Self-loathing is a traveling crisis that follows the afflicted everywhere they go. We who have been there and/or are still there know how self-loathing adapts itself to home, school, work and ostensible play. Wherever we wander, oblivious to our condition or aware of it, caught in its grip or fighting it courageously, we see its gross chicanery in all reflective surfaces -- That's how I look? -- and hear its taunting in our ears.
After decades of knowing this firsthand, I am committed to reducing the needless self-loathing in this world. I know, I know: Qualified experts have been at this task since 1985, which is why A++ became a grade. As a non-therapist, as just the author of Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself, I am unqualified. Or is it only my self-loathing saying that?
From the frontlines, I bear this bulletin:
A vast majority of the self-loathing in this world is meritless, pointless, unjustified, based not on facts but rather on lies told or overheard, on wicked spells and accidental mesmerism. Brains washed on purpose or not. These lies, traumas and errors cursed us into a constant uncertainty which keeps us wondering how we can possibly defy all odds to dodge our next humiliation, the next punishment which we think we deserve.
I am not striving to sound hopeless here. I'm not being self-indulgently, relentlessly "dark" when bright upbeat-ness is the standard self-help rhetoric. We can escape. We can break that enchantment. Brightness does await us.
The first thing we must understand about self-loathing, and this understanding is our first weapon against it, is that it comprises combat between ourselves and ourselves. Not us and outside forces. Us and us.
We who detest ourselves watch ourselves suffer violence. We watch ourselves being virtually drawn and quartered, tarred and feathered, boiled in oil and lashed to masts. We watch ourselves being virtually robbed, stripped, slandered, thrown to wolves. We suffer these torments. And perpetrate them on ourselves.
Based on those wicked spells which we now take for truth, we are victims and criminals in the same crimes. Our persecutors are the very people from whom we can find no shelter, ever, because they are us. What safe house will offer us refuge from ourselves?
And what police force will arrest those parts of us that hurt the other parts? What penalty will punish us for punishing ourselves?
None. So our self-punishment self-perpetuates.
We undergo and watch not only one of these crimes but quite possibly all of them and not just once but on and on, perhaps our whole lives long. We watch without a thought of rescuing ourselves but rather rigidly, or rapt. We barely blink. We watch and watch. Observers seeing this would say we did not care. They do not know. Our fear as victims and our urgency as perpetrators and our shock as witnesses keep us locked in this loop.
Ask yourself which is worse: that we hurt ourselves or that we stand by, hands in pockets, observing? Those who witness crimes yet fail to report what they've seen can be charged as accessories. We are accessories to our own daily crimes.
Yet this is where our secret strength resides.
Because we are not only criminals and victims. We are also witnesses. The trick is to transform from silent into active ones.
What if you saw someone else hurting someone else? What if you saw with your own eyes the perpetrator's snarling sadism, the victim's paralytic fear? What if you felt that violence crackling in the air? Would you just stand there silently? I suspect not. Why then remain a silent witness when the victim is yourself? We would not say of other victims, "He deserved it" or, "She asked for it." Why say that of ourselves?
Stopping ourselves from hating ourselves starts with claiming the responsibility of being our own active witnesses: shocked, as witnesses are, at first. Then jolted into motion. Bold.
We have someone to save. And yes, someone to save him or her from.
All photographs by Anneli Rufus.