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How Self-Centered Pride Destroys Intimacy

The Most Effective Antidote is Humility

RANDI GUNTHER Clinical Psychologist & Marriage Counselor

Healthy love is life-sustaining. For most people, their core foundation of personal value comes from knowing that they matter deeply to another. And, because love cannot sustain itself without continual investment and protection, those who consistently benefit from its blessings do whatever is necessary to keep it safe.

All successful relationship partners know what keeps their devotion for each other alive and judiciously avoid what can destroy it. When either acts in ways that threaten that connection, he or she does everything possible to change that behavior.

In my four decades of working with couples, I have all too often observed what the behaviors are that are consistently the most destructive. Egoistically prideful behavior is high on that list. People who suffer from this personality cluster behave as if they were superior to their partners and entitled to influence by intimidation and indifference.

Humility is the most effective antidote for egoistic pride, but most who feel this kind of entitlement rarely, if ever, seek it. They feel the inalienable right to dominate, unwilling to capitulate, do not admit wrongdoing, and must always end up on top, no matter what the cost to the other partner.

When challenged during an altercation, these kinds of people will immediately and intensely defend their position by flipping the challenge back at the other partner:

“What about you? You do the same thing, only more.”

“You’re crazy. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Everyone we know would see you as wrong.”

“You’re so off track. You’re totally missing the point, as usual.”

“You’re just out to stop me by invalidating my position. You know I’m always right. Why can’t you just get it.”

If the partners of egoistically prideful people stay in the relationship, they often feel limited options: to fight, give in, or disconnect. Those responses are much like the fight, submit, flee responses of prey to a predator.

These unhealthily prideful people typically blame their partners when the relationships fall apart. It is only when they realize that they are the ones who are responsible that they can turn things around. That first step, albeit its sometimes humiliating acceptance of accountability, can begin a successful path to change. Humiliation rapidly becomes humility which allows the humbleness that makes change possible.

If you are a partner who has lost many relationships because you’ve been unable to let your egoistic pride go, you can become a successful relationship partner, ultimately embracing the freedom that comes from letting go of the need to dominate. The road is arduous but the payoffs are remarkably healing.

Here are the steps you’ll need to take to understand how you have become an egoistically prideful person and how to change that behavior:

1) Childhood Teachings

Sadly, many children develop pride by either watching a need-to-win parent display that behavior. Winning and prideful behavior often go hand in hand, and the other caretaker often, in the need to maintain harmony, accepts the situation.

Sometimes it is the child, himself or herself, who is the target of an egoistic parent and must undergo devaluing and humiliation on the other end of him or her. It is sadly likely that they will treat their adult partners as they were treated.

Ask yourself who taught or modeled this behavior for you.

2) Innate Personality Characteristics

Some people, particularly those with a narcissistic personality disorder, do feel superior, arrogant, and more entitled than others. They are, essentially, “proud of their proud behavior.” They feel entitled to be at the top because they “deserve it.” They fight with the absolute intention to win, regardless of the cost is to their partners. Humility is seen as a weakness.

Have others called you self-centered or narcissistic? If they have, you’ll need to work on understanding the impact of your behavior on others.

3) Fear of Loss of Control

Another reason people act egoistically prideful is that they are fearful that any admission of their wrongdoings will result in automatically giving in to being controlled. They can only think hierarchically; one person, and only one person can be in charge of the rules of the relationship.

Are you afraid that you will be controlled if you do not control? Successful partners are peers. They do not operate in a hierarchy.

4) Changing Roles

In today’s relationship world, with role definitions in continuous flux, both men and women often fall prey to using prideful behaviors to define their right to power in the relationship. Yes, more women are fighting to gain power and more men to hold on to it, but those roles are changing rapidly.

Can you feel secure if you are not in charge all of the time? You’ll need to challenge that insecurity.

5) Attachment to Dominance and Power

There are those who do not trust anyone but themselves to be in charge of the relationship. They not only want control of the distribution of all resources but they take pride in being the only one who can do that “right.” They will take care of those whom they see as less-than which can include their partners and any dependents, but they exact the price of no challenges to their status in return.

Do you feel that you are the only one who can be trusted? If so, why? Who has betrayed you?

6) Compensation for Inner Feelings of Low Self-Esteem

Egoistic prideful behavior can be a coverup for internal feelings of low self-worth. People who feel this way act prideful but do not actually feel it inside. They cannot bear the thought of being seen as inadequate, timid, or dependent. As such, they present as needing nothing, autonomous, and untouchable. Often, they are boastful, sometimes exaggerating their accomplishments to maintain their outward influence over others.

The partners on the other end of these behaviors may not recognize the insecure person inside, and only react to the external behaviors. That lack of understanding keeps the negative interactions locked in.

Do you display egoistic pride to hide your feelings of non-worthiness?

How to Let Go of Egoistic Pride

If you understand how you became egoistically prideful and want to change your behavior, the following eight steps will help:

  1. Be willing to recognize what has contributed to your egoistic pride and share those experiences with your partner. Being vulnerable that way can encourage him or her to want to help you change.

  2. Open up your mind and heart to the joys of authentic transparency that allows you to give up the burden of controlling and owning others.

  3. Recognizing that humility is a beautiful state, once achieved can be amazingly liberating.

  4. Commit to taking down the barrier between what is thought and felt inside and what is expressed to an intimate partner.

  5. Trust that your partner will feel compassion and support for who you are trying to become.

  6. Recognize what the price may entail and making certain you are ready and willing to pay it.

  7. Recognize the positive impact of letting go of your unhealthy pride will have on the people you love.

  8. Have the courage to stay the course even though discouraging obstacles may arise.


There are times in life when a person doesn’t have the choice to hold on to any kind of pride. Even egoistically prideful people can face a situation when they must rely on others to help them, no matter how uncomfortable it can be.

That painful transition often accompanies the process of living through the agonies of a terminal illness, when they have no choice but to let others have control in order to care for them.

Most of them, understandably, initially feel afraid and deeply humiliated. They tell me how embarrassing it is for them to let go of being in charge. But those who embrace humility through that process tell me how much they wished they had given up their self-absorbed prideful behavior much earlier in their lives. They realize what a gift it would have been to those who loved them.

My brother was one of them. Though he never was an egoistically prideful person, he was prideful as a man who needed to always present himself without needing others to care for him.

As his terminal cancer progressed, he had to change that mood-set to let those who loved him take over his most basic needs.

When I asked him how it felt to let his pride go, he replied from his heart, “I wish I would have let people care for me much earlier in my life. I just didn’t know how to give up being in charge. I could have given the people who loved me so much joy if I’d let them help me carry the load.”

That is the legacy he left for me.

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