by Dr. Eric Weiss

In our class last Sunday, we were discussing the problem of self-hatred.  I think that most of us are, at least occasionally, plagued by that particular problem.

I have been very much helped, in dealing with my own bouts of self-hatred, by the ideas of the psychoanalyst Karen Horney (see, in particular, her book Neurosis and Human Growth).

It is in the nature of ego for us to feel overwhelmed by the world, and at least a bit lost in it. Also, as we are growing up, we are under intense pressure from the adults around us to live up to their expectations.  It is natural, then, for us to form what Horney calls an “idealized self-image.”  This image is a picture of someone who could perfectly fit into the world by living up to our young understanding of the expectations of the people who are important to us.  We soothe ourselves by identifying with that self-image.  We think that that is who we should be, and who we “really are.”

That identification with the idealized self-image is what gets us into trouble because it is not, in fact, realistic.  In fact, we are just another ego, crawling around on the surface of the planet.  The tighter our identification with the idealized self-image, the more intensely we hate ourselves for not living up to it.

Horney writes a whole book about this, and I recommend that text.  But the take-away for this column is this:  the only way to overcome self-hatred is to identify the idealized self-image, and to recognize it for what it is—a child’s desperate attempt to deal with harsh reality.  Then we can let go of that image, come to accept ourselves for who and what we actually are, and relax into that.

The key to overcoming self-hatred is to give up the false identification with the idealized self-image.  It is the only way out of that particular ego trap.