Self-Aggrandizement - A pattern of pompous behavior, boasting, narcissism or competitiveness designed to create an appearance of superiority.

Toxic Delusions of Grandeur

Self-aggrandizement is a colloquial term which broadly describes Narcissism, the most defining trait of people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It differs from general boasting, which most of us indulge in now and then, in that it can often manifest in aggressive, ruthless or manipulative patterns of relating.

Being able to form teams of some kind, and build lasting committed relationships, is one of the behaviors which distinguishes intelligent beings from sea cucumbers and other lower life-forms. To do that, a human (or swan, or dolphin, or elephant) has to regularly choose between their instinctive lower-brain “kill or be killed” impulse and the more reasoned “what is the long-term risk and reward of this course of action” thought process.

Some psychologists believe that Narcissists are people whose emotional centers have fewer connections to the higher reasoning parts of the brain located in the frontal cortex - so they lack that filter most of us use to keep our basic instincts in check.

Despite their facade, self-aggrandizers often suffer from low self-esteem themselves. They live in a dog-eat-dog world of fear where being anything less than being number one is regarded as failure – a world where nobody can be trusted.

What it Looks Like

  • A person engages in false accusations, smear campaigns, distortion campaigns, character assassination attempts and malicious gossip.
  • An employee habitually gravitates to or assumes positions of power, authority or leadership while disregarding the existence of more qualified individuals.
  • A friend amplifies their own image, or behaves in a pompous, arrogant manner.
  • A team member tenaciously avoids playing anonymous roles or engaging in thankless tasks.
  • A family member frequently speaks out inappropriately, drawing attention to themselves.
  • A parent inappropriately puts their own needs or interests above the needs of their children.

How it Feels

Being in a relationship with a self-aggrandizer can feel a little like being on a fast moving freight train. You can’t steer because someone else is driving it and you’re left to choose between a ride to somewhere you don’t want to go to or jumping off while the train is still in motion and potentially getting hurt.

There are two ways you can be a victim in this kind of relationship:

You may be the direct victim. Your needs and goals may get put down or stomped upon by the other person to make them look or feel better. You may feel anger, despair or resentment as you see your money getting squandered, your reputation being torn, your time being wasted and your optimism evaporating.
You may be guilty by association with the perpetrator. Other people who get hurt by them may partially blame you for enabling and supporting them. You may feel under pressure to “take sides”. You may feel a sense of shame or humiliation as you wonder “what must he/she think of me?” and struggle to find ways to non-verbally convey to the rest of the world “I’m really not like that!”

Most people on the outside of such a relationship stand far enough back that they can see who is driving the freight train and who is being taken along for the ride. Although they may not blame you, it’s rare that outsiders will try to step in and help you, because few people want to get run over themselves. The safest thing for outsiders to do is keep their distance and watch the freight train speeding by, wondering “how long before that thing turns into a train wreck?”

How to Cope

Whether you are in a relationship with a self-aggrandizer or dealing with one in a business context, you are already in a conflict zone, where there is only one winner allowed and ideas like trust, loyalty and faith are secondary. You will need to have your wits about you. You may need to be willing to cut some losses to get out of the conflict zone.

What NOT to do

  • Don’t feel sorry for a self-aggrandizer. They often use guilt as a diversion from their own behavior and as a means of getting public support.
  • Don’t listen to promises from a self-aggrandizer or believe every word they say. Trust is built on track records.
  • Don’t become a false prophet. Self-aggrandizers love to recruit and deceive unwitting bystanders to sing their praises.
  • Don’t stand in front of a freight train unless you want to get hit. It’s easier to derail a train than to stop it cold.
  • Don’t become intoxicated by the thrill of being taken on board by a self-aggrandizer. Eventually they will not want to share their glory with you.

What TO do

  • Figure out who your real friends are and be loyal to them. Self-aggrandizers often use a “divide and conquer” technique to gain control over people.
  • Get off the freight train if you can, as quietly and uneventfully as possible. You may feel attracted and intoxicated by the thrill of riding the fast lane, climbing the social ladder, shooting to the top but it’s better to go through life at your own pace safely than to hurtle towards disaster.
  • Remember that what goes up must come down. As people climb social and corporate ladders there’s less and less room at the top and more and more competition for it. That’s a guaranteed recipe for future conflict.
  • Remove yourself and any children from any situation which you are physically or emotionally threatened.
  • Make sure your needs are being met. Establish a list of “bottom line” needs that you have and boundaries that must not be crossed. Write them down. It can be so very difficult to remember them in the heat of the moment.
  • Handle minor disagreements with a self-aggrandizer as unemotionally and briefly as you can. It is usually more helpful to let them “think they have won” than to stand your ground on minor disagreements.
  • Find your own support network, a group of people who understand what you are living with and know the “real” you.
  • Seek out healthy, validating environments for yourself, away from the influence and control of a self-aggrandizer.
  • See a therapist who can explain Narcissism, and can help you build your own self-esteem and develop techniques for dealing with it.