Eliminating Arrogance

It is essential to address the owning-class pattern of arrogance because, like classism, it is a present time reality, separates and maintains the separation between human beings, and allows the oppression of working-class people to continue to exist—both within and outside of RC.

No human develops such behavior patterns without first being hurt. What would have to be done to a young person to make her take on behavior that is aloof, distant, contemptuous, unreachable, and to make her certain that she is right and that what is right for her is right for everyone? The judgmentalism of arrogance, the take-over pattern (thinking for rather than about people), the refusal to be helped, over-helpfulness (patronizing), intolerance, impatience, assurance, certainty, authority, and defiance suggest an armor that, like all patterns, had to be carefully constructed to cope with and survive profound hurt. What would have to be done to a young person?

The work done in RC on owning-class issues has been thorough enough for us to know the answer. Ridicule, separation, threat of violence, disbelief, humiliation, physical abuse, abandonment, teasing, and sarcasm were inflicted in a sustained and systematic way. But the bottom line for young ones to learn to be arrogant is that we had to have been frightened at a time when we were being our completely natural selves. Whatever we were doing, be it challenging, questioning, loving, interrupting, or being completely powerful, the weight of the hurt was directed at us because we were being completely human. This made absolutely no sense and left us deeply humiliated. Unable to discharge, faced with denial, we took refuge in the patterns that were being taught as the correct way to be. It is important to note that by the time the arrogant pattern was well established, the other parts of owning-class distress ensured that we protected ourselves from knowing what we were doing. Our remoteness is not just an appearance; it is real. Over and over we see that owning-class people do not know they are being arrogant and do not know they are feeling bad when they express arrogance.


In working on arrogance, the goal of the counselor is to encourage the client to discharge humiliation. Because of the nature of humiliation, the client will feel dreadful, along with feeling tremendous relief that the humiliation is being addressed. It is important that the counselor’s connection to the client be well established, thus providing a host of contradictions—tenderness, belief, closeness, interest, welcome, respect, pride in us, and good information—to those hurts listed earlier. Only in this context is it safe to challenge arrogant behavior in all its manifestations. Without the close connection, there will be no discharge, only renewed terror and denial.

When the client contradicts arrogance, the rigid pattern shifts. After initial skirmishing, the client will dependably find a way to the earliest hurtful incidents and will discharge. If you ask an owning-class person to take a direction of humility, apology, submission, shame, or inadequacy, there is likely to be an immediate reaction: chin up, eyes wide, sometimes disparaging laughter—and a refusal to do this. This illustrates how necessary it is to enlist two intelligences in contradicting a distress pattern. Owning-class clients know exactly where to go, know the most difficult place they are ashamed and afraid to expose even to themselves, and given enough challenge, they will find for themselves the humiliating phrase that at first is so hard to utter and then brings the relief of tears and shaking. Questions such as, “What would you like never to admit in public?” and, “What do you hope I never find out about you?” lead to first thoughts, which in turn always lead to times when we were terrified or hurting.

Owning-class clients may appear to be completely certain of themselves in some areas: “I can cope,” or “I’m intelligent.” On the surface, these are accurate statements, but there is often rigidity. The counselor can direct the client to offer the exact opposite phrase in a humble, hesitant tone, and what emerges is the desperate place where we were determined to believe a truth about ourselves despite our own serious doubt. One woman told me, “If I’m not intelligent then the world is lost.” In fact, she is supremely intelligent, but the place she needed to discharge was where she was made terrified that she was not intelligent and has since then had to defend her “pseudo” position. Deep inside she could not be absolutely sure she was right. It is no wonder that it has been hard to get at this material—it so often looks and sounds like the real thing.

If we shift this distress, we are left with the actual reality about ourselves. There is nothing to prove, nothing to defend; my humble self is the real me. The words, “humble” or “humiliation” (in spite of religious and other connotations), are useful compass points in the fog and will prevent us from losing touch with what we are combatting. Arrogance is as “clever” as any other pattern and can rationalize its existence. I have a glimpse of us attaining a pride that is expressed simply by being—not by doing or saying anything. The models of pride in RC have to a degree been drawn from owning-class pride, like the models of power for women were drawn from men’s power. Whatever accuracies these models still contained, there were also distortions. I envision true human pride to be very quiet, and simply a fact—something that one does not have to put any attention to.

