We all talk about the importance of loving yourself, but what about for those of us who feel like loving ourselves is an impossible task?
For those dealing with self-loathing and all the pain and suffering that comes with it, there is nothing more difficult than loving yourself, and nothing that comes more naturally than finding reasons to hate yourself even more.
In this article, I explore the entire concept of self-loathing: why we experience it, where it comes from, the types and signs of self-loathing, and how we can pull ourselves back from the brink of despair in the ultimate effort of loving ourselves once again.
What is Self-Loathing and Where Does It Come From?
We can’t control the world around us, and we can’t control what other people do or how other people feel.
All we can control is ourselves: our own thoughts, actions, and beliefs.
This is why the state of self-loathing can be one of the most self-destructive mental states an individual can fall victim to, as it turns the only place in the world where they should feel safe and in control — their mind — into a place that is dangerous and unforgiving.
Self-loathing is the subtle, underlying belief that we are simply undeserving of love and happiness.
Whereas other people have an innate feeling that they deserve success, recognition, and joy, self-loathing traps you in a state of mind where you feel the complete opposite, and anything negative that may happen to you doesn’t come as a surprise, but as something you expect and deserve.
And self-loathing acts as a vicious cycle:
The inner negativity and toxicity of a self-loathing mindset hold the individual back from achieving what they might want to achieve, leading to a stream of failures in all aspects of their life, and these failures are ultimately used to justify the self-loathing we feel.
Until a person essentially manages to snap out of it through personal growth or with the help of outside intervention, self-loathing can last for as long as they live, growing worse and worse over time.
But how does the human mind fall into the cycle of self-loathing?
According to psychologists Dr. Robert and Lisa Firestone, the most common cause of self-critical thoughts among individuals is the belief that they are different from other people.
They see how other people act, feel, and look, and then look at themselves and focus on all the ways they are negatively different.
This might spur them to try to change themselves, but in many ways the parts of themselves that are “different” aren’t things they can truly change, like their appearance or their personality, and this leads to self-criticism and ultimately, self-loathing.
These critical and self-hating thoughts lead us to thinking things like…
- “Why are you even trying? You know you will never be successful!”
- “Your partner doesn’t really want to be with you. Stop trusting them.”
- “Good things don’t happen to you. This good thing is going to end sooner or later, so stop enjoying it.”
The truth is, we all harbor some kind of critical inner voice; it’s part of what makes us complex and interesting people.
But the difference between those trapped in the vicious self-loathing cycle and everyone else is that they have let their critical inner voice take over, listening to the vile thoughts and becoming convinced that they have more value and truth than the positivity in their mind.
4 Different Types of Self-Loathing and Depression: Which Might You be Experiencing?
All self-loathing, self-hate, and depression revolve around the goal of destroying one’s sense of self, but there are different ways that we allow our critical inner voices to crush our self-worth.
This depends mostly on our personality type, and the best way for our critical inner voice to hit us where it hurts.
Here are the four unique types of self-loathing and depression:
1) Neurotic Depression
The most common and obvious type of self-loathing and depression is neurotic depression, in which a person experiences the self-loathing conflict internally.
With neurotic depressives, they seem to be “out to get themselves” whenever they have the chance. Every opportunity they get to criticize themselves, they take it.
When you look in the mirror, you see every flaw and problem you have with yourself: your pimples, your wrinkles, your fat, and everything you don’t like.
When you answer a question in class wrongly, the rest of your day is ruined as you repeatedly tell yourself how stupid you are.
You don’t even like talking to people because you can’t stop thinking about how much they might be judging you and hating on you behind your back.
People experiencing pointless depressiveness experience no conflict at all.
This occurs after years of being a neurotic depressive or experiencing self-loathing in other ways, and you have finally been abandoned by your oppressive inner voice.
To a pointless depressive, there is nothing worth experiencing in the world, and nothing new that can hurt you.
The world is hopeless and bleak, and the only thing that truly hurts or bothers you is when people assume to offer advice to change your situation, because they haven’t experienced the years of oppressive inner criticism you experienced, and thus have no idea what you might be feeling.
