Of all the hurdles to self-awareness, pride is likely the one you think of first.
Self-awareness requires you to acknowledge your flaws, strengths, opportunities and potential. It stands to reason that pride would get in the way. After all, you’re unlikely to want to work on knowing and improving yourself if you think you already know everything, and there is nothing to improve.
But though we may think we understand pride, including what it is and what harm it can do, the fact remains that pride is one of the more common things standing in the way of self-awareness, and therefore, standing in the way of a happier, more meaningful life. If we understand pride so well, why do so many of us still succumb to it?
Maybe we don’t understand pride as well as we thought. The truth is, pride is more complicated than simply turning a blind eye to weakness, or thinking yourself better than other people. Pride is deceptive, alluring, and self-affirming. As such, it’s difficult to spot and even more difficult to work through.
If you’re really going to get over the hurdle of pride, you have to understand it better, respect it more, and be constantly aware of how it is manifesting itself in your life.
You aren’t immune to pride. But you are a powerful person. You are capable of keeping your pride in check so that it doesn’t hold you back. Ready to increase that power just a little more? Then read on.
Pride has long been considered to be a great weakness among humans, especially by spiritual and religious thinkers. In fact, it is not only considered to be one of the seven deadly sins, but the original deadly sin, and the most serious. C.S. Lewis writes that “pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.” This suggests that pride is at the root of all human error or weakness.
Ancient Greeks recognized pride, or hubris, as a particularly dangerous characteristic. Hubristic behavior challenged the gods, eventually and inevitably leading to the proud person’s downfall.
One interesting thing to note about this Greek word “hubris” is how the Greeks applied it in their society, and what sort of behavior was considered to be hubristic. Crimes of violence, like assault and rape, fell into this category. Aristotle also noted that shaming victims counted as another hubristic act, as it accomplished nothing except to gratify the shamer. This could suggest to us that pride leads to a desperation for vindication in the form of control.
In other words, a proud person will go to extreme measures to “prove” that he or she is better, more worthy, or more deserving than someone else. As Aristotle put it, “Naive men think that by ill-treating others they make their own superiority the greater.”
You don’t have to prove your worth to us (or anyone else, for that matter), but is your pride constantly trying to prove it to yourself?
In our discussions on other hurdles to self-awareness (including skepticism, self-doubt, and shame), we’ve pointed out that although those things hurt us more often than not, they can potentially serve helpful purposes as well. The same is true for pride.
After all, healthy self-confidence is a good thing. Recognizing and using your own strengths can help you set and reach goals. And certainly, having a sense of pride in other things (such as your family, your home, or your country) will inspire you to care for those things in proper and productive ways. You have much to be grateful for, and it is good for you to take pride in yourself, in people you love, and in the life you’ve created—to a certain extent.
So when does pride cross the line into dangerous territory?
The myth of Arachne
Consider the Greek myth of Arachne. Arachne was a talented weaver who claimed to be even more skilled at weaving than the goddess Athena. Outraged, Athena challenged Arachne to a contest. Unfortunately for them both, Arachne actually won, producing a more beautiful tapestry than Athena. This prompted Athena to not only destroy Arachne’s beautiful tapestry, but to destroy Arachne as well, turning her into a spider.
The interesting thing about this story is that, if you think about it, it wasn’t Arachne’s weaving ability that was her downfall. If she had been happy with being a talented weaver, and had never boasted about being better than Athena, it’s likely that Athena would have let her be. But because she did boast, the goddess was angered and the challenge was issued. At that point, it didn’t matter how talented Arachne was—she was doomed already.
Arachne’s punishment wasn’t brought about by her ability, but by her attitude. Even if her pride was in some ways justified, it became dangerous when she made presumptions and bragged about her talent.
It’s okay to recognize our abilities, and even to be pleased with them. But when our attitudes take us to a place of superiority or entitlement, we’re suddenly on the bad side of pride. And when pride has too much control, self-awareness and happiness suffer. (And you may or may not get turned into a spider!)
When pride is in control
One big result of pride being given too much control is the inability to improve. Why would you work to improve something that you don’t think could be any better?
Pride can also cause you to shut out other people. You might think they are lesser than you, so their ideas couldn’t possibly be useful to you. You also might have a hard time saying you’re sorry, or admitting fault in a disagreement. As we discussed before, pride can even cause you to lash out at other people—physically or otherwise—creating lasting harm. All these things could ultimately lead to resentment and relationship breakdown.
