big deal

ARROGANCE is one of seven basic character flaws or “dark” personality traits. We all have the potential for arrogant tendencies, but in people with a strong fear of showing ordinary vulnerability, Arrogance can become a dominant pattern.

What is arrogance?

Arrogance means “bigging yourself up”—whether publicly or just inside your own mind. Often it involves knocking others down at the same time.

It is generally defined as:

The act or habit of making undue claims in an overbearing manner;

that species of pride which consists in exorbitant claims of rank, dignity, estimation, or power, or which exalts the worth or importance of the person to an undue degree;

proud contempt of others. [1]

Other names for arrogance are: egotism, conceit, grandiosity, and self-importance.

Ancient Greek literature refers to hubris, a form of arrogance in which a person thinks himself to be higher in status than other ordinary mortals. In other words, a god.

As with the opposite chief feature of self-deprecation, arrogance is a way of manipulating others’ perceptions of yourself in order to avoid taking a “hit” to your self-esteem. In this case, however, the basic strategy is to get others to see you as special, perfect or flawless — diverting attention from your ordinary imperfections, weaknesses and failings — and thereby keeping your self-esteem artificially inflated.

Components of arrogance

Like all chief features, arrogance involves the following components:

  1. Early negative experiences
  2. Misconceptions about the nature of self, life or others
  3. A constant fear and sense of insecurity
  4. A maladaptive strategy to protect the self
  5. A persona to hide all of the above in adulthood

Early Negative Experiences

In the case of arrogance, the early negative experiences typically consist of disapproval or outright criticism from significant others, especially the parents but also siblings and others.

All infants are born with a natural desire for love, care and attention. Ideally, these are readily available and given unconditionally. Generally, though, life is imperfect and young children experience some degree of harshness or deprivation in their upbringing.

An infant believes the world revolves around him. It’s all about me. This is quite normal, and the average child will move beyond that stage by recognizing that they are a part of a family, that there are others in the world, and that it is better to consider what others want rather than be completely self-centered.

In some cases, though, a child can get stuck in needing to put me first. Sometimes, a child’s ability to receive love, care, attention, etc. has to be competed for and is conditional upon her being a certain way and/or not being some other way. Alternatively, she may receive equal measures of love and antagonism, or care and neglect, or attention and abandonment. She will then want to figure out which aspects of herself trigger which reactions.

Perhaps the most typical scenario is one of sibling rivalry, where the children must compete for the parents’ attention, approval and affection. Children in this kind of set-up soon realise that the rewards and punishments given out by their parents are a direct result of how the parents perceive their children—and those perceptions can be manipulated.

The way to compete, then, is to manipulate the parents’ perceptions by highlighting or exaggerating the other kids’ faults while apparently being “the good one”.

All of this, of course, is a very common childhood experience—which is why arrogance is a very common character flaw.


From such experiences of competition, disapproval and conditional love, the child comes to perceive her well-being as dependent upon others’ perceptions:

My well-being in life depends upon how others see me.


As a result of this misconception, the child becomes gripped by an entrenched fear of her vulnerability to negative perceptions—

Being vulnerable to any kind of criticism or disapproval is bad for me.

Any perceived weakness, failing or imperfection in me is contemptible and unacceptable.

If I show any of my real weaknesses, failings or imperfections, it could be disastrous.

Hence, showing vulnerability in the eyes of others becomes unacceptable and frightening.


The basic strategy for coping with this fear of vulnerability to others’ perceptions is to manipulate others’ perceptions—to ensure that there is never anything for them to disapprove of or criticise.

I must draw attention only to my winning qualities.

I must never show my real self, which I know to be imperfect and weak and flawed.

I must always appear to be “better” in some way than my rivals.

Typically this involves:
  • drawing attention to and exaggerating one’s own strengths, successes and specialness while diminishing, hiding and denying one’s own weaknesses, failings and ordinariness;
  • drawing attention to and exaggerating others’ weaknesses, failings and ordinariness while diminishing, hiding and denying their strengths, successes and specialness.

