Okay, so, basically, my blog is currently useless if you’re not familiar with Brené Brown’s work on shame, especially Daring Greatly. Just get a copy already. [On another note, I'm still working on a follow-up to my post on leaving fundamentalist thinking, but I've moved this week and had a family member in the hospital and have been generally too drained to write a good piece on that yet. It'll happen as soon as I can.]

I used to own a copy of Humility by C.J. Mahaney. I used to think it was a really good book.

I used to beat myself up a lot over how “proud” I was, a concept drawn from SGM’s teachings inspired by C.J. and the Puritans. My desire to be right, my desire for safe relationships, my desire to be heard–all these were twisted in my interpretation of them and lumped in a pile in my mind, under a big black sign that read “PRIDEFUL SINNER.”

Pride, as they defined it in SGM, is “contending for supremacy with God” (Jerry Bridges). Any attempt to control your life, to assert your likes, dislikes, boundaries, or ambitions was written off as “idolatry” and “selfish” and “proud.”

Arrogance was a label of a tent that expanded in SGM to cover anything that wasn’t following the social code of correct behavior. Doubting or anxious? Your lack of faith exhibits pride. Depressed? Prideful doubt of God’s goodwill toward you. Making plans for your life and dreaming/learning/exploring about what and who you really want to do and be? Pride and refusing to listen prayerfully to God’s will for your life.

I suspect that this stuff was harsher for women in SGM (and the fundamentalist homeschooling community at large) than it was for men, because men were required to learn their skill sets, urged to find mentors, and assumed to follow their dreams (of some sort) and have careers and aspirations. Women were not. Gender roles were stricter for us–godly women aspired to be housewives and mothers, and anything outside of that was a spiritual open doorway to pride. Aspirations outside of the wife/mother/housekeeper role might be permitted, if you were quiet and meek and self-deprecating and insecure enough in your potential. Men with aspirations were taught to give lip-service to this sort of attitude as well, but they were never socially required to really adhere to it with the same intensity of guilt trips and care group self-shaming sessions that women were.

I was thinking on this the other day–I wrote a poem (which I may share here later) and I wrote it about the fierce beauty of a healthy, strong woman who is confident in herself. Which is, really, a positive sort of pride. I realized a few things, which I want to talk about here.

Pride, in its actual real-life definition, is a double-edged concept. It can be a false, inflated sense of self-importance (a sort of delusion, really), or it can be a secure feeling of worth and belonging of some sort, a warm connection to someone or something. My baby sister has no shame in her artistic attempts–if I get a box from home, it’s full of paintings and drawings she’s made. And she puts them on the fridge and sends them to work with our dad and it’s not a big deal. She doesn’t act self-important about her art, but she is happy with it and shares it with people. It’s pride in her work, and it’s deserved and healthy. And I am proud of her and her cheery lack of self-consciousness with her art. It’s healthy and that’s good, and so I am pleased and heart-warmed by it. That’s the other side of pride.

And the thing that I’m realizing, is that in all the years that I beat myself up for being proud, I was never really proud. I may have been immature and naive and selfish, but I wasn’t deluded in my importance (okay maybe sometimes with younger siblings when I was babysitting), not really. I was afraid of myself. I was afraid of being large and taking up space and having a voice and things to say and having people hear me. I was afraid of being good at anything that would prevent me from being mostly invisible. I gravitated toward excelling in supporting social roles, toward excelling in domestic skills, and toward excelling at being unobtrusive.

I was not proud in either sense of the word. And I was living in shame, afraid of existing much at all. And I think we should be proud in the healthy sense of the word.

My favorite example of this is my friend Kiery, who has been making art since hen’s parents rejected hen when hen decided, at 18, to move out and marry hen’s boyfriend/unofficial fiancé (only unofficial because of the parents’ attempts to break them up). Hen’s family was vicious and abusive to hen’s assertion of independence, and Kiery went into emotional cocooning as a newlywed, but eventually started painting and drawing. The process has been slow and agonizing at points–I know Kiery has fought a lot of internal voices telling hen to stop and that the art is worthless. But hen’s art has improved SO much, and Kiery’s doing a comic strip with a friend, running a gaming vlog, and making some really cool pieces of art. It’s taken years, but there’s a wholeness to what Kiery makes that has been the result of lots of self-nurturing and patience with henself that I really respect and admire. It’s been like watching a butterfly emerge and dry its wings in the sunlight. It’s so beautiful and good.

