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Catholic Spiritual Direction

How can I overcome the root sin of pride?

December 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Anonymous, Root Sin, Sin, Virtue

I overcome the root sinDear Father Edward, would you be willing to post the virtues to overcome the root sins of vanity and pride also?

Whole libraries could be written on how to overcome pride. Pride is the mother of all root sins. Take any sin and you can ultimately trace its roots back to pride. This vice arises because of a deep-seated desire to do things our way.

Whereas vanity puts too much emphasis on the esteem of others, and sensuality stresses the love of comfort, pride puts the limelight on one’s self. A proud person is the center of his universe. Pride can manifest itself in myriad ways. One example is perfectionism, where a person gets caught up in his own work and goes to great lengths to prove himself. The perfectionist works hard for his own glory, but not for the glory of God.

Pride can also show itself in an inordinate desire for control. A proud person might want to control every aspect of his life, and even the lives of others (including one’s adult children). A proud person loves to have the last word. He might find it hard to listen respectfully to others’ views.

Another manifestation is an exaggerated tendency toward independence and individualism. This is common in cultures that place great value on self-sufficiency. Not infrequently this love of independence and individualism is a disguise for selfishness: Deep down the proud person doesn’t really care about the good of others. He doesn’t call it selfishness, of course. He calls it “tolerance” or “having respect for others’ privacy.”

Pride also shows itself in anger and criticism. A proud person might judge everyone else to be a fool. The proud one might get easily annoyed when contradicted by others. He might turn to insincerity and lying to cover up his mistakes. He might have an inability to ask for or offer forgiveness. The prideful person might be unwilling to serve others, might show impatience or brusqueness toward others. Self-love of a proud person leads him to nurse grudges, to rebel against legitimate authority, to exhibit inflexibility. Indifference to other’s needs or feelings isn’t uncommon. A proud person might be a master manipulator, steering conversations (and even whole nations) toward his interests.

What are the remedies for pride? For openers, the proud person must cultivate a deep sense of humility. He needs to recognize that all the gifts in his life come from God. The proud person must understand his own smallness; he is nothing without God’s grace. The prideful person must also recognize his sinfulness, and that this sinfulness rules out any kind of boasting.

Such a person needs to remind himself constantly of the love and mercy and patience that Christ has shown him. Christ died on a cross for each of us. The prideful person then needs to realize that he is called to imitate Christ’s love and mercy and patience toward other people. After all, they too are made in the image of God and are deserving of respect.

Since pride takes many forms, a person has to recognize how this vice manifests in his life, and then work on the opposite virtue. If he has a hard time listening to others, he has to work on the habit of letting others have the last word in a conversation. If he is prone to anger, he has to work on patience, preferably with very specific people (a wife, a co-worker, an in-law, etc.). If a person tends to be obsessed with his own needs, he might need to get involved in charitable organizations. Whatever the manifestations of pride, it is necessary to get to work on battling them right away. Pride tends to grow tougher with age, so there is no time like the present to get to work. Best of God’s graces to you!

Yours in Christ, Father Edward McIlmail, LC

Father McIlmail is a theology instructor at Mater Ecclesiae College in Greenville, RI.


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  • Angelafontenot

    Thank you for such a detailed and understandable explanation. God’s blessings in the New Year!

  • Motherdiva

    I thought this was just so good. You could take a sentence or two of this a meditate all week. Loved this. I am new to this site and this is the best article for me that I have come across in here so far.

  • LizEst

    Thank you for a wonderful exposition of this sin. It makes for a great examination of conscience.

    May I add another manifestation of vanity? Writing something in these comments sections…and then coming back over and over to see if anyone liked it! Ha! I plead guilty. Mea culpa.

  • Cynthia

    Father Edward, Could you more specifically address how to overcome an inordinate need for the approval of others? I sense that the Holy Spirit is directing me to uncover the roots of the sin of vanity in my life. I realize that pride feeds vanity, but I would like to know more about how to deal with my need to please. Thank you for your very helpful insights into pride.

    • Dan Burke

      Dear Cynthia – we will have a post on that next Thursday!

  • Jpottery

    Excellent; now all I have to do is see how it applies to me and not the people who came to mind when I read it.

  • Guest

    Wow, Father Edward. I have just caught this Post after celebrating the New Year Holy Mass. It is no wonder Pride is called the Cardinal Sin – Lucifer’s Pride begot Hell. This is a wonderful Post to meditate upon and unmask our Enemy where she is hiding in all her disguises.

    Father, this comment is poignant: “Pride tends to grow tougher with age”. The battle has been hard and bruising for the last two years, but, thank God, after acting on your advice and getting myself a Spiritual Director, he has been propping me up, encouraging me and guiding me on how to recognize, navigate the battle ground manouvers and avoid the potholes and boulders. Now I feel I am making some headway – slowly but surely. But I still need lots of Prayers from all of you on this Faith-building Website. At 72, Becky 313, come to your sister’s aid!!!!

  • Angela

    What do you do when you are pretty sure your root sin is pride (based on self reflection, common sins in confession, etc…) but your spiritual director doesn’t think it is true. Mine keeps telling me I am not proud — but we end up in this weird argument where I assert that I am and he says that my reply is what a humble person would say. And how much does it matter if he agrees with me on that major fault or not? It seems to me to be important but on the other hand, things are otherwise fine in direction.

    • Dan Burke

      Dear Angela in Christ – have you shared specific notes from your self-reflection, common sins in confession, etc. with your director? Is it safe to assume you both agree (with some precision) on the definition and manifestations of pride or whatever he/she believes your root sin to be?

