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  • Every day, especially in the era of social media (from the mental health perspective,

  • probably the single worst invention of modern times), we are likely to face enemies. People

  • who disagree with us, people who tell us we're 'bad', people who say we should be ashamed

  • of ourselves - or even be destroyed.

  • The common-sense advice, from well-meaning friends, is not to listen, to shrug it off,

  • to assert that no one cares, that the bully is 'mad' or mentally unwell - and to suggest

  • a change of scene. It's very kind - and, sadly, usually, for many of us, entirely ineffective.

  • The question then emerges: why is it that some people find it extremely hard to defend

  • themselves, either in the sense of practically answering back to an enemy or simply of not

  • caving in internally in the face of an attack? Why is it that, when they are being bullied

  • at work, some people are able to mount a polite, calm fightback, while others melt into self-loathing

  • and despair? Why is it that if they are criticised unfairly in a romantic context, some people

  • are able to point out that the criticism is not right and get their side of the story

  • across and feel steady and solid, while others descend at once into paranoia?

  • We might put it like this: in order to be able to defend oneself against an external

  • foe, one has to be on one's own side. And this is not - for some of us - as easy as

  • it sounds. Without us necessarily even quite realising the fact, our entire personalities

  • may be geared towards interpreting ourselves as bad, wrong, a mistake, shameful and a piece

  • of shit. This may sound dramatic and we know, in our intellectual adult selves, that this

  • can't be entirely right. Nevertheless, deep down, this isn't only slightly right, it's

  • the fundamental truth about us.

  • A first step towards dealing with an external enemy is realising that our personalities

  • are built up in such a way that we're going to have a big problem on our hands whenever

  • we face opposition. We should expect to find this hard and we do. We are, and there is

  • no pejorative association around this whatsoever, a bit mentally fragile or unwell in this area.

  • We therefore need to call for help, extend a lot of compassion to ourselves and devote

  • all the critical care we're going to need to get through the crisis. We then need to

  • take on board that - unfortunately - the real enemy we're harbouring is not so much currently

  • outside of us (though they are there too) as inside of us.

  • We need to ask ourselves: why does the accusation feel so true? Our conscious minds give us

  • access to only a fraction of the information about us. Just as we can't intuitively understand

  • how a cell operates in our very own body, so the make up of most of our emotional brain

  • is sunk in darkness. However, there will be a history to our self-loathing. We hate ourselves

  • because somewhere along the line, we were not properly loved. Somewhere in the past,

  • we heard a story - you are a piece of shit, you don't deserve to be, f*** off… - and

  • the story has stuck.

  • How could someone facing an accusation that they are an idiot but who inside has a voice

  • saying that they're a moron ever get the strength to defend themselves? They know in

  • the adult part of the mind that they should be fighting back, but they can't, because

  • inside all they hear is: you are everything your enemy is saying you are. They identify

  • entirely with their aggressor.

  • This can get pretty dangerous pretty fast. If the external enemy is vicious enough, and

  • joins artfully enough with the internal enemy, there can be suicidal thoughts - and perhaps

  • suicide itself. The defenceless are the opposite of self-righteous. To their enemies, they

  • are implicitly saying: I hate myself more than you ever could. I want to kill myself

  • more than you want to kill me.

  • The solution to this is a large naive word we'll have heard before but which we need

  • to grasp in its life-saving dimension: love. We need to hear often enough and clearly enough

  • from other human beings - and they don't need to be romantic partners - that contrary

  • to what the internal enemy is saying, we are decent enough, not perfect but that isn't

  • the criterion for deserving to exist. We need to fix ourselves by absorbing, properly absorbing,

  • the kindness of others.

  • The problem is that people who feel they are pieces of shit aren't very good at letting

  • others take care of them. They don't know how to ask for help, and when help is given,

  • they may initially push it away, accusing the kind friend of being weird or inadequate

  • (why would they be seeking to help a freak?).

  • We know from the condition known as body dysmorphia that it's no use telling someone who feels

  • they are disgusting that they are in fact very nice looking. We need to help them understand

  • how they grew to hate themselves so much and show them, via a friendship, that there could

  • be another way of relating to who they are. We have some hints about how our minds work

  • from the way we acquire language: children fluently pick up incredibly complex patterns

  • of speech from listening to those around them in the early years. A parallel emotional process

  • is going on. If someone when we were little was speaking hate, and shame and guilt to

  • us, we will have started to speak like that to ourselves - and it won't be easy, in

  • adulthood, to learn a new language, let alone to come to speak it fluently to ourselves.

  • Telling someone mired in self-hatred to 'cheer up' or 'like themselves a bit more'

  • is going to be as impatient as telling someone from England to 'just speak Bulgarian'.

  • It's going to take time and a lot of training.

  • Nevertheless, if we want to think about what an ambitious project for humanity would look

  • like, it would be a giant programme of learning to replace the internalised languages of hate

  • and enmity with those of love and compassion. We've trying to do this for a couple of

  • millenia at least. But we've done a pretty poor job of it so far - and the project feels

  • more urgent than ever. We might start today, by speaking a few stumbling phrases of love

  • to the self-hating part of ourselves and to someone we know near us who is perhaps right

  • now mired in shame and inadequacy.

  • At The School of Life we run regular virtual classes for adults. These mini life courses cover such topics as;

  • how to help relationships work, coping with anger and anxiety, career guidance, finding meaning and purpose in life and using culture as a therapeutic tool.

Every day, especially in the era of social media (from the mental health perspective,

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How to Learn to Love Oneself More

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    Summer posted on 2020/08/12
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