I aspire to things. So do you. And it’s not sinful or “prideful” to be honest and encouraging and kind to yourself about that.


  • http://seanthomas.me/ SeanThomas00

    Great post! Thanks so much.

    I am a guy that grew up in SGM,
    I don’t know who had it harder, but I don’t want to do it again that’s for sure :)

    When I think back on decisions I made and why I made them, not taking the SAT because I would never go away to school, working at a blue-collar type job because it was the “low road” (even though I had a finance degree), trying desperately to go to pastors college, etc..
    Shudder.

    Just discovered Brene Brown as well, loving her stuff!

    It’s funny to think of how foreign the idea of shame was/is to that culture. I get WHY it seems self-centered to them, but it’s so damaging to come at it that way, especially when its really 180 degrees wrong.

    Glad you on the road of healing, thanks for sharing all of this, looking forward to more.

  • http://kieryking.com/ Kiery

    <3 so much this. Also :warm fuzzies:

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  • kc

    This is great. Although my church doesn’t collectively indulge the idea that self-confidence=sinful pride, I’ve definitely encountered it with individuals. It always rubbed me the wrong way, but I never quite formed a coherent response (in my head or out loud). This is pretty much what I’ve been trying to say. Thank you!

  • Kate Ulrich

    Absolutely.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    I used to beat myself up a lot over how “proud” I was, a concept drawn from SGM’s teachings inspired by C.J. and the Puritans.
    If I remember right, surviving Puritan journals are full of continuous morbid introspection about My Sins — a form of OCD called “excessive scrupulosity”.

    godly women aspired to be housewives and mothers, and anything outside of that was a spiritual open doorway to pride. Aspirations outside of the wife/mother/housekeeper role might be permitted, if you were quiet and meek and self-deprecating and insecure enough in your potential.

    Or you were the Queen Bee married to the CELEBRITY Chief Managawd.
    P.S. “Hen”? Is that another attempt at a gender-neutral animate personal pronoun? A lot of them have been tried — “hir”, “s/he”, “sahn”, etc — but none have ever caught on. (Except maybe for the awkward Global Replace String “man” with String “person”.)

  • http://nowthinkaboutit.com/ EnnisP

    Reading through this post made me think “cult!” I wasn’t familiar with your background at all and I wasn’t sure, at first, what SGM stood for but now that I know I’m surprised at how twisted something can be on the inside in spite of external appearances.

    Thanks for sharing this. Years ago – so long ago there is nothing fresh about the memory of it – I was involved in something similar. Fortunately, there was a limit to what my sensibilities could tolerate and in a moment of clarity I took my family and split. Have never looked back or regretted the move. Unfortunately, others left too and were nagged for years with a sense that maybe they did something wrong in leaving. Sad. I didn’t understand that at all.

    Keep writing. People need it.

  • EMSoliDeoGloria

    From C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters:

    “By this virtue [humility], as by all the others, our Enemy wants to turn the man’s attention away from self to Him, and to the man’s neighbors….You must therefore conceal from the patient the true end of Humility. Let him think of it not as self-forgetfulness but as a certain kind of opinion (namely a low opinion) of his own talents and character…. Fix in him mind the idea that humility consists in trying to believe those talents to be less valuable than he believes…. By this method thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools….

    “To anticipate the Enemy’s strategy, we must consider His aims. The Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the, fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbour’s talents-or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall. He wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognize all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things.”

    ― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

    As a fellow ex-SGMer, this helped me avoid too distorted an understanding of “pride” even while in SGM. I recall sharing it w/ my CG once (or maybe even twice). Some people didn’t seem to know how to respond.