it was designed to assess manifestations
of narcissism across all trait domains. The strength of this
measure is that it affords wide-ranging assessment of many
specific narcissistic qualities (which is why we have used it
in structural analysis, see Table 3), but its length makes it
suboptimal for targeted assessments of narcissism, and many
of the sub-scales are non-specific to the construct as they
assess more general correlates of narcissism (e.g., shame,
distrust, thrill-seeking; Glover et al., 2012).
The Narcissistic Personality Inventory. The NPI was inspired by
the diagnostic criteria for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
of Mental Disorders (3rd ed.; DSM-III; APA, 1980) Narcis-
sistic Personality Disorder that included vulnerable features
(Raskin & Hall, 1979), but the most frequently used short-
ened versions exclusively focus on grandiosity and entitle-
ment (Emmons, 1984; Raskin & Terry, 1988). Although the
NPI has been extremely generative, a number of issues have
surfaced over time, including unstable factor structure and
poor items. The most recent evidence suggests that a three-
factor solution may be optimal, reflecting linked dimensions
of leadership authority, grandiose exhibitionism, and entitle-
ment exploitativeness (Ackerman et al., 2011; see Table 3).
On the positive side, the global scale score does strongly cor-
relate with other measures of superiority and grandiosity and
strongly loads on the narcissistic grandiosity factor in struc-
tural analyses (Crowe, Carter, Campbell, & Miller, 2016;
Krizan & Johar, 2012; Krizan & Johar, 2015; Miller et al.,
2011; see Table 3).
However, in our view, two concerns continue to impede
the usefulness of this measure in assessing narcissism. The
first involves insufficient coverage of entitlement features.
To the extent the measure aims to fully capture both grandi-
osity and entitlement areas of the spectrum, it under-samples
the latter dimension—the NPI’s entitlement-exploitativeness
factor is distinctly marked by only three items and has poor
reliability (Ackerman et al., 2011). The second concern
involves an over-sampling of leadership and authority fea-
tures—although an agentic and dominant disposition is a key
aspect underlying grandiosity, from a psychometric perspec-
tive, it is not desirable to include such non-specific items into
measures of grandiose narcissism themselves, given they
will compromise the discriminant validity of scales (indi-
cated by plus signs in Figure 2). For example, including
dominance-specific items in a measure of narcissism will
inflate correlations with general measures of extraversion,
rendering the narcissism concept less distinctive from asser-
tiveness or dominance (Ackerman et al., 2011; Ames, Rose,
& Anderson, 2006).
Given more psychometrically sound alternatives for
assessing entitlement (see below), we mainly recommend
using the grandiose-exhibitionism factor of the NPI as a spe-
cific marker of narcissistic grandiosity—it is very strongly
correlated with the total NPI score (e.g., .74; Krizan & Johar,
2012), it is a distinctive marker of grandiosity in structural
analyses (Table 3), and it is internally consistent and rela-
tively homogeneous (Ackerman et al., 2011, Table 3).
Researchers may also want to consider the recently devel-
oped Narcissistic Grandiosity Scale, which shows promising
validity (Crowe et al., 2016; Rosenthal, Hooley, & Steshenko,
2007).
The Hypersensitive Narcissism Scale. The HNS (Hendin &
Cheek, 1997) was developed by selecting items from the
Murray’s (1938) original narcissism scale that were clear
indicators of vulnerable and hyper-sensitive features identi-
fied by Wink (1991). From the perspective of the NSM, this
scale provides a brief and reasonable measure of narcissistic
vulnerability—previously published structural analyses as
well as those in Table 3 indicate this scale is sufficiently reli-
able and a good marker of this dimension, with smaller load-
ings on the entitlement and grandiosity dimensions. Given
the brevity, however, it does not sufficiently represent enti-
tlement itself or offer precise measurement of specific vul-
nerable features (Pincus et al., 2009). Therefore, we
recommend the use of this measure in assessing narcissistic
vulnerability when the respondents’ time is limited or using
the expanded 23-item version with more comprehensive
item coverage (Cheek, Hendin, & Wink, 2013).
The Psychological Entitlement Scale. The Psychological Enti-
tlement Scale aims to assess a sense of personal entitlement
(Campbell et al., 2004). From the perspective of the NSM,
this measure offers a useful, albeit relatively narrow, assess-
ment of narcissistic entitlement, the center of the narcissism
spectrum. Previously published structural analyses as well as
those in Table 3 indicate this scale is very reliable, stable, and
a good marker of this dimension with smaller cross-loadings
on both grandiosity and vulnerability dimensions (Campbell
et al., 2004; Krizan & Johar, 2012). However, given the scale
focuses solely on entitled beliefs and actions, it does not dis-
tinguish functional aspects of narcissism, that is, to what
extent entitlement reflects narcissistic grandiosity (i.e.,
enforced or satisfied entitlement) or vulnerability (i.e., frus-
trated and ruminative entitlement). This is reflected in the
weak and inconsistent pattern of relations of this scale with
key affect-laden variables such as self-esteem, emotional sta-
bility, and extraversion (Campbell et al., 2004). In this vein,
we recommend the use of this measure as a narrow assess-
ment of narcissistic entitlement, but not for capturing the
specific functional manifestations of narcissism (Figure 2).
The Pathological Narcissism Inventory. The Pathological Nar-
cissism Inventory assesses maladaptive manifestations of
narcissism across seven domains of narcissistic distress and
dysfunction reflecting both grandiose and vulnerable themes
(Pincus et al., 2009), similar to prior measures of narcissism
extensively used by clinicians (e.g., the Personality Disorder
Questionnaire–4th edition; Hyler, 1994). The instrument aims
to capture “pathological,” clinically relevant manifestations
16 Personality and Social Psychology Review
of narcissism, but it has been developed and validated as a
measure for use in the general population, revealing a stable
factor structure and high reliability (Pincus et al., 2009;
Wright, Lukowitsky, Pincus, & Conroy, 2010). From the per-
spective of NSM, this measure provides a broad as well as
high-fidelity assessment of narcissistic vulnerability,
although with “spotty” coverage of entitlement and grandi-
osity. Although one can derive both grandiose and vulnerable
sub-scores depending on which sub-scales are aggregated,
the structural analyses suggest that even the purported gran-
diose aspects are closer to the entitlement-vulnerability side
of the spectrum (Krizan & Johar, 2015; Wright, Pincus, et al.,
2013; Zeigler-Hill et al., 2011). For example, Table 3 reveals
that the four sub-scales argued to represent grandiosity (i.e.,
exploitativeness, entitlement rage, grandiose fantasy, and
self-sacrificial self-enhancement) all load more highly on the
entitlement dimension or a combination of dimensions,
rather than narcissistic grandiosity. Moreover, with the
exception of exploitativeness, they are virtually unrelated to
measures of superiority and hubris while being positively
associated with shame and suicidal behavior (Krizan &
Johar, 2012; Pincus et al., 2009). Although this is not surpris-
ing given the measure focuses on pathological expressions of
grandiosity, the measure does not adequately capture narcis-
sistic grandiosity as it is formulated here. In a sense, relative
to the NSM, the model of pathological narcissism is more
narrow and skewed toward vulnerability, resulting in closer
factor inter-correlations. In light of these findings, we recom-
mend the use of this measure as a high-fidelity assessment of
narcissistic vulnerability with some limited elements of enti-
tlement and grandiosity.