Narcissism might seem like the opposite of self-loathing: narcissists love themselves and use every opportunity to lavish praise on themselves, so how could they be considered victims of self-loathing?
Narcissism is a form of self-loathing because the love for oneself is so extreme that it is simply forced.
There is an empty soullessness at the bottom of every narcissist, and they heap self-love and attention on themselves as a way to continuously ignore their empty, unloved center.
Life is turned into a constant parade of artificial and material love to avoid confronting the fact that they are terrified and embarrassed of their inner selves.
Narcissism almost always ends with an eventual crash, where the individual runs out of steam and is forced to confront the despised inner voice.
For those in despair, the conflict of self-loathing is completely external.
The self-loathing is encouraged by those around you, who actively make you aware of their disdain towards you.
You might be a constant victim of criticism and bullying, impossible expectations and unfair demands.
Your misery might seem to be justified, but your self-loathing makes you feel that you will never find a way out of the negativity, even if the truth is that you simply have to avoid the people who bring you negativity.
Despair hypnotizes you into believing that life will always be this way, even long after your external critics have gone, and you never recognize the fact that most of your oppression and criticism now comes from within.
Causes and Signs of Self-Loathing
There are generally three main reasons why you might hate yourself. These are:
Poor family environment: You grew up in an unstable home where your parents denied you unconditional love, making you feel like you had to earn their attention and love.
Poor social environment: You were bullied by your peers in school for being different in ways you couldn’t or didn’t want to change, or you had shame-driven and critical teachers who fostered self-hatred in you at an early age.
Ego possession: You have become totally possessed by your ego, making you disconnected from real and meaningful parts of life, thus leaving you feeling hopeless, empty, and filled with self-hate.
If you believe that you or someone you know might be struggling with self-loathing, here are common red flags you need to look out for:
1) You’re self-loathing because you’re setting your goals low to decrease the chances of failing
Be honest with yourself: Do you have a fear of failure?
Don’t worry, nobody likes to fail, but if you avoid it completely you’re going to struggle to grow.
By setting the bar low on what you can achieve, you’re also telling yourself that you’re not good enough to achieve anything big.
So, how can you change this?
Simple: Set difficult but achievable goals and learn to be comfortable with failure.
Now I know that’s easier said than done, but there’s a way to be comfortable with failure.
You need to change your mindset about what failure really means.
Instead of beating yourself up for doing something wrong, learn from it and see it as a stepping stone to success. According to Albert Einstein, “you never fail until you stop trying.”
2) You apologize for every little thing that goes wrong
Do you feel the need to apologize for even minor mistakes?
Not only does this show that you’re not comfortable with failure, but it also shows that you think you’re always at fault.
The bottom line is this:
Everybody makes mistakes and you can’t control everything.
In fact, in many situations, we have very little control. You can’t control someone else’s mood or actions, and you don’t need to apologize for it.
Apologizing all the time shows a lack of self-worth. Sometimes you need to stand up for yourself and let others know that you’re trying your best.
You also need to save your apologies for when you really mean them. Otherwise people are going to view you as a walkover.
3) You motivate yourself by using tough love
It’s common to use self-criticism as a way to motivate yourself.
For example, if you want to lose weight, you might keep telling yourself how “fat” you are so you can push yourself to continue exercising.
In fact, some studies shows that this can work.
But the fear and criticism that comes with this type of motivation isn’t really healthy. It can lead to anxiety and worry.
You’re only doing it because you’re afraid you won’t be motivated enough.
But if you can get over that fear, you can motivate yourself in a more healthy way.
If you have a higher purpose like cultivating your relationships with your family, you’ll want to lose weight because that will mean you’ll live longer to spend more time with them.
4) You’re envious of others and think that you’ll never be able to replicate their success
Are you always comparing yourself to others? Think that you’ll never measure up?
It’s common for humans to compare, but when you do it often and in a negative way, it can damage your self-esteem.
This is a habit that you’ll need to consciously stop. Instead of comparing yourself to others, start to focus on how you’re measuring up to your own personal goals and values.
Everybody is different and we all have vastly unique circumstances. There’s really no point in comparing.
