Sunday, June 9, 2013

On Self-Hatred

I originally published the following post a year ago on another blog.

It is difficult to explain what it feels like to hate oneself because one is gay, because it represents the antithesis of everything one is "supposed" to believe in, because one is taught that it must be crushed out of existence as something that is evil.

The other day, however, I read a passage from a book that my therapist had recommended to me, entitled Loving Kindness, by Sharon Salzberg, that I found nothing short of revelatory.  She was describing certain philosophical systems that existed in the Buddha's time, in which it was believed that if the body was tortured enough, abused enough, the spirit would soar free and be liberated.  Commenting on this belief system, Salzberg wrote these words:

"Spirituality based on self-hatred can never sustain itself.
Generosity coming from self-hatred becomes martyrdom.
Morality born of self-hatred becomes rigid repression.
Love for others without the foundation of love for ourselves
becomes a loss of boundaries, codependency, 
and a painful and fruitless search for intimacy."

I felt as though she was describing my life.  The passage took my breath away.

Spirituality based on self-hatred can never sustain itself.

My spirituality was in large part based on self-hatred. My membership in the LDS Church was based, ultimately, on the premise that it was true, and its teachings taught that homosexuality was wrong and sinful, something that was sent to try and test men and women who were unfortunate enough to be born with "those tendencies."  

I tried, unsuccessfully, to defeat this demon within me. The self-hatred that was a legacy of abuse I endured as child was reinforced twenty times over by the belief that there was something wrong with me, something that I was told could be overcome if I just tried hard enough. But - like thousands of other Mormon men and women who "struggled" with "same-sex attraction," particularly those who came of age before the Church's recent softening of its stance toward homosexuality - this was a war that could not be won. Each lost battle demoralized and reinforced the self-hatred that simmered within me. I also tried in numerous ways to "redeem" myself.  But, like an addiction, these efforts ultimately proved vacuous.  

Generosity coming from self-hatred becomes martyrdom.

One gives and gives and works and works, thinking that in so doing, one will acquire love.  But, again like an addiction, that need is constantly there, but never satisfied. One constantly looks outside oneself because, of course, one cannot look within because of the self-loathing that slithers like a snake in one's ego.  

Morality born of self-hatred becomes rigid repression.

There are "macro" and "micro" applications of this principle, which is true if anything ever was. Christianity at its worst teaches its believers that they must first hate themselves and recognize their need for a redeemer who, only, will save them from their wretched state.  Too often forgotten is the biblical verse that states that "we love Him because He first loved us."

Any gay Mormon knows all about rigid repression, having been taught this from the cradle. Apostles and prophets of the Church have, until very recently, taught that any feelings of same-sex attraction that one experiences must be repressed. But how does one repress who one is without suffering intense psychological damage? I have written about some of the consequences of trying to repress, to control, to eliminate. It wasn't and isn't pretty.  

Love for others without the foundation of love for ourselves

As for love for others, I found Salzberg's words particularly poignant ... and true. When one doesn't love oneself, one searches for validation and love in ways that are more often than not unhealthy and dysfunctional. I know all about losses of boundaries, co-dependency and quests for intimacy that seek to quench a thirst for, ultimately, self-love and self-acceptance.

"We so often in our lives serve as mirrors for one another," wrote Salzberg. "We look to others to find out if we ourselves are lovable; we look to others to find out if we are capable of feeling love; we look to others for a reflection of our innate radiance."

Coming out launched me on a journey toward self-love and self-acceptance.  I am reminded, from time to time, just how far I have yet to go toward that goal; but I am also reminded how far I have come.  And I am blessed beyond measure to have someone in my life who encourages me on that journey and reflects who I am truly am.

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