The Narcissistic Admiration and Rivalry Questionnaire. This
scale is aimed at competitive and grandiose features of nar-
cissisms and separately targets narcissistic admiration (e.g.,
“I show others how special I am”) and rivalry (e.g., “I want
my rivals to fail”; Back et al., 2013). The two sub-scales
were created to reflect social strategies that narcissists may
pursue in enhancing and protecting their exaggerated egos
(Back et al., 2013; Leckelt et al., 2015). Although the scale is
relatively new, initial evidence suggests it reliably captures
closely related yet substantively distinct dimensions of nar-
cissism. First, existing evidence reveals that the Admiration
sub-scale shows very strong correlations with the NPI over-
all score and especially the grandiose-exhibitionism factor
(Back et al., 2013), both markers of narcissistic grandiosity.
Consistent with what would be expected by a scale marking
grandiosity, it correlates most strongly with superiority, high
extraversion, and self-esteem, while linking only weakly to
distress and narcissistic vulnerability (Back et al., 2013;
Rogoza, Żemojtel-Piotrowska, Rogoza, Piotrowski, &
Wyszyńska, 2016). Second, evidence similarly suggests that
the Rivalry sub-scale largely taps entitlement and antago-
nism, the center of the spectrum. It correlates most strongly
with the exploitativeness-entitlement factor of the NPI and
disagreeableness (Back et al., 2013). Furthermore, it does
not have strong links to affective personality traits while
showing strong links to entitlement, manipulativeness, and
conflict. However, this sub-scale also seems to emphasize
general antagonism and hostility (e.g., “Most people are
somehow losers”) more so than do other measures of entitle-
ment and narcissism (marked by plus signs in Figure 2). We
encourage further exploration of this scale as an indicator of
the grandiosity and entitlement features of the spectrum.
Summary. This brief review suggests that the NSM can pro-
vide a parsimonious framework for understanding similari-
ties and differences across narcissism measures. By
representing narcissism as self-important entitlement reflect-
ing different combinations of grandiosity and vulnerability,
any narcissism measure can be evaluated in terms of its spec-
trum coverage (i.e., which sets of linked narcissistic attri-
butes it assesses) and fidelity of assessment (to what extent
are the distinct attributes covered adequately, that is, assessed
comprehensively and reliably). We summarize how each
measure fares on these issues in Figure 2. As a result, the
model offers a parsimonious and practical framework for
selecting appropriate measurement instruments whether
assessing grandiose, entitled, or vulnerable features of
narcissism.
Integrating Existing Theories of Narcissism
In addition to reconciling traditional notions of narcissism
with empirical findings, the NSM also addresses the need to
integrate existing conceptualizations of narcissism into a
unified explanatory framework. Contemporary theories of
narcissism have largely emerged around the use of distinct
measures, with “narcissists” being those exhibiting high
scores on a given measure. Given that most empirical work
has focused on narcissism as assessed by the NPI, the major-
ity of theoretical development has focused on the grandiosity
domain, which we consider first. According to the self-regu-
latory process model of narcissism, narcissistic individuals
possess unrealistically inflated self-representations that can
only be sustained by the use of flexible intra-personal and
inter-personal self-regulatory strategies (Morf & Rhodewalt,
2001). However, as they derive from grandiose and entitled
self-views, these strategies frequently alienate others or cre-
ate social conflict, outcomes that ultimately undermine the
desired social feedback that narcissists seek. On the whole,
empirical evidence regarding the NPI is consistent with these
proposals, given grandiose individuals’ tendencies to self-
aggrandize, derogate others, and over-claim their success
and contributions. We fully agree that the bloated and enti-
tled self-concept of grandiose individuals is a key driver of
their haughty, exhibitionistic, and—at times—derogatory
behavior. However, as elucidated earlier, there is little evi-
dence that hidden fragility necessarily underlies such grandi-
ose self-views (Bosson et al., 2008; Krizan & Johar, 2015).
Krizan and Herlache 17
As a result, this model is most successfully applied to under-
standing individuals high on grandiosity, and, from the per-
spective of the NSM, it provides a textured account of
person–environment transactions that typify narcissistic
grandiosity.
Another theoretical account of individual differences in
grandiosity is the extended agency model of narcissism
(Campbell & Foster, 2007; see also the contextual reinforce-
ment model of narcissism; Campbell & Campbell, 2009).
This perspective focuses on narcissistic grandiosity as
“excessive” agency, a self-regulatory system comprised of
inter-personal skills (e.g., charm), intra-psychic strategies
(e.g., self-inflation), and inter-personal strategies (e.g., self-
promotion) that generates positive self-feelings in the form
of “narcissistic esteem.” Moreover, by focusing on social
contexts where using these tactics is likely to pay off, this
view identifies a zone of “emerging” relationships where this
agentic style is likely to confer particular social advantages,
such as early-stage relationships, short-term interactions, and
temporary contexts (Campbell & Campbell, 2009). This
view is fully consistent with the current proposal that grandi-
osity embodies a bold functional orientation that fuels a
dogged pursuit of social goals and status. In fact, the extended
agency model explicates distinct benefits and costs of gran-
diosity while providing a useful account of how these will
tend to change over the course of relationships with narcis-
sists. Although this fits well with our own transactional per-
spective, this model addresses narcissistic grandiosity
specifically, focusing on boldness and agency without expli-
cating the role of entitlement. Indeed, it is grandiosity-spe-
cific measures of narcissism (e.g., the “adaptive” sub-scales
of the NPI, the State-Trait Grandiosity Scale) that are most
strongly indicative of agentic qualities described by this
model, as revealed by earlier discussion and data in Table 5.
In sum, the NSM provides a unified conceptual framework
in terms of a bold functional orientation that underlies gran-
diosity and thus ties processes described by existing models
of narcissistic grandiosity such as the self-regulatory pro-
cessing model and the extended agency model.
A more recent model of narcissism is the Narcissistic
Admiration and Rivalry Concept (NARC; Back et al., 2013).
