Why Pride Isn’t the Sin You Were Taught to Believe It Is

Beautiful woman with red necklaceAs a marriage and family therapist, I’ve had a little training in art therapy—not to the point of having the expertise of an art therapist, but enough to be able to see some meaning in pictures.

One day, my 6-year-old daughter drew a picture of our family all wearing crowns: Daddy’s crown was a masculine, one-tier crown; Mommy’s was a slightly more ornate, two-tier crown; and our daughter’s was an incredibly ornate, six-tier crown covered with jewels and bangles. It didn’t take an art therapist to see that my daughter thought very highly of herself.

My first reaction was to laugh at this blatant expression of self-love. My second reaction was to feel happy that my daughter felt good about herself. My third reaction was to worry. Should I be concerned about her being too proud? This instantly brought me back to my childhood.

As a child, I remember being discouraged from taking pride in myself. Pride was shameful. I learned that if anyone paid you a compliment, you had to dismiss it. You like my dress? I got it on the bargain rack. You like the story I wrote? The other kid’s stories were better.

Feeling good about yourself was a secret you had to keep safely tucked inside your heart, where no one could see it.

I believe that my parents hid their self-esteem and encouraged us to do so out of fear. They feared that we would be seen as vain or bragging, and they also feared that if others know what we’re proud of, they would destroy it. Like the day my daughter proudly told her class that she’d learned to ride a bike and they teased her for not learning it sooner.

Children and adults who feel bad about themselves can lash out at others and try to make them feel bad too. Even some parents fall into this dynamic; their low self-esteem may make it difficult for them to tolerate their children’s high self-esteem: Don’t think you’re smarter than me, prettier than me, more athletic than me.

Never being able to openly feel good about ourselves can be detrimental to children and adults. Keeping pride in a tiny, secret box allows it to be drowned out by all the critical, self-loathing feelings that are allowed to run rampant.

The struggle to feel good about ourselves and to avoid feeling bad is one that all people deal with. It’s the part of our wiring that spurs growth and development. Often, it involves comparing ourselves to others. It’s helpful when others inspire us to reach our fullest potential. It’s harmful when our egos rise and fall dramatically based on the successes or failures of others.

Parents walk a fine line when teaching children the difference between bragging and pride. Bragging is saying, “I have something you don’t have. I’m better than you.” Pride is saying, “I feel good about this.” The difference is in the intent. Do you intend to make the other person feel bad or are you just sharing? Some listeners will hear bragging, though, regardless of the intent, which can be confusing for children.

Experiencing negative reactions to their prideful expressions can teach children to keep it to themselves. On the other hand, speaking critically of ourselves is always socially acceptable and even encouraged: “She’s so modest!”

Never being able to openly feel good about ourselves can be detrimental to children and adults. Keeping pride in a tiny, secret box allows it to be drowned out by all the critical, self-loathing feelings that are allowed to run rampant.

Pride isn’t a sin. Self-loathing is far worse, leading to all kinds of trouble. Love for oneself is what enables us to love each other. If we want a more loving world, we have to begin with ourselves.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Rena Pollak, LMFT, Relationships and Marriage Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Billie

    July 21st, 2015 at 8:05 AM

    Thank you so much for this powerful affirmation that it is okay to love yourself! I think that too often we hear that we should be humble, keep it to ourselves, but why? When we are good at something and we really shine, then it is a good thing to share that with others! And it may even inspire someone to find it within themselves to find what they are good at.

  • Cierra

    July 21st, 2015 at 9:49 AM

    I’m confused..I consider it pride to show that I’m a twin but some people think that we believe we are better than other people because of it. They say that we can’t always talk to each other and block people out because it makes us look stuck-up. We aren’t. Other people have their own conversations so we don’t feel we should dip in it. This might be a whole other level of pride because being a twin is something that’s temporary for other twins, meaning until they get a certain age and really don’t want to have anything to do with their twin (“having their own identity”).

