Thomas J. Scheff

Thomas Scheff Ph.D.

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Two Meanings of Pride

Reclaiming the Lost World of Emotions

Posted Jul 10, 2014

From Video by Youtube User: ben brahem zied

Even today there is still a colossal amount of confusion about emotions. Just one example: the word pride, especially in English, confuses two opposite meanings. Unless one precedes it with true, justified, authentic or genuine, there is an inflection of arrogance or hubris, “the pride that goeth before the fall.” (Scheff, 1994; Tracy et al, 2009). This type would better be called false pride, since it may involve hiding shame behind boldness.

Some religions name pride as one of the Seven Deadly Sins, without bothering to explain that they are not referring to true, but to false pride. Because of this kind of looseness, the very idea of pride is usually tainted, even when meant in a positive way.

It seems to me that true pride, the kind that comes from feeling fully accepted by other(s), not rejected, is the natural state of human beings. It occurs almost all the time before we start getting shamed too much at home and/or school. One can get a sense of the nature of true pride by watching children under six skipping, dancing, singing, being merry. A short film that catches this shows a young girl in the rain:

It may be quite important to unravel the confusions over the nature of pride and the other emotions, such as love, anger, fear, and grief. For one thing, since true pride is the opposite of shame, it would make clear that when used appropriately, shame is the basis for morality. On the other hand, if used inappropriately and/or excessively, as if often the case, it becomes destructive, causing all kinds of problems, even wars.


1994. Bloody Revenge: Nationalism, War, and Emotion. Boulder: Westview. Re-issued by iUniverse (2000).

2009. Authentic and Hubristic Pride. Self and Identity, 8, 2- 3, 196 – 213.

About the Author

Thomas J. Scheff

Thomas J. Scheff is Professor Emeritus of Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara.

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