We see it as humility.
We laugh at it sometimes.
We even use it to control and manipulate others.
We think it is helpful to understand ourselves better, so we won’t set our expectations too high.
But it’s not helpful.
It’s the enemy of our souls.
It can lock us in the prison of victimization or denial.
It can isolate us from others and open us up to those who can use it to abuse us.
I’m talking about self contempt, and as much as I’ve been writing in an effort to get well from it, there’s still so much I need to see.
My counselor helped me to see more of my self contempt last week during a few days of intensive therapy and a three day retreat on grace she did over the weekend.
My time with her left me asking the question, what would life be like if I didn’t hate myself.
My husband’s truck was giving him trouble. He’d been working all week to find the right parts in an effort get his rear end repaired. All of his hard work ceased when he realized on a Saturday that I hadn’t ordered all of the necessary parts off Amazon he’d asked me to get. He was flustered. No one in town had these hard to find parts, and I’d only ordered one when he needed two. It was an innocent enough mistake. He didn’t fuss at me, but his irritation was obvious.
According to my counselor, one of the things some men struggle with is a sense of powerlessness. Now he was without his car until the needed parts came. I felt like it was all my fault. The self contempt took over and I began to call parts houses all over town looking for what was needed. I was prepared to do whatever I could to make it better, even if it meant driving for two hours to get the part.
Self contempt causes a person to be overly responsible for things. I thought my husband would appreciate all my efforts to find the part and make up for my mistake, but instead he screamed at me to stop trying.
I didn’t realize he’d already decided that the rear end was not something that he wanted to fix. He’d discovered even with the needed parts that he might have problems in the future, so he’d decided to give up his all wheel drive vehicle and turn his SUV into a front wheel drive vehicle. He wasn’t mad at my mistake at all. He was just frustrated with something he couldn’t fix like he wanted.
He apologized for losing his temper with me. He explained that my wanting to fix it had just added to his pressure. My counselor explained that he just needed for me to reassure him that I was available to help and not add to the pressure by taking to much responsibility for a problem that HE was having.
But when you hate yourself it’s easy to think all problems are your problems.
What resulted from this incident was days off and on of feeling even more self contempt.
I know it’s not the way God intended for us to live. We are to bear one another’s burdens indeed, but every person has their own load to carry, and every time we take responsibility for someone else’s load we are driven by something other than the law of Christ. For me that something is self contempt.
I recognize at the root of it it’s all about control. If it’s all my fault then I think within me is the ability to fix it. Talk about building a house on the sinking sand, there’s no way thinking this way will ever stand, but oh have I tried so very hard.
As a child I didn’t know how else to do it. Suffering the abuse I did, I had to cling to something, and self contempt seemed to be all I had.
But as a believer in Christ, God has called me to a much better way.
When I met my abusive pastor, I hated myself for so many things. I went to him for help. He preached grace wonderfully from the pulpit. I longed to know the grace of God that redeemed the past and could set me free. I didn’t know how much I hated myself but I knew I was miserable. When I began to open up to him about my struggles, he shared about his own. He offered so much grace and acceptance that I told him even more. I started to believe that I wasn’t as bad as I thought I was, after all if the pastor struggled then certainly I was in good company.
But then he crossed the line and told me he loved me in ways he shouldn’t and asked me to keep it a secret. He said it was because I was so beautiful, special and irresistible and that I’d stolen his heart. On the surface his attention made my heart flutter with excitement. The pastor of the church loved me. But on a deeper level I believed there was something about me that caused him to want something he shouldn’t have. And over the following years my self hatred and responsibility for everything going wrong grew.
As I go through counseling, my eyes are opened to more and more ways my former pastor used my own self contempt to keep me hooked. I was constantly calling him for affirmation. Whenever anything was bothering me he wanted me to call. After he retired, he didn’t like it when I asked others for help. It was obvious he wanted to be the most important person in my life – when he was supposed to point me to God.
What some people don’t understand was that it was abuse even without the sex. Sexual abuse was the prison cell of self contempt for me. As long as I was struggling with sexual sin and shame, I needed my former pastor for affirmation.
My husband battled with his own self contempt. He believed his best wasn’t good enough. He has worked hard his entire life to prove himself. The former pastor befriended him and began to affirm him as well, bragging on what he did right, encouraging him to call him when he struggled. My husband became dependent on him, too.
My husband and I both believed this pastor was answered prayer. At least until we disagreed with him. Then there was pouting and manipulation that led us both to believe the self contempt we’d been listening to our entire lives… That somehow it was our fault, after all he was our pastor and leader.
What neither of us realized until I told the truth about the secrets this pastor asked me to keep, was that this pastor had a god complex and we’d made him our idol, and the self contempt we both struggled with was the devil’s greatest tool to keep us hooked in this deception.
Our current counselor, Sharon Hersh, pulled out of our driveway yesterday. Off and on over the past five days, our family counseled with her. She’s an amazing woman, who could easily become a savior for us, but I realized when I watched her car drive down the road that she wasn’t, nor was she trying to be. I will miss seeing her, because she has encouraged and helped us and affirmed us in many of the same ways our former pastor did, but the fact that she left and I didn’t feel like my heart was in my stomach because I was going to have to be without her communicated to me the healthiness of my relationship with her and the boundaries that she’d put in place. I’d been so addicted to my former pastor that I thought whenever he left I had to call him so I wouldn’t miss him.
Sharon had left me with the truth of who God was and how much He loved me. She’d encouraged our family to look to Him to meet our needs, not herself. She communicates to us and to the others that she is teaching that she needs grace as much as we do.
Today has been a difficult today for both my husband and myself. Dealing with the reality of the ways that we have been hurt and also how we blindly followed an abusive pastor is so very hard. I’d always prided myself in a person who was too smart to be led astray.
How could I have been so wrong? How could I let something like this happen? How could I put my family at risk like that?
The self condemning questions have bombarded my mind today.
I read this quote in a blog called The Devastation of Contempt:
I see contempt as an active, degenerative, languaged presence within us that seeks to nullify goodness. Contempt is not something that we dabble in and then put down; it is a consuming entity that seeks to blot out our sense of the goodness of God and cut us off from future encounters with that goodness.
I realize reading this that even this evening as both my husband and I grieve all that has been that self contempt can only make things worse.
It is a consuming entity that seeks to blot out our sense of the goodness of God.
God wants us to know He is good and through His death on the cross He has given us His righteousness and declared us good. Satan would love to have me wallow in self contempt so I’d miss God’s goodness now and in the future. So many times I think that feeling guilty will make things better, because after all I’ve done I deserve to suffer! That’s a lie from the pit of hell and smells like smoke, as my friend Steve Brown likes to say. Self contempt keeps me paralyzed, missing all the good God has given me.
What happens when I don’t hate myself?
I am able to see Him and hear Him whisper the words to my soul:
It is finished.