I hate myself: How do I feel better?
Self-loathing often has roots in childhood experiences of being undervalued, and processing those damaging memories may help you heal. You may also be able to build a stronger sense of self-worth by affirming your personal values, practicing self-compassion, and connecting with other people who recognize your good qualities. It can also be helpful to work with a licensed mental health professional to work through the root of your self-hatred and learn to love yourself.
What is self-loathing?
Self-loathing generally refers to feelings of hatred, disgust, or contempt for oneself. It often involves repeated and intensely self-critical thoughts such as the following:
- “I’m worthless.”
- “I’m a terrible person.”
- “No one could ever love me.”
- “I don’t deserve to be happy.”
- “I’ll never do anything worthwhile.”
- “I can’t do anything right.”
- “Everyone would be better off without me.”
These kinds of extremely negative ideas usually show some of the hallmarks of cognitive distortions, which can be defined as inaccurate patterns of thinking that make it hard to see reality clearly.
For instance, self-hatred can involve black-and-white thinking, in which you view things as all good or all bad. When you’re stuck in this framework, it can be hard to recognize that you, like everyone, likely possess a mix of good and bad qualities. Instead, you can end up defining yourself entirely by your flaws.
Self-loathing may also lead you to magnify negatives and minimize positives, potentially blowing up your mistakes into enormous failures while downplaying your accomplishments. It can also cause you to label yourself and think in generalizations, so that instead of thinking, “I did a bad thing,” you might think, “I’m a bad person.”
Why do you hate yourself?
Very few phenomena in human psychology arise from a single cause. That said, certain experiences and situations appear to play a major role in generating self-loathing.
Early childhood experiences
For many people, an important cause of self-hatred may be toxic behavior from parents or other caregivers during early childhood. Studies of adolescents exhibiting self-harm behavior have found that the feelings of self-hatred prompting these actions were often tied to hostile criticism from parents and other familial figures in early childhood.
This problem can be exacerbated when there is emotional, physical, or sexual abuse* involved. Young people who experience abuse may develop a sense of self-hatred in an attempt to make sense of what’s happening to them.
This may happen because children usually form their early ideas about the world from their parents’ behavior and depend on their caregivers completely for survival. As a result, it can be hard to conceive of the idea that a parent might be in the wrong. Instead, a child may conclude that the abuse must have been caused by something wrong with them.
*If you or a loved one is witnessing or experiencing any form of abuse, please know that help is available. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline anytime at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
Self-loathing may also arise from unrealistic standards that lead you to criticize yourself relentlessly, or from shame about past actions or failures. According to a 2019 paper, self-critical rumination can be an important factor in producing a poor self-image. This is generally a type of thinking in which you dwell repeatedly on the things about yourself you’re unhappy with.
In many cases, a feeling of self-hatred or self-disgust can be a symptom of a mental health disorder, such as the following:
- Bipolar disorder
- Substance use disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
It’s not always clear whether feelings of self-hatred are the causes or the effects of these mental health conditions. For many people, the answer may be a combination of both. Intense self-criticism or self-loathing could increase the likelihood of developing a mood disorder. Then, the symptoms and behaviors associated with that mental illness might reinforce a person’s low self-image.
For instance, someone with a depressive disorder may have trouble motivating themself to complete important tasks, which may give them another reason to call themself a failure. Similarly, a person with an alcohol use disorder might start a fight with a friend while drunk, and then take that as evidence that they’re unlovable.
How to stop hating yourself
Moving past feelings of self-loathing may require a combination of methods to build up your self-esteem while correcting cognitive distortions. Below are some approaches that prove helpful for many people.
Cultivating empathy and compassion toward yourself may help you stop tearing yourself down. When you start to think negative thoughts about yourself, you can try to imagine how you would react to someone else who is in psychological pain.
Would you berate and criticize them? Or would you respond with love and gentleness? Picturing yourself as a loved one may help you let go of harsh self-judgment. If you find this difficult, many therapists can assist with compassion-focused therapies, which researchers have found effective at reducing self-criticism and improving self-esteem.
Get in touch with your values
Self-affirmation may be another evidence-based technique for building up a healthier sense of self. This approach usually focuses on connecting with the core values that give your life a sense of meaning and purpose.
You can begin by listing the things that you love about life, like learning new things, creating art, connecting with family, or helping others. Then you can craft affirmations, which are usually statements you can repeat to yourself that remind you of what you care about and what you do to fulfill those values. For instance, you might say, “I’m there for my friends when they’re struggling.” If thinking positive things about yourself feels challenging at first, you can frame them in terms of goals, such as, “I’m working to get better at my art.”
By emphasizing the things in your life that truly matter, you can gradually build up a sense of yourself that’s not based on self-criticism and negative labels. In time, you may learn to see yourself as the multifaceted person you likely are.
Challenge your inner critic
Self-loathing is often more than just a feeling. It can also be a pattern of thinking in which you bombard yourself with hateful thoughts. If you’ve fallen into the habit of simply accepting those thoughts as true, it might be helpful to push back. Mental health professionals often recommend challenging your self-critical ideas when they pop up.
For example, if you catch yourself thinking, “I fail at everything,” you can correct yourself with a more accurate judgment, such as, “I fail sometimes, but I also have lots of successes.” As we’ve discussed already, self-loathing often arises from exaggerations or twisted views of reality. By pushing back against your inner critic, you can train yourself to think about yourself in a more reasonable way.
Improve awareness through meditation and journaling
The above techniques may be easier if you can cultivate a greater awareness of your own thought processes. Self-hating thoughts can sometimes flow through the mind without you being fully conscious of them. Learning to recognize and interrupt those streams of thought may enable you to change it.
One way to do this can be through mindfulness meditation, a technique in which you generally observe your sensations, thoughts, and emotions without trying to control them. Researchers have repeatedly found that this practice can decrease negative rumination and help with conditions like depression.
Another method may be to keep a journal. Recording your thoughts can help you get a better sense of what triggers your self-loathing and how your unhelpful ideas reinforce themselves. It may also help you defuse the intense emotions around them by putting them down on paper where you can look at them objectively.
Work with a therapist
Therapy can be a highly effective treatment for depression, anxiety, and other psychological conditions that often foster self-hatred. Licensed mental health professionals may be able to teach you useful ways to reframe the mental habits that make it seem as if you hate yourself.
Benefits of online therapy
If difficulties with self-image make you feel uncomfortable with the idea of talking to a therapist face-to-face, you could connect online instead. Many clients who try internet-based therapy report that the sense of distance helps them feel more comfortable. It can also empower you to attend therapy sessions from your home or another familiar setting.
Effectiveness of online therapy
Online therapy generally has a track record of success in treating mental illnesses like depression, which can be a common contributor to feelings of self-hatred. A 2019 study found that online therapy was generally an effective treatment for depression and that participants usually experienced a significant reduction in depression symptoms.
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