Now we have already arrived at the last deadly sin. It is interesting to note that this word also contains both a positive and a negative meaning in its German origin. The Old High German “Hohmuot” originally meant “noble mind” in the sense of “he was of high mettle”. The ancient Greek term “megalopsychia” also means “greatness of soul”, “greatness of mind” and even the Latin “superbia” initially meant “noble pride”. Later, under the influence of Christianity, the meaning of “superbia” changed to “arrogance” and ” pride”. Perhaps because the “noble” often saw themselves as something better, which was then the basis for inclusion in the seven deadly sins.
There must have been a similar shift in meaning in English. The deadly sin is “pride”, which – see the following definitions – we tend to regard as positive. Today we would use “arrogance” to describe the deadly sin.
How the “noble mind” changed …
From Aristotle …
Aristotle already wrote about “megalopsychia” in his “Nicomachean Ethics”. For him, this is a desirable mental state that is a combination of real virtue and a greatness of mind that is well aware of its abilities and shows them outwardly. In doing so, he clearly distinguishes “megalopsychia” from “pomposity (chaunotaes)”.
The very aspect of being proud of one’s achievements and striving for the honour due to them is certainly one of the reasons why this idea found so little acceptance in Christianity. It did not fit at all with the Christian idea of humility, according to which every human being understood that they were so far from the divine ideal that there was little room for pride in their own achievements. (Actually funny that Christianity in particular favours what I see as a very arrogant view of humankind as the “crown of creation”). Nevertheless, the “hohmuot” derived from “megalopsychia” found its place again in medieval chivalric culture as “high mindedness”, which was expressed above all in the culture of the minnesongs.
… right up to the present day.
In times of industrialisation, the conquest of foreign lands, growing wealth and numerous inventions, many people turned away from the ideal of humility and developed their own ideas of pride in their own work, their own success and also the financial status they had achieved. Even though the Christian ideal of humility and submission to the divine will continued to have a certain validity, in everyday life it was rather the confrontation and comparison with other people that played a role.
Through this comparison, the meaning of pride changed to an arrogance towards others, a display of one’s own successes, as well as an accompanying overestimation of one’s own abilities and knowledge. Even if one’s financial status or social rank was objectively higher than that of other people, pride towards these people lacked the moderation and humility that had been regarded as an essential character trait throughout prehistory. From the point of view of the arrogantly regarded, the concept and behaviour of arrogance now finally acquired its negative meaning. In our time, arrogance is more often used for pride, a word derived from the Latin verb “arrogare”. It means that something is appropriated (and possibly unlawfully) to someone or that someone appropriates something (unlawfully).
… and arrogance becomes narcissism and psychopathy.
For most people today, arrogance means that someone is very sure of themselves, very self-confident and enjoys success. Often these three behaviours are enough to label someone as arrogant, even if it is actually justified pride in abilities or successes.
Only when the achievements of others are devalued and the impression is created that the person thinks he or she is irreplaceable, unique and “nobler” than others does this become a really ugly trait. If the person then pursues his own advantage without considering the feelings and opinions of other people, but with the claim that he only deserves the best, he is clearly in the behavioural spectrum of a narcissist. Add to this a complete emotional coldness, combined with an outstanding ability to manipulate on the basis of outwardly displayed charm and an absolute lack of shame or guilt when breaking generally accepted rules, and we have a psychopath in front of us.
How to distinguish between pride, arrogance, narcissism and psychopathy.
For clarity, I have created a table for you here:
|joy about achievements||x||x||x|
|satisfaction with oneself||x||x||x||x|
|respect for one’s own ego||x||x||x||x|
|Externally transmitted certainty that the performance was something extraordinary||x||x|
|inner conviction to be something extraordinary||x||x||x|
|feeling superior to others||x||x||x|
|Exclusively self-generated certainty about the uniqueness of one’s own achievements||x||x|
|Devaluation of others, disrespect towards even close people||x||x|
|Reality is perceived distorted because of one’s own magnificence||x||x|
|Expecting priority treatment||x||x|
|expecting permanent admiration||x||x|
|No empathy for others, exploiting others for own goals||x||x|
|Extreme envy when others are even more magnificent||x||x|
|Imaginations of their own important influences on the economy and politics||x||x|
|Belief of being understood by only a few peers||x||x|
|Manipulative and fraudulent behaviour||x|
|Constant boredom and resulting constant actionism||x|
|Imposter with great charm||x|
|lack of shame and guilt||x|
|Disregarding all rules when it is in their own interest to do so||x|
|Coldness of feelings||x|
In conclusion, I would say that the fewer feelings someone has and the less important the feelings of others and the social rules are to him, the more disrespectfully he treats others and the more urgently he expects admiration, the more healthy pride goes in the direction of unhealthy psychopathy.
How differently arrogance can be felt.
As described above, the line between pride and arrogance is not entirely clear-cut. It often depends on the cultural and family imprints of the individual. Americans, for example, regard the British as arrogant because they see their constant efforts to understatement as a sign of arrogance. On the other hand, Britons perceive Americans as arrogant because the Americans loudly and pompously proclaim their own successes and their own abilities. Of course, there are similar differences within a country, depending on how one’ s family was formed with regard to pride.
