Peter Voluntaryist Walker

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Eight Crucial Differences Between Healthy and Unhealthy Pride

8 Crucial Differences Between Healthy and Unhealthy Pride

True, or "Authentic," Pride Is World’s Apart From False, or "Hubristic," Pride.

Posted Sep 28, 2016

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Source: Comfreak/Pixabay, Public Domain
I’ve always regarded pride as a healthy human trait, linking it favorably to self-motivation, confidence, respect, and acceptance. But obviously the Bible views it differently, labeling it one of the 7 deadly sins. So might there be a "bad pride"—but a "good pride" also, absent all the former’s negative connotations? Additionally, might pride exist along a continuum?—as in, pride is positive up to a certain level, but beyond that it’s malignant? Or might bad pride—let’s call it "unhealthy pride"—be not an excess of "healthy pride" (or "too much of a good thing"), but a different facet of personality altogether?

Personally, I believe there are two distinct kinds of pride, rather than degrees of pride. And in this post, I’ll draw some sharp contrasts between these two types.

Ironically, pride might be likened to a fantastical double-edged sword, with a harmless rubber tip on one end and a destructive, razor-sharp blade on the other. And (staying with this metaphor) the stinging, pointed-edge side can easily "cut" others—and so injure relationships to the "point" they’re irreparable.

Let’s consider in detail the marked differences between healthy and unhealthy pride, which all too often are overlooked in the literature. Although good and bad pride represent seminal aspects of human personality, they’ve really not received as much critical attention as they deserve. And the fact that the term is so often applied to one or the other kind of pride without the author’s explicitly specifying which type is being referred to clearly indicates how important—for clarity’s sake—they be lucidly distinguished from one another.

As Thomas Scheff, Ph.D., emphasizes (in his Psychology Today post "Genuine Pride Does NOT Goeth Before the Fall"): "The English language, particularly, confuses authentic pride with what might be called false pride or egotism . . . [and] to the point that it taints the positive meaning of pride."

So, here are 8 key features of this personality characteristic that can be deemed healthy (or, as often designated, true, authentic, or genuine), vs. the form of pride regularly viewed as unhealthy (or false, bad, arrogant, or hubristic). And I should add that as much as I’ve tried to keep these differences distinct from one another, there’s considerable overlap between them. Several descriptions might well fit a category other than the one I (somewhat arbitrarily) put them in.

1. Healthy pride is about self-confidence, reflecting an intrinsically motivating "can do" attitude. Those with such pride find their achievements richly satisfying and truly believe that "nothing succeeds like success." The pleasure afforded them through achieving things, or simply handling them effectively, makes them eager to follow up on individual accomplishments.

Those with unhealthy pride, however, may be equally incentivized to succeed, but the dynamics governing their motivation differ markedly. They’re inordinately driven to succeed—and repeatedly, because they can’t really internalize individual triumphs. If they’re to hold onto their ultimately tenuous self-confidence, they must constantly "prove" themselves—and not only to themselves, but to others as well.

The reason for their constant struggles is that deep down the self-doubt, or feelings of shame, that plagued most of them while growing up, still—though below surface awareness—continue to disturb them. By way of compensation (or actually, over-compensation), their brand of confidence is likely to come across as cocky, or "bullheadedly" confident. And that’s a pronounced reaction to what psychoanalysts allude to as "narcissistic injury" (i.e., their not feeling loved by their caretakers simply for who they were, but only for the quality of their performance—which, typically, needed to be superlative).

2. Healthy pride represents a positive notion of self-worth, and it’s based on a history where personal effort and expenditure of energy led to success. And a major factor in the achievement of such individuals is that they’re not satisfied with mediocre performance, striving rather to do the best that’s in them. Which is why their sense of self-worth merits being seen as "earned."

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Opposite this is unhealthy pride, which depicts an overly favorable evaluation of self, based on giving oneself too much credit for accomplishments that, typically, may be rather modest. Such over-valuing of one’s abilities or achievements can also relate to attributing to oneself successes that belong as much (or more) to others involved in whatever task or project was successfully completed.

People with healthy pride genuinely feel good about themselves. And that explains why such pride is routinely associated with high (though not artificially high) self-esteem. Contrast this with the elevated self-regard of individuals with unhealthy pride, which finally is bogus in that it’s inflated and easily punctured by criticism—which, in turn, can lead to the powerfully overblown defense of anger or rage.

Beneath all their professions of superiority is an insecurity that makes it virtually impossible for them to admit when they’re wrong, or say they’re sorry—and all too easy for them to feel attacked by others. (In this respect, the reader might wish to read an earlier post of mine called "Our Egos: Do They Need Strengthening—or Shrinking?". For here I distinguish between "strong egos," belonging to those with healthy pride, vs. "big egos," portraying the unhealthy variety of pride.)

3. Healthy pride is expressed in an assertive fashion, and it’s most often conveyed implicitly. It’s a quiet, self-assured affirmation of one’s capabilities. On the contrary, unhealthy pride is a far more aggressive—and explicit—declaration not of competence as such, but of personal superiority. It frequently takes the form of looking down on others, or putting them down, whereas healthy pride isn’t about announcing any supremacy, or "specialness," but simply demonstrating one’s authentic abilities.

