“Sometimes, carrying on, just carrying on, is the superhuman achievement.” ― Albert Camus
I want to begin this piece by leading the reader on a brief thought journey. This is a mental exercise that needs to be made honestly and earnestly within one’s own mind to better understand the topic at hand. Following that, I’ll describe “The Self-Loathing Man” then cover a few arguments and end with as close to a conclusion or solution as I can. Additionally, it should be important to note that the bleak picture depicted below is to serve a purpose of describing an image of the reality for individuals suffering from themselves and hopelessness must be resisted when contemplating this. This is one of my more darker pieces I wrote during a winter storm (in a stream of thought, on my notes in my phone) while in a dark place but one I felt compelled to publish. It is important to remember, if you, the reader, are suffering with depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts to trust your doctors, therapists, and especially your loved ones – they can better determine reality than the suffering individual.
Imagine you have someone you can’t stand. Someone you cannot reasonably tolerate for any short period of time. For most, this should not be a difficult task to accomplish. Even for the most gentle-hearted people-person this can’t be a stretch of the imagination. It’s not a bad thing to have someone like that. Odds are that you and them have some uncontrollable past or have personalities that just do not mix. Little can be done, in all honesty, for relationships like this. The first examples that may come to mind are work relationships where there may be a conflict periodically but the two decide to avoid each other until the welcoming embrace of the weekend or the warm embrace of 5 o’clock. Thinking of these examples in your own life, think of the big and small things they have done. Chances are that there are multiple small mannerisms or events that arise in your memory of them but do not forget the large qualms you may have had with them. Again, these are probably unavoidable events based on personalities which are just as hopelessly out of our control. Think of their jokes and humor or lack thereof. Think of the little things that irritated you – snarky comments, taking your creamer from the fridge, leaving a mess, gossiping about you, or even performing their job so poorly that it creates more work and misery for you. In summary, they make your work day far more miserable and difficult than it needed to be.
But take this relationship a step further. Imagine if you will have the same relationship but you live with them. Perhaps in a small apartment in an arrangement where you are in close proximity to them most of the time. If this were college, you’d get a brief reprieve during class and would look for domicile elsewhere. But, this relationship, though terrible – and I encourage the reader sympathize with this setup if they lack such unfortunate experiences – it is not completely unbearable. Even if the work and living situation creates conflict, this setup is overall survivable. Sustainable. There are escapes and, in the back of one’s mind, there would be a point where one could imagine this arrangement is a thing of the past – a funny rant to have with a spouse or new roommate once the old living situation subsides. The struggle, the irritation, the constant unpleasantness has an end and at some point, a reason. The struggle has reason.
Now, in one’s own mind, imagining a setup where there is the same unavoidable conflict ridden relationship due to past events and/or uncontrollable and unavoidable characteristic differences and take it a step further the work and living quarters. Imagine those two, or you and the other loathable character you have invited into your mind are inseparable. Completely inseparable – no reprieve can be hoped for. Imagine you have to see each other at all hours of the day. From the moment you wake up, during the day, every single action and thought throughout, even through – and this is where the real sadistic fun begins – at night. You are constantly with this terrible incompatible horror show of a person. At first, sure, one could suffice. Try to make amends, some changes, or power through the day. But the long march of endless sufficing would render one intolerable, miserable, and quite a different person than one believed themself to be. And even though there may be some loving members in one’s life to encourage them to keep going, the burdensome relationship could not last. There is no way, if the two are really so strictly incompatible, to get on with their lives. Their lives would be consumed with contempt, anger, frustration, and misery. This of course is the life of millions of people everyday. Not due to some unfortunate, albeit bizarre, living condition we concocted together in our thought experiment, but the absolute self-loathing they feel for themselves. The insufferable and misery-inducing coworker is always with you. The inseparable roommate leaves one with no escape. For many, they are both the protagonist and antagonist of the living/work situation imagined above.
