Self-Loathing

Self-Loathing AngerAbout 30 years ago during analytic training, my good friend Tom Grant was describing a difficult case in seminar — a man in his mid-30s whom Tom had already been treating for quite some time. Tom’s client came from a severely dysfunctional background that had restricted his ability to feel for and depend upon other people. He lived an emotionally isolated life; he was “schizoid,” to use the psychoanalytic term for it — “having a personality type characterized by emotional aloofness and solitary habits.” After years of analysis with this client, Tom had helped him to develop a strong liking for other people; Tom believed that a profound sort of love was likely beyond this client because he had been too damaged, but he could nonetheless sustain relationships and even get married. Tom said he had no problem accepting the limitations of what their work together could accomplishment.

At that time, I had a great deal of trouble with what he said. I was convinced that with enough time and hard work, we could help our clients to transcend their past, to become just as “normal” as anyone who had come from an intact, loving and healthy family. Looking back, I can see I had a highly idealized view of psychoanalysis, largely because I wanted to believe that my own lengthy analysis had made me “normal.” It took me many years to face and accept the ongoing nature of those emotional issues that had driven me into therapy at the age of 19, years to recognize the lasting effects of early damage. In my recent psychotherapy work, I’ve been focusing on similar idealized expectations held by my clients. Sometimes those expectations are conscious; often, they show up as self-loathing.

In an earlier post, I discussed shyness and self-hatred as defenses against vulnerability, ways of protecting oneself from potential exposure to shame. In extreme cases of self-loathing, where a savage inner voice brutalizes us, it also represents a kind of refusal to accept who we are. While I may experience that savage voice as an alien presence, a third party who seems to have nothing to do with “me,” those thoughts actually embody my own unwillingness to accept the facts and limitations of who I am. I explored this aspect of self-criticism in a very early post you might not have read.

Rather than viewing negative self-statements and self-loathing as a force to be resisted or reprogrammed, I’ve instead advocated “owning” the anger reflected in those self-hating thoughts. Using my own experience as an example, I discussed the anger and grandiose expectations behind my self-critical thoughts while at the piano. In my recent work with clients, I’ve found myself focusing on the unconscious refusal to accept their damage and limitations, which consciously shows up as self-loathing. Instead of feeling their own anger, they hear a third-party voice criticizing everything they do. They don’t acknowledge their own refusal to accept the limitations imposed by early damage; instead, they feel persecuted by something almost alien, a vicious inner critic that calls them a fucked up loser.

The transformation of unconscious anger into self-hatred lies at the heart of one particular type of depression, what is often described as “anger turned inward.” Psychoanalysis has traditionally focused on the unconscious anger toward significant others in the person’s life; in the clients that I’m describing, the anger is more general, directed at “life” or reality — anger that the person can’t simply become somebody else, someone whole, intact and perfect. Behind self-loathing lie unconscious feelings of contempt. Such clients unconsciously sneer at imperfection. Anyone who isn’t ideal is a loser. Self-loathing often masks arrogance, a longing to look down upon everyone except for an ideal select few.

Helping my clients to “own” their refusal and step into the anger they feel about their limitations is a major challenge. In my work with depressed clients or those who self-harm, it usually takes quite a long time for them to acknowledge the anger they feel; for those who struggle with self-hatred, it likewise takes many months before they can “feel” the contempt and perfectionism as their own. Eventually, the integration of this type of anger is empowering because the splitting-off of aggressive feelings ultimately enfeebles the self. Few of us want to feel angry, but in time, we usually come to feel the benefits of being able to do so.

Arrogance and contempt are defense mechanisms in their own right, of course; behind them lie genuine shame (not to be confused with self-hatred or self-loathing); there’s often a fear that the damage may be so pervasive that meaningful improvement is impossible. Eventually, we need to deal with that shame and despair, but stepping into anger seems to be a necessary first step.

Joe is the author and the owner of AfterPsychotherapy.com, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.

