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What would a day look like for someone who was practicing recognizing self-hate, and once realizing it, made a move towards self-compassion? Hmm. What would that look like…

Let’s see how I do in painting this picture for you –

A Self-compassionate Morning

When we’re in the fight to break anxiety’s hold mornings are often the hardest time of the day. We are running with shields down, given that our brains are in some respects not at full power – we don’t have our full mental abilities instantly at our command.

And that’s a time when our fears can really pounce on us. The self-doubts, the what if thinking, the worry about Flight or Fight reactions, can all bubble to the surface and start pounding on our brains before we’re prepared to do battle with them.

This is a great, great time to start in with some self-compassion practice. The first and possibly most effective thing we can do is simply recognize that we’re doing all this in the first place.

I don’t mean get lost in our fears. I don’t mean a self-abuse party where we berate ourselves for being so weak, or so dumb, or so whatever we’re using to abuse ourselves, BECAUSE we’re fighting fear or wrestling with self-doubt.

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No, I mean take a moment (or 10) and see where we’re losing ourselves in what if thinking. I mean take a moment and see that we’re up in the future, or see that we’re abusing ourselves with self-hatred, or both. An act of compassion towards ourselves is as basic as seeing that we’re failing ourselves with fears of failure and loss – just that much is self-compassion.

Doesn’t sound like much, does it? But in fact it’s huge. Remember that anxious thinking is a habit – and just seeing the habits as they start their tired, tedious routine is a step in the right direction. Even when we don’t feel like we have much strength or ability to do much about the habit in that moment (which can be especially true in the first minutes of waking up for the day) means that we’re starting to disrupt and see through that habit.

Of course we can do more. We can not only call out self-abusive behavior, what if behavior – we can also unpack it. We can identify where we are in the future and actively move away from that thinking, not only seeing it for what it is, useless worry and conjecture, useless speculation about our fears, and practice making it back into what it is – a problem, at most.

Sure, it scares us. Of course it does, given how much energy and focus we’ve poured into it. And what’s a great act of self-compassion? Shutting down that pouring, to whatever extent we’re able to in that moment.

One great way to help that process is to just GET UP. Get our happy feet on the floor and get moving. Yeah, I know how tempting it is to just lie there and pour over our failures, or how unhappy we are, or how happy everyone else seems to be, or how unfair it is that we have to do battle with our fears, or whatever we’re caught up in there in our beds.

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Get up. Engage the day. Remember that fear is a mental process, however much it freaks out Flight or Fight and starts physical and emotional reactions. Just the act of engaging our world – taking a shower, making some breakfast, walking the dog, walking ourselves, engaging in some small piece of work – is an act of compassion towards ourselves.

A Compassionate Day

OK. We’re up, we’re semi-clean, we have had our Wheaties – what else can we do to disrupt self-hate, what if thinking, and practice compassion towards ourselves? How about some active blocking of self-hate habit thinking?

One habit we can develop, overwriting older habits of self-reproach, self-anger, self-hurt, is to practice stopping self-hating behaviors. (See the last several posts for the specifics.) Are we calling ourselves idiots as we drive to work? Are we berating ourselves for yesterday’s failures, mistakes or flubs? Are we anticipating all the ways we’ll screw up the day?

Stop. Practicing stopping. This is active self-compassion. Of course it isn’t that easy at the start, and we’ll make it hard for ourselves more often than not. That’s alright. Practice anyway. You don’t need to be whipped, verbally or any other way. You need to figure out what is actually useful in addressing those past failures or potential future mistakes.

And self-abuse isn’t useful. Something that might be useful is to start looking at what is working – where we’re doing productive things, doing things with some skill and ability. We can also start giving ourselves some credit for effort, knowing that skill takes time to develop and strengthen.

Are we bringing in some income? Hey, nice work. Are we getting some tasks done? Excellent. Have we assisted another person today? Well done. Have we stopped, even for a few moments, the stream of angry, frightened self-talk that too often fills our thinking? Kudos – you’re moving in the right direction.

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When we are caught up in self-hating habits ANY kindness to ourselves is a good move, a brilliant move. It’s remarkable what even a few efforts of recognizing and blocking self-hating routines can do for our energy and self-esteem.

Of course the habits push back. It’s useful to remember that we started these habits because we thought they were helping us – keeping us safe, helping us toe the line, not get in trouble or bring down disaster on ourselves in the worlds we learned them in the first place. They won’t just go quietly. They will fight, and we will fight to keep them.

A Compassionate Evening

The end of the day can be a prime time for self-hate to come out and dance around our heads. We’re tired, we’re probably facing down some challenges or what if fears that have been lurking to pounce on us when we dropped our guard – it can easily be a time of self-hating habit routines to power up.

One effective question we can ask is how can we practice some self-care, right now, for ourselves? We who wrestle with self-hate and anxiety can be prone to “never standing down” – never really ending the work day, never really punching our mental timecard and calling it enough for now.

Recognition and blocking are both tools we can employ. And we can up our self-compassion game by also surrendering our special status view of ourselves – i.e., that we can work 20 hours a day, that we must make sure everyone else around us is happy before we can even think of taking a break, or that serious people would work until they couldn’t keep their eyes open.

We can practice self-compassion by actively practicing allowing ourselves to be HUMAN. Humans rest when they are tired. They take time off. They yak with friends, watch silly TV shows, take a bubble-bath, harass the dog, make cookies.

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Self-hating, as I keep saying, is a mental habit. I use the word disruption a lot in this anxiety work. Too often we’re racing down mental grooves we established (with help) long years ago. Part of this work is bumping up out of those grooves, deliberately messing up the old routines so we can establish new ones.

