How To Spot an Egotistical Personality—And Protect Yourself From It

Photo: Getty Images/Valentin Casarsa
Fun fact: Baby boomers, despite loving to blame all problems on millennials, were once known as the “me generation” for their self-involvement. But turns out, caring only about yourself transcends generations in the form of the egotistical personality. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), egotism is a personality trait where someone has “excessive conceit or a preoccupation with one’s own importance.” Egotistical people tend to be extremely self-centered, immature, and constantly in need of validation. (It makes sense why Kanye West had the supporting lyric on the remix of Beyoncé’s song “Ego” back in the day…) These people can be hard to be around, particularly if you live with them or have to work together.

“The egotist is unabashedly talking about themselves, praising themselves, really into themselves." —Benu Lahiry, LMFT, therapist

Of course, not everyone who demonstrates the slightest inkling of self-indulgence (ahem, your normally kind, helpful sister-in-law becoming a Bridezilla before her wedding) has an egotistical personality or a narcissistic personality disorder. “Just because a person is super self-focused doesn’t necessarily mean they’re egotistical,” says clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, PhD, the New York Times bestselling author of It’s Not You: Identifying and Healing From Narcissistic People. “There could be something else going on. It really does sometimes require the soft touch of a mental health practitioner to get to the core of exactly what is happening when someone is completely self-focused.”

Experts In This Article

Still, learning how to identify an egotistical personality before that person embeds themselves in your life can save you a world of stress. Sure, you may be able to convince every self-centered person we meet to seek help from a mental-health professional, but you can actively observe signs of egotism in your relationships and set protective boundaries that will serve you in the long term.

Ahead, see what the experts have to say about protecting yourself from an egotistical personality—and how to tell if you’re egotistical.

What are the signs of an egotistical person?

1. A near-constant tendency to be self-referential

In conversation, an egotist will say “I” frequently and shift the focus back to themselves whenever possible, says Dr. Durvasula. This person will find ways to slip in personal stories out of context, even if it means alienating friends and loved ones.

“They’re unabashedly talking about themselves, praising themselves, really into themselves,” adds therapist Benu Lahiry, LMFT, chief clinical officer at premarital counseling platform Ours.

2. An inability to commit to anything that doesn’t serve their interests

Unless it’s an activity that’s directly self-serving, a person with an egotistical personality will not put in the effort to show up for you. “They’ll do everything that they need to do, and they often won’t help other people out,” says Dr. Durvasula. This can translate into being selfish in bed, refusing to help out with planning a party, or ignoring major life events, like a friend’s engagement, in favor of their own interests.

3. An exaggerated view of their abilities

People with egotistical personalities often exaggerate their abilities to earn praise. “They often have an inaccurate appraisal of themselves,” says Dr. Durvasula. “[They may say] ‘I’m great,’ ‘I’m smart,’ ‘I’m good at this’—and it may not necessarily be true.” You might even notice them fishing for compliments in an effort to receive validation, says Williams-Abaku. “And if they don’t get that, they can become condescending, mean, passive aggressive, or even just generally dysregulated,” she says.

4. A lack of personal accountability

Egotists do not see themselves as the problem, which can lead to tension when you try to deliver criticism or feedback. “If they’re on the lower end of the spectrum, they may lean into [being called out] and go, ‘Ah, you’re right. Maybe I’m blowing things out of proportion a little bit,’” says therapist Sejginha Williams-Abaku, LMFT, practice director at Personal Life Wellness Marriage and Family Therapy. “If they’re at the higher end of that spectrum, they’re more likely to become defensive and double down on what they were saying before.”

5. Patterns of manipulation

A person with an egotistical personality will not be afraid to weaponize shame and guilt against you if it means giving themselves a boost. “They may use manipulation tactics or emotional coercion to control a situation or get the outcome they want,” says Williams-Abaku. “They’ll be okay with guilt tripping and exploiting other people’s vulnerabilities or gaslighting behavior.” At times, they may even use multiple types of manipulative behavior to make you question your recollection of events during which they behaved poorly.

6. A tendency to criticize others

While someone with an egotistical personality may not be able to accept criticism, delivering it comes easily to them. “It may be we’re dating someone and we introduce them to our friends or family and they correct everything we say,” says Williams-Abaku. “For every opinion we have on something, maybe they change a word—’Oh, you pronounced this wrong’ or ‘I’m not sure that’s how that happened.’ They’re constantly correcting us or invalidating our thoughts or emotions.”

7. An inability to celebrate your successes

As the self-proclaimed center of the universe, a person with an egotistical personality will struggle to celebrate your achievements, reacting instead with jealousy or resentment. “They feel like they have to keep up, like they’re not good enough,” says Lahiry. Instead of processing their emotions in a healthy manner, they belittle you.

8. Difficulty empathizing

Following the same self-serving pattern, a person with an egotistical personality lacks the ability to show empathy. “If you’re going through something and you’re telling them about it, they’re not really listening. They don’t follow along,” says Dr. Durvasula. “In fact, you’re kind of boring to them because you’re going through a problem.” When the same issue happens to them, though, they require your immediate attention.

9. A sense of unshakeable arrogance

If you’ve ever tried to make plans with an egotist, you know their needs and wants typically supersede those of others. “Egotistical people will sometimes also think their lives are more difficult and more interesting than others’,” says Dr. Durvasula. “They might say, ‘I don’t want to go to that place on vacation because I went there once and it wasn’t a good time.’ So they will veto a destination because they themselves didn’t like it even though everyone else in the group wants to go to that place.”

