the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Not Self-Esteem, But Arrogance

I’m the last person in the world to be giving anyone any self-help advice, and I don’t trust those who usually do in blog posts, but I’ve been feeling braver and confident in certain aspects of my life lately, which is surprising even me, and I think a large part of this is because I had one of those “a-ha!” moments recently that spur you on to change. I have no idea whether this paradigm shift in my head is real or delusional, but I thought I would share it with you and see if anyone can relate or add anything to it.

For the longest time, I have been operating under the assumption that I have low self-esteem. I’m not sure where it came from, probably my father, but it made sense to me. When I looked at those around me, I considered them “more important” than myself. If I was walking into my apartment building in Queens and saw someone carrying a few bundles, and he turned to me and asked, “Could you help me a second?” I would answer, “Sure.” That is being considerate.

But if I was struggling with packages, I would not ask some stranger, or even a neighbor, for help. While this seems like a minor reaction, the same attitude would exist if I was asking for a promotion from a boss or a dance from an attractive woman at a friend’s wedding. I don’t like “asking” others for anything because I am under the assumption that I am too weak to handle the rejection. Low self-esteem. I would be crushed. Others are more important than little ol’ me. This became a self-fulfilling prophecy. By constantly seeing myself as “smaller” than the next guy, my self-esteem weakened to the point where I didn’t want to bother a waiter to refill my coffee cup in a diner.

“I’m sure he is busy with other customers,” I might think. “He’ll get around to it eventually. I can be patient.”

I’ve thought about this self-esteem issue for a while, and I can never seem to get a handle on it. It slides through my fingers like sand. I understand my self-diagnosis intellectually, but I don’t feel it in my gut. After all, I don’t walk around seeing myself as a lesser person. Not at all. It’s not how I perceive myself, even when I don’t ask the neighbor for help or the boss for a promotion. If anything, at the moment of indecision, I probably see myself as BETTER than they are — more noble and considerate, as if niceness was a badge of honor.

And this was the a-ha moment. What is holding me back is not lack of self-esteem, seeing myself as smaller than others, but ARROGANCE, viewing myself as morally superior and kinder than the rest of humanity.

Why don’t I ask the guy to open the apartment door for me? Because I am acting under the assumption that this guy is, at heart, a self-absorbed twit who will say no. The boss is not going to give me the promotion because he is an incompetent businessman waiting to give the promotion to his nephew. The woman at the wedding won’t want to dance with me because she just wants a one-night stand with the drunken married guy at the next table.

What a horrible way to view other people!

Now, before you dispute my theory, let me say that I understand that this is about issues of self-esteem. I’m just saying that constantly thinking of myself as having low self esteem is counter-productive. What if I viewed it the other way, where I AM THE ASSHOLE?

In this new scenario, the neighbor, the waiter, the boss, and the woman at the wedding are all lovely, wonderful people. They want to help me, give me a promotion, and dance with me. Why wouldn’t they? They are nice people. Why assume that these individuals are lesser than I am, wanting to reject me for their evil pleasure? Why do I see myself as super nice and others as complete idiots? I’m the IDIOT.

Why wouldn’t the guy hold the door for me? Why wouldn’t the woman dance with me? And they wouldn’t be doing it FOR ME. They would be doing it for themselves. I know I get a kick when I hold the door open for someone. Why not give someone else the opportunity to feel good?

Because I’ve been a arrogant jerk more interesting in feeling morally superior than dealing with real people. I WANT you to say no, so then I can say to myself, “I wouldn’t say no. Look how much better I am than those people!”

That’s been the problem all along.

Please hold the door for me as you leave. Thank you.


  1. Rufus Dogg

    Interesting way of looking at other people. And I can relate as well. I bristle when other people offer to get me a cup of coffee even. “I can do it myself,” I think. But I enjoy getting a cup of coffee for other people.. Hmmm… unintentionally, you got me thinking… don’t worry, there will be a price to pay…

    And just for the record, I was the drunken, married guy at the next table at the wedding we were at last week .. and I read your blog every day as well, sometimes with the woman in the elevator. 🙂

  2. The Honourable Husband

    Reinhold Niebuhr, the President’s favourite theologian, sort of thinks this way. All good contains bad, all evil contains virtue. Everyone’s both at once: hero and villain, master and slave, straight man and wise guy. And it’s useful to look at every human through both sides of the lens, from time to time.

    On the other hand, some people are just assholes. The waiter who doesn’t fill your coffee ranks high on that list.

  3. V-Grrrl @ Compost Studios

    I’d ask for help understanding this post, but I don’t want to bother you. I’m nice that way.

