I was thinking the other day that perhaps it is no wonder self-hatred is a thing — if we have the inner poison of anger and spend 24/7 with ourselves, we are bound to get angry with ourselves sooner or later!
Someone I know, who btw is fabulous and has literally nothing wrong with them, wrote this to me:
Wow, self hatred, it is what it all comes down to! I make some headway, blessings get in here and there, but that is always what I slap back too. Of course, this blocks everything! I always feel like there is just this huge block to my creativity, imagination, like a numbness that I am increasingly aware of. It’s this, it’s self hatred. When I perceive anything as going wrong, or I say something I wish I hadn’t, or I perceive someone in a way that is not in the best light, I catch myself saying to myself, “I hate myself.” It’s fast, it’s constant. Keep these articles coming.
So, carrying on from Toward an empowered sense of self, I am keeping these articles coming.
To effectively get rid of self-dislike and indeed all delusions, we need to see how our sense of self changes entirely in dependence upon our thoughts. For this purpose it is very helpful to understand the relationship between our experience, view (or sense) of self, intentions, actions, and results/life.
A talented guest writer just wrote about this dependent relationship in this incredibly helpful article, The meditation game changer. Please read it if you get a chance! I will now attempt to apply the same principles specifically to overcoming being so hard on ourselves.
Our sense of self is shifting constantly, depending on what parts of the body or mind we are identifying our self with, or, to use a technical phrase, imputing our self on.
A person’s so called “basis of imputation” is in general their body and mind or, usually (at any given moment) parts of their body and mind. As my teacher Geshe Kelsang says:
We normally refer to our body and mind as “my body” and “my mind,” in the same way as we refer to our other possessions. This indicates that they are different from our I. The body and mind are the basis upon which we establish our I, not the I itself. ~ How to Transform Your Life (download the free ebook)
We have a body and we have a mind, but we are not a body and we are not a mind. However, even though they are not the same, we make the mistake of identifying our self as our body and mind, conflating the imputed object (the self) with its basis of imputation (the body and mind). For example, if my stomach hurts I may believe, “I am in pain”; and when unhappy experiences occur I may believe “I am unhappy.” This as opposed to “My stomach aches” or “Unhappy cloud-like feelings are arising in my sky-like mind.”
Maybe this’d be fine and dandy if it didn’t lead to all our physical and mental suffering, over and over again, in lifetime after lifetime. As it is, imputing ourselves on painful experiences is not fine at all. It is the main thing standing in the way between us and inner peace and freedom.
For example, applying this to our sense of a never-good-enough-self, this self or Me is imputed on the basis of self-critical thoughts, which usually have two things in common: they’re very painful, and they’re founded on a feeling or experience that we’re not good enough. They may sound like: “I’ll never amount to anything,” “I’m so lazy,” “I always ruin relationships,” “I should have achieved a lot more by this stage in my life!”, “Look at me compared to so and so, no wonder I keep being passed over!”, “I’m a lousy cook/mom/dad/friend/worker/person.” Etc.
Also the disconnect between the self-imposed pressure to be impossibly perfect (from a worldly point of view) but feeling crummy inside can start at any age. As someone said to me the other day:
In these times, even when I observe my children and their friends (they are about 18 years old), there is so much self-hatred, doubts, and a very strong pressure to make everything PERFECT, to look perfect … sometimes it is overwhelming to observe that tendency. Maybe it’s because of all these Internet platforms, where everything looks perfect… I don’t know.
Sense of self
Identifying ourselves with this painful limited experience/feeling/thought (of not being good enough) leads to a painful limited sense of self. So we need to stop doing it.
First we can check to see what we are holding onto or believing to be our “self”? What is Me? Who is Me? We have this so-called self-grasping ignorance where we hold our me, I, or self to be a fixed limited entity, independent of anything. As Geshe Kelsang puts it in How to Transform Your Life: “The object we grasp at most strongly is our self or I.” We have this sense of me or I somehow lurking IN our body or mind, findable in its basis of imputation. As Geshe Kelsang goes onto say:
This I appears to be completely solid and real, existing from its own side without depending upon the body or the mind.
This self is appearing solid and real, plus it is the only real me and the center of my known universe, so of course I have to serve and protect it.
But am I as solid and real as I appear? That’s the trillion-dollar question. The answer is priceless, in fact, because it will set us free after aeons of mental bondage.
