Most of us feel bad about ourselves from time to time. It’s unrealistic to expect ourselves to always be happy and joyful. Life has its inevitable ups and downs, where all of us are subject to changing moods. Our moods often vary depending on how our lives are going or even how our day is going.
While it’s normal to feel a little bad about yourself now and again, it becomes a real problem when it persists. Some people experience chronic self-loathing that gets in the way of their happiness, health, and well-being.
It impacts all areas of a person’s life, from their ambitions and motivations, to their sense of self, to their relationship with themselves and others.
If you loathe yourself, know that it’s possible to change. The change that needs to take place may not be what you think. You don’t need to change your entire life or personality. Instead, what needs to change is the way you treat yourself.
Despite what you may think and believe about yourself, you are inherently valid and worthy. You have as much right to be here as anyone else on the planet, and absolutely nothing can change that.
In this article, we’ll take a close look at self-loathing, which we’ll also refer to as ‘self-hatred.’ We’ll explore the signs of self-loathing, what causes it, and what you can do to overcome it.
What is self-loathing?
Self-loathing is the deep, uncomfortable feeling that we are unworthy or not good enough. Despite the positive things that friends and loved ones have to say about you, it is disdain or hatred for yourself. It is the belief that you are not good at anything, possess no valuable skills or positive qualities, and are inherently flawed.
The feeling can be subtle at times and severe at others. It can manifest as a fleeting feeling of disappointment in yourself when comparing yourself to someone else – someone you hold in high regard based on a certain level of achievement, appearance, or fortune. In more severe cases, it can lead to depression, hopelessness, and self-harm.
When we loathe ourselves, we listen to the harsh inner critic that only points out our flaws and shortcomings and says nothing about our successes and achievements. It’s when we believe the inner voice that tries to convince us we should be embarrassed, feel stupid, stop trying, and listen to it without challenging it.
Sometimes, self-loathing is obvious. It can show up in our behavior such as withdrawal, holding back on sharing viewpoints and opinions, substance abuse, self-harm, and depression. However, it isn’t always so apparent.
Self-loathing manifests in some people with what appears to be confidence and self-assurance. Some people put on an extroverted mask to convince themselves and others that they are valid and worthy. Still, the mask only serves to distract them from deep-seated feelings of inadequacy which would overwhelm their ability to cope and rise to the surface.
Signs of self-loathing
Self-loathing or self-hatred influences our thoughts and behavior. The thoughts and behavior that manifest through this self-view generally revolve around the belief that we are not good enough, that we are bound to fail, or that we don’t deserve good things in life.
Below, we have outlined some of the most common symptoms of self-loathing. Read on and consider whether any of the following apply to your experience.
Some people who struggle with self-loathing may experience disordered eating and vice versa. One may punish themselves for a particular behavior by restricting or binging on food. If someone has a compulsion to binge on food, they might feel guilty about their eating habits and punish themselves with starvation.
Eventually, the person gives in and binge eats to cope with their challenging, uncomfortable, or distressing emotions, which creates a sense of guilt and a tendency to purge the binged food, followed by another period of starvation.
This cycle is often observed in Bulimia Nervosa, a common and dangerous eating disorder.
Our relationship with food is an intimate one. A person’s mental and emotional state is often reflected in the how, what, why of the food they eat. Under or over-eating is a sign of emotional distress and dysregulation and may be linked to feelings of self-loathing and self-hatred.
If you loathe yourself, you may neglect your physical, mental, and behavioral health. You might not mind your hygiene, get enough sleep, get enough exercise, and keep your mental health in check by adhering to a healthy diet and staying away from toxic substances.
The reason why people who struggle with self-loathing tend to neglect themselves is not necessarily that they don’t care about their appearance, hygiene, or overall health, but that they may feel like they don’t deserve to look and feel good about themselves.
Neglect may serve as a form of self-punishment and ultimately exacerbates one’s self-hatred.
Defeatism and pessimism
People who loathe themselves are likely to have a defeatist and pessimistic attitude toward life. They might fail to see the point in trying to succeed at something because they believe they will surely fail anyway.
Negative self talk
Defeatism and pessimism about one’s abilities and self-worth will often manifest as negative thinking and harsh self-criticism. Negative self-talk acts as a harsh inner critic that is an obstacle to mustering up the motivation and discipline necessary to achieve what we really want in life.
This negative thinking and unconstructive negative self-view ultimately reinforces their feelings of self-hatred.
People who struggle with self-loathing typically experience chronic self-esteem issues. The way they view and speak to themselves is often diminishing and, in extreme cases, dehumanizing.
When we believe our negative thoughts about ourselves, as people who loathe themselves often do, we are likely to experience low self-esteem and a poor sense of self.
