What stops us from reaching out to other people when we are in trouble? What makes us want to hide when we feel unpresentable? What stops us apologising when we know we’ve done something wrong?
It’s often pride. Sure, we can hide behind other explanations, and they may be true too. We can make a strategic decision to keep quiet when in trouble, or hide when we feel rough, or avoid saying sorry. It’s all about the maintenance of dignity, we may say. Other people may disrespect us or mistreat us, we may say. And that may be true. But pride plays its part too.
Pride is the placing of the self on a pedestal above others. We secretly believe that we are more important than others, and so we act to preserve ourselves and our reputations. We fear losing face. Others may be in similar situations to us: but we think we are somehow special, and that normal rules don’t apply to us.
One of the most common behaviours related to pride is defensiveness. Defensiveness happens when we put up a barrier, or distort a truth, in order to protect our social position. A classic illustration of pride is the Wizard in the film The Wizard of Oz, who, despite his booming voice, turns out to be a ‘small old man speaking into a megaphone and pulling frantically at levers’ (see this link).
Pride makes us project our own problems onto others, so that we spend all our time and energy blaming them for what goes wrong. Because we cannot bear the perceived indignity of seeing ourselves as we are, we instead see others as forcing us into impossible positions. ‘I have no choice,’ we say. ‘They made me do it.’
PRIDE AND MENTAL HEALTH
Pride does not like losing face. Since anxiety is the fear of loss, pride and anxiety can work together to turn us into anxious wrecks. For example, if we are ageing, but want to see ourselves as young, then we may fear the loss of skin tone and beauty. To protect our social position, we may buy all sorts of creams and treatments. We may also criticise others who seem younger or more attractive, putting them down.
This behaviour comes at a cost. Because we don’t want to see ourselves as bad, we hide our fear from ourselves. We spend huge energy reconstructing our world to protect ourselves from the understanding that we fear getting old. We blame our circumstances. ‘My job makes me do it,’ we might say. ‘People won’t take me seriously if I look old.’ The cycle of cosmetic expenditure, and reputational gymnastics, continues.
EXAMPLES OF PRIDE
Pride-fuelled behaviour happens in many areas of life. Examples of pride in action include:
- failing to apologise for our mistakes
- cheating to get ahead
- arguing unnecessarily
- criticising or undermining others
- blaming other people
- disagreeing with a plan that is not our own
In each case, we secretly fear loss of face, so we do what we can to protect ourselves. The problem is, our behaviour becomes profoundly antisocial. Mind you, we become very good at hiding our defensiveness. So good, in fact, that we often manage to convince ourselves that these behaviours are virtues born of the fact that we are victims. We resent anyone who points out our arrogance, our lying, our argumentativeness, our blame and criticism of others, our unwillingness to change plans. No, we say, I’m just defending myself – are you not on my side?
Given that pride makes us antisocial, if we want to get on with others, we need to mitigate our pride. Almost any relationship is improved if we give up our secret belief that our interests are the most important thing.
Here are six exercises we can do to help reduce our pride:
- Apologise for mistakes. We can contemplate what we have done in the past, and think of things we could have done better. We can then contact the person affected, and apologise.
- Set the record straight. If we have bent the truth, or cheated, for personal advantage, we can set in place a more truthful way of living. We can resolve to act more honestly in future.
- Respect and listen to what others say. Instead of arguing, we can listen and ask questions. Most arguments are unnecessary deflections from understanding and cooperation.
- Compliment and support others. Instead of criticising, find good things to say which promote harmony.
- Take responsibility. Instead of blaming others, decide what we can do next to improve a situation.
- Take others’ plans seriously. Instead of focusing on inconvenience to us, we can take an interest in what other people want to do. Exploring others’ plans, and supporting them when we can, promotes cooperation and teaches us understanding and supportiveness.
Pride happens where we put our own interests above others’, and fear losing face. It makes us behave defensively, and it makes us blame other people for our problems.
Pride can make us anxious, because we constantly fear losing the position in society we feel we deserve. It makes us behave antisocially.
Mindful behaviours which counteract pride include:
- Apologising for mistakes
- Setting the record straight
- Listening to others
- Supporting others
- Taking responsibility
- Taking other people’s plans seriously
If we want to reduce pride, and improve our relationships, we can mindfully make these six activities part of our daily behaviour.