According to this view, narcissistic quest for self-enhance-
ment (i.e., maintaining a grandiose self) takes two main
forms: assertive self-enhancement and antagonistic self-pro-
tection. Whereas the former is revealed in narcissistic striv-
ing for uniqueness, grandiose fantasy, and charming
overtures, the latter is revealed in narcissistic striving for
supremacy, devaluation of others, and aggressive maneu-
vers. These two motivational dynamics are reflected in nar-
cissistic admiration and rivalry, respectively (Back et al.,
2013). These motivational dynamics are captured by a ques-
tionnaire that assesses them as two distinct, yet closely
related tendencies (see earlier discussion). The NARC goes
above prior models that exclusively focus on agentic, exhibi-
tionistic aspects of narcissism as it explicitly considers the
antagonistic domain of narcissistic behavior. In accordance
with the transactional perspective emphasized here, the
NARC model considers how narcissistically charming ver-
sus aggressive behavior fuels further attempts at ensuring
admiration or domination, respectively. However, the NARC
model does not incorporate the vulnerable aspects of narcis-
sism critical both to the history of the construct and to its
pathological manifestations. The NSM thus again provides a
broader framework for understanding narcissistic motivation
as it integrates features explicated in the NARC with those of
other models addressing grandiosity, while distinguishing it
from narcissistic vulnerability.
In this vein, the main contemporary account of narcissis-
tic vulnerability is the model of Pathological Narcissism
(Pincus et al., 2009). This view essentially describes narcis-
sism as self-enhancement gone awry. Whereas most individ-
uals are able to manage their need for social recognition and
esteem in socially productive ways, pathological narcissists
have an impaired ability to satisfy needs for validation and
admiration. Moreover, this view distinguishes grandiose
(e.g., grandiose fantasy) from vulnerable expression of nar-
cissism (e.g., contingent self-esteem), although both are
viewed as maladaptive. Again, the empirical evidence sup-
porting the model largely comes from research with the PNI,
which was developed to assess the models’ key constructs
(see earlier discussion). This model complements most prior
accounts of narcissism as it explicitly considers vulnerable,
clinically relevant expressions of narcissism.
Critically, the dimensions identified by the model both
lean toward the vulnerability part of the spectrum. As men-
tioned earlier, the overall PNI score is most strongly corre-
lated with other measures of narcissistic vulnerability (rather
than entitlement or grandiosity), and even the Grandiosity
sub-scale seems to capture entitlement-focused features
(e.g., exploitativeness) or features that, despite their grandi-
ose themes, still reveal unfulfilled potential or inhibition
(i.e., grandiose fantasies rather than firm convictions; self-
enhancing in cautious, unassuming ways). This is not neces-
sarily internally problematic given that the model is meant to
describe dysregulated aspects of narcissism, but it is impor-
tant to note that in terms of the NSM, this view mostly cap-
tures individuals with elevated vulnerability and entitlement,
that is, those whose entitled expectations are frustrated.
Summary. This brief review reveals numerous contemporary
theoretical accounts of narcissism that are closely tied to spe-
cific measurement instruments. Each account has enjoyed
empirical support, although this support is typically based on
the use of specific measures tied to the features central to a
given theoretical view. Several important points of consensus
can be identified. First, basically all the views share the
assumption that narcissism reflects either excessively used or
problematic self-image regulation strategies centered on
exaggerated expectations of social recognition and self-
esteem (i.e., entitlement). Second, theories that focus
18 Personality and Social Psychology Review
on narcissistic grandiosity generally agree that narcissistic
grandiosity reflects an agentic personal style aimed at achiev-
ing social goals related to status and recognition. Third, most
views agree that entitlement reflects the most inter-personally
toxic component of narcissism, although not all models dis-
tinguish it specifically. Fourth, the notion of pathological nar-
cissism complements these views as it elaborates problematic
expressions of narcissism revealing vulnerability and distress.
Fifth and final, virtually all prior perspectives describe unique
forms of person–environment transactions endemic to indi-
viduals embodying particular narcissistic qualities.
As was the case with measures associated with these
views, the NSM provides a new integrative perspective on all
of these elements of narcissism by explicating their empirical
relations and synthesizing prior specific proposals of narcis-
sistic self-regulation strategies or their failures into a broader
transactional and structural perspective. It also reveals how
the core personality underpinnings of distinct dimensions of
narcissism combine to yield a complex personality space.
This space encompasses a diverse array of self-esteem regula-
tory strategies typifying the narcissism domain, which have
only been partially addressed by prior models.
Implications for Understanding Narcissistic
Personality Disorder
Continuity of narcissism. Although we have focused on gen-
eral variation in narcissistic qualities, addressing the issue
of continuity between narcissism as a personality trait and
the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder has been a
major focus of work on personality psychopathology.
Although diagnostic categories for personality disorder such
as Narcissistic Personality Disorder have canonized various
aspects of personality pathology and stimulated very impor-
tant research on the nature of (some) disordered personali-
ties, they have also failed to fully represent the diversity and
presentation of personality pathology (Wright, Krueger,
et al., 2013). As mentioned earlier, existing evidence on the
structure of psychopathology across individuals clearly
reveals that problematic personality features are both con-
tinuous and indicative of multiple distinct dimension of
functioning, rooted at the genotypic level and leading to
extensive comorbidity across personality disorders that
share underlying personality features (Wright et al., 2012).
Direct examinations of narcissism also failed to yield any
evidence that narcissistic personality disorder is qualita-
tively different from sub-clinical, yet problematic, expres-
sions of narcissism (Foster & Campbell, 2007; Miller &
Campbell, 2010). The NSM is thus faithful to these empiri-
cal complexities and provides a clear bridge between the
study of narcissistic traits, underlying personality diatheses,
and clinical study of extreme narcissism.
Adaptiveness of narcissism. One key issue important to narcis-
sism scholarship has involved determining the “normalcy”
or adaptiveness of narcissism. Whereas extreme narcissism
is considered a personality disorder, some have suggested
that some narcissism is necessary for healthy self-esteem
(Kohut, 1968; Malkin, 2015). We have cautioned earlier
against conceptually identifying absence of narcissism with
absence of self-esteem. However, some aspects of narcissism
(e.g., grandiosity) do index relative subjective well-being
and are marked by some “desirable” traits such as high extra-
version, whereas others (e.g., entitlement and vulnerability)
index significant distress or hostility and are marked by
“undesirable” traits such as high neuroticism or anger
(Grubbs & Exline, 2016; Pincus et al., 2009). The former
have typically been assessed by measures such as the NPI
and have often been labeled “normal” or “adaptive” given
these correlates. The latter have typically been assessed by
clinically based measures emphasizing distress or antago-
nism and have thus been labeled “abnormal,” “maladaptive,”
or “pathological.” Some scales that focus on grandiose quali-
ties involving entitlement have even been labeled “normal
mal-adaptive” narcissism, given that they draw on a domain
of narcissistic traits relatively free of personal distress (thus
“normal”) yet with a toxic social component (thus “maladap-
tive”; Cheek, Wink, Hargreaves, & Derr, 2013). We suggest
that these labels, even if seemingly appropriate, are not ideal
personality descriptors given they do not specify actual fea-
tures yet provide evaluative judgments. Both grandiosity and
vulnerability are trait domains that have been successfully
measured in the broader population and in the sense that both
index “normal” (i.e., nomothetic) individual differences.
