I realize self-loathing isn't all that uncommon, but how far does it usually go?
February 5, 2008 5:02 PM   Subscribe

What the heck is my problem? There's dysfunction, yes, and I suspect codependency too - I know I need to seek therapy and as soon as I'm done writing this question I'm going to set up an appointment. However, there's one other element that I've only recently become aware of, and it seems so sick and abnormal to me that I'm afraid of ever mentioning it even in therapy. Does thinking that other people SHOULD treat you horribly put you way off the chart in terms of what therapists are usually equipped to help with?

My apologies for the length of this, I feel like a little context is needed to explain this because it seems so bizarre even to me. I'm going to describe a little bit about the dynamics of one specific friendship, but please realize I'm doing this because it was in the context of this friendship that I started noticing certain things about myself, and because I think it helps encapsulate a lot of what I'm talking about, not because I'm looking for advice about this friendship - beyond the fact that I'm VERY much short-changing it in terms of only describing negative elements here, I think my problems go far beyond any one friendship and I'm really looking for a little insight into what the heck might be the matter with me.

Anyway, I've got this friend who has issues of his own, lots of them, mostly of the 'low self-esteem' variety just like me. I think I've finally wised up to the fact that I can't be the one to convince them to seek therapy, can't be the one to help them, can't really even say much positive about them that they'll believe (although anything that could be taken negatively inevitably IS heard, believed, and amplified by a factor of ten) – and yet I can't stop feeling this deep, hideous inadequacy about that. I know it isn't fair (to me OR to them) to base my worth on whether or not I can be of any help to anybody I'm close to, but I can't seem to stop doing that and the fact that I don't think I am helping anybody just compounds the negative feelings I have about myself.

I know that this sort of thing, while unhealthy, is at least kind of common as far as dysfunction goes - but! Beyond this general inadequacy (and codependent behavior on my part?) there's also the problem that when we argue over something, the pattern is that I'll give in by the end, usually scrambling backwards madly to take back and apologize for something I've said, but only after I HAVE said something that makes them feel horrible and they've said things that make me feel horrible. While we do step back at that point and do apologize, this pattern seems to arise any time we fight. We're sorry, but we keep doing it. And even worse, I’m beginning to realize that part of me thinks this person - and people in general - SHOULDN'T apologize but rather should get even more outright angry at me ... and THIS is the element that seems just flat-out sick and unacceptable to me.

I think in some part I want to be treated in an ugly way, by this person and by others to whom I'm attached – it's almost sickly reassuring, like this warped confirmation of what I've known all along and that seems to elude most people. Sometimes I'm even unsettled by being apologized to, partly because the cessation of their negative acts means I have nothing more to be upset at them about, but even more so because part of me would rather that they went further in being harsh towards me than they had yet done. The friend I mentioned above is one of those people – some part of me wonders if our fights don't go the way they do so that we both get the chance to "prove" to ourselves what awful people we actually are ('How could I EVER have said that horrible thing to such an undeserving person??'), AND I wonder if I keep trying to help them in part because I know I can't, and thus will once again get proof of how useless a friend I am. And now it occurs to me that even as a kid some element of this was there, maybe even before things started getting particularly bad in my family (typical substance-abusing parent issues) and social life – for one small (but maybe telling? I don't even know anymore) example, I know I was always drawn to episodes of shows where the character I liked or identified with was ill-treated for whatever reason. Ick.

