Excessively High Self-Esteem Reduces Empathy

Low self-esteem causes problems. However, excessively high self-esteem can also be problematic. In fact, it causes narcissistic behaviors and a lack of empathy.
Excessively High Self-Esteem Reduces Empathy
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

Excessively high self-esteem reduces empathy. This trait, due to a poorly adjusted self-concept, leads to behavioral problems that are usually associated with a narcissistic personality. These self-proclaimed kings and queens have a tendency to disconnect themselves from the rest, which is quite difficult to understand.

The most common problems associated with self-esteem tend to be low self-efficacy, insecurity, anxiety, and even depression.

However, excessively high self-esteem can be as problematic as low self-esteem. As always in life, and more specifically where mental well-being is concerned, a lack of self-control can make it hard to strike a balance. This is particularly evident in individuals with excessively high self-esteem. While they “enjoy” their elevated self-concept and self-appreciation, their empathy abilities are completely distorted.

Hands holding a mask.

Why does excessively high self-esteem reduce empathy?

It shouldn’t surprise you that people with excessively high self-esteem are problematic. Those who praise themselves excessively tend to expect others to do the same. In fact, individuals who consider themselves better than others treat those around them with coldness and contempt.

People with low self-esteem live in a continued state of helplessness. They suffer relationship problems, work problems, and difficulty socializing. On the other hand, people with excessively high self-esteem display aggressive behaviors. According to social psychology, this type of behavior is often seen in the workplace.

Self-verification theory and high self-esteem

Dr. William Swann is a professor of social psychology and personality at the University of Texas at Austin. He devised the theory of self-verification. This is an interesting approach that explains why excessively high self-esteem reduces empathy.

The theory suggests that people with excessively high levels of self-esteem are constantly verifying themselves. In other words, they have to keep reaffirming everything they do, think, and say. This way, they reinforce their visions of themselves, keeping themselves safe. The problem arises when they expect others to do the same.

In fact, they want everyone around them to verify and validate their own self-concepts, traits, abilities, actions, and decisions. Dr. Swann emphasizes that this can be very troublesome in work environments.

If your boss or colleague is obsessed with improving their own abilities, attributes, and skills, you’ll find they have a tendency to disconnect themselves from the working environment. In fact, they won’t notice what’s going on around them. Thus, they’ll completely lack empathy.

The entropic narcissist: when excessively high self-esteem decreases empathy

As we mentioned above, excessively high self-esteem is a common trait in a narcissistic personality. The University of Georgia conducted studies in which they differentiated between self-love and self-validation.

On the one hand, people with healthy self-esteem have a healthy self-perception and are also able to appreciate, respect, and connect with others. However, when we say that excessively high self-esteem reduces empathy, we mean that the narcissistic personality applies an “entropic vision”.

All their attentional, emotional, and motivational resources go towards themselves. They don’t empathize and are unable to feel or appreciate the realities of others. Furthermore, in many cases, because they don’t receive the attention and validation they need, they display aggressive and disrespectful attitudes and behaviors.

A couple arguing.

The serious consequences of feeding excessively high self-esteem

Excessively high self-esteem reduces empathy. This has an obvious impact at both a social and relational level. If a person can’t understand or pay attention to someone who’s right in front of them, they become distant. Therefore, in many cases, they end up being ostracized.

A 2003 study conducted by psychologists Carol Dweck and Ellen Leggett produced interesting data. Firstly, they stated that excessively high self-esteem correlates with a fixed mindset. In other words, these people tend to be inflexible. In addition, they’re resistant to any change and challenges because they’re afraid they’ll prove to be incompetent.

Secondly, they’re also blind to their failures, don’t accept criticism, are immature, and manage their emotions poorly. Once again, this shows that extremes in psychological constructs always prove problematic. In fact, people who assess themselves in an overly positive manner can be dangerous. That’s because they’re aggressive, difficult to live with, and a challenge to the development of productive and respectful work environments.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Baumeister, R. F., Smart, L., & Boden, J. M. (1996). Relation of threatened egotism to violence and aggression: the dark side of high self-esteem. Psychological review, 103(1), 5.
  • Dweck, C. S., Leggett, E. L. A Social-Cognitive Approach to Motivation and Personality, Psychological Review, 95, 256-273.
  • Talaifar S, Buhrmester MD, Ayduk Ö, Swann WB. Asymmetries in Mutual Understanding: People With Low Status, Power, and Self-Esteem Understand Better Than They Are Understood. Perspectives on Psychological Science. 2021;16(2):338-357. doi:10.1177/1745691620958003
  • Neff, Kristin. (2003). The Development and Validation of a Scale to Measure Self-Compassion. Self and Identity. 2. 223-250. 10.1080/15298860309027.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.