The most primitive form of this is blatant, shameless boastfulness combined with outright derision of others to their faces. “I’m better than you, so there.” The individual hopes that if she says it often enough the world will just agree and there will be no more competition. This is impossible, of course.


It is unacceptable to be too obviously arrogant and manipulative in most adult settings. Just going around bragging is “against the rules” in most social circles — though a number of rap artists make a good living out of expressing this form of arrogance.

A more subtle form of the arrogance strategy is to point to evidence which, hopefully, will lead others to reach the right conclusion by themselves. Hence the chief feature of arrogance puts on a mask which quietly says to the world, “I’m not being arrogant. I’m not saying I’m better than you. It’s just that…” Arrogance keeps up the same message, typically by telling true stories which indirectly convey yet more evidence of one’s own specialness and wonderfulness. “I’ve had such a hard day! Silly people won’t stop calling me just to say how much they like my new book.”

There is no better lie than a lie based on truth. The mask of arrogance likes to surround itself with “truths” which reinforce the image of invulnerability.

And if the individual should find himself in an actual position of superior status or power, the chief feature goes to town. In his book The Hubris Syndrome: Bush, Blair and the Intoxication of Power the British politician David Owen argues that President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair developed a “Hubristic Syndrome” while in power, particularly in their handling of the Iraq War.

All people are capable of this kind of behaviour. When it dominates the personality, however, one is said to have a chief feature of arrogance.

A d v e r t i s e m e n t

Positive and Negative Poles

Arrogance, like all character flaws, is inherently negative. Nevertheless, it still has the potential for a positive outcome.

The positive outcome of arrogance is PRIDE, while the more negative outcomes can be referred to as VANITY.

+ pride +




– vanity –

Pride is a state of self-esteem and perceived self-worth which may or may not be exaggerated. Ideally, it is a state in which you recognise your own good qualities in their own right, rather than exaggerating your good qualities to mask or deny your vulnerabilities.

The development of positive self-esteem must focus on lasting and enduring qualities. It must consider uniqueness as opposed to specialness.

Carolyn Warnemuende, Self-esteem or narcissism?

Vanity is a state of excessive, unjustified pride—an obsessive tendency to compare oneself favourably against others, or to regard one’s own positive abilities or attractiveness as evidence of being above the common herd. This can manifest as egotism: constantly acting out of an inflated sense of self; it can also manifest as narcissism: treating others as nothing but mirrors whose job is to affirm one’s superiority.

PrinceLOvesexy 400

In Biblical terms, vanity was often symbolized by the Whore of Babylon. During the Renaissance, vanity was represented as a naked woman combing her hair in front of a mirror held by a demon or cherub. An alternative symbol of preening vanity is the peacock.

The term vanity originates from the Latin word vanitas meaning emptiness, untruthfulness, futility, foolishness. The phrase Omnia Vanitas (“All is Vanity”) refers to the ultimate futility of our self-centered efforts in this world. This aspect of vanity (as the displacement of spiritual concerns with material concerns) is often symbolized in art by the image of a skull.

All Is Vanity

… unhealthy self-esteem, as in narcissism, refers to insensitivity to others, with excessive preoccupation with the self and one’s own image and appearance in the eyes of others.

Dr. Lilian Katz (Distinctions between Self-Esteem and Narcissism)

While most people possess some degree of narcissistic traits, extreme levels of narcissism can be dysfunctional and may be classified as narcissistic personality disorder.

See also my blog post: Are narcissists as attractive as they believe?



Further Reading

Transforming Your Dragons

For an excellent book about the various negative patterns and how to handle them, see Transforming Your Dragons by José Stevens.

The 7 archetypes of fear - cover

Another great book about the seven character flaws, recently translated from the original German: The Seven Archetypes of Fear, by Varda Hasselmann and Frank Schmolke.

