Their profound self-loathing prevents them from doing any kind of effective cheshbon hanefesh, and therefore, prevents them from doing real teshuvah.
(Because they already hate themselves for petty or insignificant flaws, it's very hard for them to see their "real" ones.)
Deep down, they also feel like flaws are a justification to hurt or abuse other people.
(In some cases, this abuse is expressed passively, such as moping around or depression or neglecting people or tasks they're responsible for.)
Because they often feel that flaws justify maltreatment, this means they feel they also deserve to be yelled at or made fun of or scorned or humiliated or rejected or hit for their poor choices or flaws.
And who wants to suffer any of that?
So you can see why they resist seeing their own real flaws at all costs. This also brings a lot of denial or minimization of flaws when dealing with others.
(I think this is why so many people see their own hurtful behavior as "funny" or "cute.")
There are different levels of this, of course.
Some really cannot admit they’re wrong about anything no matter how minor and no matter how much damage they’ve actually done and how many lives they’ve ruined.
Others can admit a bit, but quickly become consumed with unwarranted shame & self-hatred.
Here's an example of how self-loathing causes poor behavior and unfair treatment that borders on being irrational...
Andrea and Linda’s Babysitting Mishap
Linda, who genuinely enjoyed children, got down on the floor to show the children her colored contact lens when one of the children got so excited, she accidentally knocked the lens off Linda’s finger while another child accidentally stepped on it in an attempt to helpfully pick it up.
Linda’s dismay was obvious and Andrea expressed sympathy.
Linda’s face curled up into a snarl as she said, “Oh, Hindy…” at the child who’d stepped on the lens.
Andrea sympathized further, offering to help Linda find a way to replace the damaged lens. (Andrea was fairly certain she'd seen such places within walking distance.)
Linda sneered at Andrea and said, “No, it’s not that—oof. You don’t understand…”
Her upper lip still curled and her nose scrunched up, Linda got up and left without another word.
Andrea was a bit startled to be suddenly left with the children on her own without even the most basic, “Sorry, but I just can’t deal with this,” from Linda, but Andrea figured that since she didn’t wear contacts or glasses, she was in no position to judge.
Probably it was a big inconvenience of getting to the optometrist and then a few days of waiting to replace them, which is indeed upsetting. And then there was the cost…
When the parents came home that night, Andrea was left in the uncomfortable position of explaining why she was the only babysitter remaining, which she did in a way that was sympathetic toward Linda.
The parents were mostly sympathetic (although the mother did say with a puzzled laugh, “Why did she need to show them her contacts?” and “I wear contacts; it’s not like the world stops when something happens to one of them.”) Then the parents paid Andrea, including Linda’s pay, which Andrea was supposed to deliver to Linda.
Still uncomfortable, Andrea went to deliver Linda her pay.
Andrea expected that Linda, now past the heat of the moment, would say something apologetic like, “I’m really sorry I got so upset like that, it’s just that I…”—because after all, that’s what Andrea would say and what many people say.
Everybody loses it sometimes and then feels upset with themselves later. And most people acknowledge this with some kind of apology.
But not Linda.
With a look of disgust, she accepted the payment half-heartedly and even offered to give some of it back to Andrea because Linda at least acknowledged that she didn’t deserve full payment when she left part way through.
But Andrea wasn’t uncomfortable with that, especially because Linda seemed so upset.
So she refused.
Her face contorting with disgust, Linda whined, “But I don’t deserve it.”
Andrea shrugged. “So what? Anyway, maybe you DO deserve it. You meant to stay the whole time. And up until the fiasco, you were playing with the kids a lot more than I was. Plus you experienced damages. So maybe you DO deserve it.”
Looking even more disgruntled, Linda settled back in her chair & didn’t even look at Andrea.
Andrea felt confused. It seemed like Linda was mad at her, but what had she done wrong? She’d covered for Linda, made excuses for Linda, and now she tried to reassure Linda.
As she left, Andrea tossed one glance back at Linda and saw a look on Linda’s face that could only be described as pure self-loathing.
In that moment, Andrea understood that it was Linda at whom Linda was angry.