      • Angela

        I will have to try that Dan. We have been working on some more immediate issues because of some external problems plus some issues with prayer but when possible, I would like to look at this question of my root sin more directly. He has so far just dismissed it so quickly. I get the sense he is trying to put me at ease and get me to not be too hard on myself. I should go back to Fr Dubay’s Spiritual Direction book and review this issue. That is the book my director recommends.

        • Dan Burke

          Good idea. With Fr. Dubay’s book, check out his Q&A from numbers 15 through 23. I will also provide a post on your question on Tuesday of next week.

  • Lflynn

    The week before New Year’s Eve I go over the three root causes of addiction (Pride, Self-Centerness, and Sensuality) with my clients. We work on a Spiritual Recovery Plan to help them grow spirituality through the upcoming year. Many of my clients struggle to believe in God. I also share with them that myself and others make such ongoing programs to work on who have no substance abuse issues at all. I ask them to share their plan with someone closest to them. I work in an office where we are not allowed to teach about religous practices, but we are allowed to teach about spiritual growth. Therefore, this is a great way to help our clients. I remove the word sin and replace it with addiction. God opens a door.

    • Dan Burke


  • FrancesAnne

    I, yet again, cannot thank you enough for your timely words of wisdom….
    Your break-down of pride and it’s manifestations had helped me to see, specific ways in which I myself am , way to, proud !!
    Now, I see more clearly, the areas I need to ask for the grace to work on…
    Thank You again, Father McIImail…
    and Happy, Blessed New Year

  • Pingback: Discovered my root sin is vanity - Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction :()

  • Diana Villafane

    I am not a Roman Catholic, but I do recognize the sin of pride in myself. Thank you for this very informative piece on how to overcome it.

    • LizEst

      And, thank you for joining us here. Know that you are very welcome on our site. God bless you, Diana!

  • JoFlemings

    Something that might be helpful with dealing with root sins- is to get a copy of a really thorough examination of conscience and to see what you find yourself falling into most often and which relationships it affects in your life most.

    For example, say you fight with your spouse over finances every month and you continually think critically about your partner’s way of dealing with expenses. This complicates your relationship because in your better moments you feel pity for your spouse because he or she is deficient in this area, or you are frustrated because you think you have this figured out and he or she should do what you say or give you the controls. (This is a hypothetical example that kind of shows how this gets out of whack in a soul.) So in this these negative emotions or twisted responses with you as the center of the universe and the arbiter of objective reality, pride is creeping in and getting a foothold. Sometimes it is very complicated because some prideful folks ARE extremely talented. What to do?

    First of all, realize that the person you are joined with in sacramental matrimony is given to you for your salvation because of your own defects- you need this person in order to facilitate your own salvation- and vice versa. If this money thing is an objective weakness in your partner he or she will know it and yield the area to your better judgement OR NOT, and you will need humility in either case in order to do well and live love. (This is just a close up example, hopefully, you can think of others that might apply in other relationships similarly.)

    We each falter in various areas- and when we succumb to pride we tend to think our weaknesses are much less significant than our strengths- we are bringing SO MUCH to every relationship! Ahem, actually, not from God’s point of view- let that sink in. I distinctly remember the Lord whispering to my soul as I stood in the line for Reconciliation in my Church- “You know Jo, that stuff that offends you so much about yourself is not the same stuff that offends Me the most…” My next thought was- ‘uh oh, I don’t think I want to know….’ (Of course I want to know, but that in itself is an education and another post!)

    Back to pride. Pride is an interior disposition of mind and heart that needs to be rewired with love and humility. In near relationships often that will work itself out by greater self-donation, patience, and taking oneself a bit less seriously- making the needs, opinions, thoughts and desires of the other in the relationship more important than my own in the moment.

    So when we realize we have these attitudes and behaviors and we see them rooted in pride we have to develop specific strategies for reworking them.
    Undoing pride always seems to begin with discipline in our thought life. When I know I am being self-centered or critical of another, I need to immediately turn to God and ask for grace and an increase of love for the other person. Then I need to take the time to think about the other person’s point of view or needs, to put myself in their place and consider what I would think or want if I were that person in this circumstance dealing with me. (This is a lot harder than it sounds to someone struggling with pride.)

    Then I need to bend myself to the will of the other as a sacrifice of love, unless my conscience demands another course for the sake of righteousness. (What I think is best is not always objectively ‘the sake of righteousness’, sometimes it is just my personal preference among a variety of acceptable courses- key distinction!)

    This makes people happy- and engenders peace, it fashions affability in the soul, and strengthens bonds of love. But it is not easy, it requires patience and intense focus on giving God room and time to work- an increase of faith.

    One small consolation in working out the root of pride is that God’s economy is hyper efficient, and if you have to deal with pride you are very likely going to find an increase of a wide variety of good fruit tended in your soul and life, AND after the initial sting of humility, a sweet joy and happiness permeating many areas of life!

  • Liz Estler

    I’ve sent you a personal message regarding these things as a reply to your personal message to me! Please take a look at that. Here is an excerpt: “Copying entire books is a serious matter. It is stealing the income from the authors, robbing them of their livelihood. In civil matters, it is also a crime, punishable by law. Regarding the question of sin, one would have to ask, ‘Did the authors give them permission to copy the books?’ If the answer is no, then it is objectively a sin…and a serious one. A confessor would have to determine the degree of culpability which would further determine how serious this serious sin is. It could wind up being a venial sin depending on the degree of culpability.” It’s really sad that a professor would assign textbooks that are either unavailable or so expensive as to not make them affordable for students there.