The Self-Righteous Person

The Self-Righteous Person

We all know someone who comes across as self-righteous from time to time. That co-worker who always reminds you how environmentally conscious they are. The neighbor who never misses a chance to mention their latest act of charity. The friend who seems to judge your choices as inferior to their own.

It’s easy to feel irritated or even angry towards people like this. But behind the smug facade often lies insecurity, anxiety and fear. With more understanding and compassion, we can help break the cycle of self-righteous behavior in a constructive way.

What Drives Self-Righteous Attitudes

Psychologists point to several potential root causes of self-righteous behaviors:

  • A fragile or insecure sense of identity and self-worth
  • The need to feel morally superior as a way to cope with fear or self-doubt
  • Childhood experiences that emphasized extreme moral standards
  • Lack of exposure to different perspectives and life experiences

In other words, self-righteous people often feel the need to judge others harshly in order to feel good about themselves. This indicates inner emotional pain and suffering, rather than genuine moral high ground.

Responding with Compassion and Wisdom

When confronted by self-righteous behavior, we have a few positive options:

  1. Refrain from judgment or retaliation. This only feeds the dynamic.
  2. Calmly draw boundaries around unacceptable behavior.
  3. Ask thoughtful questions to encourage broader thinking.
  4. Model open-mindedness and non-judgment in your own behavior.

With practice, it’s possible to engage self-righteous people in ways that lead to growth and reconciliation for everyone involved. Small acts of compassion can make a big difference.


What are some examples of self-righteous behavior?

Self-righteous behavior includes constantly reminding people of your good deeds, judging others’ choices or lifestyles negatively, declaring your own moral superiority over others, etc. It often comes from a place of insecurity and attempts to cope with fear or self-doubt.

Why do some people act self-righteous?

Psychologists believe self-righteous attitudes often arise from fragile self-identity, the need to feel morally superior to cope with insecurity, rigid childhood moral standards, or lack of exposure to differing lifestyles and perspectives.

How should you respond to self-righteous people?

Don’t judge or retaliate, which will only continue the cycle. Calmly set boundaries around hurtful behaviors. Ask thoughtful questions to encourage broader thinking. And model open-mindedness and compassion in your own behavior.

Is self-righteousness a mental illness?

No, self-righteousness itself is not considered a mental illness. But it can be a maladaptive coping mechanism for deeper issues like low self-worth, insecurity, fear or lack of identity. With help and compassion, the behavior can be unlearned over time.

How can you be less self-righteous?

To combat self-righteous tendencies in yourself, work on developing self-awareness and identity not tied to feeling superior. Challenge rigid assumptions by exposing yourself to new environments and perspectives. Practice mindfulness, self-compassion and gratitude exercises as well.