The Seven Chief Features

Self-Deprecation | Self-Destruction | Martyrdom

| Stubbornness |

Greed | Arrogance | Impatience

40 Responses to “Arrogance”

  1. 1 brian 07 Sep 2011 at 6:48 pm

    Just wanted to post the correct Arrogance link, I found it:

    • 2 barry 07 Sep 2011 at 6:52 pm

      Ah, thanks Brian

      • 3 barry 07 Sep 2011 at 7:05 pm

        Wait — that links only to a discussion about the article. The article itself — and, I note, all other links to Michael material — appear to have been taken down. Strange………..

  2. 4 brian 07 Sep 2011 at 7:02 pm

    Hi Barry, though I see now that it’s just comments on the article…the actual article link seems to still be missing. Sorry. Love this site.

    • 5 barry 07 Dec 2011 at 10:49 pm

      Aha – the material channelled by Karen Murphy has moved to a different site. See

      I have update the links above in the article.

  3. 6 miriamspia 24 Jul 2012 at 1:54 pm

    For some reason Prince – that musician, is allowed to behave the way he does. He must be really good or something…he might be adored or a bit spoiled or just compensated for his efforts.

    • 7 barry 24 Jul 2012 at 2:01 pm

      He is certainly talented. I suspect a lot of famous artists have an exalted self-image that seems (to them) to be confirmed by their talent and success, so it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy. If success is what you’re after, arrogance isn’t so bad! But it does get in the way of other things like authenticity, intimacy, etc.

  4. 8 livzeng9 11 Jan 2013 at 4:45 pm

    is it possible for a person to have arrogance in the childhood, early stage of adolescence(having the same fear as what you’ve stated above) and end up with self-depreciating(low self esteem, afraid to show adequacy, disbelieve and avoid being praise, love to suprise others with adequacy) with some amount of arrogance(still cares about how others percieve him or her, sometimes still believe he or she is better than other colleagues when they’ve achieve something) in the late stage of adolescence, pre-adult stage?
    Does failure in one’s life changes these?

    • 9 barry 11 Jan 2013 at 5:45 pm

      Yes, certainly. A child might show an early habit of attention-seeking and self-importance, for example (“Look at me everyone”). At such a young age, though, it isn’t used as a secret ploy to avoid anxiety as it might be in adolescence/adulthood; rather, it is simply a habit. It could develop into full-blown arrogance later on, if the person feels the fear of vulnerability and decides they need to control how they come across to others. On the other hand, the same child might have different types of harsh, negative experiences as they grow up, such as failure, (whether at school, in relationships, whatever). And this would trigger the primal fear of being a born failure (inadequate), and of being seen as such. It’s also possible for both to happen – to end up with both arrogance and aelf-deprecation. In that case, one pattern would be more outwardly expressed and the other would be more inwardly felt.
      (I hope that makes sense!)

  5. 10 Cindy m 14 Jan 2013 at 5:14 pm

    Well, what does it mean about we who choose these arrogant types as partners? Looking back…two former husbands, and now engaged to one who seems to fall into the Pack..what does it say about me who is attracted to these types and later sees,it for what it is ?

    • 11 barry 16 Jan 2013 at 8:49 am

      Hi Cindy

      One of the things that attracts us to certain others is that they possess something we feel that we lack — or, rather, they are in touch with something in themselves that we are overlooking or even denying within ourselves: power, love, beauty, intelligence, etc. Sometimes it’s simply a case of opposites attract, but sometimes it’s a way of not taking responsibility for our own weak points. For example, if we have been brought up to be totally selfless and always putting others first, we might be drawn to someone who seems really selfish. Either we hope a bit of it will “rub off”, or possibly it is a kind of displacement — if *they* have it, we can forget about its absence within ourselves.

      Another possibility in strange attractions is that we are subconsciously continuing an argument with, say, one of our parents or possibly one of our siblings. We see something in another person that reminds us of, say, our father, and we feel drawn to them because we have unfinished business with dad — we still feel upset about his unreasonableness, or we want to prove him wrong. In this case, the partner we are attracted to is unwittingly playing a role in our own mental drama.

