We’ve all known that person — the status-obsessed, success-seeker who can’t seem to focus on anything but themself. They’re easy to spot, as they always find ways to shoehorn their success or particular situation into a conversation. It’s often infuriating, and always a little frustrating. You may assume it’s unmatched self-esteem that causes a person to build a pedestal for themself. But big egos usually have a lot more to do with insecurity than confidence. As no one wants to be that guy, it’s good to keep yourself in check.
While they may seem similar, confidence and egotism are fundamentally different — and it’s one that’s crucial to remember.
“Confidence means you’re secure, and egotism means you’re not,” says Nick Bognar, a California-based therapist. If you’re truly confident, you’re assured that you’re a valuable person, without regard for what others think (or whether other people are better or worse than you). Egotism is the opposite because it revolves around others, and according to Bognar, is usually rooted in low self-esteem. If you’re egotistical, you attempt to boost your self-esteem by putting everyone else below you and doing your very best to maintain your position at the top — even at the cost of relationships.
Wondering if you might be toeing the line between confidence and egotism? Here’s what you need to know about how to identify egotism in yourself and others and how to overcome it, according to therapists.
Signs of an Egotistical Person
The first thing to know: Those with oversized egos only seem confident, but the act is a thin veil over some deep-rooted insecurity. To maintain their shaky self-image, egotistical people hinge their entire sense of self on others. Grace Dowd, a therapist in Austin, TX, says egotistical people feed on external validation and live to hear from others how great they are. Because their whole identities focus on maintaining this ideal, egotistical people are usually not willing to hear or accept any negative feedback; they may respond by inciting conflict, either blaming the other person or putting them down.
Even when absent of direct criticism, Bognar says people with big egos see others’ success as a threat. They don’t congratulate others for their achievements or even acknowledge someone’s success, because they see success as a zero-sum game — only one person can be the best, and it’s always going to be them. Egotistical people also act majorly entitled. “They see someone else’s success, and they think, ‘it should have been mine,’” Bognar says.
Healthy relationships are hard, if not impossible, as long as someone’s egotistical. “If you constantly need to be above other people, then you will be very hard to relate to and like,” says Bognar. Because egotistical people are constantly jockeying for the best position, they’re difficult to work with on a team — they might even ditch the collaboration altogether to do it themselves.
It’s also tough to connect with an egotistical person emotionally. Even if you build some semblance of a relationship, it’s hard to maintain trust when someone’s constantly putting you down or ignoring your feedback. Those with outsized egos, per Dowd, are also gaslighters who blame others for mistakes, which can also tear apart personal and professional relationships.
How to Overcome Egotism
If you think you may be inching toward egotism, start by asking yourself a few of the following questions (and be honest in your answers).
- Do you notice yourself burning bridges with people, or that it’s tough to keep up long-term relationships?
- Is it hard for you to accept responsibility for your actions, and do you frequently deflect onto other people?
- Do you see success as a zero-sum game and pursue achievement and recognition above all else?
If your answer is yes to any of those questions, Dowd says it’s a great time to start making some changes to your thinking and actions.
Kendall Phillips, a therapist in Deer Park, TX, suggests working to become more comfortable with admitting your weaknesses.
“Acknowledging weaknesses doesn’t mean you’re flawed, but that there are areas of yourself you’d like to work on,” she says. “Use your strengths to improve those areas.”
It’s also a good idea to work on finding and expressing things you like about other people, Bognar says, and helping people who probably won’t thank you or recognize you for it. As you make these changes, pay attention to how they affect your relationships — the positive momentum may motivate you to keep growing.
As egotism is often rooted in low self-esteem, Dowd says it’s helpful to work with a therapist to get to the root of your insecurity and deal with the deeper issue. Therapy also helps reveal what triggers egotistical behavior and how to arrive at healthier responses.
“Change doesn’t happen overnight,” says Dowd. “But with support and effort, you can move from egotism to true confidence, which will only benefit your relationships.”