Jan 21, 2014
Why you don’t really hate yourself
Lots of people struggle with self-hatred. They find they constantly judge themselves, talk to themselves harshly, and even do things to themselves that are harmful. It’s very painful to be this way.
But I want to tell you: you don’t really hate yourself.
In the deepest core of your being you love yourself. In the deepest core of your being you want everything for yourself that you want for those you hold most dear. In the deepest core of your being you want to be happy, to be well, and to be at peace.
And everything you do — everything — is a strategic attempt to find happiness, wellness, and peace. That’s the motivation behind every action you take, including your acts of self-hatred.
If you hate someone else, your motivation is usually something like this: by being unpleasant to them they’ll go away and not bother you any more, and then you’ll be at peace, and you can get on with being happy. Or they’ll stop doing that thing that annoys you, and then you can go back to being happy.
Those motivations of ours aren’t usually very conscious, because conscious self-examination is a relatively recent arrival in our being, evolutionarily speaking, and so many of our strategies are not clearly thought out, but are automatic and habitual. And so we often use strategies that just don’t work. The person you’re unpleasant to often can’t or won’t go away. They may be unpleasant back at you. And so your strategy to find peace and happiness ends up destroying your peace and your happiness even further.
If you hate some aspect of yourself, then usually the motivation is similar to those above. Maybe you messed up: “Oh god, what an idiot I am!” you yell at yourself, in the privacy of your own head. You treat yourself like a child who needs to be punished so that it won’t repeat an error. You do something good but you tell yourself it wasn’t “good enough.” If you can just be unpleasant enough to yourself, then maybe you’ll stop making mistakes. You’ll do better. Then you’ll be happy.
This is also a strategy that doesn’t work. You can’t find happiness through being harsh on yourself. You can’t create a sense of inner peace through setting up a conflict with yourself. But we get stuck with our failed strategies of self-hating behaviors — repeating them over and over. Hating yourself didn’t work that time? Try a bit harder at hating yourself next time!
But the key thing is that self-hatred is a strategy. And it’s a strategy for meeting a deeper desire for well-being, peace, and happiness. And that deeper desire for well-being, peace, and happiness is the love you have for yourself.
Self-hatred is self-love gone wrong. Self-hatred is your natural desire for happiness expressing itself in a strategy that can never work.
This is, I hope, encouraging. Because it’s not you, in your core, that’s the problem. It’s your strategies. And you can change your strategies. Strategies, in the great scheme of things, are relatively superficial. When you mess up, you can learn accept that you messed up without recrimination. You can learn that you don’t need to be harsh on yourself to prevent yourself making mistakes. You can learn, as animal trainers well know, that rewards are more important motivators than punishments like harsh self-talk. You can learn to be kind to yourself. You can practice lovingkindness, and learn the arts of being patient, accepting, and kind toward yourself. You can learn to be compassionate to yourself when you’re suffering.
It’s not necessarily easy to do all this. In fact it’s not easy. It even can be very painful in the short-term (we’ll often give ourselves a hard time for giving ourselves a hard time), although in the long-term learning to be kind to ourselves brings great happiness. You can expect a bumpy ride at first. But the only thing more painful than learning new strategies for finding happiness is to keep going with strategies that never have worked and never can.