Posts Tagged ‘hating yourself’

Several comments on my blog lately have touched upon the issue of self hate. Self hate is a very common aftereffect of child abuse. In fact, it is so common that Compassion and Self Hate by Theodore I. Rubin is the one book that my therapist strongly urged me to read. It is not the most smoothly written book that I have ever read, but the content is great.

The themes of the book are similar to the parable of the good and evil wolf. The book talks about how we each have a battle going on inside of us between self-compassion and self-hatred. Compassion always triumphs over self-hate, but before it does, the self-hate will have a final rally and fight with all that it has inside. That is the time when it is more important to keep fueling that compassion or self-love. Otherwise, you can wind up sliding right back to where you were, hating yourself instead of loving yourself.

I have noticed several readers posting comments about hating themselves or various aspects of themselves. As the book points out, our natural state is self-love. Self-hatred is actually contrary to how we were designed to feel about ourselves. However, the child abuse warped our self-perceptions, causing us to internalize our abusers’ views of ourselves.

When you are in a perpetual state of hating yourself, it is hard to imagine actually loving yourself. It is doubly hard to imagine that loving yourself is a more powerful force because your self-hatred feels so all-consuming. However, I can tell you from firsthand experience that this is true. If you will feed the good wolf and choose to be kind and compassionate to yourself, your compassion will win. However, before it does, the self-hatred will rally back. You have to keep fighting back, being kind and gentle with yourself, to break through the self-hatred and enter into the wonderful world of self-love and acceptance.

Photo credit: Amazon.com

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This is the final post in a series on feeling responsible for the child abuse you endured. The series begins here .

Now the final truth — Children do not act and react like adults and should not be judged for not doing what an adult would have done.

In Janet’s comment, she said the following:

I even went along with what [my abuser] asked me. Doesn’t that make me worse than her? Aren’t I the one still hurting me now? ~ Janet

It is very easy in hindsight to play the “should have, would have, could have” game. From the perspective of safety and an adult body, it is easy to look back on your decisions as a child and judge yourself for not acting like an adult. While this is a very natural thing to do, it is extremely unfair to your wounded inner child.

My nine-year-old son does not think like I do in part because a child does not have the ability to think past this moment. As adults, we have many years of life under our belts, and we know that three months is not a very long period of time. As a child, summer vacation seemed to last F-O-R-E-V-E-R because three months out of a seven-year-old child’s life is a pretty sizable percentage whereas three months out of a forty-year-old person’s life really is not that long.

Until a child reaches the age of 18, he cannot sign a binding contract without a parent or guardian cosigning. Why? Because children simply do not think like adults do. They do not have the ability to think through the long-term consequences of their choices. My son would rather live on candy and popcorn than eat his vegetables because candy and popcorn taste better. At age nine, he does not appreciate that his body needs vitamins to grow big and strong. The pleasure of a better taste in the moment is all he sees: he cannot think through the short-term “sacrifice” of eating his broccoli to the long-term benefit of developing a healthier body. That is why he has a parent to make these decisions for him.

When your abuser hurt you, you were just a child. You believed in the existence of Santa Claus. (Think about that – You really believed that one person could deliver presents to every single home in the world in one night!) You were not a short adult. You were a child with very limited life experience.

I, too, had a very hard time with this. I hated the little girl I was and judged her so harshly. What really helped me was finding a picture of myself at the age that the abuse was happening (which was, unfortunately, during most of my childhood). I chose a picture of myself when I was two years old. I hated the child in that picture.

I forced myself to stop seeing that little girl as “me.” Instead, I imagined that this was another little girl that I was seeing for the first time. When I could separate myself from this little girl, it changed my perspective. I noticed how tiny her hands and feet were. I noted the boyish haircut and clothing that made her look more like a boy than a girl. When I was ready, I noticed the pain in this little girl’s eyes. Just about every picture of my son from age two has him grinning ear-to-ear, but this little girl looked like she had the weight of the world on her shoulders. When I saw her as a separate little girl, she broke my heart.

As I felt a little compassion for the girl in the picture, I developed a little compassion for myself. I carried that picture around in my purse and looked at it often. Each time, I felt a little more love for her. I wanted to reach into the photograph, hold her in my arms, and give her love. She so desperately needed love. The more I grew to love that little girl, the more I embraced my inner child and learned how to love myself.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I working through a series on feeling responsible for the child abuse you endured. The series begins here .

Now the fourth truth — Hating yourself instead of your abuser is a coping mechanism.

In Janet’s comment, she said the following:

If by chance I remember a feature of [my abuser’s] face, or remember an instance of something she did to me, I don’t feel any anger or hatred towards her. I feel it towards myself. What does that make me? ~ Janet

It makes you human, Janet. It also makes you a “normal” child abuse survivor.

Once again, we need to go back to the mindset of a child. As I shared previously, my nine-year-old son is strong-willed. He also has a temper. A big difference between my childhood and his is that it is safe for him to express his anger. I have taught him that it is okay to feel angry, but he is responsible for his actions while angry.

For example, no matter how angry my son gets, it is not okay for him to hurt another living being (person or pet) or harm anyone else’s property. However, it is completely appropriate for him to express his anger in safe ways, such as by punching pillows. My son is very physical, so I encourage him to express his anger using his body as long as he doesn’t hurt anyone else or damage their property.

Child abusers do not teach abused children that is it okay to express their anger. In fact, expressing anger is not even an option for the abused child. Because the child is feeling the emotion of anger (and for good reason), she must do something with that energy. Emotions are meant to be expressed, and they do not simply “go away” when they are repressed. Instead, the anger turns on the person repressing the anger, frequently in the form of anxiety or depression.

I struggled with this enormously before therapy. I repressed my anger so deeply that I truly did not believe that I had any. My therapist assured me that I did and that I would need to give that anger a voice.

The first time I gave my anger a voice was through punching pillows. I decided to invite the anger out by pretending the pillows were my abusers. I felt like a complete idiot with the first three punches, but the anger exploded out of me with the fourth, and I beat the h@#$ out of the pillows in a complete frenzy for 20 minutes. I felt such enormous relief afterward.

I have since moved on to visualization to process my anger. I used to have very angry alter parts that would constantly berate me and blame me for the abuse. I would tell those angry alter parts that their anger was aimed toward my abusers, not me. I would file through the faces of my abusers in my head. When the right abuser’s face appeared (the one that caused that particular anger), I would visualize myself beating the h@#$ out of that abuser. At first, the visualizations disturbed me because they were so graphic, but the relief I felt afterward reassured me that this was a positive thing.

The anger you have directed toward yourself is really unexpressed anger toward your abuser. If you will give that anger a voice and direct it toward your abuser, you will stop feeling so angry with yourself. If you also struggle with anxiety and/or depression, you will also very likely experience improvement in those areas.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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