Maybe It's Just Me, But...

Musings of a mildly mad multi-disciplinarian

Self-Loathing and Relationships: Believe in Others Who Believe in You

Can the self-loathing trust that others love them?

In previous posts I've detailed the problems that the self-loathing encounter in relationships, as well as the struggles their partners face.* While I tried to give some advice to their partners, I have never dedicated a post to trying to help the self-loathers themselves. If the self-loathing person does not deal with his or her problem, it will be part of the background to any relationship that person has. If you are such a person, is there anything you can do to sustain a relationship?

This post was prompted by Ashley, one of my regular commenters, who wrote in response to a recent post:

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...it would seem that a "self-loathing" person is likely not going to be in relationships very long given it would be an unsustainable situation for both parties involved. What does it take for a self-loathing person to stop self-sabotaging? At one point, he/she would have to take a look at themselves—and even if they don't like what they see, at least pretend they do so that they are in suspended disbelief until they buy into the realization they are what they believe they are.

How can you sustain a relationship in which you do not feel good enough or right for your partner? The answer is simple yet difficult to implement: you must have faith that your partner knows his or her own interests and has made a choice that promotes them. You must believe that your partner sees something in you that you don't see in yourself.

Your partner may feel that you have no faith in him or her, asking, "Don't you believe that I think you're good enough for me?" Your partner realizes that you don't believe in yourself, but needs you to trust that he or she does. If you don't, this says as much as about how you see your partner as it does about how you see yourself. You're entitled to your own opinion, of course, but so is your partner, and his or her opinion deserves as much as respect as your own.

Maybe you do believe your partner values you, but just that you don't feel worthy of it. You feel that you know yourself much better than your partner does, and that it's "only a matter of time" before he or she discovers "the truth" about you. (If you do think like this, ask yourself: what gave your partner the idea that you were so fantastic to begin with? Did you just "appear" to be kind, charming, smart and attractive, or could some of that actually be true? Hmm...) You don't have to believe you're worthy, but you have to trust that your partner thinks you are, and that he or she can make the best choices for him- or herself. As I've discussed before, your care for your partner—wanting to "save" him or her from what you see as the burden of being with you—conflicts with the respect that you owe to him or her to make the right decision, even if you think that decision is misguided.

As a self-loathing person, how can you maintain this trust or faith in light of your fundamental feelings of inadequacy? One way is by remembering why your partner is so special to you: all the qualities about him or her that you admire, one of which is likely good judgment. Do you have any reason to doubt your partner's ability to make good choices—other than your opinion of the choice to be with you? Everyone makes bad choices from time to time, of course, but why do you always think the bad ones involve you? Keep in mind that others do not see you the same way you see yourself, and even if you don't choose to see yourself the way others do, don't assume they are "wrong," but just that you disagree—and trust that their opinions of you are made in good faith.

Along with having faith in your partner's feelings for you, you also need to remember that his or her feelings are not as unstable or fleeting as you may think. As I discussed earlier, the self-loathing share with depressives a tendency toward negative and extreme thinking: not only do they take everything the wrong way, but they inflate its importance of relatively minor things. For example, if your partner seems less communicative one day, you may interpret it as 1) you've done something wrong, and 2) this is the final straw and he or she will leave you soon. But just because your partner is less talkative one day doesn't mean you did anything wrong—it's not always about you.

And even if you did do something wrong—as we all do at times in our relationships—you should put yourself in your partner's shoes, and ask yourself if you would be so quick to break off the relationship if he or she did something wrong? If not, why do you think your partner's affections are less firm than yours? One explanation is that you think his or her feelings have been corroded by a series of mistakes on your part, but this leads us back to the first point: you're likely not making as many mistakes as you think. Nobody's perfect, and we should all understand that—just as you forgive your partner for the little things he or she does wrong, your partner forgives you for the same, and probably does not tally them up, waiting for the one dirty sock on the floor that leads to desertion and revelation of your "true nature."

To sum up, the self-loathing do not find it easy to see themselves in a positive light, but if their relationships are to survive, they have to trust that their partners do. This may not change the way the self-loathing regard themselves—which ideally will come from within—but it is essential to both letting others love them and allowing themselves to be comfortable with being loved.

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* It has been mentioned to me that I have never written about the benefits of being with a self-loather. Having never been on that side of things, though, I'm not sure I'm well suited to speak on that!

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You can follow me on Twitter and also at the following blogs: Economics and Ethics, The Comics Professor, and my homepage/blog.

Mark D. White is the chair of the Department of Philosophy at the College of Staten Island/CUNY.

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