Get in Touch With Your Hidden Narcissist 1

How to Make Your Implicit Self-Esteem Work For You

by Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D.

When we think of narcissism, we think of the clinical condition in which people show excessive levels of such qualities as self-love, grandiosity, and entitlement. Many true narcissists become enraged when other people fail to recognize and admire them because they expect that everyone thinks as highly of them as they do of themselves. However, some people with narcissistic personality disorder base their desire for attention on an overly low sense of self-esteem. Though the causes are different, the results are the same in that these individuals constantly seek attention, have overly shallow relationships, and exploit the people they know.

Narcissism can stem from a number of sources, particularly when it’s of the non-pathological form. Egocentrism, the tendency to see things from your own point of view, can lead you to engage in narcissistic behaviors in which you develop blinders to the needs of other people. Apart from this cognitive distortion, we also have a biased tendency to value the things that are ours more than the things that belong to other people. This bias leads us to engage in the irrational behavior called the endowment effect in which you place greater value on things you already own than the things you don’t have in your possession. Experiments on buying and selling behavior show that people will demand a higher price from a buyer for, say a CD they already own, than they’re willing to pay to purchase the exact same CD to add it to their collection. This is an example of the more general mere ownership effect. We value the things we own because we see them as an extension of our own identity.

The fact that we endow our possessions with greater value because they’re ours is just one example of everyday, healthy, narcissism. A little bit of self-love is good for our self-esteem. Loving the things we own is one form of this expression of healthy self-esteem. Often, we’re not even aware of just how much we hold these inherently positive views of ourselves. These unconscious views, known as implicit self-esteem, often differ radically from our explicit self-esteem, in which we state outright how we feel about ourselves. People may rate their self-esteem as average or even low on a standard self-rating questionnaire with questions such as “On the whole, I feel satisfied with myself.” However, their implicit self-esteem may reveal quite a different picture.

Try this out for yourself.

The following 10 questions are from one of the most widely-used self-esteem tests currently in use, the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (R-SES). Rate each question on a 4-point scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree:

1. On the whole I am satisfied with myself.
2. At times I think that I am no good at all.
3. I feel that I have a number of good qualities.
4. I am able to do things as well as most other people.
5. I feel I do not have much to be proud of.
6. I certainly feel useless at times.
7. I feel that I am a person of worth, at least the equal of others.
8. I wish I could have more respect for myself.
9. All in all, I am inclined to feel that I am a failure.
10. I take a positive attitude toward myself.

Now you’re going to take another test. This one measures your liking of certain letters. To take the test, please get out a new sheet of paper and follow these instructions:

  1. Write down all the letters of the alphabet vertically in a column on the left of the sheet of paper.
  2. Next to each letter, provide a rating of 1 to 4 with 1= dislike very much and 4= like very much.
  3. Now write across the top of your paper the letters “IYFN,” “IYLN,” “NIYFN,” and “NIYLN” creating four columns. These letters stand for “In Your First Name,” “In Your Last Name,” “Not in Your First Name,” and “Not in Your      Last Name.”
  4. Compute your average letter ratings for the four columns.


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