Encountering and Countering Self-Disgust by Stephanie N. Arel

In my last post, Trump’s Misogyny – A Case for the Contempt-Oriented Personality, I wrote about disgust, claiming that media diagnosticians failed to identify disgust- contempt as part of Donald Trump’s psychological profile. At the end of the piece, I said that the statement “Make America Great Again” was misogynistic. I maintain this claim but now want to consider disgust a little more closely – particularly when it constitutes self-disgust underlying or complicit in misogyny. Confronting and ameliorating self-disgust provides an entrance into combating misogyny.

Self-disgust interferes with self-love. As a result, self-disgust impedes connection and empathy in human relationships. Self-disgust also attenuates intimacy –self and other directed. Self- disgust manifests in multiple ways – in withdrawal, refusal to engage, self and other directed violence, addictions (including those to negative affect), etc.: the list is a long one. Self-disgust which manifests as hubris motivates the projection of disgust onto others, so that the other becomes the source of disgust; the abject unwanted object present in the self – rejected and discarded –becomes transported, launched to rest on the back of another.

The simple way to describe this mechanism emerges in self-help literature that suggests that the thing that one dislikes most in others is that which one cannot tolerate in oneself. This negatively perceived part of self can also be conceptualized in terms of Carl Jung’s notion of the shadow – the unknown dark side of the personality which we all carry but whose integration into conscious life defines its denseness, or the weight of its impact. The more conscious we are of our shadow, the more we are able to identify that what we recognize as a deficiency in another is actually what we understand as a personal inferiority.

The psychic construction is complex but critical in the perpetuation of misogyny. Interpreting Trump’s behavior from a Jungian perspective would include examining how a fear of what is feminine (the anima in himself) provokes him to denounce women or female energy in general, reducing it to a sexual product or object. This reduction persists in women as internalized self-disgust. Self-disgust and projection of unwanted parts of self are slippery slopes. The slope descends with (and is supported by) poor body image, fear of aging, non-self-nurturing or unfulfilling sexual behavior, lack of or denial of the need for physical contact, hating some particular facial feature, and harsh self-judgement related to life roles or work.

The ultimate argument that I am making here is that in order to develop strength to refute statements/behaviors that undergird or support misogyny, we must make daily choices to combat our own misogyny, or disgust of the feminine introjected or projected outward. Body hatred – insidious and far too prevalent – surreptitiously undergirds misogyny. Saying this is somewhat repetitious, but it is also so true – if it were not, magazines, all of them, would present images of women that were more realistic; photo-shop might not be a thing, and aging might be embraced as beautiful.

Attending to self-perception and body image is the microcosm, but attending to the microcosm enables consciousness about how we participate in the macrocosm represented by misogynistic institutions – patriarchy, androcentrism, sex and racial discrimination, and belittling of women. The latter can also be conceived of in terms of competition with women, something that can actually be actively countered by simply making a choice not to mentally engage in comparing ourselves but instead to celebrate each other.

Self-disgust also does this really tricky little thing. It creates distance – between one and another and between the conscious and the unconscious – even as it might on the surface maximize closeness. Internalized disgust distracts from vulnerable, full, empathic connections with others. It disturbs intimacy. It at once renders us not “good enough” to participate in a relationship or activity, but this disgust also protects us from being challenged to participate in relationship.

Relationships and intimacy are hard. They take continual effort, much as self-love does (more really because relationships require exposure to another who is human – and therefore has the capacity to cause us pain). So, self-disgust can protect me from the other, perpetuating feelings of self-doubt that foster further distance, emotional or physical. Self-disgust which presents itself in someone’s behavior as grandiosity and pride conceptualized as self-conceit is particularly adept at guarding against real intimacy.

Disgust for things not taken into the mouth constitutes the rejection of something that has the potential to cause pleasure – here, this is the self or the other. And disgust of bodies represents one of the greatest maneuvers of mechanisms that support misogyny: to destroy enjoyment of bodies – our own and others’.

I discovered a book years ago that offers a variety of ways that women can discover how to self-nurture, to practice loving themselves and their bodies, a prelude I think to combatting misogyny. This nurturing is, importantly, mostly self-generated – a necessity for developing and supporting the spirit that resists misogynistic anything. In “The Woman’s Comfort Book: A Self-Nurturing Guide for Restoring Balance in Your Life,” Jennifer Louden discusses how a series of life mishaps lands her in a position that demands she learn how to self-nurture. Her book offers a series of thoughts and activities intended to generate comfort, fostering fortification and enjoyment, critical to countering self-disgust and the misogyny embedded within it.


Stephanie N. Arel is currently a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion (IBCSR) at Boston University working on the Sex Differences in Religion Project. Her teaching and research interests focus on the intersection of theology, psychology, and philosophy. She is the author of Affect Theory, Shame and Christian Formation (Palgrave Macmillan 2016) and co-editor of Post-Traumatic Public Theology (Palgrave Macmillan 2016).

Categories: Ethics, Faith, Feminism and Religion, Feminist Ethics, Healing, microaggressions, Patriarchy, Relationality

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5 replies

  1. Well said.

    I do wonder however if you are accepting the Jungian definitions of masculine and feminine, with the masculine representing the ego, assertiveness, and independence and the feminine representing the unconscious, receptiveness, and relatedness. While this dichotomy corresponds to deeply held societal stereotypes, I am loath to affirm it as normative. I do not consider my ego or my intelligence to be masculine, nor do I consider a male’s need for relationship to be feminine. In fact all of the qualities described by Jung are human qualities, not limited to one sex, and not (except as the product of socialization) superior and inferior qualities in one sex or the other.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Carol. I struggle with the Jung categorization sometimes, but at others it makes sense to me. I envision the energies on a continuum – and in Jungian terms, the ego might contain these but is not limited to one of these. Still, the point is clear. Is it still worth it to think about energies – that can be different and on a spectrum – like a yin yang that is less distinct allowing for more ambiguity but still containing oppositional characteristics? Also, I think Jung’s intent was for animus/anima to be interpreted as part of the unconscious mind as archetypes – not individualized (like I actually do here) but considered as part of a collective unconscious…I am just extrapolating, but how does it work with Greek mythology, since maybe we read the Greeks more archetypally?


  2. Gee–I wonder if the Troll-in-Chief is our national projection holder. He embodies disgust and a whole bunch of negative qualities all by himself, and then his fame as a reality-TV persona whose favorite phrase was “You’re fired” and his awful campaign made him a magnet for everything bad about mankind. And he turned into our projection holder. He’s certainly created and embodies distance from any positive human quality. But maybe my theory here, which is only tangentially related to your very thoughtful post, is too simplistic. My excuse is that I’m reading your post very early in the morning.


    • Troll-in-Chief! I had not heard this. He does seem to embody negative characteristics…and a whole bunch of people voted for him. Before he entered politics proper, many of those who protest against him now wanted to be his friend, including the Clinton’s. It is interesting to me related to disgust – and of course, I must mention money – money is a primary factor I think in all of this drama.


  3. Well he is the epitome of hate and racism. He reflects the worst in America, and consequently his reflection allows us to see what deep, evil, roots lie at the bottom of our country. It is a wake up call for all that holds us as a civilized, caring democracy or maybe we are not.


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