How Self-Loathing Makes Us Look (Mistakenly) Like the World's Best PartnersBy:
I've been called the perfect partner, the source of all happiness, a dream-come-true.
And while such stratospheric grandiosities are nice to hear, they're hard to believe.
Hey, I have trust issues. A near-lifetime of self-loathing can do that. The constant criticisms I hear in my head echo those that comprised the soundtrack of my childhood, realer than whatever anyone says to me now:
You are a slob. A pig. A sneak. You eat too much. Your teeth are brown.
Yet here's the thing: The same self-loathing that prevents me from believing lavish praise creates some of the very traits that spur such praise. In other words, low self-esteem can make us talk and act and interact in certain ways that others find incredibly attractive. Our self-loathing makes us lovable.
How's that for irony?
Here's how it works:
Among the side effects of self-loathing described in my book Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself is compliance. Hating oneself makes anyone else besides oneself seem smarter, stronger, more credible than oneself. This means we follow orders, take advice without reflection or debate. Programmed to discount, deny and deride our own desires, we follow. We obey.
That same programming makes us indecisive. We're so sure that we'll regret whatever choices we make that we avoid choosing at all costs. Thus we let others choose. Our evasions are easily mistaken for compassion: Others think we let them choose because we value their joy over ours, which is true, but not in the way that they imagine. Others think we let them choose because we love them, not because we hate ourselves.
Self-loathing devours our self-confidence. Whoever stole our self-esteem—and it was stolen; we weren't born this way—destroyed our self-defense techniques, or never taught us any in the first place when they could and should have. They severed the cords of self-belief, injected paralytic poisons into our wishes and dreams. So yeah: We hesitate. We hide. This might be mistaken for modesty. We are easy to dominate.
I'm no gambler (because I have no confidence), but I'm willing to wager: If you hate yourself, you hate your looks. Well, duh! Our bodies, necessarily on permanent display, provided those who stole our self-esteem with constant targets for their mockery, abuse and rage—which often were (if only we had known) projections of their own envy or shame. Beset with disgust and dysmorphia, we're not the flirting kind.
So: Sure, we're loyal. But we're also so certain that no one else would ever want us that of course we'll never stray. Sure, we're amenable—but that's often because we have no will. It was bullied or beaten out of us ages ago. And sure, we always let you win—because we fear what you'll do to us if we don't.
Viewing ourselves is hard enough: We'd rather view anything else. Viewing ourselves inside relationships is harder still. Around others, we tend to disappear: hiding in shadows, holding absolutely still—or turning into dolls or doppelgängers.
But if we examine—gently, solemnly—the ways in which self-hatred inflects our connections with others, and if we can remind ourselves frequently of our discoveries, the patterns that have resulted from those wounds can start to loosen their hold and become less automatic. Realizing the reason for anything makes it less ominous and less immovable. That's true of our own behaviors, too.
I wish I really was the world's best partner, and for all the right reasons. But—as yet—I'm not.
Anneli Rufus’ latest work, Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself, was released by Tarcher Penguin in May 2014 and continues this path, addressing self-esteem.