      In the case of being attracted to arrogant men, these are all possibilities and I can’t say which if any applies. Again, it could simply be a case of opposites attract (are you quite self-effacing?. Or, it could be that perhaps you are not in touch with a sense of pride within yourself. Or it could be that you have an ongoing drama with someone earlier in your life who was massively arrogant, vain, or narcissistic, and you are casting these men in that same role to give you a character to react against.

      These are just possibilities, but it might be worth your while exploring them to see if anything “chimes”.


      • 12 Jamie 28 Mar 2013 at 2:05 pm

        I have been involved in three long-term relationships and can verify that men are conditioned, through our social institutions, to feel a sense of entitlement. Lundy Bancroft’s book, ‘Why Does He Do That:Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men’ is the best book I have ever read as it defines what ails mankind. Bancroft calls it misogyny and he is absolutely correct. There is a real lack of sharing and equality on Earth so most intimate relationships have no foundation of balance.

        I have studied Astrology for 12 years, and have ongoing experiences with Guides and other beings that have helped me to remember who I truly am, and can say, without a doubt in my mind, that we are all pure energy and incarnate for the purpose of spiritual evolution. We carry over, from lifetime to lifetime, certain infantile or negative personality traits that are to be diligently worked on, but, when one is born into a a world that has a warped value system it makes it all the more difficult for a person to positively express their true nature. I do not want to make it sound as though we have only negative traits. To the contrary, we have positive traits as well coupled with inner wisdom but these traits can be subdued by the channeling of energy. What I mean is that those who are in postions of power and influence can direct our energy to suit their intentions or negative desires.
        In a world that values the physical and material aspect of living above caring, sharing, compassion and empathy then arrogance and narcissism become the prominent features of such a negative society.

        We are under the influence of a massive spiritual deception here on Earth by those we have either placed in power or supported with our time, money and energy. We must move away from this current society as it has no intrinsic value to anyone.

        I shared your article on James Tracy’s blog as it is much needed at this time of entropy. Thank you for the illumination that you provide for your fellow traveler.

        In Gratitude,

        • 13 barry 28 Mar 2013 at 2:11 pm

          Many thanks, Jamie.

      • 14 Lisa 04 Jan 2015 at 2:37 am

        It’s arrogant women that are the most attractive, especially, the silent, nonchalant, cold ice queens. Men are expected to work hard for them.

  6. 15 john jones 18 Mar 2013 at 4:58 pm

    i love myself

  7. 16 Jim 07 May 2013 at 2:47 pm

    I love myself I am fantastic, call it what you will

    • 17 barry 07 May 2013 at 3:14 pm

      Ok, I’ll call it … Refreshingly honest :-)

  8. 18 TIRED OF THE CRAP 01 Jun 2013 at 6:14 pm

    Now you guys please tell me your opinions on my situation. I been with this single father that has 2 kids for 2 1/2 years. His oldest son being now 7 1/2 and his youngest girl being 2 1/2. Which they both have adhd and other problems kind of unknown because their mom and dad both have a range of problems ….they are both on ssi. There dad also got shot in the head and survived possibly messing with some of his nerves just a couple he acts fine occasionally if he’s not angry. So his son is spending alot of time at grandmas so its just me , him , my 3 1/2 girl ,his 2 1/2 girl , and our daughter together whom is 7 months in the house . He wants me to raise the girls so this is a problem not because i don’t want to he just gets into arguments about his daughter with me sometimes.He raised her well both of his kids mostly by his self the youngest wines for everything, anything,anywhere loudly. He can’t control her crying until after he hollers 2 or 3 times then threaten her 2 to 3 times any opinions pls

  9. 19 Elvin 05 Jun 2013 at 1:52 pm

    Very interesting! The ways of man could not have been explained in a more better way! TRUTH!!

