Freeing Sisyphus: Are You Addicted to Self-Loathing?

Freeing Sisyphus:  Are You Addicted to Self-Loathing?

Are you addicted to self-loathing?

Of course not, you might say.  People are addicted to things like food, alcohol, drugs or even exercise – things that make them feel good if only momentarily.  Who on earth would be addicted to self-loathing?

I’ve recently discovered that I am a recovering self-loathing addict.  This was quite a shocking revelation for me.  For someone who has always strived for improvement, who long ago thought she accepted herself, who didn’t believe in regrets, believed in herself and always tried to do the right thing, I had no idea how much I really disliked myself.  I even thought I liked myself.  Long ago I had decided that I didn’t care what others thought of me.  This mental toughness came at an early age when the Piggly Wiggly checkout girl gave me the eye for buying a 2 cent piece of gum with a $1 food stamp.  She knew I had been sent on a mission to get that 98 cents to go toward some other sort of purchase…I learned early on how to look that checkout girl in the eye and not care about her judgment. 

Unlike many other teenagers, I didn’t have people at home yelling at me to be better, to act better, to get graduate degrees and conquer the world.  My grandmother’s aspiration for me was to be a court reporter and earn a decent living.  Yet, I strived and strived to be better, act better, and become overeducated to the point of silliness.  I was quite proud of all that drive – to work harder than everybody else, to get better and better at something, to master a task.  I may not have started out as the best at something, but I would work and work until I was really good at it.  I was proud of all the work I did, and I thought I liked myself.

On the flip side of all that hard work and achievement was non-stop self-destructive behavior and sabotage in my personal life in particular.  In the moments when I should have felt the happiest, I was despondent.  When someone complemented me I focused on all that self-destructive behavior, all the things I hadn’t done “right”: the workout I didn’t do, the extra drink I had, the plate of nachos I inhaled.  I spent years reading books trying to re-train that track in my head which I attributed to perfectionism, to tell myself how proud I was of each positive thing I had done.

But, it wasn’t that I was a perfectionist (although I am), it was that I was addicted to self-loathing.  I craved beating myself up the moment or day after I had done something particularly stupid.  Somewhere deep down I believed I deserved all that self-abuse.  And, then one day I was sitting in John Piper’s church, and he said something that changed my life.

 Whatever your religious beliefs, bear with me a moment….He said as humans we are all enslaved to sin.  I shut down the side of my brain which was using Nietzsche to “deconstruct” what Piper was saying and listened.  He said that although whatever destructive behavior we are doing may feel good, we are enslaved to it.  I wish I was as eloquent as he was, but I’m not.  I said, hell, it doesn’t even feel good.  All those things that I was doing that weren’t good for me didn’t bring even momentary joy as I was usually beating myself up before I even did them.  Two bites into a gigantic plate of nachos I was already feeling guilty, before I even arrived at a happy hour I was worrying about derailing my workout in the morning…..I suddenly realized I was doing things because I wanted to feel badly about myself.  I wasn’t addicted to food or bad behavior, I was addicted to the self-loathing that came after the misdeed.  Agnostic, atheist, believer, we all know that there are certain things that aren’t good for us.  You can listen to your doctor, your pastor, or the people around you who care about you, but at the end of the day, we all know when we are derailing our mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health.  So, why do we do it?  Why can I show grace to others, but not to myself?  What feels so right about feeling so badly about myself?

That day Piper quoted John and said the “truth will set you free”….For me, in that moment, I realized that I was exhausted from all of the self-loathing.  And, suddenly, I felt freer than I had ever felt before.  And, it seems that almost every day I am being freed more and more from that need to beat myself up (and consequently freed from the desire to do the things that made me feel badly).  Each of our journeys to wholeness, well being, joy, fulfillment and happiness are different and the paths are varied, but whatever your beliefs, the next time you are about to make that choice you know will derail your journey, do me a favor and ask yourself why?  Is it because you are addicted to chocolate, or to feeling badly about yourself?

I wonder if Sisyphus keeps rolling the boulder up that hill because somehow he believes he deserves the punishment for attempting to emulate the gods and their wanton ways?  I wonder what would happen if he suddenly realized he’d made up the gods in the first place and that he “acted out” to displease them merely as a way to punish himself?


As always, we want to hear about your journey to wellness, happiness, fulfillment, wholeness…comments and thoughts welcome, or please email at

  1. July 28th, 2011

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