(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.