Lastly, pride breeds fear. Prideful people are so focused on their image that they live in constant fear of their image being ruined in some way. Consequently, they may engage in behavior meant to manage or protect that image at all costs, including withdrawing, passively sabotaging, lying, cheating, manipulating, or betraying.
Pride and self-awareness
Integrity is required if you’re going to achieve self-awareness, and self-awareness is required if you’re ever going to be able to design a life you love. (For a quick review of why self-awareness is so important, read this.)
Like the other hurdles to self-awareness, pride thrives on thoughts that feed itself and starves challenging ideas. Pride’s favorite statements are centered around self-importance, entitlement, and unhealthy comparison.
“You are better than this.”
A strong sense of self-worth is important, but when it morphs into entitlement, it takes on an ugly hue. Pride would have you believe that other people don’t recognize your true value, and are constantly giving you less than you deserve. When this happens, you are so focused on what you don’t have that it’s impossible for you to become self-aware enough to make progress.
In John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Lucifer feels as though he isn’t given his just deserts when he is cast out of heaven for rebellion. How does he respond? He says, “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.” He effectively damns himself because he thinks he deserves to be a leader, and chooses an eternity in hell over the possibility of trying to progress in heaven.
“You already know the answer.”
Trusting your instincts and what you know can be a positive and helpful thing. But it can also keep you from spotting potential gaps in your knowledge and abilities. Self-awareness requires honesty. You must be able to see yourself for all that you are (warts and all, so to speak).
Pride will stop at nothing to keep you from examining yourself in an honest way, and telling you that you already know everything you need to know is an effective way to do that.
“You don’t need anyone.”
Pride will encourage you to compare yourself to others and will almost always find them wanting. It is inherently isolating, keeping you from accepting help, support, or feedback from another person.
You might think that isolation might actually help with self-awareness (after all, it is about knowing yourself, not others). However, other people can help you see your strengths and weaknesses, give you a different perspective on situations, and provide encouragement when you need it.
Pride’s arguments stand in the way of self-awareness and progress. But it is possible to design responses that will help you overcome pride’s negative impact.
Ridding ourselves of harmful pride presents a real challenge, but it is one that is worth the effort. By choosing thoughts that counteract prideful ones, you can get back on the road to self-awareness and happiness.
Pride says: “You are better than this.”
Respond with: “I am where I am for a reason.”
Happiness is about learning how to be content in your current circumstances: with your current job, your current salary, your current weight, your current home, and so on. It’s not harmful to be ambitious, set goals, and dream of “more.” It is harmful, however, to come to those things from a place of entitlement.
Recognize that you are right where you’re supposed to be. Don’t be the leader of your own personal hell, just because you think you aren’t yet qualified to be the leader of your own personal heaven. Be grateful for what you have. Your worth is intact no matter what you have (or don’t have). Accept where you are and continue to do your best.
Pride says: “You already know best.”
Respond with: “There is always something I don’t know, and that’s okay.”
Humans are not meant to be all-knowing beings. Pridefully telling yourself you already know all there is to know about yourself and your life is flat-out deceptive. If you think you’ve already got everything figured out, you’re never going to be able to be honest about who you really are, and therefore, you’ll never be able to make positive change.
Accept yourself. Accept that you can’t know everything. Then you’ll be able to focus on the things you want to know, so that you can really progress.
Pride says: “You don’t need anyone.”
Respond with: “Everyone needs someone.”
You are hard-wired for connection. Literally. Rejecting the help or love of other people out of pride is only going to hurt you, not help you.
Also, consider this: purpose is something bigger than you. Uncovering your purpose requires discovering your place in the world, including the contributions you make to the lives of others. As you are able to recognize the role that other people play in your life, you’ll also be able to see the impact you have on other people. That powerful level of self-awareness will help propel you forward toward a more meaningful life.
Other people need you, and you need them. Don’t let pride cut off connection in your life. You are the universe, and the universe is always expanding. You are eternal, and any lack is temporary.
Pride may be the instigator of all sin, but it doesn’t have to be the thing that holds you back from self-awareness. As you start to recognize the thoughts that pride creates in your mind, and as you practice freeing yourself from them, your self-awareness will allow you to discover things much greater than pride: dignity, confidence, connection, worth, and purpose.
Trust us, it’s better on the other side.