Even if vulnerability involves more clinically significant
distress, both narcissism dispositions carry at least some
costs given that they involve antagonism. Narcissistic gran-
diosity may be associated with higher subjective well-being
and self-esteem, but so may psychopathy (Falkenbach,
Howe, & Falki, 2013). It is important to remember that nar-
cissistic pathology involves significant inter-personal and
behavioral as well as intra-psychic components, so the mere
lack of personal distress does not in itself constitute a well-
adjusted personality. Entitlement in general contributes to
perceptions of unfairness, anger, and inter-personal conflict
(Grubbs & Exline, 2016). Grandiosity also drives exploit-
ative and superficial relationships that sour over time and
cause impairments in social functioning (Leckelt et al.,
2015; Orth & Luciano, 2015; Paulhus, 1998). The conclu-
sion that even grandiosity carries problems in inter-personal
functioning is supported by evidence in Table 6 that reveals
those higher on grandiosity to be more prone to risk-taking
and more likely to experience conflict within their profes-
sional and romantic relationships. Archival and observa-
tional research of daring narcissistic leaders also points to
problematic social consequences of their boldness and risk-
taking (Watts et al., 2013). Whereas the boldness underlying
grandiosity may be generally beneficial at moderate levels,
when combined with entitlement or low reactivity—or when
extreme—it is likely to involve significant adjustment
Krizan and Herlache 19
problems. We suggest that the terms “normal,” “adaptive,”
and “pathological” are best avoided to describe core fea-
tures of narcissism themselves, given that they do not carry
much descriptive content.
Overlap of narcissism with related personality dysfunction. We
now turn to how our spectrum approach can be useful for
understanding commonalities and distinctions between fea-
tures of narcissistic personality disorder and closely related
personality dysfunction (antisocial, borderline). Note that
the NSM represents narcissistic personality features as
reflecting a common core of entitled self-importance, yet
representing diverse configurations of grandiosity and vul-
nerability. This view has important implications for under-
standing both the issue of within-disorder diversity (i.e.,
why are those identified as narcissists different from one
another) and between-disorder overlap (i.e., why are some
individuals identified as both narcissists and psychopaths).
In fact, we suggest that it provides a powerful approach for
modeling the structure of antagonism-oriented personality
pathology more generally as it simultaneously explicates
(a) the key feature of a given disorder (e.g., entitled self-
importance in the case of narcissism), as well as (b) distinct
functional presentations of that key feature, which reflect
separate affective–motivational dimensions of approach
versus aversion tendencies (e.g., grandiosity and vulnera-
bility in the case of narcissism). In other words, narcissism
is a specific manifestation of the broader tendencies toward
antagonism, whereas grandiosity and vulnerability are spe-
cific manifestations of these features that reflect boldness
and reactivity, respectively.
Critically, antagonistic personality features (e.g., hostil-
ity, callousness, manipulativeness, entitlement) can present
along almost any level in core approach or avoidance-driven
personality orientations, here described as boldness and
reactivity. Given these relations reflect the underlying struc-
ture of personality, focusing on more specific antagonistic
features should reveal further patterning according to their
underlying boldness or reactivity. In other words, assuming
antagonism, what accounts for the specific expression of
disagreeableness for a given individual? We suggest that
boldness and reactivity are the key dimensions to consider,
and the evidence on antagonistic personality traits supports
this contention. For example, individuals who are callous
are also generally grandiose, as well as manipulative. This
trio of features has been labeled the “dark triad” and
reveals consistently correlated individual differences in
primary psychopathy (i.e., inter-personal callousness), nar-
cissistic grandiosity, and Machiavellianism (i.e., deceitful
manipulativeness; Paulhus & Williams, 2002). However,
antagonistic features such as anger, distrust, or defensive-
ness are not consistently linked to this dark triad (Miller
et al., 2010). Rather, these features seem to cluster together
themselves and to reflect a separate “vulnerable dark triad”
that reveals consistently linked individual differences in
secondary psychopathy (i.e., antisocial impulsivity), border-
line psychopathology (e.g., dysregulation and disinhibi-
tion), and narcissistic vulnerability (e.g., defensiveness and
blame; Miller et al., 2010).
Critically, boldness and reactivity that we proposed as
essential to the diversity of narcissism also help account for
textured clustering of antagonistic features across these
broader domains of narcissism-related traits. Most of the
traits from the original “dark” triad mark bold antagonism,
evident by their mutual associations with extraversion, con-
fidence, assertiveness, and sensation-seeking (Benning,
Patrick, Blonigen, Hicks, & Iacono, 2005; Durbin, Schalet,
Hayden, Simpson, & Jordan, 2009; Ross, Benning, Patrick,
Thompson, & Thurston, 2009). Machiavellianism may be
somewhat of an exception given it is restricted solely to
antagonistic inter-personal behavior (Lee & Ashton, 2005).
Conversely, all the traits from the “vulnerable dark triad”
seem to mark reactive antagonism, evident by their mutual
associations with neuroticism, hostility, and chronic anger
(Miller et al., 2010, Miller, Gentile, & Campbell, 2013;
Wilberg, Urnes, Friis, Pedersen, & Karterud, 1999). In short,
boldness and reactivity can be considered core modifiers to
any expression of antagonism (i.e., are in a pathoplastic
relationship), and examining them jointly illuminates the
structure of selfish, threatening, and hostile personality
pathology at a more detailed level of analysis.
Table 6. Psychosocial Adjustment as a Function of Narcissistic
Grandiosity and Vulnerability.
Narcissistic
grandiosity
(GE-NPI)
Narcissistic
vulnerability
(PNI)
Intra-psychic adjustment
Subjective Well-Being (SWLS) .18* −.10
Self-Esteem (RSES) .25* −.41*
Inter-personal adjustment
Occupational Conflict (CW) .24* .40*
Relationship Satisfaction (RSQ) −.07 −.19*
Risk-taking (DOSPERT)
Ethical Risks .40* .47*
Financial Risks (gambling) .35* .26*
Health/Safety Risks .26* .38*
Recreational Risks .24* .21*
Social Risks −.05 −.02
Note. All raw correlations are from Sample 4 except self-esteem (Sample 3).
