I’ve been thinking about the destructiveness of self-hatred or self-anger. Then I happened to hear a wonderfully clear presentation on this topic by Venerable Thubten Chodron (abbess of Sravasti Abbey in Washington State). I’ve pulled her main points to share with you.
Anger at ourselves comes from self-criticism. This habit of picking on ourselves habituates us to criticize others. In other words, when we practice negative self-talk, we will find it easy to think badly of the people we come into contact with.
Self-hate can also manifest in the belief that we are responsible for things going wrong for ourselves and others. Not only is this kind of thinking ignorant but it is also arrogant. We aren’t so powerful, nor are we in control of the innumerable factors that need to come together to give rise to a situation.
The Buddha taught that everything is a dependent arising; this means that every single experience and phenomenon comes into being, functions, and ceases as a result of many causes, conditions, parts, and a mind that labels the experience or situation. So thinking that we alone can make things go wrong is completely unrealistic.
According to Thubten Chodron, anger at ourselves arises because we take responsibility for things that aren’t our responsibility, and deny responsibility for things that are our fault.
As an example, you advise a friend who is about to go down a path that will cause her pain. Your intention is to help your friend avoid a problem. But your friend misunderstands, and angrily accuses you of judging her and not being supportive. Feeling bad about damaging your relationship, you begin judging yourself for having spoken too quickly and not agreeing with her. You blame yourself for your friend’s unhappiness.
In this case: we need to remind ourselves that our intention was to help our friend and wasn’t meant to cause her pain. Her anger and misunderstanding is more to do with her state of mind, beliefs and expectations, internalized anger, or perhaps a sensitivity that easily triggered her. This next point isn’t easy for us to always remember, but it is nonetheless important for us to ponder: her anger doesn’t make us a bad person and shouldn’t cause us to loathe ourselves.
We aren’t responsible for her unhappiness nor her happiness. In fact we can’t make anyone else happy. The challenge with attempting to live our lives trying to make other people happy is almost impossible because people and the things that will make them happy are always changing from moment to moment. We can only ever make ourselves happy.
We can remind ourselves of our positive intention and then try to move on. We can accept ourselves as we are. If we can, we should resolve to ask friends if they’d be interested in hearing our thoughts before sharing them.
As much as we aren’t responsible for someone’s happiness, we are, however, responsible for our own actions.
Anger at ourselves can worsen when we don’t take responsibility for our actions where our intention may not have been honorable. For instance, we say to our brother, who is sensitive about being overweight, that he looks healthy and must be eating well. Even though our words seem innocent enough, our intention was to deliberately antagonize him. When he gets upset at being criticized, we pretend innocence, and say we didn’t mean anything by it, and accuse him of being too sensitive.
So even though we may get away with deceiving others of our motives, within ourselves we feel unease because we know our devious intention. This inner discomfort contributes to our self-loathing. Oftentimes we struggle to admit to ourselves our own meanness or ill will, but denying it can create guilt.
We can confess and acknowledge our guilt to the people we’ve harmed. Or we can make amends to them and decide that we’ll change our unhelpful behavior. If we aren’t able to change right away then we can set the intention for the next hour, week, or year etc. to not act in this way again. We can also set the intention to be mindful in situations that are likely to bring out this tendency of ours. And we can forgive ourselves for our human failing.
May you be fearless in freeing yourself from self hate