“I hate myself.” I’ve said this in the privacy of my own head countless times in my life. In fact, I practically think it on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s deeply felt and sums up a mood that lasts for days or weeks.
On other occasions I say “I hate myself” almost as a kind of reflex; something that I just mutter to myself, that comes out of nowhere. Taking the groceries up the stairs I mutter, “I hate myself.” Or I say it while boarding the subway. Or while slicing an onion. Or while tying my shoes. It wells up from me at the oddest moments, even seemingly happy ones.
And I’m sure this would continue no matter how my circumstances happened to change. As the Archbishop places the crown upon my head I would mutter, through clenched teeth, “I hate myself.” Preparing to address a million of my followers, assembled on the zeppelin field, I would whisper “I hate myself” just before approaching the open mike. Ascending to my heavenly throne, to sit at the right hand of the Father, I would wave to the adoring angels and boom “I hate myself!”
My darkest “I hate myself” moments have been accompanied by thoughts of suicide. In fact, I think about suicide pretty regularly. Though only once in my life did I ever come really close to it (yes, I had a loaded gun pressed to my temple). I don’t have any trouble admitting this to my readers, as I know I’m not alone. Most intelligent people contemplate suicide now and then, particularly people who see as much wrong with the world as we do.
The last time I briefly contemplated suicide (while sipping champagne on New Year’s Eve) it occurred to me that we are the only animals that are capable of willing our own annihilation. I suppose this occurred to me because I was looking at a friend’s dog at the time. And I suppose also that this isn’t a particularly original thought. But it struck me nonetheless. Humans are the only living things who look their lives over and say “This should not be. I need to end this.” We are capable of passing the ultimate judgment on ourselves, and carrying it out.
Now, some people choose suicide because they’re facing a slow, agonizing death. Or because they are about to be captured and have information tortured out of them. But my own thoughts of suicide are always occasioned by thoughts of self-hatred. I consider annihilating myself when I think that there is something fundamentally wrong with me. And this involves, quite obviously, judging myself according to a standard.
All those occasions where I find myself muttering “I hate myself” are brought on by instantaneous judgments I pass on myself. Judgments that I fall short of some important standard or other. Taking the groceries up the stairs or boarding the subway I’ll be reminded of some way in which I’ve fallen short of my standards. Sometimes it’s a bad memory come back to haunt me momentarily. And the mantra that sums up the feeling I’m having, and that (oddly enough) briefly banishes the bad thought is “I hate myself.” I wish I could replace this with a positive mantra like “I love myself” or “I am peachy just the way I am.” I suppose this is the advice some self-help guru would give me.
But it’s not going to work. Because I’ve got my standards, and they’re important to me. They’re more important than my happiness and more important, even, than my life. Because, of course, I’m capable of willing my own annihilation when I see myself failing to live up to them.
Admittedly, all of the above is what they call “negative thinking,” but it’s led me to reflect on what the opposite state would be. What’s the opposite of my “I hate myself” moods? The obvious answer would be “I love myself,” but actually I don’t think this quite captures it. “I hate myself” basically sums up a feeling that I am guilty of falling short of important standards.
When I hate myself what’s going on, of course, is that I am seeing myself as if I were an other, and passing judgment on this person that I think I am.
It’s as if my self bifurcates into, on the one hand, the sum total of my past deeds, present state, proclivities, etc. – and, on the other hand, a self that judges all of that. My self-hatred is really an expression of contempt – the exact same sort of contempt I would feel for another person who didn’t live up to my standards. But when I love another person it’s actually seldom because they somehow fully realize my standards. Often, in fact, it’s because they’re tortured by the same sort of self-criticism that I am.
So, the opposite of “I hate myself” can’t really be “I love myself.” It would be a feeling not of “love” but of fundamental rightness. This is the best word I can find for it. A feeling that I am right; that I have met my standards and am worthy of living and worthy of happiness. This is basically what people mean by “self-esteem,” no matter what kind of mushy, feel-good nonsense they may say about it. One could also call this, I suppose, a feeling of “self-affirmation.” But it’s not egotism; not a feeling of “aren’t I wonderful?” This is an expression of narcissism. What’s really going on in such “self love” is that someone is seeing themselves as they imagine others do – or will, or should – and feeling all giddy at the thought of the admiration they’re going to receive.
Whether we’re talking about self-hatred or self-affirmation, it all comes back to the standards I have set for myself. Both my feelings of self-hatred and self-affirmation are determined by how close I come to living up to my standards, or how far I’ve fallen from them. This is why New Year’s resolutions, and carefully planning my life, are so important to me – as I’ve discussed in another essay. I am constantly striving to fine-tune myself and refine my standards, and to determine how I am going to live according to them.
