If you have been following our series on the Seven Deadly Sins, then it should come as no surprise that we have saved pride for last. We have already covered envy, sloth, gluttony, greed, wrath, and lust. And if you have been paying close attention, you will notice that each of these types of thoughts and behaviors has the potential to spring initially from pride. By understanding this, you may come to understand why this is so often considered to be the worst of the Seven Deadly Sins.
Sloth may not seem to stem from pride, nor gluttony. And to be fair, pride is not always at the heart of them. On the other hand, are there not those who have engaged in procrastination and overeating because they felt entitled to do so? And is this same entitlement not at the very heart of all greed? Envy, too, springs from the notion that we are entitled to the same belongings and lifestyle possessed by another. If we feel that someone is standing in the way of our right to be proud, we may exhibit wrath. And lust qualifies doubly. Not only does it often spring from entitlement, but—especially in the case of those who suffer from sex addiction—it may actually be something we use to increase a false sense of pride when we feel emotionally vulnerable.
We won’t focus too much on the connection between this and the rest of the Seven Deadly Sins. The above paragraph should summarize it well enough, and you can draw your own further connections from there. For these purposes, we will be focusing solely on the matter at hand. We hope that even the proudest among us will be able to assess our actions with more objectivity as we move forward together and lead useful lives under the banner of recovery.
Defining Pride as a Cardinal Sin
To define pride as a sin, we actually have to define pride itself. Most people assume it to be the exhibition of unusually high self-esteem or confidence. And in a sense, this is true. It is the exhibition of these things, but not necessarily the possession of them. True, there are overly proud people who really do appear to think quite highly of themselves. But there are also those who exhibit false pride in order to hide their self-doubt.
Many consider the terms “pride” and “hubris” to be interchangeable; however, hubris was an ancient Greek notion that was generally personified by violence or sexual aggression. In such cases, the perpetrator was usually shaming another person for the sake of their own gratification. Basically, they were trying to inflate their own sense of pride by exerting their will on others. This is most definitely not an act of true self-esteem or confidence. It is an act of cowardice at its worst. Again, some people do truly value themselves above all others. But many are simply acting in a state of denial, trying to shrug away their fear of inadequacy.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. In fact, some of us find that we are usually sandwiched somewhere in between two major extremes. On one hand, we do value our opinions above those of others. We are extremely narcissistic and overly confident. On the other hand, this does not mean that we are not full of self-loathing. In fact, the most egotistical among us may be inclined to believe that our own self-doubt must be accurate. After all, we are not accustomed to believing that we are ever wrong.
This is not to say that we never have the right to experience a little bit of true pride. We may feel pride in our work, our education, or other accomplishments that mean something to us. That said, we do not have the right to lord our accomplishments over others in an attempt to make them feel inferior. We may hope that by belittling others’ accomplishments, we will feel more superior in embracing our own. This seldom works. And as it fails time and time again, we just may turn to drugs and alcohol to dull the pain.
Pride’s Role in Active Addiction
As noted above, any attempt to exhibit false pride will often result in feelings of failure. When this occurs, we may find that it is easier to maintain some semblance of synthetic confidence and illusory bravado through substance abuse. This is not always effective, and the results can actually be pretty unpredictable. If the approach is too effective, then the tendency of drugs and alcohol to lower our inhibitions may result in a show of hubris as defined above. If the approach is not effective at all, we will find ourselves falling deep into negative emotions such as anger and depression, which just may cause us to abuse our substance of choice with increased frequency.
This is why those who are adamant about relapse prevention must be on the lookout for any feelings that take them too far to an extreme—even a seemingly positive one. If we find ourselves becoming too prideful, we risk setting ourselves up for a fall from which we will not recover. One second, we are on top of the world. The next, we experience a setback that launches us into the depths of an emotional disturbance. More than a slim few have relapsed because they allowed their pride to get the better of them.
Needless to say, the same is true of those who truly think themselves to be superior. Imagine that you have been sober for a year. You’re now working a steady job and have managed to establish a solid relationship with someone you absolutely adore. In addition, you have managed to win back the trust of your friends and family. Things are going pretty well. At this point, you may think that you have conquered all of the obstacles formerly presented by your addiction. So…does this mean you’re cured? If you’re the type to give in to pride, you may think so. One drink later, however, you find yourself quickly on the path to the wretched life that you thought you had left behind. By putting aside your proud delusions, you are able to maintain your sobriety by remembering the dictates of the disease model—that we are never truly cured of our disease, and we are always in danger of a relapse.
Then, of course, we must mention the link between pride and entitlement. Whether in active addiction or recovery, those of us who are unable to let go of our pride will often treat others with great disrespect. We put ourselves above others at all turns, and we find ourselves leading lives of isolation as a result. As this begins to affect our relationships, we will either find ourselves in self-pity or we will resort to stubbornness, believing that everyone else has wronged us. Either way, our character defects will eventually be our downfall. This has been a staple of classic literature since the days of epic poetry. It comes as no major shocker that we often find it to be true in our own lives as well.
Overcoming Pride in Recovery
There are essentially two approaches to overcoming pride in recovery. The first applies to those who truly have a big head, while the second applies to those who are using a falsely proud demeanor to cover up for either low or fluctuating self-esteem. That does not mean that addicts and alcoholics falling into either category cannot incorporate both approaches into their recovery program. In fact, since we often have trouble seeing ourselves through an objective lens, following both approaches might actually be recommended.
For those who really are prideful and entitled, the best advice is simply to get over it. The softer way to phrase this would be to suggest embracing humility. This can be done in a number of ways, but service work is by far the best. When we act in the service of others, we get outside ourselves a little bit and realize that there is no shortage of other people with needs. And often, these needs are far greater than our own. Nobody should feel entitled when there are others who are still suffering. Also make sure not to bring your pride into support group meetings. Everyone has encountered someone who treats each share like a speaker meeting. Ask yourself: Did you enjoy being around this person? Or would you be just pleased as punch if you never had to suffer the pleasure of their company again? Don’t be the same way. If you find yourself trying to trump other people’s shares, it might be time to spend a few meetings listening rather than speaking. Build some real humility, and you might be able to help people in an honest way.
Note that everything above will apply equally to the addict or alcoholic who is trying to hide their own self-doubts and negative self-image. But in addition to taking the above advice, these individuals must also learn to share about their feelings. Fellowship is the single greatest gift of groups such as AA and NA, and should never be overlooked under any circumstances. Talk to your sponsor, some trusted friends and family members, or even some strangers that you have encountered in your local meetings. You may doubt the counsel of people who care about you, but strangers have no reason to lie. When a new acquaintance tells you that your feelings are normal or that they have been there themselves, they are likely speaking in earnest. Not only will your rigorous honesty have gained you a potential new friend, but it will have taught you that you have no need of hiding behind false pride. You will walk away with a stronger support network, all because you were brave enough to show the chinks in your armor.
It is through the admission of vulnerability that we often discover the true depths of our strength. Humility is the real virtue of recovery, and it gives us a true power that pride could never deliver. Through an honest appraisal of your past behaviors, you will find that pride—even when exhibited among a group of people—is the way of those who are doomed to walk the earth alone, forever hiding behind their false bravado. Let go of this image, and show people who you really are. You might be surprised at the results.