Destructive Forces – Case Study
We all have periods of time, or odd days even, when we feel we don’t look our best, aren’t performing efficiently, are eating too much junk, not doing enough exercise, failing to support our children and/or friends in an adequate manner – the list is endless and a commonality amongst most human beings.
But what causes some people to positively despise themselves, when self hatred becomes self destructive, whilst incomprehensible to their family and friends. And does self loathing automatically lead to feelings of, or attempts at, suicide?
We’re not talking about someone who’s having a ‘fat day’ , a ‘bad hair day’ or those with an outbreak of facial spots. We’re talking about people who look in the mirror and turn away in disgust. They simply cannot face themselves and feel they cannot impose their hideous self upon the rest of society.
Today, we’re telling you Janet’s (not her real name) story. It is compelling and tragic. It is said you should never judge a book by its cover and Janet’s story confirms this.
Janet is a healthy, successful, single (from choice) mum, mortgage free, with 2 grown up children, one of whom still lives with her at home. Extraordinarily attractive, easily passing for 10 years younger than she is, with a trim, toned figure females half her age would kill for, Janet appears to have it all.
She concedes that outwardly at least, she does have it all. She has everything that should make her feel satisfied with life and at peace with herself.
But that’s simply an ideal viewpoint and the horrible reality is far removed.
Janet accepts that her issues with herself began when she was extremely young. The eldest of 4 girls, Janet recalls her parents treating her like a babysitter to her siblings, responsible for their safety and being the butt for blame if anything went wrong.
‘The incessant guilt I grew up with was incredible. My first memory is all of us playing ‘chase’ together on holiday and my younger sister falling over and badly cutting her head open. Even though I was only 9 myself, I was admonished for not looking after her, being told ‘look what you’ve done to your sister’ . I was sent into my bedroom and made to stay there for the whole day, crying inconsolably and desperate for a hug. But more than that, I needed to understand why I’d allowed such a bad thing to happen. Of course, it wasn’t my fault at all, but it took decades before I realised this, years in which blame after blame, fault after fault, were placed at my door. I don’t believe I was ever allowed to be a normal child, and I certainly wasn’t treated like one’
By the time Janet reached 17 and left her all girl’s boarding school for college, she had endured years of psychological torment – blamed at home, bullied so badly at school that she ran away, constantly being told everything was her fault, she was a failure. Combined with an emotionally distant relationship with her parents who continuously told her ‘there’s always someone better than you out there’ , Janet’s anxiety and self doubt took hold and she was powerless.
‘The problem is, says Janet, that by the time I got to college I believed everything was my fault. I was constantly saying sorry, as if it was my duty to do so and wouldn’t socialise with my classmates. I was convinced they were talking about me all the time, laughing at me, blaming me. And whilst I was crippled emotionally, I couldn’t blame them for their thoughts. After all, every time I looked in the mirror, I saw this hopelessly ugly and useless person that I was hating more and more each day, so it was only natural for me to believe their thoughts mirrored mine. How could I blame them for that?’
Things went from bad to worse for Janet when she plunged into a relationship with a much older man when she was just 17 years old. Charming and attentive at first, Janet says they met up two or three times a week and the pattern was always the same – a pub so he could feed his (unknown at that time) alcoholism, followed by a trip back to his house for afternoon sex. For Janet, sex equated to love. To being valued. Her sexuality became her identity, the only one she’d ever had and more to the point, the only identity she could control.
This was no fairytale trip though and ended only after a serious assault left Janet in hospital for over a week, with a shattered left arm and damage to her spine. All because she’d been too frightened to walk the 20 minute late at night walk home on her own and begged him to take her. His response was physical and the man involved, now deceased, was arrested and charge with grievous bodily harm. It is saddening and sickening to note that Janet attended court by herself – neither of her parents turned up for support. “They hated him and told me he was a bad person, so their reaction was ‘we told you so’ “
‘After leaving hospital, I looked in the mirror, disgusted at what I saw. My ugly face, my disproportionate body, my lack of ability in everything I did. I saw nothing but negativity and failure and I truly loathed myself. I’d purchased some razor blades to shave my legs, but instead, I picked one out and slowly and deliberately, I sliced it through the skin on my face. With each stroke I told myself how I deserved this and it was better to disfigure my ugliness. The more the blood ran, the more I cried and the better I felt. Temporarily’
Fast forward to the present day, leaving a book full of incidents and traumatic events for another day, I ask Janet if she’s had therapy or any kind of support over the years and how does she feel now? Has age made her look more rationally at herself?
”I tried CBT which I paid for myself as the waiting lists for mental health support services are ridiculous. Psychological issues need dealing with immediately as they won’t just go away and simply become worse and more pronounced.
CBT simply didn’t work for me so I tried hypnosis. Remembering, reflecting and discussing was painful, so very painful and when I got home I started pulling chunks of my hair out and thumping myself anywhere I could reach. Self hatred is a pain which never abates, let alone vanishes.
Before my children were born, I had two failed overdose attempts. I simply didn’t want to live. Since the children, I’ve attempted to take my life just once. The desire to remain in this world for my children is greater than my desire to end things and for that, I am thankful.
However, it’s hard. I have what I call ‘Self Dysmorphia’ – I loathe every single part of myself, inside and out. If people pay me a compliment, I know they’re simply being polite. If they say I’m good at something, they’re paying me lip service. In short no one can win, not them, not me. This disease is like a cancerous tumour strangling all sensibility and logic. I have spent weeks locked in my home because I simply cannot inflict my ugly self on the world. I gain inner strength from my enforced isolation when I can sit and stare at myself and count every single imperfection on my face and body and write down all the flaws in my personaltiy.
I take anti depressants, not because I want to, but I really believe if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have the strength to fight the demon the lurks within. My younger decades were intolerable, but now that I’m older and have the obnoxious signs of ageing to contend with too, I would definitely have slipped away into an eternal sleep by now but for my medication.”
If you, or someone you know, suffers from Body Dysmorphic Disorder, then take a look at http://bddfoundation.org/ and follow them on Twitter @BDDFoundation