The idea of “crushing” someone’s ego isn’t a nice one and I want to be really clear that I’m not advocating behaving in a toxic or abusive way. Deliberately choosing to hurt your partner to make them more likely to do what you tell them or to damage their self-esteem to make them less likely to leave is never ok.
Having said that, there are some guys who do have an overinflated sense of their own superiority. I want to talk about the times when it can be ethical to hurt his ego and how you can do this without causing actual damage.
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It’s absolutely ok to hurt someone’s ego when their ego is hurting you. This isn’t about punishing them or getting revenge. It’s about allowing them to experience the consequences of their actions and, hopefully, having them change their behavior as a result.
This might sound like a fine line to draw, but it’s actually usually pretty clear. For example, if he’s happy making sexist comments or expecting you to pick up after him because you’re the woman, it’s perfectly ok to puncture his ego and clarify that you’re neither his possession nor his maid.
Although we’re talking about this as “destroying his ego” or “crushing him,” what we’re actually doing in this example is setting boundaries and treating ourselves with respect. If this hurts his ego, the problem doesn’t lie with you.
Another time that it’s completely ok to let his ego suffer is when you’ve been doing and saying things that don’t feel quite right to you in an effort to make him feel better about himself. If your support has been making you feel inauthentic and giving him an inflated ego, it’s time to stop.
This can feel like you’re letting him down or deliberately hurting him, but that’s not the case. There’s a world of difference between deliberately breaking something down and just removing the scaffolding that was keeping it up.
For example, you might laugh at his off-color jokes in public because you know he’ll feel embarrassed if you don’t. Or you might not contradict him even when he’s wrong.
As a personal example, I once dated a guy whose ego was utterly crushed when I wouldn’t agree with him about what was (and wasn’t) included in a psychology degree. I was studying (you guessed it) psychology at the time. He was a history graduate.
In examples like this, his ego can be badly damaged but it’s not really us who have damaged it. He’s pitted his ego against reality. There’s nothing wrong with siding with reality.
If you’ve been behaving in a way that doesn’t feel authentic to support him, be aware that he’s likely to feel a certain amount of emotional whiplash when you stop. This is a good reason not to start out propping up his ego if you can help it.
Sometimes, a guy’s ego can start to push others into feeling as though they have to act in certain ways, especially around gender roles. A guy whose ego is focused on his masculinity can try to pressure others into being more masculine or feminine. He often won’t even realize that he’s doing it.
For example, if he pushes toxic masculinity on his young nephew, it’s time for you to step in and make it clear that this isn’t ok. He might tell his nephew that “boys don’t cry” or claim that “real men always…”
He might do the same for girls or women he’s around. A guy with this kind of fragile ego might tell a woman that she’ll never get good grades in math because that’s what men are good at, or he’ll feel the need to put her down if she fixes his car or has some other ‘masculine’ achievement.
You might not always recognize that this is his ego talking, but it is. He’s associating his ego with his gender expression and he wants everyone else to do the same to help validate him.
This kind of masculine ego is especially worrying when it’s influencing children. We don’t live in a world with such strict gender rules anymore and it’s important for all children to feel free to express themselves without someone else trying to push them to conform to stereotypes.
There might also be other times when you feel that your partner’s ego is causing harm to other people. If you’re worried that they are putting their own ego and comfort above other people’s well-being, it might be ok to take them down a peg or two.
In my experience, we sometimes subconsciously know that there’s something wrong with the way our partner is treating us but we try to push those feelings away. It can sometimes come through as the feeling that we need to protect others from his behavior instead.
Feeling the need to protect others from your partner’s behavior or ego is not a good sign. It shows that you don’t trust him to understand the impact he has on others and to act with kindness and compassion.
As well as times when it is ok to damage his male ego in a relationship, there are some times when it’s definitely not ok. Here are some of the most obvious examples.
Damaging a man’s ego is really easy when he’s already feeling vulnerable, but that’s one of the reasons it’s important that you don’t take advantage. Opening up about his feelings is a really brave and important thing. You don’t want to make it any harder for him.
Of course, this only really applies when he’s opening up in good faith. Some guys with excessive egos are quick to claim the protection of ‘opening up’ without actually being honest or vulnerable. This isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card for him to say or do anything he wants.
Asking “Do you really mean/think that, or are you just saying it?” is one way to try to understand whether he’s speaking in good faith.
Just as his ego isn’t allowed to force others to adopt more stereotypical gender roles, you shouldn’t ever threaten his ego to try to push him to do the same. Telling a man that he needs to “man up” or that he shouldn’t do something feminine is never ok. Damaging his ego because he doesn’t agree is even worse.
We all get angry and frustrated with the people we care about from time to time. That doesn’t mean that it’s ok to lash out at them or hurt them, including verbally. Physical violence is clearly abuse, but crushing someone’s ego is also a form of emotional abuse.
It’s understandable to want to hurt someone when they’ve hurt you, but that doesn’t make it ok. Going out of your way to hurt someone’s ego is cruel and vindictive. Even if you feel as though he deserves it, don’t sink to his level.
Follow Michelle Obama’s advice: “When they go low, we go high.”
It should go without saying that hurting someone else (especially someone you’re in a relationship with) to make yourself look better in front of other people isn’t being kind or ethical. It’s easy to make people laugh when you put others down, but that doesn’t make it ok.
Not only is this ‘punching down’ cruel and hurtful, but it also doesn’t usually make you look as impressive as you might assume. People might laugh along, but most of them will feel uncomfortable and won’t want to trust you.
