Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Self-Hatred Attacks: My Specialty in the Area of Anxiety and Discomfort

So I've heard anxiety and discomfort described in a number of different ways:  panic, stress, nervousness, disgust, shame, etc.  Tack on the word "attack" after any of the above descriptors and you have a name for those episodes where said feelings overwhelm the person experiencing them.  While I have most certainly experienced all of these emotions as part of my OCD, they don't quite capture the essence of what I feel when when my anger and frustration is not directed at a certain event or situation, but rather at myself.  Those times are more like "self-hatred attacks."  That's really the best way to describe those times of pure self-loathing and reproach.  Not pleasant.  Not at all.

I'm sure everyone experiences self-hatred from time to time, or even frequently.  But sometimes I feel like I have molded it into a highly refined art in and of itself.  Don't get me wrong.  I certainly don't presume to have the market corned on self-reproach.  I can be pretty bad sometimes, but I'm sure there are those out there who suffer far more and who have it far worse.  And I am much, much better than I used to be.  I just know that I can sometimes work myself into a literal "attack" of self-reproach where anything I do seems to trigger even more self-hatred.  I am aware that I am being irrational when these attacks occur, but at the same time, I can't seem to turn it off as much as I would like to.

To be honest, I used to punish myself physically when I was experiencing one of these "attacks."  I make an effort not to do that anymore and have addressed this issue in treatment.  I try to find other ways to get through it other than beating myself up and acting rashly, which just triggers more self-loathing and a desire to punish myself further in a vicious positive feedback loop.  But with that maladaptive coping mechanism eliminated from the mix, I have a hard time knowing what to do to make it through those times.

In the treatment of OCD, we often talk about exposing ourselves to things and situations that trigger discomfort and then sitting with that discomfort until it diminishes on its own.  When discussing my latest self-hatred attack today in therapy, I was given the answer to my question about what to do during those times:  nothing, if possible.  Just as with other forms of anxiety, the answer is not to act compulsively but to sit with the uncomfortable feeling and continue about my day to the best of my ability.  So simple, really, and yet I think this is the first time I really took it to heart for these sort of situations.  For some reason, I thought this was different.  But the answer is the same.  The fact is we all feel discomfort in life.  We can either fight it and resist it and go to great lengths to rid ourselves of it, or we can accept that we will probably feel crappy from time to time and do our best to continue on anyway.  Self-hatred attacks, I suppose, are no different.  I just have to learn to wait them out.

This is not to say that there are not tools to employ in the meantime.  There is work that can be done on the cognitive side - thought restructuring and other things of that nature - to point out the distortions and identify healthier and more realistic ways to look at things.  But in the end, I guess it's the same:  the best way to thwart the anxiety is to do nothing.  The best way to overcome the self-hatred is not to self-punish or act compulsively, but to keep moving forward despite that feeling.  Acting in a self-punishing or compulsive manner only fuels the fire.  It tells the brain that the feeling of self-hatred is important and needs to be dealt with in a punitive manner.  Instead, doing nothing returns the feeling of self-reproach back to its place as just that - a feeling.  Like other thoughts and feelings that trigger the desire to act compulsively, it can probably be strengthened or weakened depending on the behaviors we choose.

Certainly not an exact science!  But I am learning!  How do you deal  with "self-hatred attacks?"


  1. I find that if I write down the self-loathing thoughts, in quotes, labeled as "thoughts", that I get just enough distance to see the pattern, a little breathing room. Often it brings sadness with it, when I see how self punishing I've been in my life, and how lonely I was growing up, trying to find ways to be loved and accepted, and like you said, sometimes we feel crappy and it will pass, if we have the courage to let it be there.

  2. In the context of "being with the discomfort" and "doing nothing," I found it helpful during a recent late-night, self-loathing episode to ask myself, "what is happening exactly right now?" This brought me to feel my body lying on the bed, the softness of the pillow, the safety and comfort of my home, and the rise and fall of my breath. Simply that. This helped me direct my attention away from feeding the self-loathing thought loop and into the present moment awareness that things are really ok right this moment. And it helped me fall asleep, which was necessary. Thank you very much for your "Self-Hatred Attacks" posting. It helped me a lot to know that there are others who "do nothing" to ride the waves of self-loathing.

  3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mH2sEqrCza4&feature=results_main&playnext=1&list=PL603BD0B03E12F5A1

  4. i thought I'm the only one who has "self hatred attacks " it gets so ugly sometimes , the pain it causes is unbearable. i love you post (Y) it made me feel normal.

  5. Like the other posters this helped immensely to know I'm not alone in this. I was having anxiety with strong self loathing so I googled those words and this came up. Thank you for posting this! Helped me a lot.

  6. I still am acting out self hatred thru punishment at 50. It takes many forms depending on the thoughts. I am grateful for this post.

  7. I usually end up putting my self loathing in my writing, and it ends up being a cathartic experience. After I've written everything down, I read it. Then I just lie down and relax, and once I'm calm, I read what I wrote and realize how irrational it was. Idk if that actually helps much, but I appreciate this article for showing me a different viewpoint.



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