Self-hatred is a toxic weed polluting the happiness and well being of most of society today. This foul odor is so pervasive among us all that we can no longer even smell it. It has almost become a virtue. The worse aspect of self-hatred is that it lurks within our hearts undetected. This hidden traitor proceeds to undermining confidence, corrodes authentic expression and turns us against others and worse of all ourselves.
So, If the enemy is within, how do we see it for what it is?
Think about it this way; if we cannot accept ourselves then how can we be happy or make others happy? I have stoked the hellish fires of self-hatred for many years, believing I was being humble and self-less. It is only in the last few years that I have started to see this method of “self improvement” for what it is, self sabotage.
I passionately believe that the expression of my authentic self gives real meaning to my life.
I passionately believe that the expression of my authentic self gives real meaning to my life. If I can not be myself and express that unique flame of consciousness to the world, then what is the point of me existing? Over the last few years, I have seen that one of the greatest hindrances to me being authentic, is self-hatred.
So where does self-hatred start?
If you observe a child in a moment of pure self-expression- they may be dancing and singing for example- you will see a human in true flow. I believe this is a perfect moment, where we are reveling the flame of true self to the world. Now, the way this offering is received in that pure moment, determines how that child will view themselves. If, for example, what they offer is celebrated for what it is, they will grow in self-acceptance and confidence, but on the other hand if they are either shut down with shame or the act is turned into some functional performance then the seeds of self-hatred will be planted.
I’ll explain both responses here with an example. Say a child is dancing and singing in a genuine expression of themselves, I don’t mean some attention getting strategy, but the pure moment of authentic expression. If we are in a performance orientated mind space – busy and over whelmed – we may shut them down with shame. From our perspective they are being noisy, and annoying, they are hindering our ability to achieve some “personal happiness project” so we shut them down.
The child is then shocked that their self-expression was rejected and in turn reject that part of themselves as unacceptable. When we see part of ourselves as unacceptable because of a shame experience, we cut that part of ourselves off. We push it into the subconscious mind and that aspect of our consciousness is placed in exile. This is the beginning of self-hatred. That aspect of our consciousness doesn’t die though, it remains deep in our subconscious minds, weeping and crying out to be released. This leads to the formation of the shadow self.
The second way we can form the seeds of self-hatred is to have our authentic self-expression subverted into a pragmatic “work”. Lets say the same child is again dancing and singing but this time the others praise the act alone. Maybe the child has talent in that area and the parents see this as a reason to give affirmation to the child. We may say, “wow you are such a great dancer you make mummy so proud.” Now the pouring out of pure authentic expression is subverted. The child may translate this praise into the idea that they are not fundamentally acceptable unless performing well. Now they start to dance to gain acceptance and not as an authentic expression of self.
Next time they dance, maybe to show dad, they have lost something of the purity of that moment. Now the dance is transactional; “if I dance well, then I’ll be acceptable”. This a subtler form of self-rejection, I am only good when I perform well.
So how do we heal this fragmented, shadow self?
Of course, this is a huge topic and I can’t hope to cover it well, but in short, I think the practice of radical self-acceptance is the path to healing. Because much of the shadow self is made unconscious through self-rejection, we need to learn to hear the “muted banging on the walls of the shadow self, locked in the basement” and welcome it back into our conscious self.
Denial is a very common coping mechanism for the wounded soul. We deal with the pain of self-hatred and the shadow self by denying it even exists. This results in; over reactions, physical illness, an inability to connect to others and sadness. We feel an emptiness where the parts of ourselves we have rejected should be. The road to self-acceptance is to start to sit with and accept how we are really feeling in the moment.
This is hard for most of us because we hate to feel bad, so we deny and stuff down these unwanted emotions. These emotions are trying to tell us something though and they won’t just give up! This is an invitation from the lost shadow self to reintegrate. Sit with that bad feeling and fully accept it, be fully present with it. While doing this breath regularly to stay present in your body. After a while ask the feeling when did I feel this last? Then allow what ever is offered to surface. Look for clues to self-rejection, try to name the feeling with as much detail as possible. Then ask yourself when did I feel this the first time? It maybe a very old emotion, don’t try to force it, let the intuitive aspects of your consciousness offer the memory up. Then look for evidence of self-rejection.
A personal example of this from just last week is as follows. I was driving to work and became aware of a feeling of anxiety. Instead of just suppressing this unpleasant feeling, I sat with it fully and allowed it to just be. This act alone can start to heal the shadow self. After a few moments, I asked it to tell me when I last felt that emotion. The memory of an interaction with a student surfaced. They had been very rude and made me feel useless and shamed. I then asked when I first felt that feeling and I recalled feeling it as a high school student being bullied and shamed.
I then looked for signs of self-rejection and realised that part of my shadow self, was distrustful of my ability to protect it from being shamed. I realised that, due to my passive nature and fear of conflict I had abandoned the more sensitive emotional self by firstly, not defending myself and secondly by pushing down my emotional responses. There was a real sense that I had stopped protecting the more sensitive and relational aspects of my nature and has lost trust in myself. I realised this had led to a pattern of emotional cut off, I had stopped being as available to others emotionally and this made me hard to really connect with in a deeper way.
This shadow work is tough but essential to reintegration and healing of the shadow self. If you want to stop hating yourself, you will need to practice the art of self-acceptance. I believe that authenticity is a must for anyone interested in personal development, to be truly authentic there cannot be self-hatred. Self-acceptance is a must if we want to be whole, happy and connected. I hope this article has helped you take one more step in the journey towards true self-acceptance.