The Psychology of the Sore Loser

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

When you think your worth is determined by outcomes, you’re asking for trouble. When you equate getting something good as being a good person, you’ve made a fundamental error.

I don’t know how many people are aware but there was an election the other day. It was a pretty big deal.

Anyways, the incumbent lost and he hasn’t conceded to his successor. It’s pretty embarrassing but it reminds me of the games nights I’ve had where one or two friends would either lose their minds when they couldn’t win (to the point where she tried to cheat) or quickly move on to something else while making excuses for not winning.

The irony of the whole thing is that no one cares if one doesn’t win. Of course there are factors that led to one person winning and everyone else at the table losing. It’s a game. Only one person can win.

Also, trying to cheat your way to victory isn’t victory. It’s an admission that you don’t know how to play, you don’t care to learn how to play, you don’t respect the other players, you don’t respect yourself and you’re taking this far too seriously.

For most, a competition, game or an election are taken at face value. For someone to win somebody has to lose. But to the sore loser, it’s not that simple. Losing is indicative of something that they refuse to accept.

They think it means that they are beneath someone else.

Now, this isn’t the actual truth, of course. It’s just a belief that was probably forged from an episode of bad parenting.

When we do something good, valuable or sought-after, as children we develop the notion that we are good because we do something good. Unfortunately, the flip side is true. When we do something bad, we develop the notion that we are inherently bad.

And if you know anything about humans, being bad, undesirable, wrong or faulty is just about the worst thing you could ever be.

Our enemies are bad. Failure is bad. The final season of Game of Thrones is bad. We can’t bear to think of ourselves among the things we despise.

And yet, despite this being an issue that all of humanity faces, some of us are gracious in defeat. So what’s the excuse the sore loser has for that?

Lifetime Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) has a prevalence rate of 6.2% in the United States. I don’t have statistics for how many sore losers there are but I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that they are more than just 6.2% of the population.

This is why it’s important to make the demarcation between NPD and narcissistic behavior. For one to have NPD they have to meet a number of criteria over a certain time period. But for one to be narcissistic, they just need to be self-absorbed with a sense of superiority over others at the moment. It isn’t a trait that shows itself in every aspect of one’s life.

A sore loser could be narcissistic in the moment that they lose a game and then return to normal. But it is more likely that if you are dealing with someone who has NPD, they are probably a sore loser.

What these two manifestations of narcissism have in common is the sense of superiority over others. If a narcissist suffers a loss to someone they believe is better than they are, they aren’t going to act like a sore loser.

If anything they may feel proud of themselves for competing against a great talent and let you know all about it.

But with the belief that they are superior to everyone else, they are going to unwittingly have expectations of themselves.

In his novel The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson wrote, “Expectations were like fine pottery. The harder you held them, the more likely they were to crack.”

For the sore loser who believes his own hype, he unwittingly brings suffering onto himself. He has an image to maintain and a hierarchy that props up his sense of self.

Expectations are nothing more than “premeditated resentments.”

No one ever gets what they expect. You may reach your destination but it never matches what you thought, hoped or expected the journey to be.

And why would it? You aren’t in control of other people, the environment or your subconscious tendencies and motivations. And if you can’t even control that, good luck to ya.

So when it comes to the sore loser not getting what they want, it’s no different than when they do. They were not in control of either outcome.

But when they try to seize control of the outcome because their belief in themselves to triumph over all didn’t do the job, they must use force.

To the gracious loser, this must seem like much ado about nothing.

The sore loser could be so much happier if they just enjoyed the process, did the best they could and awaited the outcome, knowing that winning or losing doesn’t mean anything about them as a person.

But that’s just it. It means something to them.

Perhaps it was a parent who devalued them when they failed. Perhaps they had negative role models who were sore losers themselves. Perhaps their grandiose sense of self is really just a smokescreen for low self-esteem.

Whatever the culprit, the sore loser has a wound that gets triggered every time they lose. And as a result, they must soothe themselves in some way.

Their sense of self-worth is derived from external gratification. To them, winning is not only positive, winning “means” that you are better than the competition.

In reality, winning means that you were better than the competition today at the specific task you had to fulfill. It has no bearing on you as an individual.

It’s totally fair to be disappointed at a loss. After all, the objective of the game, competition or election is to win. You pour all your resources into winning. You do your best to think positively and shrewdly.

But sometimes, things don’t work out.

Blaming people for your loss makes no sense whatsoever. Blaming yourself doesn’t make much sense either. There are factors beyond your control that can sway things in various ways. It’s a chaotic world and we’re all just living in it.

So to all the sore losers out there, give yourself a break.

Embrace your losses and congratulate those who won. But most importantly, seek help for the trauma that is making you think that you’re better than another human being and the wounds that lead you to embarrass yourselves and hurt others.

Life is a lot more fun when you don’t have to prove your worth.

Former Edu. Psychologist | Current Writer | Constant Learner | “By your stumbling the world is perfected.”

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