Historically any article with “self-love” in it has given rise to a feeling of anger in me. Every cell in my body has been rotting in self-hate and loathing for a long, long time now. Any self-love talk made me angry and tempted to vent my resentment and jealousy in phrases such as ‘what sort of a deluded twit writes these articles?” They always seemed to have a skipping-piggy-tailed-Martha Stewart-apron wearing-sunshine-and-long-green-grass-non-harmful-bumble-bee feel to them and they make me angry and cynical!
Anyway. I am writing to share some things I have learned in the last 10 years of therapy. I can only hope it may help one person. If it shortens his or her journey by even one long, painful, depressingly suicidal day it would be well worth it.
The first step for me was realizing everything is not as it could or should be upstairs! This may be glaring and painfully obvious to you all day every day. Take pride in that because you are actually ahead. I was practicing a lot of really reckless behaviors and endangering my life and health almost daily, but thinking that I was “fine.” Realizing this sort of behavior was probably not coming off a basis of any sort of concern or care for my welfare was the start of identifying my poor self-esteem (understatement).
It took some time and therapy but this realization grew and grew until my therapist and I started to see the depths of my problems. It wasn’t just poor self-esteem, it was utter self-hate and loathing. It was cruel and critical, cold and unrelenting, vicious and violent and nothing could halt its path. This voice operated twenty-four hours a day on full acceleration. It was a raging beast and interfered with every second of my days and nights.
At this stage some work was done to intellectually provide me with an infrastructure for another way of thinking. The theory that all of these beliefs about myself were incorrect was introduced to the raging beast. The beast thrashed through this new talk and reduced it to splinters every time it was raised. The only way I could even intellectually entertain the idea that I was not innately bad, evil, filthy, genetically wrong and hideous beyond comprehension literally was to talk about another person. I would never ever treat another person this cruelly. No matter what one of my friends had done in the past, I would never think they were remotely bad. I would want them to love themselves as I loved them. That was a starting point for me.
If you also have this raging beast in your head, you are probably one of those people feels mildly irritated when complimented or does not give it a millisecond to sink in because it’s just plain ridiculous, nearly irrelevant. You can have glaringly obvious talents, but you either have absolutely no awareness or belief in them or think that that one positive is outweighed by 600,000 negative and evil horrible parts.
The next significant step was adding some other types of therapy to open up and expose this secret, dark, raging beast. I had to feel it and express it. I used primal therapy, inner child work and art therapy both to expose the beast and to start to allow my more vulnerable and kinder parts a voice. This was a fairly lengthy process, but I believe it was probably a lot quicker than talking about it because the beast listens to no one. It wasn’t until I felt the feelings that I “got it.”
For example, someone told me that because I was only a child, being sexually abused wasn’t my fault and I wasn’t dirty or bad because of it. Using the process so far as an example I went from denial (“yeah whatever, of course it’s not the child’s fault, I don’t think I’m dirty and I don’t care so shut up”) to “If I thought of my friend/sister/a child on the street it would absolutely never ever be their fault that they were abused and it should never ever happen to anyone and they should never ever have to carry that burden” to feeling the humiliation, powerlessness, degradation, shame, and physical pain of that sexual abuse. This step allowed the beast to start letting in the tiniest momentary, usually temporary rays of compassion.
The other important aspect of this was just exposing the beast, lying on the floor and telling a benevolent witness (therapist) everything this voice was saying. After 10 minutes of emptying the latest derogatory diatribe that was on repeat in my mind, it seemed to have lost so much of its power. It did seem almost childish whereas 10 minutes previously I was a slave to its mastery and perceived wisdom.
Among and throughout these varying stages were periods of crisis, either deadly depression (in bed, staring comatose at the wall, with no will to do anything) or suicidal fantasies and active self-harm. Crisis management became really important. There was no management initially as the beast ruled. There was no sharing of decisions with anyone more mature, compassionate, caring or even sensible. It was what the beast — all the negative thought processes and critical cruel voices — says goes. There can be no other way.
So the first step was becoming aware that there was always something else to do, that these were just feelings and that I was not only made of my negative feelings. At first it was a lot about just stalling action. If I felt tempted to cut or burn myself, instead I would draw the cutting and burning, or I would call a friend, or book a session with my therapist, or get a drink or have a shower. Often in the heat of the moment you think the feeling is forever and so painful and horrible that it could never be stalled. Often, though, it can reduce in a short period of time with a distraction or by expressing those feelings through art or a feeling session or even just moving your body and energy to somewhere or someone else.
Now I have the crises more under control and don’t feel like a danger to myself so much anymore. I am building on this self-love thing. If you search for love with the Google search engine, you’ll find numerous definitions. I particularly like the Wikipedia one: “Love is an emotion of a strong affection and personal attachment. Love is also a virtue representing all of human kindness, compassion, and affection —”the unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another. Love may describe actions towards others or oneself based on compassion or affection.”
Now that’s a definition I can start to relate to.
Feeling my suffering as a child when I was intellectually and physically unable to defend myself has led to a compassion for myself and an affection of sorts for the wild ways I tried to deal with that pain and the courage I have shown to move through the impasse that seemed so impossible. I’m no Martha Stewart bumblebee now but the beast is more balanced and I think probably relieved that its job is over.
To everyone out there drowning in suffering, depression, suicidal despair and fear and loathing in Las Vegas, hang in there. Try some feeling and expressive therapies, use any tricks you can to ease the self-hate. I know you won’t believe me but you deserve to get better and it really is possible! Hang in there comrades!
Thinks, S. (2012). My Journey to Loving Myself Following Sexual Abuse. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 19, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/2012/my-journey-to-loving-myself-following-sexual-abuse/
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.