Arrogance is a Defence Mechanism

Arrogance and ideas of superiority are a notable characteristic of alcoholics and people with a drug addiction. This aspect of addiction is caused by low self-esteem and it is a defence mechanism that many addicts and alcoholics use as a mask to cover up their shame and their feelings of inferiority.

If you have ever encountered a friend or family member suffering from an addiction, then you might notice that they seek attention and have over-inflated egos. They feel the world revolves around them and that the world owes them a favour. But this is a fragile veneer, and in reality they are scared of being “found out” and tend to keep people at arm’s length. They are also terrified of becoming vulnerable.

For the alcoholic or chemical dependent who is starting to get treatment there needs to be honesty and a willingness to change. It is important that the counsellor forms a therapeutic bond with their patient. This often involves working with denial – a large part of the disease of addiction. In the early stages of treatment, arrogance is a block to recovery which needs to be understood and broken down. It takes time for the patient to accept and come to terms with change, but becoming humble is the key.

When someone arrives at Castle Craig, they are often in denial about their addiction and looking around at the other patients they may say “I have nothing in common with these people”. Some alcoholics put themselves in a superior position to a heroin addict because, they say to themselves, alcohol is legal and socially acceptable. Equally a heroin addict might feel that they out-rank someone who only uses alcohol.

However, it is not long before these same people are sharing stories, recognising that they have the same illness, and they will begin to support one another and confront their addiction together. Lifelong friendships are often formed in treatment as the patients share more deeply about themselves in six weeks than they have shared with a friend or family member over a decade.

Dealing with Arrogance and Grandiosity in Therapy

In individual therapy, the patient will gain insight into how these characteristics work in sustaining their addiction. Once a patient is willing to look at these traits, be confronted and challenged on being arrogant and grandiose, then change can begin.

The patient will often be in denial, blaming others, justifying and rationalising why they use. They may have felt invincible until they got found out by family, friends or indeed an employer. They may have experienced trouble with the police. They need to realise they can be assertive without behaving in an arrogant manner.

It is important that they begin to think about how their behaviours affect friends and family in a negative way. We hold family sessions in order for the patient to hear the impact they have had on their family. Equally the patient needs to acknowledge that they have used arrogance as a defence mechanism.

They hide behind a big ego whilst the truth is they have very little self-esteem. They do not like themselves and do not allow people to see the real person. They use arrogance to deflect and to ensure people do not get close to them. They see asking for help as a weakness whereas it is actually a strength. The first step in dealing with these traits is to admit that they are powerless over their drug of choice and to recognise that their lives are chaotic and unmanageable. Equally it is important to use self-esteem building techniques. No addict or alcoholic is a bad person – they have an illness which needs treatment.

There’s nothing like having about 30 to 40 addicts living together who can actually spot each other’s blind spots, confront behaviours, challenge manipulation, pride, grandiosity and arrogance. Patients respond well to peer confrontation once they understand that it is their addiction that is being confronted – not their personality. They are given time to reflect and to see things from another addict’s perspective.

Over a period of six weeks, as the patient faces themselves on an hour-to-hour basis, there is no longer anywhere to run, and they are facing their truth. The denial is broken.

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