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Self-Loathing | How’s ‘Bout Some Warmth, Light, and Hope?

Borderline Personality Disorder

Self-loathing can make “life” the darkest “living” hell. Perhaps psychotherapy, depression medication, or whatever else haven’t provided relief. Heck, maybe you’ve been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder or PTSD. Who knows? But, it’s hard – all so hard, isn’t it? How’s ’bout some warmth, light, and hope?

As a counselor, and an anxiety and mood disorder vet, I have a heart for those who endure self-loathing. Needless to say, I frequently see varying degrees of it in my client work. That motivated me to bring the issue to Chipur last week, as I posted Self-Loathing | Thoughts on a Dark “Living” Hell. If you haven’t already, why not give it a read?

So, then – now to that “What you can do about it.” I promised…

Okay, so what’s more annoying (naive, insulting) than someone, including a counselor, suggesting you tap-in to some self-compassion or self-care when you’re in the midst of self-loathing – and have no idea how? “Uh, sorry, we’re not going to make s’mores while we sing ‘Kumbayah’ just now.” Right?

I mean, come on, people!

Well, much to discuss here, but before we kick it into full gear, I want to repeat something I stated in last week’s’ article…

As I began putting this piece together it occurred to me I was treading on hallowed ground. Self-loathing, and its manifestations, are deeply personal – at the very core of who we perceive we are. That said, I write with great respect for those in the midst, and don’t pretend to know their pain and torment.

Folks, I don’t have all the answers when it comes to self-loathing (actually, only you do). And, frankly, self-loathing may be so pervasive in some that the leaning toward indulging may have to be managed for a lifetime. But, hey, I long ago accepted that reality as it applies to my anxiety. Okay, I’d rather it be otherwise, but it isn’t. So on I go.

K, ’nuff table-setting. Let’s get after it…

In the first of the series, I featured the thoughts of Alex Lickerman, MD. He blogs at Happiness in this World: Reflections of a Buddhist Physician. And I’m going to ride the same horse (sorry doc) here.

Not a stretch to place self-esteem and self-loathing in the same ballpark, right? Dr. Lickerman believes we human-types have a tendency to dip the wrong well when it comes to acquiring and sustaining self-esteem. And so he directs us to examine what Nichiren Buddhism (remember, the “Buddhist Physician”) refers to as the “smaller self.” That would be the parts of us we perceive to be better than those of others.

Thing is, we become over-the-top attached to them. Simply, we fill our self-esteem pails with things we happen to view as special – looks, skills, accomplishments, etc. But then there’s the possibility of our pails springing a leak if we experience a perceived loss of even one of those things.  

Lickerman suggests we ground our self-esteem in positive qualities, the value of which aren’t dependent upon comparisons to the qualities of others. This calls for an awakening to our essential goodness – the “larger self.” So it’s about working hard on the manifestation of our larger selves throughout each and every day. And, according to Lickerman, we have to generate the wisdom and compassion to care for others to hold us over as we transition to who we’d like to become.

Straight from the doc…

In other words, if we want to like ourselves we have to earn our own respect. Luckily, doing this doesn’t require that we become people of extraordinary physical attractiveness or accomplishment. It only requires we become people of extraordinary character – something anyone can do.

Is he spot-on? Well, he offers a thought experiment as support. Lickerman asks us to think of our favorite person and inquire what it is about her/him that creates the attraction. He believes it isn’t likely their physical appearance, or even their accomplishments. No, it’s about their unselfish/generous spirit. According to Lickerman, that’s the key quality that makes people likable – even to themselves.

Hmmm, so what, then, is the expressway to healthy self-esteem – the adios to self-loathing? Treating others well. So if you’re a self-loather, put the kibosh on focusing upon your perceived icky qualities. I mean, who doesn’t have ’em? And Lickerman points out there’s certainly nothing special about your particular state of ickiness.

I like it!

That’ll do it from Dr. Alex Lickerman’s side of the fence. However, I want to bring you something from mine. We can’t forget about the power of cognitive work. It’s likely we came by our self-loathing very early in life. And, sans intervention, an ever-intensifying pattern of negative thought was learned and firmly established.

Identifying these erroneous – distorted – thoughts is essential. And then it’s about coming to understand them, establishing truth, and creating new patterns of thought (emotion and behavior). Please take the time to learn more.

That’s All Folks

Are you a self-loather? Heck, I don’t know – borderline personality disorder, PTSD, failed psychotherapy and depression medication may be factors. Doesn’t much matter, actually.

A dark “living” hell it can be. But I bring you the potential for warmth, light, and hope. You really can have them, you know. So reach-out and partake. All isn’t lost…

Let’s see, now – some 600 Chipur titles are contained within. Come on, take a look. So goood for what ails you.

  • Love this explanation of what to do if you are a self-loather, Bill. Dr. Lickerman and you have it nailed with the idea that we need to develop our character, something that is unique to us and cannot be compared to anyone else. Treating others well is so simple, yet we often miss the boat on this one. Getting help and understanding our early patterns that caused the problem make so much sense. I always learn more when I stop by! Thanks.

