I hate myself. How to I break this cycle?

Last week I answered a reader’s question about how to better compliment our husbands. An astute reader, who had an excellent English teacher, brought to my attention that the correct spelling of the word we were defining is complement which means to “complete”. Thank you. Let’s try to do both, complement and compliment one another – to complete and to praise.

Here is a new question asked by a reader.

Q. I am educated and beautiful. I have two children I adore. Yet, I allow verbal comments to cut through to my core! My mother has put guilt on me my entire life and my husband is condemning. I know God loves me and that I shouldn’t allow this to hurt. But it does! I go inside my head and the situation gets worse. I hate myself and have gained a lot of weight. How do I break this cycle?

I’m glad you know that God loves you and that you have good things going in your life. Yet, you are caught in some destructive relationships, including one with yourself. You hate yourself and are not taking good care of yourself by gaining this extra weight. You asked how to break this cycle and I think you’ll need to start with your relationship with yourself.

How do you stop hating yourself? Let me give you a rather silly example, but I think it illustrates my point. Each morning when we wake up, we face a simple truth. When we peer into the mirror we know we need some work. No one (who cares about themselves) walks out of the house looking like they did when they first woke up. Some of us require high maintenance, others low maintenance, but all of us need some attention. We see in that moment our physical imperfections, but most people do not just stand in front of the mirror hating all their imperfections and flaws. They take action and change what they can,(shower, fix hair, put on make-up, etc) accept what they can’t change,(getting older) and get on with their day.

In the same way, when a healthy individual sees some things in his or her inner life, relationships with others, or life circumstances, that are out of order, sinful, self-indulgent or immature, they think about what action they could take to change them, stop them, grow and mature and then do the required work toward those changes.

This said, your question about how to break this cycle is a great start. What action can you take to help yourself stop your emotional eating? What positive support systems can you put in your life to counter the negative comments from your mother and husband? What can you do to build regular exercise into your day so that your body feels better and stronger?

Reckless words hurt, there’s no getting around that, but perhaps your mother is successful at putting a guilt trip on you because you let her. People only make us feel guilty when they point out some flaw or imperfection in our life or character (which we ALL have). For example, when my daughter used to say, “Mom you never bake cookies like the other mommy’s do.” She was right. I didn’t do it. But did that make me a bad mother? Only if I thought I SHOULD bake cookies in order to be a good mother.

You feel guilt because you have some internal SHOULD’S that your mother is hooking and therefore you feel like you’ve failed at something you should or ought to have done. Maybe that’s true, or maybe it’s not. I find with many of my clients, they feel guilty because they have some unrealistic should’s in their belief system. Here are a few of the most common.

I should do whatever my mother needs whenever she needs me to.
I should always try to do everything I can to make her happy
I should always want to do these things, even if it inconveniences
me because she’s my mother.
If I really loved my mother, I should want to make her happy.
A good daughter should do what her mother wants her to do.
I shouldn’t ever feel angry with my mother.
A Christian should always do whatever she can to please other people.

Listen to your own internal self talk. See if you don’t expect yourself to be better than you are and become disappointed when you fail to live up to your own, or another person’s expectations. Someone who allows themselves to be regularly put down by another person who they are in relationship with, indicates a negative self-image and poor self-esteem. You don’t feel worth sticking up for or stopping this kind of condemnation. I’m not advocating arguing with your husband or mother, that usually goes nowhere, but having a healthy and strong boundary around their negativity might be a good start.

For example, next time your husband puts you down or your mother tries to lay a guilt trip on you, respond like this.

“I want to have a better relationship with you, but I will not allow myself to be talked to this way anymore.” (Try to describe in more action words what specifically they are doing, like screaming, swearing, telling you that you are a bad person etc)

Then walk away and refuse to engage in a discussion until they can be more respectful of you as a person, even when they may have a legitimate complaint. If they won’t, don’t discuss their concerns, period. By doing that you are not reinforcing the negative cycle that has been in play for a while in your relationship. You can’t stop them from talking, but you can stop yourself from listening. When you change, the cycle changes, and that gives the relationship the best chance of moving in a different direction.

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