When Self-Hatred Looks Like Self-Love

When Self-Hatred Looks Like Self-Love

To anyone reading the title – yes, the difference in definition between self-love and self-hatred is basically the difference between day and night, as they’re antonyms. But it’s not the definition that I’m talking about today – it’s how an outside perception of these two things can be misguided, or distorted.

It’s easy to mistake confidence for self-love or to expect someone realistic to be self-loathing somehow because they don’t stretch past their boundaries or limits. The truth is that love and hatred can be expressed in diverse ways, and we can confuse one for the other – especially when regarding ourselves. We live in a world where outward perception is highly valued and criticized, and where we receive a bombardment of opinions regarding our appearance, choices, and lifestyles – regardless of whether we wanted them or not.

It can be hard to withstand all those opinions and statements and still come out at the end with a concrete understanding of how we ourselves feel about who we are. Our opinions can get jumbled, distorted and changed by others, and we feel the need to defend ourselves, or even violently exert our confidence in a way that screams insecurity. That high self-esteem of ours then looks more like an attempt at validation, and a deeper self-loathing.

To better understand the delicate nature of self-perception, and the best way to look at oneself without feeling forced to conform to others, we’ll need to take a few steps back and look at the self in a more comprehensive way.

We Are a Mirror

We often talk about individuality and finding a way to express yourself for who you are, with the freedom of doing so without being pressured by others, but the truth is that “others” are the very source of how we define ourselves.

It is through other people that we find out who we are, and just how our understanding of the world is shaped.

You see, no one comes into this world understanding how things work. Not a single baby is born with a full understanding of social constructs and relationships and hierarchy and the rules of engagement and simple interaction. We learn these things, and we improve our ability to communicate and mold how we act after the actions and, partially, the personalities of our role models whoever they may be.

We also test ourselves and push the limits of what is and isn’t acceptable to find out how far we’d go, and how far we’re allowed to go regarding different aspects of being a normal human being.

Without others to reflect off of, the development of the human psyche might just be incomplete. In other words, what others think of us is in fact important. It may be critical in the establishment of our self.

Why Some Take Criticism More Harshly Than Others

But there is a healthy and unhealthy approach to everything, and the same goes for just how much we let others influence who we are. At a specific point in life, we begin to shape an idea of who we are based on what we’re comfortable with, what we want from ourselves, and where we see ourselves in our sphere of influence.

We begin to develop responsibilities and dependencies that define us, we find a purpose in life we want to pursue. Something, whatever it may be, gives our life “meaning”. And as we pursue that, we seek the nurturing and compassion of others towards our direction in life to let us know we’re doing “the right thing”.

When that time has come, we’ve officially grown up and discovered who we are. That doesn’t mean who we are becomes an immovable pillar of cement that can’t and shouldn’t be changed with time to adapt to different scenarios – but it also is no longer the malleable concept that your “self” might’ve been in your teen years, when you were still experimenting with who you are.

Understanding this is important because it helps us clarify that, in a way, validation is normal. Seeking validation, in fact, is important. It helps us cement an understanding of who we are, and when we seek the approval of others in our youth, this is to make sure that we become someone who matters to others and fits into the “tribe”, or general social fabric of the community.

But if we’re someone who isn’t bound by the community, then it’s harder to establish our purpose around the wishes of those around us. Instead, we might adapt the concept to a much wider sense of “community”, seeking to fit into a global image by pursuing some other passion that gives us a sense of happiness and fulfillment. Instead of defining ourselves by concepts like family, we might see ourselves as someone who helps others realize their dreams in business, or as entertainers on a global scale.

So, it’s perfectly normal that, when that self is attacked by others, our first instinct is to be defensive. When someone doesn’t like us, our first instinct is to try and understand why and to justify who we are in a way that makes us happy and perhaps even conforms to their worldview. But in a world where so many millions of different people have wildly different opinions over every facet of life, it’s impossible to please everyone with who we are – and we’ll always come across people who dislike us for one reason or another, be it because of who we are or because of a deeper personal issue they possess.

And once we grow used to that sort of criticism and secure with our understanding of who we are and what we want, we can ignore the intrusive questions and pointed accusations of others who don’t like something about us.

But some people don’t grow used to it. They don’t have the ability to see past other people’s criticisms because they relate to the criticism more than they relate to themselves. They have an idea of who they want to be, but they aren’t sure that’s who they are, and they have a deeper self-image that is built around doubt and self-loathing than the outward projection of confidence they use to mask their inner worries.

And when criticism is lobbed at them, they become defensive and aggressive again and again because of that insecurity, and the need to constantly validate themselves through little pursuits of vanity or self-embellishment.