Self-hate is a kind of internal slave-driver. We’re never enough. We never do enough. We are never good enough. Self-hate is at the most basic level the voice of our fears, telling us to try harder, fix everything, make sure we never make mistakes, so we can avoid the terrible futures we predict in our fearful thinking.

Anything that gets us off that hamster wheel is a good move if it disrupts, disputes, moves away from and/or shuts down that thinking. It’s legal, it’s healthy, it’s self-caring, it is active self-compassion.

We won’t stop Self-hatred by Wishing

This dismantling self-hatred work I’ve been addressing these last seven blog posts doesn’t just happen. It takes a lot of work. It means getting feisty with our own thinking, not just rolling over and playing dead when it yells at us, but standing up and demanding different thinking, different ways of treating ourselves and thinking about our world.

To fight anxiety is to, by definition, deal with self-hatred in some flavor or flavors. Truly self-compassionate people are not lost in anxiety. (That isn’t your cue, by the way, to then beat yourself up because you SUCK, because YOU are such a loser that you fight self-hatred and anxiety.) 🙂

I recommend T.I. Rubin’s book “Compassion and Self-hatred.” And if you’re more of a conversation person you can reach out to me – I’m always happy to have a discussion about the work of breaking the nasty habit of self-hatred.

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Self-compassion. That’s been the goal of the last 5 blog posts – a discussion of what a life lived in self-hate looks like, and how self-compassion might look. To do that effectively we have to understand first where we’re practicing self-hate – see the shape and size of that practice.

With that understanding let’s get our arms around what compassion towards ourselves means in a daily way.

What we need to shut down Self-Hate

TI Rubin (I’ve been referencing him and his book Compassion and Self-Hate as the primary source for these last few blog posts) says we have three weapons we need to employ in the diminishing of self-hate and the encouragement of self-love:

Recognition
Blocking
Surrendering Special Status

As I mentioned in my last post step one is seeing that we are doing self-hate in the first place. Self-hate doesn’t carry a sign around that says “hey, notice me! I’m self-hate!” Self-hate runs in the background of our thinking and behavior.

Worse, it comes to seem and feel like it’s vital, crucial, the only thing that’s keeping us from disaster (self-hating self-regulation. So step one is just identifying where and how we’re doing self-hating behavior- recognition.

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Here’s an example of self-hating behavior: invariably defaulting to what anyone and everyone else wants, rather than actually checking with ourselves first to see what we need and want. I know, it sounds like what a saint would do. (More about sainthood later.) But it isn’t.

How could it be? Do your wants and needs really NEVER matter? Are you never entitled to want something or need something that runs counter to what someone else wants or even needs? Of course your needs and wants matter. And of course you’re entitled to express them and even ask for them.

But you’re not there yet. It’s too scary! So start by at least seeing that by shutting those down you’re practicing self-hatred – that’s a great first step.

Don’t want to watch the grandkids this weekend? Really just want to stay home and make salad? Don’t feel like visiting your tedious in-laws? Do really want to spend time at the beach? Guess what? You can at least see that you’re shutting those down automatically, disregarding what you want, rather than pretend that you DON’T want those things. That’s recognition.

And when that self-critical internal voice starts shouting about how selfish and how cruel and how uncaring you are then you’re experiencing self-hate. BECAUSE THERE ISN’T ONE THING THAT’S SELFISH OR CRUEL OR UNCARING ABOUT YOUR WANTS OR NEEDS. (Unless you’re planning to sell guns in Africa – then I have concerns.) 🙂

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When we see that we are free to, at the very least, have our own wants and needs (and the freedom to listen to them, at least take them into account!) then we’re recognizing self-hate as the voice that says we’re selfish pigs to even consider what we want.

Here’s another example: when we encourage and nurture relationships that are less than healthy ones we are practicing self-hate. You know the relationships I’m talking about – the people that suck us dry, put us down, put us last on their priority list, constantly criticize us, take advantage of us and then cheerfully make us feel bad when we try to push back.

You know these people! This is the sister who can’t find anything good to say about you. (Yes – I said sister. Family who we allow to treat us poorly don’t get special status because they are family.) This is the boyfriend or girlfriend (or husband or wife) that refuses to negotiate and has to have everything their way.

This is the co-worker who takes shameless advantage of you. This is the friend who only calls when they need something, and otherwise has no time for us. This is the teenager who eats your food, makes a mess of the house, refuses to get a job and then tells you what a terrible parent you are because you won’t let them do whatever they want.

(Any of these people sound familiar?)

That’s self-hate too. SEEING that for what it is, just doing that one small thing, is a big first step towards a practice of compassion for ourselves. Being able to be honest with ourselves about doing self-hating behavior is fiercely useful in disrupting the habit of self-hate.

Blocking

No, I don’t mean a body tackle – although it might be helpful sometimes if somebody showed up and hip-checked us in mid-self-hate. I mean that we, having recognized self-hating behavior, make an immediate move to stop it, shut it down.

Let’s go back to not acknowledging that we have any needs or wants. Want to block that self-hating practice? Acknowledge those needs and wants. Just that simple step is giant. Notice I haven’t even said yet ACT on those needs and wants. I’m just saying tip your hat to those needs and wants – treat them as important, something to respect.

Hey, you can go a step further. You can SAY OUT LOUD those needs and wants. (I know, crazy, right?) I’m STILL not insisting that you have to demand your way. I’m saying allow your own thinking to get out into the world, gently affirming your right to HAVE needs and wants.

(And, of course, if you’re in a situation where such verbalizing and boundary-drawing puts you at physical risk, well, that’s self-hate too, isn’t it? You may not be able to safely say and feel what you want. Which just means you get to practice scary self-care by getting the hell out of that situation – thoughtfully, strategically, keeping yourself safe but slowly moving towards compassion towards yourself by making a way to get free.)

