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What Does It Mean to Be Humble?

·407 words·2 mins
Psyched for the Weekend

A great deal of time, energy, and attention are generally paid to psychology’s attempts to plumb the dark depths of the human soul. This is evidenced by how popular terms from abnormal psychology are when contrasted with terms that describe normative psychology.

A lot of lay folks know (and in fact use) terms like “narcissist,” “bipolar,” or “sociopath.” But you don’t exactly hear them casually bandying about terms from social or cognitive psychology. Areas of study which pertain to how human beings generally function (and not pathologic or abnormal states of relating).

This is why I was shocked by how much I actually enjoyed psychology when I started formally studying it. So much so that I became a researcher. Prior to studying it formally, I had only seen the sensationalist dark side, usually distilled into clumsy, imprecise pop psych terms.

Prior to actually studying it, I had thought psychology was all about labeling what was abnormal and treating it.

Not so, actually.

A great deal of time and effort are expended in psychological research in efforts to understand healthy, normal functioning in a more comprehensive way. And to uncover better ways of relating to one another (for example, social psychology has a lot to say about optimal cooperation). In fact, there’s a whole field called positive psychology that focuses on the light side of human nature, what that looks like, and the best ways to enhance that.

Being Humble Is About Not Expecting Special Treatment

A recent study focused on humility and what it means to be humble. The study’s chief finding was that humility isn’t defined by a tendency to downplay your accomplishments or positive traits. Instead, a concept known as “hypo-egoic non-entitlement” was really found to be the key to humility.

Whew, that’s a mouthful, right?

What does it mean?

Essentially hypo-egoic non-entitlement is the belief that your accomplishments and positive traits don’t entitle you to receive special treatment from others.

That’s it. It isn’t that you don’t know that you’re good at things or have positive qualities (instead, researchers found that humble people were aware of their strengths). It’s that they didn’t expect to be treated better by others because of them.


This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.


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