First, though, it’s key to understand that the words egotist and egoist carry different meanings, despite often being used interchangeably. Here, we’re talking here about the former, which refers purely to excessive self-interest, whereas the latter traditionally means someone who believes in egoism, or the philosophical belief that self-interest is the motive of all action. That said, the root of both words is “ego” or the Latin word for “I,” which reflects a focus on the self that reads as total self-centeredness in the egotist. “They believe they’re somehow better or more important than everyone else,” says Lesli Doares, LMFT. And that can translate, quite literally, into an overuse of “I” in conversation.
“The egotist believes they’re somehow better or more important than everyone else.” —Lesli Doares, LMFT
While people with narcissistic personality disorder tend to demonstrate this kind of egotism, not all egotists can be called narcissists, says clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, PhD, author of Don’t You Know Who I Am?”: How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. “A narcissist is egotistical, but they also seek validation and admiration, are highly sensitive to feedback or criticism, and lack the capacity for reciprocal relationships, as well as the ability to self-reflect,” she says.
To get more specific, how a person responds to praise and critique is a particularly helpful point of difference when it comes to differentiating egotistical personality traits from narcissistic tendencies. “Narcissists have a need for constant admiration and will actively seek it out, and they’re often shattered by criticism, reacting poorly to it,” says Doares. As for an egotist? They tend to have a ballooned sense of self-confidence that means they’re actually less likely to grasp for praise (they know they’re great) and are more likely to simply dismiss criticism as being uninformed or rooted in envy, says Doares.
Below, the experts walk through the most common egotistical personality traits, share examples for how they might appear in everyday behavior, and offer advice for how to deal.
5 common egotistical personality traits, plus how to handle them:
1. A near-constant tendency to be self-referential
In a conversation, the egotist frequently says ‘I’ and is someone who always shifts the focus back to themselves in whatever way possible, says Dr. Durvasula. This is a person who finds ways to offer personal stories in contexts that don’t suggest a need for them—and sometimes to the effect of alienating friends and loved ones.
If you’re close with the person, you’d be best off going along for their ride and listening to the stories, rather than attempting to re-route their course, says Dr. Durvasula.
2. An inability to commit to anything that doesn’t serve their interests
Ask them to attend your child’s dance recital or accompany you to a work event (or do anything else that isn’t directly self-serving), and you’ll get the same evasive “no.” That’s because the egotist doesn’t show up to anything that isn’t useful to them, says Dr. Durvasula—meaning anything that won’t include the people they want to talk to or network with, or offer opportunities they deem worthwhile, she adds. And it’ll create less tension to simply leave them off the invite list.
3. An exaggerated view of their abilities
In any situation, they consider themselves to be the best, says Doares, regardless of whether that’s true. “This can lead to an egotistical person rewriting history, claiming they did not say or do what you experienced, if it was negative,” she says. “They can often do this with such ferocity that you question your own recollection.”
Rather than springing into defensive mode when this happens, though, it’s helpful to anticipate that an egotistical person may write off your negative experience as unimportant or invalid and, in turn, to take their comments with a grain of salt.
4. A lack of personal accountability
At all costs, they’ll redirect blame or fault from themselves, particularly if someone else tries to hold them accountable for a mishap or wrongdoing. “They will not take ownership for anything they do that is not excellent,” says Doares. It may be helpful to reduce your expectations of them in this regard, so that you don’t become frustrated or disappointed in seeking what you won’t receive, says Dr. Durvasula.
5. Difficulty empathizing
While a narcissist typically lacks all ability to show empathy, an egotist tends to find being empathic tough in most situations—particularly when the upset of another person could be written off as hyper-sensitivity. “The egotist is not particularly supportive or understanding of others’ struggles or concerns,” says Doares.
To that end, you would likely not want to turn to an egotist when you’d like to talk about a difficult experience you’re having or to receive emotional support, says Dr. Durvasula. That’s precisely why maintaining a positive support system of other loved ones (non-egotists, that is) is so important. “Being able to process your feelings with a person who’s capable of understanding them and of keeping your best interests in mind can make all the difference,” says Doares.
And if you must have frequent contact with a certain egotistical person—say, they’re a co-worker or family member—you’d also be wise to create boundaries surrounding what you will and won’t discuss with them from the jump, in order to keep sensitive issues off the table.
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