Today’s Good Friday reflection comes from Something More: Excavating Your Authentic Self by Sarah Ban Breathnach
This is dedicated to a dear friend… and perhaps to that side of us that shows up every so often.
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The Silent Hemorrhaging of the Soul
in Something More: Excavating Your Authentic Self, by Sarah Ban Breathnach
No [woman] was ever ruined from without; the final ruin comes from within.
~ Amelia E. Barr
Is there a vein of misery that runs deeper in all our lives than self-loathing? A fault line that guarantees our failure ever to be truly happy, no matter how much we accomplish or accumulate, or in whose arms we lie?
I have run away from the life lesson of self-loathing for the last twenty-five years.
But unconsciously, my better half–my Authentic Self–knew that they day would come when I would have to face my strongest weakness and wrestly the demon down on the page in order to save my soul. And so she has been on the alert, a spiritual and savvy ghostwriter, jotting down phrases and glimmers of insight and then burying them between the lines of my private journals, memos, and love letters. Especially my love letters. All my life, thorny knots of understanding have unraveled themselves on scraps of paper: napkins, newspaper margins, the backs of recipe cards, and Post-it notes. Sometimes I have been awakened in the dead of night after a dream by the insistent voice of a superior: Write this down. I did as I was told.
The exquisite writer Katherine Paterson tells me this morning that I must write the story within myself “that demands to be told” at this particular point in my life. I don’t want to, but I must.
If I were to assign a color to self-loathing, it would be the bluish black and purple of an ugly bruise. This is what self-loathing is, an ugly bruise that erupts on the surface of our lives or on our bodies; a warning sign that something serious is happening on a deeper level. We bruise when we bleed within.
This may be hard to read, but its truth is crucial for us to process if we are to move beyond survival, if we are to live.
One of the more horrific ways to die is through internal hemorrhaging, the uncontrollable bleeding buried in the body’s cavity. What makes this particular exit route even more insidious is that internal hemorrhaging is most often painless to the victim. There are no visible clues signaling the tiny trickle that starts when a small blood vessel begins to leak until it’s become a fatal flood, “a blood-stemmed tide,” as the Irish poet W.B. Yeats so beautifully describes destiny.
Self-loathing is the silent hemorrhaging of the soul. You don’t feel or see the life force feeling until it’s no longer there, and then, of course, it’s too late.
Do not confuse loathing with hatred. It would be healthier if we hated ourselves because, as Annie Lennox sings, “There’s a thin line between love and hate.” If only we could still just slam the door, heave our bodies across the bed, and scream, “I hate myself,” the way we used to when we were coming of age. Did you know that the word hate comes from the Greek word kēdos, meaning grief? When we hated ourselves as teenagers, we were grieving for our loss of identity–for the childhood that was slipping beyond our reach while true adulthood was not yet quite within our grasp.
Loathing is a grief that has festered; the rampant infection of self-pity. To loathe something or someone is “to detest” wit just enough disgust and intolerance to make the feeling the emotional equivalent of roiling rot. This is what self-loathing is, although we never call it that. It’s easier and safer to tell ourselves and others, “Oh, I’m a bit hard on myself.”
How do we loathe ourselves? Let me count the ways. Reasons that have nothing to do with appearance, age, or weight. Some of the world’ s most famous beauties can’t stand the sight of themselves. Self-loathing is an equal-opportunity oppressor.
In short, we may loathe our human frailties, flaws, and foibles in a world that only approves perfection; loathe our oddities, eccentricities, and ugly habits; loathe our inability to avoid insidious comparisons; loathe our buying into the illusion that good men would save us because that would be easier than striving to save ourselves or believing that we could.
We loathe ourselves for constantly capitulating to the needs of others by disavowing our own; for ignoring the cruelties of loved ones in order to keep the peace; for struggling to live up to the expectations of people we don’t even care about; for denying the validity of our own unrequited desires. “The ingenuity of self-deception is inexhaustible,” Hannah More wrote in an essay entitled “Self-Love.” She wrote that in 1811.
You tell me. Is it nature or nurture? Does it matter?
We loathe ourselves because we don’t look quite like the multi-orgasmic sex goddesses we thought we’d be when we were twenty-five; or because we’re not quite the natural, totally bonded mothers we hoped we’d be when we held that baby in our arms for the first time. And perhaps, most of all, we loathe ourselves because we haven’t quite fulfilled the promise of our astonishing authentic gifts. The truth is, we didn’t even try–not because we were afraid we’d fail, but because we were terrified we would succeed.
We loathe ourselves because she who excused so much or asked too little has learned only to mask the stalking shame that comes from being successful at things she doesn’t respect, from failing to defend that which she knows is true. We loathe ourselves for living and lying every day in little ways that devalue and dishonor us.
When was the last time you started off in a conversation with “I’m sorry” when you weren’t? I did it yesterday.
“She had developed a passionate longing for making other people comfortable at her own expense,” Phyllis Bottome wrote in 1934 about a woman we all know too well. “She succeeded in getting other people into armchairs… with nothing left for herself but something small and spiky in a corner.”