If a child is allowed to be proud if he or she has done better than average at school or in sports and is also allowed to say so out loud, as an adult he or she will not judge other people who behave in this way as arrogant or narcissistic. If, on the other hand, the child was brought up to remain quiet and humble even in the face of above-average achievements, it is highly likely that it will later consider people as arrogant who speak loudly about their successes.
These different views can already be recognised from the posture of people. Because across cultures, a proud attitude is recognised by an upright posture and a head thrown back as well as arms stretched out in front of the body. Of course, self-confident people also have a more upright posture in relation to less self-confident people, but a number of sports are also well suited to creating 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 above all).
How narcissism and psychopathy develop
How many we already have…
It is now thought that 2% of the population are psychopaths and 4% are narcissists. In many professions, on the other hand, psychopaths seem to be concentrating – there are said to be between 6 and 8 % psychopaths in the highest levels of management. This particularly affects lawyers and policemen, journalists and TV presenters, as well as surgeons, in addition to business leaders. It seems that our society highly values certain traits that psychopaths also possess, such as assertiveness, risk-taking, concentration on the positive, lack of self-doubt and deliberate action under pressure, and is willing to tolerate their highly manipulative and uncaring behaviour focused exclusively on their own ego.
In parallel, one sees in surveys that it is clear to people that compassion towards others continues to decline. In Vienna in 2015, for example, 64% of people were of the opinion that compassion towards other people has decreased in the last 10 years.
… and what the future holds for us.
In this context, I found a particularly shocking study – conducted by the University of Bielefeld on behalf of Bepanthen Kinderförderung – on empathy and public spirit among children aged 6 to 12 and young people aged 13 to 16.
The results should make you think, because according to the study, every 5th child and every 3rd adolescent shows hardly any empathy for others. There was also a very clear gender difference. Girls consistently showed more empathy. Thus, 30% of the boys, but only 12% of the girls showed low empathy values in a situation in which another child is sad. For girls, empathy increases with age, while for boys it decreases. A third of the children and adolescents surveyed also had no sense of community. 70% (!) of the children reacted to other people’ problems with “it’s their own fault”, among the adolescents it was only 21%. Again, there were significant differences between male and female respondents.
However, the researchers did not find this gender difference when it came to devaluing marginalised groups. One third of the young people tended to make strong devaluations, using phrases like “We take too much notice of losers in our society.” Or “It’s disgusting when gay people kiss in public.”
(If you want to read more, here’s the link: source – in German.) These results unfortunately fit with the educational methods on “incompetent adults” already discussed in the last blog. (see here in my blog on sloth).
Why there are more narcissists and psychopaths today
Regarding the general decline in compassion, there are studies that relate this to our stress levels. It is well known that we live under a much higher stress level today 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 values. Suppressing the stress hormones in the body, on the other hand, led to an increase in the values.
The reasons for this constantly increasing level of stress are not only the performance society – which has been around for a long time – but above all the exponentially increasing flow of information and the pressure of expectations to which almost everyone in our society is submitted. We have to be permanently efficient, sporty, fit, slim and beautiful and sexy 24/7. Meanwhile, goals such as status and success symbols have already been abandoned in favour of the desire to always be hip. Not wanting to be left behind is becoming one of the greatest fears of our time. An appropriate expression I found during my research was that of increasing action density. This means (and in my opinion describes the problem very accurately) that children, young people and adults (have to) deal with more and more actions in the same time. And it is precisely this pressure – fuelled by ever new social media – that weighs heavily on our children and young people. What wonder that we then get such results.
What helps against psychopathy and declining compassion.
This seems quite simple, but it is obviously an incredible effort. Allowing oneself leisure, slowing down one’s own life, is – also for many of my clients – nearly impossible. For the reasons explained above, this is understandable. Deceleration – and with it the renunciation of information and actions – catapults them directly into the group of socially ridiculed success-avoiders, vegans, esoterics – who, as described above, have to reckon with social devaluation.
If you, too, belong to the group of people who have to struggle with a constantly rising stress level, it is definitely time to think about more leisure. Because even if you are still a very compassionate person, with increasing stress, which is subjectively perceived as unpleasant, you belong to the group of people who are in danger of suffering from psychological problems (burnout, depression, anxiety and panic disorders). Not surprisingly, the number of these illnesses is increasing every year worldwide and will soon become the number one disease of civilisation (they have already reached number two).
… Clarity …
But since simple rest is not enough, you first have to answer the question whether you want to live a life according to your own ideas or whether you want to live one that others have planned for you.
It can then be enough to realise that it is not for you to go against obviously existing mainstream opinions. Even the conscious affirmation of an action can have a very liberating effect. And so you can still choose a little bit which guideline exactly you would like to follow. In this way you may be able to reduce the rest and allow a much more relaxed feeling to arise from it, as well as from your acceptance of the situation.
… or new ways.
But if it has become clear to you during the questioning that you have indeed allowed yourself to be (externally) controlled on your path and that this is something you never wanted, then it is a matter of deeper processes. It is a matter of going back to what you actually wanted, what your values in life are. You need this knowledge to find the strength to resist the mainstream and to 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 proclamations of freedom and individualisation.
Neither path is easy, but there are numerous guides on the net and in bookshops, and of course therapists and coaches like me (have a look here:).
In any case, it would be good for society to reduce the stress level and thus the number of compassionless people, narcissists and psychopaths – not only for our species, but also for all other living beings on our planet.
As always, I wish you a good journey