In my forty years of work as a psychotherapist, I have come across countless people who are extremely unhappy with themselves. Their dissatisfaction varies, but the overall impact is that they feel depressed.
The late Theodore Isaac Rubin, MD, and Psychoanalyst, addressed this self-dissatisfaction in a book entitled Compassion and Self Hate. Dr. Rubin wrote the book “Lisa and David.” which became a Hollywood movie named David and Lisa. It is still a movie worth renting and viewing.
Dr. Rubin borrows from a great psychoanalyst of the mid-twentieth century, Karen Horney. Horney asserts that we have three selves:
1. Actual Self: Who we are with our physical and emotional abilities and disabilities or limitations.
2. Real Self: Who we could be if we freed ourselves from our self-dislike and unrealistic fears.
3. Despised Self: Self Effacing and very neurotic.
4. Idealized Self: The illusion of glorious goals that are impossible to achieve but that we believe we should achieve.
Dr. Rubin reduces this formula to two selves, the Actual Self and the Real Self.
Actual Self: Who we are with all of our talents, limitations, and illnesses, both physical and psychological.
Real Self: The illusions we believe in about who we should be, being wealthy, powerful, lovable, and independent.
If we hold on to illusions about our Real Self is the extent to which we reject our Actual Self and feel self-hate.
An individual may cherish the belief that they should be happy. After all, pursuing happiness is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. But what is happiness? As Dr. Rubin states, “For me, happiness is feeling good, nothing more… feeling fairly comfortable and relatively tension-free.”
He then says that we can sustain happiness only for a limited time. Life is not perfect, and moods change. However, the illusion that one should be happy all the time creates self-hate. If someone clings to the illusion that they should be happy all the time, and they are not, they will condemn themselves for not achieving this goal. The problem is that the goal of feeling happy all the time is not achievable.
Perhaps people hold on to unrealistic beliefs about themselves, which explains the epidemic of addiction. Substances offer a temporary that causes a person to feel joyful and omnipotent. When the drug wears out and reality sets in, the self-hate reasserts itself.
To continue the analogy of the drug abuser, the sense of self-hate and wish for joy that propels the addiction also serves as a powerful source of self-punishment. Drug addiction carries with it lots of physical and emotional abuse.
Looking at the dynamic of self-hate in another way, Dr. Rubin talks about the illusions we have about money. There is a commonly held illusion that money can solve all problems. Many patients have told me they would feel free of their problems and suffering if they had enough money. However, real-life tells us a different story.
Lots of people love to play the lottery, hoping to become millionaires. We read about poor or working people winning the lottery and going home fabulously wealthy. Oh, how many of us wish for the same fate? You know the old saying, “Be careful of what you wish for.” It may come true.” The fact is that the lives of many people who won the lottery ended in tragedy. Some of them spent every dollar they won and became bankrupt. Others committed suicide, became addicted to drugs, or suffered an abysmal fate. Money did not solve their problems. Yet, we convince ourselves that it will solve our problems and beat ourselves for not earning or winning a fortune.
The same phenomenon occurs with marriages. Many people enter into marriage with illusionary expectations. These expectations often have perfect bliss, constant sexual fulfillment, and a regular flow of nurturing and love. However, actual life is not this way. Yes, marriage can bring lots of satisfaction, but it also brings many problems and difficulties. Married couples disagree and quarrel, deal with difficult children, and have work and family issues.
The more significant the gap between expectations and reality, the greater sense of disappointment, bitterness, and failure we will experience.
Dr. Rubin states that to be compassionate to others, we must learn to be compassionate to ourselves. The way to be self-compassionate is to learn to accept the Real Self with its limitations.
Accepting who we are instead of wishing for something or someone else is the road to compassion. It means ending self-hatred. Part of the way to end self-hatred is for a person to identify mistaken beliefs and make changes.