Why Learning to Love Ourselves Is So Hard

By Barbara Brennan


A plague of self-hatred seems to have descended upon our culture. The growing number of young people who self-harm, the stick-thin models on one hand and the morbidly obese on the other-these are the visible faces of the great pain that many members of our society are visiting upon themselves.

But no one is a stranger to self-hatred and its dark companions of rage, anguish, and despair. We may call it by other names, but it is essentially the same-an inability to love and be kind to ourselves.

For many, self-hatred lurks just below the surface of everyday consciousness and the slightest mishap or error-real or imagined-can bring a ton of self-judgment crashing down. How often in our minds we play over and over again ancient humiliations, disappointments, and supposed failures!

The vicious and debilitating energies of self-hatred, visible as dark forms on the fourth level of the human energy field, can initially be compelling and threatening. It can be dangerously easy to lose ourselves in the story of how unworthy we are, how inherently flawed we are, and all the myriad tales of our badness. These are the negative self-beliefs from our childhood and the older voices laden with pain from past lifetimes echoing across the centuries.

Complex and intertwining psychospiritual material is contained within this split. There is the myth of the idealized self-the improbable image of perfection that the ego believes it must attain to compensate for its imagined badness; the rigid self-judgments of our parents, teachers, and our society that we have taken on in the innocent malleability of our childhoods and internalized as adults; the false selves we create and present to the world that mimic who we think we should be; the vigilance with which we guard against any threats of exposure of the badness that we believe is our true self.

There are many heartbreaking elements to this drama of the ego. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of them all is that the enormous energy and effort that it takes to maintain this cycle of perfectionism, self-judgment, false persona, and hypervigilance makes it impossible for us to have real, intimate, and loving contact with others. We are condemned to despairing loneliness.

This might seem an extreme depiction, but sadly, it is reality for a large section of our society. Even those of us with the sunniest of dispositions have glimpsed this place within ourselves.

The transmutation of self-hatred into self-love is a crucial alchemical process for all of us on the path of healing and spiritual development. It takes enormous courage, self-awareness, and positive intention to embark on this process. The journey begins and ends with compassion-indeed, it is the whole of the path itself.

The ground to begin this process is the spiritual understanding and clear conviction that the self-hatred is a direct negation of our core essence, the truth of who we really are. It is the little ego, or “child consciousness” within us, that creates and perpetuates this split stream of consciousness-the ego that is sunk in separation and duality that has forgotten its origin and is completely identified with a very narrow identity.

At the Barbara Brennan School of Healing, we consistently practice setting our intention for self-healing and connecting to our divine essence, our real self. Each time we upwell our essence and allow it to infuse our energy field with the luminous sweetness of our original nature, which is divine love, we have the opportunity to illuminate the dark, painful places of our splits with the truth.

This powerful spiritual practice is an act of great self-love and self-care. We shift our consciousness from patterns of self-betrayal and self-sabotage to self-honoring, and the effects are felt in every area of our lives and at all levels of our beings-body, mind, heart, and spirit.

Many paths speak of treating the body as a temple, but it is very hard to do so when it has become the container for our self-hatred. The way we treat our physical form becomes part of the painful theme of self-betrayal. Regular meditative and prayerful practice of bringing the core essence into the body transforms the energy blocks held in the organs, tissues, and bones and releases the body to be a container for pleasure.

In subsequent columns, we will discuss further steps in healing self-hatred and returning to our original state of self-love-these include self-forgiveness, self-care, and self-honoring. These are the cornerstones of living a life of true integrity, in a manner that is healing in a nondual way for both ourselves and others.

In the 1998 edition of Seeds of the Spirit, I wrote about this in a poem:


Recognize Yourself as Love


Honor who you are.

Creation unfolds within you.

It resounds throughout the universe

in your unique way,

carried on the wave of this love

that you are.


It is unique, unlike any other.

The expression of this self of yours

is love.

The more you discover self as love,

the easier it will be to go into your dualities

where your creative endeavours

have not been completed

on the wave of your creation.


This is where you did not recognize love.

Where you moved, perhaps ever so slightly

from your center.


These creations are surrounded by a boundary

which may be experienced as fear

rather than wonder and excitement.


They may be experienced

and defended by anger or rage.


But all of that fear, all of that pain,

all of that defense, can be healed

by going into your residuals,

finding that unique individual that you are

and recognizing yourself as love.


This is the awakening process.