THE BLOG

Self-Hate Attacks: What Are They?

06/15/2015 04:32 pm ET | Updated Jun 15, 2016

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Have you beaten yourself up for a relatively small mistake you made? If so, you're the victim of a self-hate attack, an episode of self-condemnation that is generally out of proportion to the misstep you made. It is a kind of psychic flagellation that inflicts misery beyond any benefit you could derive.

Self-hatred has been referred to as a chronic condition that exists in borderline personality disorder, but many others experience an occasional brief burst of dislike for themselves.

Sufferers have the added disadvantage that their mental torment is invisible. Rarely does the victim beat his head against the wall or manifest any physical signs. Therefore, few can imagine the discomfort unless he has also been a victim.

The persistence of self-hate may indicate an underlying condition of low self-esteem. Though a bit far-fetched perhaps, I like to think of the psyche as analogous to the earth. Self-hate resembles an earthquake of the psyche. Imagine the psyche supported on a bed of low self-esteem, like tectonic plates that shift and cause an occasional upheaval with every occasional explosion of hate.

Episodes of self-hate may be an aspect of depression caused when brain cells fail to manufacture sufficient neurotransmitters to carry messages along the synapses. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the addition of an antidepressant that increases neurotransmitters may solve the problem.

Another common factor is the psychological phenomenon of "introjects;" these are critical or condemning voices from the past that echo in a person's mind without that person being consciously aware of them.

For example, Mr. B. experienced self-hate attacks when he spent time by himself. In his psychotherapy sessions, he identified the critical voice of his father echoing in his mind, thirty years after the fact, telling him that he'd never amount to anything. Connecting the attack to his father's voice freed him from the discomfort of solitude.

A self-hate attack may be precipitated by a failure to live up to an "idealized image," a term coined by Dr. Karen Horney, author of The Neurotic Personality of Our Time (1937) to explain a person's self-deprecation when he falls short of an imaginary ideal. An example: Ms. D. didn't live up to her family's expectations to marry a wealthy man and, as a result, suffered episodes of self-condemnation.

Self-flagellation creates its own obstacle by depleting energy and erecting a barrier that blocks out helpful comments or feedback from other people. Ms. K, a talented artist, heard only negative criticism but ignored laudatory reviews of her work.

These attacks can be identified by:
Hopelessness
Immobilization, i.e., an inability to move forward
Dislike or envy of those who thrive

Taking action is helpful:

To identify the condition and attempt to change the negative message
To identify the cause: depression, presence of an introject, or an idealized image

Conclusion: No matter what the etiology, the goal is to recognize the problem, learn from it, and extricate oneself as soon as possible to avoid loss of time and energy. If allowed to persist, the condition can result in inertia and hopelessness.