The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Did George MacDonald actually promote self-loathing?

Here is the reference in Lilith to which this idea was somehow derived. Judge for yourself:

The strife of thought, accusing and excusing, began afresh, and gathered fierceness. The soul of Lilith lay naked to the torture of pure interpenetrating inward light. She began to moan, and sigh deep sighs, then murmur as holding colloquy with a dividual self: her queendom was no longer whole; it was divided against itself. One moment she would exult as over her worst enemy, and weep; the next she would writhe as in the embrace of a friend whom her soul hated, and laugh like a demon. At length she began what seemed a tale about herself, in a language so strange, and in forms so shadowy, that I could but here and there understand a little. Yet the language seemed the primeval shape of one I knew well, and the forms to belong to dreams which had once been mine, but refused to be recalled. The tale appeared now and then to touch upon things that Adam had read from the disparted manuscript, and often to make allusion to influences and forces–vices too, I could not help suspecting–with which I was unacquainted.

She ceased, and again came the horror in her hair, the sparkling and flowing alternate. I sent a beseeching look to Mara.

“Those, alas, are not the tears of repentance!” she said. “The true tears gather in the eyes. Those are far more bitter, and not so good. Self-loathing is not sorrow. Yet it is good, for it marks a step in the way home, and in the father’s arms the prodigal forgets the self he abominates. Once with his father, he is to himself of no more account. It will be so with her.”

George MacDonald said this:

Our neighbor is our refuge; self is our demon-foe ~~ George MacDonald

To believe one’s self is evil or a demon foe is what shame based personalities have at their root. You must say the George MacDonald was shame based. I guess this could be true. He did loathe the God of Jonathan Edwards.(Bible). To hate God is to hate oneself in an unhealthy way.

As long as we are clear that the “self” that is our demon-foe is that within us which is “self-seeking” at the expense of our neighbour, and not the “self” which is our essential being.

Neighbor is in contrast to self. This is the core self which is a demon foe. This is shame based personalities. Any psychologist and psychiatrist will tell you that. Not all shame and guilt is bad though. Hence, It’s a proper self-loathing that leads to repentance. Not all self-loathing. When I’m inflated with high self esteem the shame is more intense when it happens. I don’t deny that shame spirals cause psychoses. That’s what caused mine. But there is a proper shame and guilt. Just as the Ph.D. in psychology describes here in “Psychology Today”. Feeling bad about yourself can lead you to change.

Quote from the article:

In other words, self-hatred is psychologically damaging but it can also make you more motivated to change.

A person with excessive shame is an unhealthy person, a person with zero shame is a sociopath.

I wrote about my experiences with shame spirals (unhealthy shame) here:

Here’s a paper on shame, paranoia, and self-compassion

Background: High levels of shame are frequently reported in individuals with experiences of paranoia, and recent literature suggests that shame is an important factor in the development of paranoia following stressful life events. Psychological therapies that involve the development of self-compassion are designed to address high levels of shame, and emerging evidence suggests promise for the effectiveness of these interventions for individuals with paranoia.

It’s also in my “Treating Psychoses” book. It has what I’m talking about with shame and psychoses paranoia or persecutory delusions in a section called Compassion Focused Approaches.

Compassion focused approaches are most effective when working with delusions associated with critical auditory hallucinations, which are in turn linked to shame and an underlying schema of self-blame. Such exercises are also pertinent in persecutory delusions where, in the face of constant perceived threat and hypervigilance, they promote self-soothing. They are viable in the face of the delusional system with the negative underlying core belief such as “I am a bad or unlovable person”. Compassionate self statements can be reinforced by compassionate imagery, compassionate letter writing to the self, or a compassion box containing items that nurture the self, such as key photographs, poems, music, and so on. page 117


After further thought and study I’m sticking with my original beliefs about shame and guilt and the above article in “Psychology Today”. It’s been my experience as well and I have been diagnosed with Schizoaffective (bipolar type), anxiety, panic attacks, social phobia, alcohol and substance abuse. There’s healthy and unhealthy shame.

Healthy Shame

On the other hand, there is such a thing as healthy shame. Healthy shame lets us know that we have limits. We are not God. We have permission to make mistakes and be a human being. The freedom to make a mistake produces creativity, joy, hope and love! Peace and rest become real. We begin to experience self acceptance.