On the outside, these may be confident, beautiful people with a powerful self-image. But upon deeper inspection, we find little elements of overcompensation and insecurity, anger and self-doubt. And that’s not to be ridiculed, or attacked – because the only way that person can go from feeling lost and undefined to finding actual happiness with who they are is through the very same thing that is so crucial in creating a confident and healthy self-image in teens becoming adults: compassion.

Confidence Isn’t Self-Love

It’s true that, in a way, people who love who they are and are happy with their lives are also more confident in their abilities. More accurately, they know what they can and can’t do, and they have a better definition of their boundaries and limitations without being angered by them. They are, as we all say, content.

Expressing an outward confidence in who you are, to the point of becoming oppressive and defensive, isn’t self-love. It’s an example of inner turmoil. As some say, a high self-esteem may not actually mean you’re going places in life. There is such a thing as having too high an opinion of oneself, mostly as a symptom of truly seeing ourselves as much smaller than we might be.

It’s confusing, for sure, but rather simple to trace to a point of origin – at some point, people who are unsure of themselves and force a fabricated image of who they are to cover up how they really feel about themselves may have been deeply hurt or constantly criticized earlier in life. They may have lost the chance to feel accepted or secure in who they want to be because everyone around them were against it. And they lash out, frustrated with themselves and others. They may cover it up to mask the pain.

In some cases, this may be a part of a personality disorder like narcissism (although not all narcissism includes self-doubt). In other cases, a person might have deep-seated feelings of anxiety and even depression, while employing an outward persona of confidence to distract from those feelings. Or, they may have no symptoms of actual mental illness and are simply troubled and insecure.

Let’s go back to the earlier assertion: people with insecurities and issues regarding self and self-loathing, regardless of how they choose to reflect that to the outside world, can find healing through compassion.

Compassion Against Hatred

We’ve talked about how we often develop a sense of self-based on others. We’ve talked about how who we are is tied to how useful we feel to others. And we’ve talked about how people who take issue with who they are haven’t had the chance to cement their place in society or purpose in life due to constant rejection, at first from outside and then within themselves. Like self-love, the origins of their self-hatred may very well have begun through others.

And it’s first through others, and then through themselves that people dealing with issues of insecurity can find happiness. Compassion is key in this – compassion is the ability to feel concerned for the suffering of others. But it’s more than that because it’s also the ability to understand how someone else is feeling. Being compassionate is about empathy. It’s about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and seeing their perspective on things, rather than berating them for how they feel about something without even trying to understand the context of their situation or their mindset because they are, according to you, going about this “the wrong way”.

Compassion isn’t about molding to someone’s negativity and letting them wallow in their self-loathing. Just because it means “suffering together”, doesn’t mean it extends to promoting pity. Instead, compassion is about telling someone that it’s okay to feel the way they do, both in terms of sadness and happiness. It’s okay to feel rejected and hurt, and it’s okay to feel passionate about something that you may have been ridiculed for in the past. It’s okay to pursue your dreams. It’s okay to be who you want to be, because we accept you in our community, and value you as a person.

We All Need Love

The easiest way to relate to this bit of knowledge is by calling upon an adage: no man is an island. We thrive not in isolation, but together. We may seek each other out in different ways, where some people prefer the company of many and other people prefer just a small selection of friends, but we all need each other to feel like we belong. Individuality and developing a sense of self is important for a healthy psyche, but we also need to recognize that that still depends on others.

Because as human beings, we’re not actually inherently selfish creatures like we constantly tell each other we are. Our human nature isn’t “I’ve got mine, so you can go screw yourself” – it’s to look out for those who matter to us. It’s just an unfortunate fact that we’re currently conditioned to be critical and skeptical of others because of the way our society is molded, but true happiness comes from learning to accept others and ourselves.

By expressing compassion towards others, we can help them heal from rejection, and the unneeded criticisms levied at them by others who may have sought to put them down or destroy their feelings.

Of course, there will always be things we can’t emphasize with, like hatred and destruction. We can’t feel compassion for someone who wants to hurt others and discriminate, and we can’t emphasize with a person who feels it is their duty to spread separation and hate.

But very few people want to do that, down to their core. Most people want to be happy and be with others who feel happy for them, and they seek happiness in countless ways, through art or philanthropy or the pursuit of knowledge. And we need to support and be positive about people seeking to be who they are, rather than put them down and foster more negativity.

The Most Common Mental Disorders

The Most Common Mental Disorders

The human mind is incredibly complex, and although it’s something we’ve been thinking about and studying for thousands of years, we’re pretty much nowhere near really figuring out how we work. We still discover new things about ourselves on a regular basis, from understanding how intelligence develops and what factors determine personality to figure out what is and isn’t normal human behavior, and how a healthy mind can best avoid becoming ill.

