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Humility: A Way of Being

"Humility is the ability to give up your pride and still retain your dignity" Vanna Bonta

Is there an argument, that to be aligned with the art of humility requires embracement of our shadow rather than reject that which we can have disdain for?

As therapists, humility can support reciprocity and relational change. Worthington et al., (2017) suggests that there are three parts to humility:

  • Accurate self-perception

  • Modest self-portrayal

  • Other-oriented relational stance

Furthermore, a study by Rowden et al., 2014, about ‘Understanding Humility and its Role in Relational Therapy’ highlights that key elements of change during the process of relational therapy appear to relate to humility.

Addressing an audience at his graduation from Harvard University, Nitin Nohria (, 2016) described three types of humility:

Intellectual Humility: No matter how smart we are, we can always learn from others

Moral Humility: The awareness that no matter how self-assured you are about your moral compass, you are vulnerable under certain conditions to lose your way

Personal Humility: The skill of listening intently to others, celebrating small milestones, recognising the contributions of team members and accepting the praise of others

Placing these ideas in the context of psychotherapy, does there need to be a fourth category, Therapist Humility?

As therapists, is there a lesson to be learnt about the intrinsic value of humility? That within us, humility is a resource which supports both professional and personal growth, which ultimately benefits clients.

On a personal level, humility affords the opportunity to shine a light on talents that have perhaps been repressed. Studies on humility including Bronk, 2008 and Danovitch et al., 2019 suggest that children as young as six years old show development of humility.

Without a shadow of a doubt, we all know people who do not express humility and do not keep their ego in check. Acknowledging and appreciating our shadow enables us to improve our growth mindset, emotional intelligence and ability to achieve. Thus, the journey of humility requires us to be attuned and to embody our humanness, and not to be blocked by conditions of worth set by others including organisations and individuals within the field of mental health.

Humility can be seen in so many ways: a psychological trait, a characteristic, a virtue, but does it really matter? Understanding and embracing our strengths and weaknesses ‘doesn’t consist in devaluing oneself’ but allows us to ‘recognise our potential and also our misery’ Pope Francis (2022).

(Authors: Karen O’Neill & Tara McDonald)

Published and Copyrighted by PIP Solutions: 1st November 2022

Reference List

Bronk, K. (2008). Humility among adolescent purpose examplars. Journal of Research on Character Education, 6(1), 35-51.

Danovitch, J. D., & Noles, N. S. (2014). Categorization ability, but not theory of mind, contributes to children’s developing understanding of expertise. In P. Bello, M. Guarini, M. McShane, & B. Scassellati (Eds.), Proceedings of the 36th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 2097–2012). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.

Nohria, N. (2016)., 2016 [accessed 28th October 2022]

Rowden, T. J., Harris, S. M., & Wickel, K. (2014). Understanding humility and its role in relational therapy. Contemporary Family Therapy, 36(3), 380-391. doi:10.1007/s10591- 013-9297-8

Worthington, Jr., E., Davis, D., & Hook, J. (Eds.) (2017). Handbook of humility: Theory, research, and applications. New York, NY: Routledge

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