Grandiosity was measured with the grandiose-exhibitionism factor of the
NPI, whereas vulnerability was measured with the PNI. PNI = Pathological
Narcissism Inventory; SWLS = Subjective Well-Being Scale; RSES =
Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale; CW = Conflict-At-Work Scale; RSQ =
Relationship Satisfaction Questionnaire; DOSPERT = Domain-Specific Scale
of Risk-Taking; NPI = Narcissistic Personality Inventory.
p < .10. *p < .05.
20 Personality and Social Psychology Review
Implications for Understanding the “Narcissistic
Paradox”
Whereas identifying the structure of narcissistic personality
has been a matter of contention, identifying psychological
dynamics endemic to narcissistic personality and accounting
for perplexing combinations of grandiose and vulnerable
features have proven even more difficult. As mentioned ear-
lier, the notion that narcissistic individuals embody qualities
that are at some level paradoxical or self-contradictory (e.g.,
hubris alongside insecurity) is a long-standing and distinc-
tive aspect of narcissism scholarship. The existence of such a
“narcissistic paradox” became widely accepted as the psy-
chodynamic concept of splitting became the key idea for
understanding narcissism (Akhtar & Byrne, 1983).
In the context of narcissism, this is evident in classic ideas
that narcissists simultaneously have a grandiose and exag-
gerated sense of self-worth that exists uncomfortably along-
side—that is, “split” from—deep insecurities, anxiety, and
shame (Kernberg, 1970; Kohut, 1971). Generally, such split-
ting is thought motivated by a grandiose self-concept that has
to be insulated from the negative aspects of self and others
given the latter arouse intense shame and anxiety (Gottschalk,
1988; Masterson, 1993; Volkan, 1976). Although there are
important theoretical disagreements about the nature, origin,
and treatability of such pathological manifestations, the idea
that vanity and hubris mask deep-seated inferiority and inse-
curity became a hallmark narcissism “meme” in both science
and popular culture. In words of Bosson and colleagues
(2008), this “mask model” of narcissism implies that
the narcissist’s “disorder” stems from the conflict between two
contradictory sets of beliefs about the self: deep-seated feelings
of inferiority, and surface-level feelings of superiority that keep
the narcissistic unaware of her or his self-loathing, but that
require continual reinforcement. (p. 1418)
Despite the fact it originated within psychoanalysis-driven
clinical experiences with disturbed patients, it became the
organizing principle for understanding narcissism across
both personality and social psychology that examined it
mainly through the use of specific questionnaires discussed
earlier (Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001; Tracy & Robins, 2003; see
Bosson et al., 2008, for review).
How did this guiding hypothesis fare in empirical testing?
Note that the majority of tests involved linking grandiosity-
oriented measures such as the NPI to variables suggestive of
fragility or insecurity in self-worth. Given that grandiosity is
substantially positively associated with high self-esteem,
vanity, and confident behavior (assessed through traditional
methods), most tests have focused on less direct indicators of
fragility such as variability in self-esteem, or the level of pre-
sumably unconscious, implicit self-esteem. First, research
has tested the notion that high chronic levels of self-esteem
among the more grandiose individuals may nevertheless
substantially vacillate from day to day as narcissists face
threats to their status and inflated self-concepts (Rhodewalt
et al., 1998). Although initial findings were encouraging,
they did not replicate well, and a meta-analytic evaluation
revealed that, on the whole, grandiose individuals do not
have especially unstable self-esteem (Bosson et al., 2008;
Giacomin & Jordan, 2014b; Zeigler-Hill, 2006; Zeigler-Hill
& Besser, 2013).
Second, the notion that indirect measures of self-esteem
(e.g., the self-esteem Implicit Association Test, the Initials-
Preferences task) may reveal low self-worth or negative self-
concepts among grandiose individuals were appealing
(Jordan, Spencer, Zanna, Hoshino-Browne, & Correll, 2003;
Zeigler-Hill, 2006), but despite some initial support, it again
did not fare well in subsequent replications (Bosson et al.,
2008; Boucher, Bégin, Gagnon-Girouard, & Ratté, 2015;
Marissen, Brouwer, Hiemstra, Deen, & Franken, 2016; Vater
et al., 2013). Moreover, there are serious doubts about
whether these indirect self-esteem measures actually capture
self-evaluations inaccessible to awareness (Buhrmester,
Blanton, & Swann, 2011; Krizan, 2008). Finally, researches
have also pursued the notion that narcissists should be espe-
cially likely to aggress following threats to their self-worth,
in accordance with the classic notions of “narcissistic rage,”
which suggest that challenges to narcissists’ fragile sense of
self will lead to immature lashing out at others (Kohut,
1978). Although grandiosity does seem to fuel aggression in
response direst status threats, it does not fuel unrestrained
anger, hostility, or aggressive retaliations following minor
provocations (Bettencourt, Talley, Benjamin, & Valentine,
2006; Krizan & Johar, 2015; Rasmussen, 2016).
From the perspective of the NSM, these results are not
surprising; because grandiosity and vulnerability are quite
distinct dimensions, grandiose individuals will not tend to be
especially vulnerable (and thus emotionally unstable). Given
the weak correlation between vulnerability and grandiosity
exemplified in Table 3, a typical grandiose individual will
tend to be only slightly more vulnerable; in other words,
majority of people with high grandiosity will not be espe-
cially high on vulnerability (and vice versa). At extreme lev-
els, vulnerable and grandiose features may cluster further
apart, yielding distinct types suggested by clinical experi-
ence (Crowe et al., 2015; Ronningstam, 2005). In sum, the
narcissistic paradox as evident in traditional clinical analyses
does not necessarily characterize narcissists. Whereas some
individuals will exhibit both heightened grandiosity and vul-
nerability and thus may fit some notions of “splitting,” most
individuals are likely to exhibit mostly one or the other.
Thus, the narcissistic paradox may faithfully represent some
clinical cases, but not the empirical regularities of personal-
ity features. In other words, although narcissism reflects
entitled expectations of self-importance, some individuals
are able to compensate successfully and meet these expecta-
tions (high grandiosity and low vulnerability), whereas oth-
ers are not (low grandiosity and high vulnerability).
Krizan and Herlache 21
Nevertheless, there are also individuals who exhibit both
grandiose and vulnerable tendencies. In such cases, individu-
als could shift in their narcissistic need satisfaction to the
extent environments support or reveal their grandiose versus
vulnerable tendencies (Roche et al., 2013; Stronge, Cichocka,
& Sibley, 2016; Wetzel, Leckelt, Gerlach, & Back, 2016).