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It naturally follows that people with healthy pride have far more satisfying and fulfilling relationships than do those with the unhealthy kind. For they prefer to work with others, not against them. More cooperative, confiding, and modest in their dealings, they’re also much more affable and agreeable—vs. the dogmatic, dictatorial, defensive, and distant manner of those with unhealthy pride.

4. Closely related to the above, healthy pride has nothing to do with comparing oneself advantageously (and frequently unfairly) to others, whereas a person with unhealthy pride regularly brags about their (often exaggerated) accomplishments. "Look at what I did!" might be their words, or sentiment, with the clear implication that no one else could possibly have done such a thing, or done it anywhere as well. For them, it’s not about doing their best, but about doing things better than anybody else.

On the contrary, someone with healthy pride might say: "I feel really good that I was up for tackling this, and it came out much better than I could have expected"—maybe even adding: "I don’t think I could have done it all by myself, so I need to acknowledge not only those who came before me, but those who offered me concrete suggestions when I was still learning how to do this."

5. As Jessica Tracy, Ph.D. has observed in her Take Pride (link is external)(2016), healthy pride is authentic. It’s an accurate, realistic estimate of one’s abilities, whereas what Tracy and other scholars call "hubristic" pride smacks of hyperbolic or distorted claims about one’s capacities. As such, individuals with this "false" pride are given to bragging and boasting, and exemplify dishonesty, arrogance and conceit. This self-aggrandizement—or better, grandiosity—is in fact at the very core of what most professionals regard as highlighting a narcissistic personality disorder.

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Moreover, such narcissists may well feel compelled to attempt things beyond their capacity to achieve them, for they so much require the adulation that comes from doing something others might not even dare attempt. And this is one reason that people with unhealthy pride more frequently fail at their (overly ambitious) endeavors than do those with healthier, more realistic and "restrained" pride. Narcissistically driven to realize their supposed perfection, their better judgment is impaired—as is the acceptance of their innate limitations.

6. As understood by experts, healthy pride relates to a person’s acting pro-socially (e.g., see Kaufman, 2012).  On the contrary, unhealthy pride links to what's generally deemed antagonistic, anti-social, or rule-breaking behaviors. The former individual encourages and galvanizes others, particularly since they’re likely to say: "If I can do this, so can you!" But one endowed (afflicted?) with unhealthy pride would imply—or outright proclaim—that what they did could only have been done by them and actively discourage others from following their example. For as competitive as they are, they’d much rather others not compete with them.

Authoritarian personalities, unfortunately so common in leadership positions, are essentially bullies. Assuming they know more than anyone else, their morally myopic perspective is characterized by smug self-righteousness and the belief that only they have the strength—or again, superiority—to be in control of others’ lives. And all too often their command leads them to take on a vaingloriously self-enhancing role that further fuels their unruly and (I might add) insatiable ego.

7. Those with healthy pride motivate and inspire others to take their lead and join them. They don’t so much "covet" their successes as evince the desire to share them. As such, others gravitate toward them, since they rarely feel threatened or intimidated in their company.

Compare this to individuals with unhealthy pride, who tend to "lord" it over others. They don’t want to share their successes, but rather do everything possible to make certain no one "trespasses" on them. In fact, in their general hostility toward others, they’re far more likely to initiate law suits against anyone whom they suspect of "stealing" what belongs exclusively to them. As a result of all this, if they gain adherents, it’s mainly because others are manipulated, intimidated, or coerced into following them.

8. Finally, healthy pride—unlike the unhealthy variety—isn’t egocentric. And that’s why those with such pride can take pride not just in their own accomplishments but in those of others as well. They can be proud of their children, their spouse, parents, friends, students—anyone whom they identify as showing the ability to advance themselves, or others, by putting forth their best effort.

Moreover, they’d never be proud of someone just because they won the lottery, for that would merely be a matter of luck. But for anyone struggling to overcome an impediment, or who made sacrifices in the all-out effort to do something remarkable, now that would be cause for them to be proud . . . and to celebrate the laudatory human potential to transcend—through sheer force of will and determination—typical deterrents to achieving something truly outstanding.

