I encountered a pregnant concept in Edwin Locke's article "The Educational, Psychological, and Philosophical Assault on Self-Esteem" in the most recent issue of The Objective Standard. Since it's only available to subscribers, here's the relevant quote:
A third type of defense is the use of defense values. A defense value is a personal attribute or aspiration that one uses to gain the illusion of self-esteem. The value itself may be irrational (e.g., the approval of others, sexual conquest, the ability to manipulate people, power-seeking), or it may be a legitimate value that one holds in a distorted way (e.g., intelligence). A person who holds intelligence as a defense value may, for example, seek compulsively to prove to others that he is smart, react with anger or anxiety if he meets someone who seems to be smarter than he is, avoid situations where his intellectual superiority might be threatened, boast of his genius, and/or scorn those who are less intelligent than he is. Defense values are not always held in the form of actual traits that one possesses; they may also be held in the form of aspirations—aspirations which one has no capacity to achieve and/or takes no action to achieve (e.g., becoming a great novelist, businessman, or singer). Defense values are held in a kind of desperate, compulsive manner, as though they were a matter of life or death—which, in a perverse way, they are, considering that they are used as a substitute for real self-esteem. Achieving defense values temporarily lowers anxiety but does not lead to happiness.
The only problem with the notion is that it could easily be overused. That's a problem with psychologizing in general: there's a subtle line between pretentious and well-read that only becomes obvious with time and observation.
Postscript: Dr. Locke offers this footnote to the passage quoted above: "The concept of defense values was first identified by Dr. Allan Blumenthal." Does anyone know where that identification was made? To my knowledge, Blumenthal has only published in the periodicals associated contemperaneously with Ayn Rand.