Think on These Things: How to be compassionate with arrogant people

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Do you struggle with arrogant people? They get under my skin and make me uglier than I care to admit. My heart can grow colder when someone thinks more of themselves than I think they should. But the truth is, my reaction reveals my own issue–feeling humbled, I distance myself to feel better. When that happens, I’m in need of a heart check.

But you know what else is helping me grow in compassion for the arrogant? Realizing that the arrogance we see often hides a deep, self-loathing emptiness. Early in my pastoral ministry I spent a lot of time with a young man who, by anyone’s casual definition, was insufferably arrogant. Every conversation illuminated his amazing-ness and you always left feeling smaller. But as I grew to know him, I saw things that altered my view of him–gaping holes in his heart that grew my compassion for him. I realized that this man, who pushed people away, desperately needed love. And I’ve seen that since, many times over.

When interacting with arrogant people, five realizations have grown my compassion, helping me react less defensively and love more intentionally.

1.Arrogant people are often compensating for deep wounds. Behind all the one-upping and positioning is often a person deeply hurt–much of their actions are attempts to dull that searing pain. Shocking stories of abuse, neglect and harm lurk within.

2.Arrogant people are often filled with self-loathing. Even though it may not feel like it, all the self-congratulating stories, the incessant boasting, the constant attempts to get you to see them as “better”–all of it–flows from a deep-seated conviction that they are worthless.

3.Arrogant people are often desperate for someone to notice them. If you can look past what they are saying with their lips and see what they are screaming from their hearts, you will often see someone who feels invisible and unnoticed.

4.Arrogant people often put up false-fronts to hide the true vacuum within. Because they feel empty and worthless, they try to impress you with things they’ve achieved.

5.Arrogant people are usually deeply deceived. They don’t know they are being arrogant. They lack self-awareness and don’t realize how their actions push people away. Rejection feeds more deeply their own hurt, self-loathing, and feelings of invisibility.

So what can we do to become more compassionate toward arrogant people? First, be patient with them and stay in the relationship. It’s so easy to push away. Many people do. Be the one who stays connected. Second, be honest with them without getting defensive. Say, when appropriate, “You know, when you tell me stories like that, you make me feel small and defensive. I don’t want to react that way to you.” Next, don’t join the game. Refuse to match their boastful story with one of your own. Don’t let the way they make you feel in the moment determine how you speak and act. Look past the facade and hear what they are saying with their hearts. Then speak to that. For example, “I want you to know that I don’t care for you because you are successful or pretty or smart. I care for you because you are made in the image of God.” And don’t forget to pray for them, that they would experience God’s healing love, even as you are learning to share it.

Tom Greentree is the lead pastor of Erickson Covenant Church. With his family, he runs a small farm in Canyon and blogs regularly at tomgreentree.com.