Pride vs shame is a complicated question that, frankly, is quite simple. I am frequently challenged to explain the difference between pride and shame; usually from people with some or extensive experience in Christianity. I aim to show that shame is the source of pride and, in fact, the root of all evil.
After eons of interpreting “the fall” and “original sin” as being primarily a result of pride (perhaps you’ve heard it said that pride comes before the fall), the church and a Christian culture is well versed in seeing pride as the greatest enemy of humanity. Pride has come so far as to have been labeled one of the “seven deadly sins”! There’s little surprise that the church spends so much time trying to help us deal with it given that context. Shame, then, becomes your ally in fighting pride and other social “ills”.
So, with a cultural background (largely Christian) of understanding shame as helpful to achieving “good” behavior and pride as harmful to our mortal souls, you can see why it’s quite a challenge to suggest shame is actually the root of all evil!
If it’s not pride, what is it?
From here on out, I will try to draw a parallel between lightning and pride. Pride, like lightning, can do a lot of damage. I don’t need the bible to tell me that; I’ve seen enough of it in my own life. While lightning (pride) certainly does the damage, it has a hidden source that generates this destructive force. Hidden in the atmosphere is a buildup of static electricity that no one can see. Eventually this must erupt in a violent damaging force.
Shame is the hidden “static” in our psychology – our emotional “atmosphere” – that generates pride and other destructive forces. My goal is to unmask this hidden driver so we can diffuse it before our pride, anger, ego, or whatever form our lightning is taking today before it can cause any more destruction.
Shame: the root of all evil
I am not trying to say pride doesn’t exist or that it’s not potentially a destructive force in our lives (my son, Troy taught me that). I’m trying to say that shame is the source of pride. I am trying to say that internal shame causes people to have to have the external expression of pride to cover up an actual internalized self-hatred. I am trying to say that shame (which has never been considered a sin in any religion that I know of), is the source of a wide array of poor behaviors and not a motivator of good behaviors. Shame is the root cause of what hurts our relationships with ourselves and each other. I’m trying to say that shame is really the root of all evil.
So what should we do?
Unmasking shame is the first and most vital step to take control of whatever destructive forces may be manipulating our lives. If we can get at this root driver, this emotional static electricity, we can begin to see how it’s been affecting us. Unmasking shame, is not an easy process and involves a great deal of listening to your own life story. While looking at your own story, look for where you’ve made decisions (large or small) that you regret to see what may have motivated those choices. If you see motivating forces such as pride, defensiveness, fear, depression or anger behind your regrettable decisions, you can bet it’s shame that’s truly the root driver.