The Insidious Role of Pride in Our Own Psychological Downfall

“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” – Proverbs 16:18

It was the fall of 2004. I was in my last year of formal training as I completed my internship.  I began to experience dizziness, fatigue, and dull chest pain.  While it would periodically remit, most days I felt the symptoms and they seemed to only get worse.  I started worrying, and thinking that if I couldn’t handle this year, how could I manage a career and kids (which were later to come)?  Although I attributed the issues somewhat to stress, I started believing the worst must be true.  Something was seriously wrong.  But I told no one, not even Amy, who would have been fully willing to listen.  I prided myself on my independence, years away from realizing that the life I truly desired, and needed, was a vulnerable, interdependent one.  I was too proud to admit that I was struggling.  I wondered if people around me noticed.  For me, pride had manifested itself in greater admiration of my own capacity (in comparison to what others could offer) with a focus on self-preservation, for fear of “losing face” or status with others.

One day I decided it was time to go see a doctor. He ran a number of tests.  They were negative.  Although I was relieved to some degree, part of me still wondered if something was wrong.  I was still having a difficult time crawling outside of myself.  Then, sensing my stress, he offered a prescription for Zoloft, which seemed appropriate at the time.  I declined it (not knowing if I would later reverse the decision).  He seemed surprised, but I just felt that there was more to understand before I was ready to take this step.

I began to look around. I noticed that I had gained some weight over the previous few years.  My two-a-day Coke habit (facilitated by free soft drinks in the lounge) couldn’t have been helpful for my GI system.  I rarely drank water.  My diet started to look much less healthy than I surmised it to be.  Even though I prided myself on being an active person, I realized that cool weather (and putting the bike away) brought about extended sedentary periods.  Slowly, I started to acknowledge my own vulnerability, and that I may not be as independently smart and capable as I had thought.  I began to acknowledge this to Amy (and eventually others), who had been much more vocal about her own particular struggle at this time.  Gradually, over months and years as I detailed in my book Into the Rising Sun, things started to change.  But I sensed this would be a lifelong process.

As a young child growing up in a Catholic family and in Catholic schools, I periodically heard about those seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, pride.  I was taught they were deterrents to my eternal salvation.  But it wasn’t until years later, through my own struggles and those of others I met through my professional work, that I began to realize just how much they were constraints to our own psychological well-being, and our life as a whole.  Born of typical, universal urges, the scars of each of them made flesh—in individuals, in families, in communities—increasingly seemed to rise to the surface, almost omnipresent in our modern world.  Signs abounded of the obesity crisis, of STD epidemics and never-ending on-screen flaunting, of intense, unabated anger and violence expressed in schools and public forums; increasing gaps resounded between poverty and wealth (with debilitating debt in the middle) all of which started to look less like personal selections, and more like transgressions committed against ourselves, ironically in pursuit of the same goals.  These being, real life, real liberty, and the real pursuit of happiness and health.

But it wasn’t until years ago, mired in my own psychological struggle, that I began to sense why I heard pride described as the “root of all vices.” On a superficial level, I perceived that my pride denied me the opportunity to see that I was doing anything wrong or harmful at all.  In my inability to recognize my slothful, lustful behaviors, in my obliviousness to my own envious, greedy underpinnings, I could only see one path.  The one I was on.  So when I started to do things that were hurting me, or others close to me, I was blind to a different route.  I thought that my answers lay within.  I was wrong.  It was only when I began to look elsewhere, and forewent the idea that I knew it all, could I start seeing things more clearly, as others might have all along.  New options surfaced.  In trusting myself less, I began to trust myself more—increasingly more conscious that I was always at an intersection, not a lonely, windy road.

As I worked (and will always work) to palpably shed the layers of pride, something else started to emerge. One night in bed, I told Amy that if somehow I could only focus on not disappointing God (instead of myself and others), how freeing that would be! I knew that perfection for this goal was not possible, but slowly I worked and prayed that my statue would be chipped away.  Something began to emerge.  My expectations began to relax in curiosity of what divine goals might look like.  I began to let go of the pride that I could do it all on my own.  I did not stop seeking out the truth and embracing big challenges.  I just started to see the possibilities that came if I really acknowledged where I failed, and how I had done wrong.  My statue started looking different than I thought it would.  My roads started travelling in directions less planned, and often not trodden.

Something else emerged: a great freedom.  Freedom in acknowledging that I might be wrong, or ineffective, or misguided altogether.  Freedom in worrying less about how I appear and more about the beauty I can profess.  Freedom in seeking out a truthful existence while knowing that others may not like what I say or do (and they might be right to feel that way), but could still respect how it was done.  As I increasingly say to many people I know, I strive to embrace two things:  transparency and clear intentions, which hopefully harbor less of my sinful desires.  I know I fail, but I hope that I am getting better—at least in knowing when I go wrong.  But I know that my pride remains my biggest deterrent to the health and happiness that I desire.  Don’t get me wrong.  I still work to find joy and gratitude in the efforts that I make, especially when they work out well.  I just hope to let go of the pride that assumes I am responsible and deserving of it all.

Because when pride resurfaces, I feel anxious again that I am not living up to the expectations of myself and others. I worry that things will not work out. I feel depressed that what I am doing seems to matter little at all and that people don’t care.  I feel paranoid that others might call me out as a fraud, or just odd.  I start making excuses about why my greedy, envious, gluttonous desires aren’t really that bad at all.  And then things just start going wrong.

It seems no way to live. I want to be free—free of mind, free of heart, free of soul.  I don’t want to be weighed down by thoughts of myself.  I want to live in the now, ready for what is to come.  I want to be acutely aware of all that lies within, between, and beyond. I want to experience the intense beauty when it comes in its purest form.  I don’t want to resign myself to shadows and images of the real thing.  I want to be free to live as life calls.  But it seems I must pay a price, and die to myself so that what rises up is better than I could have known.  It is time for my pride to move along.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *