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The Psychology of Arrogance, Vanity and Envy

The Psychology of Arrogance, Vanity and Envy

By Ebony S. Muhammad 


In truth arrogance, vanity and envy are by-products of deep-seated insecurities. When the Insecure poses as confident, which can come across as arrogant or vain, it’s like a child starving for attention. However, because this is an adult, the attention they seek is usually from the one he or she secretly admires and/or envies in some way. To be noticed by them (the admired/envied) is akin to receiving some form of validation to their (the Insecure) existence and ego. However, sadly at the same time, the presence of the one admired/envied is also “taking” the attention the Insecure feels belongs to them. Thus, leaving the Insecure starving for more attention, by any means available to them. While considered quite loathsome, it’s one of the most interesting (and also uncomfortable) things to witness someone do. That is, the method by which they seek to acquire attention as a result of being profusely insecure. We’ll get into examples of what that looks like shortly.


During the time I worked in Forensic Psychology I was trained to conduct psychological profiles based on behavior patterns, personality traits and a few other points of evaluation. Most of my clients were in prison or newly released from prison. Later on I began working with the general public who were coming in for mental health care.


The training for profiling was a bit tedious at first, but it soon became second nature after knowing and understanding what cues to look for; mostly how clients were naturally vs. how they transformed and morphed into someone else when they believe attention was on them.


As mentioned in a previous article, one of my reasons for taking up the study of Psychology in undergrad and graduate school was to understand why people do what they do; to understand motivation, our thought process and how it’s connected to behavior. By understanding this, I was able to help and serve my clients and others. To this day I appreciate that training and work experience, because it has helped me to see beyond the surface, defense mechanisms, etc. to help people through certain struggles. By understanding what drives or motivates and also triggers a person, you then have a clear picture of why they are who they are and why they do things that sometimes the person themselves cannot explain. You can get underneath and see the true individual.


For me, profiling in forensics was much like the movie Silence Of The Lambs. The majority of the clients were in maximum security prisons, for committing heinous crimes, without much remorse. Most, if not all, of them had the characteristics mentioned in the title of this article; arrogance, vanity and envy. Even when they were consciously attempting to alter their behavior or appearance when I arrived, there were key indicators, tell tale signs that were apparent, that the one being observed was unaware of displaying. This happens on a subconscious level.


We’ll outline a few of those tell tale signs shortly, but first let’s examine the characteristic known as arrogance, one in which I observed in just about all of those I profiled at one point or another. Had these clients been aware of such characteristics and flaws, it is very likely their circumstances would not have been in serving time, but in serving the people who can benefit from the God-given gifts and skills that lay buried underneath. Most of these clients were incredibly intelligent and creative. Unfortunately, they used their gifts for other purposes. By becoming aware of the above, one can be a better vessel, witness and helper to the Servant(s) of God and also become a servant of God and His people.


According to the Merriam-Webster Advanced Learners Dictionary, Arrogance is defined as an insulting way of thinking or behaving that comes from believing that you are better, smarter or more important than other people.


This isn’t just in a moment. It is a consistent pattern of behavior. Usually these individuals have heard this or something similar described of them by others, especially those close to them.


The above is or can be a byproduct of vanity and egotism.


Webster defines Vanity as the quality of people who have too much pride in their own appearance, abilities, achievements, etc.


Again the above should not to be confused with tendencies, or a person who may like to look their best, set goals and accomplish them or perfect a skill. It is the motive by which distinguishes the latter from the former, which is excessive in nature and rooted in self-aggrandizement. For example, we can see this displayed over social media platforms. You can peruse across timelines and see Instagram and/or Facebook pages that are mostly selfies photos/videos, in which the subject they are discussing is primarily concerning themselves. Self-exaltation.


In the Self-Improvement Basis For Community Development Study Guide #12 “Four Great Impediments To Self-Development”, written by The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, Egotism is defined as the habit of valuing everything only in reference to one’s own personal interest; self-conceit; regarding one’s own welfare as the supreme end of his or her actions. Excessive and objectionable reference to oneself in conversation or in writing; obtrusive emphasis upon one’s own importance, often to the extent of monopolizing attention and showing disregard for other’s opinions.


An example of this can be someone who intentionally seeks a position or to insert themselves in a way that will single them out to obtain attention for self-gratification or to satisfy the need to feel important, especially above others. One who looks for the lights and camera so they can be seen or heard. This feeds their sense of self-value and their need for validation, which is really a false sense of superiority. Minister Farrakhan describes this as a “starving ego”.


Here are a few of the tell tale signs as mentioned above that I learned while profiling in forensics, as well as examples of individuals possessing these impediments or a combination of those characteristics:


1) They feign desirable attributes such as confidence and/or humility, for example, which is usually a sign of intense insecurities and quite likely a low self esteem. These individuals seek to draw attention to themselves by wanting to be heard or seen (i.e. a pattern of talking and/or laughing exceedingly loud, playing loud music in their vehicle, or over exaggerated body language that is considered over the top or inappropriate for the setting and out of their usual character).