  10. 20 Brad 03 Jul 2013 at 11:53 pm

    I think it is important to remember that people going through this are partly blind, and that they really need a fair deal of kindness, which can be exceedingly difficult to show to someone whom you would think needs to be put in their place. I think that one of the key aspects of this, is that there is an underlying fear, and thus a great sensitivity. While the person may never admit it, if you are strong and fortunate enough in circumstance to see this narcissistic behavior, then perhaps it is your duty to show grace and mercy around it….and to slowly “revive” or educate the afflicted person. Be kind. And hopefully things will even out for everyone.

    • 21 Eleni 24 Jul 2013 at 10:15 am

      Lovely article, first of all. I completely agree with the perception you describe in this comment that basically people need love the most when they deserve it the least. People spread hurt if they are overflowing with it. It takes great strength to actually keep this in mind and you know….in a way I have been truly arrogant believing that I have enough love to help people with the behaviour you describe in your article. Not easy, but definitely worth an effort up to the point that we can cope. The “worth” bit can only be subjective.
      The other thing is that we are all on our own level of consciousness. We cannot expect a baby to walk, just because that is what it is meant to do ultimately. We may act with love and the intention to help one heal him/herself (we cannot do this for others, just help), but cannot have the expectation it will work. Remember it is often a painful thing to have to face the characteristics we do not like in ourselves and change or accept them. We do not all get ready for this at the same stage in life and it requires a humbleness that arrogant people find difficult to reach as they actually even convince themselves about the reality of their persona.
      There is also tough love of course.. Walt Disney said that sometimes a kick in the teeth is the best thing that can happen to you. So if we actually get sick of a situation involving an arrogant person it is not a bad thing to actually, metaphorically of course, kick them in the teeth. We have a self-worth to balance and arrogant people you give to with the best of intentions can often treat you as a doormat. Plus a bit of humiliation is actually a good thing if it leads to being humble. The “kick” must be done with grace and only grace and with the best intention for both parties. It must be based on love and self worth for both parties rather than be an arrogant reaction to arrogance.
      I am in no way qualified in psychology or anything and may be talking rubbish. This is just my perception of things, at least at the moment.

      • 22 barry 24 Jul 2013 at 9:16 pm

        Many thanks, Eleni

  11. 23 Xenotime 13 Aug 2013 at 8:01 pm

    After zis article I understandt zat I’m arrogant as scheiße.

    • 24 barry 28 Jan 2015 at 6:13 pm

      Goes wizzout saying.

  12. 25 sincerely 16 Sep 2013 at 5:31 pm

    It’s hard for me to understand why someone who grows up this way and becomes a Christian doesn’t perceive this happened to them and continues in this behavior even as a Christian knowing it’s not what the Bible teaches. I have a relative who does this while doing it, denying he does it. I don’t even like to say anything to him in casual talk because it always turns into a he is better than me or others. Even small talk like if I ask how is the weather? He responds, mine is better than yours. Or says you wouldn’t ask if you were up on things. It’s so condescending, I don’t even want to say hello. I just don’t get the haughty attitudes over such small issues as if to say no matter what I personally say, In his mind, it means nothing because it’s not him saying it. And what I say, is of zero value. If a person thinks this low of everyone, why bother speaking to anyone since you place your value above the rest.! It’s strange in my opinion.

    • 26 barry 28 Jan 2015 at 6:16 pm

      Basically he feels extremely vulnerable, but doesn’t acknowledge it even to himself. That’s a measure of his maturity, if you like.

  13. 27 DOM 26 Oct 2013 at 11:22 am

    Arrogance is my chief feature. This was channeled, but also fits. All the fears related to this feature, hiding who I am, etc., all of this depicts me. However, I do not have the behavior of criticizing and devaluing others (except often inside my head, but I keep it to myself and try to combat it, and have it cease). For years I had the habit of deprecating myself, so just others could not do it thereafter (a strange strategy to escape criticism). So, I think one can be arrogant in a subtle way, not necessarily in being unpleasant to others. After all, some people told me that they did like me, seeing me as non-judgmental. And in fact, all of my failure in this life, told me that I could not afford to criticize others and blame them for their faults, when myself am so lacking. Now, no doubt if my life had been stunningly financially successful, I would be insufferable.