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66 comments

    I started working with a therapist for EMDR who is also a IFS( Internal Family Systems) therapist. Self-loathing and self-hatred come from our inner critics that are actually there trying hard to protect us. In the book “Self-Therapy for your Inner Critic” by Jay Earley, PhD & Bonnie Weiss, LCSW they name an inner critic called “The Destroyer” that causes self-hate and loathing. The book says, “The Destroyer makes pervasive attacks on your fundamental self-worth. It is deeply shaming and tells you that you shouldn’t exist. It can be experience as a crushing force that wipes out your vitality or a pervasive negative energy that stamps out any sign of creativity, spontaneity, or desire.” The inner critic is part of your psyche and you can not get rid of it anymore than you could a body part. You need to explore why it is attacking you. It’s function is to protect you from pain. So you need to connect with it, develop a cooperative relationship with it and turn it into a valuable resource.

    Yeah I do not have any idea how to do that right now. I only just started.

    I am client who is Bulimic and self harms. No one has addressed anger with me because I guess I do not come off as angry. I do not feel angry. Anyway EMDR has brought needed relief .

    Very helpful blog , i have learned a lot about damage done to us and how it can cause us to have limitations. It kind of has helped me not be so hard on myself and realize that i do have limitations but it isn’t because I am a failure , but damage done to me. I was told by my family for many years I was a failure and turned out bad. IT was not until I became suicidal and went for help I learned what they said was not the truth. I still struggle a lot with it, and tell myself I am a failure and the rejection by my family still hurts but at least not to the extreme degree it once did .

    Sonjia,
    Your paragraph touched me.
    I am sorry you have to endure such negative talk from your family, but CHEERS to you for having the courage to face off with your internal negative self-talk on a day-to-day basis.
    I hope you are still getting therapeutic help. It takes awhile for our self-image to develop, and it takes a loving, compassionate person (the therapist, most likely) to model and to help us learn better, healthier ways of existing.
    Best of luck to you!

    ha months indeed! i wish! im 8 years into therapy and just this last 6 months have started to get to grips with this, but im just grateful ive stayed with it long enough to get to the place where im starting to own the self loathing,

    and yes i agree with what you have written, im experiencing this.

    the punitive “destroyer side” im now seeing is a part of me that was tryin to survive and it thought the only way to survive was to completely shame, loathe the most vulnerable desparate scared part of me, the needy part of me,

    im really havin to be patient with myself just now, because im getting all sorts of very needy, vulnerable desparate feelings come up,

    but im opening into them and showing those feelings love as much as i can cos i realise that self loathing doesnt help that delicate part of me grow, it just squashes it into silence,

    but with love as i would love the most delicate 2 year old, hopfully i can help that little thing inside me grow and become more adult and less childlike.

    its hard not to turn on that little thing inside me (thats how i choose to see it) but that pattern is finally waning,

    its taken me so long to get here, to finally win the trust of the most vulnerable bit of me, that im not going to turn on it for being delicate.

    and for the bit of me that wants to loathe, its learning to trust that its not an anathema to feel exposed vulnerable or humiliated but that maybe those feelings can be survived and endured,

    i dont know if this makes any sense, but self loathing to me was just another survival racket going on for me, and its about not turning on any part of oneself but loving each part of me and soothin it,

    its hard at the minute as now the delicate part of me is seein a way to express itself after supression for so long, im having to be careful about what i spend my time doing, and makin sure i allow a safe place for me to be emotional and cut myself some slack as i allow this soft part to learn be nurtured and grow, i find closed eye visulations good for this, and dialogues with that part of me and the self loathing part of me, if that makes sense, that is so healing,

    ill stop the ramble now! thanks again for a great subject, just at the right time, good to know theres kindred spirits out ther

    xx

    thanks, dealing with this stuff is a lonely place, and i can get at the end of my tether so if it can help anyone have a bit more heart to keep going with it then it makes the hard work easier.