This all seems sick as hell to me and unlike so many other disorders I can't find a name I could research to at least get a sense of how common it is (masochism isn't quite it, at least, as I understand it – this isn't a sexual thing on my part), and that scares me: this weird feeling that people ought to treat me as if I'm despicable seems so alien and sick and wrong that I can't see myself admitting it even to a therapist. I guess this is what I'm really asking, then: I realize you aren't my therapist, but does anybody have any thoughts on what the hell this might be, and how common or unheard-of it is? Again, I AM going to seek therapy but I just think I'd feel more comfortable being honest if I knew that this isn't a completely abnormal, monstrous problem that's inevitably going to cause any therapist I work with to flinch away thinking I'm completely horrible and hopeless. Thanks in advance for any input you have; if you'd like to email me please do so at anonmefi08@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I know it as "drama queen". Maybe you are addicted to drama and self loathing. Stuff it in the duffle bag and bring it all to therapy. There ain't nothing you can lay on a therapist they haven't either dealt with before or read about or can bypass totally what you think is the problem and get to the root of the real problem. Not all therapists are created equal, so if you aren't comfortable with one, keep shopping until you find one that fits.
posted by 45moore45 at 5:11 PM on February 5, 2008

Jeez. This doesn't sound at all sick as hell. I think it's probably not very unusual in people who grew up in dysfunctional families. You're just an ordinary, garden-variety fucked-up person. Therapy sounds like a good idea, because this pattern can't be making you happy, but your therapist is not going to be even the tiniest bit shocked at this.
posted by craichead at 5:11 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

The most important thing first: Heck no, there's nothing abnormal or monstrous here. You're not horrible; you're not hopeless. I'm not a trained mental health professional by any means, but I've talked to friends with some of the exact things you describe, and felt others myself. You can get through this and be better.

But by all means, go find a therapist. Make sure it's someone you feel comfortable with, and someone you don't feel judged by, even if takes a couple of tries to find him/her. Right now, you're too caught up in yourself (as we all are!) to be objective about what's going on in your own head, but your therapist won't be - and he/she will be able to help you figure out how to be better.

Don't be ashamed: you're not a terrible person, and you're definitely not hopeless. You'll be better. Just go find someone who can help you.
posted by theslarty at 5:19 PM on February 5, 2008

I would say it is relatively normal. As limited as self-help may be, the book "I'm OK, You're OK" deals pretty extensively with this. It might be helpful, or at least reassuring -- in the sense that millions of people purchased it and found it relevant to their lives.
posted by Raoul de Noget at 5:22 PM on February 5, 2008

i don't know a name for it, but i know that many people--including myself--suffer from it. this is exactly the type of thing that therapists are there for. they aren't going to say "but you're awesome! you should like yourself!" and that's the extent of it. they'll help you figure out WHY you think you're a piece of shit, which will help you come to realize that you're not.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 5:29 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Mm, talking off the top of my head here, but it's possible that you may be confusing abuse with standing firm. In other words, you may hate the capitulation - and many, many people including myself hate capitulation when the other person doesn't actually agree, and is just pretending to agree to not have an argument - and because you hate the capitulation you think that you want anger. Maybe it's fire and passion and a certain kind of stubbornness that you desire. And then you work backwards in your memory to find examples of things that support your theory - the TV thing - and then you find them, because you're looking for them, and then you think of yourself as a sick fuck. Oh noes!

Or you might be completely right and you like abuse... but so what? It's not weird. In fact, it's so not weird that it's a line from an Offspring song. And believe me, your therapist will not flinch away from Offspring lyrics.

(I'm talking about the song Self Esteem, btw.)
posted by reebear at 5:31 PM on February 5, 2008

No, this is not outside the bounds of normal therapy at all, and please don't feel like you can't admit it to a therapist. I had similar issues with hating myself so much I felt I deserved poor treatment. To give you an idea, when I was little, I literally thought I was such an ugly, evil creature that I was lucky people didn't make me wear a bag over my head. From this followed the belief I certainly shouldn't complain when people treated me badly, given that they even were willing to speak to me. Then if I did complain, it made me ungrateful, which proved even more that I was a terrible creature, and so the cycle continued.

So yeah, you're not alone. And therapy can be great for this. I am OK now--I have an objective, normal view of myself, I no longer think I'm a horrible cringing troll, and all in all it's pretty fucking sweet.

