Until today, I didn’t really comprehend that my father hated himself.
Now that I realize it, his self-hatred seems obvious. Of course he hated himself. I should have figured that out a long time ago — but I was too busy trying to protect myself from him to notice.
For the last decade, I’ve been studying narcissistic personality disorder, because I was desperate to understand how my father had affected me — and how I could protect myself. Over and over, I’ve read that narcissists hate themselves at their core, but that had never quite made sense to me.
My father didn’t act as though he hated himself. He often said — especially since I cut off contact with him — that he “knew” I hated him. When he first accused me — years ago — of hating him, I tried to correct him, but it was difficult to explain that I didn’t hate him but I also didn’t love him anymore. So I didn’t pursue it.
I heard something on a podcast this week which mentioned how narcissists project their feelings about themselves onto other people. The therapist use hate as an example. She said a narcissist might accuse you of hating him — only because he really hates himself.
You know the way you can hear something a hundred times but then something will finally click in your brain and you “get it” in a way that you’d missed all those other times? That happened to me. I finally got it.
He was accusing me of hating him because he hated himself. He feared he was loathsome, so he projected that feeling onto the one he most wanted to love him. He was scared that I hated him because he thought — deep down — that he deserved to be hated.
And that explains why he constantly did things to destroy his relationships with the people who most wanted to love him. He didn’t feel worthy of love, so he unconsciously pushed away everyone who had once wanted to love him.
By doing this, he proved to his paranoid false self that he was not worthy of being loved.
I went looking through years of email this evening as I sought to flesh out this new insight. What had he said that I had missed? I remembered plenty of times when he accused me of hating him — usually when he was either angry or full of pity for himself — but I had always seen what he said through the lens of its effect on me.
Now that he’s gone — and I don’t have to worry about his ability to hurt me — how would I see it differently?
I spent a couple of emotional hours going through various email from the last 10 years. (It’s wrenching, for instance, to read words of love and devotion from someone you expected to remain in your life forever — and it makes my heart hurt again in confusion about what happened.) But I finally started finding emails from my father which addressed what I was looking for.
There was one sentence that stood out above them all.
On Sept. 6, 2011, he wrote a pathetic email which contained what I am certain were lies, but those weren’t the interesting parts. Without any context, he suddenly turned his attention to his realization that his life was nearing an end.
“I hate myself because I’ve effectively wasted my life, having reached the sunset with nothing to show for these 81 years of trying,” he wrote.
When I first received that, I’m sure I ignored that point, because it sounds like his typical attempt at self-pity. But I should have noticed those key words: “I hate myself…”
Even seeing this, I know there’s nothing I could have done differently. I tried to get him to go to counseling, but he refused. He told me at the time that he knew it was “too late” for him. I think the reality is that he couldn’t deal with what he knew he would find.
The world is full of hate. People hate their enemies. They hate those who hurt them. They hate those who are different from them.
But no hate is as destructive as self-hatred.
My father had so much possibility in life. He had good looks. He could be charming. He had a good education. He had women who loved him on multiple occasions. He had people all around him who trusted him and were willing to do a lot to help him.
But he threw everything away because he hated himself. The narcissistic impulse at his core — the hurting child who projected a false self for everyone else — believed he wasn’t worthy of love, so he made himself unlovable.
That’s why he ran off the women who loved him.
That’s why he lost the love and affection of his children.
That’s why he lost everything he ever had.
My father was alone at the end — with little to show for his life — because he hated himself. Nobody could have rescued him, because his self-loathing ran too deep.
He feared he wasn’t worthy of love, so he threw away all the love anyone ever offered. His self-hatred trumped the love that everyone else wanted to give. And it hurts my heart to realize that.