What Causes Self-Righteousness?

What causes self-righteousness? And what’s the difference between self-righteousness and authentic confidence or certainty?

Self-righteousness comes from a psychological place of fear. Authentic certainty comes from serenity.

When people are self-righteous, they often feel attacked. It’s like they’re attacking you — verbally, mentally — before you attack them.

Self-righteous people are not fully secure in their views. They could even be right in their views, but that’s not the point. Being right doesn’t do you any good if you have not arrived at the truth through reason, logic and facts.

Sometimes serene people are wrong. They sincerely believe they have thought out the issue at hand, and are confident they’re right when there are actually points they haven’t considered. When someone offers points to suggest they might be mistaken, it’s a real test of their inner honesty and integrity regarding how they respond. In most cases, sadly, people will respond to anything that challenges a “sacred cow” with anxiety, and that anxiety often comes out as hostility.

The goal of psychological health is a state of serenity. A sense of confidence in oneself and one’s reasoning makes it less likely you’ll be self-righteous, less “needing” to attack another, or less needing to defend yourself when there’s little evidence you’ll even be attacked.

Our primary tool of coping with life is reason. That’s the distinctively human trait. It’s the one thing that distinguishes us from animals. I love animals. But no animal will ever read this article or form an opinion about it. Animals don’t think like we do. Animals have instincts that will operate automatically, for better or worse. Humans have to choose to develop, acquire and sustain the capacity for rational thought.

Reason means rational thinking, facts, logic, and calm consideration. It’s not just for scientists. It’s for everyone in daily life, to the extent of their capacities. We cannot stop and utilize these tools fully at every second. Sometimes we have to act more than think. But time has to be made to think, reflect, reason, look at facts and contemplate. If you’re in the regular habit of doing these things, you’ll be more confident in your mind and in your mind’s ability to figure things out. None of us are infallible. We all err, and hopefully we self-correct. Life is one big process of discovery, self-correction and eventually firm conviction about things you come to understand really are true.

When you really understand and grasp something is true, no self-righteousness is required.

Self-righteous people — regardless of what they’re self-righteous about — are exhibiting a lack of serenity. It’s a lack of inner peace. What causes inner peace? A confidence in our capacity for thinking. Self-righteous people are trying to impose their thoughts, ideas, attitudes or views on others. It’s as if they assume by intimidating you “down” to believing whatever they believe, they will have won. It’s a crude and hollow victory for them, because they’re inviting you to accept via anxiety what they themselves have accepted via anxiety. It does not work! It cannot work. Anxiety is not persuasion. There’s no substitute for the cool, calm, uniquely human method of thinking, reasoning and reflecting. Giving in to anxiety — your own, or another’s — is running away from reasoning.

People keep asking what has gone wrong in the world. I’m seeing it as a therapist. People come to me for their personal concerns. But increasingly, I hear people asking (different political or social views, it doesn’t matter), “What is wrong with everyone? Why is the world going crazy?” Is it Trump? Obama? Is it technology? Is it leftists? Trump supporters? Social media? Who or what is to blame?”

For the complete answer, you have to look a little deeper. The more we drift away from our own reasoning and thinking, our intellectual and psychological independence, the less sane and calm we all become. What’s happening in the world at large is merely a symptom of what too many of us have permitted as individuals … to lose our reason.

Self-righteousness is anxiety masquerading as confidence. That’s all it is.


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