What To Do When You’re An Asshole

I’m a bit of an asshole and by that, I mean I’m a pretty big asshole. It’s a problem I’ve been trying to deal with for some time now, but it’s proving to be hard to shake. My sarcastic responses are deeply rooted, years of self-protective reflexes have led me to go for the jugular and I tend to be pretty impulsive, which doesn’t help matters much. I’ve been trying to watch what I say and be mindful of how I come off, yet no matter how hard I try, and even though it’s rather large, my foot always manages to find its way to my mouth with surprising ease.

An Asshole’s Options

So, what to do? Well, there’s the obvious answer… Stop being an asshole, but that really hasn’t worked out. It’s one of those easier said than done kind of things… So what does that leave? Well, you can just be okay with being an asshole, but honestly, I’m not. I wish I was one of those people who didn’t feel bad after I did something awful, but, annoyingly, my emotional awareness tends to catch up to my impulsive actions. You can find people who like assholes, and thankfully they exist, but sadly our appeal is not quite as great as we’d like to believe. So all that’s left is to accept that you’re an asshole, but still find ways to improve.

Where An Asshole Should Start

The temptation is to focus on diminishing the negative, on being less of an asshole, but I’ve found it to be an ineffective tactic. It turns out, at least for me, the better approach wasn’t to stop doing things that hurt others (although I’ll want to get around to that eventually). I’ve been far better off enhancing my positive qualities first before dealing with the abundant negative ones.

Even An Asshole Has Strengths

Chances are, if you’re one of the people who is actually aware of and worries about being an asshole, you have them. If you’re not worried, well, why the hell are you reading this? But I digress… Let these natural strengths lead the way. Emphasize what’s working for you and let that enhance your relationships. Don’t get me wrong, the whole asshole thing is far from acceptable, but if you’ve been one long enough, it isn’t all that easy to change. And frankly, since you’re an asshole, people will know when you’re faking.

Don’t Pretend You’re Not An Asshole

Don’t pretend to be nice; focus on enhancing the (likely few) areas of your life where you already are. One of the downsides (and occasional upside) to being an asshole is being fairly transparent, so a charade really isn’t going to help much of anything. However, this same vulnerability can be just the redeeming quality you need. Vulnerability is relatable… well, at least it is when you don’t use it as an excuse to cut someone else to shreds…

What Came First? The Chicken Or The Asshole?

Impulsivity and insensitivity come into play, but a big part of being an asshole is often just being defensive. It’s often all about self-protection, but more often than not, all that you end up doing is isolating yourself. Much as I tend to enjoy them, most people don’t like assholes. And when people don’t like an asshole… well, the asshole tends to become an even bigger asshole. It’s an annoying cycle for everyone, so just stop it already…

Lean on your (again, likely few) strengths; when you do, there tends to be far fewer reasons to put your negative instincts in the driver’s seat. By leading with the positive rather than indulging in the negative, you cut down on the need to lash out. When you see the difference this can make, you can’t help but take notice and find yourself wanting to be less of an asshole (or at least a little less of one). Let that build long enough and you might just start actively trying not to be one. It’s no easy feat, but it can often be a worthy one… trust me, I speak from experience here…

  • http://yuvizalkow.com/ Yuvi Zalkow

    I also wonder if sometimes what you call an asshole is really just a sort of blunt, honest feedback that is more direct than most people are used to… I know you’ve given me some pretty pointed advice at times that I found hard-but-refreshing… you might unfairly label that as ‘being an asshole’ but I’d disagree… Do you buy that?

    • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

      It’s a combination. I think I have both asshole gears, the defensive and the blunt (I actually wrote a follow up that addresses some of this), but I still think for many that still reads as asshole. My heart might be in the right place, but my foot can often be inserted into my mouth. I’ve also made it clear to you in the past that, “I may sound like an asshole here” which I think helps it seem less assholic :)

      • http://yuvizalkow.com/ Yuvi Zalkow

        I’ve also made it clear to you in the past that, “I may sound like an asshole here” which I think helps it seem less assholic :)

        Yes. I’ve used that method plenty myself. The I’m-An-Asshole Caveat…

      • trchandler

        I may sound like an asshole here, but I think this technique is a cop out. It does help change the other person’s expectations around what they are about to hear, but it shows little flexibility to adjust to the other persons preferences. It’s a little like saying, “I was just joking.”

        • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

          Not an asshole at all (and if you can’t be an asshole with this post, where can you be one :) ).