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Or let’s say we’re talking about those life leeches I was talking about earlier, those people who take shameless advantage of us? Seeing them for what they are is step 1. Step 2 is disengaging those people from our daily routines.

Of course anxiety will rear its ugly head the moment we start even thinking about doing that. We will have thoughts surface like if I get away from this person I’ll be totally alone, or they’ll hate me, or maybe I deserve to have people like this in my life. Ugh.

7 billion people in the world – you’ll find other friends. It may not FEEL that way right now, but trust me – there’s a lot of humans running around on the planet at the moment. The real problem isn’t that you won’t be able to find new people in your life. The real issue is that we’re scared of actually standing up to self-hate, risking another’s anger and frustration.

And as far as them hating you – well, you don’t know that, do you? Maybe you’ll push back and they’ll wake up. Maybe you’ll push back and they’ll take off. But their reaction doesn’t really matter at the moment, does it? This is about you – and doesn’t that sound crazy? Something actually being about you? 🙂

Quick note: using self-hate to try to block self-hating behavior isn’t so useful. You know what I mean. This is when we say “what the hell is wrong with you! You’re an idiot for hating yourself! Cut that crap out right now! Don’t be so stupid!” And useful words like that…

Don’t use self-hate to block self-hate. In this case fighting fire with fire isn’t cool. By all means get a little impatient. Don’t be afraid to use some gentle sarcasm to poke fun at the rules and iron bars of self-hatred. But keep compassion for self at the front of your thinking.

Practicing very basic self-love on YOU is really as simple as first recognizing when we do self-hate, and then stopping that self-hate in its tracks. Recognition, then blocking. The third immediate tool we have in our arsenal is surrendering our special status in our own thinking. What in the hell does that mean?

Our Special Status isn’t so Special

It’s simple, really: when we accord ourselves special status we are, usually unconsciously, working to see ourselves as more than human. This is back to those impossible standards and sainthood status issues I’ve mentioned earlier in these posts.

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It might be said that all self-hatred comes down to expecting ourselves to have special status, more than human or even superhuman status in our own thinking. What are some examples of special status thinking?

Anything that demands in our thinking or behavior that we NOT be human is special status. That includes anything that demands perfection of us. If we believe that we can never, ever be angry with anyone we are according special status to ourselves.

Because, you see, humans get angry. That doesn’t mean they pull out an Uzi and hose the room down – yikes. (Weirdly enough we CAN’T get to that situation, that terribly over-reactive, destructive reaction to anger, if we ALLOW ourselves to be human enough to BE ANGRY in the first place.)

No, it simply means that anger is part of being human, being alive. If we think we can never, ever be angry with anyone then we are fooling ourselves, according ourselves special status, and we’re tilling the ground for self-hate.

Here’s another one: we must be everybody’s friend. We’re friendly people, right? Well, not just friendly people – we’re ALWAYS friendly. We’re never NOT friendly. Yup, that’s us, the world’s friendliest person. NOBODY can say that we are not friendly!

Except that’s not human. It’s utterly unreal. It is an expectation that we cannot meet! Oh, I know some of you are squirming in your chairs as you read this special status stuff. I get it. Self-hate generates a lot of anxiety around this discussion. There is risk, we believe, in actually allowing ourselves to be just human, just an ordinary person, capable of not being friendly all the time…

But we’re NOT friend all the time. Of course we’re not. Sometimes we’re really tired, or very hungry, or we’re just on people overload – we need to be left alone. That’s being human.

Again, I’m not saying we have to be jerks when we don’t feel particularly friendly. I’m saying that we’re allowed to not be Friendly Sam all the time. I’m saying it’s legal to 1) see that we’re being self-hating by insisting that we must be friendly all the time, 2) actually acknowledging that we don’t feel particularly friendly at the moment and 3) disabuse ourselves of the notion that we are somehow above the rest of the human race with our amazing, perfect friendliness. 🙂

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We are not saints. We may call someone a saint, but nobody is a saint – not all the time. Maybe that’s a better way to apply this badly-abused term – that we have saintly moments in our lives. But we don’t live our lives as saints.

Even the notion that we’re according to ourselves special status might come as a shock to some of us. We wouldn’t label, consciously, ourselves as striving for sainthood. But if we’re practicing self-hate then it’s a given that we’re striving for a special, unreal, inhuman status in our lives.

We need to have Compassion for Ourselves

Sometimes when I have this discussion with folks I get back a thoughtful “well, yeah, sure, that makes sense. But you know, Erik, I really do never get angry/really don’t have any preferences about what to do with my day/always am friendly/you name it.”

And many times those lovely, well-intentioned people believe what they are saying – at least on the surface. But the truth is they are deceiving themselves. Sure they are. They are terrified of actually having normal, human reactions, emotions, thoughts. It feels very, very dangerous to them, and was trained into them very early in their lives.

We are human. Any really, any step we take towards disrupting self-hating thinking and behavior is a dang good one – starting with being honest about our own humanity.

The world will not end if we have an honest, human emotional reaction to it. The universe will not implode if we decide we don’t really want to make dinner tonight, or we really do want to watch that sappy romantic comedy (over the protests of our spouse or partner), or we feel a little blue and just want to sit in a chair and watch the world go by for a few minutes.

There is an enormous power, strength and healing in this allowing ourselves to be human. We will discover that we have been expending GIGANTIC amounts of energy in the direction of self-hate, and that energy starts to get freed up, starts coming back to us. It is a remarkable experience.

Every time we decide that we matter, that other people can for the most part take care of themselves, that our wants and needs are at least as important as the people around us and that we are allowed to be human we are practicing compassion towards ourselves. And it is very, very good for us and for the world we live in.

