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.