Impulsivity and the Self-Defeating Behavior of Narcissists

24 Jul

narcissist personality and self defeating behaviorsNarcissists are a puzzle. Their bragging and arrogance interferes with the attainment of the status and recognition they so poignantly desire. Why do they continually undermine themselves in this way?

The research literature appears to have achieved some consensus about the nature of sub-clinical narcissism’ with respect to underlying cognitive, social, and affective processes (e.g., Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001).

The consensual model serves as a solid foundation for integrating narcissism research, and provides a partial explanation for narcissists’ perplexing behavior, but it relies heavily on conscious cognitive processes and omits an important category of explanatory variables: dispositions.

We shall argue that one possible key to the puzzle posed by narcissists’ behavior is that they are dispositionally impulsive: They lack the self-control necessary to inhibit the behaviors that thwart the attainment of their goals.

Narcissism is generally seen as deriving from an attempt to regulate and maintain unrealistically high levels of self-esteem (Raskin, Novacek, & Hogan, 1991b; Robins & John, 1997).

Narcissists’ self-views are on the one hand lofty (Paulhus & John, 1998), making it difficult for them to find affirmation, and on the other hand vulnerable or unstable (Jordan, Spencer, Zanna, Hoshino-Browne, & Correll, 2003), making such affirmation particularly important. This combination of arrogance and vulnerability is one of the paradoxes that 154 NARCISSISM AND IMPULSIVITY Morf and Rhodewalt (2001) addressed in their cognitive-affective processing model. As they and others argue (e.g., Westen, 1990), much of narcissists’ cognitive, affective, and behavioral responses are in the service of defending and affirming an unrealistic self-concept.

Cognitive-affective processing models (e.g., Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001) maintain that narcissists engage in ineffective or even counterproductive interpersonal strategies because they are insensitive to others’ concerns. In other words, although their behavior seems self-defeating to the outside observer, it is actually a deliberate, though ill-conceived, strategy that makes sense from the point of view of their internal subjective logic.

We propose a more parsimonious explanation for at least some of these self-defeating behaviors: The behaviors are not strategic at all, narcissists simply can’t help themselves. We propose that narcissists suffer from a dispositional lack of self-control (i.e., impulsivity, a concept closely akin to ego undercontrol; Block, 2002; Block & Block, 1980), and this contributes to their inability to meet the high self-regulatory demands of an inflated, unstable self-concept.

As a result, they are unable to successfully negotiate their social environments to obtain the recognition they crave. Many of narcissists’ behaviors may provide temporary immediate gratification of their desire for recognition, but it comes at the cost of long-term success—the classic framework of the concept of delay of gratification (e.g., Funder, Block & Block, 1983; Mischel & Ayduk, 2002).

Source: Vazire, S., & Funder, D. (2006). Impulsivity and the Self-Defeating Behavior of Narcissists. Personality & Social Psychology Review, 10(2), 154-165. doi:2006

continuing education for mental health professionals

Related Continuing Education Courses: 

Eliminating Self-Defeating Behaviors is a 4-hour online CE course. Self-defeating behaviors are negative on-going patterns of behaviors involving issues such as smoking, weight, inactive lifestyle, depression, anger, perfectionism, etc. This course is designed to teach concepts to eliminate these negative patterns. The course is educational: first you learn the model, then you apply it to a specific self-defeating behavior. A positive behavioral change is the outcome. Following the course, participants will be able to identify, analyze and replace their self-defeating behavior(s) with positive behavior(s). The course also provides an excellent psychological “tool” for clinicians to use with their clients. The author grants limited permission to photocopy forms and exercises included in this course for clinical use.

The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy is an 8-hour test only CE course. This CE test is based on the book “The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy: Healing the Social Brain” (2010, 460 pages), which provides an account of the scientific basis of psychotherapy, based on the newest revelations of neuroscience. Beginning with a neurological analysis of Freud’s theories, the author describes the functioning of the neurons and neural networks that comprise the biological basis of thinking and relationships. Chapters discuss research on anxiety, fear, trauma, neural plasticity, memory, executive functioning, identity, narrative, consciousness, and attachment relationships, interweaving the neuroscientific and clinical literature and providing clinical examples as illustrations of theory and technique. The final three chapters discuss the ability of psychotherapy to rewire the brain, including a review of the existing neuroimaging studies of psychotherapy. The book imparts a scientific understanding of just how and why psychotherapeutic processes have a positive impact on the nervous system.

Handbook of Clinical Psychopharmacology for Therapists, 7th Ed is a 6-hour test only CE course. This CE test is based on the book “Handbook of Clinical Psychopharmacology for Therapists, 7th Ed.” (2013, 369 pages), a highly readable text that has become the go-to resource for thousands of mental health clinicians seeking a reliable and easy-to-reference resource detailing the indications, contraindications, and side effects of psychopharmaceuticals. Organized by disorder and, within each disorder, by medication, this book is a vital addition to any clinician’s bookshelf. An overview of neurobiology is presented which provides a foundation for the discussions of pharmacology and both adult and childhood disorders are explored. This seventh edition includes an important new chapter on withdrawing from psychopharmacological medications that will prove useful for therapists seeking to help their clients change medication or stop taking a psychopharmacological medication. An extensive appendix and sidebars throughout the text provide additional information and discussion.

Therapy with Coerced and Reluctant Clients is a 6 hour test only CE course. This CE test is based on the book “Therapy with Coerced and Reluctant Clients” (2010, 233 pages). In this book, Brodsky examines the difficulties faced by therapists who work with involuntary clients including those who come to therapy through the judicial system. He addresses the challenges faced when working with reluctant clients including problem employees and teenagers or spouses persuaded to enter therapy. By looking at theory and research, Brodsky begins the process of considering alternatives to asking questions. He then identifies interventions and techniques that use assertive statements instead of asking questions to better address patient issues. Brodsky ends by exploring ways to work with client hostility, scorn and avoidance using case-studies as examples.

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Posted by on July 24, 2015 in General


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