- Self-hatred is an understandable reaction to adverse experiences.
- Self-hatred becomes a defense mechanism to protect a vulnerable person in an uncertain world.
- One can dismantle self-hatred by neutrally assessing its sources and role in one's life, and then replacing it with a neutral self-assessment.
Do you hate yourself? Are you suspicious of suggestions that you are worthy, because only you know how wretched you truly are?
You’ve come to the right place. I know how nauseating encouragement can feel when all you’re used to is self-contempt. Allow me to speak to you in more palatable language. Here's some direct advice to help you stop loathing yourself so much.
Your Self-Hatred is a Refuge
You probably didn’t start hating yourself out of nowhere. One possibility is that your self-hatred may be a natural reaction to a traumatic event.
Humans have a great need to make sense of things. When a traumatic event happens, we desperately want an explanation. But maybe you couldn't make sense of why the trauma happened. In lieu of a better explanation, you saw no option but to turn the blame inward.
You worried that the bad thing happened because you made some terrible mistake. And from this mistake, you extrapolated that you have a deep character flaw. You make sense of the bad thing by concluding that you are at your core, defective.
Begin to slowly, carefully, put down the weight of your imperfect explanation. You were probably not cosmically punished for your failings, and you did the best you could with the skills you had in the situation. The fact that it was not enough does not mean anything about you—it just means you are human, with all the strengths and weaknesses involved.
Check Your Sources
If you track your self-hatred back in time, another possibility is that you might find its origin in someone else’s opinion. For clarity, let’s call that person “Bob.”
Bob might have been your parent, your peer, your lover, or even a group of people. At some point in your life, Bob was critical, harsh, and belittling to you. Bob may have had a way of doing this that made it seem as if it was for your own good.
Over time, Bob broke down your self-esteem, making you feel contemptible. And even if Bob is gone from your life, perhaps you still hear his voice when you look in the mirror, or make a mistake, or try to be vulnerable with others.
So let’s seriously consider for a moment: Is Bob a reliable source?
We all occasionally need others to lovingly draw attention to our flaws. And when we want to know who we are, we look to others to hold up the mirror. But the person holding the mirror should be someone we admire and respect—someone with clarity and compassion.
You don’t want Bob holding the mirror because interpersonally, Bob is kind of a jerk. Bob goes around being mean to people. Bob has inner work to do and shouldn’t be giving out realistic assessments of other people’s worth. Maybe it’s time to stop internalizing the opinion of the people who hurt you most, and look elsewhere for feedback.
Stop Rejecting Positive Feedback
At this point, your negative assessment of yourself is probably quite robust. You have likely reinforced this self-assessment daily with data from your life. Cue the reel of your top ten most embarrassing and shameful moments! Time to feed the self-loathing gremlin!
You may have gotten so comfortable with this negative narrative that when someone observes that you are smart, funny, or likable, you immediately reject their compliment—tossing it back like a hot potato. This may be a social strategy you have learned in order to not look arrogant or full of yourself. But by rejecting positive feedback, you trap yourself in a loop of self-hatred. Your negative self-assessment is a strong, well-fed thing because you’ve deprived it of every scrap of kindness that has come your way.
You don’t have to profusely validate compliments (“Yes, I am spectacular, good on you for noticing!”) Instead, when the next compliment comes, resist the urge to immediately throw it away. Let yourself chew on some evidence that you are not as bad as you believed.
Make a Realistic Assessment of Yourself
People who hate themselves tend to believe that they are worse than others—particularly pathetic when measured against the rest of humankind. The problem with this is that it's easy to get drawn into a trap of "specialness." Other people deserve compassion. Other people deserve kindness. Not you, because you’re special. Special bad.
Realistically, it would take work to be worse than everyone else. Take five mental steps back and look at yourself with a bit of distance. Are you exceptionally bad worse than the general population? Or are you, more likely, a middle-of-the-road person, unremarkable in your ungoodness and unbadness?
It is time to free yourself from the traps of "special goodness" and "special badness." Allow yourself to shoot for being a medium good person.
If You Need to Change, Change
You likely don’t want to use self-compassion as a way of excusing bad behavior. You want to use it as a tool to help transform yourself into a healthy person.
So let’s take a good hard look at this: What if your self-hatred is justified? What if, after neutrally assessing your behavior, you still don’t line up with your idea of a medium-good person? Perhaps you really do need to change in order to be acceptable to yourself and others.
I would ask this: So far, has burrowing into your pit of self-loathing been effective in helping you change? Or, more likely, has it only made you feel more stuck in your ways?
We think that self-hatred will be a potent motivator towards self-improvement. But in reality, it’s a hindrance.
If it is time for you to make some changes, a neutral sort of self-compassion is the best way to start. You just have to treat yourself with the same patience, kindness, and dignity that any medium-good person deserves.
Change won’t be easy or immediate. You may need help to do it and some old relationships may be irreparable. But it is within your reach to treat others in a way that you can live with.