Since those with unhealthy pride commonly have narcissistic personalities, here are some complementary posts that I’ve published on such individuals:

Altruism Versus Selfishness

In each of us homo sapiens, Yin includes altruism and Yang includes selfishness. Both are needed in as close to a 50-50 balance as we can each manage. An amount of selfishness is needed because one can't give away what one doesn't have. Scientifically speaking, our group selection put altruism in almost all of us and the individual's evolution *within* the group put self- centeredness in almost all of us:

"If we assume that groups are approximately equal to one another in weaponry and other technology, which has been the case for most of the time among primitive societies over hundreds of thousands of years, we can expect that the outcome of between-group competition is determined largely by the details of social behavior within each group in turn. These traits are the size and tightness of the group, and the quality of communication and division of labor among its members. Such traits are heritable to some degree; in other words, variation in them is due in part to differences in genes among the members of the group, hence also among the groups themselves. The genetic fitness of each member, the number of reproducing descendants it leaves, is determined by the cost exacted and benefit gained from its membership in the group. These include the favor or disfavor it earns from other group members on the basis of its behavior. The currency of favor is paid by direct reciprocity and indirect reciprocity, the latter in the form of reputation and trust. How well a group performs depends on how well its members work together, regardless of the degree by which each is individually favored or disfavored within the group. The genetic fitness of a human being must therefore be a consequence of both individual selection and group selection." - Wilson, Edward O.. The Social Conquest of Earth (Kindle Locations 765-774). Liveright. Kindle Edition. (Some words bolded by me.)

Marcus Aurelius: "When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself:"

"When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can't tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own - not of the same blood and birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are unnatural." ― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Aristotle's Three Laws of Thought

(About ten short paragraphs, Revision Three, Copyleft 2018-06-13, Peter Voluntaryist Walker.)


- "Formal logics were developed in ancient times in China, India, and Greece. Greek methods, particularly Aristotelian logic (or term logic) as found in the Organon, found wide application and acceptance in science and mathematics for millennia" (

- The Three Laws of Thought credited to Aristotle are Identity, Non-Contradiction, and Excluded Middle. There's much more to logic, but this is a good beginning.

- Please note: All logical fallacies are non sequiturs (Latin for "Does not follow"). For instance, if a professional politician and I have a beer and a nice talk together and I think that makes him/her/etcetera nice in real life, I committed a non sequitur because of the Law of Identity.

1. The Law of Identity says a thing can only be itself, aka A=A. Professional politicians are not nice people in real life because a person can only be one or the other. That said, situational reality sometimes makes it to one's advantage to have a politician in one's corner.

1.a. Another example is Shakespeare said a rose is a rose by any other name, and the same is true of the homo sapiens individual. An example violation is when people dehumanize each other, a textbook case being when Hitler dehumanized anyone he tagged "Jew" as being less than human.

1.b. All namecalling dehumanizes and is filler, meaning a replacement for content in an argument (argument in the context of making a case for or against something being true). Rudeness in general is also a form of namecalling because it's a practice of treating humans as less than human.

2. The Law of Non-contradiction says everything has an opposite and a thing cannot be its opposite.

2.a. For instance some people argue against property rights while simultaneously using parts of their body as they see fit in order to communicate their message; thus refuting the existence of the very thing they're doing. These are self-defeating arguments.

2.b. Claiming a knowledge exists when it doesn't is also self contradicting. An example is people stating as fact they know what *you* think, understand, like, etc., when it's impossible for anyone but you to know without sensors wired directly into your brain. They can can calculate probabilities based on your observable behavior, but there's a large gap (aka does not follow, aka non sequitur error) between brain and outward behavior. For instance you may understand something and simply choose not to let on that you do.

3. The Law of the Excluded Middle says an argument can't be true and false at the same time. "Either I will call my mother tomorrow, or I won't call my mother tomorrow. One or the other of these statements about the future must be true. The principle that either a given statement or its denial is true is called the 'Law of Excluded Middle.'" (David Hunt)

3.a. This law primarily addresses the semantics of accurately stating a problem or proposition. For instance, if an agreement has good and bad parts, it's not a 100% good or bad agreement; to accurately describe it, it has two or more parts needing to each be understood separately from the other part(s). Thus I also call the excluded middle *conflation*, similar to what Ayn Rand called The Package Deal. It's a critical law of logic because, whether intentionally or not, semantics often mislead.

3.b. Another conflation error is to conflate the already unconflated. For instance the non-aggression principal (NAP) says it's immoral to initiate coercion. Many say this is a too simplistic "truncated argument" because it allegedly ignores things such as the alleged necessity of central planning or the alleged social contract. But according to The Law of Identity, adding such things would make it no longer the NAP. In such cases the avoided NAP core proposition is whether or not initiating coercion is moral -- a complex argument involving definitions and interpretations of coercion, morality, initiation, and complex circumstances such as lifeboat scenarios and raising children. Therefore the NAP isn't over simplified or truncated; rather it's either a valid or invalid premise to be argued on its own merits. If it's accepted as valid, then issues such as central planning and social contracts can be measured against it. If the NAP is invalid, obviously it's irrelevant; but simply refusing to consider it is a non sequitur.

3.c. An equally common conflation error is goldplating; a textbook example being contractors for the USA Department of Defense writing specifications for hammers and toilet seats that made perfectly usable generic items unacceptable for no reason other than profit. Doing so provided the very same contractors with opportunities to sell hammers and toilet seats meeting their own specifications at multiple times the profit of generic items. Goldplating applies to present mainstream culture portrayals of critical thinking; that is, mainstream culture presents the tools of critical thinking such as logic as too complex for anyone to understand other than spokespersons for the hyper-elite.


Endnotes - None at this time.