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When Living “Right” Is Wrong: Subtle Ways We  Engage In Acts of Self-Hate

Image of toy dog on wood floor. Raleigh Psychotherapy, counseling, self-hate, Katherine Broadway

Just as you can love and hate another person, you can also love and hate yourself. It can happen to any of us from time to time. Some of the ways to treat yourself with hate are obvious: feeling worthless or bad, calling yourself ugly or disgusting and or a failure, to name a few.

The type of self-hate I am referring to today is not so obvious. It happens occasionally and is difficult to recognize. It comes in subtle ways that are disguised as the “right” way to live, the way to be a “good person”, or the way you are “supposed” to act. These acts are formed by old, unconscious messages.

These subtle moments of self-hate can lead to self-sabotage. They are disguised as a helping hand, but actually undermine your confidence, make you anxious, cloud your thinking, impair your decision-making abilities, and color the way you see a situation.

Here are three examples to help you see what I mean.

1. Putting Others Before Yourself:

At first, you might object to the idea that this is self-hating behavior. After all, most of us were raised to think of the needs of others, and we were told that putting ourselves first is being selfish or uncaring. Now, think for a moment about that line from the in-flight safety spiel every flight attendant gives: In case of emergency, put your oxygen mask on first, then help your child or others around you. The airlines are on to something. They know that if the adult does not have their needs met the child will may not receive help.

It is an important part of life to give to others – it helps them and it helps us, as well as makes life more meaningful. However, if the idea is taken too far, it becomes harmful to everyone involved. A prime example is a codependent who only gives. Judy told me the story of her mother who was out helping sick friends and relatives, cooking meals, helping them with transportation, and sitting with them so that they would not be alone. The problem was that her mother did not attend to her own needs and health. She was a diabetic who met an early death due to a lack of self-care.

When we neglect ourselves and forfeit our own needs in order to give to others, we are committing an act of self-hate.

2. Not Receiving…Enough:

Our society values independence and self-reliance. Think about the pioneers, and their quest to overcome the landscape and long journeys to build a new life in isolated, lonely places without help. To this day, they play a large role in American culture, identity, and ethos. They represent the spirit of independence, the ability to survive in difficultly conditions, and self-reliance. Our own history teaches us not to not ask for help.

The same is true in many families, where it is considered a failure to ask for help. That could not be farther from the truth. When we need help and do not ask, it is an act of self-hate. When the help we need is offered, and we do not accept it, it is an act of self-hate. Both choices isolate us and interfere with connection and intimacy.

Just as it is important to give, it is also important to receive. Both sides of the interaction are needed. Humans are born dependent. We all need gifts of love, care and recognition. You can see the impact when a child comes home with a gold star on a homework assignment. It makes them feel successful and special. When we do not accept gifts of praise, complements, concern and well wishes, we are committing acts of self-hate.

3. When You Mistake Self-Reflection with Criticism, Judgment and Condemnation of Yourself:

Joseph is a sales manager for a large company. As most salespeople know, you have to make a lot of contacts and hear a lot of rejection to make a living. It is part of the job. However, Joseph takes it hard every time a big deal falls through. He blames himself, regardless of the real reason why the deal didn't happen. He tells himself he is stupid and calls himself names. At those times, he believes he is worthless and treats himself accordingly.

You can see the same behavior in parents every time their child makes a mistake. They call themselves names and treat themselves badly. We see this behavior over everyday events that go wrong, expectations that are not met, or shortcomings that are felt.

The behavior I am talking about goes farther than appropriate self-evaluation into the realm of self-abuse. A proper evaluation of your behavior in situations will lead to self-awareness, growth and change. This kind of self-destructive behavior destroys growth and the ability to reflect and learn from experience. It prevents growth. Every time you treat yourself with this kind of contempt and anger, you are committing an act of self-hate.

As children we are taught lessons that look like they will be helpful, but are not. They are simple, and in their simplicity they become toxic when we take them to extremes. As adults, we continue to live out those lessons without thinking about it, until we become aware of our automatic behaviors. These automatic behaviors are subtle and hard to see. They interfere with social life, family life, work life and romantic life. As you learn to observe yourself and your actions, you can begin to see how you harm yourself in unconscious ways.

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