4 Ways to Practice Humility in Relationships

It seems to me that the very basis of humility requires an acknowledgment and acceptance of our fundamental human need for relationship. Relationships enable us to experience and meet our needs for connection, belonging, acceptance, and love.

Several years ago, I attended a conference where the speaker referred to the human body as a “skin suit” that, once unzipped, reveals the longing and needs of all humanity. There are infinite ways in which we seek to understand and meet these needs, as well as a universal experience of suffering when these needs are unmet, threatened, or harmed. This suffering is materialized, experienced, and understood in a myriad of ways.

For this reason, I believe true humility in relationships exists in the delicate balance between knowing we are fundamentally the same and recognizing we are unique. When humility is understood, sought, and practiced in this context, we replace judgement with a genuine curiosity regarding what distinguishes us from one another. When we adopt this perspective, empathy and compassion come more easily to us – barriers of difference are broken down when we are curious and respectful regarding experiences and perspectives that are distinct from our own.

The very basis of humility requires an acknowledgment and acceptance of our fundamental need for relationships.

The vulnerability of sharing our humanity and receiving the shared humanity of others invites powerful opportunities for connection, belonging, acceptance, and love. The greatest gift we can give is a climate in which others feel safe to share their truth, their raw humanity, and have this received, accepted, unjudged, and honored as an incredible act of courage. This is also the greatest gift we can receive.

I can testify to the incredible connection, freedom, unconditional acceptance, and love that has resulted through revealing my deepest humanity within a relationship that was safe to do so. The climate of safety was rooted in the other’s cultivation of enough humility to sit with my raw reveal and receive it with empathy, compassion, and non-judgement. It was a gift we gave to one another – both humbled and grateful for the opportunity to deeply connect. In such moments, there is a knowing that is difficult to wrap words around; the unspoken yet deeply experienced awareness that we are and have always been inherently connected as we see ourselves in one another.

Thus, humility is an essential characteristic of meaningful relationships. It inspires growth within each person and nourishes our basic human need for relationship. Humility generates connection, and connection is the bedrock upon which hope, purpose, and meaning flourish.

Although cultivating humility is simple, it’s certainly not easy – it requires persistent and intentional action on our part, and it dissipates immediately when ego and pride emerge.

Although cultivating humility is simple, it’s certainly not easy – it requires persistent and intentional action on our part, and it dissipates immediately when ego and pride emerge. It is an ideal to strive towards, but that can never truly be achieved. Persistent practice of the following actions will undoubtedly transform your relationships and help you in your ongoing cultivation of humility:

  • Embrace your humanity: We all have limitations and make mistakes that can become valuable life lessons. Developing an increased capacity to tolerate failure and criticism requires an ongoing conscious acceptance that human value is intrinsic rather than extrinsic. Thus, not getting everything right or something not going as planned is understood as part of the experience of being human.
  • Seek gratitude and practice expressing it: Seeking gratitude requires us to take the time to reflect on much of what we take for granted. It requires us to shift our focus from what we lack to what we already have. Expressing gratitude is vulnerable and humbling – it opposes ego and pride. Those who seek and express gratitude can do so through prayer, meditation, daily gratitude lists, journaling, or a gratitude letter.
  • Practice mindfulness/being in the present: Practicing mindfulness will result in an increased conscious awareness. It permits and creates the space necessary to slow down and acknowledge present thoughts and emotions without judgement. In turn, those who practice mindfulness are gifted with a greater acceptance of our humanity, and an increased capacity to experience and express gratitude.
  • Practice listening to others in a curious, non-judgemental manner: This sounds easier than it is as it requires conscious awareness of emerging judgements and an intentional effort to redirect attention back to listening rather than judging and problem-solving. As we sincerely make the effort to truly listen to others, we will eventually see ourselves in them, and more deeply embrace our humanness as we embrace the humanness of others.

I wish you an abundance of connection, belonging, and love as you continue your cultivation of humility. In doing so, your presence will be a tremendous gift to those around you whether you’re aware of it or not. As Maya Angelou so beautifully stated, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”


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Natalie Imbach, MMFT RPysch
Trainer, Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute
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