We all have an inner critic that points out our mistakes and tells us how we could improve, and, to a certain extent, this self-criticism can be positive because understanding where you could do better is key in growing as a person. However, when inner criticism is taken to the extreme and turns into self-hatred, negative thoughts can start to dominate your life, lowering your self-esteem and limiting what you can achieve in life.
People who have an ‘I hate myself’ mentality tend to focus on the negatives and feel that they’re not good enough. Often comparing themselves with other people, they can ignore their achievements and feel that they’re not worthy of love, friendship, and success.
If you struggle with self-loathing, you may confuse your feelings for facts. But just because you feel like a failure after not getting that promotion, that doesn’t mean you are. Just because no one laughed at your joke at a party, that doesn’t mean nobody likes you. The more you believe that voice in your head that tells you that you’re not attractive, intelligent, or worthy enough, the more power it will have over you. To overcome this self-hatred, you need to understand the cause of negative thoughts, practise self-compassion, and challenge negative thoughts with positive self-talk.
Self-loathing becomes problematic when you cannot separate negative thoughts from reality. However, those destructive, bad opinions you have about yourself aren’t real – more often than not, they are the outcome of bad life experiences, such as:
Childhood trauma: growing up with abusive, neglecting, controlling, or overly critical parents.
Bad relationships: these can be romantic relationships, but also relationships with friends and co-workers/bosses that made you feel inferior.
Bullying at school, work, or in your circle of friends
Traumatic life events
It’s very important to understand the difference between your conscience and self-loathing. For example, your conscience might make you look back on a conversation with a friend where you were maybe rude, reflect on it, and make you want to apologise. However, your destructive inner critic might tell you something like, “You’re always so mean and aggressive, no wonder everyone hates you!”
The first step in overcoming your self-hatred is to understand where the problem comes from and what triggers you. Journaling can help with this. By documenting your thoughts and how they occurred (i.e., what you were doing when you started negative thoughts, who you were with, etc.), you can determine the root of self-loathing and then start avoiding some of the triggers.
An aggressive inner critic is very much like a bully and, by talking back to that bully, self-deprecating thoughts will gradually lose their power over you. When you experience a negative thought about yourself, whether it’s about the way you look or how well you’re doing at work, challenge it by thinking of several reasons why it’s not true. It may not be easy at first – especially if you’ve been struggling with self-loathing for years – which is why it can help to challenge those negative thoughts as someone else, such as an authoritative figure or a superhero. The positive side may not always win, but that’s alright. With time, simply challenging those self-loathing thoughts can help you see them for what they are, just subjective thoughts, not reality.
Self-loathing takes over when you have no room for self-compassion. More often than not, people who hate themselves only focus on the negatives or the things they’re not doing right, neglecting all their qualities and achievements. When you have self-loathing thoughts, try to reframe them and think of several things you like about yourself or that you’re good at. An excellent trick is to talk to yourself as if you were talking to a friend. If your friend had a bad presentation at work, would you tell them that they’re a failure? Of course not. You’d tell them that they just had a bad day and that they’ll do better next time. Remember, you should not be your own worst enemy.
Quite often, people who hate themselves tend to isolate themselves, assuming that they’re not good enough and that nobody likes them. This isolation can make self-loathing even worse, which is why it’s important to push yourself and try to spend more time with positive people who support you and care about you. At the same time, if you’re in a group of people where you feel bullied or criticised, you should try to reduce contact as much as possible and replace them with people that make you feel good.
Meditation might not seem like a good idea when you hate yourself but, contrary to popular belief, slowing down and becoming more mindful of your thoughts doesn’t mean letting more self-hatred in. On the contrary, by taking a break and becoming more mindful of your negative thoughts, you can understand what causes them and slowly learn to exercise control over them.
Overcoming self-loathing isn’t always easy, especially when it’s caused by years of emotional abuse or traumatic life events. When you can’t manage to practice self-compassion and let go of negative thoughts, a mental health professional can help you identify the source of the self-loathing and replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations. Going from ‘I hate myself’ to ‘I am good enough’ may not happen overnight. The process can take months, but by having someone to talk to, you can slowly learn to love yourself for who you are.