Why is Pride such a difficult emotion?

What is Pride?

This may seem like a peculiar subject for me to write about, but it’s one that links into the mental health theme that I occasionally write about also.

Let’s begin with a definition

Pride – “a feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired”

For me this is a very personal subject and one that I’ve only recently discovered has had a massive impact on my personal relationships throughout my life from a very early age. I’ll explain a little more about this later, but before I do, I’ll like to delve into the subject of pride in more detail.

The definition describes the feeling of deep pleasure and satisfaction from one’s own achievements. That seems fairly straightforward until you dig a little deeper.

The 7 deadly sins

For anyone who grew up in the catholic faith, you will be aware of the 7 deadly sins. Pride takes top spot in the list, and so may be considered to be a bad thing – the No 1 podium position of the deadliest of sins!! I never really understood this though. I mean, surely if you do something well, it’s right to take pride in it. If you take pride in your work, for example, that means you will always endeavour to do a good job. Even in a religious sense this always confused me as by doing something well, others could benefit from the fruits of your labours.

The antidote (or corresponding virtue) for pride is humility, and it’s here it starts to make a little more sense. Doing things well for the benefit of others instead of yourself achieves the same result, but is not a selfish act. You are not doing it for your own benefit (ie, to feel good about yourself), but as a service to others.

But is it really a bad thing to be proud of your achievements? I don’t believe it is, especially if you can do so without arrogance and with consideration for others. For some people though this is difficult and in their pride for themselves, it’s actually all about showing how great they are, or how much better they are than other people. In these circumstances, then I can understand a little of the catholic ethos around pride.

Some people struggle with pride

For some people, in fact many people, they just can’t accept their achievements. You will all have come across these people, maybe it’s you! These are the people that do amazing things, but just cannot see how well they have done. They know they’ve worked hard at something, but keep it quiet, or get embarrassed when someone says what a great job they’ve done. They find it really hard to feel any joy from the achievement, and hate any attention being drawn to them.

There are of course people they are naturally humble beings and don’t do things for any recognition, but simply to improve lives for others. They are the unsung heroes of this world, who are happy to give their lives in service of others. The world would not survive without these wonderful people and it’s these people who always bring a tear to my eye when they get recognised officially for their great works.

But lets be honest, most of us are not these unsung heroes. Most of us like to challenge ourselves whether it be through work, or sport, or some other endeavour. And it is for us that this blog has been written. When we challenge ourselves, and hit our goals, we should be proud. But where does it come from?

And so now I explain why this subject is particularly personal for me.

At the beginning of the year a family member passed away. I really struggled with this for a number of reasons, to the extent that I sought out a therapist for the first time in my life. Throughout my life I have had some difficulties in certain personal relationships, and I could never really understand why some affected me more than others. I would find myself angry at people who I looked up to, or who I thought were friends but I could never quite explain why. My anger was on the inside mostly, and could be the result of unkind words, or feeling rejected or let down. Now I’d like to clarify, that for the most part, I was being treated no differently to anyone else. And other people could have acted the same way, and I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. So, why did it hurt so much from some people and not others. I thought the reason was rejection, but it was actually pride.

As a child I wasn’t exactly exemplary. I always seemed to get things wrong, I got embarrassed, and then tried to cover up my mistakes. But, I also don’t remember ever getting any praise for getting things right. It was the 1970’s and things were different. If you did things right, then life was ok, if you did things wrong you got a clip round the ear and was grounded for a week.. But, praise was certainly missing in my life, and it wasn’t until much later in my adult life that I even realised. When I left home, I found it very difficult to accept praise or even be thanked for things. There was always a drive in me to do the best I could but I was never able to feel pride in my achievements. I sought out praise from others, as validation that I was doing ok. And so we come to those I looked up to. You see over the years, people have come into my life that have either initially inspired me, or helped me to become a better person/athlete/employee. And in each case I’ve been aware that I have discovered I was capable of doing more than I realised, some of them pretty epic things, things that I never had the confidence to do. But, I needed the validation from these people, rather than being able to find pride in my own achievements. And when the validation was missing, I felt rejected.

I was brought up in a catholic household, and a catholic school for a while, and so I have always had this battle in my head with whether pride is a bad thing or not. Relationships and religion can really screw with your mental health, of that I am certain. But pride, that’s difficult.

My time with the therapist helped me to realise that my issue that I had battled with for all my life, wasn’t feelings of rejection, which is what I had thought, but instead that I had always been looking for other people to be proud of me, instead of being able to feel pride in myself. It was a revelation, and helped make of lot of things make sense.

I still struggle with the concept of being proud of myself and my achievements, and to not feel that it’s an arrogant thing to express, but at least I now know that I don’t need to ruin personal relationships with the expectation that others need to validate me. The people that matter to me ARE proud of me, and I’m learning slowly to accept that it’s ok to feel joy in the milestones in my life that I’ve achieved.

Are you proud of what you have achieved in your life? If not, then you should be. It can be hard, but we are all amazing in our own way, and with 2020 now over, every one of us should be proud that we have survived it.

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