These individuals seek to put on a show (“showboat”) and entertain those within earshot in order to receive the attention they are desirous of. So feigning confidence is their way of distracting others from what they in fact lack, what they are extremely self-conscious of and what they may have failed to acquire naturally, therefore it has to be manufactured.


While working with clients in prison I had the opportunity to observe countless individuals exhibiting the above. Although we were also looking for signs of malingering; to pretend illness, especially in order to shirk one’s duty, avoid work, etc., the concept or motive is to behave in a way that deceives or to fake out onlookers. In the streets it was understood that the loudest one or the one talking the most noise wasn’t the one to be feared, it was usually the one who couldn’t fight. In prison, the one bragging about what they did, how many they shot or what block they “owned”, likely exaggerated or embellished the story. Only those close to them know the truth.


2) They are narcissistic, a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy. According to the DSM-IV: They have a grandiose sense of self-importance (exaggerates achievement and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements.  They have a sense of entitlement, i.e. unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations. These individuals also tend to take advantage  of others to achieve his or her own ends. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her. They show arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

They esteem themselves by how much they know, believing they are the smartest, wisest, or more qualified out of others.

Examples of this can be politicians, law enforcement, those with advanced degrees, those in leadership roles, also those who struggle to work with others and have difficulties handling someone other than themselves receiving compliments or attention. They also struggle with seeing and considering other people’s perspective. It’s all about them. They tend to redirect the attention, that they feel they’re entitled to, back to themselves if it’s on someone else. The “look at me” syndrome.


Clients who exhibited this character flaw were boastful about their criminal charges. To them it was an accomplishment worthy of recognition and admiration. They also attempted to use it as a way to intimate others. That tactic usually backfired, because again, they overestimated themselves and underestimated those around them. They showed little to no remorse. They seemed to thrive the more they attempted to undermine another inmate in hopes it would raise their status or image among the general population. Their sole objective was to be the center of attention to all, even and especially their foes.


These individuals were considered desperate and likely to resort to childlike behavior, with public outbursts, poor attitudes, and a sense of entitlement for what they believed they deserved or what they believed belonged to them. This usually landed them back into prison. These individuals hold to the thought and false belief that they are better. All of which stems from narcissism, arrogance and vanity.


3) Those who held to this way of thinking and behaving were more likely to be susceptible to Envy as mentioned above. Minister Farrakhan, in quoting The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, said that, “An envious person is the worst kind of person because he will kill you.” Many of those I had to visit in maximum security prisons were inside for murder charges or attempted murder.

According to Minister Jabril Muhammad in his article, “Envy, Part 2: What is envy? What are its roots?” Envy is an emotion that is directed towards another. Without the other, (a target, a victim) envy cannot happen.” He further states, “It is not easy to portray the state of mind of a person who despises another for having a reputation, or for having some skill which the envier not only lacks (to some degree), but would rejoice at the other’s loss of such assets; though that loss would not mean a gain for the envier.” He also states how envy occurs. “Envy becomes possible when two people become capable of mutual comparison. It is how one compares his (or her) self to the other that determines whether or not envy occurs.

Those who suffer from envy see themselves in constant inordinate competition, excessively feeling the need to prove they are better or more deserving, and it is more than likely to be, or can be, directed at someone they perceive as a threat. In their minds this other person (or people) is taking something from them. It is very likely that when the object of envy receives accolades or any form of attention, it is interpreted by the envier that it takes something away from them. They believe that the compliments to another diminishes their value in some way. In some cases the one envied is oblivious to this. In other cases, aggressive or even passive aggressive actions may have occurred, which then brings attention to such mindsets.  However, to the envier, it’s all the same and their objective is to attempt to outdo the envied, because they believe have something to prove and gain. If unchecked it gives rise to the envier to annihilate and/or  kill the one envied (i.e. Cain and Abel).


These are just a couple examples of the psychological profiling techniques I learned and used while in forensics. There are certainly many more and other circumstances and settings by which they can be observed. Again, it’s likely we may relate to a few of these examples in the form of mild tendencies or to the full extent. The above are pronounced patterns of thinking and behavior that may have sparked from a single event or over a period of time. It’s when we can become aware of it, recognize it and begin the purification process to overcome it, that we can be better vessels and the best versions of ourselves and who God created us be for His glorification.


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Sis Donna Muhammad October 13, 2017 at 2:20 pm Reply

Wow! This is definetly a “mirror in your face” article! It is a great tool to analyze self, as well as others that surround you. Self-Improvement definitely is the basis for community development, for only when we recognize these impediments in self can we proceed on the path of change. And if we see these impediments in others, we are better equipped to deal with them because we will recognize where they are coming from and handle them accordingly. Thank you for sharing your background. That is so fascinating to me. My major was psychology as well and I had wanted to take a forensics course and was unable to. I like to delve into the pathology of things. Going to have to ply you with a million questions now (smile). Thank you for this insiteful article, Sis. Ebony. May Allah (God) continue to bless you to do what you do! And I enjoyed your testimony on the Fajr Prayerline

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