Embracing Humility

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By David Fawcett PhD, LCSW

Humility is a clear-eyed and honest appraisal of who we are and where we find ourselves in our lives. In this age of social media, humility can be a rare commodity.

Many of us put a great deal of effort into constructing a public ‘reality’ about our life. To this end, we showcase exotic vacations, the results of hours at the gym, or an enviable social life. However, creating a public version of our best self doesn’t serve us very well in recovery. In order to become honest with ourselves and embrace the mindset that is necessary for recovery, we need to understand humility.

Many people view humility as a weakness and certainly not something for which we should strive. That said, humility is not a personal flaw. It is a personal assessment that reflects an honest, realistic appraisal of ourselves and our lives. Inflating our egos or glorifying certain aspects of our lives doesn’t serve humility or recovery.

Interestingly, it is not just grandiosity that impedes humility. We also need to avoid self-deprecation by minimizing our talents, gifts, and accomplishments to ourselves and others.

Taking an honest look at our lives without smoothing the rough edges to make us appear just a little better (or worse) requires courage and clear-eyed commitment. The 12 steps can help us with this. In fact, they provide a straightforward guide for discovering and embracing humility. Most people who do a 4th step inventory, for example, will initially focus only on the harm they have caused to themselves and others. But a good sponsor will point out that their inventory should include their assets as well as their flaws.

Because most of us manipulate our self-image and public persona (both positively and negatively), sometimes without conscious awareness, it can be a challenge to know how to embrace humility. Here are some steps that can help.

  1. Learn to listen. The practice of active listening is a great way to deepen humility. Active listening involves maintaining focus on the other person, sometimes repeating words or giving other nonverbal messages that show we are connected to and are listening carefully to the other person. It doesn’t, however, involve fixing that person or giving advice on what they should do unless there has been a request for feedback. I have found that once one person opens up about very personal issues, their vulnerability can be infectious and the listener will often match the same level of emotional openness. Listening carefully to others gives us insight into their internal processes, which we can apply to our own lives.
  2. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is an amazing skill that, when practiced regularly, has been shown to actually ‘rewire’ our brains. For the addict (and those who love the addict), mindfulness is an invaluable skill that helps us focus our thoughts and live with more intention. When practicing mindfulness, it is important to simply observe what’s going on in the world around us as well as our reaction to it, including thoughts, emotions, and any sensations that we experience in our body. It’s also important to focus on the present and not get pulled into the past or pushed into the future. Most of all, we need to observe what’s going on with no judgment.
  3. Embrace gratitude. Gratitude is an anti-toxin for the negative thoughts and feelings that can bog us down. When we get mired in negativity, we often feel great resistance to sitting down and making a gratitude list. That, however, is the best time to do so. Even a simple list of five things can begin to change our mindset and refresh the way we see the world. Many of us find that the daily practice of creating a short gratitude list is important for maintaining a good frame of mind. Gratitude makes it is easy to embrace humility because it allows a more balanced view of our lives.
  4. Ask for help. Many of us, especially addicts, balk at asking for help, thinking that it somehow implies weakness. Often, we fear that asking for help might reveal too much about our addictive behavior. Nevertheless, it is important to reach out and ask for help when we find ourselves struggling. If there is resistance, it can be helpful to remember how good it feels to be of assistance for someone else. Asking for help is an act of humility; it is also a very generous gift to ourselves because it builds the social connections which sit at the very heart of recovery.
  5. Be honest in actions and words. The ability to maintain perspective about our lives can be a challenge, especially if we’ve spent many years spinning lies or gaslighting loved ones or manipulating facts to shield our addictive behavior. Honesty and integrity are essential elements for recovery, best applied through a daily practice of self-appraisal where we evaluate our behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. This allows us to assess what we’ve done well and where we might need work. It is only through such honest appraisal that we can grow our humility and recovery.