Hate is a very strong emotion, but often a very misunderstood one. Children say they hate their parents when they are frustrated or angry, they hate broccoli because they don’t like the way it tastes, they hate their friends when they feel betrayed or upset. As children age, they are subjected to a number of influences that have them turn that frustration, anger, betrayal, distaste and hatred inward; media, families, friends and genetics to name a few. As we learn to turn those emotions inward and criticize ourselves, trying to “fix” whatever is wrong with us, sometimes even punishing ourselves for perceived flaws and short-comings.
People who suffer from eating disorders are often experiencing extreme self-hate. They try their hardest to fix their bodies hoping that it will improve their lives. They spend enormous amounts of energy hurting and punishing their bodies and that takes an incredible amount of self-hate. In order to vomit after eating, subject your body to the pains of laxative abuse, self-starvation and over-exercise you have to have an extreme amount of hatred towards yourself and your body. This level of hatred is not something that can be understood by people who have not experienced an eating disorder and can make you feel extremely alone and forces you to think that you don’t deserve any good things in the world.
So where does all this self-hate fit in with recovery? How is it even possible to do something so important for yourself when you despise your self and your body?
- The first step is to start to recognize the times when you are hurting, punishing or ignoring your mind, spirit or body’s needs and do whatever you can to directly oppose them. Notice when you push yourself too hard to physically perform better, run further, stay up later and think to yourself that you “have to”. The more you recognize these little moments the more you can start to combat them. When I start to push myself in yoga when I know I need a rest, I take a look at the reasoning behind it; am I working towards my edge trying to inspire growth in my practice, or am I trying to hurt my body, to push through weakness? If I am honestly working towards a fuller practice then I continue to push my boundaries. If I find that I am trying to conquer my body’s physical limitations and weaknesses from a place of anger or punishment I take a rest and continue when the feeling has passes.
Some acts of self-hatred are so tiny that you may not even recognize them. Personally I discovered that I leave my chipping nail polish on too long, watching it chip away makes me look on the outside as broken as I feel on the inside. I sit with water beside me and don’t drink it until I can’t stand the thirst any longer pushing myself to survive without a major requirement for life. I don’t do the dishes or tidy my home because I feel so cluttered and grimy I let it leak into my environment. I put clothes on instead of getting dressed because having to put any effort into how I look would mean that I cared about myself. These are the things that I have to actively combat, sometimes on a daily basis. I take off my nail polish when it’s chipping (even if I don’t repaint them), I make sure that water is available and easy to access at all times (using a straw makes it easier to drink because there is less effort involved) and drink it whenever I feel that I need to limit my water, or wonder how much longer I can last without water. I try to do the dishes and tidy the house often, I try to put the effort in and get dressed whenever I can bear it.
- The second step to banishing self-hate is to actively practice self-care. Do nice things for yourself and know that although they feel incredibly alien now they will one day be second nature. Buy yourself flowers, take a bubble bath, take your time painting your nails or doing your hair, get a massage, do something fun like play a game or watch a funny movie. Do anything that makes you laugh, makes you happy or relaxes you.
At first opposing your self-punishing behaviours and actively practice self-care will feel incredibly wrong and forced but the more you practice the more genuine it will feel. Over time, that little voice in your mind that tells you that you deserve the punishment and hatred will become quieter and quieter. One day you might even wake up to find that you might even like yourself for the tiniest moment.