Our ego – or self-esteem is our relationship with ourselves, and it shapes how we relate to ourselves and others.
The ego is a very important component of someone’s personality, which is why I am going to teach you to recognize if someone (including yourself) has a fragile ego, what does this mean, how to handle that relationship, and ultimately, how can a fragile ego be improved.
What does it mean to have a fragile ego?
To understand what it means to have a fragile ego, you must first understand what the ego is.
The ego – or self-esteem, is a concept that refers to someone’s image about themselves, especially concerning the beliefs they have about their own value.
The first psychologist to ever speak about the ego was Sigmund Freud, father of psychoanalysis.
Freud described the ego as “that side of the human personality which reflects the personal beliefs about the self, regulates the self-image and maintains balance between the id, the superego and the demands of the real world”.
To put it shortly, he believed that the human personality has 3 components :
- The id – the side that contains all the primal, animal instincts and impulses
- The superego – the opposite of the id, the moralistic side which always tries to be perfect
- The ego – the rational side of the personality, which has to find a compromise between the other two, and which holds a realistic view of how the person is
Thus, the role of the ego is crucial – not only does it have to maintain balance between the id and the superego, but it also has to adapt the personality to the demands of society.
Many psychologists have taken this concept from Freud and spoke about the ego, using it as a word to mainly describe the self-image, self-worth, or even the sense of self-pride.
Now that you understand what the ego is, I am going to explain what it means to have a fragile ego.
In the general sense, a fragile ego refers to an unstable self-image, built on a weak foundation, which lacks self-esteem and a sense of self-worth.
To recognize this trait in you or others, have a look at the following 11 signs that someone has a fragile ego:
11 Signs a Person Has a Fragile Ego
#1. Easily offended
A person with a fragile ego will be easily offended by trivial things, such as someone having a different opinion from theirs, someone giving them honest feedback, or seeing someone living in a way that defies their personal values.
They will have a strict set of rules, around which they expect everyone to align, and they have the tendency to take everything personally.
A person with a fragile ego may have not received unconditional love during childhood.
The love they were given was conditioned by various factors, such as their grades, their attitude, and so on.
Their parents decided when and if they deserved love, according to their values and norms.
Love was never “for free”, they were not “worthy” of love just because they existed – they had to earn it.
Thus, they too learned to judge and evaluate people according to a certain set of rules which they consider to be important.
They could even use the same set of rules that their parents used, and not understand why people tell them that they are too “sensitive” or “difficult”.
#2. The need to be the center of attention
A person with a fragile ego usually needs to be the center of attention, because during childhood they lacked the attention and connection they needed.
They grew up as emotionally deprived children, and this can be more or less obvious, as sometimes parents were physically present but emotionally disconnected.
As former emotionally deprived children, they are now the adults who try to take the attention and affection they need from other people in their life.
But as the pain of the emotionally deprived children is very deep, until they heal that wound, the means by which they will try to earn attention and affection will not always be the best means.
As genuine affection is a bit harder to receive, they will try to do their best to receive attention at all costs.
This need for attention will be quite obvious, because they will turn most conversations into conversations about them, and will try to be the center of attention at events that were genuinely about other people, such as weddings and birthdays.
A person with a fragile ego will find it very hard to make decisions because they lack trust in their own judgment.
You recognize a person with a fragile ego by how long they postpone decision making even when the decision it’s urgent.
They will ask other people what they feel like it’s the right decision, will change their mind multiple times and when they make the final decision, they will still be conflicted about it.
Not being able to make decisions can also look like changing their mind out of the blue, and making a lot of sudden changes in the plans you’ve made together, sometimes even without consulting with you.
#4. Cares deeply about appearances
A person with a fragile ego will care deeply about appearances and about what other people think about them.
They will want to be regarded in positive ways, as superior beings, from many points of view.
They will want to be seen as someone with social status, money, fancy clothes, good looks, expensive cars, as someone very clever or literate, and so on.
Their worst nightmare is that people will find out about their flaws or will see them in vulnerable circumstances.
#5. Never forgives
A person with a fragile ego doesn’t know how to forgive, or if they forgive, they don’t quite forget.
The reason why a person with a fragile ego doesn’t forgive is that they have a lot of pride and arrogance in their personality.
Arrogance is present when a person hasn’t received the love they needed in childhood, and this is why they lack genuine self-esteem and is known as the attitude that “ I am better than you”.
Deep in their subconscious has been rooted the belief that they are not worthy, thus, they will build a false self, which has to be better than anyone else to compensate for the pain of the real self, which was told indirectly that it is not worthy of love, affection, good things, and so on.
Now, if a person has a lot of pride and arrogance, acquired as a defense mechanism meant to protect them against their own belief that they are not worthy, imagine how bad it is for them to be hurt or offended by someone, even if unintentionally.
As they manage to believe that they are better than anyone else, they believe they should never be hurt or offended, because they are “superior”.
Thus, they will not know how to deal with the unavoidable situations in which they will be hurt – just like all of us are at some point, and will be unable to forgive.
#6. Afraid of failure
A person with a fragile ego is very afraid of failure, for the same reason mentioned before – during their childhood they were often judged or loved / not loved according to the performances they achieved.
Thus, they internalized the belief that their value as a person depends on their results and performances, in contrast to the healthy belief that deserves unconditional love and appreciation.
This belief affected their self-esteem in a negative way, making them dependent upon results, and potentially turning them into overachievers.
The fear of failure is also deeply rooted in the lack of self-love they acquired due to the lack of parental love.
Perfectionism goes hand in hand with the fear of failure. A person who is afraid to fail in life will be obsessed with being perfect in every aspect of life.