These words from a spiritual guru will help you to see how pointless comparing yourself really is:
“Nobody can say anything about you. Whatsoever people say is about themselves. But you become very shaky, because you are still clinging to a false center. That false center depends on others, so you are always looking to what people are saying about you. And you are always following other people, you are always trying to satisfy them. You are always trying to be respectable, you are always trying to decorate your ego. This is suicidal. Rather than being disturbed by what others say, you should start looking inside yourself…
Whenever you are self-conscious you are simply showing that you are not conscious of the self at all. You don’t know who you are. If you had known, then there would have been no problem— then you are not seeking opinions. Then you are not worried what others say about you— it is irrelevant! Your very self-consciousness indicates that you have not come home yet.”
5) You’re using social media for approval and validation from others
Are you constantly checking your social media accounts? Regularly posting about the best things in your life?
If you’re living your life for likes and views and forgetting your real relationships, then you’ll be unhappy in the long run.
Social media is a great way to keep in touch with your friends, but it can be extremely self-serving when you worry about your appearance and how your reputation is stacking up.
It’s not real and you’d be better served focusing on more meaningful things in life that will actually lift your self-esteem.
A self-esteem boost from social media will only last a short period of time and you’ll get yourself lost in a loop of desiring approval from your Internet friends.
6) You can’t accept compliments
If you’re struggling to accept compliments or believe them, then it could be a sign that you’re self-loathing.
There’s no need to always question compliments that come your way. People are more genuine than you think.
And if you’re really struggling with this, why don’t you ask your closest friends and family what they consider your strongest traits?
You might be surprised to find out what good qualities they think you have.
7) You’re afraid to fall in love
Falling in love can be scary because it means you’re giving part of yourself to someone.
It’s showing vulnerability and you find it hard to show them who you are because you believe that you’re not perfect and you’re struggling to accept yourself.
But what you need to know is that nobody is perfect. In fact, it’s our imperfections that make us unique.
As soon as you truly accept you are, you’ll open up all sorts of energy that you’ve been wasting on your insecurities.
Here are some other signs you might be self-loathing:
- You have experienced a lifetime battle with anxiety and depression, falling in and out of it for long periods
- You naturally have poor posture when you aren’t thinking about it
- You don’t feel motivated to care for your physical health, and you don’t see the point of exercise
- You hate it when other people try to give you any kind of help or advice, and never believe it when people compliment you
- You have a tendency to become addicted to things, from drugs to gaming
- Whenever you experience something negative, you feel like you deserved it (you always paint yourself as a victim)
- You have a general hopeless and aimless mindset in life, where you don’t really know where you’re going and you just live day by day
- You have a defeatist mindset; you often hear yourself thinking or saying, “What’s the point?”
- You prefer to be self-isolated, and don’t very much enjoy the company of even your closest friends or family
- You always feel insecure about something, which is why you don’t like leaving the house
- You are self-destructive and often sabotage the relationships and events making you happy
- You have major anger issues, and anger management techniques don’t seem to work on you
Overall, you experience life in extremes: extreme highs and extreme lows, but the lows last often significantly longer than the highs
Overcoming Self-Loathing: Forgiveness, Self-Compassion, and Understanding
Unlike other insecurities, self-loathing isn’t as easy to overcome. Self-loathing is often a result of cumulative, long-term negative experiences, which sinks the person deeper into a pit of hatred and self-doubt.
Self-loathing is particularly damaging precisely because it’s self-perpetuating; individuals “caught in the storm” don’t see anything else but their own failures and disappointments, and spiral deeper into depression.
Overcoming self-loathing involves a three-pronged approach involving forgiveness, self-compassion, and understanding. In order to break down self-loathing and overcome self-hatred, individuals have to learn these three crucial virtues in order to create a healthier relationship with oneself.
The first step to overcoming self-loathing isn’t love. It’s unrealistic to expect yourself or someone you care about to jump straight into a more positive relationship with the self after years of self-loathing.
Self-loathing is often born out of a person’s incapability to self-forgive.
Past transgressions, whether they have been forgiven by other people or accounted for in one way or another, continue to haunt people and affect the way they see themselves.
