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When Self-Loathing Leads to Suicide of our "SELVES"

Written by Casey Hersch, MSW, LCSW

A Powerful Message from A Star is Born

As I sat in the movie theater watching a Star is Born, I was drawn into the loving relationship that develops between Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) and Ally (Lady Gaga). It is the essence of authenticity--he loves her for all that she is despite her self-deprecating statements about her nose, and her perception of a lack of "good looks" that prevented her from becoming a "real" musician; she wards off feelings of low self-worth each time her father makes comments about her failures. Ally doesn't get spell-bound with Jackson Maine because of his fame as a musician. She sees deeply into him and wonders if anyone ever took the time to get to know who he is behind the music. She sees him as a "gentle, loving soul" and notices his pain, senses his struggle; she desires to get closer to him--Don't we all want to get closer to someone who sees us for who we really are?

Jackson Maine, like Ally, battles his own self-criticism. He feels as though his music career is declining, his hearing is fading causing his self-worth to plummet, and he wonders if he did more harm than good in his family.

starAs the movie climaxes, there is not a dry eye in the theater. In fact, the sobbing becomes so intense, I hear some gasps and watch several patrons exit the theater. I, too, was feeling overwhelmed with emotion as tears flooded down my face. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, I found myself asking the question: "Do these patrons have support when they leave this movie to process what was triggered inside of them?" Surprised that I asked myself this 'heavy' question, during what was supposed to be a 'light' date night with my husband, it forced me to look inside myself and to ask myself the hard questions about what made this movie so emotionally raw for me and obviously others.

The answer became clear--we often talk about the devastation of suicide and physical self-harm, but what we often don't discuss is how self-loathing can become the ultimate suicide of our selves. Self-loathing is something we ALL experience at some time in our lives which is why the impact was so visceral. We all see ourselves in the characters of the movie. Self-loathing is that underlying feeling that we are not good enough, not worthy of love, not deserving of good things, or to blame for bad things that happen. How many of us have good things in our lives and think we don't deserve them--so we resent and criticize ourselves to the point that we self-sabotage? How many of us don't let love into our lives because we cannot imagine that anyone would love us for who we really are---what if they see me for the real me? We tell ourselves, others won't like what they see and will certainly leave us if they do. This is an all too common challenge facing humans today--one that I see professionally as a psychotherapist and one that I experience like so many humans, myself.

Ally wonders if Jackson Maine will love her for who she really is when the veil of alcoholism is removed. Jackson Maine cannot believe that Ally can really love him for who he is after he believes he has shamed her and destroyed her career and life. So the only way Jackson Maine believes he can escape himself and put his self-loathing to rest is to commit suicide. The tragedy is that his self-loathing created a reality inside his head that was not real. The truth is that Ally loves him for everything he is and only wants to be with him (even the imperfections)--way more than she wants stardom. But Jackson Maine is unable to take in this love because when we are in the thick of self-loathing we cannot see how others truly value us. Is it so hard to believe that someone can choose us and make us number one? It is time for us to unite with a mission of helping each other feel good enough and worthy of love. After all, how many suicides are the result of this... and how many can we prevent by ending self-loathing?