THE SELF-LOATHING MAN
They hate being like this – They are sick of being like this. Self-loathers hate their thoughts, their actions, their very existence. They hate what they do and what they cannot do. There is no escape and it is nauseating. I repeat: there is no escape and it is nauseating. The unrelenting march of thoughts at siege in one’s own mind from dusk, through the long days, until one night the walls can hold no more. Perhaps this is the struggle for everyone, but for the few antagonized souls, the supplies of those being seized cannot last long enough and those barbaric unreasonable thoughts break through leading to nights of self-loathing terror. Jean-Paul Sartre remarks on this feeling in Nausea when he reflects that
“my thought is me: that’s why I can’t stop. I exist because I think… and I can’t stop myself from thinking. At this very moment – it’s frightful – if I exist, it is because I am horrified at existing. I am the one who pulls myself from the nothingness to which I aspire”
One must confront this monster at some point. Yet one begins to tire of performing the act for others. The smile plastered on your face weighs on you and sympathetic gestures and laughs become torturous. You are tired of this internal confrontation, an internal knot – something to hide. Perhaps this confrontation leads to one’s strength building for the next assault. Perhaps this struggle is worth something. Many will profess genuine love and describe endless qualities that are lovely and unique to the self-loather. But these descriptions, though probably true and absolutely heart-felt, sound so alien to the self-loathing man. Who are they describing? A character from years past? A stranger? Are they describing who they want the loather to be? Is it a sick joke to mess with one’s head? Truly, there are loved ones who can see through the fog of endless and daily war who are candid and helpful – but the words somehow lack color or reality.
Additionally, to drive the description home it must be added, the victories and defeats, the light and the darkness, and the hope and despair of daily life ring differently with the self-loathers. Every luck break, every pleasant day, and every earned victory is a surprising anomaly that is dreadfully unrewarding and almost punishing whereas every bad day, unfortunate accident, every failure is expected and every punishment is earned. It would seem the “temporary suicide” of alcohol or drugs once commented on by Bertrand Russell may very well be the only relief though it has the malicious tendency to intensify the nagging and balengant assault on one’s own psyche. When one thinks of themselves as a child and the aspirations one used to imagine for themselves, it is bizarre to think we will one day loath ourselves. Our personality. Our very existence. It ignites a light of hope that one day we can fulfill the image we once had for ourselves. That, somehow, a light can be ignited through the struggle. In some way, maybe the self-loathing man can struggle through this and become better than before. He could make the struggle worth something for all of his pain and terror could not have been for nothing. Suffering without purpose is far worse that suffering for a lighted path towards mental freedom. This hope can create a light. This light may last but day in and day out the intolerable satan in our head soon reminds us that this is us. They are here to stay until the day they die. They are a part of us and they are us.
How do these tortured souls end up like this? Is that even the right questions? We now know, thanks to the advancement of science against the arrogant assertion of superstition, that these are the events in our head. People are a product of events on our head and events in our environment and, because the “the well-being of conscious creatures must translate at some point into facts about brains and their interactions with the world at large” as Sam Harris notes in The Moral Landscape. Harris makes the argument that what affects us comes from external or internal interactions. So, if our self-loathing man is suffering, it must be caused by an internal or external. It is absolutely possible that a down-trodden person is oppressed by the environment and may become depressed or self-loathing despite the events in their mind. This external suffering is solved through compassion, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring” as Martin Luther King Jr once said. However, for the scope of this piece I want to focus on the more hidden suffering which is self-suffering; suffering originating from one’s own mind – that enemy within. But Dr. King may be onto something. Perhaps compassion, true compassion, that can cure the external poverty causes could cure the internal suffering of self-loathing.
Is there any sympathy or compassion for those self-loathing members of society? For most slowly and blissfully wandering along in life living a happy yet unexamined and unimaginative life, all that can be understood is what one sees. A failing college student. A retail worker standing for ten hours with no one but their own hated self and relentless customers. The parent working two jobs struggling to live. One may say “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” or maybe “think positively”. They may assert their own past struggles and ignorantly claim that if they could do it, so can the self-loathing man. Words from those who have never struggled with mental warfare a day in their life’s – or perhaps those blissful few who have never even had the capability of empathy or the imagination to see the struggle for what it is. Instead of drug rattled poverty, it is someone at war everyday against the one who is the perfect enemy – themselves. To those unimaginative or privileged few, a few thoughts: No one can take credit for loving themselves just as no one can take credit for not being a psychopath or for not being depressed. We, as human beings, do not and cannot choose where we are born, to what household we are born into, and with what diseases are spared. If someone is depressed, or self-loathing, they have no choice but to be born like that. Would you, dear reader, choose to be born in such an environment and conditions that lead you to hate yourself? The answer is obvious.
