How to Turn Self-Hatred into Self-CompassionNovember 12, 2013 • By Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, Self-Compassion Topic Expert Contributor
“I’m such a loser.”
“I can’t do anything right.”
Too often, people brutally judge and attack themselves. If everyone treated others as poorly as they treat themselves, the old biblical adage, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” could be a recipe for war.
Incessant negative beliefs about oneself may be called self-judgment, self-attack, or low self-esteem, but it all boils down to one menacing problem: self-hatred. At its most extreme, self-hatred can lead people to retreat into substance use, suicidal and other self-destructive behaviors, or violence toward others.
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If you beat up on yourself, are disgusted with yourself, or in any other way experience the effects of self-hatred, there are two important things to know: why the self-hatred exists, and what you can do about it.
Self-hatred almost always stems from childhood. Trauma experienced after childhood also can fuel negative feelings about oneself.
Children believe what they hear from others. If a parent tells a child that she is good for nothing or can’t do anything right, then that becomes the truth in the child’s mind. It takes a very mature and insightful child to say to herself, “Something is wrong with Mom/Dad for telling me this. An adult shouldn’t say such mean things to me. I’m just a child.”
Instead of saying, “Something is wrong with Mom/Dad,” the child usually thinks, “Something is wrong with me.” That simply is how a child’s mind works. Children need safety and stability. It is much less chaotic for a child to think something is wrong with himself than to think he cannot rely on the people upon whom he depends for food, shelter, and survival.
Sometimes, a child never hears harsh judgment from a parent or other caregiver, yet self-hatred manages to fester. This happens when, for whatever reason (genetics, environment, plain bad luck, etc.), a child experiences anxiety, perfectionism, or other traits that conjure feelings of self-blame in the face of fear, imperfection, or other perceived flaws.
Trauma, too, can inspire self-hatred. It can feel safer to attack oneself over what happened than to accept that bad things happen randomly in the world—and can happen again, at any time. As a result, many people who have endured sexual assault, combat, or other trauma blame themselves for what they endured, and self-hatred grows.
Self-hatred and shame are related but not synonymous. Shame can be healthy, the mind’s tool for helping people understand when they have done something that must not be repeated. However, the majority of shame that people experience is not a healthy tool for learning right from wrong. Instead, it is a manifestation of self-hatred, a message that when they do things wrong (or, at least, differently than they wish they had) then they are wrong, a judgment of the person and not the act.
Many people who feel shame cannot assign it to any particular action. Shame is a feeling of essential badness that they simply cannot shed. Often, people experiencing unhealthy shame feel that if others saw their real self, then nobody could possibly love them.
It is helpful to understand how your own self-hatred formed. This can help you to develop compassion for yourself. No matter what you did or did not do as a child, no matter what trauma you endured, the hurt part of you deserves love, compassion, and nurturing. No matter what, you possess a fundamental goodness that is not touched by external events, in the same way the clouds can cover the sun but never really touch it.
The Antidote: Self-Compassion
A seminal work on self-hatred and self-compassion is titled, appropriately enough, Compassion and Self Hate (by Theodore Isaac Rubin). More recently, mental health professionals have published quite a few more books on self-compassion, including The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion (by Christopher Germer), Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind (by Kristin Neff), and The Power of Self-Compassion (by Mary Wellford).
There are websites devoted to self-compassion. There also is an evidence-based psychotherapy that cultivates self-compassion. Called compassion-focused therapy, it extends cognitive behavioral concepts to foster in clients the ability to soothe, accept, and understand oneself.
The common theme underlying all these works is that self-compassion is the antidote to self-hate. So how do you create more compassion for yourself? Over time, I will write about many different ways to grow the seeds of self-compassion. For now, here are a few tips to get you started:
- Talk to yourself the way you talk to someone you care about: In Compassion and Self Hate, Dr. Rubin advises readers to tell themselves, “I treat myself as I treat a child I love.” Cognitive behavioral therapists employ a similar technique, often invoking the question, “What would you say to good friend who was going through the same thing you are going through?” These are important questions. If you hate yourself, you likely say things to yourself that you would not dare say to another person. What would you say to somebody else who has the exact same traits as you? What could you say to yourself?
