Sunday, January 11, 2009

Dealing with Self-Hate

This is what I wrote in my diary, on the 13th March 1990, three months into depression: I feel inadequate - I hate myself. It feels like God hates me (even though I know He loves me) but I can’t stand myself.

Only three months earlier, my life had been full of purpose. I was serving as an assistant pastor in a local church, involved in pastoral care, discipleship, the music team, and preaching. I was also working towards serving as a missionary in Asia. I fully expected 1990 to be one of the best years of my life.

Yet due to undiagnosed complex partial epilepsy, chronic insomnia, overworking through the whole year, suffering a massive shock, and worsening panic attacks, my life fell apart at the end of 1989. Shock, bewilderment, confusion, denial, fear and anger raged through me as a multitude of depression’s symptoms tore my life to pieces. In the first week of 1990 I had become so despondent that I abandoned my life dream of becoming a pastor and a missionary and left the ministry. I soon found myself unable to face people and lost contact with almost everyone I knew.

15th May /1990 –
Self-hate keeps descending upon me like a swarm of angry hornets.I look at myself and find nothing but contempt for this pathetic person I have become.

I prayed non-stop to be whole again, but to no avail. All day, every day, I suffered from disturbing mental, physical and emotional discomfort. I was certain that my mind and body were plotting and raging spitefully against me and this drove me to distraction. I felt completely useless and utterly worthless.

6th July 1990 –
My reaction to this lack of peace is to hate myself, to think that I'm useless, and to wonder why my emotions continue to stuff me around like this. Can't my emotions tell that they have ruined me, and are ruining me?

It is easy to see how such suffering and negative changes in our life can destroy our self-concept and lead to self-hate, taking depression to deeper depths.

The purpose of this article is to encourage those experiencing self-hate, by showing that although these feelings seem to be justified, they are in fact a lie, and have no place in our lives.

We cannot throw off such feelings overnight, but we can re-train our underlying thought processes and conform them to God’s Word, bringing wholeness and relief.

We Need to Be Patient with Ourselves

The first thing we need to do is to recognise that we are ill. Depression is an illness, just as is diabetes, or deafness. In late 2004 I was admitted to hospital to receive major surgery on my left ear, which was deaf. The bones of my middle ear were replaced by a titanium prosthesis. I spent three days in hospital after the operation followed by two weeks at home. For the next three months I was not permitted to partake in any strenuous exercise.

No one would look at me in that situation and criticise me for ‘taking it easy.’ Nor did I hate myself for ceasing so many of life’s normal activities for three months. This is the attitude we need to take towards depression. Recognise it is an illness, be patient with ourselves and allow ample time for recovery, even if it takes months or years. We must be careful to recognise our limitations and not have unrealistic goals or expectations. This does not mean that we should hide from the world, only that we do not expect too much of ourselves.

Do Not Look Back

One of the biggest pitfalls of depression is to look back wistfully at what we used to be like, and lament over how low we have fallen – we would give anything to be like that again. I spent hours and hours ruminating over the past and wishing I could go back there or be like that again. This process is counter-productive - it only makes us worse.

The Christian counselor I saw taught me this - to be in deep surrender to God really means to never look back with regret upon the past, nor forward to any wish of what we want to be like in the future. Comparing ourselves to what we used to be, or what we want to be like, is a hindrance to resting in God's will. We must be content to be who He made us to be today, to be content to be where He put us today, and to be content to be how He made us to be today.

Let us again consider Philippians 4:12-13 ‘I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.’

How Does God View Us?

While suffering from depression we cannot trust our own opinion of ourselves. A friend who had experienced depression told me, “We can’t see properly in times like this. Our feelings completely distort our world view and vision.”

So let us look at how God views us, and then view ourselves through Jesus’ eyes.

Genesis 1:26 says, Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." We are not the chance result of millions of years of evolution, but created in God’s very image.

The Bible says that although we are sinners, we still have great significance and value. Psalm 8:4-5 says, ‘What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour.’

Even in our fallen, sinful condition, the Bible shows us just how much God loves us. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8. God did not wait for us to become perfect before He loved us; He loved us so much that He sent Jesus to die in our place so that our relationship with God can be restored.

Hebrews 12:2 says Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. What was that joy set before Jesus that motivated Him to die for us? It tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake (on earth) or asleep (in heaven), we may live together with him. Jesus treasures us so greatly that He wants us to share our whole life with Him.