    Thanks Hari, for the description of your process. I need some of this love for the “little thing” inside me and allow the soft part to grow. Kind of like an Orchid which needs so much care but is so beautiful when it is grown.

    I’m learning about my limitations and it’s very painful indeed. Many times I rationalize how the signs of dysfunction in my life are actually signs of a higher intelligence that with a bit of effort, will come up with a theory that unifies physics and will impress the world. Yet I don’t even understand relativity.
    Then I displace this self hatred through blaming my father for rarely acknowledging my successes in life but nearly always pointing out my failures with contempt, which must of made me seek having the world praise my intelligence; first as a kid when I wanted to be an inventor and then more recently by trying to prove relativity wrong.
    But it’s hard to keep out of the rut. I’m wondering if I am going in it again by psychoanalyzing myself in this comment. I sound quite smart when I say “then I displace” in the second paragraph. Some might think I’ve studied psychology or something. But I haven’t, so it must mean I have talent. Second coming of Freud! Oh and einstein too! I’ll be Freudstein!
    More like Fraudstein. Reality is so cruel.

    I have found experiencing my own intense self loathing as one of the hardest therapy experiences yet. What I find especially provocative is when it’s triggered because help from others isn’t available when i need it. As a child and adult I’m pretty self sufficient so to be rejected at times of need can be almost unbearable. It’s hard to hold onto the belief that people can still love and care about you but not be available in the moment, can hurt you and let you down and even be mean.

    More recently I have started to see that I have this enormous sense of entitlement to what I want when I want it, no compromises, no questions asked, because of the abuse, loss and deprivation I endured growing up. I want a patch in my life where it’s all about me and what I need. And I was convinced I couldn’t continue to grow or recover without it.

    But I’m realising that therapy is like that in a way because it is mainly about my needs. It is very hard that its only for 50 minutes a couple of times per week as it seems like a meagre offering and most of the time I bear my pain and suffering alone. To see that is more than what I had as a child is horrifying because I used to think my parents gave me a lot but they didn’t give much.

    Tolerating disappointment without launching into self hatred and losing hope is so hard when life has let you down repeatedly and having hope has usually led to more disappointment.

    I am now wondering what is really so great about life; it’s ok but it isn’t that wonderful. I guess that’s the ramifications of long term psychological damage.

    Thanks for sharing that. I’m not very good at putting my feelings into words, but every sentence in your comment describes exactly what I’m going through.

    I meant that ‘normal’ can get tangled up with usual while ‘healthy’ is usually understood more qualitatively.

    Being healthy can be abnormal in some situations.

    As always Joe, unfortunately, so much of this post is familiar and applies to me. Self loathing, self hate, self harm, anger, rage. I know I have come a long way in understanding my anger and self hate but most days it still lurks in the background. I share the following story to hopefully illustrate the point you are making in this post. INTENSITY ALERT. The story is kind of intense. (I think)

    THE BOWLING BALL

    I keep thinking about the bowling ball.
    I keep wanting to tell you about it.
    I was 15 years old.
    All I could think about was how fat I was.
    How terribly wrong everything about me was.
    But mostly how huge and ugly and fat I was.
    I was so desperate, and so sad and so angry at my body, at myself.
    For being so weak and stupid and alive.
    I wanted to rip my skin off.
    I thought, and thought and thought.
    And then I realized- if I could somehow break my jaw, it would fix everything.
    I could stop eating, I would lose weight, I would get to go the hospital (where they would take care of me), and maybe I could even stop thinking for just a second.
    But how? What would be heavy enough? How could I possibly do it?
    I was alone in the house and I went to the basement.
    I found my father’s old bowling ball.
    For close to 3 hours I stayed in that basement, dropping that bowling ball onto my face.
    I thought if I could get it to drop from enough height, at just the right angle…
    Again and again and again.
    It didn’t work.
    All I got was a bruise on my jaw, and really sore arms.
    I guess I have strong bones
    For a second, I thought I would have to explain that bruise.
    But no one asked.

