Five Types of Humility

Are you the kind of person who thinks that humility is the best virtue of being human? If so, you'll be pleased to know that there are many ways to carry out this much-needed beautiful and inspiring practice.
Five Types of Humility
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 08 November, 2022

What does humility mean to you? Do you see it as an essential attitude? As a matter of fact, some people think that carrying out this practice is little more than a threat to their own egos. In fact, in a highly competitive society where it’s common to put ourselves before others, humility is often perceived as a form of weakness. It’s viewed as the action of allowing ourselves to be doormats that everyone steps on and no one respects.

However, whoever assumes this idea is wrong. Humility is more than just a human virtue. It’s a cognitive strength capable of encouraging psychological well-being. Indeed, this dimension goes beyond being compassionate and honest in order to show yourself in a simple and genuine way. It’s also a wonderful mental ability.

A person is humble when they renounce certain patterns of thought that feed dangerous value judgments. It means knowing how to free yourself from the inertia of a mental approach that, almost without you realizing it, reinforces irrational beliefs and negative mental patterns.

There are many ways of putting humility into practice and they can all be of benefit.

“The secret of wisdom, power, and knowledge is humility.”

-Ernest Hemingway-

Brain with a heart to represent the types of humility
Intellectual humility is a dimension that we should all integrate into our approaches and behavior

Types of humility

Religious and spiritual traditions, such as Buddhism, emphasize that the way to achieve enlightenment is to be humble. Somehow, the human being has integrated this term as a form of altruistic behavior, the kind in which there’s a constant interest in the welfare of others. However, being humble also implies taking care of yourself without it translating into selfishness or narcissism.

From a psychological point of view, humility leads you to emotional neutrality. For example, not needing to be better than anyone else or not putting yourself above others (or below them). It’s a process of gradual self-improvement in which your competitive reflex is disconnected and your reflection reflex is activated.

The psychotherapist, Fritz Perls, said that “I do my thing and you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine”. Adopting this approach can be both cathartic and liberating and one that allows you to put the different types of humility into practice.

1. Intellectual humility: The value of having an open mind

Intellectual humility is the ability to make use of the flexibility of knowledge, admit your own mistakes, and be clear that you don’t know everything. Only those who are open to new ideas can achieve wisdom. Only those who understand that there’s no universal truth are able to reach agreements with others.

The University of Cambridge (UK) conducted a study in which they demonstrated that intellectual humility is essential to avoid bias when evaluating our beliefs. They stated that ability is not just a virtue of character. In fact, it requires a constant cognitive effort with which to recognize that we’re fallible and that we can always improve.

Remember, if among all the existing truths, you stay with only one and defend it tooth and nail, you’ll become a fanatic and you’ll probably be defending a falsehood. Only intellectual humility and flexibility of knowledge protects us against such obtuse approaches.

2. Cultural humility: Your social identity isn’t the only kind  nor is it the best

Cultural humility is one of the most important types. It defines your ability to avoid prejudice and discrimination by understanding that your race, culture, identity, or religion is no better than any other. Furthermore, being culturally humble prevents you from developing racism in all its forms.

3. Intergenerational humility: Your age doesn’t make you any more useful or better

It’s often said that the world belongs to the young. Whether because of their strength, beauty, or supposed abilities, it’s assumed that only they are worthwhile in almost any area. This causes the appearance of dynamics such as ageism (discrimination against the elderly) and adult-centrism (discrimination against children and adolescents).

Intergenerational humility allows us to assume that every person, regardless of their age, is important, valid, and worthy of being appreciated and listened to.

4. The humility of skills: You don’t know how to do everything

You may have extraordinary ability and outstanding talent in more than one field. However, this doesn’t make you better than anyone else. What’s more, there may be someone, somewhere, who surpasses you in both skills and abilities. Recognizing this fact forces you to reduce your pride and understand that sometimes, even if you’re an expert, you’re still an apprentice in the journey of life.

Being humble in your skills will allow you to understand that you don’t know how to do everything and that there’s always something new to learn.

“Humility, I have learned, must never be confused with meekness. Humility is being open to the ideas of others.”

-Simon Sinek-

Friends congratulating each other to represent types of humility
Humility is shown in the way we treat others.

5. The humility of wonder

This is one of the types of humility that contributes most to happiness. When was the last time you were surprised by something? Amazement is the ability to perceive the beauty of everyday life, to enjoy every extraordinary nuance and unusual detail. In fact, it’s only when you learn to delight in all the good that surrounds you, however simple it may be, that you achieve true happiness.

Only those who look around from the filter of humility are amazed at the wonders that surround them. To achieve this, you must attend to what surrounds you without thinking about profit, interest, or competitive desire. You simply need to appreciate what’s in front of you, in the here and now. No more no less. Why not give it a try?

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Exline, J. J., & Geyer, A. L. (2004). Perceptions of humility: A preliminary study. Self and Identity3(2), 95-114.
  • Tangney, J. P. (2000). Humility: Theoretical perspectives, empirical fingings and directions for future research. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology19(1), 70.
  • Zmigrod, Leor & Zmigrod, Sharon & Rentfrow, Peter & Robbins, Trevor. (2019). The psychological roots of intellectual humility: The role of intelligence and cognitive flexibility. Personality and Individual Differences. 141. 200-208. 10.1016/j.paid.2019.01.016.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.