And please, when you go to therapy don't get caught on over-analyzing things--therapy is as hindered by the over-analyzer as much as the person who refuses to analyze themselves (this is in my direct experience). I only say this because your post hints you may have those tendencies.
posted by schroedinger at 5:37 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is 100% normal, in the sense that therapists hear it plenty. I came out of my family feeling like I was worthy only of mistreatment, so I chose relationships that provided that mistreatment, was chronically underpaid, couldn't set boundaries, etc. etc. Groups I attended during that time & books I read all confirmed that this is a common problem in people who come from families with addiction or other problems.

Don't worry that you're bizarre, because you're not. And be sure to mention it to your therapist when you feel secure with him or her. You can get over it. (For me it was cognitive behavioral therapy and some spiritual work, but whatever works will work!)
posted by PatoPata at 5:38 PM on February 5, 2008

My guess is a therapist will be glad to have an insightful client, and one who isn't afraid of the hard work.
posted by tkolar at 5:51 PM on February 5, 2008

You do yourself no justice and no favors by berating yourself like this, although of course your self-abuse and tendency to seek out abuse from others may have the same source. This sort of thing is not at all uncommon, especially among those raised in environments of dysfunction, addiction, and trauma. People don't enter into and stay in abusive relationships (romantic or otherwise) because they're crazy, although their behavior may seem irrational. They're getting something out of the dynamic. It's not necessarily healthy or wise in the sense that it stunts one's happiness and general wellbeing, but in the context of their lives, it makes sense and serves a purpose. It's what feels safe and familiar. I would venture a guess that the dynamic is familiar to you. For one thing, the way you expect people to speak to you and treat you echoes the way you seem to speak to yourself.

So, what I want to emphasize most of all is that this is not at all "alien and sick and wrong," and not at all something to fear bringing up with a therapist. Also, masochism is not only sexual; that's just its most glamorous outfit. Also: I know it may seem impossible, but I wonder if you could start noting this in a neutral fashion, without criticizing yourself and without any value judgments. Just as something you tend to do and that you'd like to change about yourself - and that's it. You might wean yourself off of the abuse by cutting down on that which is self-inflicted. Don't be so hard on yourself?
posted by granted at 6:07 PM on February 5, 2008

Does thinking that other people SHOULD treat you horribly put you way off the chart in terms of what therapists are usually equipped to help with?

The people "off the chart" are some of the ones in prison, morgue, the hospital and so on. Possibly some on the streets. Your life will break down into a horrible and unpredictable mess of breathing and shitting way before you're "off the chart." Srsly, if you're alive you can make your life better. Not only that, but you can have the best life you can possibly imagine right now.
posted by rhizome at 6:56 PM on February 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

What caught my eye was the phrase " it's almost sickly reassuring," I don't know your background but it makes me think that this is a pattern that you might have developed in childhood as a way to deal with dysfunctional parents. Many children whose parents are unable to meet their needs decide that it must be their own fault since it would be too frightening to consider that their parents, whom they love and need, might be failing them. So, as other people have said, this is in fact a fairly common problem. I'm not a therapist and certainly not yours - you have to figure out for yourself how much, if any , of this applies to you.

If you think that this might be your case, then you need to know that this pattern was the best way you, as a young child, could find to deal with a very difficult situation. There is nothing fundamentally bad about you - this was a coping style that helped you survive. Now that you are an adult, you are finding the limitations of this coping style. With all of your insight and strengths and the help of a therapist you can certainly develop healthier, more satisfying patterns for the relationships in your current life.
posted by metahawk at 7:05 PM on February 5, 2008

N'th-ing the opinion that a good therapist can help you, because they have heard it all, and a lot of therapists have gone through their own therapy. Mine has. Even if you aren't able to believe it now, know that there is no reason for you to see yourself as unworthy, which is what your anxiety about what a therapist will think of you is about.

