Coordinating Author Information: Kaleigh M. Newcomb, BA | Palo Alto University

Session Abstract: Contemporary clinical conceptualizations of pathological narcissism emphasize two primary dimensions: grandiosity (i.e., inflated and entitled sense of self) and vulnerability (i.e., self-esteem contingent on others and hypersensitivity to criticism). These two dimensions coexist in a dynamic such that grandiosity functions to cover up feelings of vulnerability. Some have commented that this dynamic reflects a broader borderline organization of personality. From this perspective, narcissistic vulnerability is a manifestation of a diffuse sense of identity and narcissistic grandiosity is a primitive defense against this vulnerability that at high levels can impair one’s sense of reality. However, there is little research on the degree to which the three dimensions of borderline personality organization (primitive defenses, identity diffusion, and reality testing) are associated with narcissistic grandiosity and vulnerability. In this study, we examine this in a sample of 494 students at a large public university using structural equation modeling. Results suggest that identity diffusion was associated with narcissistic vulnerability and that both primitive defenses and identity diffusion were associated with narcissistic grandiosity. These findings underscore the weak sense of self that underlies pathological narcissism in general and the primitive nature of narcissistic grandiosity in particular. Findings also have implications for how we might think about narcissism as a manifestation of broader borderline personality pathology.


Kaleigh M. Newcomb, BA | Palo Alto University

Matthew M. Yalch, PhD | Palo Alto University

Alytia A. Levendosky, PhD | University of Michigan

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