Effective Ways To Overcome Self-Loathing

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated May 16, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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Self-loathing can refer to various negative feelings aimed toward the self, such as shame, disappointment, guilt, anger, hatred, or disgust. This self-hate may stem from past trauma or a harsh inner critic, leading to feelings of worthlessness. It could have a negative impact on self-confidence and social situations.

You might overcome self-loathing by cultivating patience, requesting support from an old friend or professional help, allowing yourself to experience and recognize your emotions, embracing self-compassion and forgiveness, limiting social media, resisting comparison, allowing for setbacks, and focusing on the things you love.

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Self-loathing can be challenging to overcome

What is self-loathing? 

Self-loathing may refer to a broad spectrum of feelings toward yourself, including dislike, anger, shame, prejudice, disgust, and other negative emotions. You may feel embarrassment or disappointment for feeling this way, which may perpetuate a cycle of self-loathing.  

For many, being disappointed in oneself can occur occasionally and is often situational. At some point in life, you may have held yourself to a high standard or felt you were not "good enough." However, this self-judgment may be a sign of self-loathing if it is persistent and intense. 

Consider the fictional story of "Sam" as an example. Sam was a hard-working high school junior who spent hours preparing for the SAT. When their score was revealed, it fell just short of what was needed for admittance into their dream school. However, the score was good enough for them to enter many other top-tier institutions, and they had the option to retake the test. 

However, Sam's self-loathing enveloped them as they focused on all the negative things their father said about them not being "good enough." They also began to imitate their mother, who had low self-esteem. "Why should I try again?" they asked themself. "I worked so hard the first time, and I didn't get the score I needed. I'm not smart enough. I can't do it. I'll have to give up my dream."

While Sam might have used their first test as a learning experience to prepare for a better second score, they found themself paralyzed by self-loathing. They never retook the SAT and ended up attending a community college because they were sure they would fail at a four-year institution.

In this example, Sam allowed self-hatred to pressure them into accepting less than they deserved. Their experience may not be unique, though. Studies have shown that 61% of adolescents and young adults feel pressured to succeed in school to their detriment. They may feel inadequate in appearance, academic performance, and personal relationships.

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Low self-esteem may lead to self-destructive activities, such as self-harm, substance use, or disordered eating, fueled by self-loathing thoughts and self-criticism. Research suggests that in addition to adolescents who experience low self-esteem, many adults and young children also face these challenges. Self-doubt can make them believe that their parents, siblings, and peers don't appreciate anything about them.

If you are experiencing self-esteem issues, be aware that you are not alone, and self-loathing is an issue that may affect anyone. With proper support, including talk therapy or traditional therapy, you may be able to change how you feel about yourself and start having positive, productive thoughts.

Causes of self-loathing

Self-loathing is often a learned pattern of thinking and behavior associated with the following:

  • Difficult childhood experiences or childhood trauma
  • Significant disappointment
  • A desire to save oneself from future disappointment
  • Neglect 

The impact of social media

For those experiencing self-loathing, social media may make the world seem increasingly harsh. Facebook and other platforms allow anyone to create digital images that may appear perfect or ideal to outsiders, even if they were edited. 

Social media can enable people to show only positive images, causing observers to see a carefully filtered reality. A person with self-loathing might look at social media and believe that others are more attractive, successful, and happy than they are. Studies have linked social media to eating disorders and low self-esteem. 

Movies, television, and magazines can further add to a display of apparent perfection, which may cause those with self-loathing to believe they can never successfully compete. 

Media images may be airbrushed to convey flawless perfection. Models and entertainment leaders may often undergo cosmetic enhancement to improve their physical images. People in the news might have stylists to select their clothes and consultants to ensure that the media portrays them as successful and happy. 

People with self-loathing tendencies can be exposed to a constant barrage of contrived images that may be impossible to replicate in real life. Those images may only reinforce feelings of inadequacy for someone prone to self-hatred.

Effects of self-loathing on others

Self-loathing, often linked to depression may not only impact those who harshly judge themselves. For example, because parents with self-loathing may not model appropriate self-acceptance, they may raise children with the same challenges. However, this doesn't mean you're at fault or a "bad parent."

Individuals with self-loathing may make things extremely difficult at work due to unrealistic expectations. If they doubt their abilities, they may expect their work to fall short and create a self-fulfilling prophecy. This attitude may dampen the enthusiasm and confidence of coworkers or cause individuals not to try to gain recognition for success.

Finally, those with self-loathing may struggle to establish and maintain romantic relationships. Fear may arise because they don't believe they deserve to be loved, and they may be convinced that their relationships are doomed to fail. They may also rely on their significant other to bolster their confidence and self-image.

If you are struggling with a negative self-image due to an attachment style, know that studies show that you can change your attachment style with time and effort. 

