How to Stop Being Self Righteous – 3 Ways to Leave Your “Holier-Than-Thou” Mindset Behind

Published by Riley on

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If you’re searching “how to stop being self righteous”, odds are you may be familiar with the following line of thought:

Ugh. People suck. Why do people suck so much? Why am I so much better than everyone else?

Do you ever find yourself thinking like that?

I know I have.

Toxic self-righteousness can creep up on you, and it can be a real drain on your self-esteem when you realize you’re not living up to your personal values.

In this post, we’ll go over what self-righteousness is, then take a look at why it’s a problem, and we’ll conclude by exploring how to overcome self righteousness.

What Is Self Righteousness?

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So, firstly, what is self-righteousness?

The term “self-righteous” is defined as:

“having or characterized by a certainty, especially an unfounded one, that one is totally correct or morally superior”

Oxford Languages

Self-righteousness is when one believes that they are better than someone else, in one way or another.

Though the concept of “righteousness” may sound like it goes hand in hand with religion, you need not be religious to struggle with self-righteousness. (And not all religious people are self-righteous!)

Where Does Self Righteousness Come From?

Self-righteousness is when someone feels morally superior to someone else.

They may pat themselves on the back for being “better” than someone else (or than a group of people), either in general or in regards to a specific issue that they deem morally significant.

Self-righteousness can come from many situations, most notably one of the following:

Example 1:

Someone has overcome a struggle and grown as a person in a particular area of life.

Proud of their progress, they fall into the trap of believing that because they overcame their struggle, they are more developed, more mature, more wise than other people.

They then take on a condescending view of people who are still struggling with the thing that they have supposedly overcome.

Example 2:

Someone sees that someone else is struggling with something that maybe that person has never struggled with, themselves.

They’re proud of themselves for never having that particular problem, and they don’t understand how somebody could fall victim to it.

They then belittle those people for struggling with something that was never an issue for them, believing that it shouldn’t be difficult for that person since it isn’t difficult for them.

Self-Righteousness Is a Sign of Low Self-Esteem

Self-righteousness is typically derived from a low self-esteem.

This is a bit ironic, because people who are self-righteous might come across as though they think very highly of themselves.

But, more often than not, the struggle of self-righteousness indicates that somebody has not truly loved and accepted every part of themselves, especially the “ugly” parts they still need to work on, or the “dark” parts of their past.

As a result of this self-love struggle, the self-righteous person is desperately grasping onto anything that can make them feel better than they actually feel about themselves.

And an easy way to shove aside feelings of one’s own inadequacy is to focus on someone else’s (perceived) shortcomings.

This can become a vicious cycle, where the self-righteous person feels bad about some aspect of themselves, takes it out on other people, and then feels worse about themselves because they’ve failed to live up to their values.

Self-Righteousness Isn’t Always Obvious

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When you think of a self-righteous person, you might have an image in your mind of someone towering over another, shaking their finger and admonishing the other person for not being as good as they ought to be.

But not all self-righteousness rears its ugly head to the public.

Some of it is a private affair – but it’s no less ugly.

There are plenty of people who have perfected the dark art of being privately self-righteous, but outwardly nice and polite.

I’m guilty of this, myself.

Ironically, I’ve struggled with feeling self-righteous about being more kind than some people!

So, on the surface, I rarely have an unkind word to say about anyone (certain extreme political figures excepting), but, internally? I’m actually judging a lot of my peers for failing to hold back their anger.

But in feeling better about myself because I don’t personally struggle with unkindness, I’m actually being unkind, even if no one else knows about it, because I’m thinking condescendingly towards other people!

This hypocrisy creates a toxic loop of me feeling guilty for being self-righteous, then clinging to my perceived strength and (privately) belittling others for their weakness, and then feeling guilty about it, and around and around we go.

“Righteousness” Is Subjective

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And, by the way, my perception that other people have a “weakness” because they’re not nice enough for my tastes? That isn’t even an objective truth!

Many people would argue that their sharp tongue is necessary in order to speak out against injustice.

Hell, from their perspective, they might be “better” than me because they’re bold enough to tell people things they don’t want to hear*!

That’s one problem of self-righteousness: we become so wrapped up in our own subjective perception of what is the Most Correct way to be, we forget that our personal values are not universal!

We all have a unique way of seeing the world and our place in it, and we don’t always agree on what is “moral”.

As frustrating as that can be, it’s something we must learn to deal with if we want to coexist on this planet!

*(To be clear, I do still believe there is a very clear line between having uncomfortable discussions and outright telling someone to kill themselves just because they’re on the wrong side of an argument. But even that is a subjective opinion based on my own values! We don’t all share the same values, and being self-righteous about our own supposed moral uprightness doesn’t help anyone!)

Now, let’s look at some more reasons why self-righteousness is a problem.

Why Is Self-Righteousness a Problem?

So, now that we’ve covered what self-righteousness is and where it comes from… why is it a problem?

Why should we try to overcome it?

Toxic Self-Righteousness Creates Division

Self-righteousness destroys relationships, and can even lead to abuse.

When someone is faced with a struggle, and then a self-righteous person comes along and belittles them for it, that creates a divide between those people.

Even if a person agrees that they need to overcome something, the other person’s self-righteousness isn’t helping!

For example, let’s say someone is battling an addiction they know is harmful, but someone close to them is more concerned with berating them than listening to what they may or may not actually need.

The self-righteous person has either overcome an addiction themselves, or never struggled with one, and thus they believe the addicted person should just… stop being addicted! Be better! Do better!

Well, that kind of attitude doesn’t help the addicted person. If anything, it’s likely to make them feel worse about themselves, and lean into their addiction to cope.

