The quality and skill of honouring
He accepted–really accepted whole-heartedly–that he was angry and jealous, that he resisted and struggled, and that he was afraid. He accepted that he was also precious beyond measure–wise and foolish, rich and poor, and totally unfathomable. He felt so much gratitude that in the total darkness he stood up, walked toward the snake [a source of great fear], and bowed.
–Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart, p. 5; [square bracket text added by Tracy]
You put your whole self in.
You put your whole self out.
You put your whole self in….
That’s what it’s all about.
— Lyrics from The Hokey Pokey
I believe concepts of self-compassion and emotion regulation are closely related. One aspect that can be found in both is the intention and action of honouring. In self-compassion, we are aware of and sensitive to our feelings and thoughts with understanding and without harsh judgment or condemnation. We might see there is an experience of suffering, and our desire is to be very gentle toward ourselves in this experience–to meet what is happening without condemning ourselves and with acceptance and great care.
Self-compassion and honouring are also about the whole self: they are for and about all aspects of one’s inner experience. They are for the salad, the dressing, and the fries–not reserved only for the pretty salad. This is a key point. We do not selectively offer self-compassion — or do we?
As I explain in my workshops, the skills of emotion regulation also involve a stance and practice of honouring. Condemnation, harshness, and judgment do nothing to soothe a person or help them be with the anxiety or pain or other feelings that they are experiencing. Condemnation intensifies discomfort and adds enormous additional distress. Honouring does not remove the pain yet it can be quieting, softening, and gives a person some breathing room. They may be hurting immensely yet honouring gives them a way to breathe, to create space to receive from others and to offer to themselves warmth, support, and knowledge of their worthiness.
Among people who self-injure, it is virtually a given that an antecedent to self-injury is the experience of something that is uncomfortable or distressing. This could be a lack of feeling such as numbness or feeling unreal, or it could be feeling something intensely. One thing we can do as helpers is to bring in a stance of honouring–we need to be honouring of, and help the person who self-injures come to honour, the feelings and the discomfort they experience. This is one step also of helping to give some breathing room (and to offer dignity). For many people who self-injure, this honouring stance will be a not-yet well developed skill–and something potentially quite new. It is the same for people struggling with emotion regulation (and with shame).
Of course, you don’t have to self-injure to struggle with something less than complete whole-self acceptance! Ideally, we would all be able to be honouring toward our inner experiences all the time without the judgments and fears that can come in but since this is not realistic for most of us, then we can simply try and try again. Doing this supports our wellness and our commitment to genuineness–a sense of congruence–as we also go about inspiring this warmth, honouring and breathing room in and for others.