Next up, the last blog post (for a while) about Compassion and Self-Hate.

In the last three blog posts I have discussed the role of self-hate in the creation of anxiety, and the various forms that self-hate can take in us. This isn’t some small thing. Self-hate is a kind of mental and emotional cancer, and we ignore it at our peril…

Today’s post is all about, as T.I. Rubin puts it, the “antidote” to self-hate – compassion, specifically self-compassion. Let me quote Dr. Rubin here:

“(Self) Compassion is, ultimately, a state of mind in which benevolence reigns supreme, and in which a state of grace is established with ourselves. This state of grace undermines the promotion of self-hate. In this state of grace loyalty to self, in all circumstances whatsoever, is of prime importance…”

This is HUGE. What that maniac Dr. Rubin is proposing is that we MUST take first position in our own lives, making conscious choices that promote care for us, respect for us, love for us, compassion for us. I love his use of the phrase “state of grace.” Having done a LOT of time in the conservative church I can say that grace POPS for me as a word.

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Because grace implies that I don’t have to WORK for the thing for which I’m seeking grace. Grace is already granted, already present, and is already mine. Grace means no checklist, no set of accomplishments needed before I’m allowed to have grace.

Compassion really means practicing love towards ourselves.

OK, sure, but wait a minute – this sounds selfish and self-absorbed to me…

Yeah, I get that. It sounded that way to me too. The phrase “loyalty to self” sounds like we are always the person in the center of the room, caring ONLY for ourselves, ignoring the needs of others and breezing through life with a careless disregard for anybody but us.

That’s not what we’re talking about here. Not even remotely. That we have to have this conversation with ourselves says just how much we’ve gotten “off-beacon” from what healthy living is all about.

Think of this discussion as a significant “reset” of how we think about ourselves, and what self-care/self-compassion really is. Rubin isn’t saying forget everyone else, it’s all about ME. Here is what Rubin is saying:

1) That our needs, our wants and our desires are at least as important as anyone else’s.
2) That we have both a right and an obligation to ourselves to CONSIDER those wants, needs and desires WHILE we consider other people’s wants, needs and desires. We don’t just default automatically to “sure, you want it, I’m giving it, we’re done.”
3) We are WORTHY of HAVING wants, needs and desires. Just by virtue of being on the planet, walking around breathing the morning air, we get to have those things, and nobody gets to decide otherwise.
4) That if we don’t practice deliberate, conscious and on-going compassion and love for ourselves we are encouraging, actively, the growth and feeding of self-hate.

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There is a WORLD of difference between compassion towards ourselves (what do I want? What works for me? These are my desires and there is nothing inherently wrong with them…) and hey world, forget you! It’s all about me! I don’t care about anyone else and I’m only going to take care of ME! 🙂

Just the need to even have to clarify this says something about how far from real self-care and self-compassion many of us live our lives.

Human, Party of One – Human, Party of One please

Let’s come at the subject another way: all Rubin is asking is that we begin treating ourselves AS human beings. True self-compassion means, well, being compassionate with ourselves for all we are, not just the parts that we think other people will like, or the parts that we think are good enough.

It’s how you would expect a healthy adult to respond to one of his or her own kids. That parent would treat that child AS their child, regardless of whether they were always in a good mood, always had clean clothes on, always said please and thank you, always behaved like a perfect angel.

That parent would hold that kid when he or she cried, comfort them when they were afraid, play with them when they were silly, encourage them when they felt tentative.

THAT’S what I’m talking about when I talk about compassion and love for oneself. Does that sound so crazy? Don’t we wish our parents had been exactly that way? Well, guess what? We can do that to ourselves! Yeah, it’s legal – you don’t need a permit or a license or anything. 🙂

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Compassion forgives mistakes (while working to see what could be done better next time), allows for human frailty (we get tired, we are not always cheerful, sometimes full of self-doubt), permits variation in ability from day to day (i.e., nobody gives 110% all the time.) These are all just different ways of saying that compassion allows us to be human.

It can feel scary to actually practice compassion for ourselves…

As crazy as it sounds (and it should sound crazy) lots of us are afraid to practice self-compassion. We’re willing as heck (lots of the time anyway) to be compassionate to other people. (Although we can also be pretty judgmental, can’t we, about other people’s failings and imperfections? Anxiety/self-hate can do that to us as well.)

The fear we have is that if we “let up” on ourselves our lives will go to hell. It’s like we’re attending a military boot camp that never ends. Don’t think it is some easy thing to back off! Lots of us carry real fear that if we slack off on our vicious, angry self-correction (self-hate) that disaster will follow.

This extends beyond our conscious thinking. We can have nightmares, sudden anxious moments that seem to come from nowhere, and a nameless dread when we begin to try and relax our self-vigil.

Some of us call that angry, punishing voice our conscience. Nothing wrong with having a conscience. That’s the whole point of learning to live with other people in the first place. We need to understand the rules and make an effort to live by them.

But, as Rubin says, most of our consciences are way, way too busy, way too strong. We don’t need a police officer in our soul yelling at us because we’ve broken some rules. We need a compassionate guide that helps us course-correct – when it’s really necessary – and we need a better discrimination about when enough is enough when it comes to our internal critic.

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And that’s really what this is, isn’t it? It’s much more about a voice in our head that tells us we’ve never good enough, never smart enough, never caring enough, never good-looking enough, never… you name it.

Rules. Internal critics. The voices of failure and fear. That’s the stuff from which self-hate and fierce anxiety start and breed. There’s nothing wrong with rules. But rules are guidelines for living, not prisons we need to build for ourselves so we never, ever make a mistake. That’s not human.