For example, a series of business successes may support a
business mogul’s hubris and displays of grandiosity while
precluding opportunities for frustration that fuel stress and
anger. However, a series of setbacks or unexpected inter-
personal attacks could reveal vulnerable and hostile tenden-
cies that overshadow any impression of charm or social
confidence. These scenarios speak to the relevance of clini-
cal descriptions, while also underscoring the problems inher-
ent in generalizing such descriptions to the broader
population. The diversity of entitled individuals does not
always (or even mostly) fit the “mask” model of narcissism.
Limitations and Future Directions
In this final section, we consider the limitations of the model
and present some critical recommendations for moving the
study of narcissism forward. These are centered on building
much-needed consensus and common terminology for future
investigation, as well as the need for new forms of data that
can confidently speak to classic controversies.
Limitations
As acknowledged at the outset, the NSM cannot provide all
answers about the nature of narcissism. First, we have
emphasized entitlement as the cardinal axis of narcissism
and argued that its expression varies across distinct dimen-
sions of narcissistic grandiosity and vulnerability. Some
scholars may take issue with this broad approach. As Charles
Darwin remarked more than a century ago, some prefer to
“lump” natural phenomena into fewer functional units,
whereas others prefer to “split” them into a more diverse set.
The NSM takes the former approach, using a broader per-
spective that pools together distinct manifestations of enti-
tled self-importance under a single conceptual umbrella of
narcissism. Even if researches prefer to hold onto more nar-
row definitions of the construct (e.g., viewing narcissism
only as grandiosity), it is essential that differences with
related constructs be clear. To this end, we hope that the
NSM may still prove useful.
Second, the model does not provide criteria for determin-
ing narcissistic personality disorder (i.e., rules for when nar-
cissism becomes pathological). In its aim to describe and
explain the structure of narcissistic personality features in
the general population, it draws on a continuous view of per-
sonality dysfunction and assumes that pathological expres-
sions of narcissism arise amid specific psychological and
social impairments. When impairment in either intra-psychic
(e.g., distress) or inter-personal (e.g., conflict) function
undermines a person’s ability to meet his or her goals and
responsibilities, then narcissism is thought to become clini-
cally significant (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
Ultimately, there may not be any firm dividing line; deci-
sions about pathology of narcissism may be best left to
trained clinicians who can evaluate the full context of an
individual’s life. How individuals’ talents, abilities, and
stressors contribute to these impairments and the level of
narcissism should be a core direction for future work.
Moreover, how tendencies toward grandiosity and vulnera-
bility manifest themselves in clinically significant cases and
how they change over time remain in need of investigation
(Roche et al., 2013).
Finally, the model can also be criticized for not identify-
ing specific causes of narcissism. However, the model does
point to functional orientations that define distinct expres-
sions of narcissism, and as a result, it has heuristic value in
suggesting multiple contributing factors worthy of investiga-
tions that span temperament (e.g., extraversion, sensation-
seeking) and social influences (e.g., parental treatment,
occupational success). In line with the assumptions of equi-
finality in developmental processes, we believe that narcis-
sism has many causes, that it may develop early or late, and
that its expression is dependent on the psychosocial context
of a given individual.
Moving the Study of Narcissism Forward
Before concluding, we offer a few suggestions for moving
the narcissism scholarship forward. First and foremost, the
field needs a common nomenclature that describes constructs
with consensual boundaries. There is no doubt that the “jin-
gle-jangle” fallacy has plagued most narcissism scholarship
for almost a century and fueled persistent confusion and
mutual misunderstanding regarding construct claims (Pulver,
1970). We hope that the NSM can provide a common starting
(if not ending) point for describing narcissism as a set of per-
sonality features. Although we have considered other terms
as ideal candidates for describing the core dimensions of this
spectrum, for the sake of clarity, we decided on narcissistic
grandiosity, entitlement, and vulnerability, as these descrip-
tors are either well-established or highly representative of
features they intend to describe. Note that these terms apply
to dimensions of individual differences in narcissism and
thus to personality tendencies that are expressed to a differ-
ent extent across individuals.
Second, personality dimensions do not by themselves
fully describe an individual. Researchers need to be cautious
when equating dimensions with people. Although it is easier
to discuss a “grandiose narcissist” rather than a person “high
on narcissistic grandiosity,” these are not interchangeable.
Both describe a person with elevated grandiosity features,
but the former typically implies a “type” of person marked
by grandiosity at the exclusion of other features (e.g., when
contrasting grandiose with vulnerable narcissists). However,
22 Personality and Social Psychology Review
as elucidated by the spectrum, those who score high on enti-
tlement will have both elevated grandiosity and vulnerabil-
ity, but combinations of these levels will drastically vary
across individuals. This renders people with a particular
score on a given scale as functionally diverse and reveals the
need to represent narcissistic personality in terms of the mul-
tiple axes stressed by the present model. This view also fits
well with clinical experience, which reveals individuals with
varying combinations of grandiosity-—versus vulnerabil-
ity—-based problems (Ronningstam, 2005; Russ et al.,
2008). As a result, it is important for researchers to assess the
entire spectrum of narcissism features when identifying cor-
relates and consequences of narcissism (see Siedor, Maples-
Keller, Miller, & Campbell, 2016, for a similar argument).
Third, there is a need for new forms of data that confi-
dently speak to classic controversies and to questions raised
by the present model. The most fascinating aspects of narcis-
sism involve apparent incongruities, such as ideas that a
bloated self-concept “masks” self-doubt or mood instability
(Bosson et al., 2008; Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001). However,
empirically addressing these possibilities is extremely chal-
lenging. Confidently addressing the narcissists’ presumed
vacillation in mood or self-esteem requires longitudinal
designs that track short-term experiences (e.g., mood and
state self-esteem) as a function of context and self-relevant
events, assess all axes of narcissism, and are ideally com-
bined with other sources of data (e.g., behavioral observa-
tion). The data examining whether narcissism is associated
with more self-esteem and mood instability are mixed
(Bosson et al., 2008; Rhodewalt et al., 1998; Zeigler-Hill &
Besser, 2013; Zeigler-Hill, Myers, & Clark, 2010), so a
focused assessment of all cardinal narcissistic features
stressed by the present model is vital to identifying which
aspects of narcissism (or combination thereof) are the most
critical. The NSM clearly suggests that narcissistic vulnera-
bility should be the most indicative of instability, revealed in
labile mood and strong affective reactions to self-relevant
events. A promising direction involves examining narcissism
itself as a state, given narcissistic thoughts and emotions also
vacillate over time (Giacomin & Jordan, 2016). Recent
examinations of such narcissistic states suggest they are sen-
sitive to inter-personal events (e.g., having power) as well as
indicative of fluctuations in affect and self-esteem (Giacomin
& Jordan, 2014a, 2014b, 2016). Critically, narcissistic states
themselves seem to be multifaceted and differentially indica-
tive of narcissistic grandiosity and vulnerability (Giacomin
& Jordan, 2016). In this vein, the proposed model should be
helpful in providing a clear nomenclature for assessing dis-
tinct state aspects of narcissism as well as a starting point for
assessing the structure of narcissistic states.
