Saturday, August 21, 2010

Coping with Self-Hatred, Self-Loathing

Some of my clients admit to self-loathing.

Okay, so do I. Despite my impressive list of accomplishments and current work, I honestly hate myself. I hate that I'm ugly, kind of a curmudgeon, and virtually a hermit. I overeat, am intense, am not quite as capable as I was just a few years ago. I hold libertarianish political views that most people hate. I roll my eyes at unthinking liberals who believe all wisdom resides left of center. I too often forgo tact and hit people between the eyes with candid input, often unsolicited. Plus I decry my aging self.

I'm well aware that my glass is more than half full but that awareness doesn't make me feel better. So I can't tell you to focus on your positives.

Perhaps like most things, the answer is simply self-acceptance. Loathe yourself if that's how you feel. Maybe, like me, doing that for a while will desensitize you, take the edge off your self-hatred. You'll still hate yourself but it will bother you less.

There is an important silver lining to self-loathing, at least mine: It motivates me to work ever harder. And indeed, as Michael Lopp, author of Being Geek told me yesterday, nearly every successful person in Silicon Valley suffers from the same malady. Indeed, no less than Abraham Lincoln suffered from grave self-doubt. The opposite syndrome--high self-esteem--usually leads to complacency and no growth.


Anonymous said...

Spanx can help you with your body.

Not making this up.

Marty Nemko said...

Thanks for caring enough to write but it's not me to do that--just as I wouldn't wear a hairpiece. The larger issue is that despite 99%ile effort, I simply am aging at a slightly above-average rate. I should be grateful for what I have.

DC Husker said...

How do you know that you are aging at a slightly above-average rate?

Anonymous said...

An old 12-step maxim: don't should on yourself.

Marty Nemko said...

DC Husker,

I'm rather a student of the aging process. I know I am aging at a slightly to somewhat above-average rate but don't feel comfortable going into details.


DC Husker said...

I am 48 and just received word that I will have to undergo foot surgery due to a bunion. The bunion is causing my first two toes to cross over each other. This means I be off my feet for possibly 3 months. I thought this only happened to older people.

Kyle said...

Marty, I have read this blog on and off for a while and I can definitely say the same for myself. I feel for you.

Marty Nemko said...

As they say, thanks for sharing, DC Husker. You're 48, you'll heal quickly. Rootin' for you.


Jeff S said...

Been thinking about this blog a bit, Marty. I sense there are quite of few of us who just don't know how to respond to your comments. Maybe it's just a happy delusion, but I can't begin to relate to the feeling of self-loathing.

I certainly have issues - general insecurity, hair loss, frustrations with the government, estrangement from my father, etc. To me that's just part of an imperfect life in an imperfect world. But none of that is enough to elicit a sense of self-hatred, at least for me.

I think a big part of that contentment is faith-based (I know we do not come close to seeing eye-to-eye on this); my faith does give me an assurance of something bigger than myself in this world.

Intriguing post, Marty. Thanks for your willingness to be honest and vulnerable - traits far too uncommon these days, I'm afraid.

Anonymous said...


I admire your openness, it's rare and a breath of fresh air. It's an unusual person who does not experience (at least) some self-loathing some of the time.

Your remedy, self-acceptance about your self-loathing, is the best psychological approach for just about everyone with this issue.

Michael R. Edelstein

Dave Dee said...

I have noticed that virtually all of my internal dialog is negative, yet mostly in a glancing way, as if I was chiding a friend. During the very worst period of my life (a dreadful divorce), I witnessed myself giving my best effort to everyone and everything despite feeling lower than dirt, and it demonstrated to me that I must have a rock-bound love for myself and others. "Doing" is evidence of self-regard. We CAN have an "A" for effort.

For anyone who wants a little perspective on the human condition, I highly recommend "The Birth and Death of Meaning" by the late Ernest Becker. He lays bare the foundations and purpose of the human ego going back to our primate ancestors, and it's been impossible to take myself nearly so seriously since. Culture is a necessary illusion, and not worth beating ourselves up over. His next book, "The Denial of Death," won the Pulitzer Prize, and provides yet more stunning insights.

Life is absurd, Marty. Laughter is a reasonable response. I definitely hear you on the "hermit" thing, though!

DC Husker said...

Wise words from Dr. Edelstein.

Anonymous said...

Brave post. We do get stuck, especially by appearances. By way of a challenge I would submit the truth in the writings of Alexander McCall Smith, however:

“It is good to be alive. Life is so precious, so unexpected in its developments, and so very rich in possibilities.”

Damn right.

Anonymous said...

Marty, I dig your writing something awful. I steer my friends to your webpage and I keep a mental note of your useful advice.

You're not old and you're not ugly. So chill out.


Juan said...

You're not ugly, Marty. You're just Jewish. The good news is that there are women (even Shiksas) who find Jewish men attractive. And all you need is one of them.

Marty Nemko said...

FOrtunately, Juan, I'm happily married to a great woman who somehow is blind to my looks and other faults.

Justin Wehr said...

Marty, you might appreciate some of these statements I posted the other day, all inspired by Alain de Botton's book How Proust Can Change Your Life:

1. Happiness is good for the body, but grief develops and strengthens the mind.

2. The pursuit of happiness << the pursuit of ways to be properly and productively unhappy.

3. 'The stubborn recurrence of misery means that the development of a workable approach to it must surely outstrip the value of any utopian quest for happiness.'

Marty Nemko said...

Yes, Justin, I am convinced that the pursuit of happiness is shallower than the pursuit of contribution, which generally is orthogonal to happiness.

Silver said...

Hi, Marty. I found that, rather than fighting them, allowing myself to fully experience such feelings unexpectedly led to their intensity greatly diminishing. Acceptance is golden.

Like yourself, I too come from a devoutly atheist background (read all the books, know all the arguments), but I eventually decided that spiritual yearning has been such a constant throughout human history that even if the ways it has traditionally been given expression (rituals, scripture etc) is intellectually unsatisfactory there's surely something to the experience itself; which stands to reason, since if "the gods" aren't actually there it means we humans are capable of creating those religious experiences all on our own. Why disavow that on what amounts to a technicality? Pride? Bah, if we only get one shot let's make the most of it. I've found the mere practice of "faith" itself (in nothing in particular, when you get down to it) to be a wonderful aid in elevating my experience of this life.

Lastly, since you've objectively achieved a great deal more than I have (although I'm only really getting started), I find it encouraging that one so accomplished might still succumb to such feelings of inadequacy. In other words, if it can strike you, I'm not even going to begin worrying about it affecting me.


Anonymous said...

When Marty says "self-loathing," he means "dissatisfaction."