Linda's rude treatment of Andrea had nothing to do with Andrea at all.
Poor Choices are Exactly That: POOR. Poor Choices are Not a Sign of Innate Defectiveness.
First of all, while Linda made poor choices, she’d done nothing hateful.
- Yes, it was a mistake to take out her lens (though she had good intentions).
- Yes, it was not terribly mature or sensible to become so overwrought (even though the inconvenience was very real) that she left the job she'd agreed to complete.
- Yes, it wasn't really fair to leave Andrea carrying the buck.
- Yes, Linda should've offered a brief apology both to the parents and to Andrea (all of whom would’ve accepted the apology in good grace without a second thought — because it wasn't such a big deal.)
These were all poor choices — but not horribly, irreversibly poor choices.
And they’re not remotely indicative of a loathsome & irredeemable person.
Self-Hatred is an Irrational Response
(Taking out her lens to show the children was a minor mistake — a poor choice, but not one that demonstrated bad character or serious flaws.)
Initially, Linda tried to blame the little girl, but immediately realized how irrational that was (especially in front of Andrea who witnessed the whole thing) because it was her own fault for taking the contact lens out around rambunctious children.
(And I use the word "fault" lightly. This isn't something you can predict easily in the fun of the moment, especially when the kid are bouncy, but not out of control.)
Yes, it was a poor choice. But guess what? We ALL make poor choices sometimes! We all do things that, in hindsight, were not very sensible.
We ALL do things that we should have known better NOT to do.
EVERYONE does that. There is no way to avoid it completely.
Only Hashem is Perfect.
And unless something really awful happens as a result, there is only a need for productive regret (i.e. the kind of regret that makes you resolve HOW to be smarter next time), but absolutely NO need for becoming consumed with shame or loathing or hatred for yourself.
On the contrary, that degree of self-hatred/shame/loathing is not logical (though it makes sense in the mind of the person who thinks that way).
Making the occasional poor choice that results in unintended & unwanted consequences does not reflect badly on you.
In fact, Hashem caused it to happen, so you can relieve yourself of that guilt & self-flagellation right away.
Furthermore, Linda felt she didn’t deserve full payment, but she wanted it, which made her hate herself even more. (“How greedy I am! How selfish!”)
She was also embarrassed that the parents now saw her as someone who gets so overwrought over such an incident that she abandons her responsibilities—and she felt that their new estimation of her (as she imagined it, anyway) was correct…
...which made her hate herself even more.
And again, Linda projected her own self-hatred onto Andrea and the parents.
She imagines that they all must secretly despise her as much as she secretly despises herself. How can they not?
Again, Linda's self-hatred is a sign of how much she is cut off from reality, and not a sign of "the secret truth about Linda" (as she imagines).
Usually, Linda covered her true feelings with a sunny & winning persona, so these moments of self-disgust, which she projected onto others, were startling & disconcerting to those who experienced them.
How to Melt Away Toxic Shame
It has been seen time and time again, that people who secretly hate, loathe, and despise themselves are carrying around a load of toxic shame, which causes them to perceive themselves as intrinsically defective and irredeemable.
Toxic shame is just that: toxic.
It's a poison that can eat through & destroy an otherwise wonderful person.
The remedy is to internalize the fact that HASHEM gave you your faults, whether you were born with them or whether you developed them in response to your environment (which was also given to you by Hashem).
They are part of your journey to self-tikkun.
Our flaws & faults are actually not our fault; they are implants from Hashem.
However, HOW we decide to handle them is where our self-responsibility lies:
- Do we acknowledge our flaws or ignore them?
- Do we ask Hashem for help with them, maybe using recommended techniques, or do we feel helpless & do nothing concrete to fix things?
- Do we take them seriously or do we shrug them off—even going so far as to excuse them as cute, funny, or justifiable?
When we bring Hashem into the picture and realize that we are not to blame for our flaws, we enable the toxic shame to fall away and then we can get to work on the real issues in a loving, compassionate yet serious manner.
May Hashem help us all succeed in doing true teshuvah from love.