‘Pride Is Not The Opposite Of Shame But Its Source’

We’ve all been there. After weeks/months/years of putting the effort in, something falls apart. It could a job, relationship, school project. Whatever the cause, the feeling of shame starts to settle in not long after. For years, I truly believed that those who were always prideful never felt shame. I thought it was a full-proof way to avoid it. However, I heard a quote recently when watching Avatar: The Last Airbender that got me thinking. It goes like this, ‘’pride is not the opposite of shame but its source. True humility is the only antidote to shame.’’. In this blog post, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on whether I think this statement is true or not. 

How does shame arise? 

One of the major causes of shame is failing to meet the expectations that we place on ourselves. We feel the need to be a certain weight, to earn a certain amount of money, to be a perfect partner.

The crazy thing is that these expectations are often hidden from us. Most of us are completely unaware of the pressures that we place on ourselves. Let me use a personal example. 

In the first year of my Ph.D. program, I had to deliver a presentation at a conference. It was my first one and so, understandably, I was extremely nervous. To prepare, I looked up a couple of past presentations on YouTube to get an idea of what I needed to do. Of course, I picked the one with the highest views.

It was here that it all started to go downhill. I started to compare myself to those elite speakers. I told myself that everything had to be perfect like theirs was. The PowerPoint slides must be perfect. Transitions must be perfect. My lines must be perfect. See a trend here? 

After weeks of torturing myself, the day of the presentation arrived. To say that I was a mess is probably understating things. I had placed myself in a prison of my own expectations, where the bars kept closing in each day.

When it was my turn to present, I just couldn’t do it and so I passed on the opportunity. That evening, I felt a deep corrosive shame inside of me. It felt like I let everybody down, including myself.  

pride is not the opposite of shame

Useful Articles

5 reasons why you should chase progress, not perfection

The Psychology of Expectations | Psychology Today UK

Expectations – the real happiness killer – Human Psychology

Is pride the source of shame? 

Recalling that memory still makes me want to curl into my bed for days, but let’s relate this experience to the quote at hand. In this first part of the saying, General Iroh claims that pride was the source of my shame back. Is this true? Was I being too proud? 

The simple answer to that question is yes! My intentions going to the conference were not to share research with the community. It was to ‘win’. I wanted to give the best presentation. This all came from a very prideful place, although I would never have admitted that to myself at the time.  Let’s look at the cycle of pride and shame starts.

The cycle of pride and shame 

See, following a failure or a shameful experience, there is that hunger and drive to act. You’re desperate to prove to everyone that you can be something, and so you work hard.

Over time, you’ll start to see some success. It feels good and slowly but surely, it starts to get to your head. Maybe I am smarter than everyone else. This feels really good. I’m going to aim super high, so I don’t waste my potential. And, then that’s where the unrealistic expectations come into play. Eventually, we fall short of those expectations as we aren’t perfect, and shame returns to complete the cycle. 

How well do you cope with failure? I want you to give it some honest thought. Are you someone who dwells on the past, are you able to take constructive feedback? If you’re interested in knowing the answer, then I highly recommend taking this quiz below.

Humility is the cure? 

So how do we break this cycle? Well, General Iroh has us covered. In the second part of the saying, he claims that humility is the only antidote to shame. The Stoics had a very similar philosophy, a lot of their teachings focus on being in the present and living a humble life without expectations. But what does that actually look like? 

Being humble means catching yourself at the point of success in the cycle. Here, it’s necessary to have a conversation with yourself. Here are three things that you can do to train in humility. 

Spend more time listening and less time talking

The more you can absorb in your environment, the more you can learn. There is nothing to gain from letting everyone know that you’re the smartest person in the room. All it does is stroke the ego. 

Ask for help 

A big part of being humble is accepting the fact that you will never be perfect. It’s not how humans were designed. Once you break the illusion of perfection, you’ll start to understand that expectations bring nothing but anxiety.  

Show gratitude 

We tend to only show gratitude for the positive experiences. Once there is a negative experience, we tend to curse everyone and everything around us. However, there is so much to learn from failures and shameful experiences. Once you stop seeing these events as neither good nor bad, they will have less power over you. 

Useful articles:

5 Famous Failures In History That You Didn’t Know About

Is Failure A Part Of Success? The Honest Truth

Do These 6 Things to Be More Humble | SUCCESS


So, where do I stand? Do I believe that pride is the source of shame, and the only way to cure it is through humility? Absolutely. Reflecting on prior instances where I’ve felt the most shame, I’ve come to realise that there are situations where I was being extremely prideful.

It just goes to show you, as long as you’re willing to humble yourself and become a student of life, there is so much knowledge that can be learnt. Just look at me, I discovered something amazing about myself through watching a show made for kids!

What do you think? I’d like to hear whether you agree or disagree with the quote. Let me know your thoughts in the comments down below.

Also, if you’re interested in joining us on the journey of redefining failure, then make sure to join the mailing list! You’ll receive weekly updates on when our blog goes live.

Have a great Sunday!

6 Replies to “‘Pride Is Not The Opposite Of Shame But Its Source’”

  1. Such an interesting post and approach to viewing things. It’s similar to many psychological ‘cycles’ of thought that influence behaviour.

  2. Love your example with the presentation. I was in a similar situation where I keep comparing myself not realizing I was putting myself in box and set myself up for failure. Thank you for this reminder.

  3. Excellent point about asking for help. Especially in the education system, asking for help is often judged as bad thing, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Love the article.

  4. Well stated. Humility is a very difficult state of mind to reach. There is so much in the world driving us toward pride, and humility is so often seen as a bad thing. General Iroh, fictional as he was, was one of the best mentor characters of all time because he was humble and more concerned about Zuko than himself. This lesson was just one of many that Iroh gave his nephew in hopes of seeing Zuko become the man he needed to be.

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