- Long-standing theories have suggested high self-esteem (SE) can assume qualitatively different forms that are related to defensiveness. The authors explored whether some high-SE individuals are particularly defensive because they harbor negative self-feelings at less conscious levels, indicated by low implicit SE. In Study 1, participants high in explicit SE but low in implicit SE showed the highest levels of narcissism--an indicator of defensiveness. In Studies 2 and 3, the correspondence between implicit and explicit SE predicted defensive behavior (in-group bias in Study 2 and dissonance reduction in Study 3), such that for high explicit-SE participants, those with relatively low implicit SE behaved more defensively. These results are consistent with the idea that high SE can be relatively secure or defensive.