I started hating myself at an early age. No one taught me to do so. In fact, I was surrounded by people telling me that they loved me and who genuinely meant it. But like many things, it is often about who isn’t in the room as much as it is who is in the room. The absence of my father is my defining trauma. What can you say about love to someone whose father didn’t love him enough to be in the picture? Someone whose father didn’t think enough of him to keep his promises to get together? Someone whose only meeting with said father was a total accident? I’ve done a lot of forgiving my biological father over the years. Most days, I don’t think about him, but I do live with the scar of his absence. I’m not lovable enough for my father to stick around.
I internalized my self hatred through abuse disguised as discipline. When love comes in the form of beatings, the message is that you are so bad that pain is the only way to fix you. This is what we do to correct animals. When the message is that you are so bad that I need to make sure this hurts as much as possible so that you can control your evil nature, what is learned is that you must be a pretty awful person.
I internalized my self hatred in an environment where I was the minority, where none of the images of beauty or intelligence that I saw looked like me. I wasn’t normal. I didn’t fit in. What’s worse, I didn’t fit the stereotypes that might have made me more acceptable. I wasn’t even the right kind of black person.
I internalized by self hatred by not being incredibly gifted in any one area. I was an average at best musician. I was an average at best athlete. I was a slightly above average student. I thought that because I wasn’t naturally gifted in any of these areas, I must not be all of that great. I didn’t understand then that greatness comes through hard work and not always through natural ability.
Internalized self hatred turns to self sabotage and self destruction. I’ve written previously about my suicidal tendencies. Suicide can take a lot of different forms, so of which work far more slowly. It can come in the form of fleeing from those who actually love you, sabotaging relationships, seeking out relationships with those that you know will hurt you. It can come in the form of not taking care of yourself. Ignoring your health. Ignoring your finances. Ignoring your triggers. It can come in the form of not pursuing goals and talking yourself out of going for opportunities. It can come from denying your needs altogether. Or even denying that you have needs. I’ve done/am doing all of these things.
Internalized self hatred turns to narcissism. Narcissism is the projection of a grand version of yourself to the rest of the world. You project confidence, competence, or in my case, goodness. If I can’t be smartest, strongest, or most talented, maybe I can be most righteous. Maybe you’ll see me and say “what a good boy/man he is!” Of course, I’m also not too bad looking. Maybe you’ll see me and think I’m handsome. Maybe you’ll find me attractive. Maybe you’ll want to sleep with me. Of course, I’m also a good speaker. I always have been. People are impressed by that. Some people would say that that’s how elections are won. Maybe you’ll hear how eloquent I am and be impressed. Maybe you’ll be moved by my words. You’ll find me wise, witty, charming, and funny. I am funny. Maybe you’ll like me if I make you laugh. And then I did figure out the hard work thing. Maybe you’ll think I’m amazing if I keep collecting degrees. Or titles. Or if I’m really busy all of the time. You’ll see how important I am. And then you’ll love me.
Narcissism is an outgrowth of self hatred because it is totally dependent on the opinions of others for one’s self worth. This, of course, is thin ice. The moment that approval goes away, or is perceived to go away, down goes your sense of self, and you have to continue refilling with other achievements, accolades, applause, and approvals. Your soul becomes a bottomless pit to be filled with the affection of others. The only problem, you can’t fill that void, that need for love with love that comes from other people. Of course, narcissism, can also take the form of outright denigrating other people. This is where racism, sexism, classism… all of the -isms come into play.
Of course, the other real problem with narcissism is that it uses other people. You’re only as important to me as the things you do to bolster this image I have created. Do you laugh at my jokes? Do you tell me I’m smart? Do you tell me I’m handsome? Good. Then I’ll keep you around. And I’ll keep fulfilling my purpose so that you keep doing those things that give my life value. You’re here to prop up my fragile ego. Enjoy! Narcissists use people. I am/have been a narcissist.
Narcissism is not self love. True love for self is compassionate. That’s the thing that is hardest for someone like me to understand. I totally get the idea of compassion towards others. I have no idea how to be compassionate to myself. I’m learning, but it’s counterintuitive. It goes against decades of internalized self hate that plays on repeat in my head. I’ve been reading Kristin Neff’s work on self compassion. You can check out her work here. She outlines three elements of self compassion. First is self kindness. Being warm and understanding to one’s self particularly around your failings. The second is recognizing your common humanity. Self hatred often comes from a place of feeling disconnected from fellow humans. Recognizing our commonality and interdependence is apart of self love. Finally, mindfulness, particularly around negative emotions. Self hate oftens leads to either exaggeration or stifling of “negative” emotions and feelings. A mindful approach to our darker feelings helps us to keep them in proper balance and perspective.
Love for self that eliminates the aspects of ego that appear in narcissism allows us to genuinely love others. They no longer become pieces in our puzzle, but a beloved other that we share our experience of the world with. Those of us in helping professions can miss the fact that we can use the people we are supposed to be serving as props for our own self image. If we have the right amount of self love, then those in our lives become co-travelers sharing the human journey with us.
Friends, I write this from a place of deep hurt. I am wrestling with my past like never before. I am wrestling with my self destructive tendencies. I am wrestling with my self hatred and narcissism. It is a dark and lonely time for me. But I believe that I am on the road to true self love and true self compassion and I strive for this so that I might have true and genuine love for God and my neighbor. It is hard, painful work. But I believe that it is worth it.
I believe that I am worth it. And that’s a start…