For the world of psychology, the big responsibility is figuring out how to solve the problems of the human mind – its mental disorders. There are many mental disorders and symptoms, and all of them range from mild to ruinous in severity and capacity. Some mental disorders make it difficult to remember things and may make us a little more irritable, or prone to a loss of temper. They might kill our mood or send us into swings of irrational emotion. Others toy with our mind, putting things in our world that aren’t really there, letting us hear and feel things that don’t exist.

The modern human mind is an evolutionary development that took millions of years and truly materialized a few dozen thousand years ago, and we’re still doing our homework on it – and will be for a very long time.

When it comes to these common mental disorders and the progress we’ve made in studying them and discovering as much about them as possible, it’s humbling to see how much of the progress we’ve made towards diagnosing and helping people with these disorders is rather recent. We just don’t know much and are constantly learning more. But what we do know can help a lot of people put their experiences into context, and help them improve and even thrive under dire conditions.

Keep in mind that while these are basic explanations of what we know about our worst mental enemies, every single one of these descriptions is written to inform you on the basics of mental illness, and not act as diagnostic tools. Only a professional can help you definitively figure out if you’re struggling with your mental health.

Substance Abuse and Dependence

These are actually two separate categories according to the DSM, but it helps to explain them together due to their obviously exclusive relationship. Abuse doesn’t really mean dependence according to modern addiction literature, and the matter is a difference between the physical issue of a dependence on whatever drug of choice someone has and the abuse of a drug for the purpose of self-medication.

To be clearer, substance abuse is defined by modern psychiatric standards as a maladaptive behavior. That’s when you’ve got a problem, and your solution for coping with said problem – like an abnormal amount of stress – is to do something that might seem to help you in the short-term but will cause you an even greater amount of stress and potential damage in the future. The simplest analogy is shooting you in the foot to stop a headache, although a far more realistic example is drinking alcohol to relieve stress after work – night after night after night.

When a drug is used for over a year for the explicit purpose of coping with stress or other problems, and you’re escalating in reckless behavior (like drinking on the job), you’re probably eligible for a professional diagnosis of abuse.

Dependence is something else. That’s when your body develops a physical resistance or tolerance to a drug, and you take incrementally larger amounts of it to make up for the fact. Eventually, this drives you to a point where trying to stop causes you to go into withdrawal, a painful and sometimes deadly experience if not done properly and with medical attention.

The two are intricately related and often occur together, but not everyone suffering from addiction can be diagnosed with both. Dependence is treated through the highly studied medical art of rehab – clients basically get medical assistance in weaning their body off a drug, and then they get psychiatric assistance to beat their addiction. Some people get off drugs completely on their own, but it’s never an easy experience.

Anxiety

Anxiety is a contender for the top of the list in terms of the world’s most common mental illness. It’s an incredibly diverse diagnosis, with disorders ranging from extremely mild to highly severe. All the world’s phobias are encompassed within the anxiety spectrum, together with specific diagnoses like social anxiety, and the more general anxiety disorder.

To put it in simpler terms, anxiety is fear. That’s really the best way to describe it. An anxiety disorder is an extraordinary or unnatural fear of something or several things in life, manifesting in different ways. Social anxiety disorders, for example, are the fear and worry that you might embarrass yourself, or that you’re incapable of presenting yourself in public without a massive blunder. It can be mild or so bad that you develop an obsessive compulsive disorder, the urge to utilize compulsive and obsessive behavior to distract yourself or save yourself from a certain fear.

Like any mental illness, anxiety can be inherent, or it can develop. Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is usually diagnosed after an incredibly traumatic or series of traumatic events causes you to break down into a state of anxiety, making the event a painful scar in your life. Over 40 million Americans struggle with anxiety in a year, the most common example being social anxiety. This isn’t to be confused with shyness or introversion, both of which are normal human behavior – rather, it’s the fear or total irrational aversion to certain forms of human contact.

Depression

More than 15 million Americans struggle with major depression, and several million more struggles with depressive symptoms, falling somewhere along the depression spectrum. Another term for the depression spectrum is mood disorders, a collection of different disorders related to depression and depressive symptoms, from manic depression to cyclothymia. The basic idea is that a mood disorder is one where your regular ups and downs are replaced by severe ups and downs, or just a lot of really bad downs.

Depression isn’t just feeling sad, or having a down-time emotionally. We naturally experience quite a few of the symptoms of a depression while mourning and grieving the loss of a loved one, or while coping with a sad event that might’ve severely affected us. Yet our natural inclination is to live through that depressive period, then recover and move on. It might make us a little solemn or sad to think about it, but it’s over.

