Humility and Self-Love ~ Paradox or Partners?

Humility. Have you ever thought about what that means to you?

Before I looked up the character strengths definition. I sat and pondered what my definition might be. Here’s what I mused: “A not needing to get or take credit for something I accomplished or achieved; selflessness; the opposite of narcissism, as in ‘After me, myself and I, I might think about you!’; to shine light on others first; to feel grace, gratitude and acceptance of what is; and not to put myself first.”

How about your ideas?

Truth is, in this consumer world of “get noticed, achieve, sell your wares, shine,” there seems too little space for humility.

Maybe you never gave it a thought, but there are good reasons to put a magnifying glass on this oftentimes forgotten powerhouse of goodness strength.

Here’s the skinny on humility:

Humility is one of the 24 Values in Action Survey character strengths. Most folks in the Western world score rather low in it. Not surprising in light of our competitive world. But what is the scientific definition according to the acclaimed strengths book, “Character Strengths and Virtues” by Peterson and Seligman, 2004, pg. 462-463:

“Humility and modesty represent the ability to forget oneself, to be content out of the center of the stage, to assess one’s own mistakes and imperfections accurately, to be open to influence from others, and to put the needs of the group ahead of one’s personal needs.”

As I read this definition, my Mom’s humility graced my sensorium. Mom was a quiet, no need for attention, wonder. A follower and not a leader, she was content with her life. I never heard her complain. She was content, grateful, and happy. Her favorite phrase, despite her many adversities in life, was, “I am so lucky!” It took little to make her happy. She was the most truly authentic person I have even known. The best thing I always had going for me was my wisdom-personified, humble Mom. She gave me all the room I needed to thrive and trusted me to figure out life. And she didn’t criticize me when I screwed up.

Humbly, Mom never thought she was wise. She went her smiling way through life for 94 years. I was sublimely blessed to share 64 years with her. I can’t believe it has been five years since she took that last great journey to heaven. I can feel her smile everyday.

Not so long ago, I read a blog from “The Quotable Coach” Barry Demp, a very wise master certified coach friend. He quoted Arnold Glasgow, a 20th Century American Businessman, “If you think you’re tops, you won’t do much climbing.” What a stellar quote.

Barry further described competent leaders per one of my favorite business books by Jim Collins, “Good to Great.” Collin described great leaders as those who have:

  1. Extreme personal humility.
  2. Intense professional will.
  3. Shunning the spotlight of celebrity.
  4. Channeling ambition toward the goal of building something great.
  5. Setting up others for success.
  6. Consistent, diligent effort and honesty.

In essence, great leaders leave their ego at the door. They have a strong resolve to be and do what is best for their company. They know their purpose and feel comfortable with who they are in helping others reach their potential. Ironically a kind of self-consciousness and self-acceptance, so they offer others the opportunity to shine. What a great way to show up!

Another rich list of the multi-faceted construct of humility quoted by Kathryn Britton in her esteemed strengths book with Shannon Polly, “Character Strengths Matter”, 2015, originates from Jane Price Tangney.

The qualities of humility according to Tangney include:

  1. An accurate assessment of oneself, including both strengths and weaknesses – neither favorable or unfavorable.
  2. An openness to new information, including ideas that contradict former opinions.
  3. An ability to keep one’s own place in the world in perspective. Humble people are less inclined than the normal population to self-serving biases.
  4. An ability to forget oneself, to move out of the middle of the frame.

How’s that for food for serious thought?

Britton tackles the curiosity question I wondered about: “Where does humility come from?” She states researchers feel it probably stems from a “sense of security grounded on feelings of self-worth that comes from stable and reliable sources such as feeling unconditionally loved, sources that make a firmer foundation than many external sources, such as achievement, appearance and social approval.”

Who wouldn’t want a life foundation like that? But many folks don’t have the luxury of this developmental blessing. No wonder there are so many narcissists floating around our world, like bubbles we would like to pop!

Are you wondering how to foster more humility?

Here’s the irony. You focus on yourself!

Here’s how:

  1. You soul-search. You look for too much pridewithin yourself.
  2. You listen to others. Really listen. You support their journey.
  3. You give credit where credit is due. You celebrate the success of others.
  4. You admit your personal limitations and work on self-love and acceptance.
  5. You are mindfully aware of how you show up. You make amends when you need to.
  6. You practice gratitude daily. Journal your gratitude for greater personal growth.
  7. You pay attention to positive role models and let them know you appreciate them.
  8. You forgive and seek forgiveness. You let go of hurt.
  9. You practice open-mindedness and a growth mindset.

Are you thinking humility means to love others first?

Well, According to Kamal Ravikant in his remarkable little book, “Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It”, you need to let go of all the “rusty old armor you do not need any more.” Instead let your light of love shine from within. You need to know you are lovable. You do not need to shout it out to the world. You don’t need to prove it. “You matter” according to positive psychology pioneer, Chris Peterson. But you can be humble about knowing you are a wonderful entity who can pay forward your greatness into the world without accolades. Not that an accolade is not wonderful. With each insight you are worthy, you become more insightful, lighter, and you have a sense of freedom. You grow and your light glows.

Yes, many times humility means you put others first. But to me the secret is this: You need to know and feel you are OK first. Deep down. Like Ravakant admonishes…in pre-flight instructions, case of emergency, and the oxygen mask drops from above, put yours on before you help someone else.” Further re: self-love (and compassion), on his experiences, “As I started to love myself, things inside me shifted. Fear strengths ego. Love softens it. I became more open and vulnerable. It was natural to be gentle with others even when they weren’t loving towards me.”

There is a power to the quiet revelation that you are lovable always. And better yet, you can pay forward all the goodness within you to others with humility. What a powerful partnership. To know yourself, warts and all, and have self-compassion for yourself. It took coaching for me to figure this out. “Keep trying harder!” used to be my mantra. Now self-acceptance, vulnerability and mindful awareness supersede the trying part of my psyche. Life is a choice to love, that that includes yourself. Wow, did it take me a long blame time to learn that!

You might be asking, “Is their a downside to humility?”

Yes, like anything else, life is a balance. If you make mistakes and keep putting yourself down a la “self-abasing humility”you may well be fueling low self-esteem, feelings of failure, shame, and a lack of well-being and wholeness. Focusing on personal failures and being too submissive may lead you to lower overall well-being and even poor physical health. Guilt and other negative emotions are normal. but after you recognize them and acknowledge them, time to let them fly away.

How about you?

  1. Are you choosing and empowering your humility and other strengths to be who you want to be?
  2. Are you ditching old negative scripts you have woven that no longer serve you?
  3. Are you allowing yourself to know you are wonderful without thrusting your too large ego out into the world?
  4. Can you pay forward your wholeness in the service of others?
  5. Are you learning to be more open as you communicate your authentic feelings?

If you are feeling stuck or want to know more about self-love and humility, and how they walk hand-in-hand, please call, text or email me. I am here to help.

Humbly yours and wishing you a life filled with gratitude, self-compassion, and love,


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