I hate myself. Will you love me now?

While exploring her feelings in therapy, the patient said she hated herself. I encouraged the therapist to explore what feelings the patient had toward her that could be under the self-hatred. My supervisee asked, “Why ask about feelings toward me? She was talking about feelings toward her father.”


One of the most important questions she could have asked! Most of our patients have been wounded in relationships. And those wounds must be healed in a relationship with you. How do we do that?


Let’s start with the history of her suffering. Her feelings made someone anxious, endangering her attachment. When she felt angry with her mother or father, she turned the anger upon herself to protect the parent and preserve the relationship. As Benjamin says, her defense of self-hatred was a gift of love.


When she lets you know about her inner life, she becomes more emotionally intimate with you than she has with anyone before. As a result, feelings toward you rise within her. Then she protects you by hating herself.


Every time she uses a defense, she implicitly asks, “If I hate and reject myself, will you love what is left?” Every response of resistance depicts the history of rejection. “Do you need me to hate myself, so you can love me?”


Each time you ask for feelings, you invite a closer healing relationship. Every time she resists, she tests you: “Do you really want to know me? Will you really love me?” Each time, invite feelings toward you, implicitly letting her know you are not afraid of her inner life. This is a relationship where you embrace everything inside her. She resists again, testing you: “Really? Do you really want to know who I am?”


Our constant invitation in the face of resistance reveals our wish to heal. And we keep passing these tests until the unconscious is convinced that this relationship could be different and an unlocking of feelings results.


Another supervisee asked, “What do I need to give her in terms of anxiety regulating techniques?” I replied, “All you need to give her is your acceptance of her inner life. What if you are what you need to give her? What if you are the place where healing occurs? What if your acceptance is the crucible where the transformation happens?” These wounds that occurred in relationships can only be healed in relationships, especially the one with you, in you.


That’s why technical questions always point to the fundamental question: Are you willing to be the relationship where healing occurs? That’s the question Freud asked in his paper on mourning and melancholia: are you willing to be killed in effigy? Are you willing to be the person toward whom all relational feelings can come? Are you willing to be the person who bears them so she can learn to bear them herself?


She doesn’t know the answer to those questions when she enters the office. Your persistent question, “What is the feeling here toward me?” demonstrates that you are that person, and this could be the relationship for healing. Your persistent invitation to reveal her inner life to you and your acceptance of every response is love in therapy.






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