Perceived Control Theory of Narcissism

  • Ashley A. Hansen-BrownEmail author


The concepts of grandiose and vulnerable narcissism present a puzzling enigma: how can the key features of narcissism (i.e., entitlement, self-centeredness, and low empathy) manifest into such different subtypes? Past work shows that grandiose narcissists are arrogant, dominating, and manipulative self-enhancers, whereas vulnerable narcissists are hypersensitive, distrustful, and neurotic self-doubters (e.g., Miller et al., 2011; Wink, 1991). In this chapter, I propose a new perspective to explain why grandiose and vulnerable narcissists share a narcissistic core but otherwise exhibit vastly different characteristics. Specifically, I propose that their diverging characteristics and behaviors stem from a difference in perceived control. Much previous research has shown that people are motivated to view the world around them as predictable and controllable, and that perceiving high controls tends to be beneficial and perceiving low control tends to be detrimental (e.g., Abramson et al., 1978; Langer and Rodin, 1976). According to the Perceived Control Theory of Narcissism (PCTN), grandiose narcissists have high perceived control over their own outcomes, the behavior of others, and the world around them, whereas vulnerable narcissists’ perceived control over these domains is low. In this chapter, I outline how past research supports perceived control as a differentiating feature between grandiose and vulnerable narcissists, including how differences in perceived control account for the narcissistic subtypes’ other divergent characteristics. I also outline implications of the PCTN, including the theory’s ability to explain conflicting research findings and to generate new predictions to aid researchers, lay-people, and mental health practitioners in better understanding trait narcissism.


Grandiose narcissism Vulnerable narcissism Perceived control Self-esteem Agency Close relationships 


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bridgewater State UniversityBridgewaterUSA

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