Without self-forgiveness, you unnecessarily isolate a part of yourself because of past mistakes (both real or imaginary, serious or otherwise) and feed the narrative that you’re not deserving of any affection or support.
Through forgiveness, you can cross that threshold keeping you from moving forward.
Forgiveness is a neutral zone allowing you to move forward; even when self-love is difficult to imagine, forgiveness trains you to come to terms with what you’ve done and accept yourself for who you are.
Tackling self-loathing involves a certain kind of reprogramming wherein you teach yourself to be more accepting of your flaws and shortcomings.
People prone to self-loathing are conditioned to put themselves down and engage in negative internal dialogues.
But self-compassion is the antidote to that. It teaches you that it’s okay to be less than perfect. Here are some exercises that can help you practice self-compassion:
Talk to yourself the same way you’d talk to a friend. Would you be using abusive, derisive language to someone you care about? Speak kindly to yourself as you would to a loved one.
Stop striving for perfection. Emotions come and go and it’s okay to feel angry or disappointed or tired or lazy from time to time.
Catch, check, and change your thoughts. Be more mindful when communicating with yourself to make sure that knee jerk reactions and negative instincts are kept at bay.
People who are prone to self-loathing often let the self-critical voice everyone has in their heads to run the show.
And while shame and guilt are normal responses after doing something you regret, it’s important to realize that there should be a line between self-admonishment and self-loathing.
Don’t mistake the critical voice in your head as your conscience. Your conscience guides you into doing the best thing, while the critical voice is more concerned about punishing you in the worst way possible.
Feeling guilty about not being kind enough or not being patient enough is one thing, but allowing that inner voice to berate you and dictate how lonely you should be for the rest of your life crosses the line to self-loathing.
That voice in your head telling you that you’re not good enough or how repulsive or incapable you are is just a voice. Once you learn that, you take away its power to hold things over your head.
Practical Things You Can Do Every Day to Stop Self-Loathing
4) Spend Time With Positive Influences
If you’re feeling lost with how to be more positive with yourself, one good way to get started is by surrounding yourself with people who are genuinely happy and have healthy habits.
Self-loathing convinces you it’s a good idea to isolate. Challenge this thinking and surround yourself with friends and family who can bring a positive energy to your life.
Spending time with positive influences in your life can help you understand what a good relationship with the self looks like.
Turn to friends, colleagues, and family members who have a well-balanced lifestyle and have an infectious sense of peace.
On top of exposing yourself to a different way of thinking when it comes to dealing with the self, spending time around people shows you that people do value and love having you around.
5) Prepare A Script For Positive Self-Talk
Don’t feel pressured if you’re not accustomed to engaging in positive self-talk. If you find yourself lost, you can prepare some keyphrases to repeat to yourself in times of stress.
Think of these phrases as mantras that you recite over and over again, acting as a sort of loop of positive reinforcement.
You can use phrases like:
“I made a mistake, and that’s okay. I can fix this problem and I shouldn’t let it get to me.”
“I wasn’t able to finish what I wanted to do, and that’s okay. That doesn’t mean I’m a failure.”
“I lost control with <X> and I’ll make sure I’m better next time.”
Don’t worry if positive self-talk doesn’t come naturally to you at first. Keep in mind that you have to be more accustomed to this type of behavior, so having a set of key phrases or sentences you repeat to yourself can help reinforce this outlook.
6) Find Out Your Triggers
Self-loathing can be sneaky. Identifying your triggers can be difficult because they may not always appear as triggers.
A great way to break down your thoughts is through journaling.
At the end of your day, write down your thoughts and share what you felt, the activities you engaged with, and the people you interacted with throughout the day.
Over time, you’ll see recurring patterns in your behavior, helping you identify triggers for negative thoughts and emotions.
Do you often feel desolate after failing to finish a task? Review the things you did on days where this happens: maybe you’re working too hard, maybe you’re setting up unrealistic expectations on yourself, or maybe you work harder.
Having a journal gives you a birds-eye view of how your days, weeks, and months pan out, allowing you to tackle self-loathing issues one day at a time.
