Alienation From Self, Fear, Hate, Quality of Life, Self, Self Image, Society

Can it be Wise to Hate Ourselves?

(About a 4 minute read)

I was wondering yesterday whether many of us ever look into the question of whether it is wise to hate ourselves.  What prompted me to think about that subject was a young man with whom I am only acquainted well enough to know he idealizes self-hatred.

He is, of course, much more on the dysfunctional side — rather than the functional side — of life in so many ways it would take more than one blog post to list all the ways in which the poor man is unable to handle living.  Fortunately, he now lives in a shelter for people like him run by the Catholic Church.  But, as I said, he idealizes self-hatred, seeing it as a kind of spiritual path to God.

Now, I do not want to argue the merits of his “path”, if that’s what it is, but rather ask whether aside from that, can self-hatred be wise?  And the only reason I can think of this morning why someone might believe it wise is if they see it as motivational.

That is, someone might argue that self-hatred can be something that prompts us to change some undesirable aspect of ourselves.

To take an extreme example, suppose a serial rapist merely disliked — but did not actually hate — himself for his crimes.  Would a mere dislike be enough of a motive for him to change his ways when compared to a strong self-hatred?  I think many of us would say a strong self-hatred is obviously superior to a mere dislike as a motivator, and hence a more effective means of getting the desired results.

It is tempting to agree with that view.  Part of the lure is that we seem to reflexively think the more emotionally involved in something we are, the more motivated we are to do something about it.  But — however true or not that might be — is that actually relevant here?

I think self-hatred can be a deceptive motivation.

Deceptive, because it tends to lead us to approach an issue in a manner or way that is often enough fruitless.  Take another example:  We hate our nose.  The shape is all wrong.  We think it makes us ugly and undesirable.  Almost naturally, this leads us to at least think of plastic surgery.

A very straight-forward line of reasoning, that.  But is plastic surgery the optimal solution for us?  Perhaps for some of us, but given the expense and risks involved many of us might not think so.  What then happens to our self-hatred?  Does it just evaporate, go away, or does it linger only to fester and reduce or even crush our self-confidence?

I have so often in my life heard someone say,  “I used to hate myself for this or that thing, but then I learned to just accept it and move on — and I am so much the better for doing so” — I have heard that so often I now suspect it should be the very first option anyone thinks of, before they even begin to consider other options.

In line with that, we might ask ourselves precisely why we hate this or that aspect of us?  I’ll wager that for many — perhaps even for most of us — the answer will boil down in the end to “other people”.

That is, we hate something about us because we fear what others might think of us due to it.  That only seems natural — we are, after all, social animals.  Yet, is it wise to give into such fears?  Do they not breed endless fear after fear when you do — just as if it becomes a habit to hate ourselves from fear of what others might think?  We start with a nose, but once that problem is solved by, say, plastic surgery, we now find our legs are too ugly, and after that our fashion sense might be too dated, and so on.

In the end, we have completely remade ourselves — but in someone else’s image!

Wisdom is often said to be a notoriously difficult thing to define, but I think a rough definition might be found in, “Knowing what to do (or not do) in order to effectively and expediently bring about a desired result”.  If that’s so, then shouldn’t we first seek to accept ourselves as we are, rather than first seek to change ourselves?  Would not that — if it works — be the wisest option (in most, but certainly not all, cases)?

Yet, if that’s wisdom, then what role can self-hatred have in it?  Are not self-hatred and self-acceptance at odds with each other?

Please Note:  Paul Braterman has left a short critique of the ideas in this post that is a virtual must read for anyone interested in those ideas.  It can be found by scrolling down through the comments, or by clicking here.

6 thoughts on “Can it be Wise to Hate Ourselves?”

  1. I think you present a false binary. Between self-hatred and self-acceptance lies self-improvement, which is as I understand it the central tenet of some moral philosophies

    1. It’s good to see you, Paul. I was hoping you’d drop by since you consistently leave valuable comments, and I see this time is no exception. Just to make sure I understand you, are you suggesting that self-improvement should be the primary goal — the first thing tried — rather than say, self-acceptance? I mean in most cases, albeit not in all.

      1. Basically yes. Here I am strongly influenced by modern Stoicism, regarding which I strongly recommend Massimo Pigliucci’s blog. According to this, moral behaviour is the pursuit of virtue, and virtue is an amalgam of justice, practical wisdom, courage, and temperance.

        But even here, there is sometimes a case for self-acceptance. Within the Stoic position, which requires distinguishing between what is, and what is not, within one’s range of control. If I know I get angry easily, self-hatred would only make things worse, while self-acceptance would condone my unacceptable behaviour. The virtuous thing here is to seek ways of improving my self-control.

        On the other hand, if I know that once I start drinking I won’t know when to stop, it is more sensible never to start, than to attempt the uncertain endeavour of trying to turn myself into someone who does know when to stop. Here self acceptance is called for, together with an acceptance of the implications.

        And there are cases where wisdom requires a mixture of both. I will never write anything as good as some material I have read. I need to accept that, while improving my writing as best I can.

        Self-hatred, which I have felt, is never helpful. Finding the right balance between self acceptance and self-improvement involves temperance (avoiding the temptation of extremes), courage (for honest self-examination), and, of course, wisdom.

        I’m sorry for sounding preachy, but that’s the position I aspire to.

      2. Paul, that’s not preachy at all. Instead, you’ve written a better post for me on this subject than I myself wrote. Thank you so much for that! Consider your salary from me doubled!

        EDIT: Paul, just for your information, I have edited my post to refer people to your above comment. Again, thank you so much!

        By the way, something I’m trying to work on is getting the preachy out of my posts. The more I delve into it, though, the more I have come to realize that some measure of preachiness seems all but built into the English language. Very frustrating! 😀

  2. Someone enthusiastically engaged in self hatred would, I think, be not only depressing to be around, but tiresome as well since self hatred would necessarily make one very self centered ( and I find self centered-ness very boring).

  3. I could not agree with you more, Carla. Spot on! The man I’m acquainted with who idealizes self hatred is nothing but one of the dullest people I’ve met in years. But the poor guy — I don’t know if it’s his fault. He has so very many problems.

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