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On Hating Yourself, And All Of Your Selves

[Content note: depression]

The self, as everyone learns in an introductory psychology class, is not a stable or definable entity. “Self” is not a biography or a fashion style or a set of identity labels–it is something more contextual, more situational, more fluid than that. Selves shift depending on who we’re with and what we’re doing and how our bodies feel at the moment and too many other variables to list, and anyone who decries the supposed “fakeness” of being a different person in different situations or with different people fails to realize that we’re all made up of multiple selves, and it’s not always obvious which (if any) are more “authentic.”

What, then, does it mean to hate yourself? If your self is multifaceted and constantly shifting, hating it is like trying to hold water in your hands.

Yet many people with depression or other mental illnesses will tell you authoritatively that they “hate themselves,” and, at least for me, that expression stems from a deep-seeded emotion that I can’t identify in any other way. It’s not a basic emotion like sadness or anger, but neither is it a concrete, System 2-type of thought, such as, “I am dissatisfied with my current approach to dating and relationships.”

All I know is that I feel the thing and I think that I hate myself, all of myself, the parts that come alive when I’m out in the city alone and the parts that only a few of my partners see and the parts that manage to think my way out of this and the parts that were brave enough to leave everything I knew to move here and the parts that make it possible for me to sit and listen to someone for an hour and the parts that are writing this now.

It doesn’t make sense to hate even the selves that I’m most proud of, but I do it anyway. At that moment I don’t want to pick and choose. At that moment I would happily surrender my entire self in order to receive a new one from some cosmic lottery. At that moment I’m convinced that if that lottery created a new me at random, reset all the sliders and let the chips fall where they may, that would still lead to a more optimal result than the one I’m stuck with now.

I’m convinced that it’s such a terrible hand that I hold that I’d rather discard it, reshuffle the deck, and draw anew, than keep playing with the cards I was dealt.

In reality, this is not a good model for personality or self or character or whatever it is that I hate so much. Selves can be improved; that’s the entire reason we have the whole genre known as “self-improvement,” as useless as many of these offerings are. And my selves were not the product of an unlucky draw, either. They are quite predictable results of my genetics, upbringing, environment(s), experiences, and so on. I’m sure that only a small portion of it is really random. While that doesn’t necessarily make me like the results any more, it does mean that they aren’t meaningless.

And on good days I have plenty of evidence that this self-hatred isn’t rational–that is, it doesn’t follow from the premises. One example is the way that I’ve managed to keep steadily hating myself even as I’ve changed dramatically over the last few years. Self-hatred, along with a few other things like love of writing, has remained a constant in my life when little else has. I remember bursting into tears on the band bus my sophomore year of high school and trying to explain to my first boyfriend that I couldn’t be happy when I hated myself so much. And now, eight years later, I have (for whatever reason) this blog and these readers and all these friends who are listening to me repeat the same tired fucking bullshit that I’ve been telling anyone who would listen since before any of these people even knew who I was. I am, more often than I care to admit, still the broken girl trying to communicate the uncommunicable to someone who had no idea what on earth I was on about.

I used to hate myself for being romantic and preoccupied with relationships. Now I hate myself for being cynical (on a good day I call it “realistic”) and apathetic about the whole thing while everyone around me starts serious relationships and moves in with partners and gets engaged.

I used to hate myself for depending on people just to get through the day without breakdowns. Now I hate myself for being unwilling to ask for the smallest bit of help from anyone outside my immediate family.

I used to hate myself for being weird and nerdy and obsessed with science and technology. Now I hate myself for being not weird enough and not nerdy enough and obsessed with the social sciences, except not in the right “scientific” way like all my friends are where you post articles about statistics and meta analyses and replication. (I’m interested in these things too, yes, but I hate myself for not being interested enough in them.)

I used to hate myself for being passive and never speaking up when people hurt me. Now I hate myself for the meticulous boundary-setting I do on an almost-daily basis.

I used to hate myself for caring so much about things like grades and achievement and being the best. Now I hate myself because I can’t be arsed to care.

I used to hate myself for being so pathetically and childishly insistent on telling my parents everything. Now I hate myself for the way I can’t bring myself to even tell them that I’m getting paid to write now, or that I spoke at a conference, or that I’m dating someone new.

Unless I’m just programmed to hate everything, this doesn’t make sense. Rather, it seems that I hate everything that I label as “myself,” no matter what values that self actually takes on.

