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Facing Internalized Self-Hatred

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Date : October 28, 2017


Facing Internalized Self-Hatred

Internalized self-hatred is the owning and acting out of a stereotype that has been created about you. You may or may not be aware of this phenomenon. Internalized self-hatred can be experienced by People of Color, The LBGQT Community, Jews, Muslims, Women, The Disabled other oppressed and vilified people.

Examples of self-hatred: A black man who believes the stereotype that African-Americans’ intelligence is inferior to whites. He doesn’t bother to study for his finals because he believes he is too stupid to do well. A white woman believes the stereotype that men are better leaders than women. She loses a promotion to a white man and feels that it is justified because she believes white men are more effective leaders than women. A gay man believes the stereotype that he is not as physically strong as straight men. Although he is athletic, he doesn’t try out for his school’s football team because he believes he is too weak to succeed.

I will begin to dive into this issue by dealing with my own internalized self-hatred. I am a Jew, born in Boston and raised in the suburbs of New Jersey. I was born in 1951, six years after The Holocaust. I lived in Highland Park, New Jersey which had a significant Jewish population. I don’t remember The Holocaust being discussed in detail. I don’t remember learning much about it in school, from my parents or from other community members. Now I could be blocking out these memories or the annihilation of my people was not discussed. If it was not talked about, it was probably under the illogical reasoning that if you don’t talk about the horror, then it never existed.

I was not part of any organized religious activity growing up. My parents asked me if I wanted a bar mitzvah and I declined their invitation. A bar mitzva is the Jewish Celebration of when a boy becomes a man and a ba mitzvah is when a girl becomes a woman. Most of the Jewish boys in my hometown were forced to become bar mitzvahed. The last thing I wanted was more classroom work and study. I hated school all my life.

My mother told me later that they knew I would reject their invitation; in fact, they were banking on it because they couldn’t afford to send me to Hebrew School if I desired to attend.

I only attended temple services when I would go with friends to the rare Friday night Shabbat Service. I would appear and sit among the few young folks and the elders, but I really had no idea what the purpose of the service was.

I attended my friends bar and ba mitzvahs which were lavish occasions and didn’t touch me in any spiritual or any other way. My friends were thrilled with the presents they received from this celebration and their parents tried to outdo each other with who had the largest reception halls, guest lists and brightest colored yarmulkes. A yarmulke is a skullcap worn, especially during prayer and religious study, by Jewish males especially those adhering to Orthodox or Conservative tradition.

I have included this background to point out that I had no religious foundation or indoctrination to turn to. I believed that I wasn’t an authentic Jew because I didn’t receive this teaching. On the other hand, I was relieved that I didn’t have to undergo the strict structure of religious training.

I had several Anti-Jewish experiences that still impact me. A police officer and his wife lived across the street from me. Whenever something would go wrong in the neighborhood-a broken window, fire crackers being set off, stolen cars; the wife would announce to all who would listen that the blond-haired Jew(me) across the street committed the crime.

My father died when I was fifteen years old. The rabbi at the funeral was aghast because my father didn’t have a Jewish name. He didn’t seem interested in his character or gave a thought about how he would honor my father’s life. The grave diggers were still shoveling out a hole for his casket while the service was underway. The funeral lacked respect and dignity for my dad and I become distraught every time I have this memory.

I was on the high school cross-country team when I was sixteen, my team mates would heap praise upon me saying, “You are not like the other Jews on this team. You are better.” This statement referred to Jewish kids who were orthodox and were devoutly religious. The boys wore their yarmulkes regularly.

I was so unaware and filled with self-hate, I thought my teammates were giving me a compliment. You are not like the other Jews who outwardly worship something non-Christian was what they meant. I was happy to be accepted by these boys and was unaware of my shame of not standing up for my Jewish teammates. As an outcast, I was vulnerable to gestures of “You fit in with us”.

When I was seventeen, one of my jobs was a deliver of fried chicken. My boss was this huge white woman with a bulbous face. One day while driving the greasy, dried out chicken to a place in Edison, I became seriously lost and had to return to the Chicken Outlet-it was called Chicken Holiday or something like that. I heard from co-workers that the boss lady was very angry at me. She told them that as a Jew, I was lucky to have a job. She also said my action confirmed that Jews were not to be trusted. Of course, she never said any of this stuff to my face and she was happy as hell when I quit.
I never talked about these painful interactions. I didn’t know the term “advocate for yourself”. Instead I just put my head down and pushed aimlessly ahead.

In 1972 I worked for a federally funded program called Upward Bound at a small college in the middle of Kansas. One of the instructors lectured me about how Jews like me killed Jesus. I was like a deer in the headlights taking in this hateful dribble and never responded to him.

In 1978 I was in Social Work graduate school at The University of Kansas. The Holocaust TV Series (some erroneously called it the Jewish Roots) was shown on network television. It included four intensely traumatic episodes. I never hid the fact that I was Jewish even though I was in Kansas; a state not known for its religious diversity.

My fellow students would ask me why did we as Jews not fight back and be led like sheep to slaughter to Auschwitz and other gas chambers. I think these comments came after the first episode that didn’t include any of the Jewish resistance and uprisings.

I didn’t know how to respond to these comments, but I know I felt like a coward and was ashamed of being perceived as one.

My internship was at the local hospital social work department. One of my clients was a patient who told me she had a violent boyfriend and she was fearful that he was going to visit her while she was hospitalized.

Later, while I was walking past her room, I heard her room door slam and she screamed. Her boyfriend ran out and I ran after him, but he escaped. I knew immediately after this incident that I was trying to prove to the world that we Jews are strong and unafraid. This was a reckless move on my part because he could have been armed and dangerous. I was trying to be a hero and I could have been a dead one.

I was taught by society that we as Jews were weak in physical strength and in character yet we controlled all the banks and their currency. This was a contradiction I never could make sense of.

I learned to believe that we Jews were unscrupulous, greedy, selfish and only concerned with our own kind.

I was conflicted with the need to be accepted, to refute Anti-Jewish stereotypes and to correctly represent my people by compensating for those stereotypes. For example, to disprove the stereotype of being cheap, I would be overly generous to folks who didn’t earn that kind of special treatment.

All these experiences led me on a path of confusion, self-hate, empty isolation. I was not aware of how this was all affecting me. It is time to stand up for myself. It is time to find the courage to understand how this has traumatized me and learn how to heal from it.

Please share your experiences here https://www.facebook.com/HealingEmotionalPain Thanks!!!

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Bob utilizes his life experiences as well as professional ones to connect and assist with clients. Bob holds a Masters Degree in Social Welfare that he earned at the University of Kansas in 1979. His California License number is LCS 11087.He has been featured in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Miami Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The Hartford Courant, Natural Health Magazine, The Library Journal, Grand Magazine, Lee’s Summit Journal and Womansday.com. He is an expert on the Oprah/Dr. Oz owned Sharecare.com and he is a frequent contributor to the highly regarded Mentalhelp.net.

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