John 1:12-13 tells us that ‘to all who received Jesus, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.’ Those who believe in Christ are God’s very own children!

Psalm 17:8 tells us that we are God’s treasure. Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings. It always encourages me when I think of Jesus looking at me as His treasure.

2 Corinthians 5:21 says, God made Jesus, who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Jesus we might become the righteousness of God. This means that when God looks at us, He does not see our old, sinful nature, or our problems. He sees the purity and righteousness of Jesus in us instead.

Romans 8:1 reinforces that. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. This is a very important lesson for us to learn. Do not let guilt and condemnation trip our feet. Jesus has forgiven us and cast our sins into the deepest sea!

God comes to live in our hearts if we ask Him. John 14:23 says, Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. We are God’s temple - what an honour!

Zephaniah 3:17 is one of my favourite verses in the Bible, because it shows exactly how God thinks of His children. "The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing."


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16 comments:

  1. Wow, Peter...so needed to hear that today...thank you...so many who can benefit from what God has allowed in your life and the redemptive glory now expressing itself in your sharing...I will send this link to my pastor...

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  2. Peter, once again you tell the experiences, and the 'treatment' of depression with great insight, honesty, and truth. You've started a much needed and releant ministry.

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  3. Just excellent, Peter. Your honesty and practicality is so very needed, poignant, and life-changing. This touched me.

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  4. This is so insightful...and inspired. I'll be prayerfully recommending your site to a struggling friend.

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  5. I have found that self hatred often finds a companion in self obsession—or unhealthy self love. When in the midst of depression or anxiety, I hate myself for what I’ve done. I accuse myself of never getting the “salvation thing” right. I hate myself for being way overweight. But at the same time, I feel this gigantic resentment. Why shouldn’t I be able to eat what I want? But aren’t my deeds on the Lord’s behalf worth anything? And truth be told, a fair amount of that resentment, I aim at God. Sometimes it’s just so hard to believe that God really REALLY loves me. Thanks for steering us into God’s word. I can’t trust my emotions which change at the smallest thing. God’s word is unchanging and irrefutable.

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  6. Dear Peter
    "We must be content to be who He made us to be today, to be content to be where He put us today, and to be content to be how He made us to be today. "
    This is a tough one! People are forever reminding you of the past and of what you must do in the future. And I do the same.
    Thank you
    Paul

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  7. I was actually depressed before I read this almost to the point I was feeling sick to my stomach. I read this article, I got flipped upside down. I know god loves me! You have no idea how I feel right now. I'm so happy!!!!! THANK YOU SO MUCH PETER!!!!!!!!

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  8. Dear Anonymous,
    You are most welcome :)
    Our God is the most wonderful, beautiful God, isn't He.
    God bless you heaps,
    Peter

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  9. I believe that God does love me, because He said so, and I know He doesn't lie. But if He loves me so much as to do all the things He's done, why won't He help me now, when I need it so much? Why won't He comfort me, give me at least a few minutes' peace?

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  10. Dear Anonymous,
    Sometimes God seems the furthest from us when we need Him the most, and I do not have all the answers as to why. But I do know He is there, for He promises to never leave us nor forsake us. Sometimes we are unable to feel His presence or comfort because of our condition, or at least it seems that way. One thing that helps is to reflect on His past blessings and comfort, reminding ourselves that we can experience them again.
    Sometimes, when I am in such a condition, I reach out to Jesus and sing praise songs to Him, even though I do not feel like doing so, and after wards I feel better, even if just a little.
    God bless
    Peter

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    1. Thank you so much Peter, this is how I have been the last 48 hours and your testimony is of huge encouragement ! God bless x

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    2. Thanks Dave, glad it could help,
      Blessings,
      Peter

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  11. Why did God breath life into me? I'd rather never have been born to know the evils that are under the sun, I'm worthless, a failure, not a man but a worm, curse the day I was born.

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    1. Dear Mitchell,
      I do not know your circumstances, but I do know how much God treasures and values you. You were created in God's image, and Jesus values you so much that He willingly laid down His life to buy you back from sin and death so that He can spend both now and eternity with you, as His own precious child.
      Spend time reflecting on how much the Father loves you, on how He thinks of you, not on the ways others think of you, not on how you think of yourself.
      Spend time with Jesus in prayer, and just soak in His love for you, for He says that you are precious to Him.
      Hang in there
      Peter

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  12. This has been incredibly helpful :)

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    1. Dear Anonymous,
      That's great :)
      God bless
      Peter

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