This low sense of self impacts all areas of our lives, such as our familial, professional, and romantic relationships, as well as our ambition, motivation, and even our ability to get out of bed in the morning.
Isolation and withdrawal
Self-loathing can make people want to withdraw from others and isolate themselves from the world. Someone who hates themselves might not feel like they deserve to have friends and be happy and may worry that they are not funny, smart, or charismatic enough to succeed socially, so they don’t even try.
Sometimes, isolation and withdrawal follow self-loathing because one believes that they don’t belong to any particular group and wouldn’t fit in if they tried.
Rather than trying to bond with others and risk feeling like a stranger or outsider, which could exacerbate their feelings of self-hatred, the person chooses to avoid social interactions altogether.
Isolation and withdrawal are deeply lonely experiences and may lead the self-loathing person into an unhealthy cycle of substance misuse.
Self-loathing may drive people to excessive drug or alcohol use. Drugs and alcohol may offer temporary relief from one’s difficult feelings and emotions, offering numbness in place of pain, but any relief gained is temporary.
As the substances begin to wear off, the person is left with the inevitable comedown or hangover and an often aggressive return of feelings of hate and self-loathing.
The feelings that return after the drugs wear off can be so overwhelming and deeply uncomfortable that the person is once again driven to substances to cope. This leads to a vicious cycle of misuse and abuse that can lead to the development of dependence, where a person feels that they need to drug or drink to get by.
Dependence soon leads to addiction, a chronic and progressive condition in which a person feels unable to stop using the drug. When addiction happens, it’s vital to seek the help of a mental health specialist. Addiction can ruin all areas of a person’s life and has been fatal in many cases.
A person who already loathes themselves who then develops an addiction is likely to loathe themselves even more and blame themselves incessantly for getting themselves into their current situation.
People who hate themselves tend to believe that they are undeserving of love, affection, and kindness. As such, they might intentionally sabotage things for themselves, such as relationships or friendships. Sabotage serves as a maladaptive means of preventing betrayal or being hurt.
A self-hating person might mistreat their partner through neglect, abuse, or infidelity. When their partner has had enough and decides to leave, the person views the situation as justification of their belief that nobody will love them or be willing to stay with them in a relationship.
Sometimes, those who leave their partners out of feelings of self-hatred consider their behavior to be a form of kindness. They believe that they will inevitably hurt or disappoint their partner, so they figure it’s best to end the relationship now and prevent pain or hurt later on.
Reluctance to seek help
People who are affected by self-loathing tend to refuse to seek or take help even if it’s offered. Instead of considering whether help and support will work, the self-loathing jumps to the conclusion that it won’t. They may consider themselves helpless and unable to be ‘fixed.’
They see no point in speaking to a therapist because they believe that the therapist won’t really listen or just offer them medication. Their outlook on the value of psychotherapeutic and pharmacological support is pessimistic and critical.
What causes self-loathing?
Self-loathing is not our natural way of being. The truth is that we are not born hating ourselves. Instead, self-loathing happens over time. It typically begins in our childhood and carries on throughout our adolescent and adult years.
Most often, self-loathing stems from traumatic experiences in childhood (known as adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs), unrealistic expectations and standards, shame, and learned behaviors and thought patterns.
Psychological trauma is one of the leading causes of self-loathing. Traumatic experiences, including physical, verbal, and sexual abuse, childhood neglect, or witnessing domestic violence, can negatively impact a person’s mental health, especially if the trauma occurred during the early childhood years.
A child who has experienced abuse or neglect, particularly at the hands of a caregiver, will come to view the world as frightening, confusing, and unsafe.
Young children do not yet have the capacity and emotional maturity to understand that their abuser was in the wrong, so they try to make sense of what happened by forming a narrative that places themselves at blame. Their narrative involves feelings of inadequacy, unworthiness, and shame.
Children are not the only ones who suffer from self-loathing following a traumatic experience. People who have been abused by their spouses have gone through trauma and may have been manipulated to think the violence and abuse was their fault.
As such, they might blame themselves for speaking or acting in a certain way and berate themselves for wanting to make a change. This quickly turns into self-hatred and keeps the victim of abuse stuck in a frightening situation in which they learn to blame and hate themselves.
An overly critical parent
Overly critical and demanding parents tend to instill in their children a need to be perfect. Love from this parent is usually conditional – it is only offered or expressed when the child achieves something or behaves in a certain way.
As such, the child learns that their parent’s love will not always be available – only when they adhere to their parent’s expectations.
The problem is that children need love, support, and affection as much as food and shelter to live a healthy and happy life as they grow older. They try their best to get their need for love and affection met by putting all of their efforts into pleasing the critical parent.
If the parent’s expectations are unrealistically high, the child may fail to meet them consistently. This child will likely experience feelings of guilt and shame if they fail to meet their parent’s expectations.
