I wrote a post some time ago about misunderstandings about surrender, and since people seemed to like that one, I felt like writing a post about misunderstanding humility.
I talk a lot about humility on the spiritual path. Humility is a way that we stay open to life, to the Divine, and to all the different things we don’t know about ourselves and life. We also are aware of reality; we neither diminish nor enhance reality when we are humble. Instead, we do our best to simply see what is and speak to that reality.
In openness, we are never restricted, but in false humility, we are restricted because we have to behave in certain ways that we believe are humble. Those beliefs and false humility tend to arise from issues that do not serve us, other people, or God. Finding our way back to true humility is finding our way back to reality.
So here a couple of misunderstandings about spiritual humility and how to resolve them.
In Western Society, a lot of bragging and arrogance goes on. It goes on so much so that the ideas of arrogance and being good at something get put together. But really, being good at something is not inherently arrogant. We can be talented in music, analytics, basketball, parenting, teaching, building buildings, crafting legislation, having sex, joking, dancing, and many more things while not be arrogant about it.
So misunderstandings #1 is viewing humility as not saying when you are good at something, and this is wrong.
Healing this Misunderstanding
This is a pretty easy fix. Just say when you are good at something. That’s it. You don’t need to make a big deal about it because if you did, well, then that would be arrogant.
Saying when you are good at something is also important because there are times when others need to know you have a certain talent/skill in case that talent/skill is needed.
Misunderstanding #2 Letting Others Dictate Your Connection to God
This misunderstanding is particularly bad because it can put people in a place of being victimized by a false spiritual teacher. Are there lots of false spiritual teachers? Not in my experience. But there are plenty of confused ones. Letting other tell you how you must and if you can connect to God can lead a lot of people into a lot of confusion. This kind of false humility also leads people to having a blind faith and accepting whatever their spiritual teacher says; this is not an engaged, conscious place of understanding.
Trusting what a good spiritual teacher says is important. But over time, you become freer and clearer about your Divine connection through that trust. You also lose dependency on the teacher as you develop. False humility not only accepts dependence, but it holds onto it because the person believes they aren’t good enough/worthy enough/something else to connect to God.
Healing this False Humility Issue
This is a tricky one. A lot of nasty ego issues underlie this submissive attitude. One example are people who have been victimized by narcissist parents. They can develop this misunderstanding about humility because certain types of narcissists make everything about them and everyone else isn’t as good as them. That creates a child who grows into an adult who can’t trust themselves so they seek someone else to tell them what to do/believe.
I recommend journaling about why you don’t feel you can have a direct connection to God as well as what you think spirituality and God are. This can start you towards dealing with this misunderstanding.
Misunderstanding #3 God Will Give You Everything
A very different misunderstanding is that by following certain spiritual paths that God will give the person everything. In this instance, spiritual humility is being used as a trade of services. The person thinks, “If I do what God tells me to do, then I’ll get what I want.”
This isn’t humble. This is entitled.
Healing Entitlement and/or Laziness
For some people, they see this “humility”/submission to God as an easy way to get what they want, and many people with this mindset will put in minimal effort to their spiritual work. So their humility is really just laziness. Other people, work hard to follow the “rules”–whatever they may be for a spiritual path/religion–but they’re still just as entitled.
To heal this misunderstanding, the person must delve into why they feel entitled and/or unwilling to work. As they face their laziness and/or entitlement, they’re moved towards true humility as they will likely begin to see a lot of other errors in their understanding about themselves and God.
Misunderstanding #4 You Deserve the Abuse
A lot of people believe that being humble is about taking abuse. This can be enmeshed with an idea of service so that people serve/help those who are totally ungrateful, demeaning, and potentially even physically abusive.
A lot of emotional difficulty that we face is of our own choosing. As we let go of the ego, we don’t react to insults, slights, and other emotional attacks in the way we once did. So there is a quality of true humility that can endure emotional attacks that others still wrapped up in their ego cannot handle.
We also don’t maintain any beliefs that we have to deal with someone or some situation that is legitimately abusive because we’re serving them, because we don’t deserve anything better, or because we deserve the abuse. And physical abusive is not okay at all.
So in this example, this isn’t humility; this is martyrdom.
Healing a Major Self-worth Issue
If this is someone’s belief about humility, then they have a major self-worth issue at work. Therapy is a great start to engaging with it. As I like to remind people, therapists and counselors are some of our mind healers, and there are definitely issues to be dealt with at the level of the mind if someone thinks that they deserve abuse and that bearing this pain is some kind of humble service
Misunderstanding #5 You Can’t Be Good at Something
Sometimes, people will feel like being good at something is also somehow not humble. It’s another way self-worth issues can express themselves, and it makes some people seek the middle of the road. For others, they won’t be very proficient at much of anything because they truly think they’re not good enough for anything. That means this person never really applies themselves to develop any talents and skills, and that becomes a negative feedback look. If a person believes that can’t be good at anything, then they don’t develop anything. If they don’t develop any talents, then it reinforces the belief that someone they can’t become good at something.
And somehow that belief can get twisted into an idea that this is being humble.
Healing the Issue
Healing this misunderstanding means addressing the self-worth issue or issues (self-worth issues are really, really common, by the way). Self-worth issues can be packaged up in a bundle of experiences and false ego beliefs. The usual tools that I mention like journaling, self-inquiry, therapy, and others apply. But I’d also recommend developing a talent. In particular, choose something you like, but don’t think you’d ever be good at. Then have patience because it takes time to develop a talent.
If you heal the issues at work, it’ll be easy for you to say one day, “Yes, I’m good at this thing.”
Be Like the Dirt
As you dissolve more of your ego, humility is natural. The desire to demean or aggrandize yourself and others diminishes. You are…just like the dirt.
The dirt is powerful and humble. It holds up all of us as well as our tallest buildings. It also makes the tallest structures in the world–mountains. Yet, it never asks anything of us.
While this isn’t a perfect metaphor, the essence is that in true humility as a human being, we accept what is. We allow our natural strengths and abilities to be, and if necessary (unlike the dirt), we can change our life circumstances if someone or some situation is unhealthy because we know we have choose and the freedom to change.
For more about true spiritual humility, you can check out this blog post.