A Discussion of Self-Hatred

Karen Horney:

“Stress is often a result of the tension between what is and what you believe should be. It’s called the “tyranny of the shoulds,” which dictates how we think, act, and feel. These “should” beliefs—are referred to as Icebergs… Stress is often a result of the tension between what is and what you believe should be.”

In my work as a psychotherapist for forty years, I have come across countless people who are extremely unhappy with themselves. The reasons for their dissatisfaction vary, but the overall impact is that they feel depressed. Theodore Isaac Rubin, MD, and Psychoanalyst, addressed this self-dissatisfaction in a book, “Compassion and Self Hate.” 

Dr. Rubin borrows from a great psychoanalyst of the mid-twentieth century, Karen Horney. Horney asserts that we have three selves:

1. Actual Self: Who we are with our physical and emotional abilities and disabilities or limitations.

2. Real Self: Who we could be if we freed ourselves from our self-dislike and unrealistic fears.

3. Despised Self: Self Effacing and very neurotic.

4. Idealized Self: The illusion of glorious goals that are impossible to achieve but that we believe we should achieve.

Dr. Rubin reduces this formula to two selves, the Actual Self and the Real Self:

1. Actual Self: Who we are with all of our talents, limitations, and illnesses, both physical and psychological.

2. Real Self: The illusions we believe in about who we should be, be wealthy, powerful, lovable, and independent.

The extent to which we hold on to illusions about our Real Self is the extent to which we reject our Actual Self and feel self-hate.

For example, an individual may cherish the belief that they should be happy. After all, pursuing happiness is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. 

But what is happiness? Happiness is feeling comfortable and relatively free of stress. However, we can sustain happiness only for a limited time. The problem is that life is not perfect, and moods change. The illusion that one should always be happy creates self-hate. If someone clings to the illusion that they should always be happy and are not, they will condemn themselves for not achieving this goal.

Perhaps the fact that people hold on to unrealistic beliefs about themselves explains the reason for the epidemic of addiction. Substances offer a temporary escape from reality that causes a person to feel joyful and omnipotent. The self-hate reasserts itself when the drug wears out, and then there is reality.

To continue the analogy of the drug abuser, the sense of self-hate and wish for joy that propels the addiction also serves as a powerful source of self-punishment. Drug addiction carries with it lots of physical and emotional abuse.

There is a commonly held idea that money can solve all problems. Many patients have told me they would feel free of their problems and suffering if they had enough money. However, real-life tells us a different story. False beliefs about money often lead to self-hate in another way.

Lots of people love to play the lottery, hoping to become millionaires. We read about poor or working people winning the lottery and going home fabulously wealthy. Oh, how many of us wish for the same fate? You know the old saying, “Be careful about what you wish. It may come true.” The fact is that the lives of many people who won the lottery ended in tragedy. Some of them spent every dollar they won and became bankrupt. Others committed suicide, became addicted to drugs, or suffered some abysmal fate. Money did not solve their problems. Yet, we convince ourselves that it will solve our problems and beat ourselves for not earning or winning a fortune.

The same phenomenon occurs with marriages. Some individuals enter marriage with grandiose expectations of how their lives will improve. These expectations often involve perfect bliss, constant sexual fulfillment, and a regular flow of nurturing and love. However, actual life is not this way. Yes, marriage can bring lots of satisfaction and many problems and difficulties. For example, married couples disagree and quarrel, have to cope with difficult children, and have problems with work, family, and friends.

The more significant the gap between expectations and reality, the greater the sense of disappointment, bitterness, and failure we will experience.

Self-hatred encompasses continual feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and low self-esteem. People may constantly compare themselves to others, perceive only the negative, ignore the positive, and believe they will never be “good enough.” But every person has worth, value, and the ability to cultivate self-love.

 If you’re struggling with hateful thoughts, reflect on what sparked them. Did you make a mistake at work? Did a recent dinner with a friend lead you to feel envious? Identifying these triggers can allow you to diffuse them the next time they arise.

Beyond immediate triggers, one can often trace self-hatred’s roots to environmental circumstances such as hypercritical parenting or personality traits such as perfectionism. Once feelings of worthlessness take hold, they can be challenging to release; the stories that form around early experiences can become deeply entrenched. But there are still many ways for people to confront self-criticism and develop a strong sense of self.

 

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