    Self loathing, crying out for help, no one listening. It’s all there. In your post you speak of “integrating the anger” and “feeling the contempt as your own”. I don’t understand how that can happen. I have not been able to express much anger in therapy. Do you have an example from your experience as a therapist when a client has managed to do this? Could you say more about what it looks like? Thanks

    Thank you for your posts. You have such a simple yet deep way off bringing across ideas. I was wondering if these underlying charachter traits are really who the person is or if it’s who they’ve come to believr they are through being ridiculed and put down?

    That’s a good question. I don’t think it’s simply a matter of changing your beliefs. After a while, you internalize all that cruelty and ridicule and it does become a part of who you are.

    Hey J, You describe your ideas very clearly, and your perspective is quite! useful. I believe my working definition of “normal” is different from yours. For me, “normal” includes much of what you may call not-normal leftovers from successful psychoanalysis. For instance shyness, which I really don’t believe is always, or even usually indicative of inappropriate or pathological use of defense mechanisms. Of course, defining “normal” this broader way lowers the bar for clients and therapists alike. This feels more realistic and helpful/therapeutic than thinking we all have permanent, irreversible abnormal psychological damages that can’t become part of plenty-“normal” enough. It seems to me, at some point in successful-enough psychotherapy, a way-more utilitarian, comfortable, realistic and self-supportive perspective to believe, behave, and feel normal, like most everyone else. I just can’t see defining most people and most successful clients as anything but the middle 2/3s of the statistical term “normal distribution”. Respectfully, Dr Bob

    I don’t think we’re on such different pages. The people I’m discussing here are not those who happen to be introverted or simply quiet and don’t mind being that way; they are paralyzed by social anxiety and tortured by their shyness.

    Shy seems socially scared to me, & I sure agree it’s not the same as intraverted [ even if Susan Cain spells it introverted in her fine new book Quiet]. Extremes of either &/or both would sure be painful! bd

    Great post! I used to be very perfectionist and angry inside, my anger was always erupting. I have become somewhat better by accepting my limitations, in that, after a very dysfunctional childhood, I find it very exhausting to learn how to be in relationships and so limit my time with others in relationships, though I am more of a “loner” than I ever was, I am able to have a few, meaningful trusting relationships with those who accept (or love) me as I am and I do “own” my anger, more and more, though it still belongs mostly to my 12-year-old personality (as I have D.I.D. – the 12 year old me was most shamed and angered in horrific rapes/incest)…

    I LOVE the book “From self-hate to compassion” along these lines, by Rubin…my “bible”…

    third-party, alien voices? they are very much my own. there is no one else in my head but myself. I guess this is worse than “hearing alien voices”, heh?

    Hi Joseph,

    It’s only in the last year or so that I’ve accepted that some of the damage done to me will never be repaired. I idealised psychoanalysis too and thought it would transform me into a totally different person. It didn’t – so painful to know that I am limited in ways that others aren’t. I read about the schiziod personality type a few months ago and recognised myself in the description.
    I wonder if I’ll ever be able to sustain a long term happy relationship. I have serious doubts as to whether I can live with someone ! Also my physical health is a mess…years of chronic stress has taken it’s toll.
    Sometimes I long for the bliss of denial…and wonder would I have been better off without psychoanalysis. Recently I’ve found myself wondering what good it did for me? I guess the biggest benefit is that I can see reality now; I’m no longer living in a fantasy world and I guess one needs to be able to see how the world really is in order to be able to cope with it.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post…

    I disagree about it being everlasting and that thinking that we’ll always be a bit less adjusted is self-limiting. Or at least it depends on how you define it. I define it as being happy. I am quite happy now, through a combination of therapy and mindfulness. And I think it surpasses where I might have been if I had had a “good” childhood. Sadly, I am noticing a lack of joy and happiness in several friends who had a good childhood. Overall, I believe we can overcome and level the playing field. Sure, we may have been behind the curve at some point, but I think we can cross that line and that the sky’s the limit.

