Turning Self-Hatred into Self-Compassion
We are not born with self-hatred; it is learned
During this video, from 35.40 to 38.06, the Dalai Lama answers a question about self-hatred: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkjauGUlyCM
“We are not born with self-hatred. As we grow, our minds become more sophisticated. We become ambitious and desire, and then desire becomes unrealistic and never materialises: that’s how self hatred develops. We should investigate how this self hatred came about.”
Much depends on the level of our understanding. Self-hatred only comes about through relationships with others: “I don’t fit in”…“I’m such a loser”…“I can’t do anything right”…“I’m ugly”. Where did those ideas come from? It is up to us to consider this, and we may even come up with another conclusion.
Peer pressure is closely linked to self hatred. It’s important to understand that peer pressure comes from corporate and social ideals, creating a class system. Who are we trying to impress anyway? Is it possible that spiritual teachers don’t appreciate the power of social engineering, and the depth of the effect of having images of ‘perfect people’ pushed in our faces, day in and day out?
We judge ourselves, because we all feel judged, although we try to cover this up. We all have inner conflict. If we feel bad about ourselves, this may be the most intelligent conclusion we have come to in this lifetime!
Our pure nature of empty awareness notes these judgements in the mind and feels uncomfortable with them. This is both suffering and intelligence, and the beginning of our spiritual journey, so it’s not at all bad news. Once we know the world is crazy, everything starts to make sense!
We have to remember at what level we are speaking. People first need support to become a healthy human being, to feel happy about their lot. It is only then that they can take that apart. Reason goes step by step! If we have low self esteem, and try to take ourselves apart, we will end up in nihilism and depression. We first have to build a healthy self image in order to be able to see exactly what’s going on in the mind – and then we can take it apart.
Incessant, negative self-judgment can lead to substance abuse, suicide, self harm, or violence toward others. Equally, we can overcompensate for low self-esteem by being excessive in our endeavours and mannerisms. And of course, being surrounded by people who have a high self esteem doesn’t make life any easier, as they can’t empathise.
Childhood trauma can fuel negative feelings about ourself. Children believe what they hear, and it sticks. If a parent tells a child they’re good for nothing and can’t do anything right, then that becomes the truth in the child’s mind. Even the fear of rejection fuels negative feelings.
In order to develop compassion and kindness for ourselves, it is important to understand how self-hatred came about, and the role of the environment in which we were brought up. No matter what we did or did not do as a child, if we understand the hurt, it can heal into genuine kindness: there is a sense of relief that nurtures genuine confidence. Now, when we look around us, we see that everyone is touched by the same negative self image, whether they’re aware of this or not – and compassion can radiate.
It’s enough to be good enough. Many people feel they should be perfect—never angry, always generous, never critical, always right, and so on. These expectations deny that imperfection is the human condition. Expectations of ourself that are too high will create suffering. We can be as thick as a brick and still know our true nature. Likewise, there are many who are very clever but cannot care or love. Caring is empathetic understanding, and even a dog can do that!
The practice of meditation on loving kindness toward others is real healing. We all make mistakes; it is regret that leads to self-forgiveness.
From a Buddhist perspective, as humans, we are caught up in one of the six psychological realms:
Hell realms: It’s never right (anger).
Hungry ghosts: They want it desperately, but cannot digest it (greed).
Animal realm: They acquire it and store it, but never look at it (ignorance).
Human realm: They indulge in it, but get frustrated because it never quite satisfies (desire).
Jealous gods: They collect it and use it as a weapon (jealousy).
Gods: They have knowledge and enjoy it, but it won’t last and there will be the pain of loss (pride).
What is “it”? Knowledge!
These realms are the subject of the prayer of the Lord of Compassion, Chenrezi. Chenrezi’s mantra OM MANI PEME HUM stands for the six perfections; generosity, discipline, patience, perseverance, meditation and transcendent knowledge, which is wisdom. Once we understand wisdom – which is the realisation of our true nature – all the six perfections are aspects of compassion in one go!
When we understand, there is neither low nor high self esteem.
I’d like to emphasise that it is only those who have suffered and been liberated from that suffering who can truly have compassion for other beings. That is precisely why suffering is so very valuable. We know what it’s like.