What helped me understand self-hatred, at least my own, is a lot of visual thinking. Let me describe this, and maybe it’ll sound like you: I’ve always been a visual thinker – I tend to speak in simple metaphors and try to visualize as much as possible. My dreams are usually very quiet or silent – emotion and feeling is all communicated visually, which is common. Like a lot of people, when I listen to music I tend to imagine narratives, either visual concepts that evolve in my mind’s eye as the music plays or part of a story. You aren’t actively trying to think this way – you just naturally visualize everything. If that sounds a little familiar, what helped me might also help you.
Self-hatred, the really thick stuff, sits inside you churning, but you can’t really see it at first. It guides most of your decisions and manifests itself in your reactions to just about everything, but unless you know what you’re looking for, you can’t see it.
I would think about my mind as a clay labyrinth under a night sky, twisting corridors with little oubliettes that stash away neuroses and secrets, some with rooms full of boxes I haven’t opened, some doors locked up tight. This whole place, as I saw it in my mind’s eye, was flooded with self-hatred – black viscous fluid filling in the hallways and suspending you in liquid space. You can’t tell it’s there if you’re not looking for it – the only thing you see reflected in the deep black is yourself, and the image both nauseates and endlessly fascinates you. The fluid is suffocating, but you’re breathing it. Later you’ll discover it’s addictive.
It took a long time to come to that simple visual image of a clay labyrinth filled with black goop. The images came into view while I was putting myself through this stuff. The point is, I couldn’t force it – I had to do the work and come to those images honestly. No grandiose fantasies about being the hero, no monuments to myself or my imagined struggles, no church where I pray to my own face. It melts away, but you have to light yourself on fire first.
To give you an idea of how long you can sit inside this mass of self-hatred, I took my last drink in August 2014 after about 12 years of being a hardcore alcoholic. My alcoholism was slow-motion suicide, trying to prove to myself how much I wanted to die. Nothing else in my life caused me more anxiety or misery, and I had finally corralled it into a pen where it wasn’t an immediate threat to me anymore, and I couldn’t move. I sat there hating myself just as bad – maybe worse - at about 275-280lbs, now miraculously sober, for more than a year before even thinking of doing anything about it at all.
The self-hatred was older than the alcoholism. Older than most of my other problems, more familiar, more insidious, woven into the fabric of my thought. Don’t feel like you aren’t trying. I floated there staring at my reflection in the dark for decades and feel like I understand, deeply, how difficult it is to even know you’re in there in the first place. There’s a cliché about being your own biggest obstacle, but nobody ever explains that you have to be willing to brutally rip through your own self-image with your bare hands. It’s a violent act.
I didn’t even know “sincerely hating myself” was what I was actually up against until getting hardcore alcoholism under control, staying sober for a year and THEN getting incredibly serious about a lifelong weight crisis. And it took months after that still.
So if you haven’t started clawing out yet, don’t despair. Don’t judge yourself – you’re up against something monumental. If you’re even starting to shape some thoughts about your own self-image, where it comes from, and how that’s tangled up with your anxiety and depression, you are already strong enough to start preparing for the fight ahead. That self-awareness you have is precious – never let it go. It’s your secret weapon.