          So two things. One, you’re right, it is a cop out. I’d be better off not being an asshole or knowing how to better couch my opinions at times. That said, I don’t see it as the same as “just kidding”. In fact, it’s very much the opposite. When I go here, it’s far more for the reason that I believe something is important and needs to be stated clearly.

          Much as I need to learn to couch things in a better way, it’s all to common that the message gets lost in people trying to be nice.

          • trchandler

            I can see your point about the differences between “just kidding” (JK) and “I may sound like an asshole” (IMSLA). JK is reactionary and apologetic, where IMSLA is pre-emptive and signals to the listener to focus on the content and not the tone.

            The similarity I saw between the two is that they both shift responsibility from the speaker to the listener. And like “REAL CHEESE” on the side of Cheez-It box, the more you have to say these things, the less sincere they feel over time.

            Instead of IMSLA, why not something like, “I have something to say that I think could be really helpful. May I be blunt and direct with you?”

            On a personal note: I’m an asshole, too. I like to be direct and blunt. I like to argue with people, especially other assholes. Mine rears it’s head when I see stupidity in action. I have a very low tolerance for that. Great post that really got me thinking. Thanks.

          • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

            To be 100% honest, I don’t know if I really see the difference between those two statements (I tend to be very desensitized to profanity :) ). I also use something like it just as often. As for the sincerity issue, I don’t know that it loses it if you only use it sincerely.

            I guess what I’m really saying is what you say after “I’m going to be an asshole here, but I think it’s important” (or some variation thereof) matters far more than the couching/setup.

    • poss0021

      You got it. The pussification of our society. We are all brain-dead, helpless, over-sensitive lesbians. I’m not exception.

  • Robert

    Developing meditation capability helped me in this area. (Although, to be honest, so did aging and since both — aging and meditation — happened concurrently, it’s not clear which was responsible for the positive effect.)

  • trchandler

    I just had this conversation with my 15yo son. As I listened to him interact with his friends, he was an asshole. At work, we had just interviewed four candidates for promotion. The person with the strongest skill set was also the biggest asshole. That was seen by the interviewers as a huge liability.

    I shared that with my son, and told him the importance of knowing your audience. He can be an asshole with me, or his best bud (also an asshole), but when he’s talking to a girl he likes, he would be better served to change his tone and be more strategic with his word choices.

    We framed it not as be less of an asshole, but rather what other styles can you add to your repertoire instead of always defaulting to the natural asshole style. The more styles you develop, the more flexibility you have, and ultimately, the more successful you’ll be.

    Sharing: Thought this was a great podcast discussion on the use of the word asshole. http://www.slate.com/articles/podcasts/lexicon_valley/2012/09/the_rise_of_the_asshole_lexicon_valley_talks_with_linguist_geoffrey_nunberg_.html

    • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

      Wise advice and it’s amazing that you can speak to him so frankly about it. I know it has held me back at time, but I also haven’t gotten to the point where I can fully get away from it either. Little by little, but your son will have a serious advantage with you helping him navigate this so early on in his life.

    • poss0021

      Everyone is an asshole. Some people are just better at lying compulsively in order to ease interaction to get what they want. I’d prefer not to interact. All that they have to do is not talk to me, but they do anyway. I can be as charming as anyone that you have ever met, and people love it, but it makes me feel like a sociopath or a con-man. You’re basically telling your son to put on a front to get chicks, and of course that’s the only way anyone has ever gotten one, but everything that goes on in life is just contrived. I’d rather not pretend, even if that means missing out on social, career, and other opportunities.

  • HappyKreg

    This article has made my respect for you double.

    • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

      I’m torn between that respect being higher and my secret fear that the starting point was zero :)

  • Zachary

    Thanks, Michael, for your insights. I too am an asshole. After a particuarly nasty encounter this morning, I was feeling miserable and started surfing the web in search of tips on how to resolve my assholic tendencies. Learning that there are other people like me, who can’t seem to stop being assholes and yet regret their assholic behavior in the aftermath, was a relief.

    As I get older, I find I am able to control my remarks and general tone so long as I’m among strangers, acquaintances or co-workers, but among family and close friends I am an unstoppable prick. I have a question for you: has being an asshole led you to keep people at arm’s length, or are you still willing to bond with people, knowing full well you are going to be an asshole to them at some point?

    • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

      Always good to know we’re not alone :)

      I don’t intentionally keep people at arms length, but I’d also be lying if my actions haven’t caused some relationships to get there. Honestly, it’s a double edged sword. Some people will never like an asshole, some people can embrace the positive aspects (or seem to be more willing when I’m trying). I will say this, the same thing that’s caused me to cut and harm some has also helped me to go far deeper in many of my relationships.

