Our culture often praises some of our most unhealthy and self-destructive behavior. Overworking gets you a raise at work. People pleasing means that your friends think you are loyal and kind. Self-deprecation is seen as humorous. Perfectionism gets you into the post graduate program you’ve always dreamed of. Pride gets you a promotion. So if these behaviors are praised, what’s the big deal?
While we are often quick to distance ourselves from the possibility of being one of “those people” who struggle with a more traditional addiction- sex, drugs, or alcohol - the reality is most of us who struggle with some of these more socially acceptable behaviors might actually be addicted to them. If we don’t name them as addictions, then we won’t give them the proper attention required to heal them. Let’s take a closer look at a few to see how God might want to challenge you to a new way of living, free from these socially praised addictions.
As we learn in studying Philippians 2, Jesus wants to help us overcome our pride. Pride not only limits our joy but it can become ingrained in who we are, an addictive pattern in our lives that becomes difficult to overcome. If you aren’t sure if you struggle with pride, what are some symptoms that might point to an addiction to pride?
- Overidentification with achievements at work, church, school, etc.
- Disproportionate fear of failure
- Inability to own mistakes
- Difficulty apologizing for wrongdoing
- Dismissive of feedback, even from trusted sources
- Talking in conversations more than listening
- Feeling a need always to connect other people’s stories to your own
If you find that you struggle with most or all of these symptoms, pride might be a problem for you. Perhaps you’re more familiar with the language of having a “superiority complex.” When we behave arrogantly or pridefully, it gives others the sense that we believe we are better than them, but this is often to compensate for insecurity or feelings of inadequacy.
In an effort to curb this tendency toward posturing and pride, we tend to swing to the other end of the spectrum. But the opposite of pride is not a healthy place but, rather, is self-contempt. As is true with pride, self-deprecation, whether it is as extreme as physical harm or as seemingly harmless as negative self-talk, can become an addiction as well. Some signs of this type of addictive behavior, also known as an “inferiority complex,” include:
- Compulsive negative self-talk (both internal and external)
- Rejecting praise that has been earned and rightfully deserved
- Seeking compliments by talking negatively about ourselves (e.g. humble-bragging)
- Falsely portraying helplessness in situations in which we have power
- Self-loathing or self-hatred
- Physical acts of self-harm (e.g. cutting, burning oneself, drug/alcohol overuse, etc.)
- Quitting at the hint of potential failure
We mistakenly think that in order to avoid pridefulness, we must tear ourselves down and wallow in our sinfulness, when in reality, there is a third way.
Pride and self-contempt are not simply opposites, but they exist as two ends on a spectrum. The healthiest place to be on this spectrum is not at either end, but rather, the healthy middle ground which is where true humility exists. Licensed mental health counselor and author Andrew Bauman puts it like this, “In the conservative religious culture that I grew up in, self-hatred became blessed as humility, and any love of self was labeled as haughty. Being taught John 3:30, “He must become greater and I must become less,” was used as gasoline to fuel my self-destruction. It was never explained to me that you couldn’t become “less” until you have become a “whole.” Until you know who you are, and tell the truth of your goodness, you cannot fully acknowledge the greatness of our God.” True humility is actually embracing the wholeness of who God created us to be-both the beauty and the brokenness. This acceptance is the starting point for overcoming the addictions to pride and self-contempt. Until we can acknowledge the fullness of our beauty as sons and daughters of Christ, we will live steeped in shame. Similarly, we must fully recognize the depth of our brokenness in order to have the courage to ask for help and the strength to overcome our addictions.
When we hold our sinful nature in balance with the goodness of who God created us to be, that is when we are able to live in authentic humility. So the next time you find yourself drifting to one end of the spectrum (pride) or the other (self-contempt), think of God's invitation to a healthier way - true humility grounded in the wholeness of who God created us to be.
Need additional help?
- Call (847) 765-5000 and ask to speak with a response pastor, 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Monday–Friday. The response pastor will listen, pray, and offer practical next steps such as counseling referrals.
- If you feel that you have an addiction to pride or self-contempt, join our RECOVER program. Join us for the Fall launch on September 16 and take a season to go through the curriculum where you'll learn more about some of the reasons why you've turned to pride or self-contempt as a way of coping. Learn more at willowcreek.org/recover.