Think back to when you were very young, when you didn’t have too many obligations. Maybe you weren’t even going to school yet, or maybe it was summer vacation sometime during elementary school. Do you remember the feeling of waking up and not being stressed? Do you remember the feeling of being ecstatic that you didn’t have to do anything the whole day long other than exactly what you wanted to do? Maybe you played with your toys, then explored around your backyard, then watched your favorite movie, followed by some coloring, and then had a sleepover with your best friend. Or maybe it looked like you playing video games most of the day. It doesn’t matter what it looked like. The point is, there was a time in your life when you were thrilled and completely at peace with not being “productive”. There was no guilt, no shame, no worry, and no fear about wasting your time, or about how others would perceive you. How is this possible? It’s possible because we are all born with an inherent and intact sense of self-worth. We are TAUGHT over time that our worth is equal to our productivity level; this is not a belief we come into the world already having. We do not spend our early childhood questioning our worth. We do not have self-esteem, self-confidence or self-worth issues until we are TAUGHT that we cannot trust our feelings, until we are TAUGHT that we just have to cope with feeling bad in order to be considered a good person, and until we are TAUGHT that the best thing we can do with our lives is what is expected of us. This is the shadow side of socialization.
Maybe your parents, or the adults in your household growing up, never said those exact words to you. It does not matter. They taught you through their actions, and through their relationship to themselves. Children feel the world long before they think about the world, and they pick up far more than we know. When we are taught, directly or indirectly, that we will only be considered a good person if we do what the big scary adults (the gods of our world) want us to do, an interesting thing happens – we internalize their voices and start talking down to ourselves like they do, if not worse. These voices are the voices of your parents without doubt, but also of anyone whose approval you sought. They’re the voices of your grandparents, your teachers, your soccer coach, your classmates, the media, on and on. In order to gain their love, we create an internal “police officer” that shames us almost constantly, and ultimately, we find ourselves living with an enemy in our own skin.
So, what does this evolve into? There are, of course, the evident forms of self-hate, such as cutting, refusing to take care of yourself, or any form of self-abuse. But often self-hate is much subtler. For example, we only deserve a day off if we think we’re going to work twice as hard the next day. We only deserve to wear the clothes we love if we weigh a specific amount. We don’t deserve to have boundaries if it makes others uncomfortable. We’re a terrible parent if we hire a nanny so that we can more fully pursue the career we love. We’re impulsive and bad if we buy ourselves that fancy chair we saw online. Self-hating thoughts can be glaring, like “I hate my thighs”, or they can be sneaky, like “I can’t believe I’m about to buy myself a massage”. Self-hating thoughts can take infinite forms, so it’s important to start recognizing how they show up for you. You may be thinking, well, I let myself buy “unnecessary” things sometimes, but the question is, how do you honestly feel in the moment that you’re buying yourself something “unnecessary”? If you buy yourself nice things with guilt somewhere in the background, that’s self-hate. I know that sounds extreme, but that’s only because we’re used to it, just like the Romans were used to drinking water with lead in it.
So, how do we move past this? We have to address the fear that drove us to become self-hating in the first place. There are countless ways to do this, and which method to use is dependent on the person and the specifics of their situation, but the root is the same for us all – we must understand that we believe self-hate is benefiting us, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it. So, what part of you believes it’s benefiting you, and what is that part afraid of? What other parts of you does the self-hating part actually hate? Talk to this part of yourself with love and care, wanting only to understand it’s perspective to the fullest extent, and where to go from there will be made clear.
The levels of anxiety that I see my family, friends, and clients living with is not healthy, but it is the unfortunate norm, and it is so often rooted in self-hate along with a good dose of shame (they’re really the same thing). Because the majority of us live in a time and place where our physical needs are more than met, we seriously downplay the painful reality our emotional states. Somehow, we believe that because we have a house and can go grocery shopping every week, that we should just be able to cope with the chronic void we feel inside. First world problems, right? No. Chronic anxiety, depression, and a lack of self-worth, amongst other things, are symptoms of very serious cultural problems. To say that they are invalid in any way is just more self-hate, and to think that we are somehow at the pinnacle of civilization with no room for improvement is delusional. Emotional needs are just as real and important as physical needs (some argue that they are more important).
Know that self-hate is a coping mechanism, it is an adaptation, that the little boy or girl inside of you HAD to develop in order to emotionally survive. The more you can stay connected to that original little boy or girl, who came into this world with an inherent sense of self-worth and who felt zero guilt in following their joy, the more you will start to see how damaging and unnatural self-hate actually is.