      I guess the real question is how are you being an asshole. Is it saying things bluntly or saying things hurtfully? If its bluntly, you can learn to slow that down (I know this because I did this and if I can do this I’m almost certain anyone can). If it’s just to be hurtful, take a minute try to figure out what’s driving you or what you’re trying to say and say it bluntly. Even if you do it after the fact, don’t kick the crap out of yourself (this is useless) think it through. The more awareness you have over it, the slightly better chance you have of being slightly less of an asshole (which is actually progress).

      I’d love not to be an asshole, but I’m just too far from that reality. Just find it better to be a better asshole. It’s not perfect, but it’s kinda working :)

      Also, I don’t know if you saw the follow up post, but this is a bit more of the “how” I try to go about this. http://bettermess.com/more-advice-for-assholes/

    • poss0021

      Dude, they are the ones who’ve got it wrong. Being an asshole is the only way to prevent people from walking on you. If they weren’t such sensitive pussies, you wouldn’t have to feel like an asshole all of the time.

  • Dellu

    I completely disagree with this idea of self-criticism. Being bluntly honest is not being an asshole. Do you want to be a “Nice-guy”? That is the worst thing that could happen to a man. Nobody really cares if you exist in this competitive world unless you make some harsh and loud noises. Gary is now more popular than ever. I never heard of his name before, now I do because he made a loud noise.

  • typical asshole

    i am a big asshole and i always pick fights or argue over nothing just so people will be pushed away from me. i know it sounds cliche, but i actually do fear new friendships and relationships because i was hurt and messed with so much in the past.

    if i offend people and push them away, there is no chance anyone can ever betray me again, i am terrified of being backstabbed again by someone i trust.

    is anyone else an asshole because you just know if you’re nice and friendly, someone will just hurt you eventually?

    • http://bnspak.com/ Ben Spak

      Yes. I walk around like a douche so no one will talk to me. I often put alot of people off because I’ve been fucked with in the past so much. My body language is a wreck I notice I’m always making people uncomfortable…

    • poss0021

      For me it’s not about fear of getting hurt. I genuinely don’t like people. I’m a misanthrope.

  • Delia

    what about the hippy asshole, super nice with everyone but he/she doesn’t make any difference for a better world. Sarcastic responses are not the only distinguish caracteristic of an asshole

  • situational asshole

    I find I’m only an asshole to people who love me but I’m slightly embarrassed around. I have no idea why it happens, but if the people have really annoying social tendencies (like drastically changing the way they talk around other people, because of how those other people talk), I just can’t handle it and start finding ways to tear them down… For whatever reason, these people always have the same common issue: they can’t find or hold onto friends and they’re always lost when it comes to social situations. As a generally nice/outgoing person, I try to be helpful and encouraging at first but when they start making me look bad (bad is more-or-less “uncool” in this context, though sometimes their social insolvency does come across as pretentiousness) I can’t help but point out to them just how annoying/rude they were being/acting. And since they love me (family members in this case), and won’t give me breathing room, eventually it just turns into me tearing down their whole character in sometimes nasty, brutish fashion. It never gets to that point with people I don’t know very well.

    • noredact

      The thing with being an asshole to strangers, is you never know what kind of reaction you’re going to get. I think being an asshole is somewhat subconsciously premeditated, thus the situation/consequences are evaluated somewhat. You almost always know what kind of reaction you’ll get from close friends/family. I’m guessing that you’re probably not an asshole to the 6’5″ 350lb dude with tattoos.

  • siva

    i’m a big asshole :)

  • Ryan

    I’m a huge asshole too. And I don’t want to be, but it just happens. We should have a support group for this shit. At least then we could be friends with each other. Or fight to the death.Either way…

  • jason from los angeles

    I don’t know why but its probably deep rooted anger from my childhood growing up with an asshole stepdad and a mom who only worked all the time. I am very impulsive and react based on my emotion and feelings. I hurt people that are close to me and push them away. I don’t know why I do it. Its not that I want attention or anything. My tone of voice is even worst at times and I don’t know how to change it. Sometimes I do feel like I’m better left alone but the funny thing is that I am a very extroverted person. But when I’m frustrated or mad, I’m just a totally different person. After reading this comment do you think I need to see a therapist or get professional help?