Our sense of self changes all the time. Here’s an example. I was walking down the Grand Canyon last year on a narrow path with a ridiculously steep drop on one side. One moment I was all relaxed, chatting with friends – that was happy-Me, it felt real enough. The next moment a tourist brushed past me with his large rucksack and I found myself about to lose my footing … my sense of me suddenly changed, and that about-to-fall-to-my-death-Me also felt pretty darned real. Then I regained my footing and my sense of me changed into relieved-Me. Also real.
What does that say about our Me? In each of those 3 cases, that is who I thought I was. But if the Me that appeared so solid, fixed, and real actually existed as it appeared, ie, solid, fixed, and real, how could it change? Where did it go? If it existed from its own side, independent of body and mind, how could it vanish from one minute to the next?
But my sense of self did vanish and change — in dependence upon what? My thoughts. The self I thought I saw existing from its own side, independent of thought, was just the product of thought – relaxed thoughts, terrified thoughts, then relieved thoughts. This shows that the fixed or real me was never there to begin with. The self we normally see is a mental image – if we look for a real self that corresponds to the image, or is behind the image, it cannot be found anywhere.
(Meanwhile, everyone else also sees a completely different person when they look at us. My companions on the cliff edge could not see any of those 3 Me’s, which also indicates that those Me’s did not exist outside my view of them.)
So if the self or ego cannot be found anywhere, who are we? Who we are depends on who we think we are which is, as mentioned, changing all the time. Because our thoughts change, who we are changes. Far from being independent or inherently existent, it is the opposite – our self is 100% dependent. Take away the thoughts and it disappears.
Which means we are not fixed. Which is really very good news. We can validly think, “There is nothing solid or intrinsic about me at all. I can and do change in dependence on my thoughts.”
Take away our deluded thoughts, such as our self-loathing, and our deluded suffering self will disappear.
Have you noticed how who we think we are determines what we want? If we wake up with negative thoughts about ourself, thinking we’re a waste of space, what do we want to do all day? Nothing edifying! But if we think we are kind, or grateful, or a Bodhisattva, we intend and act accordingly.
Therefore, for as long as we grasp onto a intrinsically limited painful unworthy self, our intentions or wishes will follow suit.
Because we always want to be happy and free from suffering, we feel that the way to do that is by serving and protecting this limited self. So we won’t, for example, attempt things in case we fail, or we crack the whip on ourself for fear that, if we don’t, the disapproval and rejection that seems imminent will become our reality.
We always try to do what we want. Everything we do depends on what we want or intend. Therefore, these intentions or wishes to serve or protect this limited self in turn lead to actions such as self-sabotage or criticizing others, which may sometimes lead to brief relief, but no release.
Even when we do something well, we won’t jump for joy but merely breathe a sigh of relief: we’ve escaped from being criticized or censored. But that relief lasts only until the next expectation presents itself. It’s the perfect setup for anxiety and depression. We are engaged in a self-fulfilling prophecy, a vicious cycle, in which the stress is unremitting.
People with a strong inner critic tend to have one thing in common: however great their success, they don’t feel it’s genuine. The inner critic won’t let them see their past achievements as ‘real’ for fear that, if they do, they’ll slack off and end up failing. So they may push themselves more, with diminishing returns, driven more by fear of failure or judgment than by inspiration.
We really don’t need to be hard on ourselves — our delusions are already doing a fabulous job at that. It’s one reason we still feel so stuck in samsara, even though we have everything we need right now to get out.
These actions in turn create our life. We are reinforced in our lack of self-esteem, believing that self to be limited, in pain, and in need. It is a vicious cycle and, if we’re not careful, our whole life can go by like that.
Not to mention that each of our mental actions or intentions leaves a karmic potential in our root mind for similar experiences and tendencies in the future, leading to a longer-term and even more vicious cycle.
To summarize, this is all stemming from a painful experience that, because we identify with it, leads to a limited painful sense of self. This self doesn’t actually exist, there is just a mental image of it; but, believing that it does exist, we wish to serve and protect it, and then we act upon those wishes or intentions. Because we act upon them, we get the same results, the same underwhelming life, which in turn brings us more painful experiences and reinforces our limited sense of self.
We need to step out from under the dark shadow of these ignorant, self-destructive thoughts and actions. How? By shining the light of wisdom, wherein these dark shadows will have no choice but to disappear. More in this next installment, Giving up self-hatred once and for all.
