For the most part, people come to biblical counseling because something in their lives or relationships is not working. Those who are suffering come to be comforted and encouraged by God’s Word to endure, respond biblically, or to put their past in its place biblically. There are also those who come with what the Bible calls “works of the flesh” or sin patterns (Gal. 5:19-21). This post focuses on how pride is often at the root of this type of behavior.
Pride is the most dangerous of sins because it creates huge blind spots in our character and can lead to an unteachable spirit. If pride is left unchecked, we can grow callous to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. But how do we show someone their pride? How do we stay away from condemnation and move to deep conviction when they seem clueless or even caustic? How do we keep the hope of the gospel front and center in counseling?
I believe biblical counseling is the only real hope for those struggling with pride. Unless something or someone helps us see what we cannot see—or sometimes do not want to see—in ourselves, we are liable to go on spiritually self-deluded day after day. Pride also affects our worldview, distorting all our relationships. When we are blinded by pride, instead of worshipping God, we try to play God (Ps. 10:4), we over-inflate self, and we look down on others (Prov. 21:24).
Unless something or someone helps us see what we cannot see—or sometimes do not want to see—in ourselves, we are liable to go on spiritually self-deluded day after day.
We all struggle with pride—or perhaps better said, should struggle against our pride. But let’s be honest, when someone comes to counseling with a significant pride issue, you don’t expect to hear them say, “I hate my pride, and I see how it is ruining relationships, offending God, and hindering my maturity in Christ.” They most often come to counseling because someone else brought them or because the consequences of pride are finally too costly to ignore.
Your first question should be, are they teachable (Prov. 12:15)? For the counselor, it is particularly important when someone comes in with pride to not argue over opinions or perspectives and to take them right to God’s Word to bring conviction and hope. Pride, while common, comes in degrees. The Bible describes several types of foolishness, from simple (Prov. 7:7) to sinister (Prov. 13:2). Arrogant or belligerent pride is often equated with narcissism in our culture. I have been asked many times if I believe a narcissist can change. I respond with something like, “If the gospel can’t change a narcissist, then there is little hope for any of us.” That said, many who display narcissistic tendencies don’t want to change, and frankly, few voluntarily come to counseling (2 Tim. 3:2). They can cause a world of hurt, tend to blame shift, and if they do come, they can exhaust the best counselors unless they are convicted by God’s Word. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to warn them, protect others from them, and let them know you are there to help when they are ready to listen or repent, but until then, they need to go their own way.
If the gospel can’t change a narcissist, then there is little hope for any of us.
But in many cases, less severe pride has created blind spots rather than a fully hardened heart. For our purposes, we will look at how pride hinders self-awareness, which is often the cause of much of the conflict that comes into counseling. Here are five common blind spots where pride manifests selfishly:
1. Self-Centered (blind to God’s preeminence and their selfishness)
A self-centered person sees themselves at the center of everything. They may see the gospel as something that once saved them but has little to do with changing them. They will talk about their needs and how others don’t serve or care for them. They are easily offended and have a sense of entitlement. This facet of pride is easy to see but very hard to reveal to the counselee. We must start with how this affects their relationship with God. They are often glory seekers and put their needs in front of others. Illuminating their blind spot means making much of Christ, teaching about co-crucifixion, and confronting a deep desire for attention, affirmation, and selfish behavior.
Fruit: Immature, blame-shifting, demanding, critical, and complaining
Root: An idol of affirmation or selfish ambition (James 3:16)
2. Self-Willed (blind to the perfect will of God and their stubbornness)
Self-willed people don’t usually come into counseling for their sanctification. They come to share concerns about the church, someone else, or how hard their life is. They may wonder why their life is one trial after another. They have trouble admitting they are wrong. They don’t like correction and tend to think we are missing the real issue if they are the focus of change. We must start with their submission to God. Showing them their blind spots means tough love with a tenderness and patience that does not violate grace. Praying for them and with them will help us not to go toe-to-toe when they try to engage in arguments. We need to patiently point out their attitude, thinking, and behavior when they are contrary to Scripture. We are better off acting like a martial artist than a boxer with self-willed counselees. We should always transfer their resistance to God; don’t let them get us against the ropes. If you have teenagers at home, you know what I am referring to.
Fruit: Overbearing, critical, given to arguing, inflated with a sense of superiority
Root: An idol of control and power (Ps. 107:11)
3. Self-Pity (blind to God’s kind providence and their ungratefulness)
Feeling sorry for oneself and being easily offended is an epidemic in our culture today. Because pride often results in a victim mentality, we feel justified and seek support for a skewed narrative. If self-pity takes root, your counselee will resent others, harbor grudges, suspect everyone is against them, and may act passive-aggressively. Often this type of pride is not recognized for what it is because they feel hurt or offended by others. They may have some legitimate suffering underneath, but this person seeking counsel needs to see God’s sovereignty and care in their circumstances. They need to mourn vertically if sinned against but not sin in return. Their comfort needs to come from God and their counsel from godly friends.
Fruit: Sad, forlorn, seeking sympathy or complaining without being comforted by God
Root: An idol of comfort and ease (Lam. 3:37-39)
4. Self-Righteousness (blind to God’s mercy and their arrogance)
Often shocked by faults in others, but quite satisfied with themselves, the self-righteous counselee can be our biggest challenge. That said it is common to encounter Christians who measure others based on looks, behavior, or performance. You will hear things like, “I can’t believe she did that, and she calls herself a Christian!” It is important to reteach the gospel and not take sides with someone struggling with self-righteousness. I have seen a self-righteous counselee come to a new appreciation of grace, see the hurt they have caused, and repent with tears. It was as if a blindfold or scales fell from their eyes. It took patience and showing them the pattern over time and its consequences. But even more, reminding them of their need for the mercy of God and their own depravity. Some will walk away or even attack you as a counselor, leaving you wondering if they know the gospel truth. Pray for them, and remember Christ rebuked the Pharisees who were hypocrites but saw others turn.
Fruit: Boastful, judgmental, easily angered, demanding
Root: An idol of being right or better than others (Luke 18:11)
5. Self-Consciousness (blind to God’s trustworthiness and their vanity)
The self-conscious person does not seem all that prideful at first glance. They are insecure, often people-pleasing, and self-demeaning. But notice it is still all about self.
Fruit: Insecure, fear of man, nervous habits, indecisive
Root: An idol of security and being liked (Prov. 29:25)
A Few Pride-Busting Homework assignments:
- Study Philippians 2 to get Jesus Christ’s mind on humility.
- Read the Proverbs daily to guide and correct your perspective.
- Ask for help from wise counsel, listen without excuse, and take it to heart.
- Ask God to grow you in mercy and compassion for others.
- Count how many times you are tempted to talk about yourself in a day.
- Take a month-long fast from social media.
- Ask three people (who love you and know you well) where you have blind spots in your life.
Questions for Reflection
- How do we, as counselors, avoid the blind spots of pride in our own life?
- What are some ways to help the prideful person to see his or her blind spots without condemning them?
- Is there a time to stop counseling a prideful person? What are a few signs you may be wasting time or resources?
Originally published on the Biblical Counseling Coalition website on March 13, 2020