On Disliking Oneself – Free Ebook

There is one particularly salient question
we should ask in order to measure our levels

of emotional well-being: do you broadly feel
that you have the right to exist and are,

on balance, a good enough human being? Or,
whatever your outward circumstances and achievements,

do you generally feel you are a piece of excrement,
who has only got through life by deluding

others (who would quickly abandon you if they
knew even a fraction of the truth about you)

and, because you are a liar, are only ever
one or two steps away from deserved humiliation

and catastrophe?

It is in a sense extraordinary how many of
us instinctively answer yes to the second

question; in other words, how many of us are
alive without a sense that we have any genuine

merit in walking the earth. Suicide statistics
say something horrifying about our societies,

but the numbers on violent self-hatred, from
which one in four of us are estimated to suffer,

say something arguably even worse. If we saw
a stranger being treated the way many of us

treat ourselves, we wouldn’t hesitate to
call it wanton cruelty.

An odd detail about disliking oneself is that
one generally doesn’t even notice oneself

doing it. Realising it would require a degree
of objectivity about one’s potential worth

that one precisely lacks. Self-hatred can
be too obvious to be visible; it’s the default

position and has been since childhood. One
doesn’t identify as a self-disliker; one

just thinks one’s a piece of shit.

The feeling radiates its effects in a number
of areas: if someone pays you a compliment,

you immediately doubt their intelligence.
When someone offers to love you, you wonder

why they are so weak. When you are stuck in
a frustrating relationship, at work or in

private life, you stay (if necessary for decades),
for this is – after all – simply what you

deserve. If you’re promoted or are admired,
you at once feel incapable and a liar. There’s

a voice in your head that accompanies you
in all challenges and tells you that won’t

be able to do this, that you’re a moron
and everyone hates you. If something appears

to go well, you’ll sabotage things brilliantly.
You know just how to screw up job opportunities

and drive away people who want to be kind.
You easily feel that people are mocking and

mistreating you: you sense hostility in interactions
in shops or restaurants, with colleagues or

lovers, a lot of the time, you’re in a paranoid
frame of mind – out of a fear that the world

might at any point discover or has already
discovered what you well know about yourself:

that you’re a disgusting imbecile.

Salvation starts with an obvious sounding
insight that should nevertheless be written

in large letters across the sky: no one is
born liking themselves. That is, there’s

a history to this which you’ve been left
unable to think about. It is only the soothing,

enthusiastic responses of our earliest caregivers
that can lend any of us encouragement to carry

on. Our sense of self is assembled out of
the reactions of those who were first around

us. We may not know anything about these people
in conscious memory but we don’t need to.

We can deduce everything vital by asking ourselves
the very simple question: Do I like who I

am? You may not have the original mould at
hand, but you can sense the imprint in the

dough of your character.

No one can survive the sense that they were
a bore, a threat, an inconvenience or a disappointment

to those who made them. This isn’t a negotiable
point. If you were in this wretched camp,

you get a prize for not having done away with
yourself already. We can’t escape a basic

law: we are the only animal whose sense of
being able to keep on keeping on depends on

the welcome accorded to them by those who
made them.

It’s so horrific to have to acknowledge
that we were badly or unfairly treated, in

an especially bizarre phenomenon we’re liable
to turn the anger we might in theory feel

towards our erstwhile flawed caregivers back
onto ourselves. We end up preferring to dislike

who we are rather than accepting a yet more
horrible idea: that someone we needed to adore

wasn’t very nice to us. We can end up lacking
any capacity for anger, for that would require

a basic sense of self-worth and therefore
an idea that we had been violated. Most of

us are just numb. Or, in an effort to numb,
we gorge on drugs, porn, love affairs, fame

or processed sugar… The path of self-hatred
points everywhere other than its real source:

those early years.

How does one ever dig oneself out of the mine-shaft
of self-hatred? For a start, by becoming a

better historian of our selves – and therefore
being able to hold on to the idea that we

hate ourselves only or primarily because we
were once not loved. This has a structure

so basic it feels like an insult, but to make
the concept resonate with one’s actual experience

can be the task of a lifetime.

We need to start to notice what unfair story
tellers we are: how many decades of practice

we have had at always turning ourselves into
the villain, of justifying the behaviour of

others way beyond what they deserved and at
putting ourselves invariably at shameful fault.

We may be very clever, but in this area, we
probably can’t think too clearly – so we

may need to bring in another brain to help
our faltering one out. We may need to check

our reality against another’s and thereby
recalibrate our assessment of everything we’ve

touched. We need to repatriate the pain: away
from hating ourselves and fearing the world

towards mourning an original catastrophe.

We may eventually reach a very weird-sounding
insight: that we aren’t exceptionally awful,

we just had an exceptionally unfortunate introduction
to existence. We need to learn a vital art,

from which so much else good can then flow:
that of being on our own side.

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