  14. 28 flynnwalker100 02 Oct 2014 at 7:18 am

    I am arrogant. I go through cycles of loving myself and hating myself. I view myself and others very critically, or obsess over them and think they are perfect. How can I find middle ground?

    • 29 barry 28 Jan 2015 at 6:22 pm

      Look at the whole process of comparing self vs other. Ultimately it has no meaning. It’s like comparing your left hand and your right hand to decide which one is the greatest. We are all in this together.

  15. 30 Debbie 09 Oct 2014 at 12:31 pm

    flynnwalker100-I suggest you join a 12 step group and meet others you can talk to to help you with those problems on a daily basis. In general, I do re-framing in my own brain (an idea I got from others). I tell my mind to be quiet and to remember that none of us are perfect and none totally flawed.

  16. 31 Anonymous 05 Jan 2015 at 11:50 am

    Sigh… I know someone who constantly complains about his achievements (or lack thereof) to me. I never know how to respond. If he fails to reach his standards and I fail to reach him, then he is indirectly making me feel stupid. Every time he does it, I’m so surprised by his own egotism that I can never handle the situation effectively and instead resort to stuttering (and then I usually just walk away).

    • 32 barry 06 Jan 2015 at 7:58 am

      If I’ve understood correctly, then it could be a mix of self-destruction and arrogance. First he sets himself exacting standards which are virtually impossible to achieve, so repeated experiences of “failure” are inevitable. But then after berating himself in front of you, he sets out to eliminate the risk of you confirming or exposing his failure by making you feel a worse failure. Is that it?

  17. 33 Oliver 28 Jan 2015 at 12:38 pm

    I think this chief feature is probably the most common. It’s mine, but interestingly I didn’t immediately think it was mine. I only realized it was mine after failing a test that I’d arrogantly assumed I’d pass without much studying (pride comes before a fall!).

    Before that happened I thought I had self-deprecation as a chief feature. And I wonder if we naturally tend to believe that the more self-sacrificial sounding chief features (self-deprecation, martyrdom) are ours, rather than the egotistical sounding ones (arrogance, impatience). Self-deprecation sounds virtuous, humble, sympathetic. Arrogance just sounds bad.

    So the self-deprecation page has over 4 times as many comments as this page. It’s a bit like how the young soul page doesn’t have many comments with people saying that’s who they are, unlike the mature and old soul pages. Maybe quite a few of the people who think they are old souls are young souls with arrogance as a chief feature? That’s possibly true of myself, but I don’t want to admit that cos it’s so ego bruising.

    • 34 barry 28 Jan 2015 at 6:28 pm

      Self-deprecation might SOUND virtuous in public, but it sucks like hell in private. Having battled Self-deprecation my whole life, my current feeling is that I would rather have Arrogance.

      Of course, I might say the exact opposite in my next life!

      • 35 Oliver 29 Jan 2015 at 11:04 am

        Oh sure. I didn’t say it was good, just that if we’re considering what our essence/age/overleaves are, we need to watch for biases. Our chief feature, or what’s really causing us to mess up in life, won’t usually be obvious.

        I thought I had self-deprecation partly because I tend to talk in that understated, “British” way of saying sorry a lot and saying I’m not very good at things. But I have a tendency to think I can pass exams easily without studying, learn things in a day and be an expert, etc (yes I’m a scholar!). So it’s actually arrogance that’s causing problems in my life.

        My point was that it’s quite hard to really see our chief feature clearly. It’s hidden from us. If I actually had self-deprecation, I might not have gone for that exam even after loads of studying because I wouldn’t have felt confident.

  18. 36 barbara 03 Mar 2015 at 11:56 pm

    How do you best deal with someone who shows chronic excessive arrogance? I’m the one he puts down.

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