How to Be Compassionate with Arrogant People

Confession time: I struggle with arrogant people.

They get under my skin and make me uglier than I care to admit. Whether it be chance conversations or sustained interactions, my heart can grow colder in the presence of someone who thinks more of themselves than I think they should.

Now, the truth is my reaction to another’s arrogance often reveals my own–I feel humbled and I try distancing myself to feel better. That is a problem in itself. When that happens, repentance is in order.

But you know what else is helping me grow in compassion? Recognizing that behind much of the arrogance we see in others is a deep self-loathing, emptiness.

Early in my pastoral ministry I spent quite a lot of time with a young man who, by anyone’s casual definition, was one of the most arrogant, boastful, self-centred people you’ve ever met.  I kid you not–every conversation was an illumination of his amazing-ness. You almost always left feeling smaller. But as I spent more time with him, I began to see things that changed my view of him, gaping holes in his heart that grew my compassion for him. I realized that this man, who most people pushed away, desperately needed love.

And I’ve seen that since, many times over.

When interacting with arrogant people, here’s what I’ve noticed that has helped me react less defensively and love more intentionally. Maybe it’s not true of every arrogant person we meet, but I’ve been astonished at how often these really are the case.

5 Things About Arrogant People That Helps Grow My Compassion

  1. Arrogant people are often compensating for deep wounds. Behind all the one-upping and positioning is often a person who has been deeply hurt–much of their actions are an attempt to dull that searing pain. Shocking stories of abuse, neglect and harm lurk within.
  2. Arrogant people are often filled with self-loathing. Even though it may not feel like it, all the self-congratulating stories, the incessant boasting, the constant attempts to get you to see them as “better”–all of it–flows from a deep-seated conviction that they are worthless.
  3. Arrogant people are often desperate for someone to notice them. Yes, they make it tough for themselves. Yes, they misplace where they need the attention. But if you can look past what they are saying with their lips and see what they are screaming from their hearts, you will often see someone who feels invisible and unnoticed.hiding behind a facade
  4. Arrogant people often put up false-fronts to hide the true vacuum within. Because they feel empty and worthless and unlovable, arrogant people try to impress you with things they’ve achieved–what else do they have?
  5. Arrogant people are usually deeply deceived. The thing is, they don’t think they are being arrogant. They lack self-awareness and don’t realize how their actions push people away, which in turn feeds more deeply into their own hurt, their self-loathing, and their feelings of invisibility and emptiness. Remembering this makes me more gentle in my approach.

So what can we do? How can we become more compassionate toward arrogant people? 

  1. Be patient with them. Stay in relationship. It’s so easy to push away, ignore and avoid. Which is what many people do. Be the person who stays connected, believing that over time, you will begin to see and love this person as Jesus does.
  2. Be honest with them without getting defensive. I don’t think it’s wrong to say, when appropriate, “You know, when you tell me stories like that, you make me feel small and defensive. I don’t want to react that way to you.”  
  3. Don’t join the game. Refuse to match their boastful story with one of your own. Focus on what is really true, what truly matters. Don’t let the way they make you feel in the moment determine how you speak and act.
  4. Look past the facade and hear what they are saying with their hearts. Then speak to that. For example, “I want you to know that I don’t care for you because you are successful or pretty or smart. I care for you because you are made in the image of God.” 
  5. Pray. Pray for them to experience God’s deep, transforming love. And ask the Holy Spirit to help you show them unconditional love.

Let me ask you:

  • How have you typically responded to arrogant people?

  • What has been helped you become more compassionate toward them?