How your negative self-image puts you at odds with your lover.
The short answer is: yes! Hating yourself puts you directly at odds with someone who loves you. You each have diametrically opposed points of view about you: your’s being negative and your partner’s being positive. So what can you do to resolve this dilemma? And why does this dilemma exist in the first place?
Let’s answer the second question first by looking into self-hatred and where our negative self-image comes from, and most importantly, why we hold on to it. We develop our identity during our childhood from the different ways that we were viewed, behaviors we imitated, and ways we were treated in our early family environment. Because no childhood can be ideal, in addition to any positive experiences in our upbringing, there were also negative ones. We may have been defined or labeled in ways that were harmful, for example, as “the wild one,” “the lazy one,” or “the shy one.” We may have taken on negative traits of our parents, for example, incorporating our father’s social awkwardness or our mother’s insecurity. Or, we may have been neglected or treated unkindly, for example, by being ignored or punished harshly. All of these can cause a child to develop a negative self-image.
But why do we hold on to it? Simply put: because we’re familiar with it. It’s how we’ve always known ourselves; it’s who we’ve always been. And most significantly, it’s who we’ve always been in our family. In a way, it’s our connection to our family. It’s as though if we change our old identity, we’re afraid we’ll lose our place in the family. All of this is unconscious, but we get anxious when we start to change our negative identity. And we are very conscious of that anxiety.
A romantic relationship is often threatening to a negative self-image. Some people avoid the threat by choosing a partner who is critical of them; therefore their views are harmonious. Other people protect their old identity by pushing love away. But, if we are brave and hang in there with someone who loves us, we can come to see ourselves through their eyes. It won’t be easy; we will be very anxious. There will be times when we will want to dismiss our partner or push them away. But if we give them the benefit of our doubt, if we trust that they see something in us that we don’t, we can learn from them. We can change negative ways of seeing ourselves that have been with us for a long time and come to regard ourselves with the same love and respect that our partner does.
In my upcoming book, Daring to Love, I go into more detail about how our negative identity gets in the way of our having love in our life. I explain an internal process, the critical inner voice, that supports the negative identity and how to challenge it and strengthen a positive, more realistic view of yourself.