How do you feel about the person you are with when you are all alone? This is when your capacity for self-loathing or self-liking reveals itself. The odds are good that you may experience either attitude about your “self” at one time or another. As a pastor, how you feel about yourself is as important as how you feel about your congregation. The following insights and five points about self-loathing and self-liking are from Dr. Virginia Holeman, co-chair (Kentucky), Department of Counseling & Pastoral Care, Asbury Theological Seminary.
Given our holiness heritage, self-loathing is often the conclusion we reach if we understand “going on to perfection” to mean “I must be perfect (an end state) today in every way.” This is, of course, impossible. Self-loathing leaves you vulnerable to looking to others for approval, diminishing your own capacity to take joy in a job well done. Your efforts are never “good enough.”
Do you “like” yourself? Self-liking is not arrogant pride. It comes from gazing into the eyes of our loving Heavenly Father, who sees us as the apple of his eye. God looks into your eyes with compassion, love and acceptance. God’s love for you is NOT based on your performance. You cannot do anything to earn “more” of God’s love, nor can you do anything to “lose” any of God’s love. God chooses to love you. Period. God not only loves you. He likes you! When you drink deeply from this well of Divine love, you can like yourself. This doesn’t mean that you may not strive for improvement. It does mean that you bring to this striving, attitudes of self-compassion, encouragement and self-acceptance. When you like yourself, you can be more gracious toward others. You can receive feedback without melting in a puddle of shame or lashing out in hostile self-defense. You can assess feedback more accurately. An attractive abiding joy radiates from your spirit and blesses those around you.
- Examine your self-loathing. Are you telling yourself the truth about who you are in Christ? You don’t need to judge yourself for this hurtful attitude, but instead be compassionate toward yourself just as God is compassionate toward you.
- Listen for God’s voice. Be open to hearing God’s voice in quiet moments and let God speak God’s truth about you into your life. God’s voice will align with God’s written Word. And while God’s Spirit will challenge you to go on to maturation, God has already called your very existence “very good.”
- Accept your real limitations. Develop an attitude of compassionate acceptance about your real limitations. Accepting your limitations with self-compassion is part of self-liking. Resigning yourself to your limited life is part of self-loathing.
- Bring to yourself a sense of loving-kindness. In moments when you struggle to like yourself, bring to yourself a sense of loving-kindness. You can lean on and borrow God’s loyal love for you to help you grow your own experience of loving kindness.
- Embrace your identity as a child of God and a person of worth. Bonnie Crandall coined the phrase “COGPOW” (Child of God and Person of Worth) to represent this essential truth about who you are. Remind yourself that this is who you are because of Whose you are.
For more insights about self-loathing, self-liking and living in God’s grace, see the following suggested resources:
Yanconelli, Michael (1998). Dangerous Wonder: The Adventure of Childlike Faith. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress. Although written for youth, clergy can also benefit from Yaconelli’s reminder to reclaim the freedom of living in the reality of God’s love.
Kim, Jichan J., and Enright, Robert D. (2014). “A theological and psychological defense of self-forgiveness: Implications for counseling.” Journal of Psychology and Theology, 42(3), 260-268. For a more clinical, yet Christian perspective on forgiving oneself.
Macchia, Stephen A. (2015). Broken and Whole: A Leader’s Path to Spiritual Transformation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. Chapter 13, “Befriending Brokenness and Inviting Redemption,” speaks directly to experiencing God’s unconditional love for oneself. Macchia grounds this book in 1 Corinthians 13.
Guest emotional contributor: Virginia Holeman, Ph.D. Co-Chair (Kentucky), Department of Counseling & Pastoral Care, Asbury Theological Seminary.
Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus
Curator of content: Dave Higle