7) Don’t Let Negative Thoughts Slip By
Overcoming self-loathing involves a conscious and consistent effort to avoid negative self-talk. Challenge negative thoughts by standing up to them. Don’t let yourself think how inadequate, unproductive, or unattractive you are.
Part of self-loathing is establishing a healthy foundation of self-respect. If you let these negative thoughts pass and accept them as truths, you’re allowing the self-critical voice in your head to define who you are.
Catch negative thoughts as soon as they appear and remind yourself that these aren’t true. Then replace them with your positive mantras and repeat until you have a better sense of stability.
8) Don’t Hesitate To Ask For Help
You don’t have to battle self-loathing alone. Isolation and guilt come naturally to people who are prone to self-hatred, which only aggravates these negative emotions.
Ideally you should get in touch with a therapist so you have a professional guiding your thought process. Otherwise, you could talk to a friend or a family member who could help you manage negative self-talk.
9) Treasure Positivity
There is one curious habit about people that we can’t seem to get over that makes our life much more difficult than it has to be: we emphasize negativity while ignoring positivity.
When someone insults or criticizes you one time, you take it to heart and let it fester within.
But another person can give you compliments all day long and you won’t let it sink in at all.
It’s time to turn the tables and start collecting the positivity, not the negativity. Write down all the good things that happen to you—everything from little acts of kindness to major life events.
Show yourself that your life is great and that people around you love you. The more you write down, the more you will remember: life is good.
(To learn 5 science-backed ways to be more positive, click here)
In everything you do, it’s important that you focus and absolute concentration. This is sometimes referred to as “the flow”, and it is only in this state of mind that we can produce the best work possible.
All your distractions just fade away, from your self-doubt to your self-consciousness, and the only thing that matters is the task at hand.
11) Ask Yourself
Quick: what’s one opinion or stance that you’ve believed in your entire life? Now ask yourself—have you ever questioned how true that belief actually is?
When we learn something at a young age, we tend to believe in it for the rest of our lives without question.
This is because it makes up the foundation of our reality; it’s part of that initial platform where we built the rest of our knowledge and mindset on.
But sometimes these “obvious truths” aren’t as true as we believe, and the sooner you ask yourself these important questions, the sooner you can open your mind to newer things.
12) Become Intimate with Those You Admire
We all have our personal heroes. These could be historical figures, politicians, or even celebrities.
But as much as we admire them, we also have the tendency to turn this admiration into a kind of self-doubt.
We start to believe that someone like Steve Jobs was such a brilliant and innovative man, that we could never achieve even a fraction of his greatness because we’re filled with so many flaws and imperfections.
But the truth is, everyone is wracked with flaws. It’s time for you to learn about your heroes: read about them in books or online, and find out the person behind the achievements.
You will see that no matter which person in history you study, you’ll find that they had their own insecurities and personal demons to deal with. But they still achieved success anyway, and you can too.
13) Now Get to Know Those You Envy
After studying your heroes, now it’s time to study those you envy. This is because self-loathing usually comes from a dark place of comparisons.
We see the prettier or smarter person at school or work and we think about how great their life must be, and horrible yours is in comparison.
But get to know them. Learn about them, understand them, and figure out the issues going on in those minds.
You will see that as soon as you get a bit of perspective from their eyes, you will learn that their life isn’t as perfect as you hyped it up to be.
14) Be Compassionate
Everyone tells us to be kind to others, but how often are we reminded to be kind to ourselves?
The first person you must be compassionate towards is yourself. The more you push yourself excessively, the more you judge yourself, and the more you raise your expectations so high just to fail them once again, the more you will hate yourself as you go to bed every night.
So be kind. Realize that as much as you want to achieve your dreams, you are only human with a set amount of energy and time per day.
You will get there, wherever it is you want to be; just be patient, and let it come one day at a time.
15) Find Peace with Your Demons
Finally, let’s talk about your demons.
The nasty voices in your head that keep you from falling asleep; the dark memories of mistakes and regrets that haunt you and call you out in your darkest moments.
It’s time for you to stop shutting your eyes and turning away from these voices. Instead, you need to face them once and for all.
