Your path is not to seek for love but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
In dysfunctional homes children grow up not knowing how to genuinely love themselves. This is because the parents were unable to show their children what that looks like — because they don't know how to genuinely love themselves. Some parents try their best with what they have; some can't even do that. I'm grateful that growing up, my parents were the former.
Love is fundamental to our survival. If we, as children, cannot learn self-love from our caregivers, then our ego has to compensate for the lack. This defensive compensation shows up in two ways: self-loathing and grandiosity. Self-loathing is the ego's way of regaining control by taking personal blame for the absence of self-love, which reduces feelings of fear and powerlessness. But by blaming ourselves for the lack of love there is no way for us to relate healthily to ourselves. The ego then introduces grandiosity to mitigate the pain of self-loathing, which seeks to generate self-worth externally from the self.
In creating external self-worth, grandiosity strives to be "better than"; compulsively competing with and comparing itself to others. The language of self-loathing is destabilising criticism and put-downs (disguised as home truths, or even help) towards the self. Grandiosity is this same language directed towards others. The ego falsely believes that grandiosity will cure the pain of our self-loathing, but it never truly can. Grandiosity can only hide self-loathing temporarily whilst actually compounding and perpetuating it. Self-loathing prevents healthy, supportive, close internal connection with the self and grandiosity prevents it externally with others.
We quite often convince ourselves that feeling small, feeling "less than", and experiencing self-doubt or self-deprecation makes us humble… but this is another illusion. This is not humility but self-loathing, which serves only to feed the ego's need for an external source of self-worth, and can never provide the lasting peace we find with sincere humility which flows from an internal locus of self-worth.
Shaming ourselves and/or our parents for the lack of love in our developmental years only compounds these wounds and perpetuates the cycle. The ego's defence mechanisms, which helped us cope with unmet fundamental needs as children, trap us as adults. Left unhealed, these wounds have a cumulatively disruptive effect on our minds and bodies, our wellbeing and ability to relax, as well as the depth, closeness and supportiveness of our most intimate relationships. Self-loathing and grandiosity stem from the same wound. They sabotage intimacy, inhibit our capacity to feel safe, our capacity for trust, and our willingness to be honest and vulnerable about the truth of our inner world with another person.
Grandiosity and self-loathing is a mansion built on a swamp, in which we live entirely alone. The foundations are dangerously insecure. Even when we know the mansion is sinking into the swamp we don't want to leave, because we put a lot of effort and resources into building this mansion. Not only do we think it protects us from the swamp, lots of visitors have even admired and praised our mansion... from the outside. If we leave our mansion, we will be homeless; forced to face the uninhabitable conditions of the swamp. Faced with the threat of the unknown, we cling to the familiar. There is safety in the suffering we know.
To heal self-loathing, we must first stop camouflaging it from ourselves by buying into the illusory self-worth created by grandiosity. We must gently, bit by bit, surrender grandiosity as our coping mechanism. Self-loathing is not the failure of character we perceive it to be. It is evidence of our human need and our potential to heal. Many caught in grandiosity's "comforting" trap only immerse themselves further; shunning and shaming any little trace of the self-loathing beneath. This is totally understandable when the ego believes this is its only way out; the only way to alleviate the painful torment of self-loathing. Relinquishing our need for external self-worth and acknowledging the truth of our self-loathing means we can heal the underlying wound. It is a direct path to re-parenting ourselves, which we must do in order to create internal self-worth and genuinely love ourselves.
Only with gratitude and compassion may we lovingly let go of the psychological security blanket of grandiosity; of comparing ourselves to others through the lens of a "better than/less than" hierarchy. We must admit to ourselves that self-loathing is us — the wounded and confused children who still need the love we didn't get. The wound is still gaping, because the band-aid of grandiosity will never be sufficient to meet our need for love. We must sit, lovingly, with the extreme discomfort of our self-loathing and let it know that we are no longer powerless; we are the adult now, we are the caregiver in our life and we will provide the attentive nurture, the boundaries, the vulnerability and love that we needed but lacked in childhood.
Love cannot flourish when we do not see our fellow humans as our equals. It cannot flourish when we don't see that we are neither "better than" or "less than" anyone else. Love flourishes when we accept we are all equal; unique, humble and interconnected with all other humans.
Love cannot truly flourish when we do not see our partners as our equals. When grandiosity motivates our relationships, we find ourselves inadvertently seeking social status from our partnership. This comes at the expense of trust, love and intimacy. When we reside in grandiosity in our romantic relationships, we prioritise "keeping up appearances" and papering over the cracks instead of nurturing each other and healing together. When we reside in grandiosity, we are distracted from co-creating genuine intimacy by the fear that the grass is greener elsewhere. We don't want to invest ourselves 100% in case there is something "better" out there.
When we reside in self-loathing, we accept partners who don't see us as their equals; partners who believe we aren't good enough and must change to earn their love, who treat us like visitors and don't let us in for long, who appreciate us most when we put them up on a pedestal to feed their hungry, wounded ego — or when we can make them look good to others.
This world can be cruel and infuriating because we can be cruel and infuriating, though often without realising it. There's a proverb that says: the tree remembers but the axe forgets. We've all been both axe and tree — we remember being the tree, but we tend to forget being the axe. Anger can be an act of love, too, but anger needs integrity to be constructive. We do ourselves, our relationships and our communities considerable harm when we express anger from a place of bitter or vengeful grandiosity. To practice love in action is an act of courage in a world where cynical ridicule, constant criticism, othering, demonising, fear, hate, contempt and self-righteous rage (all of which stem from grandiosity) are the go-to tone of public discourse…
Love is a verb. Love is the commitment, every day, to act with love and care and compassion towards ourselves and to others. Love takes practice. It takes time, dedication and vulnerability. We must keep realistic expectations of evolution as incremental, hold compassion for our mistakes and learn to feel remorse without shame. We must be gentle with our flaws, we must self-reflect, and tell our uncomfortable (but necessary) truths. Love requires us to be accountable to ourselves and to others, to learn how to take care of ourselves and to set and maintain healthy boundaries. Love wants honesty and integrity, it wants an earnest heart. Love takes work, it takes rest and relaxation, playfulness and humour. Love asks us to listen to our bodies and care for its needs — not just it's appearance. Love requires respect for self and others, value of wellbeing over social status, and commitment to close lasting relationships and nurturing community. Love asks us to show up and speak up in our world with love as our motivation.
The author recommends CPTSD; From Surviving to Thriving by Pete Walker for anyone who relates to her journey with this and is also wishing to heal from self-loathing and the other impacts of developmental trauma.
Did you like Love is a Verb? We've published another piece of writing by Helen called MILF. You can read it here.
Helen is a shameless harlot, a lusty MILF, a kinky intimate companion, erotic masseuse, pornographer, writer and pleasure coach. She's a 40yo sex work veteran with 17 years of experience in the many forms of sex work.
Find Helen on Twitter @HelenCorday