Disturbed characters have trouble revering truth. In fact, some are at all-out war with the truth. (See: Narcissists and the War on Truth.) Truth represents one of the more formidable “higher powers” in our lives. And it can get in the way of a narcissist’s grandiose sense of self. (See also: Grandiosity and the Heart of Narcissism.) It can also thwart a manipulator’s plan to take advantage of you. Truth stands in the way of many self-serving agendas. However, it’s crucial to the kind of self-reckoning that can make us all better people.
Revering truth is crucial to so many things in life. To have healthy intimate relationships, we have to be honest and sincere with others. And to be psychologically and spiritually healthy, we have to be honest with ourselves. That’s the really hard part. We humans have an incredible capacity to deceive. And the lies we tell ourselves are the most insidious. Moreover, they pose the biggest obstacle to our character growth. (For more on this see: Why We Lie – Even to Ourselves.)
Reclaiming Reverence in Irreverent Times
We live in irreverent times. That’s why I’ve written before on the importance of reverence. (See: Sound Character Requires Reverence.) And I think important to the discussion today to revisit the whole concept of reverence. That’s primarily because revering truth first requires that you understand what reverence is. Here’s an abridged (and modified) summary from a prior article that can help explain:
We often associate the word reverence with religion. We even affix the “reverend” modifier to the titles of our religious leaders. But reverence is not an inherently religious matter. It’s mostly about attitude. The reverent person experiences a sentiment akin to “awe.” They see the magnificence, wonder, or extraordinary value in something and, therefore, hold it in high regard.
Reverence often inspires us. And it should always humble us. A reverent attitude can make us want to understand things more deeply. And, it can make us want to care more. Reverent hearts are inclined to preserve and protect the things in life worth cherishing.
Paul Woodruff asserts that reverent souls embrace three sentiments at once that are crucial to character. Respect, awe, and a potential sense of shame (not toxic but healthy, constructive shame) combine in the reverent person. It’s helpful to take ourselves to task when we don’t hold the valuable things in life in high enough regard. And it’s right to feel badly when we don’t adequately recognize, accept, and deal with our shortcomings and limitations.
Reverence is more about how we relate than the religion we profess. Reverent souls seeks to elevate all of humanity. They strive to preserve what’s good and to make better what needs improving. That always starts at the personal level. So, reverence is ultimately about becoming a better person. We have to be the change we want to see in others.
Reverence and Character
We live in a largely irreverent age – a “throwaway” society. Everything seems disposable. But some things are worth revering, such as the timeless virtues we know build character
There are so many ways we can behave more reverently. We can show reverence for our planet, which sustains all life. And we would do well to revere the miracle of life itself and to do our best to nurture it. But when it comes to forging a healthy, decent character, perhaps nothing matters as much as revering truth.
For disturbed characters truth can be a barrier to something they want. Other times, it can be an obstacle to something they need to believe. Some disturbed characters play notoriously fast and loose with the truth. And some blatantly deceive for manipulative gain. Others lie so much they begin to believe their own fictions. A proper sense of awe and respect for the truth is crucial for sound character. Truth not only has the power to heal but also to set a person free. Free from what? Free from the spiritual slavery of an ego bent out of healthy shape (either unhealthily inflated or deflated). Such an ego only brings pain and destruction. But when we humbly embrace the truth, and reckon with it faithfully, life is no longer a shipwreck.
The Power of Truth
Carl Rogers suggested good therapists need to have “unconditional positive regard” for their clients. But I think he was really talking about reverence. Sometimes the healing process calls for confrontation. With disturbed characters, that means confronting negative attitudes and destructive behaviors. But you have to confront truth in a way that’s “palatable” enough for a client to even consider what you’ve put before them. And, of course, they have to be of a frame of mind to accept it. You see, it’s not enough just to be willing to admit the truth. That’s the relatively easy part, especially when someone has been caught red-handed doing wrong. What matters more is a person’s willingness to actively embrace the truth and then humbly learn from it. And that willingness necessarily requires reverence.
I’ll have more to say on the “4th commandment” of sound character next week. I’ll be focusing specifically on the difference between conscious self-deception and unconscious denial. (See more on both these topics in Character Disturbance.)