Now we have already come to the last deadly sin. It is interesting to note that this word contains both a positive and a negative meaning in its origin. The Old High German “Hohmuot” originally meant “high-mindedness” in the sense of “he was of high courage”. The ancient Greek term “megalopsychia” also means “greatness of soul”, “greatness of disposition” and even the Latin “superbia” initially meant “high-mindedness”. Later, under the influence of Christianity, the meaning of “superbia” changed to “arrogance” and “pride”. Perhaps because the “noble” often regarded themselves as something better, which was then the basis for the proclamation as one of the seven deadly sins.
How the “high-mindedness” changed…
Aristotle already wrote about “megalopsychia” in his “Nicomachian Ethics”. For him, this is a desirable mental state, which is a combination of real virtue and a greatness of mind that is well aware of its abilities and also shows them to the outside world. In doing so he clearly distinguished “megalopsychia” from “pomposity (chaunotaes)”.
Precisely the aspect of being proud of what one has achieved and striving for the honour one is therefore entitled to is certainly one of the reasons why this idea has found so little acceptance in Christianity. This did not at all fit in with the Christian concept of humility, according to which everyone understood that they were so far removed from the divine ideal that there was little room for proudness in his own achievements. (It is actually quite funny that it is just Christianity that favours what I consider to be the very arrogant view of mankind as the “crown of creation”). Nevertheless, the “hohmuot” derived from “megalopsychia” found its place again in medieval knightly culture as “high-mindedness”, which was expressed above all in the culture of minnesongs.
… until our time.
In times of industrialisation, the conquest of foreign countries, the growing wealth among numerous inventions, many people turned away from the ideal of humility and developed their own ideas of pride in their own work, their own successes and also their financial status they had achieved. Even though the Christian ideal of humility and submission to the divine did of course continue to have a certain validity, in everyday life the confrontation and comparison with other people played a more important role.
Through this comparison, the meaning changed to hubris towards others, a display of one’s own successes as well as an accompanying overestimation of one’s own abilities and knowledge. For even if one’s financial status or social rank was objectively higher than that of other people, the pride towards these people lacked the moderation and humility that had been regarded as an essential character trait for ages. From the point of view of those who were regarded as inferior, the concept of pride now finally got its negative meaning. In our time, arrogance, a word derived from the Latin verb “arrogare”, is more commonly used instead of pride. “Arrogare” means that someone is given something (and possibly unlawfully) or someone appropriates something (unlawfully).
… and proudness became narcissism and psychopathy.
For most people today, arrogance means that someone is very convinced of oneself, appears very self-confident and enjoys success. Often these three behaviours are enough to describe someone as arrogant, even if it is actually just a matter of justified proudness in abilities or successes.
It is only when there is a devaluation of others’ achievements and the impression arises that the person considers himself irreplaceable, unique and “nobler” than the others that this becomes a really ugly quality. If someone then pursues one’s own advantage without considering the feelings and opinions of others, but with the claim that only the best is entitled to oneself, he or she is someone who already clearly moving within the behavioural spectrum of a narcissist. Add to this a complete lack of emotion, combined with an outstanding ability to manipulate based on the outwardly shown charm and an absolute lack of shame or guilt in breaking generally accepted rules, and we have a psychopath in front of us.
How to distinguish between proudness, pride/arrogance, narcissism and psychopathy.
For clarity I have prepared a table for you here:
|Joy in what has been achieved||x||x||x|
|Satisfaction with oneself||x||x||x||x|
|Respect for one’s own self||x||x||x||x|
|External assurance that the achievement was something special||x||x|
|Conviction of being something special||x||x||x|
|Feeling superior to others||x||x||x|
|Exclusively self-generated certainty about the uniqueness of one’s own performances||x||x|
|Devaluation of others, disdainfulness towards even close people||x||x|
|Reality is perceived distorted because of the faith in one’s own magnificence||x||x|
|Expect permanent admiration||x||x|
|Expected preferential treatment||x||x|
|No empathy for others, exploitation of others for one’s own goals||x||x|
|Extreme envy when others are even greater||x||x|
|Fantasies about own important influences on economy and politics||x||x|
|Belief to be understood only by a few like-minded people||x||x|
|Manipulative and fraudulent behaviour||x|
|Constant boredom and the resulting constant actionism||x|
|Dazzler with great charm||x|
|Frequently telling lies||x|
|Lack of sense of guilt and shame||x|
|disregarding all rules when it is in one’s own interest||x|
In summary, I would say that the less feelings someone has and the less important the feelings of others and the rules of society are to him, the more disparagingly someone treats others and the more urgently someone expects admiration, the more healthy proudness goes in the direction of unhealthy psychopathy.
How differently arrogance can be perceived.
As already described above, the cut between pride and arrogance is not entirely clear. It often also depends on the cultural and family background of the individual. Americans, for example, consider the British to be arrogant because they see their constant efforts to understatement as a sign of arrogance. On the other hand, the British perceive Americans as arrogant, because they loudly and full bodied proclaim their own successes and their own abilities. Of course, similar differences also exist within a country, depending on what the family thinks about proudness and humility.
If a child is allowed to be proud when it has achieved above-average results at school or in sports, and if it is allowed to say so out loud, it will not perceive other people who behave in this way as arrogant or narcissistic when it becomes an adult. If, on the other hand, the child has been raised to remain quiet and humble even when performing above average, it will later highly likely perceive people as arrogant who talk loudly about their achievements.
