Think about your last achievement: the fear you overcame, the sale you closed, the women you asked out, the project you finished, the good deed you did. What did you achieve yesterday, last week, last month? Imagine it vividly!
Now listen to how you’re talking to yourself: Are you thinking something like, “I’m proud of what I did,” “I take pride in my achievements,” “I’m proud of myself,” “I’m an awesome dude,” or “I’m a good person”?
Your self-talk might reveal a lot about your emotional maturity, but let’s take a step back first.
But what is pride, besides a positive feeling of achievement?
- Authentic pride is unstable and specific: “I know I did a great job, and I take pride in my action.” That’s the affective core of self-esteem.
- Hubristic pride is stable and unspecific: “I know I’m a great guy, and I take pride in myself.” That’s the affective core of narcissism.
Take a guess which type indicates maturity, and which indicates a big ego. As people age and mature, they experience psychologically more adaptive emotions. In a study (Orth et al. 2010) based on data from 2,611 individuals between the age of 13 to 89, the two types of pride had opposing trajectories across the life span:
- Authentic pride increased from adolescence into old age.
- Hubristic pride decreased from adolescence into old age.
The more you mature, the smaller your ego becomes, and the more genuine pride you take in real, specific accomplishments.
Interestingly, the study found the same to be true for the difference between shame and guilt:
- Shame is an unpleasant emotion. You feel it after a failure, after failing to meet an internalized social standard, when you tell yourself that you suck. Shame decreases as you mature. It’s maladaptive, because you can’t change who you are.
- Shame-free guilt is an unpleasant emotion, too. You also feel it after failing to meet an internalized social standard, but you don’t tell yourself that you suck; you just recognize that you did something bad. Guilt increases as you mature. It’s adaptive, because you can change how you act.
Authentic pride and shame-free guilt lay the emotional foundation for self-improvement. Not only do they increase your mental well-being. They make you better as a person, because they’re not directed at who you are, but at what you do. Authentic pride makes you accomplish great things, shame-free guilt makes you take ownership of your failures: both better your life. Hubristic pride and shame, on the other hand, make you worse, as they’re associated with depression and low self-esteem.
You can’t change yourself directly. You can’t choose to be the person you want to be. You can, however, change yourself indirectly by cherishing and listening to the pride and guilt you experience. You can choose the action you take in every situation—and in this very moment.
- Orth, U., Robins, R. W., Soto, C. J. (2010). Tracking the Trajectory of Shame, Guilt, and Pride Across the Life Span. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 99(6), pp. 1061-1071, doi: 10.1037/a0021342.