Major depression may develop because of a traumatic event, or completely on its own, and major depression is diagnosed by exhibiting several depressive symptoms for much longer than is normal.

A depression can pass on its own, or become a lifelong problem. Depression isn’t a joke or just a matter of feeling sad – severe depression includes regular thoughts of hopelessness and suicide and instances of self-harm. Depression is the leading cause of disability among young people, stripping people of the will to live and the motivation to work. And it’s a growing problem among our youth.

Treating depression isn’t easy. Not only can it take a long time to make progress through therapy and medication, but those struggling with depression quite often also struggle with anxiety or another mental disorder. Common symptoms, as a result, are an incredibly low self-esteem and trouble in social situations, ranging from extreme shyness to fear of contact.

Another common form of depression is manic depression, which was formerly known as bipolar disorder. While it’s a separate diagnosis from major depression, both occur on the depressive spectrum. Manic depression is best described as a severe depression with manic episodes – these are basically episodes of extreme elation and a hyper confidence that often inspires recklessness.

Among the roughly 5.7 million Americans struggling with manic depression, the experience is generalized as swinging between severe sadness and euphoria, but a manic state can often translate into abject fear and paranoia rather than happiness. It’s important to understand that – it’s not really accurate to describe manic depression as a mix of happy and sad, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Mania and happiness aren’t the same things – mania is a state of mental hyperactivity, the opposite of a depressive phase, where instead of a lack of motivation you find yourself motivated towards anything. However, this is also highlighted by over activity and delusions of grandeur, which can make for a scary combination. Even in less severe cases, such a cyclothymia – a much milder manic depression – neither the depressive nor manic symptoms are typically appreciated.

Eating Disorders

Last on this list and a fairly commonly diagnosed set of disorders are eating disorders. Typically, when we think about an eating disorder, we picture bulimia or anorexia. However, binge eating is also an incredibly potent issue among Americans and a driving factor in other mental disorders and general health issues.

An eating disorder is any mental disorder characterized by severe irregularities with the way a person eats food and handles their weight. Extreme fluctuations in weight gain and weight loss, as well as periods of starvation or binge-eating, are signs of an eating disorder. Eating disorders are highly treatable, if diagnosed properly and addressed with the proper medication and treatment for the job.

About 30 million Americans have an eating disorder, a drastic percentage of which are female, minorities and/or transgender. While over half of the diagnosed cases of bulimia in the country are at least partially genetically caused, stress is a massive factor in the development of an eating disorder. Like substance abuse, sometimes it’s a matter of maladaptive behavior – short-term reward, long-term damage. This is especially true for cases of a binge eating disorder, where roughly half of all cases is diagnosed alongside either anxiety, depression, or both.

The statistics are alarming, both for anorexia/bulimia and binge eating. Other less common eating disorders such as restrictive food intake and diabulimia are also taking their toll on the American population – and our general solution is support and therapy. Medication does less in cases of an eating disorder than it might for other disorders, perhaps due to the complex nature of how an eating disorder develops.

When it’s not genetic, eating disorders may be related to a low self-esteem and major body issues, including a powerful feeling of self-consciousness regarding personal weight, and body dysmorphia – an anxiety disorder that causes someone to see themselves in a highly negative and different light from reality, from feeling inadequate in size and weight to considering a minor personal imperfection as a highly visible flaw.

Treating Our Mental Illnesses

Mental illness is a highly individual manner, where every case has its own nuances and unique circumstances that make diagnosis and treatment challenging. Sometimes, we like to make sweeping allegations and simplistic statements about certain disorders to help simplify the complex, but that only hurts the credibility of psychology. It’s a lot more realistic to think about these disorders as categories of related symptoms, many of which are closely related and tie into a problem solved by a specific set of therapies and medication.

There are some generalities that can be said about mental disorders, though. For one, a mental disorder is never guaranteed. People can go through untold amounts of trauma and not develop PTSD. Some people still develop high levels of anxiety without having experienced trauma or abuse.

While one breakup might’ve been enough to set off a depression, that doesn’t mean the next one will do the same for the same person. There are too many factors and too many variables to give a perfect explanation of how any individual case of mental illness came to pass – the best we can do is help you understand why you might’ve been affected, and what options you have towards getting better.

Things get even more complicated when you realize that many of these disorders – such as anxiety, depression, and bulimia – act together, making a clear diagnosis tough to call. It’s important not to get too hung up on labels – what we call things doesn’t ultimately matter when we focus on tackling an individual’s problem as a whole.