Following Chalcedon’s piece, I thought I would write one of my own on the topic of self-hatred. This particular issue is often symptomatic of other psychological issues and can also serve as a root-cause for various kinds of behaviour. Amongst the many results of the Fall that Christ has come to heal, this one should not be overlooked. The Cross serves as our shield against the voices that seek to destroy us, be they from within or without. I will not enter here into a discussion of Satan’s motivation for hating humans, but the fact remains: “your adversary the Devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).
Why do humans come to hate themselves? The causes are complex and will vary from individual to individual. Often comparison is a mechanism that results in self-hatred or entrenches it, bringing it to the conscious mind. One compares oneself to an ideal or desired state, and in falling short of this ideal, one blames oneself. The guilt experienced for failing to meet the ideal is often made worse by a feeling of fundamental imperfection and weakness of the form, “I will NEVER be able to get where I want to because I am INCAPABLE of transcending my current condition.” The argument then gets worse: “If I am incapable of improving, then I am a bad person. If I am a bad person, then I deserve all the suffering and abuse it is possible to inflict on me.” Thus the afflicted person creates a spiral from which it is very difficult to escape. A series of false and half-true premises, combined with argument leads to conclusions that erode one’s sense of self-worth, one’s hope, and one’s perception. Life seems joyless when coloured by self-hatred: it is depressing.
These kind of thoughts and assessments are antithetical to the Gospel. They deny the love of Christ that expressed itself in dying for our sakes and they deny the power of the Cross to transform our lives. One could also consider the impact of these thoughts on the command to love our neighbour as ourself. If you do not love yourself, how can you love your neighbour? Now I suspect that some will respond: “That is sheer sophistry: you have committed some kind of error in reasoning, a fallacy.” I wonder, have I? Think about it.
So, how does one deal with the problem of self-hatred, while still affirming (as Chalcedon did in his piece), that we are indeed sinners in need of a Saviour? The sanctity of life is a good starting point: “For you created my inner parts, LORD; you put me together in my mother’s womb” (Ps. 139:13). All human life is sacred. Yahweh is the Lord of Life: He apportions existence to each and everyone of us. He hears the cries of the heartbroken and the oppressed. From Him is the concept of fatherhood derived. To each of us He apportioned gifts; for each of us He decreed when and where we should live. Our flesh with all its sorrows and weaknesses He took upon Himself: “By His stripes we are healed” (Is. 53:5).
In practical terms, there are things we can do to take care of others and, indeed, ourselves. We may not have training in pastoral work, but if we are to affirm that we are indeed our brother’s keeper, then it behoves us to nurture and sympathize with people who fall into this kind of despair. We can take time to listen to each other – this is an important part of discipleship – and we can pray with each other. A real danger of attending a “big church” is that people become isolated; such people become vulnerable and are in need of friends and groups to meet their need for belonging. Affirmation is an important part of building such relationships – but this is only possible after we have taken the time to get to know a person.
Community is an important weapon in fighting isolation, which is a major “fuel” for depression, self-hatred, and a host of other personal problems. Community is a big challenge facing parts of the Western Church today. If church is simply somewhere we go on a Sunday, without making friends and forming deep relationships, then we have failed to model the essence of church: God’s Family. It is all very well to talk about the economy of the Holy Trinity – but such talk is useless if it does not change how we relate to one another.
We want to become more like Christ, and God is conforming us to the image of His Son. Part of that image is the role of “Good Shepherd”. The Good Shepherd is famous for laying down His life for the Sheep, but the Good Shepherd also goes looking for the lost sheep. As a church, we need to have a hard look at how we treat the isolated, the marginalized, the lost – not just those outside the gates, but also those within. I count myself fortunate that I have close Christian friends to talk to in my church and in other circles; but I have no doubt that there are others not so fortunate.
Perhaps your thought for today might be: “Who in my circle of acquaintances needs a listening ear?”