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Pride and Porn: The Risk of Overestimating Your Willpower

Last Updated: April 12, 2024

These days, we’re often told to believe in ourselves, build our self-esteem, and take pride in our abilities and accomplishments. But this pride might be what undermines our ability to deal with deeply ingrained struggles—like porn.

In a 2009 article for Psychological Science, behavioral scientists Nordgren, van Harreveld, and van der Pligt looked at people’s beliefs regarding their own self-control.1 They found that the more confident a person was in their self-control, the more likely they were to relapse with impulsive behaviors.  

This shouldn’t surprise Christians at all. Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”  Let’s look more closely at four dangers of pride, especially for those overcoming pornography—and the freedom that comes from humility.

Pride Gives an Unrealistic View Of Ourselves

The Psychological Science study found that people in a “cold state” (not experiencing hunger, anger, sexual arousal, etc.) wrongly estimate the amount of temptation they will be able to handle in a “hot state.” When you’re not struggling with the desire to look at porn, it’s hard to imagine falling into temptation. Consequently, you believe your ability to resist is stronger than it is.

Confidence is good—God calls his people to live boldly (2 Corinthians 3:12, Ephesians 3:12, Hebrews 4:16, etc.). But there’s a difference between confidence that comes from trusting God and confidence from pridefully thinking you’re stronger than you are. Confidence comes from the certainty that God is working on everything together for good (Romans 8:28). Pride is an unrealistic view of your strength and willpower. 1 Corinthians 10:12 says, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”

Pride Puts Us in Compromising Situations

When we are deluded about our strength, it impairs our judgment. Instead of fleeing from temptation, we blissfully wander into it. Pride blinds us to our porn triggers, and we end up in situations we should have avoided.

What’s required to overcome pornography? You must be willing to give up not just porn but many other things that make you more likely to relapse. As much as possible, remove your opportunities to access porn. This may include radical amputation of otherwise good and helpful things.

Pride puts us in the places where we are most vulnerable to temptation. James 4:10 says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”

Pride Puts Us at Odds With God

Just a few verses earlier, James 4:6 says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” The problem with pride goes much deeper than the findings of Psychological Science. It doesn’t just set us up for failure; pride is itself a failure to submit to God’s purpose and plan for our lives. The great Christian thinker Augustine called pride “the beginning of sin.”

Philippians 2:3 says to do nothing out of pride or selfish ambition. What’s the reasoning? Jesus, who is one with God himself, humbled himself to the point of dying on the cross for our sins. We can’t be like Jesus when we’re being prideful. And if we’re not following Jesus, how will we ever find the strength, motivation, and commitment it requires to break free of porn?

Pride Stops Us From Asking for Help

Lastly, it takes a great deal of humility to admit weakness. Let’s face it: Asking for help with a porn struggle can be embarrassing. As Christians, we tend to have a certain image and identity that we want to maintain. Admitting to struggles with porn shatters that image, so many Christians never ask for help.

Here are some practical steps you can take to get help uprooting pride:

  • Read James 4:6-10.
  • Think of 3 specific times when you acted out of pride and the consequences you experienced. Write them down.
  • Confess your pride to God and pray that he gives you a spirit of humility.
  • Here’s the hard one: Admit your pride to a friend and ask them to keep you accountable.

Enjoy the Freedom of Humility

Humility isn’t a popular message. We’d all rather be told we’re special, that we’re stronger than we think, and that we just need the secret of self-confidence to find freedom and success. But in reality, all of us are deeply broken by sin. Left to ourselves, we’re actually worse off than we think.

There’s incredible freedom in humbly embracing weakness. Jesus meets us in our weakness, and that is exactly where his strength is shown most powerfully. The Apostle Paul said, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

But we’ll only experience this if we first go through the discomfort of humbling ourselves.


Loran F Nordgren, Frenk van Harreveld, Joop van der Pligt, “The restraint bias: how the illusion of self-restraint promotes impulsive behavior,” Psychological Science 20 (2009):1523-8.

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