    • sohughj

      Pretty much the same story here, grew up with an asshole workaholic mother who used me as her personal punching bag and a doormat asshole dad who stood by and did nothing. Would have been better off aborted or orphaned but it is what it is. After two decades of constant raging I accidentally had children and I didn’t want them to turn into me, so I finally got myself into therapy (for just over a year now) and it’s helped immensely.

  • No grace under pressure

    I am a female asshole. It seems like whatever the conversation is, I can find a way to say something stupid. It’s a relief to know there are others who feel this way and want to know how to change it. My assholeness comes out with acquaintances – I actually get along better in close relationships – but with people I don’t know well I put my foot in my mouth, then kick it down my throat. Sadly, this mostly comes out at work….that tendency to be impulsive. I’ve tried keeping my mouth shut, and I am naturally quiet (another huge no-no for a woman). And it’s getting worse as I’m aging! Sometimes I feel like I open my mouth and another person comes out and I really wish she would go away.

    Thanks for writing this blog, it’s such a relief not to feel so alone.

    • Jack Asole

      I’m pretty much a male version of this. It’s interesting to play the ‘what SHOULD I say now’ game but it can be a bit tiresome because I’m really just pandering to the socially safe route and not speaking my mind. I’ve lost friends and been told I’m an asshole on a large variety of occasions. I’ll even tell people this if I feel like they are trying to be anything more than just polite by engaging. Maybe I’m destined for a little cabin in the mountains with my broadband and stacks of books. I kinda would prefer things that way.

      • poss0021

        Nothing wrong with that. Unless you are a really needy person, inviting people into your life brings unpleasant obligations, awkward moments, wasted time, stress, expectations, and on and on. Hell is other people, plain and simple.

  • waylon

    Im the guys that’s fights over nothing…. I try to start fights over nothing I always try to be right and push ppl away I lets people push me down for awhile then I just flip out … I stop hanging out and started stay home so im not an asshole im still young and trying to fix this before its just who I am I got a girl whos always been there and I never seen that she thought I was an asshole bc she wasnt good enough I dont know what to do

  • Thomthom

    I find that I’m typically an asshole to people I’m just meeting out of fear that they either aren’t going to like me or they are going to be an asshole to me first. Another fault of mine is being an asshole because you don’t really care what I have to say so I just stay quiet a lot of times. I sometimes feel like I’m having fun being an asshole because everyone is laughing at the person at whom my joke was expensed. But I know good and well I don’t have anything else better to say than to be an asshole to people.

  • muffin 31

    I have been called an asshole before. I was completely compelled to curse people out for it. Not understanding the meaning of it. I thought that it was saying that I had no right to opinions and no right to be aggressive/assertive. Now when someone some says I am an asshole I am going to thank them. At least I can say what’s on my mind and be ASSERTIVE.

  • L.L. Mytochondriac Ph.D

    I read a book about assertiveness vs. aggressiveness and it was super helpful. It was saying that a vital component of asshole behavior is actually assertiveness. So its good to be aggressive but just not so aggressive that you hurt people preemptively.

  • Andy Long

    I’m only an asshole to the people i love unfortunately. I spend a lot of time at work and on my own engrossed in projects and forwarding my career, when I get home I am easily agitated, with both myself and others. I wish I could control myself.

  • SomeChickAndHerChippyShoulder

    Really glad I stumbled upon this site. I have landed in the role of feeling like an asshole once again due to my oblivious projecting behavior. I have a special knack for getting overwhelmed and being useless. Oh wait, if you need me to be an asshole, make that useful. Impatient and intolerant – that’s me! patontheback #overitandreadytostartconversationswithapreemptivenoticeaswellithink

  • Ernest

    I used to be nice but people just killed what was left good at me so i became a asshole because they hurt me with their words after that people just annoy me

  • bigassasshole

    i am a total asshole and people have begun avoiding me because of it and lying and going out of their way to dis-include me and make me feel bad and i very much want to change but its really hard and people dont understand that i just like people to hear my opinion

  • too long lonely

    I have been alone most my life. I mean I have great friends and family and friends, but had a very hard time finding a girl I mixed well with. Finally in my mid thirties, after only having a few girlfriends, I finally met the perfect woman. We have been married almost two years. Even though I know I will never find another like her, and I love her with all my heart, I can’t stop being such a dick to her at times. I can say such mean things I don’t mean. She still puts up with me, but I am afraid she will not forever. If ever I am without her I know I will not survive, even if it is by my own hand. I want to stop being so rude to her cause she is so amazing and I have no idea why she would love such a jerk like me. She is my life and I do not ever want to lose her. But I cannot stop the feelings inside me that make me say rude things to her. How do I do that and be the husband she deserves? I’m not looking for anything cliche here, but real helpful answers. Realistically, how do I change my asshole ways? Please help….