You also shouldn’t do anything that compromises your integrity. When we act authentically and with integrity, we’re able to feel proud of our behavior. We’re not left worrying that we might be in the wrong or that we went too far.
Focus on making sure that you’re confident that you’re doing the right thing for the right reasons. Standing up for yourself or others is a sign of strength and compassion. Being vindictive or mean isn’t.
There are a lot of social expectations that society places on men. Both men and women have qualities and behaviors that we see as masculine. These include:
The overwhelming majority of masculine qualities are seen as positive or are valued more highly than their more feminine equivalent. For example, being assertive is generally preferable to being timid. Being strong is valued more than being weak.
When men see themselves as having positive qualities and are taught to devalue more feminine traits, it’s not surprising that their egos become inflated as a result.
Now that we understand a little more about what’s going on with a male ego in a relationship and when it might be ok to “break” it, it’s time to look at what kinds of things you can do to help take him down a peg or two.
One of the easiest ways to put a man on the back foot and make him feel uncomfortable as a result of his bad behavior is simply to ask him to explain himself. Be curious but don’t allow him to wriggle out of what he has said or done.
For example, let’s suppose that your boyfriend has just made a misogynistic ‘joke’. You’re unhappy and feel disrespected. One way to deal with the situation, and reduce his ego in the process, is to ask him to explain.
The conversation might go something like this
You: “What did you mean by that?
You: “That comment you just made. What did you mean by it?”
Him: “It was just a joke”
You: “What was funny about it?”
Him: “What? It was just a joke”
You: “I’m having trouble seeing the funny part. Can you explain the joke to me please?”
Most guys will get very defensive when you use this method, but that’s understandable. Their ego is feeling bruised. The nice thing about this strategy is that you don’t need to be on the attack. Just stay firm and refuse to back down.
The next way that you can crush a man’s ego without being malicious is just to stop pretending that you find the things he’s doing funny, endearing, or cute. This is a really effective strategy if you realize that you’ve been providing emotional scaffolding for his ego.
It can feel surprisingly rude or even cruel to stop pretending to be amused by your boyfriend’s poor behavior. Those feelings are understandable and normal, but they’re not an accurate reflection of the world. It isn’t rude or cruel to be honest.
If you feel like you’re doing something wrong by being honest about your feelings, it’s worth considering whether you might be a people pleaser. Ask yourself whether he hides his feelings to support your ego.
It can be hard to stop that reflexive habit of pretending to be amused by him. Start by trying to notice when you smile or laugh despite not feeling happy or amused. Once you notice that ‘social smile’, you can start to stop yourself from doing it.
Lots of guys feel as though their ego is damaged when you disagree with them, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it. In fact, being clear about the times when you disagree with your partner might be even more important if they link it with their ego.
It can take practice not to try to ‘soften’ your disagreement. Lots of women are used to saying things like “I’m not sure but…” or “This is probably a stupid idea but I was thinking…”. Resist this as much as you can.
Practice saying things like “That’s not actually the case” or “I disagree.” He might get angry or upset with you, but remember that this is his ego ‘acting out’. If he can’t handle you disagreeing with him, that’s not your problem.
Another thing that many guys with big egos really hate is when there are consequences for them acting badly. They often complain that they are being “punished” or that they’re being treated like children. They feel powerless and this directly affects their ego.
You’re not actually behaving like their parent (even if they will often respond by acting like a child). You’re simply setting boundaries and responding appropriately if they violate those boundaries.
The consequences should flow naturally from the behavior that is making you unhappy. If he’s consistently late, you might leave to go to events without him. If he yells at you, you might end the conversation and talk about it again later.
Some men expect women to defer to them. They find it particularly uncomfortable if a woman doesn’t let him have his own way in front of his friends or family. Many will feel this as a sense of shame and as a direct strike against their ego and identity.
You’re an equal partner in your relationship and you don’t need to defer to him. If you feel pressured to agree with him or change your behavior in front of others to protect his ‘reputation’, that’s a sign of an unhealthy relationship.
Any guy who feels intimidated by you highlighting your own strengths has a deeply insecure ego, as well as an inappropriately large one. If he’s not being your biggest cheerleader (or even if he is), always feel free to blow your own trumpet.
Share your accomplishments. Be proud of the things you do well and talk about them. Give yourself space to shine. In a healthy relationship, this will make him proud of your confidence. In an unhealthy one, he’ll have to adapt and deal with his own ego.
If a guy’s ego is so big and/or fragile that he’s consistently upsetting you or putting you in a difficult situation, it might be time to consider ending the relationship. Losing a wonderful partner might be the final straw to prove to him that his ego is unwarranted.
In an ideal world, losing you will drive him to change for his next partner. At worst, you’ve removed yourself from a relationship that wasn’t healthy for you.
It’s generally not ok to deliberately damage anyone’s ego, even if they’ve made you angry. That doesn’t mean that you have an obligation to protect their ego, especially when they’re being rude or arrogant. If his ego is crushed by your honesty, that’s not your fault.
Some men do have big egos, but not all. Sometimes they have been conditioned by society to believe that they can do no wrong. Other times, they’re hiding deep insecurities behind their ego.
Setting out to destroy someone’s self-confidence or ego is abusive. Stopping protecting them from the consequences of their actions isn’t. If you’re always acting with honesty and integrity, you’re not being abusive.
If a man’s ego is harming you or others, it’s perfectly reasonable to allow him to deal with the consequences of his actions himself - even if you know that it will damage his ego.
Has this article helped you to understand when it’s ok to crush a man’s ego? Let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to share this with someone who might find it helpful.