Disliking Yourself

Inner emptiness, the inability to tolerate being alone are symptomatic of a lack of self-knowledge, a poorly defined sense of self. Sufferers often describe the chronic condition as a feeling of loneliness. People with this problem usually have a desperate need for the regard and affection of others, said regard and affection providing the means to ward off, or at least ameliorate, painful self-dislike. Since they cannot accept themselves, they have a powerful need to forget themselves, to get out of themselves, to do something, anything, which will promote self-forgetfulness, self-oblivion. Psychologists claim that a lack of happy family life in childhood may lay the foundations for such a plight. A child unloved by its parents never learns to love itself.

Eleanor Rigby Statue in Liverpool

Like The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” you may experience self-alienation as a feeling of intense loneliness or inner emptiness. (photo: Erik Ribsskog)

Psychologist Karen Horney writes, “In all neurotic developments the alienation from self is the nuclear problem.” In the neurotic, “the emphasis shifts from being to appearing.”

Alienation from self has two aspects. One is the problem with self-hate or self-loathing. Here, sufferers have decided that some qualities they possess are unacceptable. They quite literally reject themselves. These qualities are mostly character traits, but may extend to ideas in the case of those who hold ideological positions. For example, someone who has taken up leftist ideals may reject their original, and probably authentic, conservative values. Rejecting your own authentic values means rejecting yourself. You have shifted from “being [yourself] to appearing [to be something different].”

The other aspect of self-alienation arises from a lack of self-knowledge. Those who do not know themselves, or who have a poorly organized sense of self, have to live by an arbitrarily adopted set of values that probably have little or nothing to do with their genuine worldview. These individuals literally have no option but to shift from “being to appearing.” Without the inner compass of a genuine sense of self, life becomes a nightmare of trying to stay on the “right” side of every issue or trend. Worse, with no sense of self to present to the world, the person’s artificial idealized image becomes all-important. Self-destructive ego puffery replaces the pursuit of genuine goals. For the sake of enhancing their image, these unfortunate people are always trying to do things they do not really want to do. They are always trying to trick others into seeing them in a flattering light.

In either case, the self-alienation causes extreme psychological pain. The remedy is to embark on a journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance. The sufferer must find the real self, and by accepting it, achieve authenticity. This will end the setting of undesired goals and eliminate the need consciously to maintain a false persona. The elimination of the inner division or conflict, the eradication of the discrepancy between authentic and false selves, allows a person to be wholly sincere.

Author: Thomas Cotterill

I am a manic-depressive made philosophical by my long struggle with the disruptive mood disorder, during which I spent sixteen years living as a forest hermit. I write philosophical essays, fantasy, and science fiction. My attempt to integrate creativity, psychology, philosophy, and spirituality imbues everything I write. You will find hundreds of related essays and articles on my blog. I live quietly in British Columbia's scenic Fraser Valley, a beautiful place in which to wax philosophical.

13 thoughts on “Disliking Yourself”

  1. Lol, Thomas! I read Angela Brazil at an early age, so them conservative values may yet send a posse out to get me one of these days. Have a cyber sausage roll (free range, of course).

  2. Great post, Thomas. I know a lot of folks out there that are in denial of this. You’re referring to “People People” — or people that never learned how to occupy themselves. It’s kind of sad.

  3. You’re right that people who don’t know how to occupy themselves suffer from a poorly defined sense of self and dislike being alone. I wrote about this in an earlier post, “The Radiant Solitude of the Artist,” where I pointed out that creative work is a good defence against the problem of “psychic entropy.”


    Here, I’m expanding on that post by bringing in the idea of self-dislike. We all shrink from some aspects of our character and many of us repress those undesirable (to ego) personality traits. Psychological pain is often the result. However, some people carry the process to extremes and become largely or completely alienated from their authentic selves. These are the people who feel alone even in a crowd. The profound sense of loneliness reflects the self-inflicted psychological isolation of their egos.

    The motivation for rejecting themselves comes from the conscious need to be seen as better than they really are. They cannot accept being ordinary or having many character flaws. Sometimes they want to be seen as holding values not really their own. They refuse to take the healthy attitude of accepting who they are and then learning to make the best of what they actually have. Instead, they reject themselves and build a “new and improved” false persona that pretends to have all the personality traits and values they consciously find admirable. They make the shift from “being to appearing.” I have been through this agonizing process myself and carried it to such an extreme that I suffered a catastrophic nervous breakdown.

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