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A Discussion of Self Hatred

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

A Discussion of Self HatredIn my work as a psychotherapist over more than thirty years, and, in my role here, at Mental Help.Net, I have come across countless numbers of people who are extremely unhappy with themselves. The reasons for their dissatisfaction vary greatly but the overall impact is that they feel depressed.

Theodore Isaac Rubin, MD and Psychoanalyst addressed this self dissatisfaction in a book entitled, Compassion and Self Hate. If you do not know who Dr. Rubin was, he wrote the classic true story, Lisa and David. This was made into a Hollywood movie during the 1960's called David and Lisa. It remains a movie worth renting and watching.

What Dr. Rubin points out, in his book. 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 down to two selves, the Actual Self and the Real Self.

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

Real Self: The illusions we believe in about who we should be, in terms of being wealthy, powerful, lovable, independent, etc.

To the extent that we hold onto 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, the pursuit of happiness is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. But, what is happiness? As Dr. Rubin states, "For me, happiness is feeling good, nothing more...that is, feeling fairly comfortable and relatively tension free." (p. 103). The then goes on to say that happiness can be sustained only for a limited time. Life is not perfect and moods change. However, the illusion that one should be happy all the time creates self hate. In other words, if someone clings to the illusion that they should be happy all of the time, and they are not, they will condemn their self for not achieving this goal. The problem is that the goal, feeling happy all the time, is not achievable.

Perhaps the fact that people hold onto unrealistic illusions about themselves explains the reason for the epidemic of addiction. Substances offer a temporary that causes a person to feel joyful and omnipotent. When the drug wears out and reality sets in, the self hate reasserts itself.

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.

Looking at the dynamic of self hate in another way, Dr. Rubin talks about illusions we have about money. There is a commonly held illusion that money can solve all problems. Many patients have told me that, if they had enough money, they would feel free of their problems and suffering. However, real life tells us a different story.

Lots of people love to play the lottery in hopes of becoming millionaires. We read about poor or working people winning the lottery and going home fabulously wealthy. Oh, how many of wish for the same fate. Well, you know the old saying, "Be careful of what you wish for, 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. Many people enter into marriage with illusionary expectations. These expectations often have to do with 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, but, it also brings lots of problems and difficulties. Married couples disagree and quarrel, deal with difficult children and have problems with work, family and friends.

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

Dr. Rubin states that, in order to be compassionate to others, we must learn to be compassionate to ourselves. The way to be self compassionate is to learn to accept the Real Self, with its limitations. Accepting who we are instead of wishing to something or someone else, this is the road to compassion. It means ending self hatred. Part of the way to end self hatred is to identify the illusions that you cling to. This could be having the idea that you should be a generous and benevolent person who is generous and never gets angry. There are many other possible illusions. What your your's?

Although the book was written during the mid 1980's, Dr. Rubin is describing a process of Cognitive Behavioral methods to learn self acceptance. CBT is available through the many books and manuals available in the book stores, or, by seeing a psychotherapist trained in the method.

I urge all of you to read this book that, in my opinion, is enlightening.

Do you hate yourself? What are your illusions?

Your comments and questions are strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD