Managing the Ego by Balancing Humility and Pride in the Search for Meaning in Life

The Latin term for self is ego.  We each perform a 24/7 assessment of our lives: every event, act, and competition.  We compare where current performances stand with personal perceptions.  Innocent at first, within time, this process becomes self fulfilling.  We see what we choose to see.  Numerous ego defense mechanisms are employed to maintain this personal illusion.  Ego is not based on the reality of what others witness, but, rather on what we have chosen to believe.  In our search for meaning in life, managing our ego is paramount in the balance between humility and pride.

Operating from a position of vanity, envy, greed, and gluttony, the ego is often unaware of the significance others play in personal success.  The ego is the protector of self esteem and its purpose is to preserve and advance the individual, and so acknowledging the success of others is counterproductive.  Confidence comes from competence in measurable skill attainment.  Self-esteem is developed from personal opinions and emotions based upon the feedback of others.  Because it is emotionally based, self esteem is variable and unpredictable.  The ego regulates self esteem.  Logic and healthy feedback generate confidence.

So where to pride and humility factor into this passion play of searching for meaning in life?  Many are born into circumstances that foster humility, if not demand it.  Others’ situations establish and perpetuate pride.  There is nothing wrong with either, and they are not mutually exclusive.  Extreme pride or vanity is unhealthy as is false humility or hypocrisy; both can be debilitating.

Success generates self-confidence and pride.

Success generates self-confidence and pride.  The degree of success we enjoy is defined by our ego.  Too little pride leads to weakness, discouragement, and depression.  Excessive pride leads to vanity, dominance, and cruelty.  Ego-driven pride denies the existence of others, as well as the need for assistance from others.  Healthy proper pride is born from competence and is what sustains us and supports us in times of difficulty.  It also motivates us to succeed and excel.  Triggered by fear, unhealthy pride is vanity, arrogance, dominance, and cruelty.

Alongside pride is humility.  In today’s complex society, competition is the source of additional challenges to humility because of the nature of winning versus losing.  Humility, like pride, is a variable condition.  Excessive humility is often perceived as weakness and this assumption can lead to discouragement.  Conversely, lack of humility leads to unguarded pride and arrogance.  Humility is the great regulator of pride.  Humility is a healthy acceptance of personal strengths and weaknesses.  It is an awareness of the significance of others in the successes of life.  Healthy humility leads to forgiveness and service.  As such, humility is in direct competition with the ego that wants to dominate others.  Establishing and maintaining a balance between humility and pride is no small task, but this is what is needed to master the ego.  Humility is also an elusive condition.  Take hypocrisy, for example, when we find ourselves saying the socially correct thing but in reality we are faking it; this is false humility and weakness.  Achievement and accomplishments naturally lead to confidence and pride.  Integrity provides needed balance as we learn to recognize personal hypocrisy as well as acknowledging and showing appreciation to all who facilitated our success.

Healthy pride accepts conditions as they are, seeks for improvement, and acknowledges personal limitations.  Coupled with healthy humility, healthy pride leads to the motivation to improve self, and to aid in the advancement of others.  Identifying this dynamic relationship between pride and humility, assessing our personal condition, and learning to regulate it is indeed the pursuit we desire in finding meaning in life.

Originally posted on September 16, 2011 on