Remember the discussion at the beginning of this blog post about developing a practice with ourselves of establishing a state of grace in our lives and minds? Grace says that yeah, we make mistakes. Yeah, we don’t know everything. Yeah, sometimes we don’t perform perfectly, or always know what to say, or sometimes miss a cue or a clue, and that’s OK, even healthy.

This whole fight might be summarized as a battle with perfectionism. We are NOT perfect, and we will never be perfect. I argue that a second element of this perfectionism battle is the misunderstanding that perfect is a STATIC state – i.e., when something is perfect it will freeze in place and always be perfect.

But that flies in the face of our experience in the real world! Nothing, nothing in the real world is in a permanent state of perfection. NOTHING! Snowflakes are perfect – until they touch the ground or our hand. A perfect moment with friends or family is just that – a moment. It comes, and then it goes.

Perfection is one experience, one kind of experience, in the daily flow of life. Heck, if we only got our arms around this notion we’d find a whole new kind of freedom in our thinking and lives.

Rubin talks a great deal about the embracing of the ordinary, human life. We anxiety fighters, we who learned to do an enormous amount of self-hate (all unawares, of course) learned to also try for some ideal, perfect, holy, never-make-a-mistake kind of life, and it’s killing us. We have a fierce, urgent need to allow life to be just life, with its ups and down, triumphs and defeats, and just plain ordinary days.

Because there is an ENORMOUS amount to savor in the ordinary! Afraid of making a mistake, afraid of screwing up, we strive for this postcard-perfect life, and miss the joy and real life that is here, right now, right around us. Anxiety, trying desperately to conjure crisis from problems, also works to block our capacity to just BE in the day.

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You know the list. We have family to treasure. We have friends to enjoy. We have interests we can pursue. We have the work of the day in front of us to accomplish and respect and be proud of. We have goals we can work on – without making it into doing it perfectly, on the first try, to the cheering of enormous crowds. 🙂

Some of us have enormous challenges – physical, financial, relational, emotional. But there’s still, even in the midst of those challenges, LIFE, ordinary life, to savor. There’s still lots of room to practice self-compassion, self-love, and the work of finding real relief from the litany of angry self-hatred and self-punishment that we’ve learned to pour onto ourselves.

Self-love is harder than it Sounds

Ain’t that the truth? We’re born to love ourselves, care for ourselves, respect ourselves, and allow ourselves to be human. And that’s great news, because it leaves us with one elegant truth: we have a natural, inborn drive to love ourselves.

You know it’s true! Some part of each of us is struggling mightily to send love and compassion our way. And that gives us some other good news – self-love, the natural drive to care for ourselves, is stronger than the self-hate we’ve learned to practice on ourselves.

It may not feel that way. That’s where anxiety can make it hard to see clearly. It FEELS so hard to just cut ourselves a break, allow ourselves to be human, fallible and mortal and also capable of success and happiness.

But it is true. With even a little practice on compassion towards ourselves we can begin to strengthen those long-disused muscles. Next up – some examples of living a self-compassionate life.

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The last couple of posts have not been made of fairy dust and rainbows. We’re talking about pretty serious stuff – this stuff called self-hate. When I first read Rubin’s book Compassion and Self-Hate it largely freaked me out.

It freaked me out because it was very, very close to home. I recognized a terrible number of self-hating behaviors I was doing, all unawares, to myself. It freaked me out because I didn’t realize just how wide-spread self-hating was IN ME – in my thinking, in how I treated myself, in how I reacted to other people.

But it was exactly what I needed. Sometimes, on this road to breaking the power of anxiety, we HAVE to get freaked out. Facing down fear, identifying the thinking that made us sick with anxiety in the first place, can mean that we have to look squarely at our fears – sit with our fears – before we can do much about them.

That isn’t easy. Lots of people don’t do it. It FEELS safer to run away, hide from our fears. And it FEELS very dangerous sometimes to turn and face our fears.

These blog posts – all the ones with the title “The Vital Importance of Self-Love” are about tools to help identify the primary cause of anxiety – one form or another of self-hatred.

I’ve been talking about what Rubin calls direct forms of self-hatred – chronic self-abuse (mental, physical, emotional), destructive relationships, savage self-criticism, etc. Today’s post is a brief (and by no means comprehensive) discussion of the indirect ways we practice self-hatred.

Understanding both is necessary in our quest to get clear on the thinking that scares us, the behaviors that keep us locked in anxiety, and in changing that thinking and those behaviors. Let’s wade in…

Indirect Self-Hate 1

Indirect self-hate

Indirect Self-Hate can be summarized with 2 basic elements:

Illusions (of one kind or another)
Impossible Standards

Illusions. Illusions, when they are part of story-telling or movie-making, can be brilliant things. They can add reality and dimension, making unreal things look real. That’s outstanding if you’re watching a Star Wars classic. It isn’t, however, so useful when it comes to living life in a healthy and nurturing fashion…

To talk in a helpful way about illusion we first have to get clear WHY in the first place we started generating illusions about life. Illusions serve as self-comforting, self-protective shields in the face of a life or set of experiences that are punishing, even intolerable (especially when we are young, and first learning to deal with the world.)

Illusions buffer us from our world. In the learning about how to cope with the world and other people in the world – the reason self-hate comes into existence in the first place – we can learn that the world is confusing, irrational, unsafe, dangerous, very, very risky. Illusion can give us some breathing room to cope with that pressure and fear.

From that perspective it might be argued that illusion can serve a useful purpose. I won’t argue with that – at least at the beginning. The problem comes when we get to adulthood, get away (hopefully) from that terrible context/situation, and go live in the world ourselves.

So understand that we didn’t set OUT to generate and live in illusions – we did it because we needed some mental and emotional distance from the situation we were in at the time.