Perfectionism goes beyond wanting to succeed in life. A perfectionist person doesn’t tolerate anything in their environment to be less than perfect – their house, their hair, clothes, etc.
A person becomes a perfectionist when their parents had very high expectations and they were always told to be perfect, and again, they only received love and acceptance if they managed to achieve perfection (measured by their parents’ standards).
They lack authentic self-love, so they can love and accept themselves as people only when they have done everything perfectly, just as they were required during childhood.
Aggression is another trait of a person with a fragile ego.
Aggression is the attitude adopted by people who don’t believe they can succeed in life or get what they want without using force.
This could be due to seeing aggression frequently as chidren, manifested by their parents or anyone whom they’ve looked up to.
Another reason for aggression could be a lot of frustration bottled up in situations when their needs were not met, both during childhood and adulthood.
When their needs were not met, they learned that don’t deserve to have their needs met and thus to be happy, so they grew up without a sense of self-worth and developed a fragile, unhealthy ego as compensation.
This fragile, unhealthy ego is built on arrogance, aggression, and manipulation because these are the only tools that the person has learned to use – in contrast to learning how to use open communication and honesty.
#9. Has to be right all the time
A person with a fragile ego has to be right all the time and does not tolerate opinions different from theirs.
They also hate losing a debate or an argument and are not afraid to use any dangerous “weapons”, such as manipulation, aggression, and humiliation of the other person, in order to be right.
#10. Is very insecure
A person with a fragile ego will show how insecure they really in situations in which they are stressed and/or vulnerable.
When they have to go in the pursuit of what they want, to compete for something, or to make choices, they will be fearful and insecure.
They are also insecure about their real qualities, and when they are vulnerable and honest will express a huge lack of trust in their own abilities.
#11. Pretends they’re someone they’re not
As a person with a fragile ego has learned that they are not enough, they are used to pretending that they are something that they’re not.
This can vary from pretending they are richer, more literate, or that they like other things than what they usually like, to impress a certain person, or to obtain certain benefits.
They do not have trust in their own abilities to obtain what they want, therefore, for them, it makes perfect sense to lie and pretend in order to obtain what they want.
What causes a fragile ego?
A fragile ego is built in early childhood, in children who did not receive unconditional love and acceptance, and did not have their needs fully met, but rather were often criticized, neglected, or abused, and somehow internalized the idea that they “are not worthy or valuable”.
Thus, now as adults, they lack self-worth, self-esteem, and a clear image of who they are. Thus, they had to build and develop a false ego based on a compensatory belief that “I am better than anyone else”, to help themselves survive the pain of not being worthy or valuable.
This false ego is the fragile ego described before, which is very insecure, difficult to deal with sometimes can manifest arrogance and use manipulation or aggression to get what it wants.
Does a Narcissist have a fragile ego?
Apparently, a lot of people ask there is a connection between being a narcissist and having a fragile ego.
This is a very good question because having a fragile ego is one of the main traits of a narcissist.
Not all people with fragile egos are narcissists, however, all narcissists have fragile egos.
Narcissists are people who have severely lacked love and acceptance during their childhood and have become masters at creating the false self I was telling you about.
One trait that defines narcissists is manifesting “delusions of grandeur”.
Delusions of grandeur are ideas and beliefs according to which everything about them is special – the way they are, what they wear, what they do, who they know, and so on.
They can, for example,l believe they are rich and powerful even if they are not, or that they are protected by powerful people even if this is not the case.
They can also need to buy very expensive or unique items, even if they don’t afford them, because they need to be special and deserve the absolute best.
Even in a partner, a narcissist will have very high expectations, will look for perfection and will treat the person like an object that has to “tick all their boxes”. When this doesn’t happen, they will get rid of the person without thinking twice, and will look for another “trophy”.
This happens to compensate for how miserable they felt during childhood, and it is most likely to come alongside a fragile ego – a self-image that is not built upon reality and will lead to a lot of insecurity, manipulation, and sometimes even aggression (verbal or physical).
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Is There More Tendency to Have a Fragile Ego in Men than Women?
From my point of view, I wouldn’t say a fragile ego is more common in men than women.
I believe that both genders are equally prone to developing a fragile ego, depending on how much love, acceptance and understanding they received during childhood.
Therefore, if I was to name one factor that can be directly linked to a fragile ego, is an unhappy childhood, rather than the gender of the person.
How can I improve my fragile ego?
The good news is that a fragile ego can be improved, and anyone can develop healthy self-esteem.
Here are a few suggestions for improving your fragile ego:
#1. Focus on your qualities – make a list of all your qualities, and read it frequently, to boost your self-confidence.
#2. Do inner child work – as the root cause of your fragile ego is your childhood, inner child work is very good for improving your fragile ego.
#3. Offer yourself unconditional love and acceptance – try to go beyond what other people think, and offer yourself unconditional love and acceptance even when you fail or when you cannot be perfect.
#4. Work on the relationship with your parents – bringing love and forgiveness in the relationship with your parents, will give you a better state of mind and a solid confidence boost, as well as a deeper understanding of how your fragile ego was built and how to replace it with genuine self-esteem.
#5. Start a long term therapy process – the best way to build solid, authentic self-esteem, is to choose a good therapist and to start a long term healing process.
If you think that you or someone close to you have a fragile ego, share your story with us in the comment section below!
Also, I would love to hear your opinion about this article and if and how it has helped you heal a fragile ego.
Alexandra, the head author at Subconscious Servant is a Psychologist, Reiki Therapist, and writer. She loves writing about any topic from Applied Psychology, Metaphysical and Spiritual healing, hoping that people on a spiritual, self-discovery journey will find guidance and light through her articles. If you want to read more about Alexandra, visit her full author bio here.