How Stress Makes Us Self-Centered (And 3 Fixes)


Niemand houdt van mensen die opscheppen en we worden niet graag betutteld.  

But we’ve all been there – when someone won’t stop talking about themselves, or what they’ve accomplished…and while it’s never mentioned specifically…how inferior you are in comparison.  

Mensen die je steeds onderbreken, neerbuigend tegen je praten en hun schouders ophalen bij wat jij te zeggen hebt.  

Of misschien gebeurt het tegenovergestelde en ben jij degene die anderen zich zo laat voelen, vooral op die momenten dat je gestrest bent en anderen afschrikt door jezelf groter voor te doen dan je bent.  

In dat geval is deze blogpost voor jou.  

If your co-workers seem to vanish when you’re particularly stressed, or you want to help a colleague stop seeming arrogant when they don’t mean to, this article is for you. 

Today I’ll explore my “Feeling Superior” Coaching Card, showing you how stress can make some of us feel high and mighty, and three ways to fix the problem. 

Why Stress Makes Us Feel “Superior” 

Let’s consider why we might push others away by acting self-important. 

Because a few things can make us seem arrogant, even when we’re not stressed. 

Things like: 

  • Being an “overachiever” (maybe we’re proud, or don’t realize the magnitude of our accomplishments) 
  • Attention-seeking (we want someone’s approval), or 
  • Insecurity (we’re pushing others away to protect our ego). 

But arrogance can also be a defense mechanism, and a sign that we’re under stress—even without knowing it. And it can noticeably influence our behavior, causing us to push others away.  

These behaviors include: 

  • Cutting people off with your (‘better’) version of events— 
  • Starting every sentence with “I…” “My…” or “Me…” 
  • Offering advice without being asked 
  • Competing, rather than collaborating with your co-workers 
  • Getting angry with people who seem weak 
  • Sticking to your guns (and ‘arrogant’ ways) even when others seem uncomfortable 
  • Finding fault before asking questions 
  • Brushing off anyone who doesn’t agree with you 
  • Trying to ‘explain away’ negative feedback with reasons and excuses, and more. 

Somewhat like the instinct to flail wildly in rough water, however, acting self-important or arrogant under pressure can do more harm than good. Rather than protect us from anything, it makes others feel uncomfortable in our presence and pushes them away. 

3 Ways To Take Yourself Less Seriously 

If you’re concerned you might be alienating others with your haughty behavior, there are a few ways to start taking yourself less seriously.  

By making an effort to change your behavior, however, you’re already making a first step. 

These three coaching tips can be highly effective ways to make others want to connect with you, so that you can get communication and collaboration flowing freely once more. 

1. Give Others The Spotlight 

Essentially, arrogance is ego-centricity—even narcissistic behavior—at its finest. When we feel like the world’s weight sits on our shoulders, we naturally become the focus of our attention.  

Otherwise put, we’re ‘me-centered.’ 

By turning our thoughts and attention outward, instead, our behaviors naturally become more ‘we-oriented’. Try the following, for example: 

  • Inviting others to share opinions more often 
  • Spotting others’ strengths and accomplishments, and giving genuine, heartfelt compliments where due 
  • Replacing “My” with “Our”, “I” with “We”, and “Me” with “Us” when you start a sentence 
  • Asking “What would they want” or “What would they need to put yourself in others’ shoes 
  • Saying thank you for little things, or showing gratitude when you wouldn’t normally 
  • Making suggestions at meetings, rather than proposing fully-fledged ideas, or 
  • Aiming for equal parts listening and talking in your conversations. 

2. Try the Humble Pie 

Humility is a little bit of modesty and empathy mixed together. It may not be what you feel like eating when you’re stressed, but can go a long way to making others feel comfortable and respected in your presence.  

The trick to putting others first is simply to think about yourself a little less. 

This coaching tip is very closely linked to the first—building on our first list, then, it might include: 

  • Seeking out others’ feedback 
  • Owning up to your mistakes, and 
  • Trying to take a beginners’ mindset (e.g. curiosity, openness to new ideas, tolerance of failure.) 

3. Take Yourself Less Seriously 

The ability to step outside yourself is great, but being able to laugh at yourself is even better for your wellbeing. 

Stress often includes self-imposed burdens, so taking a lighthearted view of your own shortcomings, or ‘Finding The Funny’ in your actions can ease some of the pressure you feel. 

The aim is to stop trying to portray yourself in your best light, and be a little more forgiving of your flaws.  

To start, New York Times experts suggest, list your perceived shortcomings on paper, and rate them from ‘least sensitive’ (not-so-serious flaws) to ‘most sensitive’. 

Share it with a friend who you feel comfortable showing vulnerability with. 

Finally, think of some self-directed humor based on your less sensitive list items, and practice them. A little bit like graded exposure, you’ll find it easier to move on to bigger, ‘more sensitive’ items as you get comfortable with it. 

Nicolien Dellensen

Nicolien Dellensen, Senior Consultant and behavioral specialist and creator and owner of the ’Sphere of Influence 360º’ a comprehensive concept and (360) online tool about interactive dynamics.

Cover e-book Sphere of Influence 360º Team Kit with purple color bacjground and magenta colored text

Free Team Kit E-book

Sign up for our newsletter and improve your team’s potential with the exercises in our free Team Kit e-book.