  4. Catherine

    Hey, me too. I’ve started to believe that a lot of what passes for low self-esteem, or insecurity, or lack of confidence, is actually arrogance and grandiosity; and maybe vice versa? In myself too. I was really startled when a therapist suggested to me once that I was “identifying with the aggressor”; that in essence, I had become the aggressor, in a passive kind of way. Horrifying, but probably true nonetheless.

  5. Erika

    What an honest and excellent post. I’ve struggled with self esteem issues and realized that we teach others how to treat us. I used to think similar to you, that I was noble and good and the world was full of assholes. turns out, the world is full of all kinds of people and most of the time, very nice. It plays out in our relationships, so what we believe about ourselves is very important.

  6. Bridget

    I don’t think it’s self-esteem or self-arrogance…it seems more like self-awareness to me.

    Either way, I love this post.

  7. Mary @ A Simple Twist of Faith

    I agree with Bridget, also I think we view people’s motives in light of our own.

  8. Jenn

    I’ll hold the door for you, and I’LL LIKE IT, TOO, DAMN IT.

  9. Twenty Four At Heart

    You are incapable of being an asshole.
    Just sayin’ ….

  10. Schmutzie

    That’s quite a turning point, you jerk!

  11. unmitigated me

    I’m just enjoying 24 and Schmutzie’s comments next to each other. I’ve met you, Neil, and I think you are a nice guy who’s fun to talk to, you arrogant S.O.B.

  12. Deer Baby

    I’m on a constant seesaw between inferiority and superiority. Sometimes I wish I could get off but the other end would probably bash me in the face.

    This sounds like a breakthrough. A tongue in cheek breakthrough maybe.

  13. sizzle

    I actually think you are on to something here. Maybe in your mind if you reject them they can never reject you? Being arrogant or thinking people are less than you can definitely keep you distant from people, right? And in that way it is a self-protection.

    Keep delving. You’re getting there!

  14. Christine (spiral bound)

    That’s a really interesting way to frame it. I used to be quite full of myself, back in my teens and early 20s, but now (mid 30s) I see myself behaving like someone with low self-esteem and it baffles me because it seems so unlike me. Of course a lot has happened since those carefree, confident days, but it still takes me by surprise when I discover how much thinner my skin seems to have become. Your point is a striking one; maybe it’s not about loosing confidence in myself so much as loosing confidence in the rest of the world to live up to my expectations. Which sounds so bitter! Definitely something to consider. Thanks for sharing your revelation.

  15. BHJ

    Neil. You are good enough. Just most other people are better. There’s no shame in that.

  16. Loukia

    Interersting way of thinking about this issue, Neil. I don’t necessarily agree with you here, though, but I guess we all perceive our issues of self-esteem a little differently. By not agree I mean, it’s just different for me. For me to not ask for help, or for a promotion, etc. has more to do with a case of sudden shyness that comes over me!

  17. Loukia

    Sorry for the typo!

  18. Terry

    Your asking for help is providing an opportunity for others to be generous with their time and talents. You’re opening a window for people to be a better version of themselves.

    Asking for help = awesome.

  19. kingofnewyorkhacks

    Well, being a King its a little hard for me to relate, however no man is an island…but then again, let them eat cake. 😛

  20. laurenne

    Hmmm…. what if it’s both? What if it’s ‘that guy’s a jerk who probably wants nothing to do with little old me?’ Whatever it is, I agree with Bridget…. it’s self-awareness. And you seem to be on top of it! I love it. Thanks for being so honest and amazing.

  21. Faiqa

    I love this.
    I, too, HATE asking for help, and like you, had an a ha moment about it. I hadn’t considered your conclusion… it’s a good analysis.

    Want to hear what I came up with? Of course you do.

    So, I noticed a couple of weeks ago, that my daughter had stopped asking me to do stuff for her or ask her for help. If she needed something to drink, for example, she would just look at me and either point to the fridge or say, I’m thirsty. (Instead of can you get something to drink or will you help me get a glass, etc.) I realized that I was anticipating her needs SO much that she was beginning to become a person who couldn’t articulate her needs. I also realized that it was possible that I had begun to teach her that I knew what she needed better than she did.

    I thought back to my own childhood, and my mother was like that, too. She was also (I love her she’s awesome, blah blah but I’m going to say this anyway…) the type of person who always thought she knew better about what I wanted than I did.
    I’m cold, I want a sweater.
    No, you’re not, it’s hot outside.
    I’m hungry.
    You just ate.
    I like this person.
    Well, that person is better to play with…

    And on and on.

    I just stopped telling people what I wanted, how they could help or what I needed because I was sick of people telling me they knew better. I suppose there’s a bit of arrogance mixed in there, as well, in terms of just assuming that everyone will react that way.

    Sorry this was so long and thank you for the post.

    Also, it’s cold, could you get me a sweater?

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