This work feels horrible. Sharp counselors push owning-class clients to apply this work to every corner of their lives. These clients are extremely uncomfortable. I speak from experience! But counselors must not allow the client’s confusion to conclude that there is actual humiliation taking place in the present; if the counselor is supplying all the supporting bagpipe drones I listed (closeness, welcome, connection), that cannot be true. Feelings from the earliest humiliating experiences are coming up for discharge, and they really were that horrible. It is no wonder we have done everything possible to avoid going back there.


This may be the most important information the counselor can have in counseling the owning-class client. When the counselor supplies the loving, then the counselor and client can go hand-in-hand to the hardest places, with the counselor sometimes pushing. To reassure the client is to collude with the pretense. It is completely true for me to state, “I’m really very ignorant.” Of course it is also true that I’m both intelligent and well-informed in many ways, but if the counselor thinks that what I’m doing is invalidating myself and reassures me, that will hinder me from discharging the tears and shaking that signal the final falling away of pretense. The owning-class client must insist that counselors not offer reassurance.

I have used phrases like, “I don’t know what to do,” and “Will you teach me?,” and have invited working-class counselors who love me to tell me when I’ve been arrogant, what it looks like, and to agree to interrupt it from now on. It feels like crawling over broken glass to do this, but I know I’m not really being invalidated; I am finally stepping out of the unbecoming rags of patterned clothing, which I’ve been unable to do in the absence of closeness and connection with another human. “I’ll give up any conviction that I am better than X and that he needs my help” is a phrase that has brought much shaking. It occurs to me as I write this that of course the owning-class burden of responsibility for the whole world—coupled with the misinformation that we were superior—was terrifying.

Doing this work brings discharge where it had been inaccessible. We may have discharged hurts around incidents of abuse or violence, but this work reaches the core where we believed a lie about ourselves and thereafter pretended it was not so. We can discharge looking at early relationships with working-class people, at where those relationships were good, and at what we knew about ourselves at that time. It may be useful to look at where we acted arrogant even then. If we act powerfully now, the old terror automatically comes up for discharge. If we act the opposite of arrogant, immediately the feelings surface that the pattern has locked in.

I’ve noticed from my own clienting how ungenerous arrogance is. There is a part of ourselves that has been withheld—our real selves, not just our resources. Until recently I had always thought that owning-class people had difficulty thinking clearly about material resources because of fear—there is fear, but I suspect now that if we discharge the roots of arrogance, something else will shift. In the past and present, if owning-class people have really wanted something material, they have had a good track record of getting it. It will be good to have that ability freed up for the world!


I’ve had two images recently. One is of a palisade; as others approach it, they cannot pass. The other is of one human trying to hug another with plaster casts on both arms, succeeding only in hurting the other person. Arrogance has done this. It has kept people out and hindered us from taking them in despite our intentions. It is hardly surprising that we have trouble belonging.

We have come to understand a great deal about intimacy and the need for closeness, but to get really close to working-class people with arrogance in place is impossible. Who wants to share how things really are for them or their knowledge of what has to happen in the future, if the people listening are still sending out signals that they know it all?

Once arrogance has been discharged, getting close to working-class people will be an obtainable goal. When owning-class people can take seriously that they belong with working-class people, they will logically see to it that working-class leadership grows and takes over. As with men to women’s liberation, and adults to young people’s liberation, the owning-class commitment to working-class liberation means that owning-class people will see to it that working-class people get to do the job. (They will do it anyway, but it will happen much faster with this obstacle out of the way.) One of the first steps is to have many more working-class leaders in RC.

My vision is that nobody will be left behind once we take seriously that we belong with each other. Arrogance may be the final barricade in our way.

Jo Saunders
Hants, England

Last modified: 2014-10-06 21:38:10+00