While compassion is the subject of many books, self-hate is not frequently discussed. Compassion and Self-Hate: An Alternative to Despair seeks to map the relationship between the two and how compassion can heal self-hate. I came to the book because of self-hate’s role in suicide. I came to understand how someone could hate themselves so much that they thought they and the world would be better off without them in it. (This interest was focused while reading Managing Suicidal Risk, 2e.)
Sometimes, the mental machinery of our mind gets stuck. (See Capture for more.) It can get stuck replaying a time when we were frightened and vulnerable or when we did something that wasn’t nice. Stuck in this state, it is easy to see how self-hate can develop. The problem with this is that self-hate is problematic from both a physical and mental health perspective.
Self-hate can also be borne by external or internal perfectionism. (See Perfectionism.) With impossible standards, you’re always falling short, and that falling short leads to condemnation from others or yourself.
If you know you did wrong – or didn’t measure up – you can take matters into your own hands and punish yourself by denying yourself grace, compassion, or, more tangibly, the hobbies and activities that you enjoy. This self-punishment makes you your own enemy and sets up a further fracturing of identity that places parts of yourself into the dangerous category.
The logic of self-punishment is either the desire to motivate ourselves to better behavior or to “balance the scales.” In other words, if there is enough self-punishment, then I should deserve to succeed. The scales should be slanted towards good things for us – even if that’s not realistic.
Rejection of Praise
When one’s internal image doesn’t match the image that others are sharing with you, you may reject it. Because what they’re saying is inconsistent with your internal perspective, the discrepancy must be resolved, and it’s easier to resolve it in a way that points to your negative, internal view being right. It’s easier, but it’s probably not correct.
Sometimes, we outright dismiss the comment. “That’s not me.” Other times, we discount it. “I only did a good job because it was easy.” Another way that we discount it is by removing the uniqueness. “Anyone could have done it.” These approaches prevent us from letting in the light that other people are trying to shine to us.
If someone else is the arbitrator of good or bad, and they say good, believe them. (If they say something negative, you should evaluate it more carefully to understand their motivations.)
Secretly Suspicious of Good
Whether it’s someone saying good things or simply feeling good, some people are suspicious. They don’t believe they deserve to feel good or to have happiness. When it happens, they feel ashamed, as if they have stolen something that doesn’t belong to them.
Value as an Economic Engine
From a chemical composition perspective, the human body is worth less than $100 in chemicals. Of course, that’s not the standard by which we measure a life, much less a human life. The value of human body parts has a much higher value – and a much higher moral rejection factor. (See Moral Disengagement and How Good People Make Tough Choices.) More commonly, people see themselves as economic engines that generate value through their work. It’s not surprising, then, that the stock market crash and the Great Depression, with so many out of work, led to a surge in suicides. Without money or a job, they saw themselves as without value and were willing to throw away their lives.
Most people believe, intuitively, that human life is intrinsically valuable, but too frequently, that value is dismissed.
Early Warning Signals
One of the keys to ongoing maintenance of an attitude of self-esteem rather than self-hate is identifying the earliest signs that our internal talk track is moving towards self-hate. Learning to identify these early warning signs may prevent the downward spiral before it begins. The problem isn’t in the idea that we should be looking for early warning signs. The problem is identifying them.
Early warning signs aren’t universal. There’s not a cookbook or checklist. Everyone will have to learn their own unique, personal early warning signs – and choose to react to them. However, this can be one of the most powerful ways to bring more joy to life.
Learning to Live with Rejection
One of the hardest things for our ego to accept is the reality that we will be rejected. There will be times when the other person isn’t capable of the thing that we’re asking for. It may have something to do with us or what we’re offering them – but it may not. In either case, we will still experience the rejection, and it will still sting.
People who have the most robust mental health have developed a resilience in the face of rejection. They know that one rejection isn’t the only path between success and failure and that the rejection will not be the last. They’ve divorced the rejection from their worth and value. However, those that struggle with self-hate can’t do that.
Instead, each rejection is seen as a fatal failure. They think that every rejection is a statement about their value and worth. They become convinced that they’re fundamentally flawed and unworthy of acceptance when this is not the case.
Compassion is the Antidote
In the broadest view, compassion – and particularly self-compassion – is the antidote to self-hate. Another way of stating compassion is loving-kindness. If we can learn to be kind to ourselves, we can realize that self-hate isn’t right. Compassion itself is built upon empathy – “I understand this about you.” Compassion directly is about understanding the suffering of another and desiring to do something to make it better. (See Sympathy, Empathy, Compassion, and Altruism for more on empathy and compassion.) Self-compassion, then, is understanding ourselves and our suffering and making a decision to make it better.
When we start to treat ourselves with compassion, we can see both the help and the helper in ourselves, and self-hate is incompatible with that. We know that we’re fundamentally wired for cooperation and compassion. Being compassionate is built-in, we just need to accept it. (See SuperCooperators and Does Altruism Exist? for more.)
Moods Are Not Permanent
One of the challenges of self-hate is the moods that we arrive in that fuel it. We find ourselves in depressed moods that seem as if they’ll last forever. While emotions may be brief, it feels that a mood will be permanent. Logically, we know that to not be truth, but that doesn’t help our emotions. Our emotions drive our thinking – and are frequently in control. (See Switch and The Happiness Hypothesis for more.)
Constant self-reassurance is required to overcome the powerful force of emotions and the perception that negative moods are permanent. Recalling when you had negative moods before that have passed and good moods that have persisted for a while is a good way to break free of the perception of permanence.
The Surrendering Skill
There are two kinds of surrender – surrender accept and surrender defeat. (See Conflict: Surrender Accept vs. Surrender Defeat.) Too frequently, we confuse the two. We get stuck in the belief that things should be different – that we should never feel bad (or good) – and we find that reality lets us down when it doesn’t conform to our expectations. If we are willing to let go of our preconceived notions and insistence on our perfect or ideal, we can find more compassion and less frustration. In fact, if we’re willing to openly surrender and accept reality, we may find that we can see the difference between Compassion and Self-Hate.