    I think your right and I’m glad you pointed it out. My self loathing, and that terrible inner voice that expresses my worthless feelings (past pain aside) is often loudest when someone I know is able to do something amazing, seemingly effortlessly, that I have wished I could do.

    I very much want to believe that I can move past it. I feel very ugly inside knowing I react this way. I’d like to learn to experience joy for them and for me, to accept wherever I am, and to let go of my constant fear that I’m not good enough.

    I find self-loathing is a way of staying down as in a fight you cannot win or don’t want to win. It keeps me from feeling joy and fun and came into play only later in life due to adult traumas and replaces earlier defenses that allowed more joy. As I learn to own and become aware of all of my defenses, I am opening up to more joy. This type of defense keeps me from seeing the reality of my experience which is sometimes very nice.

    Yes I’m afraid, at least of joy based in authenticity as opposed to rebellion which isn’t truly joyful; or as opposed to idealization of some experience which as you point out ends badly.
    It’s a lot of work being so conscious, but worth it! I would never have gotten to this point had I not read your book. As Homer Simpson said, “It’s because they’re stupid, that’s why. That’s why everybody does everything.” Hahaha. Joy is returning slowly but it remains a scary feeling for me.

    Fantastic post. I have experienced several ‘eureka’ moments reading some of your blogs after dwelling on my issues post counselling, and based on my own continuing reading of self-help material. I must say your book puts so many in the genre to shame and have found great benefit in it. I struggle with many of the self worth and shame rooted issues, and find myself at a crossroads were the understanding must deepen in order for me to progress, and reading these blogs is helping alot. Acknowledging the difference between self annoyance, inward anger and shame/guilt is very difficult for me. It seems there are many cbt practitioners and person-centred counsellors in the uk, psycho analysis seems much harder to find. I think this island is still very much of a stiff upper lip, get a grip mindset.

    I don’t know much about the current mental health system in the UK, but most of the psychoanalytic thinkers I admire have practiced in England. The British Psychoanalytic is still one of the premiere training programs in the world.

    “…instead of feeling their own anger, they hear a third-party voice criticizing everything they do. They don’t acknowledge their own refusal to accept the limitations imposed by early damage; instead, they feel persecuted by something almost alien, a vicious inner critic that calls them a fucked up loser.”

    For me, this rings pretty true. Except I don’t hear a third-party voice. Instead, I have intense anxiety and bouts of despair that seem to have no visible source, and that’s what makes it feel so alien. For me, acknowledge my limitations feels like defeat because I take it to mean that I can’t change; that the damage is permanent and I’ll never be able to genuinely be a different person. Then again, true acceptance of my own damage itself would be significant change in itself. As you say, it’s very hard work.

    Great post.

    Yes, hard work. But there is definitely a meaningful middle-ground between “fucked up loser” and “completely different person.” Just because we have lasting damage, that doesn’t mean we can’t grow in meaningful and significant ways.

    I had great parents in the beginning. They wanted me, loved me, played wih me tons…. But things went south when I turned three. From ages 3-9 I was in a daycare where I felt terrified (and still do to some extent) and hated by the person in charge. My parents never responded to my suffering. I’m 31 and just starting to deal with this. Does that leave a lasting damage? Am I in the camp of “permanently damaged”? The first three years were great!!

