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The One Personality Trait All Humble People Have In Common

October 25, 2019

What does it really mean to be humble? 

New research1 published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests it has nothing to do with downplaying your accomplishments, contrary to what you may think. Instead, the researchers pinpoint a trait called hypo-egoic nonentitlement as being the defining mark of humility.

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Hypo-egoic nonentitlement refers to the belief that you don't deserve special treatment for your accomplishments or positive characteristics. For the study, psychology researchers Chloe Banker and Mark Leary, Ph.D., asked over 400 people to describe their own accomplishments and positive characteristics. The participants were also asked to rate how great their accomplishments and characteristics were, how special they felt they were for having these qualities, and how they thought others should treat them based on those qualities. Lastly, they took a survey that's designed to gauge a person's humility. 

The results? People with high humility scores were much less likely to think they deserved special treatment for their accomplishments and positive traits. But humble people were not less likely to identify accomplishments and positive traits they were proud of, nor did they tend to rate their accomplishments and traits less positively. 

"Humility is not about underestimating or downplaying your accomplishments or positive characteristics. Everyone who has studied humility agrees that humble people probably see themselves more accurately than the average person, so they know that they're good at whatever it is they're good at," Leary recently told PsyPost. "Humble people recognize that their special accomplishments or attributes notwithstanding, they are just like everybody else, with a host of shortcomings, weaknesses, hang-ups, and failures. So, they don't expect extra attention, interest, favors, or special treatment from other people."

Leary added that hypo-egoic nonentitlement may explain why many cultures and religions so highly value humility. 

"People who think that they are entitled to be treated special as a person—for whatever reason—impose on other people, gain an unwarranted share of positive outcomes, feel entitled to use other people, take more than they give in interactions and relationships, and go through life with a generally selfish perspective," he explained. "Humility is a virtue because it reflects a fair and egalitarian approach to interpersonal relations in which people don't use their accomplishments and positive characteristics to get more than their share from other people. By setting their positive attributes aside, humble people treat everyone more as equals than nonhumble people do." 

So there you have it: Being humble isn't about devaluing yourself or all the things that make you great. Instead, it's just about viewing all people (including yourself) holistically—every one of us has strengths and flaws, and as such, every one of us deserves to be treated equally.

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Kelly Gonsalves
Kelly Gonsalves
Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor

Kelly Gonsalves is a multi-certified sex educator and relationship coach helping people figure out how to create dating and sex lives that actually feel good — more open, more optimistic, and more pleasurable. In addition to working with individuals in her private practice, Kelly serves as the Sex & Relationships Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and she’s been trained and certified by leading sex and relationship institutions such as The Gottman Institute and Everyone Deserves Sex Ed, among others. Her work has been featured at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.

With her warm, playful approach to coaching and facilitation, Kelly creates refreshingly candid spaces for processing and healing challenges around dating, sexuality, identity, body image, and relationships. She’s particularly enthusiastic about helping softhearted women get re-energized around the dating experience and find joy in the process of connecting with others. She believes relationships should be easy—and that, with room for self-reflection and the right toolkit, they can be.

You can stay in the loop about her latest programs, gatherings, and other projects through her newsletter: kellygonsalves.com/newsletter