Feeling full of self-loathing (an overwhelming sense of inadequacy and utter lack of worth) is a terrible burden to carry through life. If you feel that way, it is very important to seek professional help and start working out how and why you feel the way you do; allowing yourself the possibility of feeling differently in the future. However, I’ve also been wondering about the impact of self-loathing on those close relationships in the individual’s life.
If we think for a moment about how other people experience it, our perspective on the impact of this type of behaviour starts to shift. Those suffering from self-loathing often think everything they do is wrong and that they need to apologize for everything, regardless of importance (or even if it’s a mistake at all); they also feel that they’re likely to ruin their relationships, and that anxiety often makes them apologize more (which can bring about the outcome they’re trying to prevent). Imagine how this feels for a partner or loved one. They may well worry, ‘Did I do or say something to make them feel they have to apologize for everything?’ or ‘Am I really this demanding?’
Often those suffering from self-loathing will feel the need to express how unworthy they feel of others’ love and care. How does this impact? Others might wonder, ‘What I have done or said to make him/her feel he/she is not good enough?’ or ‘Am I sending out signals to this effect that I’m not aware of?’ Although these behaviours are intended as sincere expressions of self-doubt, they can easily be interpreted as cries for attention and reassurance, and the problem comes from the self-loathing person believing those things of themself. Although loved ones may well appreciate this, the most they can do is reassure that individual about how they feel; so they do what they can while realizing it’s not enough.
I’ve been watching Channel 4’s new series Bedlam, set in the South London and Maudsley psychiatric institution (the Bethlem Royal Hospital – aka Bedlam). The stories of individuals like Helen and James, whose lives have been ruined for years by their crippling fears and anxiety, reminded me of the terrible toll mental health can exact. Although their cases appear extreme, we all face anxiety, fear, loss and chaos in our lives and can never be sure how we will react to what life throws at us. It was good to see how well cared for they seemed to be: the staff were caring, professional, friendly and patient. Most of us harbour within us a fear of ‘madness’ and I think it can only do good to show ordinary, complex and multi-faceted individuals’ struggles with their thoughts and feelings when it is presented in such a compassionate, intelligent and inclusive way.
Thinking about loss and how we grieve reminded me of how prescriptive we can be about what is such an individual, complicated process. Although it can be useful to understand different phases or stages of grieving – it can help to normalise an overwhelming, confusing and frightening experience – it can also make us feel there is some ‘right’ way to feel. It is vital that we consider each person’s unique experience of grief. Some of us may have more support from family, friends, work etc. And some of us might be enduring additional losses, such as unemployment, illness, divorce etc. Sometimes a death dredges up grief from previous deaths. So, above all, we need to recognise how complex grief is and to be aware of how we are affected by it in ourselves and in others.
I’ve been thinking a lot about belief. It seems to me that it is often our beliefs – about ourselves, about others, about the way we or they or life should be – that leave us feeling bad or confused. Or rather it is the way in which these beliefs and reality clash. Many times I’ve heard (and myself said or thought) ‘If only I was more/less….’ or ‘If only they could/would ….’ And it does feel in that moment that we could feel ok if only our beliefs about how it should all be would come to pass.
As human beings we all have to struggle with the human condition and define how we want to live. To do this we need to understand the obstacles and difficulties we encounter: to become aware and conscious of our position in the world. In this, context is crucial: we are moulded by the history and culture surrounding us. We create our lives out of what has been given to us and what we have managed to understand. Our lives are relatively brief, and it is up to each of us to make something meaningful out of the time we have. In order to do this, we need to become of aware of our beliefs: the ones that are holding us back, the ones we want to hold on to.