    The brutality of the language is certainly familiar: ‘I’m a fuck-up…will always be a fuck-up, etc’. I haven’t experienced this ‘voice’ for some time which is a great relief! I had an experience at an all day workshop which really brought out how intense my self loathing was (it’s not so intense at present). At the beginning of the workshop we had to fill out a form asking about our psychological health, any diagnoses and hospitalizations. I was the only one with a ‘history’ and was discreetly told to take everything carefully! I found most of the exercises quite harmless and most did not excite me emotionally. Then came the ‘forgiveness’ part. First was about forgiving others.Then there was a part about forgiving oneself. Each of us was allocated a more advanced helper. We had to look in the mirror and verbally forgive ourselves for not reaching our full potential, etc etc. I looked in the mirror and almost immediately went ballistic at my own image: I was overcome by such hatred all I could think about was soaking that person in gasoline and setting her alight. At the periphery I could tell I was causing something of a scene but I was unable to stop spewing abuse at the thing in the mirror. Even in prior suicide attempts I had not felt so powerfully homicidal/suicidal. My ‘helper’ was unable to guide me into a more forgiving frame of mind – the rage was without bottom. Someone with more experience came and told me to think not about myself as I am now, but rather as a little girl. When I imagined myself as a small child I immediately felt more nurturing and was able to calm down. I have never got so angry – especially not in public, so thinking about it still surprises me.

    Thank you so much for this timely article. It has given me a lot to think about given my current situation. I have had several therapists through the years, some good, some not so good. At the moment I have had to cut back on therapy due to insurance limitations, and am noticing my tendency to try to blame the therapist for perceived abandonment. After reading this article I recognized that I am one of those who will never completely heal, as I have hoped for so many years, but at the same time think that by accepting my limitations I can heal, in a sense. Does this make sense to you? I have been told by a couple therapists that I will always have a limp. Didn’t want to hear it. But now, I think I can finally hear it. Thank you so much, Dr. Burgo. You have been a blessing to me today. Carry on.

    Not only does that make perfect sense to me, it’s at the heart of everything I write. By accepting limitations and recognizing that you’re never going to be 100% “normal,” you can grow enormously. Paradoxical but true.

    Hi I am wondering if you bring your clients to try and explore meditation or anything that’s more on the spiritual side? Is there a strict difference between those practices and what a psychotherapist does? I feel like there are similarities, at least in the parts of experiencing the self and what you do to yourself. Cheers!

    I often encourage my clients to engage in mindfulness meditation. I find it’s completely congruent with the work I do, especially where thinking is used as a defense.

    I wonder if it is more accurate to talk about the limitations of a particular type of therapy, or the limitations of a particular therapist, in terms of their ability to help. It seems unlikely to me, that if a person is angry about wanting to change and being unable to, that there is simply no way to help them. Body based therapies for example have the ability to unlock a lot of energy that people are struggling to express. I always cringe when I hear the talk-therapist line ” the therapy didn’t work because the patient wasn’t ready”. Readiness is that central, but there’s nothing the therapist can do to bring it about? Something’s fishy there.
    One thing that makes me really respect a therapist, or any professional, is their willingness to accept their OWN limits, and to refer. I’ve also been told I am very anxious and withdrawn, ie schizoid, but to be frank, the more people I meet , especially helping professionals, who seem to want to put their ego needs ahead of my sense of what is possible for my life…. the worse it gets. Really.

    Hear, hear, Francesca!

    I’ve been “ready” to heal from severe childhood abuse for all my life. Three, extremely specialist and experienced therapists have let me down – two of whom have directly or indirectly blamed me for the breakdown of therapy, with that standard line that I wasn’t “ready” or wasn’t “committed enough” to the therapy. The third one did acknowledge his own fears of doing me more harm than good by continuing therapy as he didn’t feel skilled enough, yet just simply told me this on the doorstep to the therapy centre, without notice and without letting me in to discuss or referring me on elsewhere (which my doctor claims was a severe breach of his professional responsibilities, yet he sits on the ethics board of the relevant complaints authority! – it certainly left me in crisis). I could have felt like a total failure and a monster given these response to me and my issues, thankfully I found a non-specialist but extremely warm-hearted counsellor whose actions show that she understands the depths of my pain and difficulties and with whom I have been able to build a one-to-one therapeutic relationship, though she’s been very careful to point out that she’s not a “specialist”, she has done me more good than all the specialists put together! Don’t blame yourself, is my advice, hard as that is.