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Self-loathing can be challenging to overcome

Ways to overcome self-loathing

If you experience self-loathing, you might choose to acknowledge that you are worth the work needed to make healthy changes, even if you're not ready yet. Consider repeating the phrase, "I promise to try to work towards self-love, even if I don't feel it yet."  

The following strategies may also help you move from self-loathing to healthy forms of self-acceptance and, eventually, self-love.

Cultivate patience

Your pattern of self-loathing may not have formed overnight. Meaningful change may require time to reprogram old thought processes healthily. Accepting the idea that this may be an emotional journey requiring patience can be valuable. 

Meditation may be one way to support yourself through this time. Studies show that mindfulness meditation can increase self-compassion, which may allow you to be more patient with yourself.

Request outside support

Enlisting family and friends to support and stand with you as you move through your healing process could be beneficial. You might consider working with people who genuinely care about you and are willing to offer support and love. Studies prove that social connections can improve your physical and mental health.

Therapy can be a helpful tool on the road to recovery from low self-esteem. However, if you're experiencing symptoms like low mood or decreased energy due to self-loathing, finding the motivation to leave home may be challenging. In these cases, online therapy may be beneficial, as it allows you to attend sessions with a licensed therapist from anywhere with an internet connection.

Rebekah Wolff, LPC
Rebekah is so great. There have been times when I’ll message her saying I hate myself for doing this thing… she always asks me why I feel the way I do and will pull the positives out of any situation while also helping me and giving me guidance. Definitely recommend Rebekah as a counselor.”

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help people challenge negative thoughts and faulty beliefs, resulting in more positive emotions and healthier behaviors. Research shows that online CBT can reduce stress and anxiety and increase self-esteem. 

If you're looking to try CBT or another form of counseling to combat self-loathing or negative self-esteem, consider reaching out to a counselor on a platform such as BetterHelp. You can be matched with a therapist from a vast database of professionals specializing in various topics. 

Allow yourself to feel your emotions

The reasons for self-hatred can be complex, and it may require a mental health professional to help you make sense of it all. You may have experienced a parent who modeled self-loathing behavior or authority figures who were unkind. It could be possible that your self-loathing developed due to adverse childhood experiences or as a means of survival. 

At first, recognizing the root of the pain may bring up unprocessed emotions, but identifying and addressing the source of the pain may eventually be empowering and freeing. Additionally, studies show that suppressing your emotions may cause further physical and emotional harm. Learning to label and accept your emotions has been proven to be beneficial. 

Embrace forgiveness

It can be constructive to stop criticizing yourself for mistakes or failures. Instead, you might work to understand your humanity, accept your fallibility, and embrace forgiveness. Practice positive self talk instead of focusing on the negatives.

You may find that you love yourself for the way you never give up. Maya Angelou once said, "you did then what you knew how to do, and when you knew better, you did better." 

Additionally, It may be valuable to look at yourself through the eyes of the people who love you. You might try to give yourself the same compassion you would give others.

Limit social media usage

Understanding that social media may not accurately portray reality can be enlightening. Frequent use of social media may create a distorted image of life that can harm people with self-hating tendencies. 

You might find it easy to look at social media and feel you are falling short. Avoiding social media or significantly limiting contact may allow you to increase your control over images and messages that can fuel feelings of inadequacy or failure.

Resist comparison

You might try to remind yourself that celebrities have unique resources to make themselves appear attractive and successful. People you know may also curate their social media feeds to look as perfect as possible. 

Try to avoid comparing yourself to the latest media star and looking for ways you don't measure up. Instead, you might remind yourself that everyone has flaws, including celebrities. 

Allow for setbacks

As you move through replacing self-hatred with self-acceptance, know that setbacks can be completely normal. You might try not to allow these delays to fuel further self-loathing. They do not necessarily represent failure; they can be part of the process, which may not always be linear.

Do what you love

Rather than thinking of healing as another obligation on a long list of things that must be done, you might choose to focus on the things you love. If you love nature, you could join a hiking group. If you like to be in the kitchen, you could try cooking classes. If you enjoy physical movement, making time for yoga or going to the gym could be possible. 

Support with self love with online therapy

Often, people who experience self-loathing may not allow themselves to do the things they enjoy the most. They might spend their days focusing on other people or completing joyless chores. Even the smallest of treats could ignite self-worth, self-love, and self-acceptance.

If you experience self-hatred, you may also wish to consider online therapy as another method of overcoming self-loathing. may take time and effort, but it will be worth it in the end. Consider reaching out to a counselor to learn more. Online therapy has been shown to be just as effective as in-person therapy in supporting individuals with their mental health.

Takeaway

The term "self-loathing" often refers to various negative feelings a person may feel toward themselves, potentially including hatred, shame, disappointment, anger, and others. 

Self-loathing can develop because of past experiences, childhood experiences, or a desire to safeguard oneself from disappointment. Overcoming self-loathing may be possible through cultivating patience, allowing yourself to feel your emotions, and other self-care methods.

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