Where Does Your Pride Come From?

National pride. Personal pride. Jealous pride. Gay pride. We mean a lot of different things when we talk about the feeling called “pride.”

Does your sense of pride give you a boost, helping you take charge and make things happen as a leader?  Or does pride get in the way of your success, making you stubborn, and putting you at odds with others?

How is it that some people get insulted by situations that others might embrace, and vice versa?

There are many facets and dimensions to this thing we call “pride.”

Sometimes we use the word to indicate a positive expression of strength and self-esteem, a form of self-affirmation that can connect us with something larger than ourselves. We can be proud of our attributes and accomplishments… and the attributes/accomplishments of those who we identify with: our kin, our nation, our species. We use the word pride to describe the satisfaction a person feels when watching their child grow, a glowing feeling of joy and benevolence.  We also use it to describe the that intense feeling of triumph — what Isabella Poggi calls “fiero” — when overcoming a major obstacle.

Other times we use the term “pride” to describe a kind of weakness and self-loathing, an attacking or defensive behavior where we retract from others.  Psychologist Karen Horney described the activation of a “pride system” in a neurotic coping strategy of “Moving Away From People.” According to Horney, a person seeks to alleviate learned feelings of insecurity, unworthiness, weakness or imperfection by developing an exaggerated sense of self-sufficiency and various restrictive, perfectionist tendencies.

With this sort of pride, we act as if we are “too good” for something… or someone else. This pride is a thin mask for deep insecurity, a competitive hyper-vigilance that seeks to protect “honor” by controlling and removing an ever-growing list of potential insults and slights… an endless barrage of imagined or symbolic “humiliations,” often culturally-defined and limitless in scope.

Pride is a powerful, complex emotion.  It can help — or hinder — our ability to perform tasks effectively, make critical decisions, develop healthy relationships and lead a fulfilling life.

Pride is important… and important to get right.

Pride Positive

As a positive emotion, pride typically manifests as an expression of lasting satisfaction. The kinds of thoughts and behavioral patterns that accompany this feeling include happiness, elation, and joy, and we express and communicate this feeling with intense facial expressions — smiling, blushing —  expanded postures  — head tilted, back arched — and wide, extended gestures signaling power… and yes, and the waving of large, colourful flags.

This sort of pride is a deep intrinsic motivator — it can give us a boost towards fulfilling our aspirations and help us minimize focus on difficulties.

When I was looking for a positive, motivational opposite of Anger via Pulchik’s Wheel of Emotion, I ended up blending Optimism and Anticipation (calling these Eagerness) and mixed them with a thing called Gratitude. Well, let’s now call it Positive Pride. Interestingly, the first few seconds of fiero — that intense feeling of positive pride following a big victory — is often signalled by body language associated with anger. The next time you see an athlete win a major competition, notice how “angry” they look at first… their face tenses up… their arms are out… maybe they are making a fist… maybe they are stomping their feet… likely they are yelling. Then they smile and laugh.

However, even at lower intensity levels — e.g. the quiet, understated contentment of a great-grandparent — positive pride is very powerful. A  person with positive pride is a person who can push forward for “the good cause,” despite the obstacles.

Positive pride promotes perseverance.

The Dark Side of Pride

Then there’s the other side of pride: the negative, “how dare they!!” / “do they know who I am??” pride. This is where the motivational force for perseverance becomes an emotional blocker of stubbornness.

On the Dark Side of Pride, the emotions look nothing like happiness, and the facial expressions include few smiles. Here, the lips may purse, the teeth may snarl, the eyebrows may furrow. This pride starts angry and defiant… and stays that way.  This pride is reactive and externally defined. We’re looking at what other people are doing, saying and accomplishing… and we define ourselves in opposition to them.

Here on the Dark Side we feel a whole lot of Fear and Envy.  The fear typically manifests as an extreme desire for Control or Respect… which leads to Anger, which leads to Suffering… yada yada yada Yoda.    As for the Envy, the close cousin of Resentment, this is a twisted, self-centered form of Admiration. Kierkegaard called it unhappy self-assertion.”

Pride in the positive sense leads to a sense of duty, a desire to be of service to “the cause.”

Pride in the negative sense leads to obstinacy, an unwillingness to “lower” oneself to anyone or anything else.

How to maximize the positive and minimize the negative?

The Same Experience, Different Perspective

How is it that some people embrace a situation that others consider demeaning?

How is it that — as many of the old time religions claim — a person can achieve “glory” through “humility?”

Religions have been in the business of pride — both creating and destroying it — for thousands of years. In many religious traditions the feeling of pride is seen as a disease of the human spirit. While its positive potential is sometimes acknowledged, pride is ultimately seen as dangerous and damaging to the soul.

In the Christian tradition, list of the Seven Deadly Sins, pride is typically listed as either the first sin or the seventh sin… and is considered to be the source of the other six sins. The Hebrew Bible has some pithy verses warning against pride: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace…” (Proverbs 11:2). In Hinduism, pride is considered as a form of attachment that causes suffering: By being overly concerned with one’s own honor or status, pride is seen to limit a one’s ability to behave rationally and compassionately. “One who performs their duty free from material attachment, without vanity, with great determination and enthusiasm, and without wavering in success or failure is said to be a worker in the mode of goodness” (Bhagavad Gita 18:26).

“Yo Dan, I’m really happy for this blog post and imma let u finish, but…”

Working for a Cure

In seeking to help alleviate our suffering from pride, religions typically advocate that we cultivate a sense of humility and that we find delight in the service of others… and especially, the Beloved Other.   The dosage looks something like this:

  • 6 ounces of Humility for each feverish degree of Pride
  • 3 grams of Kindness for each pustule of Envy
  • 2 tablespoons of Love and Devotion, taken thrice per day, until the Fear ceases.

From the point of view of a minister or spiritual mentor — or for that matter, any professional therapist, counselor or coach — the “cure” for excessive pride usually involves a dialogue designed to examine and question one’s distorted self-perceptions, exaggerated feelings of entitlement, and in extreme cases, one’s disregard for others.

It also means encouraging the practice feelings of warmth, empathy and acceptance of others… and to act on those feelings.  Such practice in turn helps the individual overcome their underlying feelings of inadequacy and their alleviates their sense of having to “fight with the world.”

In other words:

Take pride in what you are… not what you aren’t.


About danspira

My blog is at: http://danspira.com. My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on July 3, 2012, in Coaching, Life, photography, Positivity, Productivity, Psychology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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