Kinds of Illusion

What kind of illusions are we talking about? Let’s start with the illusions we weave around ourselves. One illusion is that we are dependent people – that we can’t take care of ourselves. Weirdly enough this illusion can provide a feeling of safety. We default to other people in the having to manage the world thing, while we retreat behind our helplessness and supposed inability to cope.

This keeps us from taking responsibility for facing our fears – and embracing our dreams. Another illusion that we create for ourselves is that we only exist to make other people happy. Our whole mission in life is to take care of parents, children, husbands or wives, sick friends, our patients, our fellow church attenders – whatever we’ve decided is our sole life focus.

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And this illusion can lead to other illusions. Illusions like we’re nobody, really, except humble helpers, mere servants. And this can quickly turn into being a martyr, a kind of saint, always kind, always happy, never angry… etc.

Ugh! This isn’t human! We’re not dependent children. We don’t only exist to make other people happy. We are not martyrs or saints. We’re HUMAN. We care for other people – but we must also care for ourselves. We are selfless sometimes – and self-caring (at least we need to be) other times. We need help, sometimes – and other times we’re just fine and can manage ourselves, thank you.

When we feed and buy into these illusions of self we’re setting ourselves up and we’re deceiving ourselves. We’re hiding from the world, when what we desperately need (and secretly want) is to engage the world, be in the world.

We do this with other people as well. We make people in our lives perfect – perfectly wise, perfectly innocent, perfectly capable, perfectly intelligent, etc. We put people on pedestals, make them larger than life, generate illusions about them. We make them into saints, make them our safe person, make them our savior.

The Dangers of Illusion

Illusions about ourselves and illusions about other people are, strangely enough, indirect forms of self-hatred. Anything, ANYTHING that gets in the way of honest, clean thinking about ourselves and life is an effort to avoid LIVING life as it actually is – and shuts down the paths to the way CAN BE if we’re engaging in our lives instead of running away from them.

What are some of YOUR illusions? Walk carefully here – these can be world-shaking. You might want to edge up on these, and expect some real Comfort Zone push-back. Our illusions are very dear to us, and they often make us feel safe…

It can be very troubling to start to see the world clearly. I had a moment back in the throes of my climbing out of anxiety (and it was a moment that pivotal in my getting free) when I was taking a shower one morning, and realized (after some conversations in the same direct as this blog post with my therapist) that I had been harboring an illusion.

Here was the illusion: I had told myself for a very long time that other people had great, happy, interesting lives, but it was my lot to live a boring, ordinary, sad little life. Other people got to do interesting work, other people had great weekends filled with friends and adventures – but not me.

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As the shower ran I suddenly had the notion that maybe, just maybe, that was crap. Maybe I had been telling myself this story to protect myself from a life I didn’t want but couldn’t see a way out of, starting as a very young teenager. I had woven this story to keep me from this simple truth: it was up to me to make the life I wanted.

That was scary as hell to me, in that moment. I think that notion had scared me for a long, long time. But on the chilly April morning in Reno in 1995 I found myself frozen in place, my illusion gone. It was up to me. I didn’t know how I’d do it – not then – but that was what was real. I was so shaken, and the thought was so new, that I stood in that shower until the water ran cold.

(I HATE cold showers, btw.)

I finally got out of the shower, but my world was larger and much more connected to reality. And understanding that I had been spinning a story to myself about why I couldn’t get to what I wanted helped me start moving in the direction of the life I wanted. I was scared – but I had also shut down an important piece of self-hating.

Impossible Standards/Unrealistic Expectations

Don’t get me started on this… one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life was when my therapist confronted me on my personal rules for living. When I faced into this exercise and discovered to my horror that I was neck-deep in rules I also learned something else: an enormous number of my life rules were set to impossible standards.

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One rule I had was “never put myself before other people’s needs.” It was bad enough that I didn’t even I was carting this rule around, but it was even more crazy-making to begin to understand that it was literally impossible to fulfill. Never put myself before other people? What if those other people are taking shameless advantage of me? What if what they are doing is damaging or hurting me in some obvious way?

Make no mistake – I tried to meet this standard. And while trying I had the life sucked out of me. I was famous for my giving, caring attitude – and I was in private angry, bitter and exhausted. Erik the Giver was also Erik the Angry – and more importantly, Erik the Afraid. I was afraid of failing that standard, even as I berated myself and beat myself up for not meeting my own standards.

And perhaps most importantly of all, what kind of self-love, self-care, self-compassion can I exercise if I’m ALWAYS putting my needs behind everyone else? Yeah, this is self-hate too. To care for other people, go out of our way for other people, go the extra mile for someone else, that’s all legal – sometimes. But always? Every time? No.

And yes, I know there are people who are reading this exact post and getting scratchy at the notion that they might actually come first sometimes. Sure that makes us scratchy. We learned these rules in an effort to get along in our worlds – literally, for the most part, to keep us safe. This doesn’t feel safe.

Sure, that makes sense. But the feeling doesn’t make it so. And if we were actually at risk for once in a while considering our needs first, maybe it’s time for a change of scenery?

Any standard that sets the bar too high is doomed to fail. And dooming ourselves to fail is an act of self-hatred. No, we didn’t (for the most part) set out to hurt ourselves. But hurting ourselves is something we’re doing if we’re trying to sustain impossible standards.

Maybe the place to firmly plant our flag is the word “impossible.” None of us are idiots. We know when something is merely hard, or challenging, as opposed to when something is impossible to achieve. Let’s agree that when we set impossible standards for ourselves we are setting ourselves up to fail.

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Self-care demands that we moderate our standards to human levels, things that we can actually achieve. To (yes, I know, this sounds crazy) lower our standards into the realm of humanity is to perform an act of self-love.

