‘Hate’ is a strong word. Yet everyday, so many of us look in the mirror and don’t recognise — or like — the reflection staring back at us.
We might have gained weight or some pesky acne has resurfaced. Or perhaps, after a quick scroll through social media, we can’t help but compare ourselves to others. Before you know it, a simple “I’ll never look like Mia,” can quickly spiral into “I’ll never be good enough for anyone”.
Other times, self-hatred can be a feeling from within.
You might have a harsh inner voice, which constantly sneers at you, telling you that you’re not worthy of love, success, and second chances. And it can make you feel worthless and small.
When you’re fighting against a tide of self-loathing it’s hard to imagine a time when it won’t feel this way. But it is possible to shut the door on self-hatred, heal these deep wounds, and grow to love and accept yourself.
What causes self-hate?
No one wants to dislike themselves. So, if you’re struggling with self-hatred you might be wondering how you ended up here.
It’s not something that happens overnight. More often than not, it’s a slippery slope. We often develop self-hatred over time, sometimes without realising it.
You have a harsh inner critic
“No one likes you”, “Of course you failed”, “I hate myself”… If these thoughts sound familiar, chances are you have a harsh inner critic.
An inner critic isn’t a bad thing. We all have one. It steers us away from mistakes and protects us from shame and embarrassment. But sometimes this inner voice can grow louder and more critical — and that’s when problems can arise.
If you have a harsh inner critic, you may constantly put yourself down and undermine your successes.
It can feel like there’s someone following you around, pouncing on every flaw and shaming you for every mistake.
Worst of all, you may come to believe that all the thoughts you’re having are true. The more you listen to that critical inner voice, the more power you give it — and it can lead to feelings of hurt and self-loathing.
Your early childhood experiences
Just as our parents can equip us with the tools to grow our confidence and self-esteem, the opposite can also be true. This isn’t to blame our parents. But to simply acknowledge that even great parents are only human. They aren’t perfect all the time so when they slip up (or worse act critical and harmful) a child may interpret this to mean that there’s something wrong with them. To cope, they will develop unhelpful schemas or thought patterns as a defence mechanism.
For instance, let’s say your parents often acted like you were a bother, constantly hushing you or being uptight around you. You may grow up feeling like you’re a nuisance. And, later in life, you may be overly shy, apologetic and take a submissive role in relationships.
Alternatively, if you grew up in a household where you were neglected, ignored or rejected by the adults around you, you may grow up with a defectiveness schema. This is when you believe that there’s something inherently wrong, shameful or flawed about you, which can lead to low-self worth in adulthood.
You have unrealistic expectations
We’ve all been there. We’ve set the bar too high for ourselves — or anyone — to achieve. And then we get upset because we can’t do the impossible. This feeling of never being good can take its toll on our mental wellbeing, giving space for self-loathing and self-hatred to rise.
It’s only made worse by social media. Nowadays we have access to a never-ending stream of content, reminding us of other people’s successes and virtues. And, whilst it’s normal to look around, it gets a bit complicated when you have what’s called ‘ upward comparison’. Simply put, this is when we only notice or value people who are performing ‘better’ than us and, in turn, we devalue ourselves.
Were you ever the victim of bullying? Maybe you were picked on at school or work. Or perhaps an ex belittled you and made you feel small.
Even fleeting comments can linger in the mind — and, eventually, we may even believe these cruel taunts and remarks to be true.
How to overcome hating yourself
If you feel like you’ve become your own worst enemy, it isn’t too late to change. There are a number of steps you can take to weed out feelings of self-hatred and develop some self-love:
Identify the emotion and it’s triggers
Emotions are tricky, fickle things. Sometimes they can blend together and it can be difficult to pin down exactly how we’re feeling. Other times, we might feel emotionless or numb.
With that in mind, if we want to combat self-hatred, the first step is to understand its root. What prompted the feeling? When does it usually arise?
You’ve probably heard it before, but journaling can really help here. Not only will it help you relieve any distress, but it’ll also allow you to find the root causes of your self-hatred.
Putting your thoughts down on paper allows you to examine what happened throughout the day and what triggered these feelings of self-loathing.
Once you know your triggers it’s much easier to find coping techniques to help you manage them.
Challenge negative thoughts
Do you ever get stuck in a spiral of negative thoughts? Maybe you constantly belittle your appearance or ruminate over past mistakes. Psychologists call these cognitive distortions or negative thinking traps. They cloud our judgement and prevent you from seeing things as they really are. Because, the reality is, thoughts are just thoughts. And just because you think it doesn’t mean it’s a fact.
If you want to stop negative thoughts in their tracks the first step is to identify them. Ask yourself whether this is definitely true, whether your friends and family would disagree and whether this thought helps you or holds you back.
If you want to put this inner critic back in its place, you could even try tarnishing its credibility by giving it a silly voice or persona.
Try responding and questioning the cruel remarks it makes. But don’t be disheartened if this is hard at first. Simply questioning these thoughts of self-hatred is a good start.
Spend time with people who lift you up
Let’s face it: it’s hard to be our own cheerleader. We all experience negative feelings about ourselves from time to time. But, if left unchecked, it can leave us in a negative tailspin.
That’s why it’s important to lean on those around you. Surround yourself with people who lift you up, rather than tear you down, and let them how you’re feeling.
Social connection leaves us feeling recharged and valued, and your loved ones might remind you of how strong, resilient and wonderful you are.
Accept any compliments they give you with open arms. Because they wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true.
Practice positive self-compassion
Self-hatred festers in the absence of self-compassion. But what exactly does ‘self-compassion’ mean?
Self-compassion isn’t quite the same as self-love. Simply put, self-compassion asks us to accept all our negative thoughts, slip-ups and mistakes. Because this messiness is simply part of being human.
To start, treat yourself like you would treat a close friend. If they were going through a rough time, you would remind them that everyone makes mistakes. Offer that same understanding to yourself.
Above all else, remember that your mistakes and failures don’t define you. Next time you’re in a negative spiral, cut yourself some slack.
Ask for help
It can be overwhelming when thoughts like ‘I hate myself’ are swirling around your head. You may have carried this sense of self-loathing for a long period of time, and when it’s so deeply rooted it can be difficult to imagine a time when you won’t feel this way.
In these cases, therapy can be a gamechanger. A psychologist will be able to unravel where this sense of self-hatred and contempt comes from, and they’ll be able to gently guide you towards a place of self-love, compassion and healing.