For a good book on this::

Quote from the book:

The weird thing about self-esteem is how little connection it bears to reality. Many burglars and murderers feel great about themselves. Yet many upstanding citizens whom a jury of sages would declare kind, wonderful, and worthy hate themselves. ~~ Anneli Rufus

Well, Holly, I don’t advocate self-esteem. Indeed, as a teacher when teachers were being urged to raise the self-esteem of their pupils, I opposed it, and because of my position, I was raked over the coals by my fellow teachers.

However, I oppose self-hate as well. I think that is as equally (if not more) destructive to the true self than is self-esteem.

However if, by some miracle, self-hate helps you to deal with your problems, far be it from me to try to discourage you from its practice.

I understand what you are saying. You are talking about an improper self hatred. The self hatred I’m speaking of is passive. When I say proper self hatred I’m speaking more along the lines of disdain and contempt. It’s a turning your back on the evil self and letting it die. It’s a turning away and getting your attention off of self. The way we do this is by letting go and doing activities that get the attention flowing away from self. Things that we lose ourselves in in the present moment and get into what psychologist call flow. Athletes call it being in the zone. It’s the ultimate in focus and concentration. Things like

Going for a walk noticing the scenery and environment


Listen to music


Write, blog

Play games like solitare



Worship and praise God

Watch a wholesome or educational T.V. show

A hobby that focuses your attention like painting, putting models together. Anything that gets the attention focused and flowing outside of self.

We find our true inner self “new self” by turning outward not inward. We despise the demon self and turn away from it towards God. This is repentance. We turn our focused attention off of self and on to God and others. When we lose our selves we find ourselves. Everything balances out. We love God above all else and our neighbor as our self. (true self). This is when we find a proper self esteem. Beholding the glory of Christ we are being transformed into His image from glory to glory. We find our inner self but this isn’t our focus. God is. We are transformed when we concentrate our focus and attention on Christ. Here’s how C.S. Lewis put it:

There are no real personalities anywhere else. Until you have given up your self to Him you will not have a real self. Sameness is to be found most among the most “natural” men, not among those who surrender to Christ. How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints. ~~ C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, page 226

Here Lewis captures the paradox of self-forgetfulness. By turning our focus outwards towards Christ we become our truest selves. We die to self and are resurrected. God wants us to become the creations he intended all along. Valuable, dignified, good, reflections of Christ. We love (take care of) our true self.

I use to hate myself in the sense you are talking about. Their called shame spirals. It lead to a psychotic break with reality. Here’s a paper on this. I believe it because of experience.

Shame and the psychosis continuum: A systematic review of the literature

Objectives Shame is increasingly implicated in the development and maintenance of several psychological problems including psychosis. The aim of the current paper was to review the research literature concerning the relationship between shame and the psychosis continuum, examining the nature and direction of this relationship. Method Systematic searches of databases PsycINFO, Medline, Scopus, and Web of Science (from the earliest available database date until November 2016) were undertaken to identify papers that examined the relationship between shame and psychosis or psychotic experiences. Results A total of 20 eligible papers were identified. Risk of bias assessment identified methodological shortcomings across the research in relation to small, unrepresentative samples and failure to control for confounding variables. Narrative synthesis suggested positive associations between shame and paranoia (n = 10, r = .29–.62), shame and psychosis (n = 1, r = .40), and shame and affiliation with voices (n = 1, β = .26), and suggested that shame was greater in those with psychosis compared to controls (n = 4, d = 0.76–1.16). Conclusions Overall, several studies provide partial support for the theory that shame is an important factor in relation to psychotic experiences in both clinical and non‐clinical populations, particularly paranoia. However, the predominance of cross‐sectional designs prevents any conclusions being drawn concerning the temporal nature of associations. Additional research is necessary to further delineate the role of shame in relation to specific psychotic experiences such as voice‐hearing. Longitudinal research is particularly needed to help establish the directionality and temporal aspects of effects. Practitioner points • Research indicates moderate‐to‐strong positive associations between shame and psychotic experiences in the existing literature. • The results provide preliminary evidence that shame may play a role in relation to psychosis and, more specifically, paranoia. • Findings should be interpreted with caution due to many disparities across the studies reviewed and methodological shortcomings (e.g., small sample sizes). • It is not currently possible to determine causality or direction of effect due to the cross‐sectional design of all existing studies.

