FOR THE DAY YOU REALIZE YOU HATE YOURSELF
“For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.”
- Ephesians 2: 10
Dear Sister, Dear Brother, Dear Friend,
I know from personal experience that self-hatred can be a sly and nasty demon. Sometimes it feels like the world is training us to hate ourselves. Every image, every message, every story seems to whisper in our ears that there is something ugly with our faces, flawed with our bodies, embarrassing about our voices, shameful about our beliefs, or cowardly about how we live. Even our own thoughts mock and ridicule us. It becomes easy to obsess over and magnify our faults until the people we see in the mirror look like monsters.
Sometimes we hate ourselves for not being attractive enough, experienced enough, or confident enough. Sometimes we hate ourselves for being selfish and sinful. Sometimes we hate ourselves because we feel we have been permanently damaged and defiled by horrible things that were done to us in the past. Sometimes, if we are honest, we hate ourselves for being gay. We may not want to feel this way, but at times we crave to eradicate those sexual feelings that, so far, have brought nothing but frustration and inner turmoil.
As gay Christians, we are taught to carry a great deal of shame. Some of our preachers, families, and church doctrines have instructed us to believe that our natural impulses to love are disordered and sinful. We are sometimes taught to believe that this essential part of ourselves is bad, and so it becomes easy to hate ourselves to the very core.
As humans, we all make mistakes. It becomes easy to see our missteps as proof that we are unworthy of love. Sometimes we might even feel a twisted sort of satisfaction in self-hatred as if we are punishing ourselves justly for the evil we have done. But does this self-loathing make us better people? Does hating ourselves bring us closer to the purpose for which we were created? Does it bring us closer to God, to our neighbor, to service, to love?
Self-hatred does not yield greater love. It is exhausting. It drains our energy and leaves us empty. Even worse, we sometimes seek to chase self-hatred away through bouts of anger or violence. Whether we lash out at ourselves or others, bringing more hurt and pain into the world violates our mission as followers of Christ.
Hate is planted in us by thousands of voices that tell us we are not good as we are, that our mistakes cannot be forgiven, that our dreams are foolish and unobtainable, that our lives do not matter.
But these voices tell us lies. God created us. God loves us. God redeems us. She shaped us into who we are and walks beside us in every moment of every day. She knows everything about us and forgives us when we fail to be the people we were created to be. God is a parent who loves us unconditionally. As God says through Her prophet in Isaiah 49: 15, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”
If we are going to work beside our Lord to build up the Kingdom of God, we need to love ourselves. Remember what Christ teaches us about the greatest commandments in Mark 12: 29-31: “Jesus replied, ‘The first is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.’” As human beings and children of God, we are all worthy of love and respect. If we exclude ourselves from love, we deny that love itself is a universal right endowed by God. She commands us to love ourselves not only for our own sake, but also so that we can fully love others with free and unbound hearts.
I was swallowed in a deep self-loathing for years. During that difficult time, I would go on long walks around town and pick at my psychological wounds with negative thoughts. I spent hours dwelling on everything that was wrong with me, every sin I had committed, and every good thing I had failed to do with my life. This took up so much time and energy that I was completely unaware of opportunities for love and service. How could I notice when a friend, classmate, or co-worker needed to talk if I did not have the energy to listen? How could I lead a service project when I was too filled with self-doubt to believe that anything I did mattered? I locked myself away from the world because I thought I was not good at anything. Throughout that time, the strengths placed in me by God were not allowed to bear fruit. I was trapped by a painful form of narcissism that put me and my misery at the center of everything instead of God. My self-hatred became my prison. How many good works were left undone while I remained blinded by my own self-hate? And all the while, I had little joy to share with the world because my heart and my mind were filled with spiritual poison. I had lost sight of the truth contained in Ephesians 2: 10: “For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.”
Though it was hard to notice in the middle of it, I now see that I was blessed with boundless love through this difficult time. My parents, sisters, a few good friends, people from church, kind co-workers, inspirational music, and powerful books all found me at the right time and gave me the words, comfort, and support I needed. Eventually, God moved my heart and helped me to see where I had fallen. I started working with a counselor, identified patterns of negative thinking, and talked about painful experiences that led me to hate myself. I began challenging lies with the truth that God loves me and made me for love. The words of Ephesians 4: 4-5 came to life in my soul: “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved).”