  • Joanna

    July 21st, 2015 at 10:20 AM

    Very good article.It is very important to acknowledge the fact when your child is good at something. When children are developing they normally will want to try many different things to do and it is important to support them. This way they will discover their talents or gifts and weaknesses, and this is how they learn about themselves so when they say that they did a good painting it is really good idea to join them in their happiness, and not to project our own criticism on them. As they grow older they will find many things as well where they will see they are not really that good at and they will learn to accept that truth about themselves.

  • Krane

    July 21st, 2015 at 3:02 PM

    There does come a point in most of us when you sort of get tired of always listening to the same old people raving about how they good they are at everything. There is still something to be said for having a bit of humility.

  • missy

    July 22nd, 2015 at 7:53 AM

    well, although it can make for good conversation, i’m not too sure that you want a bestie who boasts about themselves all the time

  • Rich

    July 22nd, 2015 at 2:21 PM

    There is a big difference between being proud of yourself for doing the right thing or for doing something well and then being a braggart or even boastful about it. I think that this is what we generally think of when we think about that sin of pride and that is the one that basically turns most of us off. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with being proud of your accomplishments and your achievements and no one will be jealous of you for those if they are a close person to you, they will be happy for you and that you have done this.

  • Rena Pollak

    July 22nd, 2015 at 2:34 PM

    Krane and Missy, I am encouraging people to consider the necessity of being in the middle of two extremes regarding pride. One extreme, is what you mentioned: people who seem to rave and boast all the time about themselves. The other extreme is people who never express positive feelings about themselves or their accomplishments; due to fear of judgment or harassment. The middle is being able to acknowledge and experience positive feelings about one’s self and express it from time to time. Sometimes that requires finding secure and supportive people to share those intimate positive feelings with.

  • June

    July 23rd, 2015 at 8:11 AM

    Like I have always told my kids- if you worked hard for something then there is nothing wrong with being proud of that!

  • Kennedy

    July 24th, 2015 at 7:49 AM

    I think that this can be a very confusing message for children, teaching them that line between being proud but not too proud.

  • Austin

    July 25th, 2015 at 7:22 AM

    I agree with Kennedy.
    Children want to show you the things that they can do and be proud of them but how do you reason with that child and tell them how wonderful they are doing but… don’t be too proud of that or people will not like it.
    I just think that overall there is a very fine line of distinction and it can be hard to know where to actually draw that line.

  • suzy

    July 27th, 2015 at 10:44 AM

    My mom never let us express ourselves in this way so there was a part of myself that I always felt like I had to hide form other people. I think that having to smother this while growing up because of parents who taught us that it was shameful to talk about stuff like that, it has made it very difficult as an adult to even view the things about myself that I like.

  • Fallon

    July 29th, 2015 at 3:31 PM

    You do not need to be over the top with the self love though. There is going to come a point where honestly people will not want to hear about it anymore. Do I think that it is a sin? No not at all but I do think that you will find that there are a whole lot of people for whom it is very annoying to sit around and you talk about how great you are. Even at a club meeting for narcissists, you will have an annoyance factor.

  • Mimi

    August 4th, 2015 at 2:30 PM

    the only healthy way to express pride would be in what you do not who u are. For instance, boosting is an ego but wether your an artist, a cook, a cleaner and so on you show pride through your work and allow others to boost of you. ” that chicken soup took my back to my childhood ” or ” now that’s what I call a clean job”. Take pride in your work and it should shine through and watch how word of mouth gets you all the pride comments you need without opening yours. That what I teach my kids. What you say means nothing these days, it’s who you do things that sets you apart from the norm or the rest. That can’t be a sin.

  • Trinder j

    August 7th, 2015 at 12:46 AM

    a very interesting topic. I spend most of my life thinking i was THE most important person to the world. it took me 44 years to learn understand whilst on counselling course that i’m my dad’s princess and that he loves me and not the world outside of my home. i notice my grandson ( 1 and only at the time, I now have 2) believed the same as what i believed. i have tried to tell him that he was the most precious person in the family but people don’t know him in the community and that they didn’t love him because of that. now 10, he have some understanding of that. it’s very important that parents, grandparents (if any) praise children for their little achievement during their life in order for them to trust that they are ‘good enough’ and appreciate small rewards as well as big rewards.
    i myself now can accept my achievement no matter how small.

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