Over to you … have you suffered from self-doubt or self-criticism? Do you recognize this process? Your feedback is very welcome.
Saying bye bye to the painful limited self
Change our thoughts, change our world
Love your blog / twist on the experience, view, intention, action thing from the last article, with respect to self-dislike and self-hatred. So incredibly helpful 🙂
Something I was reflecting on today, related to some of this. We are seeing too many good hearted people caught up in varying degrees of self-dislike and self-loathing in Sangha communities, in my experience. Hopefully your blogs can trigger a dialogue around what authentic self-love and self-compassion (or as we call it renunciation!) is, and is not.
As you know far better than me, yes, we need to abandon self cherishing. However, as Dharma practitioners, we do also need to learn what it really means to cherish ourself, with wisdom! We do need to think, I am important, my happiness matters! In fact I would go as far as to say it’s supremely important! Not on the basis of identification with our ordinary ‘Never good enough self’, as you know better than me. Rather, on the basis of correctly identifying with our Buddha nature, because the happiness and freedom of all my kind mothers depends on my actualising this potential for happiness and freedom, Enlightenment! This is supremely important!
Yes!!! Thank you for this important comment.
I have been meaning to get to this point about who it is we love (or even like). It is not the self of self-cherishing because that self doesn’t even exist! As you point out, it is the self of our Buddha nature.
As VG says, when he says we need to be happy with ourselves, he is talking about this self — not the painful limited self held by self-grasping ignorance. How can we make a non-existent self happy in any case?!
I did start saying something about that in some articles, including here, and I agree with you that it is an important topic to get clear for all of us Dharma practitioners, so I hope we get more conversations on it:
And I just noticed this one as well — hadn’t realized i had two articles out with the same title 😀
Why, of course. Self-hatred has come to a point where I have turned all of Dharma against myself, including your insightful and compassionate articles, Luna. And the worst of it began AFTER I met the teachings. No earlier than last night I was considering what to put in my suicide letter. Yet alarming as that is, I would still be reluctant to accept any kind of help, as experience has taught me that it does more harm than good. Can’t believe I’m writing this. The self I normally see may not exist, but the consequences of hating it can be very real.
They sure can! Even turning the medicine of Dharma into poison.
Dharma is intended to help us relate to ourselves with appreciation and vision, that is where the healing starts. More articles on how to do this are on their way. 💙
Yes, please! Keep them coming. I look forward to your articles as they are always relevant, helpful and full of Dharma wisdom. Thank you sooo much.
I remember being under the delusion of self hatred for so long, being miserable, never being good enough to silence the negative thoughts. Through meeting Dharma teachings in Keighley and applying them I have become so much happier, more content and less attached to outcomes, image, doing the ‘right thing’ to fit in etc. I am now able to truly help people from a place of compassion rather than as a way to avoid thinking about my own problems.
Aw, thank you for encouraging me ❣️
I love your description of how Dharma has helped you.
Thank you once again – please don’t stop this theme you’re on. I am with so many people every day for whom this is the constant struggle – this self hatred – which can be felt and heard internally in such a myriad of disguises. I know so well this intense self-identification with “not being enough” – WHO is that voice..? Deep gratitude for your words. Such kindness.
This theme has touched a nerve — not surprising, I guess, but timely. That “constant struggle” has always been a function of our delusions, but nowadays it seems to be on the rise, and, as you say, presents in such a “myriad of disguises”. Maybe the disguise is partly because in today’s society we are given more to distraction from what is really going on inside us, and less to introspection, so we confusedly blame other things for the way we feel.
I would love to hear more from you on how you help people work through this!
Wonderful article, Luna. Never stop writing about Dharma! 😇 You’re so compassionate and wise. I’m very happy that there people like you in this world, who explain all these themes and problems, which can occur in our daily Dharma practice.
What would we do if there’s no one like you? I fear there are many many practicioners that are strongly motivated but there’s a lack of understanding for their difficulties by people around them. Sometimes even the sangha at their home town… So, it becomes harder and harder to them integrating Dharma in their very personal daily life.
I’m very happy 😊 for your efforts to “fill that gap” for so many people.
This is a very kind and encouraging comment, Katja! I appreciate it very much. My feeling is that I have had decades to learn how to apply Dharma more and more skillfully to “real-world” problems and delusions, including by watching others do it, so I am happy that I now have this opportunity to share. I hope it can speed things up for people reading 🙂