We live in a world where people are often obsessed with themselves, believing that they are the most important individuals in a room…any room. While some may claim that narcissism is the root cause for modern man’s egocentrism, there could be another cause: pride.

Pride: Excessive Love of Self

Authors such as Homer in his epics show us that pride was seen as unnatural and a punishable offense even in the pre-Christian world.

Pride, psychologically, is the mindset in which a person considers himself categorically above another, and accentuates another’s defects in an effort to absolve himself of his own shortcomings. Such a disposition allows the person to hide behind a mask of superiority and also allows him to project what he dislikes about himself onto another. The prideful person also tends to measure his entire self-worth in things such as how many ‘likes’ he receives on Facebook, or how many Twitter followers he has. In other words, the prideful person measures himself and others with shallow and hollow criteria.

Many spiritual writers have given descriptions of pride, defining it essentially as the excessive love of self. This view of pride is not solely Christian; authors such as Homer in his epics show us that pride (i.e. Achilles) was seen as unnatural and a punishable offense even in the pre-Christian world. St. Thomas Aquinas provides a clear and concise definition of pride in the Summa Theologiae:

Pride [superbia] is so called because a man thereby aims higher [supra] than he is; wherefore Isidore says (Etym. x): “A man is said to be proud, because he wishes to appear above (super) what he really is”; for he who wishes to overstep beyond what he is, is proud. Now right reason requires that every man’s will should tend to that which is proportionate to him. Therefore it is evident that pride denotes something opposed to right reason, and this shows it to have the character of sin, because according to Dionysius (Div. Nom. iv, 4), “the soul’s evil is to be opposed to reason (II-II Q162 A1).”

In other words, pride is a person’s desire to neglect the gifts God has given him in the name of “knowing better,” or a refusal to be “told what to do.” Psychologically, this is a very adolescent disposition. Pride also fills a person with both hatred for himself and for others. For instance, a prideful person may use projection as a psychological defense when dealing with others since he is unable to face who he is within himself since he tends to lack a solid sense of self. Consequently, such a vice also fills the person with a false security and a hollow personality as he believes he is in no need of true relationships whereas aspects of authentic relationships (e.g. interpersonal feedback) helps the person grow in virtue and move towards flourishing.

What solutions can we devise to counteract a world gone mad with pride? As classical spirituality and sound psychology tells us, the counter to pride is humility.

Humility: Recognition of Self

Humility is ultimately found in one’s consistency in conduct, no matter the situation.

Humility – the opposite of pride – typically receives negative press in our world. Peterson and Seligman in their work Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification (2004) write the following on how humility is currently viewed: “The term humility has negative associations. One might think of a humble person as weak and passive, with eyes downcast and lacking in self-respect and confidence. Others might associate humility with humiliation, prompting images of shame, embarrassment, or disgust with the self” (p. 463). With such a negative outlook no wonder modern man has decided to choose the path of pride and vanity over humility!

However, true humility is much different than what modernity believes. Saint Benedict of Nursia gives a sound definition when he describes how humility is found ultimately in the monk’s consistency in conduct whether in the garden or in the oratory. Saint Benedict also contends that humility reveals the monk to himself, and how his relationship with God (and others) should be based on love, which gives man his true worth. He writes the following in his Rule:

Having climbed all these steps of humility, therefore, the monk will presently come to that perfect love of God which casts out fear. And all those precepts which formerly he had not observed without fear, he will now begin to keep by reason of that love, without any effort, as though naturally and by habit. No longer will his motive be the fear of hell, but rather the love of Christ, good habit, and delight in the virtues which the Lord will deign to show forth by the Holy Spirit in His servant now cleansed from vice and sin.

Humility grounds the person in his real self instead and how he relates to the Creator. It is through this recognition of where one fits in the grand scheme of things that humility really takes root in the psyche.

The Humble Person is Fully Integrated

The humble person weighs his worth in who he is as a person, and as a beloved child of God.

The humble person is one who is a fully integrated person. He is someone who is himself at all times, and he understands that relationships are built on mutual self-giving and not self-interest. For example, the humble person understands how to invite a person into a conversation so as to avoid making the conversation focus solely on himself. In addition, the humble person is open to the reflections his friends give in charity because the humble person sees such reflections as vital to his personal growth. A humble person also understands how to function in a variety of interpersonal roles (e.g. child, spouse, friend, colleague, or manager) without losing the essence of who he is. Finally, and most important, the humble person does not measure his worth in possessions or in social status. Instead, he weighs his worth in who he is as a person, and as a beloved child of God.

Our world continues to reinforce the message that only those who seek to be the center of attention, or who measure their worth in how many virtual followers they have, is worthy of existence and notice. The world sees humility as foolhardy, and those who ascribe to such a philosophy are part of an arcane past. Nevertheless, those of us in the mental health field can attest that once our patients begin to turn away from pride, they begin to not just find happiness but also themselves. In humility, the full flourishing of the human person is possible.