10. Difficulty forming deep connections

People with egotistical personalities also have difficulty forming deep connections. “When you’re younger, an egotistical person might be an appealing friend because they want to have all the adventures, they want to have all the fun,” says Dr. Durvasula. As the friendship progresses, though, the lack of reciprocity in the relationship becomes clearer. She continues: “As long as they were having fun, the relationship worked; but as soon as the relationship had any kind of demand on it, it didn’t.”

11. Constant reinforcement of their beliefs

Typically, people with egotistical personalities find themselves in positions of power—as CEOs, high-profile doctors or lawyers, etc.—that, by nature of their status, feed into their egotistical tendencies. “You might see a person, for example, who might have a lot of money or a lot of status through a job be quite egotistical and get away with it because everyone else is trying to run around to meet their needs,” says Dr. Durvasula.

What is the difference between egotism and narcissism?

Egotism and narcissism are often used interchangeably on social media, but there are a few key distinctions to keep in mind. “For me, the main distinction, coming as a clinician, is that narcissist has a bit more of a clinical weight to it and is used in a clinical setting vs. egotist, which really isn’t,” says clinical psychologist Beth Pausic, PsyD, vice president of clinical excellence at Kooth Digital Health. “In research and diagnostic categorization, the term that’s used is narcissism, or narcissistic personality disorder.”

Egotism, on the other hand, is a trait exhibited by various types of narcissists. “Egotism is a part of narcissism; all narcissistic people are egotistical but not all egotistical people are narcissistic,” says Dr. Durvasula. This means the two are not mutually exclusive. “Depending on where [a person] falls on the spectrum of how narcissistic they are, they may be able to display both,” adds Williams-Abaku.

It’s also important to note that the terms egotist and egoist carry different meanings. Here, we’re referring to the former, which describes someone with excessive self-interest. An egoist, on the other hand, is someone who believes in egoism, a philosophical belief concerned with the role of the self as the motive for all action.

What causes a person to be egotistical?

There is not a single “cause” underlying an egotistical personality. Egotism, like any personality trait, springs from a combination of temperament and lived experiences.

A person’s family dynamics can certainly factor into the development of an egotistical personality. If someone is raised by egotistical parents, chances are high (but not guaranteed) that they’re going to develop a self-centered worldview and an insecure attachment style to match that of their caregivers, says Dr. Durvasula. (People might also inherit aspects of that personality from their parents.) “Insecure attachments in childhood are created by chaos, adversity, loss, trauma, neglect, parental indifference,” she adds.

Insecurities, childhood trauma, anxiety, and other mental health issues could then play a role in a person developing egotistical tendencies. “Sometimes people with a history of trauma may show up as egotistical because it’s harder for them to potentially form an attachment depending on the nature of their trauma,” Dr. Durvasula says. “People who grew up with very difficult childhoods may also be egotistical as a defensive position.”

Is being egotistical a mental disorder?

Unlike narcissistic personality disorder, which is a diagnosable mental health condition listed in the DSM-5 (the diagnostic manual used by mental health practitioners), egotism is commonly classified as a personality style. “I think egotism can show as part of many things that comprise a mental disorder, but in and of itself, no, it’s not a mental disorder,” says Dr. Durvasula.

As mentioned earlier, there is some overlap between narcissism and egotism—but not everyone who is egotistic is a narcissist. “Someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) will act egotistical, but not everyone acting egotistical has NPD,” says Lahiry.

How to deal with egotistical people

Managing a relationship with a person who has an egotistical personality can be stressful and require a lot of effort. Sometimes the best course of action is to distance yourself entirely from the relationship and acknowledge that it’s not your responsibility to change the other person.

“By and large, if we confront most egotistical people with their egotism, they will withdraw, they will gaslight, withhold, become angry, accuse you of being selfish,” says Dr. Durvasula. Avoid responding defensively to these negative reactions, and take what the egotist says with a grain of salt. To that end, “it’s important to recognize that, unless that person wants to change and wants to do things differently, they’re not going to,” says Williams-Abaku.

Instead, Lahiry advises taking a step back to focus on how the relationship is impacting you. This process begins with cultivating a sense of self-awareness to help identify specifically which of their behaviors is making you uncomfortable. “Some things you might want to look out for are, ‘Am I looking forward to seeing this person? How do I feel somatically? Do I feel a pit in my stomach? Do I feel something physiologically?’ versus something that’s more in your head,” says Lahiry.

Above all else, do your best to set boundaries. For example, if you notice someone with an egotistical personality regularly creates drama at social gatherings, leave them off the guest list. If you have to spend time with them, set clear boundaries as to what you will and won’t discuss to avoid sensitive topics. At the same time, remember to maintain a positive support system of people who will actually be able to empathize with you.

How to overcome egotism

Identifying that you’re the one with the problem can be tough. “If a person believes they’re egotistical—first of all, that’s very rare,” says Dr. Durvasula. “One of the things we do see in people with egotism, because of the emotional and psychological immaturity, is they often don’t have a lot of insight.” (So basically, if you think you might be egotistical… you’re probably not, just by virtue of having that self-awareness.)

Once a person with an egotistical personality recognizes they have a problem, though, Lahiry suggests some self-reflection—and some work with a therapist if possible. “It serves everyone better if [the egotist] shows an interest and there’s some self-awareness,” she says.

Of course, it’s difficult for an egotist to come to this kind of conclusion. “Essentially, somebody who is going to work on their egotism is breaking down an identity that is inherent in them . . . That work takes time,” says Lahiry. “If somebody is realizing this and they want to work on it, then yes, absolutely seek professional help.”

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