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Pathological Narcissism and Acute Anxiety Symptoms After Trauma: A Study of Israeli Civilians Exposed to War

Published Online:https://doi.org/10.1521/psyc.2013.76.4.381

Objective: Diathesis-stress models of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) hypothesize that exposure to trauma may interact with individual differences in the development of PTSD. Previous studies have not assessed immediate responses to a proximate stressor, but the current “natural laboratory” study was designed to empirically test the role that individual differences in pathological narcissism may play in the development of acute anxiety symptoms among civilians facing rocket and missile fire. Method: We assessed demographic features, trauma exposure severity, narcissistic personality features, and acute anxiety symptoms (PTSD and General Anxiety Disorder [GAD]) among 342 Israeli female adults during the November 2012 eruption of violence in the Middle East. Results: Results demonstrate an association between exposure severity and acute anxiety symptoms (both PTSD and GAD) for individuals with high levels of pathological narcissism but not for those with low levels of pathological narcissism. These results suggest that individuals with narcissistic personality features are at high risk for the development of acute anxiety symptoms following exposure to uncontrollable and life-threatening mass trauma. Conclusion: The findings underscore the role of intra-personal resources in the immediate psychological aftermath of war by highlighting the increased risk associated with narcissistic personality features. Theoretical and clinical implications of the findings are discussed.