    • Brian

      I can help you with this. It sounds familiar from my own life experience and I consciously worked on it so I’ll share with you what I learned about myself and hopefully something resonates with you. For me, there were two major things wrong: 1. I said the wring thing a lot; and 2., I would beat myself up afterward. Here’s what I did and how it felt. First of all I slowed down. Instead of showing off my quick wit all of the time, I slowed down and thought a little bit about what to say. I live in the northeast and I grew up in a family of wise-asses so I am conditioned to blurt stuff out. So, I grabbed onto my ego and slowed down. I found that PAUSING after someone often left me missing my chance to blurt something out. In a sense, that’s a bit of a victory in itself because it leaves me with less to feel guilty about afterward. Pausing and thinking also gave me time to think a little deeper instead of blurting out the usual BS that made people laugh when I was younger (but doesn’t anymore). Pausing also caught some people’s attention and some people, usually good people, will wait a tick to let you respond. That’s a good thing. The kind of people that wait a second to let you respond are the kind of people you should hang out with. The kind that don’t are not the kind you should hang out with. Grow a pair and test my theory. I’m right. The second part of my issue was feeling guilty after I invariably said the wring thing. I was pretty hard on myself, but that has slowly faded away. I slow down now, summon some courage to let a little quiet into the conversation and choose my words a little better. The result is I express myself in my own words and I don’t look back anymore. It happened as a by product of PAUSING and thinking. Now I trust myself to usually say the right thing and if I don’t- I don’t obsess over it. Last thought: I developed this trick to test what I am about to say. When it’s my turn to talk, I sometimes rehearse it in my head and automatically I would get a visual of somebody I know saying what I am about to say. It’s automatic for me, I don’t know if this translates to you. If the person speaking those lines is a person I would take advice from in this situation- then I say it. If this person is a nut or a jerk, then I keep thinking until I have a better response. Eventually I always come up with something in my head that I can trust because when I change the dialogue, the actor changes. Once the actor is somebody credible in this situation, I feel better saying it.

  • jerkface

    My ex just sent me this so I must be a asshole f.ck her and f.ck all of you.

    • Joshua Burstyn

      ‘f_ck her’ — not anymore you won’t.

  • What HAVE I done

    Wow this makes me feel like I’m not the only one, thanks for posting this. I don’t see the problems with speaking my mind and having a go at people then more assholes tell me to just stop but I can’t it’s a reflex, they think I’m attention seeking yet all I’m doing is saying it as it is. I hate being isolated but by being blunt with people it;s not getting me any further. I do regret making people annoyed but I don’t regret what I say. I’m really sensitive as well and it’s my way of just being honest, I’m honest when I’m saying horrible things and the same when I say nice things but at least I’m saying it as it is. I think they’re the ones who ave got it wrong, telling me to change just like that but If other people weren’t dicks, doing things to other people I was uneasy about and creating their own heirarchy when there is none but themselves I would have nothing to complain and therefor be an asshole about

  • Guest01

    can someone succeed in being an asshole and preserve his dignity at the same time? How tolerated is assholeness during these times I.Y.O.? Thanks for this insightful article.

  • twogunrenegade

    I’m a huge asshole. I always tend to put others in a negative place. Instead of trying to enhance a moment of achievement , I always drift further back and become an even bigger asshole then the time before. Its an absolute vicious cycle that I have become trapped in. The harder I try to better myself on an emotional level, the more I regress back to becoming an even bigger asshole. I have tried time and time again to wash away the negativity in my life and it comes back and sticks even more every single time. I’m caught in a bind and can’t progress towards the future. Its a sick sick way of living and I’m so over feeling this way. Hurting people around me and knocking people down in truly not my intentions but it always happens. Someone, anyone… advice?

    • Joshua Burstyn

      It sounds like there is an issue in your life that causes you to feel miserable. I’d advise seeking counselling; perhaps the therapist can help you root it out.

  • sir ass of hat

    Its not hard to tell this article was written by an asshole.

  • RogerWorkman

    PHONIES!

    Well see, this article wasn’t so bad, I guess.

    But your readers are just a bunch of phonies. It’s so transparent!

    Just sitting here reading their phony compliments. “You never saw so many phonies in all your life, everybody smoking their ears off and talking about the play so that everybody could hear and know how sharp they were.”