Stuck

Why we can't (or won't) move on from bad jobs, bad relationships, and bad habits, and how we can all move ahead.

Mothers, Don't Let Your Children See You Hating Yourself

Our own self-loathing affects those around us.

The day Mom asked me to slit her throat, I knew Mother's Day had a different meaning for people like us than it does for most.

For people like us, it isn't about flowers and breakfast in bed but about the relentless, I-don't-deserve-holidays-because-I-deserve-nothing grind that is life with self-loathing. And ironic as it might sound in this Era of the Selfie, it afflicts many of the nicest people you know, including those who appear to have everything. For those who avoid mirrors, much less cameras, getting out of bed, getting dressed, and getting out the door is a daily ordeal. For them -- as it was for me and Mom for most of our lives -- every conversation with anyone spurs scorching regret.

That's how it feels to be in an abusive relationship -- with yourself. I know, and want to liberate from that hell those who suffer as Mom and I did. If I could only make them see self-loathing as a trick, a wicked spell imposed upon them, cult-like, born of loyalty to someone else or a society of someone elses who lied to them about the world and themselves: If I could save just someone, anyone, from living with self-loathing for 84 years, until the very end, as Mom did -- and no, I did not do as she asked. 

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She didn't ask me to slit it so much as tell me, in the same hey-why-not hopeful tone you'd use when telling a gardener who was mowing your lawn to mow the back lawn too. I was trimming her hair at the time with sharp scissors.

And, I mean, what else could possibly come to mind at times like that?

The fact that I was not surprised, scissors in hand, is one reason I wrote my book, Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself, which comes out this week: because a lot more people hate themselves than we will ever know or they themselves will ever even know. What a waste, all this pointless and reasonless self-loathing -- sad because it is pointless and reasonless, and sad because it's so secretly common. Wasteful because of all the great things -- laughter, love, ending world hunger -- that self-loathing distracts us from experiencing and accomplishing. 

What would you do today if you didn't despise yourself?

People who hate themselves tend not to see self-loathing as their core problem, or even see their own self-loathing at all, because their self-loathing manifests as depression, anxiety, social phobia, eating disorders, and more. But deep down, sprouting all those dark blooms and poisonous fruits, is this one seed.

Our first task is recognizing that self-loathing is an issue for us, that it's our issue, that it blocks our view of life itself. It's not a disease but a state of mind, a bad habit, a choice we do not realize is a choice, a brainwash based on scripts we memorized by accident or under pressure long ago and which we can un-learn once we re-orient our reality filters. Did you murder anyone today, or even rob someone at gunpoint? No? Then see? You're not so horrible.

Mothers, don't ask of your children what mine asked of me.

Instead, confront your inner critics. Tell them: I know who you are and what you are and what you want, and I will trace my time-lines back to discern when you started saying what you say and why, because the one sure thing is that you lie. I know you're stuck on repeat, but I know you are not me.

You. Are. Not. Me.

Who is me I'm not sure, because you've tried so hard to drown him or her out. Somewhere in there under the merciless perfectionism, quitter-ism, fear and fakery and negativity -- somewhere in there is someone decent, someone arguably innocent, my real self whom I never need to love but definitely do not need to hate because that is not worth my time. Self-loathing is another kind of narcissism. The self-loathing never snap smoochy-faced selfies, but instead spin nonstop mental mugshots matching their countless imaginary crimes. We owe it to the world to spend less time thinking about ourselves. Think about something else, anything else.

You could call that compassion. You could even call it tolerance, which feels like a brilliant, basking-in-sunshine, silky state of grace compared to what Mom said. Happy day-after-Mother's-Day. Now start breaking that spell.

 

Anneli Rufus is the author of many books, including Party of One: The Loners' Manifesto and Stuck: Why We Can't (or Won't) Move On.

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