Now, I’ve shared this side of myself with plenty of people, and I don’t mind telling you that lots of them think I am in need of long-term psychotherapy. They tell me, first of all, that these frequent feelings of self-loathing are a mental illness. They tell me that going around muttering “I hate myself” is destroying my soul. And I do think that they are at least partially correct. I will admit that there is something pretty twisted about a guy who lives alone going about his day muttering little self-negations under his breath.
I know that it’s probably unhealthy, and to be quite honest I find it contemptible. In other words, I hate myself for hating myself. Please don’t bother to tell me that this is, like, you know, a vicious circle or whatever. I’ve already thought of this. And I assure you that I hate myself for hating myself for hating myself.
As you have gathered, this is an addiction. And I hate myself for it. But you also may have begun to suspect that I take a peculiar pleasure in it as well. Please don’t bother pronouncing me “masochistic.” I’ve heard this before, intoned by people who think just labeling me as “masochistic” is enough to show that I ought to change. I usually reply, “Thank you. I’ll add ‘masochistic’ to the list of things I don’t like about myself and start beating myself up over it first thing tomorrow.” The truth is, I’m quite happy with my masochism. And I don’t regard it as a character flaw. In fact, it’s what has made me the man I am today.
It’s my masochism that has spurred me on to do more and to be more. I’m never fully satisfied with myself as I am. I am always striving to improve myself, in myriad ways. By setting goals for self-improvement, and making specific plans for achieving those goals, I grow as a person. This is a never-ending process, of course. At least, I will never end it deliberately. Each year I make progress in changing the things I don’t like about myself. In fact, I have changed myself so much over the years that when I look back on myself as I was just five years ago it feels as if I am thinking about a different person. And I don’t particularly like that person. I’m better now.
I long ago discovered that not everybody is like this. I have friends who never seem to change and who don’t really care anything about changing. Now, to be fair, these people are pretty good as they are. But my friends are exceptional. It’s the strangers in my life who mystify me. Like the fat guy I sat next to yesterday on the bus. He was younger than me, with longish, scraggly hair and a scraggly beard, chatting amiably with a young woman I guessed was not his girlfriend. It was obvious from his manner that he was quite comfortable being who he was.
I envy people like that. It must be wonderful to really believe that you are okay just the way you are, warts and all. But for me this is as baffling as trying to imagine what it’s like to have two heads or two hundred eyes. I don’t get people like that, and I can’t help but feel contempt for them. Paradoxically, while my masochistic self-hatred seems to be keeping me “down,” it’s also the source of my deep-seated feelings of superiority. I looked at that guy on the bus and thought, “I’m better than you, because I hate myself. I’m proud of the shame I feel, and my feelings of inferiority make me superior to you.”
Contrary to the impression I’ve probably given, I don’t hate myself all the time. I do sometimes feel the “self-affirmation” I have spoken about, and it is definitely a feeling of fundamental “rightness.” It comes when I have accomplished something important, or otherwise lived up to the standards I’ve set for myself in some significant way. The “rightness” I feel on these occasions is incredibly powerful. And it is the exact opposite of the feeling from whence stem my “I hate myself” mutterings, and thoughts of self-annihilation. Instead of feeling like my life is something that ought not be, I feel that my life is right and good. I feel suffused with energy and self-confidence and youth. And life in general feels good. No matter what evil is happening in the world, I feel that I am fundamentally right and good. It is these moments that make life worth living for me.
Please don’t tell me that these are “manic episodes.” Yes, I’ve heard that one a lot too. If they are manic episodes then three cheers for mania! Because they’re what keep me going, and it’s when I’m having them that I’m at my best and doing my best work. Now and then, however, there’s a little doubt that nags me. I don’t experience it all the time, but now and then I feel it tapping me on the shoulder. Even when I’m popping the cork on the champagne, congratulating myself on a job well done. The nagging doubt whispers in my ear: “But what’s it all for, anyway? You can keep improving yourself year after year, but in the end you’re just food for the worms.”
I will admit that this thought bothers me. I imagine it as dressed like Death in The Seventh Seal. Strangely, I never feel possessed by it; it never drags me down into depression. And I am usually able to dismiss it quickly, but it keeps coming back. Aside from evasion, there is really only one way to deal with this problem, and that is to realize that it is only a problem if the sole purpose of my self-improvement is some kind of transient personal satisfaction.
But if the purpose of my self-improvement is something that transcends my self, then it’s not all for nothing. The purpose of my life, in fact, is my mission of destroying the modern world, and saving my people and my culture. I have tried to introduce an architectonic into my life: all elements ordered in such a way that they converge on that mission. If hating myself keeps spurring me on to work for the Cause, then I will keep hating myself. And, funnily enough, I kind of love myself for that. Really, to be quite honest with you, in moments like these I think I am just too damned cute.
And I hate myself for it!