4 Ways to Overcome the Danger of False Humility

Perception is reality.

All metaphysical or existential debate aside, the way people perceive you at work greatly influences the reality you’ll experience. Call it your brand, reputation, or image, the perception people have of you is the net result of what you say, how you act, and the way your presence makes people feel. That’s why self-awareness—understanding how your behaviors impact those around you—is so critical to your success.

One behavioral area that can be hard to self-regulate is humility.

Humility is an admirable and honorable trait. I respect people who are able to keep their ego in check, recognize they aren’t the smartest in the room, and give space for others to shine and unleash their own brilliance. However, in an effort to not come across as being egotistical, it’s easy to overcompensate and fall prey to false humility. When that happens, you can do yourself more harm than good.

So, what is false humility? Well, first, let’s define humility. Humility is the state or condition of being humble. It’s having a modest opinion of yourself and your own importance. Being humble is not believing you are inferior to others. Humble people fully appreciate their own gifts and talents, but don’t esteem themselves above others.

False humility, on the other hand, is pridefulness in disguise. We practice false humility when we intentionally devalue ourselves or our contributions in an attempt to appear humble. Examples of false humility include deflecting praise we truly deserve, fishing for compliments to draw attention to ourselves, “humble-bragging” (talking about how humble we are), falsely portraying helplessness or a lack of power, and self-deprecating humor. As Dr. Aqualus Gordon discusses in this article for Psychology Today, false humility can be the manifestation of an inferiority complex.

The popular understanding of an inferiority complex is a person who believes he/she is inferior to other people. It’s a form of self-loathing and causes people to view themselves and their contributions as “less than” other people. However, that’s only one side of the coin, according to Dr. Gordon. The flip-side of an inferiority complex, or false humility, is a real or perceived belief of superiority to others. Our false display of humility can be a socially acceptable way to express our ego in an indirect manner. Ironically, in an effort to come across as being humble, we actually draw attention to ourselves through false humility which is anything but being humble!

So how do we combat false humility? I’ve found these four strategies to be helpful:

  1. Have an attitude of gratitude—Being grateful reminds me of how fortunate I am in the big scheme of life. It helps me to be thankful for all the people who have contributed to my success and reminds me that I’ve received an awful lot of help along the way.
  2. Hold power and position lightly—Positions, power, and titles come and go. You are guaranteed to be disappointed if your self-worth is defined by your title or position. Hold these things loosely while you have them, use them for doing good, but don’t trust in them to bring you lasting fulfillment and significance.
  3. Accept praise graciously and authentically—I have to work hard at not using self-deprecating humor to deflect praise. “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while” is one of my reliable standby’s. Instead, I have to remind myself to simply say “Thank you, I appreciate the recognition.” Being humble doesn’t mean devaluing your accomplishments.
  4. Focus on serving others—When you are busy serving others you don’t have time to think about yourself. Instead of worrying about what others think of your accomplishments, focus on doing good for others and the proper recognition will come your way in due time.

We live in a world that says it values humility, yet in order to get ahead, it seems you have to engage in constant self-promotion. Don’t fall prey to false humility as a way to balance these competing demands. Instead of focusing on yourself, focus on serving others. As the old saying goes, humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking about yourself less.

11 Comments on “4 Ways to Overcome the Danger of False Humility

  1. Pingback: TPC – Lord, it’s Hard to be Humble - TPC -

  2. I believe that meditating on God’s love and receiving it daily to the point where the experience of being in His loving presence provokes one to desire giving & serving others wholeheartedly. When buying good food you must taste and see it for yourself before offering it to others. If we don’t spend time to meditate on scriptures pertaining to His love like 1 corinthians 13, we will not display it in our walks and humility comes from a place of love where its not self seeking etc. The love of God must be in us to love God with all of our hearts and to love others as we love ourselves. I enjoy putting myself in other people’s shoes and find creative ways to assist them. However, I am also learning to ask for wisdom from God so that He lets me know what to do and whom to serve.

    Focusing on proverbs 3:5-6 also helps us believers to focus in on God and reminds us not to lean on ourselves so that we’d be led in the right path by the power of His spirit and not our limited understanding.

    • I am a believer in Christ and that we must focus on the love and gift of the cross that Jesus died for our sins and etc ; therefore , we couldn’t learn how to surrender love unconditional. Proverbs 3:4-6 teaches us to on our own personal understanding , and feeling because they can get me in distorted thinking —————–

    • Wow. we must give honor where honor is due wow sis you really opened my eyes may God bless you and increase you according to his divine will for you, that was powerful.

  3. Thank you for this information of understanding

  4. What is on my heart after reading this is how easy it is for a self centered person to believe they are being humble- by serving others outside of their home. My heart says: humble starts at home. What better gift to give our spouse and children than to model humility. Genuine- in the place that is the hardest. Helping others, “saving the day” for someone else is usually a quick fix- and we pat ourselves on the back for “helping out” for a temporary situation- that we probably picked- because it is in our comfort zone.

    Living with humility day after day in those.ever changing, ever surprising, ever growing and uncomfortable places at home- that’s the most important job, and the most impressionable people God has purposely arranged. We can practice with those “sitting in the best seats”.

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