Unfortunately, a lot of us move from childhood to adulthood with no help on learning to break the defense mechanisms we've developed (and your self-loathing is a defense mechanism). I'm just now learning that other people are not my family of origin and I don't have to react to the world as though they were. And let me tell you, my therapist heard about every bit of crap that went down in my childhood. Didn't bat an eye. Was full of compassion. But also treated me like an adult about my life today. That's what matters now. Your life today. A good therapist is crucial in this process of discovering that you can burn the old scripts and you can let go of the bad old messages and you can come to recognize the people in your life now who are triggering old scenarios and learn to do things differently. You'll learn those messages that caused you to hate yourself back then were not valid to begin with and are sure as hell not the truth now. Go ahead. Get recommendations and find a therapist. Don't keep yourself in prison. You are worth it.

Think of it this way; it's like airplanes. When there's trouble, you put the oxygen mask on YOURSELF FIRST, and then you can help the person next to you. A good therapist is your emotional oxygen mask. Good luck.
posted by droplet at 7:37 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is absolutely something a therapist is prepared to deal with and help you through. If the first one you try makes you feel otherwise, they're not a good therapist--find someone else.

As disturbing and perplexing as this is to you, I'll say that you also obviously have a lot of insight into your own motivations and can step back a little bit to examine how you feel. That's going to be really helpful in working on this. Good luck!
posted by hippugeek at 8:30 PM on February 5, 2008

Lots of good advice here; I'll particularly second Schroedinger
and droplet. You're not off the charts at all; I think a lot of us who go into therapy for any number of reasons are right there with you. I was convinced through my whole life that I was pretty much shit. On top of that, I also am prone to the over examined life, so then I would get down on myself for getting down on myself and so on, loop ad infinitum. Eventually, all the darkness drove me, even cynical me, into therapy. After two and a half years, I just finished and my life is really, really better now. I'm happier. I'm still me - I have not become a happy happy joy joy up with people clone - but I'm basically happier.

The payoff, which came after several years and medications and all kinda fun stuff, was slowly somehow realizing that in fact I'm not shit. I'm a human being like any other and I do deserve to be treated just as well as I would like to treat my friends. I am worth it and there is nothing in me that is intrinsically evil and bad and wrong and disgusting. It took a lot of self examination and the patience of Job on the part of my therapist, but getting there, my friend, was worth the journey. Now I am going to trot out a quote that impressed me last week, taken from, of all places, a New Yorker review of a new HBO show. This may just be the best summation of therapy that I've ever read and so I pass it on to you.

I learned many years ago, when learning such things cost only fifty dollars for forty-five minutes, that boredom isn’t the same thing as stasis. Being bored doesn’t mean that “there’s nothing to do,” as children imprecisely complain to their parents on a rainy day, dragging their feet on the rug and kicking the sofa. It means that something big—whether it’s rain, other people, or our own hot-to-the-touch fears—is keeping us from doing what we want to do, from playing outside, from expressing ourselves, from moving forward.

And yeah, the self loathing is what's keeping you - and a lot of us from nicely fucked up families - in place, in stasis. Here's the other great thing, though: you don't have to focus on your family. I didn't want to go on for hours about the patterns of my childhood because I felt that I'd pretty much done that my whole life, so I was really relieved to discover that actually, you can move right on from that. I didn't spend tons of sessions talking to my therapist about my alcoholic father and so on and so forth; we basically took that as a given and moved on to things I could and can do to make myself, NOW, okay. I learned how to break old patterns and get rid of those hot-to-the-touch fears. And I have to tell you, I am really enjoying liking myself and I don't even feel totally guilty about such hubristic thoughts anymore. It's pretty fricken awesome when you get there.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:29 AM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Does thinking that other people SHOULD treat you horribly put you way off the chart in terms of what therapists are usually equipped to help with?

No, that's pretty much right up the middle of the kind of stuff they're good at talking about.
posted by salvia at 8:58 AM on February 6, 2008

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