    • Hey, Cathy – and I’m really glad you faithfully stop-by – and comment. This sure isn’t easy biz for someone enduring any degree of self-loathing. You know, I mentioned earlier the reality that many simply don’t know how to stop. Again, someone could so off-the-cuff suggest one buy-in to a smidge of self-compassion or practice a little self-care. But, often, a self-loather has no clue as to how to do that! Yes, I’m liking the transition from the “smaller-self” to the “larger-self.” Makes wonderful sense, and it’s something I believe a self-loather could accomplish. Again, appreciate your visits and contributions, Cathy…
      Bill

  • I loved this line, Bill, “Okay, so what’s more annoying (naive, insulting) than someone, including a counselor, suggesting you tap-in to some self-compassion or self-care when you’re in the midst of self-loathing – and have no idea how?” I found cognitive behavioral therapy really really worked for me. As I mentioned in a previous comment, when I finally started therapy work around my secondhand drinking recovery, I had no idea that I had no idea of who “Lisa” really was because I’d developed “my self” for so many decades around common codependency-type behaviors in order to cope that it was quite an onion to peel. Thanks for another great post, Bill!

    • You like that line, do you, Lisa? And isn’t it the truth? One of a handful of pet peeves on this side of the fence – as it applies to clinicians. It’s so easy for us to suggest and direct – but all too often the client’s capacity to act in kind is largely compromised. So it’s an insult to toss something out there without thinking the circumstances over. Same applies to cognitive work. Oh, sure, spot those cognitive distortions and turn ’em around. Uh, not that simple. Right? Hey! Glad you established a clearer picture of who Lisa was/is. I’m pleased she stops-by and contributes. Always good stuff. Thank you, and come on back…
      Bill

  • Europa

    My pattern with self loathing, is to often give everything and anything to anyone who wants/needs something in order to make myself feel like a better person. Being nice, but taking it too far. I would give without boundaries and completely forget about my wants/needs. Resentment grows if the relationship persists in this way. Usually, I’m hoping for gratitude, a form of reward to fill me up and keep me going. When not rec’d I feel worse about myself and the other person involved. I create it with my over the top nurturing and then blame them for it. Not all relationships but some, usually the most important ones. And then I hate myself more for being that way. But I don’t want to. This sheds some light on my truth and it’s appreciated that you are kind about how someone like me might feel. It’s not something people relate to well and not a task anyone wants to take on. You can’t love me enough to make me better. I have to try it out for myself. It’s really great to be open enough to see the behaviors that I’ve piled up on top of the other to keep that label I’ve unknowingly given to myself. Your post sparked my thoughts above and I thank you for your work on this subject.

    • So glad you stopped-by and contributed, Europa. Thank you for the very detailed description of your self-loathing experience. Your self-insight and openness are impressive. “You can’t love me enough to make me better. I have to try it out for myself.” Pretty strong! Hey, makes me feel good to know I’ve “sparked” some worthy thoughts, and you’re more than welcome. Please visit again – and comment – k?
      Bill

  • Intrigued and delighted again as the good doctor, Bill White gently turns the outwardly pointing, answer seeking flashlight back toward the seeker. And again…practice makes progress. I’m reminded of the Dalai Lama’s great little read, “The Universe in a Single Atom.” It’s all HERE and about brain health–and which of us has much training in this culture about brain health? Thanks also for renewing my awareness about your cognitive skills post. Excellent.

    • Your servant, good Dr. Bell. And thank YOU for your contributions/insights. Glad you recommended the book. It’s so cool to have readers contribute resources for other readers. That’s the idea!!!
      Bill

  • Patricia Miller

    The whole concept of switching the focus to the larger self, the overall character, is a breath of fresh air and is indeed one of hope. As a person who has struggled with self-loathing and disgust all of my life, and as one who has intuitively sought to “fix it” by doing lovely, compassionate, and caring things for others all along the way, it helps to know that my instincts in that respect are spot on.

    Thank you for the idea that I can work on replacement thoughts; altering my cognitive processes when the despair of self-disgust overwhelms me. This seems real and possible because I know there are positive global character traits I DO have. I believe I can become willing to genuinely and honestly acknowledge they are part of me. You have provided more hope than I’ve ever heard before on this topic, and that is a precious commodity in this particularly lonely and shameful part of myself. — Patricia

    • Curious thing about hope, huh?! Can sure turn on some lights – and provide warmth. Thanks so much, Patricia, for stopping-by and participating. Given that “lonely and shameful part” of yourself, I’m thinking sharing – pertaining to this subject matter – wasn’t easy. Your courage is appreciated – and will take you a looong way. Sure is a difficult subject, but that’s why I wanted to take it on – going beyond the easy “just practice some self-care/self-compassion.” Yikes! You just keep coming back, k? Your contributions are valuable. Thank you…
      Bill