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Self-Knowledge: Trauma & Childhood


A Self-Hatred Audit

One of the odder features of self-hatred is that the affliction may escape our notice for the greater part of our lives. We may simply not be aware that we don’t like ourselves very much – even as the sickness of self-hatred wreaks its havoc across a range of psychological situations and opportunities.

Though we are relentless scrutinisers of others, we seldom pause to give a unitary verdict on what we make of our own characters. We may recognise our approval or distaste of ourselves in relation to specific actions; we will know when we are – for example – cross about being slow to complete a task or when we are pleased to have won a colleague’s approval. But we are rarely inclined to step far back and consider ourselves in the totality, as we might a stranger. We are too involved with ourselves on an ongoing basis to assess the sharper outlines of our own characters. There are few occasions when we are summoned to ask whether we essentially like the person we are.

As a result, our self-suspicion tends to linger in undiagnosed forms. We miss the extent to which we can suffer from endemic self-loathing – and how a once acceptable and perhaps invigorating form of self-questioning has turned into a lacerating sequence of attacks on everything we are and do. We may – paradoxically – be at once highly depressed about ourselves – and oblivious that we are so.

In order to know what we are up against; we should take a measure of our sense of self. For this, there may be no better move than to resort to that clumsiest but simple and most helpful of psychological tools, the questionnaire.

We can ask to what extent we might agree with the following sentences on a scale of one to ten, ten meaning very much, zero indicating not at all.

– If people knew who I really was, they would be horrified.

– The inside of me is appalling.

– Often, I can’t bear who I am.

– I’m disgusting.

– I’m shameful

– I’m weak

– Others have a good cause to hate and harm me

– It’s only a matter of time before terrible things happen to me, given who I am.

– I’m sexually revolting

– I am physically repulsive

– I am unworthy of being forgiven

– I am a fitting target for ridicule

– I am bound to fail

– I don’t deserve much sympathy

– People often see me in the street and feel contempt.

– I have acted badly across my whole life

– There is something fundamentally wrong with me.

We don’t need to do careful sums to arrive at an indicative picture at speed. Some of us will be reaching for tens on pretty much every occasion; others – blessedly – will be puzzled by the whole exercise.

If we find ourselves reaching for high numbers, we may be tempted to come to a powerful yet entirely mistaken conclusion: that we are terrible people. The reality is at once less personally damning and far more redemptive: we aren’t so terrible at all; we are just very ill. The questionnaire is telling us about an affliction, not about our past or what we deserve or who we really are. The very extremity of our answers should signal that something is afoot that far exceeds what any human is ever owed. We aren’t intolerably wicked; we are in the grip of a cruel sickness which systematically destroys any confidence or generosity we might feel towards ourselves. We are treating ourselves with a violence and pitilessness we wouldn’t think of bestowing upon our worst enemies. We have, somehow, unbeknownst to us, ended up considering the person we have to accompany through life with an unparalleled degree of coldness and disdain.

It is time to come to terms with our suffering – and to refuse the delusion and meanness of self-hatred.

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