Self-hatred, the forgotten human condition

| 1 Comment

There are two sides of pride: self-exaltation and self-hatred. Because of conservative Protestant's myopic understanding of human nature you rarely (ever) hear anyone apply the gospel to those who hate themselves. For example, many Calvinist preachers believe that their calling is to break people down because prideful people need to be reminded of their depravity in order to see their need for grace. While this may be treu for some, reading the Bible exclusively in this way may actually be doing spiritual damage for those who already hate themselves.

For self-haters, they only believe that they are vile and disgusting as persons. So what do they need to hear? How do they need to be cared for in community?

It's unfortunate that narrow understandings of human nature created the conditions for Christian leaders having never heard of, nor read, the work of Dr. Karen Horney.

Here's a good introduction on the topic that I found here:

In Neurosis and Human Growth, Karen Horney explains how the pride system generates self-hate.

"Briefly, when an individual shifts his center of gravity to his idealized self, he not only exalts himself but also is bound to look at his actual self -- all that he is at a given time, body, mind, healthy and neurotic -- from a wrong perspective. The glorified self becomes not only a phantom to be pursued; it also becomes a measuring rod with which to measure his actual being. And this actual being is such an embarrassing sight when viewed from the perspective of a godlike perfection that he cannot but despise it. Moreover, what is dynamically more important, the human being which he actually is keeps interfering -- significantly -- with his flight to glory, and therefore he is bound to hate it, to hate himself. And since pride and self-hate are actually one entity, I suggest calling the sum total of the factors involved by a common name: the pride system" (Horney, 1950, pp. 110-11).

"Horney (1950) recognized six major ways in which people express self-hatred. First, self-hatred may result in relentless demands on the self, which are exemplified by the tyranny of the should" (Feist, pg. 256).

"The second mode of expressing self-hatred is merciless self-accusation" (pg. 256).

"Third, self-hatred may take the form of self-contempt, which might be expressed as belittling, disparaging, doubting, discrediting, and ridiculing oneself" (pg. 256).

"A fourth expression of self-hatred is self-frustration" (pg. 256).

"Fifth, self-hatred may be manifested as self-torment or self-torture. Although self-torment can exist in each of the other forms of self-hatred, it becomes a separate category when people's main intention is to inflict harm or suffering on themselves. Some people attain masochistic satisfaction by anguishing over a decision, exaggerating the pain of a headache, cutting themselves with a knife, starting a fight that they are sure to lose, or inviting physical abuse" (pg. 257).

"The sixth and final form of self-hatred is self-destructive actions and impulses, which may be either physical or psychological, conscious or unconscious, acute or chronic, carried out in action or enacted only in the imagination. Overeating, abusing alcohol and other drugs, working too hard, driving recklessly, and suicide are common expressions of physical self-destruction. Neurotics may also attack themselves psychologically, for example, quitting a job just when it begins to be fulfilling,m breaking off a healthy relationship in favor of a neurotic one, or engaging in promiscuous activities" (pg. 257).

"Horney believes we can witness four consequences of self-hatred. One is a compulsive need to compare self with others. Typically, the result is a 'comparative inferiority'" (Cooper, pg. 136).

"Another consequence of self-hate is a hypersensitivity to criticism, and hence, an excessive vulnerability in our relationships" (pg. 137).

"Still another consequence of self-hate is allowing too much abuse from others" (pg. 137).

"The last consequence of self-hate is the compulsive need to alleviate self-contempt with attention, regard, appreciation or admiration from others" (pg. 139).

Cooper, Terry D. (2003). Sin, Pride & Self-Acceptance: The Problem of Identity in Theology & Psychology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Jess Feist (1994, c.1985). Theories of Personality. 3rd. ed. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace.

Karen Horney (1950). Neurosis and Human Growth. New York: W. W. Norton.

How should people who hate themselves be helped? Why do you think leading voices in conservative Protestantism fail to address issues of self-hatred?

1 Comment

Hey I know this is very late but thanks for the article it really helped me with a university project I am doing.

Leave a comment

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Anthony Bradley published on August 8, 2012 11:35 AM.

When religious celebrity narcissism leads . . . was the previous entry in this blog.

Why aren't we talking about shame? ~ Dr. Brene Brown is the next entry in this blog.


Executive Editor


Senior Contributor