    I have similar problems and have had some similar experiences with therapists. I would say to you to trust your own judgement but also to respect their strengths. They are burdened/protected by their “excessive” sense of self. They often seem to have trouble seeing the life in what I see life in, and I often find what they find compelling cliched — I can understand it, but it does not live for me. (I attribute some of this to my being a bit emotionally shut down.) If you go into more depth (on your own) and can tolerate the violent language of their symbolic system, you can learn a great deal about yourself and have better relationships. There is no “one” way. Everyone is human with interesting ways to work.

    Great post! My therapist told me that anger is a secondary emotion and she said a few days, about this anger is that I am protecting my pain. She told me I have this shield and a sword ready to fight when someone threatens me. Her education is trauma and abuse not psychotherapy, but we have started doing social skills to help me identity feelings. We had an argument twice in the last 2 weeks and next Monday we are gonna start digging deeper in me.

    I found your site by way of throwing a question out on Google search – why does self hate persist? Then I read a group of your relevant posts from 2010 to this one.
    Why search today? After a friend called me out on some inconsiderate – rude – behavior – it pinged me into bringing up old stuff – all of which served to prove I was unworthy, a chronic fuckup as you say, and pushed me farther and farther away from responding honestly and quickly. What you have written rings true for me; some of us with some evidently real early bonding issues – along with the dysfunction i can remember – cling to these behaviors out of terror at being alone. We create our own loneliness out of screwed up defenses. And naturally we tend to replicate the old relationships, to boot.

    I had a number of past experiences with therapy. First, some attempts were kind of hopeless, I realized later, because I was in a depression that had to be alleviated to grant me the energy for therapy. After treatment I had a good experience with one therapist – and was able to develop some actual trust in her that had been missing before. With earlier attempts – one therapist really wasn’t so hot, but the others were decent – but I don’t think they knew how terrified I was of “disappointing” them. I had kind of a perfectionist idea about therapy, too. [It’s pretty bad when you see yourself as flunking therapy, like that Groucho Marx story about not wanting to belong to any club that would accept HIM].

    There is so much of living where I held back and didn’t jump in – I still have to – will always have to deliberately push myself to be more social and especially to initiate activities. You really have to fight the habits of a lifetime, learned when they possibly did work as a defense ( as from attacks on who you are at home).

    What was best about your posts? Maybe it was your acknowledgement that we don’t get “cured.” Voila! You’ll never curse yourself again……. not exactly. Its a relief to see a professional talk about recognizing your triggers, and how to get a handle on them. I It helps to see someone confess to falling prey to this misery and then getting up, working writing, and living – with more serenity than before.

    I do think that this is “as good as it gets.” Knowing your triggers, understanding your defenses and then CHOOSING to do something different. It would be nice to think of being cured and no longer needing to work at it, but that’s not what happens.

    I’ve often struggled with several very negative inner voices. I really don’t even identify with them at all, as if they are another person living in my brain. For a while I even wondered if I was going crazy because of it. It’s so hard to know what your actual thoughts are when you have all these other mean, angry, and depressed voices arguing with your true inner voice. Sometimes I feel like I can only control my main inner voice and the others just do whatever the f**** they want. I wish I could say that they don’t influence my emotions and behavior, but I know that they do unfortunately…

    I am so happy to hear that those negative, mean inner voices are ones that you can look at, “… as if they are another person living in [your] brain.” What has helped me so much is learning to detach from those voices — to watch/listen to them as a detached observer, with some curiosity perhaps, but knowing that they are NOT me. I am the one who is merely aware of them, listening in from somewhere behind them. I am safe . I highly recommend the book ‘The Untethered Soul’ by Michael Springer. He gives a clear, logical approach to finding who each of us really is (NOT those voices!) so that we can be truly free.