Just got me a copy of this from the psychiatrist Peter Breggin. It agrees with the conclusions I’ve come to based on my experience with improper self hatred that causes shame spirals causing my psychoses.

When emotionally wounded people withdraw into themselves and into those intensely personal, fragmented, nightmarish worlds we call “schizophrenia,” “mania”, or “psychoses”, they are usually suffering from overwhelming shame reactions. Unbearably burned by inflictions of shame, as described in chapter 10, they no longer dare to be with people. By telling these distressed people they have “biochemical imbalances,” “genetic disorders,” psychiatry not only misleads them, it worsens their stigmatization, humiliation, and feelings of exclusion. They are not suffering from biochemical imbalances; they are suffering from unbearable humiliation. As a psychiatrist and therapist, some of my most poignant, moving experiences have involved sharing the feelings of people who are undergoing overwhelming psychotic experiences with hallucinations and delusions. When these individuals have trusted me enough to allow me into their emotional world, what they have shared with me is the experience of drowning in shame. I have sat with them while their faces physically swelled as if bursting and turned blood red with humiliation. page 172

Being in the grip of shame is a horrific state, filled with conflicting emotions of extreme pride and humiliation. When we compensate for extreme shame by acting superior, grandiose, and invulnerable like a superhero, we become psychiatrically diagnosed as manic and bipolar. We are really trying to make up for how insignificant and powerless we feel. If we express our feelings of suspicion and distrust others will label or diagnose us paranoid. We are really trying to figure out what is going on that makes us feel so intimidated. Young people who become overwhelmed by extreme humiliation end up diagnosed schizophrenic because they withdraw deeply into themselves and begin to live in a world so private that it becomes a walking nightmare. They are really trying to escape from a world that has imposed abject humiliation upon them. page 171

In Unspoken Sermons “Self Denial” MacDonald is speaking to his self saying he’s disgusted:

If I were to mind what you say, I should soon be sick of you; even now I am ever and anon disgusted with your paltry, mean face, which I meet at every turn. No! let me have the company of the Perfect One, not of you! of my elder brother, the Living One! I will not make a friend of the mere shadow of my own being! Good-bye, Self! I deny you, and will do my best every day to leave you behind me.

MacDonald above is speaking to self saying he’s disgusted with it and will leave it behind. Again, below is MacDonald contrasting neighbor with self calling self the “demon foe”

Our neighbor is our refuge; self is our demon-foe

It’s the demon foe that is evil. The self is the demon foe. The self is evil. This is what MacDonald says he is leaving behind and denying. Here’s MacDonald on repentance:

What is repentance? Turning your back upon the evil thing; pressing on to lay hold of that for which Christ laid hold upon you. To repent is to think better of it, to turn away from the evil. ~~ The Gospel in George MacDonald, Selections from his Novels, Fairy Tales, and Spiritual Writings.

Repentance is a change of mind. A turning from the evil self to Christ. Our focus turns towards Christ. Beholding the glory of the Lord we are transformed into His image from glory to glory. Here’s George MacDonald in Lilith:

“Those are not the tears of repentance!.. Self-loathing is not sorrow. Yet it is good, for it marks a step in the way home, and in the father’s arms the prodigal forgets the self he abominates.”

Just as MacDonald turned with loathing from the evil God of Calvinism, he turns with loathing of the demon self. He says is Self-Denial that he’s disgusted with his self and calls the self the demon foe. When MacDonald turns with loathing from evil he’s repenting. When we repent we have a change of mind as we turn from our demon self to Christ. I’m like George MacDonald. When I hate something I turn from it. He turned with loathing from the God of Jonathan Edwards. He hated what he considered evil. But he didn’t get violent and kill anyone. Well, a proper self hatred is the same. It’s a turning from yourself to God. This is repentance. Repentance is a turning from sin to Christ. It’s a change of mind, The focus is off of self and on Christ. This balances things out where you love God above all and others as yourself. (true self). This is a proper self esteem. A proper despising of self leads to repentance. It’s in Job 42. It’s after God questions Job. MacDonald is in agreement with Righteous Job

Then Job replied to the Lord:

“I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.