Similarly, appropriately addressing developmental puz-
zles about the role of caregivers in creating healthy or inflated
egos (Kohut, 1971; Millon, 1969) requires large longitudinal
designs that tie childhood events and parental context to ado-
lescent or adult personality features. Narcissistic qualities
indicative of adult narcissism (e.g., histrionic tendencies,
antagonism) appear relatively early in childhood, so tracing
their development is crucial (e.g., Carlson & Gjerde, 2009).
To this end, Wetzel and Robbins (2016) recently identified
that negative parental behaviors (e.g., hostility) in a sample
of Latino youth contributed to higher exploitativeness (indic-
ative of entitlement) 2 years later, but did not contribute to
higher superiority (indicative of grandiosity). Grandiosity, as
suggested by another longitudinal investigation of adoles-
cents, appears more strongly linked to parental overvaluation
(Brummelman et al., 2015). Such investigations are inher-
ently costly, yet they are necessary if the field seeks anything
more than tentative answers about the nature and develop-
ment of narcissism. Critically, the proposed model provides
a comprehensive framework for understanding how distinct
factors shape distinct aspects of narcissism, helping tran-
scend debates mainly driven by definitional or semantic con-
cerns (e.g., Kealy, Hadjipavlou, & Ogrodniczuk, 2015).
Fifth and final, it is critical that our understanding of fea-
tures key to narcissism be integrated within a broader theo-
retical framework for understanding personality and
psychopathology. Although development of specific narcis-
sism scales has been critical for producing data on the nature
of narcissism and the inter-relations of specific narcissistic
traits, the field must avoid tautological descriptions and
move beyond predicting narcissistic behavior with measures
that already explicitly represent such behavior. For example,
documenting that measures assessing need for admiration
predict displays of ability and charm is a key step in con-
struct validation of narcissism measures, but is not very
informative regarding the wider theoretical implications of
understanding narcissistic personality. Linking grandiosity
to approach motivation or psychopathy, however, involves
linking more distal constructs and thus is more generative in
explicating the “nomological net” of narcissism and building
theory. The NSM goes above identifying self-regulatory
strategies associated with specific features of narcissism
toward integrating them into a broader framework of narcis-
sistic tendencies that index core differences in functional ori-
entations reflective of temperament as well as self-regulatory
social processes. The model thus suggest important new
avenues for research on narcissism, raising questions about
how the basic aspects of temperament lead to different
expressions of entitlement, how features of the social context
may differentially affect development of grandiosity and vul-
nerability, and how changes in social interaction patterns
affect changes in distinct aspects of narcissism.
Conclusion
The construct of narcissism shows no signs of fading away.
It is one of the oldest personality constructs, it continues to
fascinate psychologists, and it has infiltrated popular culture.
Empirical evidence reveals that narcissism is a complex con-
struct, with scholars continuing to disagree about how to best
Krizan and Herlache 23
define and measure it. By introducing the NSM, we hoped to
build common terminology, a shared set of observations
about the empirical structure of narcissism, and provide a
novel and comprehensive framework for integrating
scholarship of narcissism with that of psychopathology more
broadly. We are optimistic that such a synthetic view can
motivate coordinated scholarship on the origins and manifes-
tations of narcissism.
Appendix
Samples and Method
Sample nPopulation Sample Study context Measures Procedure
1 303 Students 62% female
M age = 19.4y
Online survey
(course
requirement)
Narcissism (6 inventories), vanity
(3 measures), self-consciousness
(2 measures), paranoia, use
of cosmetics and tanning,
demographics
Participants answered surveys in a
study about “people’s thoughts
about themselves and the social
world they live in,” starting
with the narcissism measures,
followed by measures of vanity,
self-consciousness, and specific
questions about appearance
enhancement
2 139 Students 67% female
M age = 21.3y
Paper survey
(course extra
credit)
Perceptions of inequalities,
Self-Attributes Questionnaire,
Hypercompetitive Attitudes
Scale, NPI, Hypersensitive
Narcissism Scale, demographics
Participants answered surveys in a
study about “people’s thoughts
about themselves and the social
world they live in.” First, they
rated inequality in 11 life domains
(e.g., leadership ability) on the
extent it is fair, controllable, and
product of natural, social, or
personal forces. Second, they
provided ratings of self-standing
and personal importance on
the same domains. Third, they
completed the personality
measures (order randomized per
each participant).
3 272 Students N/A due to
error
Online survey
(course
requirement)
Measures of aggression (2),
narcissism (NPI, NHS), anger (2),
Behavioral Inhibition–Activation
Scales, Psychological Entitlement
Scale, IPIP Dominance Scale,
Superiority and Avoidance of
Inferiority Scale, Self-Esteem,
Ten-Item Personality Inventory
(Krizan & Johar, 2015, Study 2)
Participants answered surveys in a
study about “people’s thoughts
about themselves and the social
world they live in.” Following
measures of aggression, order of
anger and narcissism measures
was randomized in the first block,
while the order of remaining
measures was randomized in
the second block (per each
participant).
4 283 MTurk
workers
67% Female
M age = 35.4y
Online survey
(US$1
compensation)
Measures of narcissism (6
inventories and visual-analog
scale), aggression (2), personality
(Approach–Avoidance
Temperament Questionnaire,
Regulatory Focus Questionnaire,
Ten-Item Personality Test),
adjustment (risk taking,
relationship satisfaction, work
conflict, life satisfaction, sleep
problems, self-control), paranoia
(2), and demographics
Participants answered surveys in a
study about “people’s thoughts
about themselves and the social
world they live in.” They then
completed the personality
and psychological adjustment
measures in a randomized order
(per each participant).
Note. NPI = Narcissistic Personality Inventory; IPIP = International Personality Item Pool.
24 Personality and Social Psychology Review
Acknowledgment
We thank Jonathan Cheek, Collin DeYoung, David Watson,
Monica Biernat, and three anonymous reviewers for helpful com-
ments regarding this article.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect
to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Funding
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, author-
ship, and/or publication of this article.
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... Structural models of narcissism differentiate grandiose from vulnerable narcissism (Wink, 1991). While grandiose narcissism is characterized by excessive self-confidence, boldness, and overt self-aggrandizement (Krizan & Herlache, 2018;Weiss et al., 2019), vulnerable narcissism circumscribes self-consciousness, reactivity, and only covertly displayed self-aggrandizement (Krizan & Herlache, 2018; see also Pincus & Lukowitsky, 2010). Both are characterized by psychological entitlement as a hallmark characteristic (Krizan & Herlache, 2018) related to antagonistic aspects of narcissism (Weiss et al., 2019). ...