One might feel the need to note that “Other people have it worse. They have real problems – this is just in your head”. These are real and absolutely true observations but somewhat missguided ones made by sufferers or observers of sufferers. These comments may be less missguided and more of comments that have reached the wrong conclusion. The observation is trying to reason, where A is someone who has it worse off and B is the self-loathing man, that because A > B then B cannot exist. Yes, the self-loathing man is well-aware of others misfortunes and reminds himself of this quite regularly. He may even ask himself “why can’t I feel better? I have everything I could ever want”. But it is important to note that just because others have it worse doesn’t mean one is saved from the task of feeling better. Saying one should not be sad because others have it worse is like saying one cannot be happy because other people have it better. Almost as if the bizarre reasoning of astrology not only applies to distant planetary alignments, but also applies to earthly bodies. But this reasoning is just as absurd and wrong for mental health as it is with astrology. Sadness and happiness are not dependent on others’ state of being.
Some may say to get help. Probably the most useful bit of information. It is true, provable, and demonstrable that therapy, mindfulness, and medication can provide help and must be sought out to truly save themselves from themselves; but the real honest cure is in their hands everyday. In our hands everyday. The words and actions of those around the self-loathing member can provide them with an alternative reality. A whisper in the ear, or a voice in the wilderness that everything is ok and will be ok. Planting the seed that our self-loathing man may really be hopeful and deserving of respect and love. If they took a second to greet them or talk about them, they could offer an alternative reality, a real reality, that gives one a bit of comfort. Those reaching out may be confronted with blank stares or dark humor, or almost a weakened response like Adam’s limp hand reaching back, but they should not be put off. Pursue them. Stretch out your hand and continue to reach out. They have been gone a long time at war within themselves – give them the kindness of a smile. Even that could save one from themselves or at least distract them long enough to avoid their own mind for a brief and rare rest. The self-loathing man sees the concerned look of a loved one, a friend, their child and all one can think is “I am so sorry I am like this”. Because they do not want to be like this and will do anything to escape this cloud of despair. To escape themselves and save their loved ones from this gloomy self.
Now, what if we imagine the self-loathing man possessing loving family members and supportive friends? Will that suffice to remove their self-hatred? If these feelings of self-disgust are either caused by external or internal influences, then there must be something in one or both of those places. So, if they truly have everything they want and think “why am I like this? I should feel satisfied”, then it must be an internal pain. This still must be a mental event. In An Unquiet Mind, Kay Redfield Jamison explains this phenomena quite completely and eloquently through her own struggle. She makes the paint that “No amount of love can cure madness or unblacken one’s dark moods. Love can help, it can make the pain more tolerable, but, always, one is beholden to medication that may or may not always work and may or may not be bearable”. That is, having someone that truly loves you does not relieve you of the burden of loving yourself.
With therapy and medication this could be helped but that roommate is always present because that shared apartment is one’s own mind. And conflicts within one’s own mind, we are terribly alone. One can learn to better live with this roommate, this enemy within and can even stifle them with medication – but this is our greatest and most cunning enemy. The way we talk, what we say, what we think, the way we dress. The jokes we make, the tasks we fail at. The miscommunications, the way we are treated and treat others. We are terribly alone with our thoughts. Loved ones may add that they are there for you (and they no doubt are; you can, after all, trust them more than yourself when you are a self-loathing individual) but, within the walls of one’s own mind, they are all alone.
The solution to the very real claim that life is inherently meaningless is that we are capable of making our own meaning- yet, on a cosmic scale, even that is meaningless. Perhaps the struggle is meaningful. Maybe Sisyphus is happy. Or maybe he is in a repetitive hell. There is no way to know. All we can know is the self-loathing person is in a daily inescapable hell. Is there an escape? There is no way to know? Is suicide the answer. I can neither say I find it better for me and will not dare answer it for anyone else. But until we find the answer, it is best to acknowledge this hell and try to learn from it or even help others. If learning and altruism is the goal, then the struggle cannot be meaningless.
Robert Ingersoll had the profound assertion that “happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. And the way to be happy is to make others so”. But if happiness proves to be an unreachable or unattainable dream, then all that is left – the only solution and possibility for happiness is to extend that to others. Give others what one can no longer give to themselves. Kay Redfield Jamison notes her personal experience with mental illness saying “Love has, at its best, made the inherent sadness of life bearable, and its beauty manifest.” If extending that altruistic love to another brings happiness to the self-loather, then we have our solution. If it does not, then at least the individual can give others what they cannot give to themselves. Either way, the world is more, if only slightly so, brighter.