Pride often leads to a distored view of self

Introduction

Be humble! Don’t brag! We often tell our kids this or heard it ourselves from our parents. Good advice, for sure, but have you ever wondered why? And isn’t there a form of pride that’s positive? “Hey, you should be proud of yourself for doing what was right in that difficult situation!” 

While pride is a destructive force that can lead to internal and external strife, when healthy it can ground us in our ethics and faith. 

First, let’s look at the difference between healthy and unhealthy pride.

The Difference Between Healthy and Unhealthy Pride

It’s helpful to understand that everyone evaluates themselves and there seems to be a delicate balancing act involved. We are beloved souls who are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and we are also mortals who are flawed, have blind spots, and we each have struggles and temptations that are unique to us that if left unchecked could destroy lives, including our own (Romans 3:23; Psalm 51:5; James 1:14-15).

a peacock is known for it's showiness and is often associated with pride
A peacock is known for its penchant for showing off.

Much like Jesus’ conversation with Peter in John 13:1-15, pride and self-doubt are related and both are a defense mechanism for vulnerability. Pride is a prickly façade used to hide self-doubt and self-doubt is how we downplay our abilities or accomplishments to avoid the risk of failures or rejection and minimize expectations others might have of us.

These behaviors can trap us. Unhealthy pride and boastfulness can alienate others (as explained below) and self-doubt can prevent us from taking rissk, reaching out to others, or reaching our fuller potential.

Saint Paul says in Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly that you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” We are not to think too high or too low of ourselves. We are to think of ourselves with exercised control that reflects true balance. 

Like David, Saul, Solomon, Peter, and so many other folks in the Bible, we are prone to err, and we are also capable of great feats of kindness, strength, wisdom, and brilliance. Seeing both sides of ourselves and allowing grace to guide us when we go astray is part of becoming a mature person.

If we don’t get a grasp on this part of our selves, we will unfortunately suffer consequences.

The Price We Pay for Pride

Admittedly, pride can look many ways. It may look like outright boasting, but it can also surface as being inflexible, unwilling to apologize, or constantly needing to be right. Each of us will deal with what pride looks like for us in our own way.

Recognizing what pride may look like and its negative impacts is a great first step in overcoming it and preventing any damage it may do to us and our precious relationships, especially our relationship to God.

Here are a few things unhealthy pride can do:

Blocks Growth: Proverbs 27:17 says, “iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens another.” Interacting with others is an integral part of our growth, but when we are prideful, we are resistant to feedback or ideas that may make us uncomfortable, thereby stymying growth opportunities.

Likewise, the writer of Proverbs 11:2 says, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” It makes sense, pride prevents us from hearing feedback that makes us feel vulnerable. Having a healthy sense of self allows us to receive feedback through which we gain insight for living.

We are not thinking less of ourselves but are thinking of ourselves less.

Pride Increases Self-Doubt: True confidence comes from acting in accordance to one’s values. Pride, however, relies on external validation from others to feel good. This constant need for approval makes us insecure, as we can never be sure it is enough. We can be certain that one critique will set us back and will shatter our quest for approval and perfection.

Pride Leads to Isolation: Pride often involves stepping on others to feel better about yourself. This behavior can cause others to distant themselves from you. Isolation is further increased because in our pride we have difficulty admitting mistakes, asking for help, or receiving constructive feedback. Who can blame them? Who wants to be around someone who is boastful, unpleasant, inauthentic, and can’t have a conversation about good-faith topics? 

Pride Leads to Missed Opportunities: Since pride is a cover for deep discomfort with vulnerability, it can lead someone to forego an opportunity because they are afraid to take risks. If we want God to help us, give us wisdom, and experience the guidance of God in new ways, we may seriously want to think upon this. James wrote, “But he gives more grace. Therefore, it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives graces to the humble.’”

There is a high price to pay for pridefulness. Fortunately, God’s grace and mercy can reshape us and help us accept ourselves as we are in the moment so that we may become who God wants us to become.

Breaking Free and Growing Outward 

The good news is over time we can break free of the mental and emotional habits that led us to prideful thoughts and actions. The Christian theological idea of sanctification is helpful to understand. Paul states in 2 Corinithans 3:18, “We . . . are being transformed into his likeness . . . ” While living we are in the process of change.

Let’s a take a look at a few actions we can take and ask the Spirit’s help with as we seek to grow.

Self-Awareness: Through prayer, journaling, and meditation (or working with a trained counselor or spiritual advisor) we can become aware of the signs of pride and insecurity 1in ourselves. We can reflect upon the events of the day and ask ourselves, “Why did I react that way? What did I feel in that moment? Did I feel triggered, and if so, why was that situation so difficult?” As my friend Jim Herrington says, “The hardest thing in the world to see is yourself.” We may uncover the root cause was that we felt exposed in the moment and we can develop skills that help us react better to that stimulus in the future.

Test the Thoughts: Developing the discipline2 to not accept every thought that passes through your mind as truth is paramount to your health and growth. Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:21, “But test everything, hold fast to what is good.” The word “test” can be understood as “examine.” Simply stepping back from the thought and asking, “am I being wise, fair, and good with my examination of reality here?” can go a long way. The writer of Proverbs 23:7 is correct, “For as a person thinks in their heart, so they are.” What we think, we become. Our emotions and actions are often stirred by what we allow ourselves to dwell on. Talking with a trusted friend, counselor, or spiritual leader can be beneficial in gaining perspective on the narratives we create. Examine what we think and why we think them is key.

Humility: If pride is boastful self-talk, humility is considering others first. Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interest of others.” The cure for pride is to hold others up. Like Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, he took the position of servant and thus inverted the hierarchy. Serving others and placing others first, cuts the power of pride and reminds us that others are beloved of God too. We are not thinking less of ourselves but are thinking of ourselves less.

Focus on Growth: Perhaps the most important part of life is realizing that internal growth happens over time and not overnight. Pride feeds off the validation and approval of others, but true satisfaction will come when you are satisfied with living from your own values even when no one knows about it. You can take [good] pride in a job well done or a good deed accomplished in and of themselves. The satisfaction will come from deep inside yourself and not from the vacillating opinions of others.

Unhealthy pride can cause so much harm in our life, but healthy pride grounded in our being created in the image of God can lead us to live into who God created us to be. Until next time, be well and may God bless you on your journey of faith and growth.

  1. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown explores how by embracing vulnerability one can enjoy more meaningful connections with others. Brown also discusses the importance of letting go of perfectionism, which is often rooted in pride. The book also discusses the importance of letting go of perfectionism, which is often rooted in pride. ↩︎
  2. Atomic Habits by James Clear is a great book to study as he writes about the fact that building good and often small habits can lead to big results. This applies to the subject of pride as well. ↩︎

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