And maybe everything I just wrote is wrong because I’ve never really hated myself “for” things; I just hated (and still hate) myself indiscriminately. I could accomplish all of my goals tomorrow and I would still hate myself. I could resolve all the unresolved conflicts in my life and I’d still hate myself. I could conquer all the demons and banish all the ghosts and open all the doors and insert more cliches here and I’d still hate myself, because it has nothing to do with who I actually am or what I actually do.

Maybe that sounds depressing and pessimistic, but to a depressed person–or this depressed person, at least–it’s actually incredibly freeing. There is no reason for the self-hatred, or whatever the proper term for that darkness is. I didn’t do anything to deserve it. It is, for whatever genetic or circumstantial reason, just my darkness to live in. For now.

Comments

  1. says

    Yep, this. For me, there’s parts that are The Sad One, The Dark Lord, The Gaping Nothingness, The Wraith (which is where the self-antagonism originates, it’s how I’ve personified all the horrificly awful thing my jerk-brain says about me)

    But yeah, point being, the depression-related parts of jerkbrain are parts of me, too. Which is lame. I often feel like I “miss the real me” which is the happy silly bouncy part.

  2. says

    I came to like myself, but it was a long hard way (finding out that I have thyroid problems and getting adequate medication sure helped on the way).
    One thing about hating myself was that I was also totally convinced that everybody else hated me, too and nothing they could say would cinvince me of the opposite. In my mind, they were just politly lying to the crazy person in order not to upset her.
    While I paid genuine compliments to other people, gave genuine consolation and encouragement, I still thought that everybody else was lying. Which isn’t a nice way to think about other people either.
    I also usued totally different standards to judge other people than I used to judge myself, which goes along with your observation that it is not actually about the things you do.
    I would see grandparents bringing their grandchildren to kindergarten and I would think no ill about their mothers, I would think good things about the family: kick-ass women who had jobs and kids and supportive families who also enjoyed spending time with the kids.
    When I myself needed to rely on my in-laws to pick up the kids the world would fall into pieces: I could not do all the tasks that were mine, I was exploiting my poor in-laws, I was the worst failure in the world…

  3. AMM says

    OMG, this is how I feel a lot of the time. At least, when I don’t manage to keep myself busy enough not to be able to think of it.

    On another site, I wrote that I feel like I’m Grawp (Hagrid’s half-brother) — big, ugly, clumsy, (unintentionally) destructive, lousy both at communicating and social interactions, etc., but not oafish enough to fit in with the real giants. It’s another way of hating myself.

  4. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    And maybe everything I just wrote is wrong because I’ve never really hated myself “for” things; I just hated (and still hate) myself indiscriminately. I could accomplish all of my goals tomorrow and I would still hate myself. I could resolve all the unresolved conflicts in my life and I’d still hate myself. I could conquer all the demons and banish all the ghosts and open all the doors and insert more cliches here and I’d still hate myself, because it has nothing to do with who I actually am or what I actually do.

    Maybe that sounds depressing and pessimistic, but to a depressed person–or this depressed person, at least–it’s actually incredibly freeing. There is no reason for the self-hatred, or whatever the proper term for that darkness is. I didn’t do anything to deserve it. It is, for whatever genetic or circumstantial reason, just my darkness to live in. For now.

    That actually makes perfect sense. I had, in bits and pieces, a similar liberating realization about the external bullies I faced as a child and teenager. Why would a jerkbrain be any different? x.x

  5. anthonyallen says

    And maybe everything I just wrote is wrong because I’ve never really hated myself “for” things; I just hated (and still hate) myself indiscriminately. I could accomplish all of my goals tomorrow and I would still hate myself. I could resolve all the unresolved conflicts in my life and I’d still hate myself. I could conquer all the demons and banish all the ghosts and open all the doors and insert more cliches here and I’d still hate myself, because it has nothing to do with who I actually am or what I actually do.

    I have often wondered what the hell is up with that.
    Also: there isn’t enough room in my head for you. ;)

  6. busorama says

    i hate on myself because i want the tools to survive. if my survival skills and coping mechanisms become unproductive, inadequate, unaccepted, misunderstood – i can feel just like that too. not a good place. so i sweep up personality traits, skills, escapes routes, and work on them to make better coping strategies. people rarely get to see the pensive, no-need-to-cope version of myself. i hate that more than i hate myself

    great post. completely relate, thank you

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