Identification with Self-Hatred

I recall that, on one occasion, Mr Adie said words to the effect of: “People often ask, ‘what should I do?’, and will not be satisfied for very long unless they are indeed given a direction. I say now, in answer to this question: ‘what should I do?’, I say: ‘de-identify.”

The significance of this has recently returned to me in relation to identification with self-hatred. I have never understood it before the way I understand it now. I can only say that I was surely too identified to appreciate how critical it is, and the state of collected being, the organic whole, which can be poised to see the need, and sufficiently able to de-identify. It is a sort de-coupling from vicious self-criticism, a liberation. I am going to pass over the question of “doing,” what it means to say that “we cannot do,” and the related point of to whom the statement “we cannot do” is addressed, and when it is proper to say it, and when it is not. All that is dealt with, fairly adequately I think, in his book George Adie.

Gurdjieff said that identification cannot really be defined, but he gave the memorable example of an opium addict who comes to imagine that he himself is his opium pipe, so attached is he to it. If we add to this description the dimension of duration, it becomes applicable to all of us. Some people are so attached to their cars, or to their hair, or their wealth, etc. that, at least for a space, they act and react on the implicit belief that they are that item. And while identification is something we are often more amenable to seeing in other people, none of us are immune from it. I remember one colleague at university who said in a seminar that we students act as if we are our marks. We were all struck with the truth of her observation. Closer to home, just think of an occasion when someone insulted something you were quite proud of, and you will see that it is as if they had insulted you yourself. In fact, others do not even need to devalue what we have, all they need to do is to praise what they or others have to elicit a defensive response.

So, I think one can say that  identification is an emotional attachment to something, someone, some phenomenon or some state of affairs, in which one’s sense of “I” disappears. When I am identified, I lose myself, so to speak, in something else. In this instance, I am speaking of identifying with self-hatred, but one can be identified with one’s family, one’s country, one’s political party, one’s religion, one’s friends, and even one’s enemies. Gurdjieff pointed out that we can identify, easily and fervently, with our complaints and our unnecessary suffering. It means we think and feel about them out of all proportion to their real importance in our lives.

The emotional attachment and loss of a sense of self which, in my view, comprise identification, often have an intellectual aspect. This mental dimension often precedes the train of events to follow. Simply to notice something is the first stage of identification. I walk into a shop to purchase bread. I have no time to dawdle: I must buy the bread and go. But I notice that they have a new type of tea I have not seen before. That intellectual noticing, a function of formatory apparatus, is the first degree of identification. If I recall that I have no time to look at it, I am short of time and must purchase my bread and go and act accordingly, that is, at least for the moment, the end of it. The mind has done its proper job. Even if I remember it later on, I was not, at the moment of engagement with my observation, so lost in identification that I have forgotten my task. But if I do not have that thought, and instead delay getting the bread and come back to examine the tea, and especially if I purchase it, then I have experienced further degrees of identification.

An even clearer example which happens all the time is that we are in a conversation with someone. We ask a question. They do not answer it. But we identify with what they do say, and we follow that line, forgetting that they have not replied to our enquiry. This is identification, and one often sees people slyly avail themselves of it to evade unwelcome enquiries.

But I want to return to identification with self-hatred. It begins, I think, with constant and emotion-charged criticism directed at us, particularly by a parent. That leads to neurotic self-criticism. There is a balanced self-criticism, where I see, for example, that I am unfair to my brother, and I make a concerted effort to change. But there is also an unbalanced self-criticism where something in me hates myself. I discussed this once with Mr Adie, and he said that it was true, we had in us a dog who likes its own smell. If you ponder it, this is quite deep. It is not the same as saying that self-hatred is the other side of self-love. It is saying that there is in us something dirty, and it likes its own dirt. In other words, self-love and self-hatred are combined in this dirty monster.

We do have in us dogs which are vain, conceited and arrogant. We do have in ourselves dogs who are self-critical and self-hating. But there is also this very dangerous beast, more like a wolf than a dog, which is filthy and wallows in its own filth. It delights to torture the other personalities with malice. If I am correct in my view of how it is born, it is an adaptation to constant attacks from a parent (or other authority figure). Something in me cannot believe the parent can be wrong, so it accepts the criticism. It learns the lesson, all too well.

And what is the solution? Of course to see it. That must be the start. But then? One cannot just argue against it. It has to be brought into confrontation with the truth. But what does that mean? It is a real question.

Joseph Azize, 17 October 2018

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