What are some of YOUR impossible standards? Where are you not meeting your own out-of-control expectations?

Enough with the Self-Hate Stuff!

OK. In the last 3 blog posts I’ve listed out what Dr. Rubin calls direct and indirect forms of self-hate. It isn’t a lot of fun, this discussion of self-hate, but it’s very useful in helping us get some clarity on where in our lives we’re running these automatic programs of thinking and behavior that are in truth hurting us.

As I did at the end of my last post I strongly encourage you to look at the places in your life where you are engaged in self-hating behaviors. I encourage you to do that in pieces. I encourage you to seek out help – a coach or therapist. This self-hating stuff can rock our worlds. I encourage you to journal what you discover, and use that journal to help you figure out where you’re shutting yourself down in an effort to be safe, get it right, not get in trouble – where you are practicing self-hate.

Next up – we’re finally on to the good stuff – compassion.

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In my last post I outlined some but not all of the ways we can bring anxiety and pain into our lives by practicing what T.I. Rubin calls self-hate. We bounced through self-derision, vindictive self-criticism and even depression all being forms of direct self-hate. Today’s post will finish that discussion of direct self-hate.

Please remember that the primary goal of that last post and today’s effort as being the raising of our self-awareness that we are practicing these destructive, anything-but-useful behaviors and kinds of thinking – so we can take action to disrupt them, stop doing them to ourselves.

Psychosomatic Illness

This is a tough one, and it’s tough for multiple reasons. At the same time it sheds some pretty interesting light on the whole experience of self-hating.

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One reason this is challenging is that we live in a culture that has almost completely divorced the influence of the brain over the body. We carry a belief that says bodies are these wacky automatic machines that charge through the day, merrily doing whatever they are going to do, while the brain is sort of a helpless passenger on this wild ride, largely just trying to grab the steering wheel and semi-direct our course.

But this belief has a lot of holes. One piece of evidence for the power of the brain with the body is the Placebo Effect. A shipload of studies have shown just how amazing our thinking can be in regards to our body. Told that we are taking aspirin, for example, we will experience a decrease in pain – even if we have only taken a sugar pill.

And is there a person walking the planet who hasn’t started worrying about this pain or that ache and things have gotten worse, more painful – until we’re distracted by something else and realize later our pain has faded or vanished? Hmmm. Isn’t THAT interesting…

The brain has enormous influence over our physical and emotional reactions. We can and do inflict ourselves with a range of conditions, and we do it very often as a way to punish ourselves – i.e., to hate ourselves. That sounds weird to a lot of people. Why would we do that?

Well, for one reason it’s legal to have a PHYSICAL problem, right? If we’re having a real illness then we can’t be held responsible for having to live our lives, face our deepest fears, or even be held accountable for being honest about what we want and how we feel, right?

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Psychosomatic conditions are not to be treated lightly. They also often shield us from ourselves – i.e., from our own energetic self-hate. If we confront them carelessly we risk a pretty fierce backlash. We need to understand (often with a little therapist assistance) that it is self-hate that is the problem – and that we have to address and deal with that self-hate, not run away from it, dismiss it or pretend it isn’t an issue in our thinking.

Destructive self-medication practices (i.e., alcoholism, drug abuse, over-eating, etc.)

I’ve written a whole post HERE on this topic, but for the purposes of this blog post let’s simply say this: if we’re drinking enough to get hammered every day, or desperately struggling to find the next fix in our drug habit, or eating ourselves into a size 40, or spending all our free cash buying stuff we don’t need, we’re in the grip of chronic self-hate.

Whole organizations have grown up around the effort to help people break free of chemical or other forms of dependency (and thank goodness – they have helped a lot of people find their way out of the most destructive effects of dependency.) In some respects it might be said that it’s easier to see self-hate when it is this apparent/obvious.

At the same time it isn’t like we’re simply trying to self-destruct. We are desperately trying to GET AWAY from our fears – and the medications we are drawn to give us some relief, some shielding from those fears. Never mind that those medications are also wreaking havoc in our lives – and that those medications are, whatever their relief, terribly self-hating.

And, like tackling psychosomatic illnesses, we can’t just rip away our self-medication – not without some tools and support to help us get to the real issues. And of course we’ll fight like hell to KEEP our medications close at hand, often only looking for help when things become so obviously destructive that we can’t hide from ourselves, our fears and our self-hatred any longer.

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The bottom-line is we need to SEE that self-medicating like this is a signal of self-hate. We are comforting our fears – no question – but in that comforting we’re also destroying ourselves.

Constant review of Personal Failures/Mistakes, excessive Self-guilt

There’s no question that it’s useful to look at the errors, mistakes and failures we’ve experienced. Learning is spotty if we don’t gather any information or lessons from such experiences. But this isn’t what Rubin is talking about when he discusses constantly reviewing and rehashing those experiences.

This is really self-punishment. This is the internalized voice of the people who, with mostly the best intentions, tried to teach us to toe the line, get it right, make it work.

In this case however they over-shot the mark! The result is that we developed this massive internal self-critic, a voice that never seems to sleep, but which is always berating us, beating us up for this flub or that mistake.

As in other forms of self-hate/self-abuse we often don’t even see this AS bad. We think we NEED this angry, stern internal critic to keep us on track, getting to the standards that we think are absolutely vital for our self-preservation. We don’t.

We don’t need to revisit and review our past errors and mistakes over and over again. If we’ve taken a little time to glean from those experiences whatever might be useful moving forward – that’s great. If we’ve had a moment or two to shake our heads, ruefully grin at the heavens and promise ourselves we’ll do better/be smarter next time, wonderful.