These different views can be recognised simply by looking at people’s posture. Across cultures, a proud posture is recognised by an upright posture and a reclined head and arms outstretched in front of the body. Of course, self-confident people also have a more upright posture in relation to less self-confident people, but there are also a number of sports that are well suited to create an upright posture, which does not necessarily have to go hand in hand with the corresponding state of mind (dancing and gymnastics come to mind here).
How narcissism and psychopathy develop
How many we already have…
It is estimated today that 2% of the population are psychopaths and 4% narcissists. More important, psychopaths seem to be concentrated in some professions, with between 6% and 8% psychopaths in the top management levels. In addition to company executives, this applies in particular to lawyers and police officers, journalists and TV hostsand surgeons. It seems that our society highly appreciates certain traits that psychopaths bring with them, such as assertiveness, willingness to take risks, focus on the positive, lack of self-doubt and deliberate action under pressure, and gladly tolerates their highly manipulative and unfeeling behaviour, which is exclusively focused on their own ego.
At the same time we can see in surveys that people are aware that their compassion for others continues to decline. In Vienna 2015, for example, 64% of the people were of the opinion that sympathy for others had declined over the last 10 years.
… and what the future holds for us.
In this context, I found a particularly horrifying study – conducted by the University of Bielefeld on behalf of the Bepanthen Kinderförderung – on empathy and public spirit among children between 6 and 12 years and among adolescents between 13 and 16.
The result should give food for thought, because according to it, every 5th child and every 3rd adolescent shows hardly any sympathy for others. A very clear gender difference also became apparent. Girls showed more empathy throughout. For example, 30% of the boys, but only 12% of the girls showed low sympathy in a situation in which another child was sad. Among girls, empathy increases with age, while it decreases among boys. One third of the children and adolescents surveyed also had no sense of community. 70% (!) of the children reacted to the problems of others with “it was their own fault”, among the adolescents this was only 21%. Again, there are significant differences between male and female respondents.
However, the researchers did not find this gender difference any more when it came to devaluation of marginalised groups. One third of adolescents tend to devaluate strongly, using phrases such as “In our society we are too considerate of losers”. or “It’s disgusting when gays kiss in public.” (here you can find more about this research)
Unfortunately, these results fit in the methods of upbringing “incompetent adults” already discussed in the last blog. (see here in my blog about inertia)
Why there are more narcissists and psychopaths today
In addition to the general decline in compassion, there are studies that link this to our stress levels. It is well known that today we live under a significantly higher stress level than 20 years ago. And stress prevents empathy. In experiments with mice as well as with humans, an increased stress level resulted in decreasing empathy. In contrast, suppression of the stress hormones in the body led to an increase of empathy.
Reasons for this steadily increasing stress level are not only the achievement-oriented society – which has been around for quite some time – but above all the exponentially increasing flow of information and the pressure of expectation to which almost everyone in our society is subject. We have to be permanently efficient, athletically fit, slim, beautiful and sexy, 24/7. In the meantime, goals such as status and success symbols have been suspended in favour of the desire to always be hip. Not to lose touch is becoming one of the greatest fears of our time. One apt expression I found in my research was the increasing density of activity. This means (and in my opinion describes the problem very precisely) that children, adolescents and adults (have to) deal with more and more actions at the same time. And it is precisely this pressure – fuelled by ever new social media – that weighs most heavily on our children and adolescents. What wonder that we then get such results.
What helps against psychopathy and declining empathy.
It seems very simple, but it is obviously an incredible effort. Allowing oneself to take time off to decelerate one’s own life is – also for many of my clients – almost impossible. For the very reasons explained above, this is understandable. A deceleration – and with it the renunciation of information and actions – catapults them directly into the group of socially ridiculed resisters to success like vegans or esoterics – who, as described above, have to expectsocial devaluation.
If you are one of those people who have to deal with a constantly increasing stress level, it is definitely time to think about more leisure. Because even if you are still a very compassionate person, with increasing stress levels that are subjectively perceived as unpleasant, you belong to the group of people who are at risk of suffering from psychological problems (burnout, depression, anxiety and panic disorders). Not surprisingly, the number of these disorders is increasing worldwide with every year and will in the foreseeable future move up to number 1 among the diseases of civilisation (they have already reached number 2).
But since simple rests are not enough, you must first answer the question for yourself of whether you want to live a life according to your dreams or one that others have planned for you.
It may be enough then to realise that it is not your wish to stand up against obviously existing mainstream opinions. But even a conscious affirmation of an action can have a very liberating effect. And so you can still choose a little bit, which ideal you want exactly to conform. In this way, you may succeed in reducing the rest and so you may be able to create a much more relaxed feeling.
… or new ways.
But if the question has made you realise that you have indeed been (externally) guided on your path and that this is something you never wanted, then it is about deeper processes. It is about returning to what you actually wanted, what your values in life are. You need this knowledge to find the strength to resist the mainstream and find your own way – which in my personal opinion is almost more difficult today than it was 100 or 200 years ago, despite all the freedom and individualisation.
Both ways are not easy, but there are numerous guides for this on the net and in bookshops and of course there are therapists and coaches like me (have a look here :).