What Does Healthy Pride Look Like? A Therapist Explains
Have you ever noticed that pride is a taboo word? This shouldn't come as a surprise given that Christianity teaches that pride is the deadliest of all sins. Even if you aren't religious, many people have learned to associate pride with arrogance, even narcissism. We've become diligent about appearing proud, and we develop a dislike for those who do not temper their pride.
Maybe not because of pride's negative connotation, but in spite of it, we can also tend to not have enough. Many of us are inclined to minimize our achievements or are even afraid to feel joy. We see this all around us when people say "sorry" too often. An overly apologetic person actually needs more pride or a clearer understanding of what they are doing right. With both ends of the spectrum common all around us, it is difficult to know what healthy pride is.
What does healthy pride look like?
In my work as a psychotherapist, I've experienced profound moments of healing with my clients as they make clearer contact with themselves and experience healthy pride. In her work known as Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP), psychologist Diana Fosha, Ph.D., refers to pride as a mastery affect, stating that it is a sign one has overcome the fear of feeling painful emotions. After all, we experience pride when we have achieved something important or of value to us. For many of us that can come after the process of doing something new or difficult, like allowing ourselves to get in touch with loss for the first time.
Pride then becomes a marker that we have done something good or true. We are proud after acting brave. We are proud of ourselves for accepting something painful. Pride is often an extension of our love. We feel proud of loved ones after seeing them succeed. And when we feel proud of ourselves, this can be an indication of budding self-compassion.
Where pride becomes a problem.
Perhaps where pride becomes a deadly sin is when it is out of alignment with the actual achievement. Christians teach that pride comes from failing to acknowledge God, or something larger than ourselves, as the creator of that achievement. This idea serves to keep pride in check, and it aims to balance us with a sense of humility. After all, we human beings do have a tendency to embellish. With our pride, we may be prone to expand our sense of achievement beyond what is merited.
Where pride becomes unhealthy is when we distort our sense of accomplishment or value in proportion to the situation. Where we may fall into elaboration is if we give ourselves merit beyond the specific achievement of that moment. For example, maybe we aced a test, and instead of just feeling proud that we knew the information and executed it, we distort that into feeling as if we could ace all tests or are now an expert on the subject matter. The key here is to not get ahead of ourselves.
As I mentioned before, we can also understate, even diminish, our accomplishments, and that, too, can leave us with a distorted sense of self. Healthy pride is therefore having a clear and accurate understanding of our achievements where they are warranted. Unfortunately, there are many experiences in life that can lead us toward having an inaccurate read on ourselves, trauma and abuse being predominant.
The bottom line.
Achieving healthy pride truly is a type of mastery. And it is impossible to attain this when we don't have a clear sense of ourselves and what we value. Regardless, we can always take a moment to slow down and check in about what we want. After taking the time to listen to ourselves and becoming clear on our intentions, we can take an honest inventory of our actions. From this place of mindful honesty, healthy pride can take root.
Jody Kemmerer, LCSW is an advanced and intensively trained dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) therapist whose work integrates complementary methodologies focusing on developing secure attachment, mindfulness and greater somatic awareness. Her work with her client's is playful, experiential, and informative about emotions and how they work. She specializes in helping individuals suffering from trauma and emotion dysregulation. Kemmerer lives in New York City, where she works in private practice and teaches meditation.
Having studied around the globe, Kemmerer has a broad and uniquely diverse background. Her areas of training and expertise include: Buddhism, Vedic science, psychology, and filmmaking. Since a young age, she has cultivated a regular practice of meditation and completed numerous long-term solitary meditation retreats. She also directed the award-winning film, Sky Dancer, a story about a renowned spiritual teacher that she met during her expedition across the Tibetan plateau.