One of the odder features of self-hatred is
that the affliction may escape our notice
for the greater part of our lives. We may
simply not be aware that we don’t like ourselves
very much – even as the sickness of self-hatred
wreaks its havoc across a range of psychological
situations and opportunities.
Though we are relentless scrutinisers of others,
we seldom pause to give a unitary verdict
on what we make of our own characters. We
may recognise our approval or distaste of
ourselves in relation to specific actions;
we will know when we are – for example – cross
about being slow to complete a task or when
we are pleased to have won a colleague’s
approval but we are on the whole uninclined
to step far back and consider ourselves in
totality, as we might a stranger. We are too
involved with ourselves on an ongoing basis
to assess the sharper outlines of our own
characters. There are few occasions when we
are summoned to ask whether we essentially
like the person we are.
As a result, our self-suspicion tends to linger
in undiagnosed forms. We miss the extent to
which we can suffer from endemic self-loathing
- and how a once acceptable and perhaps invigorating
form of self-questioning has turned into a
lacerating sequence of attacks on everything
we are and do. We may – paradoxically – be
at once highly depressed about ourselves – and
oblivious that we are so.
In order to know what we are up against, we
should take a measure of our sense of self.
For this, there may be no better move than
to resort to that clumsiest but simple and
most helpful of psychological tools, the questionnaire.
We can ask to what extent we might agree with
the following sentences on a scale of one
to ten, ten meaning very much, zero indicating
not at all.
- If people knew who I really was, they would
- The inside of me is appalling.
- Often, I can’t bear who I am.
- I’m disgusting.
- I’m shameful
- I’m weak
- Others have a good cause to hate and harm
- It’s only a matter of time before terrible
things happen to me, given who I am.
- I’m sexually revolting
- I am physically repulsive
- I am unworthy of being forgiven
- I am a fitting target for ridicule
- I am bound to fail
- I don’t deserve much sympathy
- People often see me in the street and feel
- I have acted badly across my whole life
- There is something fundamentally wrong with
We don’t need to do careful sums to arrive
at an indicative picture at speed. Some of
us will be reaching for tens on pretty much
every occasion; others – blessedly – will
be puzzled by the whole exercise. This book
is not for them.
If we find ourselves reaching for high numbers,
we may be tempted to come to a powerful yet
entirely mistaken conclusion: that we are
terrible people. The reality is at once less
personally damning and far more redemptive:
we aren’t so terrible at all, we are just
very ill. The questionnaire is telling us
about an affliction, not about our past or
what we deserve or who we really are. The
very extremity of our answers should signal
that something is afoot that far exceeds what
any human is ever owed. We aren’t intolerably
wicked; we are in the grip of a cruel sickness
which systematically destroys any confidence
or generosity we might feel towards ourselves.
We are treating ourselves with a violence
and pitilessness we wouldn’t think of bestowing
upon our worst enemies. We have, somehow,
unbeknownst to us, ended up considering the
person we have to accompany through life with
an unparalleled degree of coldness and disdain.
It is time to come to terms with our suffering
- and to refuse the delusion and meanness