Self-Hatred: A Most Poignant Form of Human Fragility

Perhaps nothing is more indicative of human fragility than self-hatred. After all, in order for a person to have a deep and abiding positive sense of self, it is hardly necessary for the individual to be ever so attractive physically or an intellectual giant or masterful at some sport or the other. Yet, there are individuals who truly despise themselves. Indeed, there are individual who despise themselves even though it is rather obvious that they are doing well, as the comparison to countless many others makes abundantly clear.

What strikes me as so very, very fascinating and fundamental fact about human beings is the reality that a deep and abiding sense of self-worth does not at all require being superior to others in terms of accomplishments or physical appearances. Indeed, none other than the knowledge that one is a morally decent person more than suffices to anchor an abiding sense of self-worth.

So in the case of people are plagued by a considerable sense of self-hatred, the explanation cannot be that their sentiment of self-hatred is indeed anchored in their sense of not having done well-enough in life. For it is simply not the case that in order for a person to value herself or himself, it has to be the case that the individual makes or made a recognizable contribution.

For valuing ourselves is neither formally nor conceptually tied to making some aspect of the world a better place. Rather, valuing ourselves primarily entails refraining from behaviors and associations with others that diminish ours sense of worth.

There is a very straightforward sense in which surely it is the case that no person choses to hate herself or himself. So how, then, does self-hatred come about? The answer, I believe, is that self-hatred is anchored by the systematic lack of what can be construed as meaningful affirmation. While the absence of parental love understandably comes to mind as an explanation for self-hatred on the part of an individual, I want to say that what also has to be the case is that there is no source of affirmation at all. Or, in any case, an instance of affirmation is so extremely rare that by the time the person experiences affirmation again, the individual is essentially starting all over again in terms of benefiting from affirmation rather than building upon affirmation that is a part of her or his sense of self. Needless to say, precisely what we have with such an individual is tremendous fragility.
Alas, tremendous fragility is ever so fertile psychological soil for the realization of self-hatred.

Alas, tremendous fragility is ever so fertile psychological soil for the realization of self-hatred. Thus, there is the difference in the world between (a) having considerable fragility in one context but otherwise (b) having tremendous strength of character and affirmation on a regular basis. Needless to say, (b) essentially precludes self-hatred.

I conclude with the quite disconcerting truth that a person can be tremendously self-deceived about whether or not self-hatred animates her or his life. Perhaps upon reflection that should not come as a surprise. For acknowledging one’s self-hatred would seem to require tremendous strength of character.

© Laurence Thomas

About Laurence Thomas

Laurence Thomas is Professor in the Department of Political Science and the Department of Philosophy at Syracuse University. His most recent book is The Family and the Political Self and his most recent article in French is "Juifs et Noirs: Au-delà du Mal" in Trigano (ed.) Juifs et Noirs: du Mythe à la Réalité. Thomas has published numerous essays on the topic of friendship. The essay "The Character of Friendship" has appeared in volume on friendship, entitled Thinking About Friendship, edited by Damian Caluori and the essay "Friendship in the Shadow of Technology" has appeared in the anthology Moral and Moral Controversies edited by Steven Scalet and John Arthur. His most recent essay--entitled "Being Moral and Handling the Truth"--is about circumstances under which it is morally permissible to lie. Indeed, an example is given in Section IV of a lie being morally virtuous.
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