Accept that they exist within you, and give them a place in your mind to rest. Don’t deny them their existence just because you don’t like them; they are a part of you, and the sooner you learn to be kind to even your worst inner voices, the sooner you will find peace and quiet.
16) Pay Attention to the Now
One way to perpetuate self-loathing behavior and thoughts is to constantly be focused on the past.
Feeling bad about what you did before is not going to change the outcome. In the same vein, many people wish away their lives hoping that things will just get better.
Without putting in the work, they remain surprised that things don’t magically work out.
Rather than worry about the future or focus on the past, pay attention to what is going on right now and what you can do with yourself right now.
17) Learn How Others Overcame Obstacles
Be inspired – not jealous – of others who have found their way to success. Don’t measure yourself against them. We are all different.
But do use them as the bar for realizing that you can overcome your struggles and find what you want in life.
Create the life you want and stop asking for others to do it for you. When you zero in on what you want and learn how others got it, you can start taking steps in the right direction.
18) Make Friends With Fear
Rather than be intimidated by what you don’t know, be curious and go find out.
Fear is just a sense we have when we don’t know the answer to something. As soon as we have an answer or a direction, we can make new decisions.
So get good at facing fear and you’ll find yourself out of the rut you’ve been in for a while. It’s a great place to be. Even if you are afraid, do it anyway.
19) Question What You Think You Know
Self-loathing is often learned. We picked it up along the way. We don’t come into this world with a sense of self-loathing.
We see others feeling sorry for themselves and we feel sorry for ourselves.
With our social media lives, it’s easy to compare what others are doing that you are not, but remember that you only see the pictures people want you to see.
Ask yourself what you think you know about your own life and focus on getting clear about what you want – not what society says you should want.
20) Do Things You Love
We live in a world where everything has to be a business opportunity. So many people turn their hobbies into businesses hoping they’ll strike it rich.
The truth is that the people who are happiest are the ones who don’t put that kind of pressure on their hobbies, or themselves.
Having something that you can turn to, whether it makes you money or not, is an important part of ending the self-loathing process.
Do things you love for the sake of doing them. Who cares what it looks like or what the end result may be? Do it anyway.
21) Find Something Good in Someone You Don’t Like
If you want to end the cycle of self-loathing, turn to someone who you don’t particularly like and find something about them that you can admire.
Perhaps it’s an old friend or partner, boss or even someone close to you like your father.
If you have unspoken thoughts and feelings about someone that isn’t particularly positive, find something good to think about them instead.
22) Practice Gratitude
Gratitude provides you with more things to be grateful for.
When you are trying to get out of the cycle of self-loathing, taking stock of what you already have is a great way to make meaning in your life and recognize that things are not that bad.
Write it down and record it in some way.
Return to your gratitude notebooks from time to time to remind yourself of how far you have come throughout your life and be proud of what you have done so far.
How Your Life Will Change When You Start Loving Yourself
Overcoming self-loathing is more than just achieving a stable existence. Through the years, that snarky, judgmental, and relentless voice in your head might have convinced you that self-loathing is the only way to protect yourself from the world and vice-versa.
But what you don’t realize is that self-loathing creates an impenetrable barrier between who you perceive yourself to be and who you really are.
By breaking down these barriers, you gain a more intimate understanding of your strengths and weaknesses and develop a healthier outlook regarding relationships.
Here’s why overcoming self-loathing is worth it:
- You’ll start stepping out of the box
- You will no longer feel the need to seek approval from others
- You’ll know how to set healthy and respectable boundaries with other people
- You’ll feel more in control of your happiness
- You’ll become more independent
- You will no longer need to fill the void and the silence with other people
Work on overcoming self-loathing not because it’s what you should do, but because it’s what you deserve. You live in a time when anything is possible with hard work and determination. Don’t miss out on life and your full potential by listening to the voice telling you you’re wrong.
Who you are is not the enemy. Your flaws and imperfections don’t make up your value as a person.
As soon as you turn off the voice that’s mentally holding you back, you’ll be surprised at how far you can go.
You may also like reading:
- How a regular guy became his own life coach (and how you can too)
- I was deeply unhappy…then I discovered this one Buddhist teaching
- What J.K Rowling can teach us about mental toughness
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