Self-Loathing | Thoughts on a Dark “Living” Hell

I Want to Kill Myself

“I want to kill myself.” Sadly, all too often the self-loather’s final assessment of “life.” But maybe the self-loathing manifests in anorexia or another eating disorder. Perhaps self-injurious behavior, like cutting. Could generate a devastating depression. Yeah, self-loathing – a dark “living” hell. Let’s talk about it, k?

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.

Marya Hornbacher from Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia

I wanted to kill the me underneath…This is, I believe, different from the suicidal wish of those who are in so much pain that death feels like relief, different from the suicide I would later attempt, trying to escape that pain. This is a wish to murder yourself; the connotation of kill is too mild. This is a belief that you deserve slow torture, violent death.

Need I provide additional descriptive info on self-loathing?

My research on self-loathing led me to numerous interesting points-of-view. I decided to share the thoughts of Alex Lickerman, MD. Check-out his blog, Happiness in this World: Reflections of a Buddhist Physician.

Okay, so where does a leaning toward self-loathing begin? Dr. Lickerman believes some of us come into the world predisposed to holding a negative view of ourselves. I’m thinking it’s a temperament thing. Maybe the loathing target is something specific. But maybe one has no clue as to what they hate about themselves – they just do. And then, of course, some folks had the great misfortune of being born to abusive parents or caretakers who in some manner harmed and belittled them, inhibiting the development of healthy self-esteem.

Interesting – Lickerman proposes self-loathers most often believe they dislike their every molecule, but that’s rarely true. He thinks in most cases a self-loather is able to specify what part(s) of themselves they dislike, ranging from the physical to the cognitive and emotional.

How ’bout Lickerman’s take on the self-loather’s dilemma? When presented with a scenario in which a self-loather comes upon a child trapped under a car at the scene of an accident, s/he recoils in horror and would want – urgently – to do something to help. Yet it’s likely no credit would be given to self for the deep humanity such a reaction indicates.

That brings us to why a self-loather finds it so easy to overlook any measure of good within. Lickerman believes in most cases it’s not about possessing negative qualities, it’s the disproportionate weight given them. Folks who dislike themselves may acknowledge they have positive attributes; however, any sort of emotional pat-on-the-back doesn’t occur.

So what’s at the foundation of the perpetuation of self-loathing? Well, Lickerman believes the circumstances that generated the self-loathing trigger a pattern of thought that – without challenge/intervention – cycles wildly out-of-control.

Here’s a for-instance. Your parents may have failed to praise you or support your accomplishments in school when you were young – perhaps even largely ignored you – which led you to conclude they didn’t care about you, which then led you to conclude you’re not worth caring about.

According to Lickerman, it’s the last idea – not the memory of your parents ignoring you – that gathers the power within your life to make you loathe yourself, if not intervened upon early on. And once a narrative of worthlessness embeds itself in the mind, it becomes extraordinarily difficult to “disbelieve it” – especially when one can find evidence (and it’s so easily accomplished) that it represents truth.

But we all know a narrative is just that – a story we tell ourselves. Oh, it may contain tiny morsels of truth – who knows? Still, to proceed from such facts to the conclusion that we’re deserving only of self-beatings constitutes a significant thought error.

We chat this cognitive dynamic frequently here on Chipur. And it goes beyond self-loathing to depression, anxiety, and then some.

That’s it from Dr. Alex Lickerman’s side of the fence. But before we close I want to present an interesting point-of-view from Mark D. White, PhD. He blogs at Maybe It’s Just Me, But…

White, a philosophy professor, brings to the table a tenet of ancient Greek ethics – the unity of the virtues. I’ll let him explain…

The unity of the virtues is the claim that possessing one positive character trait necessarily implies possessing all of them. According to this position…one cannot be truly honest, for example, without also being kind, courageous, and so forth. In other words, there is something essential to being a virtuous person which underlies having the individual virtues. And without that one central, basic thing, you can’t be truly virtuous in any specific ways.

A bunch to swallow, but do you get it?

So consider the following within the context of self-loathing being a denial of one’s virtues. A self-loather considers her/himself a “bad person,” unworthy of concern or love, presumably because the virtues – the good character or personality traits that would justify concern and love – are missing. Yes, if one feels s/he lacks any redeeming qualities at all, s/he is very likely to self-loathe, according to White, “utterly and completely.”

That’ll Do It

Whether it manifests in feelings like “I want to kill myself” and/or anorexia, cutting , depression, and more – self-loathing is a dark “living” hell. I’ve brought forth what I believe are relevant and meaningful points-of-view; however, if you’re in the midst – or close to someone who is – I challenge you to do your due diligence in learning more.

You had to know I’d say this – knowledge is always, always power (and the precursor of relief and healing – even for self-loathing).

Oh, almost forgot! What to do about self-loathing? Comin’ atcha’ next time… 

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I’m inviting you to eyeball some 600 Chipur titles. It’s good for ya’…

  • Lisa Frederiksen | BreakingThe March 10, 2014, 4:31 pm

    Interesting, Bill… as one who was anorexic for a year and then bulimic for eleven years from ages 16-28… I’m not sure that I was aware it was self-loathing, rather in hindsight, I’d say it was more of a lack of any presumption of self that drove a behavior (anorexia/then bulimia) in order to momentarily slam as many mind doors shut on the swirling thoughts and crazy feelings that simmered around life with a loved one who drank too much, loved ones who reacted to that loved one in a myriad of what I now understand as unhealthy ways, being a teen and what all comes with that…. I’ll have to ponder this one. I certainly loathed the bulimia and myself for not being able to “just stop,” but I’m not sure that I even had enough sense of self (like, who was Lisa, really) to loath Lisa…. in fact, finding Lisa was a big part of my recovery from secondhand drinking which didn’t start until I was 50…. crazy times, to be sure… thanks for another great article!!