... Structural models of narcissism differentiate grandiose from vulnerable narcissism (Wink, 1991). While grandiose narcissism is characterized by excessive self-confidence, boldness, and overt self-aggrandizement (Krizan & Herlache, 2018;Weiss et al., 2019), vulnerable narcissism circumscribes self-consciousness, reactivity, and only covertly displayed self-aggrandizement (Krizan & Herlache, 2018; see also Pincus & Lukowitsky, 2010). Both are characterized by psychological entitlement as a hallmark characteristic (Krizan & Herlache, 2018) related to antagonistic aspects of narcissism (Weiss et al., 2019). ...
... While grandiose narcissism is characterized by excessive self-confidence, boldness, and overt self-aggrandizement (Krizan & Herlache, 2018;Weiss et al., 2019), vulnerable narcissism circumscribes self-consciousness, reactivity, and only covertly displayed self-aggrandizement (Krizan & Herlache, 2018; see also Pincus & Lukowitsky, 2010). Both are characterized by psychological entitlement as a hallmark characteristic (Krizan & Herlache, 2018) related to antagonistic aspects of narcissism (Weiss et al., 2019). Recently, grandiose-based and vulnerable-based entitlement ("People like me deserve an extra break now and then because… I'm an extraordinary person [grandiose] vs. I've been dealt too many bad breaks [vulnerable]") have been delineated as separable rationales for the two expressions (Hart et al., 2019;p. ...
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... In line with past research (e.g., Golec de Zavala et al., 2009, 2019, national narcissism was associated with higher grandiose narcissism. Thus, it seems that the feelings of entitlement and self-importance associated with individual narcissism (Back et al., 2013;Krizan & Herlache, 2018) might extend to the group level (Bizumic & Duckitt, 2008). Unlike Golec de Zavala and colleagues (2020), we also observed that national narcissism was (weakly) positively associated with self-esteem. ...
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This study investigated grandiose narcissism from a categorical perspective. We tested whether subgroups of narcissists can be distinguished that differ in their expressions of more agentic (narcissistic admiration, ADM) and more antagonistic (narcissistic rivalry, RIV) pathways of narcissism. We analyzed three German samples (total N = 2,211; Mage = 26; 70% female) and one US sample (N = 971; Mage = 35; 74% female) using latent class analysis. Four subgroups of narcissists were consistently identified across samples from Germany and the United States: low narcissists, moderate narcissists primarily characterized by agentic aspects (ADM), moderate narcissists characterized by both agentic and antagonistic aspects (ADM+RIV), and high narcissists. The subgroups were systematically related to a number of personality traits (e.g., Machiavellianism, impulsivity) and adjustment indicators (e.g., selfesteem, empathy). Members in the moderate narcissists – ADM subgroup showed the most adaptive characteristics while members in the moderate narcissists – ADM+RIV subgroup showed the most maladaptive characteristics. Investigating grandiose narcissism - a primarily quantitative trait - from a categorical perspective can yield valuable insights that would otherwise be overlooked. In addition, our results underline the utility of a self-regulatory process approach to grandiose narcissism that distinguishes between agentic and antagonistic dynamics.
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There is debate over the definition of narcissism across social/personality and clinical psychology. The current article aims to quantify the level of disagreement by measuring experts' opinions concerning the attributes most central to narcissism. Accordingly, we developed a comprehensive list of attributes associated with narcissism and had 49 self-identified experts (among them 17 women, 23 psychologists from clinical psychology and 22 from social/personality psychology) rate these characteristics and provide their opinions on several issues related to the conceptualization of narcissism. Experts generally believe that the grandiose features of narcissism are more central than the vulnerable features. However, differences between clinical and social/personality psychologists were evident, especially regarding the relevance of self-esteem. Given the results, we suggest that researchers specify the kind of narcissism being assessed in a given study and consider using assessments of the full range of narcissistic features in future research to provide a more comprehensive perspective on the construct.
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Narcissism is an important and consequential aspect of personality, yet we know little about its developmental origins. Using data from a longitudinal study of 674 Mexican-origin families, we examined cross-lagged relations between parenting behaviors (warmth, hostility, monitoring) and narcissism (superiority, exploitativeness). Parental hostility at age 12 was associated with higher levels of exploitativeness at age 14, whereas parental monitoring at age 12 was associated with lower levels of exploitativeness at age 14. These effects replicated across three different parenting measures: child reports, spouse reports, and behavioral coding of parent-child interactions. None of the parenting dimensions was related to superiority, suggesting that parenting practices are more strongly related to the maladaptive than the adaptive component of narcissism.
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The mask model of narcissism states that the narcissistic traits of patients with NPD are the result of a compensatory reaction to underlying ego fragility. This model assumes that high explicit self-esteem masks low implicit self-esteem. However, research on narcissism has predominantly focused on non-clinical participants and data derived from patients diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) remain scarce. Therefore, the goal of the present study was to test the mask model hypothesis of narcissism among patients with NPD. Male patients with NPD were compared to patients with other PD's and healthy participants on implicit and explicit self-esteem. NPD patients did not differ in levels of explicit and implicit self-esteem compared to both the psychiatric and the healthy control group. Overall, the current study found no evidence in support of the mask model of narcissism among a clinical group. This implicates that it might not be relevant for clinicians to focus treatment of NPD on an underlying negative self-esteem.
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The current research replicates and extends past findings for within-person variability in narcissism by examining how fluctuations in daily narcissism across three different measures relate to subjective well-being. We assessed state narcissism, daily life satisfaction, positive and negative affect over 14 days (N = 147) and observed substantial within-person variability in three measures of state narcissism. Within-person variability in "normal" grandiose narcissism (the Narcissistic Personality Inventory) was associated with greater life satisfaction, greater positive affect and greater hostility. Within-person variability on self-reports of narcissism reflecting more pathological expressions of narcissism (Single-Item Narcissism Scale, and an adjective-rating measure) were also associated with daily shame and guilt. People may thus display variable levels of normal and pathological narcissism that relate to well-being.
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Although attachment theory has traditionally emphasized adaptive responses in the child-parent relationship, researchers have more recently applied attachment theory to adult love relationships. Both the child and adult literature have explored individual differences in attachment behavior and identified stylistic categories of secure and insecure attachments. Although the insecure categories are characterized by overt behavior which appears quite different (i.e., clinging vs. distance), in adult relationships where attachment is reciprocal, these stylistic patterns may achieve a similar function. In this article, I argue that, in adult relationships, insecure attachments reflect strategies for managing a greater level of narcissistic vulnerability than exists in secure attachment.