Self-loathing is one of the most difficult disorders resulting from childhood abuse to heal. Self-loathing constantly feeds itself, which makes it tricky to get a handle on. Its roots are very deep in the psyche, as it often is created well before the conscious self was formed, making it pervasive.
Imitation is our first way of learning. From a very young age children read their caretakers emotions and learn what gets a response. Usually a smile or laugh from one elicits the same from the other. If negative responses are all the child receives, which can be the case in an abusive household, the results are confusing. The child’s psyche struggles to find a positive result, and a large number of rejected responses can form the roots of self-loathing.
The abuse I received from my family taught me that I was not worth anything, that anything I did to please them was wrong, that my very existence was flawed, and that I did not deserve to be loved. Through my family’s actions, I learned not to trust any signs of love, as it could be followed by hatred or rage. I internalized this self-hatred within the deepest part of my being and it became part of my psyche, which is very hard to grow up with.
What is worse is that anytime I failed in life, anytime I was criticized, anytime I was rejected, it became a proof that I was worthless, and it hurt…very deep. This is how self-loathing feeds itself. So any success was quickly discounted. Success was fleeting, and failure was constant.
By the time I was school age, I was an emotionally crippled abused child with thick glasses. This made me a target for persistent bullying in school and the torment and rejection of my peers poured gasoline on the fires my self-loathing. I felt completely worthless and totally rejected from both my family and from society.
However this was normal for me. It was all I knew. I could not understand the happiness of others; I thought happiness was false; I thought that life was torturous for everyone. No matter how hard I tried to fit in or to imitate the “fake” happiness of others, I could not. So I thought I had even failed at being fake.
I did not learn social norms as a child, and my awkwardness with them further alienated me. To survive emotionally, I subconsciously learned to compensate through adopting unusual behaviours. One method was to isolate myself to avoid interactions that would potentially make me feel bad about myself. Another was to consider myself special.
I knew I was different from those around me, and as early as Grade 4, I realized I could entrance people with my voice. As written in earlier blogs, my eyes gave me more than one sight, my abilities to sense emotions in others gave me another type of vision. Combined with my growing intellect, these abilities formed the basis for my psyche to equate “different” with “special.” This then grew to an unconscious attitude that I was better than those that criticized or ostracized me. This was an important psychological system as it allowed me to grow; it was what kept me alive.
However, my “special” self and my self-loathing were in separate places in my psyche, and no mater how hard I tried they never combined until years later in therapy.
My self-loathing trapped me in a feedback loop. No matter what I did it somehow fueled these feelings. When I achieved something, I still felt “not good enough.” I could always find fault with it. I therefore became a perfectionist to try to control everything and everyone around me so it would not fuel my self-loathing. Yet, I also became very self destructive, in relationships and in life. Suicide was never far from my mind. I also had to deal with a very deep rage, which could be triggered the moment anyone stimulated my self-loathing with a single word or glance.
As I grew older, even though my self-loathing was creating an increasing amount of emotional pain, my “special” self increasingly compensated, fueled by my survival instincts. I would use my extended listening abilities to feed myself with the beauty of birdsong or raindrops to keep me alive. I expanded my “special” skills, reading voraciously, extending my senses, and watching people from the inside and out.
I eventually found a balance between my self-loathing and my “special’ self. I tried to spend as much time in the latter but the former never left me.
Finally, with an amazing therapist, I found relief from my self-loathing. He helped me to integrate the separate parts of my psyche to make it whole. First he helped me build a psychological safe place that only good feelings could enter and this isolated me from my self-loathing. Second he showed me how to break the feedback loop of self-loathing. He then helped me feel my accomplishments and not judge, diminish or discard them. Third he helped my re-parent. By emotionally divorcing my parents, I made new emotional parents who were composites of powerful, supportive, loving people/icons. I placed them in every memory of my life.
Over the years I have been gradually getting better. However, this is an ongoing process and even though I am now in my sixties there are still times I find another pocket of self-loathing. I have realized as well that my self-loathing was a habit, or an automatic system of behaviour. I had to realize that I could just accept a failure as a learning opportunity and move on without going into the pits of despair.
I am also now dismantling the false images of myself and the self-aggrandizing of my “special” self. I have to be honest and objective as to what are my actual accomplishments and what are constructs of my former damaged self. Some of these constructs have been with me a very long time so to dismantle them requires to remove a chunk of my psyche and to replace it with something new. This is like ripping out the walls to replace everything but the roof, and then once done you realize that you need to do sections again as the foundation was also rotten in places.
This is a lot of work, difficult work. In the meantime, it is rewarding. I find my relationship with my family and friends are getting better, and I feel emotionally cleaner. I still have work to do, and I am doing it.
To those that have remained my friends through all my struggles I thank you and honour you for being the wonderfully understanding beings that you are. Your understanding and friendship has been a big part of my survival.