Much is constantly happening that annoys us:
trains pull out of platforms as we approach
them. Taps snap off their moorings; shopping
bags leak; suppliers go bankrupt; colleagues
resign; cars break down.
It is all – undoubtedly – maddening.
But the question is how much does it all,
beneath the surface, have to feel intentional
For a certain kind of personality, it is very
hard to hold on to the idea that many troubles
might come down to something as innocent as
It simply seems implausible that awful things
might repeatedly unfold, at terribly inopportune
moments, without some kind of malevolent intent
It can’t be just an accident that the dinner
order went missing,
- that the cinema seat was double booked,
- that the phone’s battery has died…
Why did their dry cleaning – and no one else’s
- end up being stolen and their new shoes
spring a leak?
Why is there a strange smell just next to
where they are seated on the plane? How come
there is a small beetle in their salad?
It’s as though someone is trailing them,
undermining them, laying traps for them – and
laughing at them. It seems like there is some
kind of conspiracy to make them look like
a cretin to the world (why else have they
been walking around all day with a sticker
on the back of their coat and why does their
zip jam exactly ten minutes before an important
dinner?). No wonder they may get very cross
The sad and touching truth is that there is
- of course – almost never any conspiracy
at play. But that it strongly feels like there
is one on the inside tells us a lot about
the origins of paranoic hypersensitivity:
it is the bitter fruit of self-hatred.
When we heartily dislike ourselves, it is
only natural to have the impression that the
world is ridiculing us in turn. The hotel
concierge knows exactly how awful we are;
that’s why they’ve given us the room with
the malfunctioning airconditioning unit;
the waiter has deep experience of our revoltingness;
that’s why they chose our trousers on which
to drop a piece of butter.
The phone company knows that we are an idiot
(and that we think dreadful things); that’s
why they’ve made sure our mobile would give
out on the second day of our trip.
We need to be given the chance to see that
our suspicious natures are a symptom of a
self-hatred that owes its origins not to the
prevalence of actual plots and schemes, but
to childhood dynamics in which we lacked the
reassurance, attention and care we deserved
- and for this, we deserve immense, ongoing
sympathy. The world doesn’t hate us, we
have just learnt to have contempt for ourselves
which returns to haunt us in the form of imagined
No one is actually laughing at us; we weren’t
loved properly and now don’t like ourselves
very much. That’s the true outrage for which
we should reserve our anger and our self-compassion.