    My thing is this, I feel like the self criticism is the only thing stopping me from being an attention hogging, insensitive bitch. I know its not true (and probably the self criticism makes me more like this than I think) but there it is. The other thing is I’m totally aware that the paranoia and anger I feel when I screw up (my self criticism manifests itself in the form of criticising how I treat others, particularly socially) is my own, I know how I developed it and why. How in God’s name do I own it? Knowing that contempt etc. are part of the whole thing makes me afraid I’m a horrible, monstrous narcissist and I just hate myself more.

    Dear sir, I have recently come across your site and have been following with much interest you
    Seem to be someone who has great insight on many areas people are reluctant to speak about .
    Reading through some old threads I note you mention a client who self harmed although it was a brief mention I found it incredibly interesting I was raped( soddemised) repeatedly over many years then later sexually assaulted by two other people. I started self harming at the age of 15 when I first told my mother and have consistently self harmed since with only a short period of 7 months where I abstained. I wonder if you could consider a post or thread on adult self harming in it’s various forms as there doesn’t seem to be much info on adult self harm around it would seem it’s generalised as being an adolescent behaviour . I’ve found it’s very much a taboo in general especially in the uk . Adult self harm is a very secretive private behaviour that professionals and sufferers alike seem reluctant to speak about . Your experience and insight would I believe be incredibly useful and much welcome to not only myself but others like me. I am a ” cutter” but know of others that use burning and hitting instead or as well as cutting . There don’t even seem to be any books specifically dealing with self harm as an adult behaviour I’m certain many are crying out for advise and insight but cannot find support or info on the subject. I do appreciate you are exceptionally busy as so many successful professionals are and you may not be able to write about it but perhaps a consideration for the future ? Many thanks. Lucy

    I will see if I have something useful I might say about adult self-injury. I’m currently working with a woman in her 40s who cuts but she began as an adolescent. You might want to take a look at the novella-length version of Cinderella that I wrote. In my version, she’s a cutter.

    I have always been impulsive type of a person. Lately, in last 2 years, I also have problems with depression and anxiety. I think it is the anger turned inward, plus there are also somatic signs – a lot of voices coming from the lower stomach – it feels like I really do repress something and it is connected with thought process. Maybe repressing of fear, because I’m also, after I got depressed, afraid of my emotions, and perhaps like 3 times I also went into the panic. However, it’s hard to be aware of all of this, maybe cause I’m trying too hard with my perfectionism to be aware of some of the (also) unconcious (it might be I’m wrong here) processes. And yeah, while trying to meditate, I do the very same stuff. After I’m aware that thought appeared, I judge myself instantly and squize something down there. I’m not really sure how this is all connected. Or wait. It might be I’m lying to myself. I think it has something to do with fear, really. With fear of not being good enough, maybe. I don’t know, I “do” something downthere, really. Though somehow I feel it might be connected to the guilt also. All I do in my weekly psychoanalysis (I’ve been there for 3 months now) is trying to talk about what are the bad things I’ve done. I don’t know why do I do this. It’s like I’m at confession. What drives me to do this? Why do I have like this one mindset and talk in this kind of way? I must admit I feel very ashamed in front of my therapist and I’ve been on the edge of panic, which I postponed, but it did come later when I drove home. Guess more of the things should “come back for me” and things would be better :) But I did already came to the point I cried. Remembering how I was able to – although my fears of her emotions of despair stand in the way – sooth my mother when she dropped some glass and was in this hysterical despaired mood. It’s like seeing myself being able to “give love” made me cry. Does this make any sense?

    Do you perhaps have any suggestion about meditation for me? It’s like some fear stands in my way to stay connected with myself … like I’m on the edge of fear. It’s like I feel in the breath ending and starting itself how it has remembered patterns of panic and fear …

    And how is the “rebelious” characther connected to all of this? I do “this” because I would not feel good enough being an ordinary person, I guess. It is a “neurotic need” to feel superior, or not really superior, but something special, different, but with achievements for example, and well … with everything. But all of this “intelectualizing” doesn’t help a bit for me. I can know everything and apply it to myself but it still doesn’t help …

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