Narcissists vs. Rejection: Do grandiose narcissists react differently than vulnerable narcissists?

For some people, being rejected is one of the worst feelings ever. It instills strong feelings of self-doubt, makes them question their own choices, and has them wonder whether anyone truly cares about them.

At a certain point in life, we have all experienced the bitter taste of rejection. But when it happens to a narcissist, things can take a dramatic turn. 

Michal Weiss and Jonathan Huppert from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have recently conducted research on the way different types of narcissists reflect on being rejected. According to the psychologists, grandiose narcissists respond with “self-enhancement, dismissiveness, and devaluation of the source of threat.” Meanwhile, vulnerable narcissists start a cycle of self-depreciation and experience feelings of being victimized.

But what if the way they react to rejection reveals that grandiose narcissists are actually vulnerable narcissists in disguise? 

As Psychology Today notes, inwardly, those high in grandiose narcissism would respond to being excluded with the same levels of pain as those high in vulnerable narcissism. However, they would try to mask it with different outward behavior.

This could be explained by the Mask Model developed by the University of South Florida’s Jennifer Bosson and colleagues. According to the model, “the narcissist’s surface-level grandiosity masks deep-seated feelings of inferiority.” 

What Weiss and Huppert aimed to achieve through their study was to take that mask off and see what hides behind it.

So, what happened when the experts challenged the Mask Model?

The study initially examined the reactions of 1105 undergraduate participants. Only 120 of them were chosen to continue, based on how they scored on a standard measure of narcissism.

The respondents were given 16 ambiguous situations to react to. There were both positive and negative scenarios. The way the participants reacted to the situations revealed their interpretation bias(IB). For instance, how would you react if someone looks at you standing in an elevator – would you think they find you attractive or weird? In this example, your score would consist of your ratings to the attractive option vs. the weird one.

Furthermore, the psychologists used a method called “Cyberball”. Psychology Today explains:

“Imagine you think you’re playing a videogame involving ball-tossing with two other people. However, out of 50 ball tosses, only four of them give you a chance to throw the ball back, with the remaining 46 involving ball tosses between the other two people. In the control condition, you would see the game being played among three other participants and asked simply to count the number of tosses.”

Could grandiose narcissists be secretly hurt by rejection?

The study found that when it comes to outward reactions, grandiose narcissists had positive, while vulnerable narcissists had had negative explicit self-appraisals. However, considering inward reactions, there was no difference between the two groups.

When responding to rejection, vulnerable narcissists showed more negative implicit self-views. Being excluded made them feel inferior.

In the meantime, grandiose narcissists responded with a boost in their positive implicit views of themselves. The findings ended up being in direct contrast to the Mask Model.

Trying to explain the unexpected results, the experts looked through studies that are not based on the Mask Model. They discovered that perhaps grandiose narcissists showed a “healthy narcissistic manifestation,” in which they responded to a threat with “automatic positive self-appraisals that help regulate self-esteem.” This automatic response allows them to turn off incoming information that may affect their sense of self.

According to the authors, it is not possible to know what really happens in the minds of those high in grandiose narcissism. Although the Mask Model suggests there is more than meets the eye, this may not necessarily be the case. Or, at least, rejection may not be enough to stir up their strong sense of superiority.

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