    • chipur March 10, 2014, 7:24 pm

      Hey, Lisa! Sure appreciate your stopping-by and commenting – in such great detail. You’re always so good about that, and it really helps others who check-in.

      You know, you make an excellent point. And, though it may have come off that way, I don’t believe – in all cases – someone participating in eating disorder behaviors is a self-loather. Actually, not my call. Your description of the drivers of your behaviors is more than a worthy explanation to me. The reality is, it was your particular reality – and your perception of its foundation is what it is. Bottom-line here is you found Lisa. Like you, I “found” Bill just about at the same age your discovery took place. How wonderful we pulled it off before heading off into the sunset (which doesn’t much interest me anyway). Don’t know about you, but I’m excited about what lies ahead. Plenty of lost time to make up for.

      Thanks, Lisa, for your ongoing visits and support. Means a lot…

    • Lisa Frederiksen | BreakingThe March 10, 2014, 8:40 pm

      I so agree Bill – each of us processes this “stuff” differently and like you are thrilled to have found Bill, I’m so grateful I finally found Lisa, which is, as you said, the bottom line. And, hey! – we’ve got half our lives (OK, so 4 decades) left to go as the “real” us — woo hoo!!!

      • chipur March 10, 2014, 9:00 pm

        Very good and sweet, Lisa. That’s for sure…

  • Beth Wilson March 13, 2014, 10:09 am

    I’m thrilled to have found both Lisa and Bill! Couldn’t resist a teensy bit of levity toward a very heavy, although necessary topic. Lots to chew on and contemplate. As usual, Bill, you cut straight to the heart of the matter, which for me, is about arming oneself with knowledge that plots a plan of solution. And maybe that plan is as simple as trusting someone else to serve as a proxy to search on my behalf if I’m unable to. Self-loathing has taken me to such depths of darkness that there was no way I could anything but reach out to My Person (who lived 800 miles away at that time) but she was there in a heartbeat. I could breathe again as she gathered the knowledge that ultimately put me on a healing path. Thank God for the compassionate people who love us unconditionally.

    • chipur March 13, 2014, 5:37 pm

      Hey, Beth. Glad you stopped-on-by. Heck, always lots to “chew on and contemplate” here. Right? Must admit, though, this one got a bit wordy. But, as a blogger, you know sometimes there’s no cuttin’ – ya’ just gotta’ go with what you believe is necessary. It’s so good you had “My Person” to reach-out to. And even better she was so immediately available. Sure you know, that isn’t always the case for many. Here’s to healing, Beth. And thank you for happening by and contributing. The more input we have here, the more helpful we can be…

  • Cathy | Treatment Talk March 13, 2014, 11:01 am

    Good topic here, Bill. I’m do not feel that I was ever a complete self-loather. I had the fortunate experience of growing up with loving parents who did their best to support me. But I’ve certainly had self esteem issues in a more mild sense and can understand the pain a person may feel if they are self-loathing. Thanks for sharing this great article, because it is important for those that know others who are suffering to learn as much as they can.

    • chipur March 13, 2014, 5:40 pm

      More than welcome, Cathy. Glad you paid a visit and commented. And, yes, learning is so essential for those who suffer. (‘Course implementation and action helps the cause, as well)…

  • Dr. Herby Bell March 15, 2014, 9:09 am

    Go figure, but you’re inviting me into my theory of everything. Again. And I love when you do it–wait, I do it–because it’s well..virtuous. I can’t help but think it’s ALL true. Being born with a pre-disposition–perhaps being born after swimming in a cortisol soaked amniotic fluid bubble as extensions of Mom/Dad’s angst, (both of whom had the same experience)? Not attuning early on? Deva-effing-stating.

    But you are the Beacon of Light, Bill White. You write, “Look here” and I respond, “Oh, THAT’S why!!” and then we get on with rewriting the software or perhaps just recalibrating to factory settings. Bam. As the beautiful Buddhists remind me, there’s nothing else to do. Looking forward to next time.

    • chipur March 15, 2014, 11:18 am

      Ah, and you are, indeed, a virtuous man, Herby. And you have excellent taste when it comes to blogs.

      You’re wise to note pre-birth events – that cortisol soaked amniotic fluid you mention, as well as heredibility. And then, of course, is growing up under the influence of the fluid and genetic contributors. Yikes! So many factors contributing to self- loathing. But that’s all well and good. What to do about it? Coming in a couple of days.

      Always enjoy your visits, Herby. Please come back…


  • Jody Lamb March 16, 2014, 5:55 pm

    Wow, thanks for the insight on what’s a dark, living hell for so, so many. “Folks who dislike themselves may acknowledge they have positive attributes; however, any sort of emotional pat-on-the-back doesn’t occur.” I haven’t been close to those with anorexia or bulimia but I’ve known many who exhibit self-loathing tendencies. Excellent skills/talents/gifts are, in their eyes, mediocre at best.

    • chipur March 16, 2014, 6:24 pm

      Thanks for the visit and comment, Jody. Will be posting the follow-up piece in a couple of hours. Come on back, k?