In a new and powerful way, I came to know deep within my heart that I am saved by Christ. Of course, I am not perfect. I continue to fall into emotional pitfalls and make mistakes. But that does not really matter. The important truth is that I earnestly desire to return my life to God, and so She lifts me up whenever I fall, again and again. My mission is not to be perfect, but rather to love God, follow Her, and to do Her will to the best of my ability. My heart sings thanksgiving and praise for my life, for my blessings, for my talents, and for the countless opportunities God gives me to participate in Her ongoing work of redemption. When I surrender myself to God’s amazing love, it consumes me and there is no longer room to hate anyone, not even myself.
We need to overcome self-hatred and live in God’s love. But how do we do that? How do we overcome a demon who has grown so strong and so deeply ingrained in how we view ourselves and our lives?
The way to start is by giving it all to God. Pray. Ask God to help you feel Her presence within you. Meditate on the words of 1 Corinthians 6: 19: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” Indeed, we are all temples of the Holy Spirit. We are places where God, who is love, chooses to dwell. God brings Her love into the world through us. We belong to Her. Ask God to heal your broken heart and give you eyes to see the strengths that She planted within you. Ask God to guide you in developing these strengths so that you can use them with others to build up God’s kingdom of righteousness, justice, and truth.
Through prayer, explore good things about yourself. What do you like about how you look, how you act, how you live, what you believe, and who you are? Some of us find it challenging to think about good things about ourselves, but we need to push through any resistance. Naming our strengths gives glory to the God who created us. When we open our eyes to God’s blessings, we grow in gratitude to God, love ourselves more deeply, and deepen our capacity to love others.
Another important way to overcome self-hate is to start enjoying your life. Explore nature, art, books, sports, poetry, or music that makes your happy. Find someone kind, smart, and beautiful and ask them to hang out some time. If they say no, find someone else and try again. Eat delicious food. Practice yoga. Write a story. Do what you love and thank God for the ability and opportunity to do it. Find the things that make you excited to be alive. Love your body not because of the way it looks but because of what you can do as a person with flesh. If you can jump, jump. If you can sing, sing. If you can dance, dance. If your body is impacted by a disability, you have a special opportunity to find new ways for the human body to move and navigate the world. You have much to teach others. I am convinced that disability, like a minority sexual orientation or gender identity, refers to a difference and not a problem. We must use what we have with joy rather than dwell too long in what we cannot do. In the words of writer and social justice advocate Helen Keller, “One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar” (Fuller, 1905, p. 9).
When you feel ready, take a look at the wounds in your past that might encourage you to hate yourself. It can help to do this work with a therapist, a pastor trained in mental health counseling, a trusted friend, or loving family member. In your conversations with a caring person and with God, review the traumas and lies that hurt you. Meditate on memories of the bully who split your lip or your spirit, the friend who abandoned you, the parent who told you it was wrong for two boys or two girls to love each other, the man who touched you. Offer your pain up to God and ask Her to bring healing and redemption to your life.
Ask God to help you make meaning of all you have been through. How have these experiences prepared you to be of greater service to others? How have they deepened your compassion and your understanding of God’s grace? Can your pain move you to be a more loving and compassionate friend, brother, sister, child, parent, neighbor, or disciple of Jesus? Does thinking about your past make you angry with God, or doubtful of Her goodness? Pray about those feelings. It makes perfect sense to be angry and distrusting after experiencing suffering and injustice. God can handle your questions, your anger, and your doubts. God yearns for you to come to Her with every burden you carry. In time, I trust that She will give you the answers you seek, and your story will be a great testimony about the saving power of God.
Whoever you are, wherever you live, and whatever you have done, I want you to know that you are loved. God loves you, and I love you. You are cherished and you are precious. There is light in your eyes and good work before you. Please do not give up. Jesus is beside you in the struggle every step of the way. The ultimate victory has already been won through his death and resurrection. Let his love and grace wash over you. I hope that someday, little by little, you can learn to love yourself, too.
Fuller, S. (1905). How Helen Keller was taught speech. Washington, DC: Press of Gibson Brothers.