So the self-righteous person is actually creating a barrier and making it even harder for the person to overcome the thing that the self-righteous person is so concerned about!

I’ll Say It Again: “Righteousness” Is Subjective!

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In some instances, a self-righteous person might be attacking someone for something that the other person doesn’t even feel is a problem!

We see this happen a lot with conservative Christians who believe that being queer and/or trans is a sin, and thus take on a sense of self-righteousness over queer and/or trans people.

Meanwhile, (most) queer and/or trans people don’t even view their identities as sinful!

The self-righteous person’s inability to allow people to draw their own conclusions about what’s right or wrong for themselves impacts their relationships with others.

Why would you want to be around someone who thinks they’re better than you?

Why would you want to be around someone who cannot “live and let live”?

When a person’s subjective view of morality impacts their ability to coexist with other humans in all their wondrous diversity, that self-righteousness creates division.

But self-righteousness isn’t just a problem for the victims of it.

Self Righteousness Hurts the Self Righteous Person, Too!

Even if self-righteousness is not affecting other people, it is affecting the self-righteous person because it is blocking them from seeing their own shortcomings.

When you’re more focused on how you are better than someone else in one way or another, you can become blinded to the areas that you still need to grow in.

Patting yourself on the back for your triumphs and successes is fine!

We deserve to be proud of ourselves for our accomplishments.

But when it turns into the nasty idea that we’re better than other people, we can end up hurting others and ourselves.

And, of course, being holier-than-thou is a turnoff for most people, and can lead to the person being isolated and even more insecure than before.

In the end, self-righteousness can end up leaving the self-righteous person with nothing but their own insecurities.

So, how can we overcome self-righteousness?

How to Stop Being Self Righteous

Overcoming self-righteousness is an ongoing journey for many people.

It’s something that people who are prone to self-righteousness often have to keep themselves in check about throughout their lives.

The process of learning how to stop being self righteous isn’t a one-and-done achievement.

It’s a lifelong journey of becoming more mindful about your perspective of yourself, others, and the whole world around you.

No matter how long you’ve worked on your self-righteousness, you’re bound to have thoughts pop up every now and again.

And in those moments, we have to stop and remind ourselves of a few things.

How to Stop Being Self Righteous: Remember Nobody Is Perfect

Perfection is an unattainable trait.

(And, of course, the standards of “perfection” are subjective!)

None of us are without faults.

None of us are 100% Wise and Mature.

Everyone has their own personal journey of growth, and only they can lead that journey.

When you find yourself worried about someone else’s (perceived) failings, try and give them a little grace.

No one is perfect, and their personal journey to become the best version of themself (if they choose to embark on such a journey) is, quite frankly, none of your business.

How to Stop Being Self Righteous: Focus On Your Own Journey

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When you become more obsessed with another person’s shortcomings than your own personal life journey and growth, you’re no longer living for yourself.

You’ve decided to enter a race against people who probably don’t even realize that there’s a race, so your “win” against them is pointless.

When you catch yourself thinking that you are better than someone else, pause.

Take a few deep breaths, and remind yourself that you are not perfect, either.

You will always have room to grow, and that is a beautiful thing!

Remind yourself in those moments that growth is one of the most beautiful and vital aspects of life as a human being.

Do You Need to Love Yourself More?

When you experience feelings of self-righteousness, pause and check yourself to see if, underneath all of that forced pride, you really just want to feel loved.

Remind yourself that you are worth loving.

You are a beautiful being, just as you are!

In all of your accomplishments, all of your good qualities… and in all of the struggles that you have yet to overcome, or even be aware of.

Remind yourself that you are worthy of your own love, no matter how many problems you might feel self-conscious about.

Once you start to give yourself love, you can extend that love towards the person that triggered your feelings of self-righteousness.

This is just my personal opinion, but I am of the belief that love does not have to be earned, and nobody is unworthy of the most basic forms of human love and compassion!

…Or, you can simply walk away and let that person be who they’re going to be!

If extending love and grace to someone is too difficult, I would argue that it’s better to take a neutral approach than a haughty (or outright hostile) one.

How to Stop Being Self Righteous: Remember It Is Not Your Responsibility to “Fix” People

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How do you approach somebody who struggles with an issue that you think you can help them overcome?

Well, first you need to establish whether or not they actually want your assistance!

No matter how you present it, if someone doesn’t want your help, it is not going to work.

There’s no point in wasting everybody’s time trying to “fix” someone who doesn’t want to be fixed!

In fact, trying to “fix” somebody at all is a pretty toxic mindset.

It is not your responsibility to fix people.

People are not projects.

Remind yourself in those moments that your responsibility is your own growth, not anybody else’s.

Of course, if you are a parent or caregiver of a dependent, or in a similar position of leadership, you may feel the responsibility to help that person grow into the best version of themselves.

But even then, that guidance must be approached with humility, patience, and compassion, or it will only push that person away from you.

Remind yourself that it is not your responsibility to help other people grow unless they explicitly ask for your help.

I leave you with a few thoughts and affirmations:

You are lovable.

You are a beautiful being, just as you are.

You still have room to grow, too, and that is a wonderful thing!

May you always seek the next adventure in your self-growth journey with an open heart, and a humble mind. ❤️


Signature of the name Riley
Riley, he/they pronouns

We discussed in this post how toxic self-righteousness can be a result of low self-esteem. Here’s a self-esteem-boosting playlist to help combat those feelings!

Songs not doin’ it for ya? Try these affirmations for self love, or quotes and affirmations for self compassion!

Do you struggle with toxic self-righteousness? Can you think of any other ways to deal with those feelings?
Share your thoughts in the comments below! ⬇️⬇️⬇️

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