The news headlines thunder the shocking mayhem of school children gunned down at Sandy Hook and of four firemen ambushed in upper New York, leaving even the professionals pondering the mindset behind such horror.
Sadly, the truth may be that a good many people don’t like themselves and act out their self-loathing on others. Its origin can be subtle.
Perhaps it began as a youngster in an overly restrictive home heavy on reprimand, short on love.
Or in unabated sibling rivalry for the mother’s milk, as it were.
Perhaps from a short-fused teacher, scolding a child in view of other children, maximizing his humiliation.
Perhaps because other children excluded or bullied.
I’ve known for years the high impacting of poor reading skills on youngsters, usually boys. I had been a social worker for several years at a residential treatment center for boys 8-17, replete with its own school. Of my hundred boys or more, 90% were remedial readers with substantial low esteem and often a history of acting out in the classroom.
The origins are myriad; the result the same, and always damaging.
Nearly always a person falls into hating himself not because he’s intrinsically inadequate, but because others keep telling him so. Rejection messages accumulate their toxins like excessive radiation, fostering demise instead of intended healing.
Fairly often you can see such psychological fallout in the overachiever who flagellates himself with extraordinary effort to win approval, and hence self-validation.
Those suffering envy, and many do, languish because they’re at war with themselves. When people like themselves they don’t require what someone else seemingly has in the way of goods, talent, and reputation. They have no need to project limitations on to others and sully them through gossip, innuendo or criticism. Another’s success doesn’t hint at reprimand or reminder of personal shortcomings. Those liking themselves know their own worth and it’s quite enough.
Ironically, self-loathing may turn-up in the guise of narcissism, or conceit, a kind of whistling in the dark to keep the wolves at bay. Confident people rely upon results, not boasts.
Lacking self-esteem, every conversation, work, class or play endeavor musters into a contest for mastery in a quest for validation for those who suffer.
In the worst scenarios, self-hatred in its twisted logic leads to rage and inflicting pain on self and others. What begins as temper, may end in verbal and domestic abuse, eating disorders, drug addiction, delinquency, or even worse as our headlines testify.
Somewhere, always, its source lies in a wound that festers. It lashes out at innocents, ironically often the very sources that offer love, but can never suffice to close the gap. Fed by a flotilla of ghosts, the self-loather purees his fantasies into a malt of maiming. Filled with rage, he seeks to even the score.
As the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, put it so succinctly: “A man’s life is what he thinks about all day long.”
One thought on “On the violence that ails us: reflections on low self-esteem”
Thanks for your characteristically thoughtful/empathetic reflections, Ralph. ‘hope to speak again soon. -k