But an obsessive focus with past failures, not measuring up to our insane standards and then kicking ourselves again and again, only leaves us trapped IN the past – not living in the present. And to live in the present is a crucial component of compassion to ourselves.

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Let’s say that again: compassion is practiced in part by living in the present. As a very wise friend of mine is fond of saying, “we have to give up hope for a better yesterday.” That line always makes me smile because it, at least for me, points out the absurdity of trying to make the past any better by reviewing, rehashing and regretting what has come before today.

And there is another reason we need to get our head out of the past. I say this in a lot in various ways in this blog, but there is a basic truth in the notion that the things we say to ourselves, including the things we say about ourselves to ourselves, has a profound influence on how we then BELIEVE what and who we are.

If I call myself a failure often enough I’ll start believing that I’m a failure. If I call myself a fool for missed opportunities or mistakes then guess what? I’ll have a story running in the background of my thinking that will whisper (or shout) fool to me.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, is an unqualified failure or fool. Nobody is just one ANYTHING. We are a mix of successes and failures, mistakes and glorious triumphs.

But anxiety, if we’re not careful, will have us reviewing and reliving our errors and our low spots, and we wind up seeing ONLY those times in our lives. Flag on the field! The only real way we can actually wind up failing in our lives is if we don’t get our head out of the past and into the present – as well as what we want to craft for our future.

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Creation of Destructive Relationships

This really warrants an entire blog post of its own. As a bona fide creator of destructive relationships in the past I can say with authority that it is fiercely self-hating to summon and sustain relationships that bring us down, make us feel like crap about ourselves or are involved with people that take shameless advantage of us – our resources, including time, and which damage our perception of ourselves.

We of course need healthy feedback from the people that matter to us – the people closest to us, who see us and know us. That’s also a part of learning and growth. But healthy feedback is a very different thing from people that trash us, constantly criticize us, dismiss our successes and play up our failures, make us doubt ourselves, question our motives and dismiss the things we want and need in our lives.

You don’t have any experience with people like that, right? 🙂 Here’s an interesting thought: these people are often (usually?) a manifestation of the things we’re already telling ourselves. In other words these people are just saying the things we’re already saying to ourselves.

And this is likely the reason we’re keeping them around! We already think we’re crap, failures, awful people – and these people are only too happy to support that terrible, self-hating story about us. Yeah, I’m saying that we at some level seek these people out because they feed that ugly (and untrue) story about us.

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That’s self-hate. Nothing else to call it. Not useful. In fact it’s pretty destructive (as I’m guessing you already know.) Compassion for ourselves means shutting these relationships DOWN. Scary, I know. Often we think that we don’t deserve any better than the people we already have in our lives – or that if we ditch these life leeches we’ll never find other people that are willing to hang with us.

That’s crap too. By clearing the decks of the people that would bring us down and feed our self-hating stories we take an immediate and self-caring step in the right direction – several steps, in fact. Yes, anxiety and self-hating stories will power up and shout oh my Gosh don’t do this! You’ll be alone! Nobody will ever want to be around you! And besides, they’re just telling you the truth!

No. None of that is true. We’re not terrible people. We’re not failures. We’re people feeding ourselves an old and damaging story about how much we suck. Time to change the music – and get some new musicians.

Self-hating because we are self-hating!

I hope I don’t have to say much here – I hope that it’s obvious that abusing ourselves because we’re self-abusive is clearly less than useful. 🙂 Except I know from my own experience that self-hate and fear can make this possible.

Calling ourselves and idiot for “being an idiot” is a bad idea. Cursing at ourselves for cursing – not so helpful. Despising ourselves for being self-hating only feeds the hamster wheel of self-rage and self-abuse.

So what to do? Time to start fighting our way off that hamster wheel. That isn’t a bad metaphor, by the way. Hamsters on wheels FEEL like they’re doing something – going someplace. But they’re going exactly nowhere – and they’re in a cage to boot.

Self-hate is a classic hamster wheel. It FEELS like we’re being self-corrective, self-disciplining, but all we’re doing is giving ourselves fresh, painful bruises – or worse, open wounds.

Get clear on this: ANY move towards self-compassion is a good one. Small moves are good, bigger moves are better, but any movement is the right thing to do. So, for instance, if you catch yourself in a tirade that you’re directing at yourself, STOP. Don’t apologize to your little internal critic. Don’t start a new tirade about how stupid you are for doing self-abuse. Just, simply, practice stopping.

It won’t be that easy, of course. 5 minutes (or 1 minute) later you’ll be at it again, trashing yourself for being so stupid, or so stubborn, or so ugly, or so weak, or whatever you’re weapon of choice is in that moment.

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So stop again. And again. And while you’re stopping you can do something else. You can start a new and scary thought – that you’re alright. You’re in fact just an ordinary mortal, just regular human being, a mix of weaknesses and strengths, a blend of failures and successes.

Oh, of course, self-hate will just LOVE that, and start summoning all kinds of examples about what a true and utter loser you are. And when you see that happening, stop again. And again. Quietly and steadily demand that you’re not going to listen to that bullshit (pardon my French) any longer.

It will not go quietly. We started this junk because we were trying to get along, follow the rules, BE SAFE. It will stir up anxiety, no question. But we’ve been running long enough, yes?

As I’ve said in my last post we will need to summon the help and support we can – online support groups and friends, local family and loved ones, therapists, anyone and everyone we can muster to our cause.

Because stop this we must. In my next post I’m going to discuss a little about indirect forms of self-hate – the ways we trash ourselves, hurt ourselves, but which are not as obvious or immediately clear as the forms of direct self-hate I’ve been discussing.

In the meantime, try practicing some compassion towards yourself. Expect a lot of pushback. That’s OK. It’s about time somebody was very, very kind to you.

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