"Clearly the greater a person’s self-esteem and self-love, the more disappointment there will be if abilities and performance are not comparable. No one hates himself, but he may hate his circumstances or appearance or lack of ability. The very fact that we dislike our appearance or lament our inability or become upset when people or circumstances cause us pain is proof that we do love ourselves. For if we did not esteem ourselves we should not care, and if we hated ourselves we would be glad when things go against us." Hunt and McMahon (1985)
I remember a client coming to a therapy group that I used to run. This was a young man who, until that day, consistently stated that he hated himself. The other people in the group would nod their heads in understanding, because we’ve all been taught that our problems arise from not loving or esteeming ourselves enough. Well, one day this young man came to group and stated, "I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love himself." The other men and women looked at him like he was nuts, and a couple of them said as much. But this very insightful person asked the legitimate question, "If I hated myself, or even disliked myself, what am I doing here, trying to make my life better?" As we continued to process this issue, the people in the group, with a high degree of self-honesty, began to discover things like, "If I disliked someone and his wife left him, I’d think, right on! The jerk deserves it. But when my wife left me I was devastated." And, "If I thought little of, or looked down on someone and she lost her job, I’d silently think to myself, good. I’m glad. But when I lost my job I felt like I was really treated unfairly, that I deserved better."
Of course some brought up the point that, people who harm themselves physically are proof positive that true self-hate exists. However if you explore the "whys" with people who have burned or cut, or gouged themselves, you will consistently find that they were (1) trying to distract themselves from emotional pain, or (2) find release from worry, or (3) find a sense of freedom from control, or (4) they derive a sense of pleasure from self-inflicted pain. It lets them know they’re alive.
This drive for happiness, or relief from emotional pain is present in every behaviour from eating your favourite cereal, to going to or, staying home from the movies, and yes even slashing your arms or drinking too much.
"Out of self-love we not only do good things, but all sorts of injurious things to ourselves and to others: We commit adultery, we lie, we steal, we eat too much, and even commit suicide" (Adams, 1986).
Blaise Pascal, one of the greatest thinkers of all time once said,
"All people seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it is the same desire in both, attended with a different view. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every person, even of those who hang themselves."
Regardless of what happens to us, our core of self-love (self-protection) remains firmly intact. When challenged by abuse, or neglect, or rejection, the fundamental characteristic of self-protection will react. When challenged vigorously it will react dramatically, either aggressively or passively. Whether consciously, or subconsciously, we choose our behaviours in an effort to protect ourselves, because we love ourselves. I can think of no exceptions.
While trying to understand this concept, one person argued that he thought so little of himself as a teenager, that he would cross the street to avoid talking to some of the popular kids if he saw them coming. That sounds like a genuine case of low self-esteem. However the reason he crossed the street was to protect himself from possible or expected embarrassment. You do that for someone that you love, not for someone you dislike or hold in low esteem. And you sure don't do it for someone that you hate.
The fact is, it is just not human nature to protect those we dislike or especially those we hate. We always, always, always do those things that we believe, will protect us, because we love ourselves. That is why the statement, "I hate or I dislike myself," should be changed to a more accurate, "I hate or dislike what I do." And thank God for that, because we can change what we do." As well, the statement, "I don’t love myself" should be changed to, "I have never learned how to love myself in a way that doesn’t make my life worse than it already is."