The Reverence of Self-Compassion

by Joy Johnson

Reverence is often viewed as a way of humbling yourself in order to show deep respect and awe to something bigger than yourself. On the surface, reverence and self-compassion may seem incompatible. But when I dig a bit deeper to truly understand their purpose and meaning in our lives, I see they are deeply connected.

As a psychotherapist who listens to my client’s deepest struggles every day, it is clear to me that we are all linked by our common desire for love and true acceptance. If we can’t even give that to ourselves, how do we expect to be able to give or receive it from others? The belief that you don’t deserve love or compassion leads to actions demonstrating that. You may allow yourself to stay in toxic relationships, thinking you don’t deserve better or this is just what “love” is like. You may turn to drugs and destructive behaviors, or even just a barrage of social media, to numb the pain. You might keep yourself as busy as possible, tiring yourself out to avoid the pain your inner critic brings. Or you may retreat from fully engaging in vulnerable, connected relationships with others. If your inner self-critic keeps telling you that the truest parts of you aren’t acceptable, it’s hard to share that with anyone else.

Self-compassion calls us to simply be kind to ourselves. To see ourselves as a part of, what Kristin Neff calls, the “common humanity” all around us. It doesn’t call us to believe we are “the best,” as self-esteem might. It simply asks us to meet ourselves where we are with kindness and understanding. The message of the self-critic is to believe you’re special somehow - either especially awful or that you should be especially great. You “other” yourself from those around you and tend to feel more alone and certainly less in awe of the beauty of life.

I don’t sound the trumpet of self-compassion because it’s easy for me. I’m naturally self-critical and struggle with fearing that I’m never enough. That’s why self-compassion has been such a powerful tool in my life and why I have implemented it into my work with clients. When I’m living in fear of not measuring up, I’m not fully living.

When I’m practicing self-compassion, I’m able to accept myself as a beautifully flawed human, doing my best to navigate life on this planet. That acceptance becomes easier to extend to the people and world around me as I extend it more and more to myself. I’m less concerned about that internal fearful voice beating me up, perceived judgment I might face from others, or being a “total failure.” Allowing these worries to be nothing more than a fleeting (but understandable) emotion, not a defining part of who I am, allows me to see more clearly and invest in what is most important in my life.

This self-compassion thing doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not always easy, even when you have been practicing it for a while. But the more I practice, the more devoted I am to caring for myself as I believe all human beings should be cared for, the more I feel a weight slowly lifting from my shoulders. It takes time and daily reminding to catch that self-critical voice we’ve been listening to most of our lives and speak to ourselves in a more caring way. Devotion and practice are key to allowing self-compassion to become a more natural way of being.

If you believe that you were created by a higher being or power, it seems irreverent to constantly berate its creation, which includes you. If you don’t believe in any of that or you are unsure, all the more reason to be kind to yourself as you manage life in an uncertain world.

The way to show reverence and devotion to others, our communities, the world, and whatever higher power we believe in, is to first start with ourselves.

Maria Borghoff