The Structure of Narcissistic Personality: Adaptive and Maladaptive Dimensions as an Integrated Model of Narcissism

Open Access
Ansell, Emily B
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
July 29, 2005
Committee Members:
  • Aaron Lee Pincus, Committee Chair
  • Craig S Edelbrock, Committee Member
  • Elizabeth C Pinel, Committee Member
  • William Ray, Committee Member
  • narcissism
  • personality
  • multidimensional scaling
Across domains of research on personality there is a growing consensus that both adaptive and maladaptive conceptualizations of narcissistic characteristics are necessary to adequately understand narcissism. Recent attempts at integrating these various viewpoints of narcissism have led to the proposal of a single dimension on which pathological and normal variants of narcissism co-exist. However, this construction of narcissism assumes adaptive and maladaptive typologies are categorical in that they represent only a portion of this proposed narcissism continuum. The current study proposes an alternative two dimensional model of narcissism consisting of adaptive and maladaptive narcissism dimensions. In order to determine the structure of the narcissism construct, 982 participants completed a variety of personality self-report measures related to narcissism, self-esteem, dependency, shame, empathy, and personality organization. Principal components analysis confirmed previous findings that identified grandiose and vulnerable components across narcissism measures. Items were submitted for multidimensional scaling analysis to clarify questions regarding the structure of the two components and the congruence of the proposed model with item content. Results suggest that the best balance between descriptive parsimony and complexity is a two dimensional structure of narcissism consisting of adaptive and maladaptive dimensions which are theoretically congruent and consistent across analyses. The adaptive expressions of narcissism dimension ranges from confident self-esteem to hypersensitivity and dependency. The maladaptive expressions of narcissism dimension ranges from empathic understanding to aggression, entitlement, and exploitation. Overall, these results assert that the structure of narcissism requires two key elements to adequately describe the construct: 1) a dimensional approach to the spectrum of healthy and pathological narcissism, and 2) adaptive and maladaptive expressions of narcissism as separate and orthogonal dimensions integrated into a parsimonious but structurally meaningful space.