These feelings become deeply rooted and stay with the child even as they enter adulthood and even if they’ve left the family home. The need to be perfect and the shame that ensues when perfection is not achieved will often lead to feelings of loathing and disappointment in oneself.
Body image issues
Poor body image is closely linked to self-esteem issues and how a person views themselves in general. Unfortunately, many people today struggle with their body image.
Media doesn’t help – ads, social media, and reality tv inundate us with unrealistic beauty standards and gender stereotypes that very few of us actually fit.
Some people struggle with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) – a mental health condition in which a person fixates on a perceived flaw in their appearance, such as blemished skin, hair loss, or weight.
Often, the issue of concern is barely, if at all, noticeable to other people. Still, to the person struggling with BDD, their perceived flaw is a significant source of feelings of hatred and loathing toward themselves.
Like BDD, some people, particularly men, struggle with muscle dysmorphia – a fixation on muscularity and tone that makes a person feel weak or ‘less than’ if they don’t measure up to a standard of appearance and strength they deem worthy.
How to overcome self-loathing
If you’re struggling with self-loathing, you know how exhausting, lonely, and overwhelming it can be. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to overcome your negative feelings about yourself finally.
Understand that it takes some conscious effort and commitment since your self-loathing has likely been around for years and may have its roots in deep-rooted distressing memories or adverse experiences.
Still, the rewards of working on yourself to overcome your self-loathing far outweigh the effort required. You don’t have to hate yourself, and when you finally learn to stop, you’ll be grateful that you took the time to make the changes necessary to achieve a better quality of life.
Turn self-loathing into self-compassion
In place of self-hatred, self-criticism, and a generally negative view of one oneself, you can cultivate self-love, self-kindness, and self-compassion. Granted, that’s easier said than done, but it’s certainly possible.
In a sense, advising someone who hates themselves to be kind to themselves is similar to telling someone who’s having a panic attack to calm down or telling someone who’s depressed to cheer up.
Still, the issue with self-loathing is not that the person can’t be kind to themselves. It’s that they don’t feel like they should be kind to themselves.
If you’re struggling with self-loathing, practicing self-compassion can be a significant help. You don’t have to love yourself overnight, and it is not a quick fix for self-hatred. It is a consistent practice and requires patience.
Showing compassion toward oneself is not about overconfidence, excessive self-esteem, and feeling superior to others as a means of making ourselves feel better.
Rather, it’s about refusing to compare ourselves to others, allowing ourselves to fall short of unrealistic expectations, and eventually not placing those expectations on ourselves in the first place.
Author of Self Compassion: How to Be Kind to Yourself Kristen Neff writes on her site:
Self-compassion doesn’t demand that we evaluate ourselves positively or that we see ourselves as better than others. Instead, the positive emotions of self-compassion kick in exactly when self-esteem falls down when we don’t meet our expectations or fail in some way. This means that the sense of intrinsic self-worth inherent in self-compassion is highly stable. It is constantly available to provide us with care and support in times of need.
Challenge your negative thoughts
Just because you believe something, that doesn’t make it true. All of us hold some core beliefs that influence how we see the world. Recognizing and addressing negative core beliefs is paramount to freeing yourself from unnecessary stress and self-loathing,
Next time you’re overwhelmed by thoughts of self-hatred, ask yourself:
‘Is this true?’
‘Do I have evidence to support the thought?’
‘How strong is that evidence?’
If you realize that the thought is untrue, change it. Meet its negativity and counter with a more positive outlook. Though the negative, harsh inner critic can seem strong, you have a lot more power than you might believe!
Change how you speak to yourself
Would you speak to a friend the way you speak to yourself? Would you berate them for every little mistake and tell them that nobody loves them or that they don’t belong? Of course not.
In his book On Compassion and Self Hate, psychologist Theodore Rubin explains a simple yet effective way to change how you speak to and treat yourself. He tells readers to replace negative self-talk with positive and compassionate statements, such as ‘I treat myself as a child I love.’
Try saying that to yourself right now. Take a second, close your eyes, and repeat to yourself:
‘I treat myself as a child I love’
You can also try:
‘What would I say to a friend going through what I’m going through?’
It’s strange, but we find it a lot easier to show compassion to others than to ourselves. Use that for good by attuning to the compassion you feel for others and turning it back on yourself.
Speak to a mental health professional
Though the tips and advice we’ve outlined above can be of great help, sometimes it can be difficult to explore and work on your self-hatred alone. Sometimes, it may be best to do so under the support and guidance of a mental health professional.
In therapy, a trained and attuned therapist can offer a safe space in which you can identify and address the root cause of your feelings.
They can help you process unresolved traumatic memories, integrate them into your life, challenge limiting and negative self-beliefs, and offer useful coping mechanisms to apply outside of the session whenever something triggers your self-loathing.