Self-destructive thoughts and feelings grow from ripples to tidal waves in people who develop addictions. But how does self-directed aggression become entrenched in our inner worlds, and how can it be dislodged?
Everyone who’s ever been addicted to anything is bound to know two feelings — craving and self-hatred. These feeling states essentially define addiction. They’re coordinates on the map. We more or less understand craving, biologically as well as psychologically. I’ve written about it and so have others. But we don’t understand its infamous partner in crime. How do people come to hate themselves? And why might this feeling be central to addiction?
Self-hate isn’t exclusive to addicts. Almost anyone you talk to about their inner world will admit to a hostile self-critic who blames them, sometimes savagely, for whatever they did that was wrong or stupid. Self-directed aggression spans many cultures. The tradition of seppuku (suicide motivated by shame or guilt) grew up in the warrior classes of ancient Japan. The Catholic Church spread the idea of original sin (leading to repentance) wherever colonialism took hold. Self-nastiness seems to have quite a hold on human civilization. But how does it seed itself in young minds? How does it grow?