Coping mechanisms are strategies and behaviors that are carried out to mitigate, manage or adapt to anything that causes distress. If we cope with something, we do so because we feel we cannot change the stressor itself. We have to adapt to it so that the hurt we feel as a result of it is decreased or eliminated. We would all hope for a world that did not have to be coped with. Alas, that is not the world we currently live in and so it must be said that even though all coping mechanisms hold the potential to be limiting and damaging to a person in the long run, certain coping mechanisms can be more detrimental than others. And the most dangerous coping mechanism is self-hate.
At first glance it may be hard to see how self-hate could possibly be a coping mechanism. After all, self-hate can’t possibly decrease a person’s distress can it? The answer is yes it can. And to see how, we much journey back to the genesis of this coping mechanism.
When we look at a dysfunctional home, what we find is that the root of each person’s self concept in the family system is shame. This feeling of shame has been passed down from generation to generation. It is the primary stressor in the household. Everyone has to find a way to cope with that shame. The ways they cope with that shame set up the dysfunctional family system and determine what role each person will play in it.
To understand how self hate develops, we must see that if one or more of the parents is dealing with a baseline self concept of shame, a child being different to that parent in any way or even asserting a boundary will trigger that feeling of shame. It will invalidate their identity, which they already subconsciously think is bad. This is why the golden child in a family will learn to cope by throwing their identity out the window as a strategy to avoid being shamed and ostracized within the family. They will become a ‘mini me’ as an adaptive strategy to the parent they feel they must please in order to stay safe with.
The child that cannot adapt by throwing their identity out the window and whom can’t find a way to please the adult consistently for a multitude of reasons will be so upsetting to the self concept of the parent that the parent will subconsciously turn against the child. They may say, “I love you” to this child and try to do loving things for them, but the truth of how they really feel is not what they are presenting on the surface and the truth comes out in all kinds of ways. Their only way of avoiding the shame they feel and the shame this child triggers in them is to emotionally disown the child and deflect that shame onto the child and that child then becomes the family scapegoat. It is to say, “I’m not bad, you’re bad and you are my problem and now I’m the victim to you, and so is everyone else in the household.” The family can then hide all of their dysfunction behind this “family problem” person and can see themselves as the good ones because all of their focus can be placed on trying to fix what is “wrong” with this person. What is wrong with them is that everyone in the family has turned against them for being different and for not being able to change that. But the other people in the house can’t see this. This person has become the identified patient in the family.
The experience of being turned against by the very people who you need love and belonging from the very most is so painful it is beyond describing. And it makes it so the child has no way to feel safe. They feel hated by their family, especially the parent who initiates this shame deflection. They are growing up with an antagonist, an antagonist upon whom their life depends. And the way a person copes with this is genius in the short term but completely destructive in the long term.
A child put in this position, pushes themselves away. But they can’t physically do that so what happens is the pushing away of themselves, splits their consciousness in half. To understand more about this concept, watch my video called Fragmentation, The Worldwide Disease. When they split their consciousness in half, one half contains the parts within them that they perceive that their parent hates. The other half becomes a mirror image of their parent… An internal antagonist. This internal antagonist takes over the job of hating them for the parent. It becomes the one that is constantly shaming and criticizing the parts within this person that are seen as wrong and bad by the parent and now as a result, by the person themselves. This makes the hurt not only controllable, but predictable. And the child believes that by doing this, they might just be able to change the things that are so detestable about them. The person has become their own abuser and hater so that the antagonistic parent is never given the occasion or opportunity to do it. Imagine you were going to go up to someone to hit them and they just started hitting themselves. What would you do? Chances are, the desire to hurt them would go away. You’d feel on an energetic level that your goal was already being carried out. You would feel like either something is really wrong with them so they must need your help or that they agree that they deserve it to such a degree that they are going to do it for you. This would make you feel validated. This is usually the point at which the parent gets an extra boost of self-esteem through turning themselves into the “false healer” and the child is turned into an identified patient.
As you can see, this self-hating aspect is actually trying to save their life and rescue them from the wrath of the parent. This part holds the truths of what matters most to them. For example, perhaps what the parent hated about the child was that she was so sensitive. The self-hating part will constantly criticize and shame her for being sensitive. Because the thought is that with enough disapproval of it, she will either stop being that way or be motivated to fix it. And this will get her the sense of belonging and safety she wants. We can then tell that the truth this self-hating aspect holds is just how important belonging and safety are and how much she needs those things. Ideally, we need to figure out these valued and needed things that the self hater is holding the truth of and try to get those things directly in the places that we can get them from.
Self hate is a coping mechanism that is so dangerous because it is a coping mechanism that may keep you safer from the external hater/antagonist, but it leads to constant anxiety because you are living with a part that behaves like an enemy in your own skin. And it leads to all kinds of dangerous behaviors in the long term. Things like risk taking, abusive relationships, self-destructive behaviors, self-injury and even suicide.
When you find this part within you, see the benevolent reason for its existence. See that its strategy, though genius while you were living in an abusive environment, is now destroying your ability to live a life that is worth living. See that the parts of you that this part has turned against, need to be accepted and loved instead. Go directly for the things you were trying to indirectly get by trying to hate these parts of you away. Give them to yourself and get them from others. The life you want to live is just on the other side of wanting to be you instead of agreeing with your antagonistic parent that you should be someone else.