- Recognize that beliefs do not equal truths: Often, people believe what they tell themselves. If you think you are a loser, you may believe it is absolute truth. Try this cognitive behavioral technique called “the three C’s”: catch, check, change. Catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself. Check whether your distressing thought is true. Change it, if not. You can talk back to your negative thoughts. Challenge them. Serve as a defense attorney to the prosecutor in your head.
- Embrace the concept of “good enough”: Many people feel they should be perfect—never angry, always generous, never critical, always right, and so on. These expectations deny that imperfection is the human condition. If you are one of these people with too-high expectations for yourself, ask yourself what is good enough?
- Consider turning to spirituality or religion: Many spiritual or religious traditions center on the belief that people are flawed but inherently good, not only lovable but also inherently loved. These beliefs can serve as a huge balm for the hurting soul. The practices of meditation and mindfulness, too, can foster feelings of self-compassion as well as loving kindness toward others.
- If you hate yourself for mistakes you made, make amends: You may be reading this and thinking, “This does not apply to me. I did something so awful that I can never be forgiven.” First, as much as you condemn yourself, ask if you would equally condemn—to their face—someone else who did the same thing. If not, then you are being unfair to yourself. Perhaps you really did do something awful. If you cannot make amends to the person or people you harmed, do something good for somebody else. Beating up on yourself serves nobody. Doing good for others or taking part in a larger movement not only helps others, it helps you—and it can lead to self-forgiveness.
My Questions for You
Do you ever hate yourself? If so, what helps you to deal with this brutal judge who lives inside your head? What tips do you have for others in the same situation?
© Copyright 2013 by Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, therapist in Denver, CO. All Rights Reserved.
carrieNovember 12th, 2013 at 11:22 AM
Oh this is so hard to turn that hatred into love but SOOO worth it when it comes to actually living a life worth living.
I spent far too much time loathing myself and what I had become but never realizing until fairly recently just how much of that I let others tell me about myself and not recognizing the good things that I had to offer to other people and to myself! I wish that I had learned all of this a little sooner, but once you finally cut the bad seeds from your life you learn fairly quickly that you are SOOO much better than what they have always told you that you were.
KellenNovember 13th, 2013 at 4:35 AM
Agree with Carrie- such a work in progress, almost like a job, but makes you feel so much better about everything when you learn to free yourself from all of that loathing.
EllieNovember 14th, 2013 at 4:41 AM
And one thing that I would like to add is that for some of us, who have been teased or taunted by others, you might think that you feel one way until you hear that one little trigger and then boom! you are back to being very down on yourself again. I would like to think that I have overcome a lot of that that I heard while growing up, but this time of year especially, when I know that there are people I will have to be around who made me feel so belittled and diminished I start doing the work for them. I get down on myself so I guess they don’t have to and become all over again when I always felt like they thought about me. I hate that feeling and would love to rid myself of that kind of toxicity in life, but it is so hard when this is family and you don’t know exactly why you should have to cut ties with them or even if you really want to.
Joan Kloth-ZanardNovember 14th, 2013 at 5:29 AM
Excellent article. This will be of great help to the hundreds of psychologically abused victims I work with and their children. Thank you!!
DonnaNovember 14th, 2013 at 8:57 AM
With the prevalence of Parental Alienation, this is a very important message to get to the kids who are the biggest victims. Thank you for writing this. I will be posting on the high school Facebook page.
LauraDecember 12th, 2013 at 9:28 AM
Thanks for the excellent summary.
You say that shame can be healthy. Some people, notably Brene Brown, make a distinction between guilt and shame, with guilt referring to phenomenon you described in that sentence (knowing you’ve *done* something wrong, and perhaps striving to improve), and shame referring to, well, the shame you described in the rest of the article.
You might find that terminology helpful in maintaining the distinction between the two. They are, as you noted, quite different! Give it a try, and see whether it works for you.
Good summary here: becomingwhoyouare.net/2012/06/shame-vs-guilt/
I would also recommend the book mentioned in that post!
DeannaApril 28th, 2014 at 10:48 AM
Though I would love to, and welcome the day. I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel yet.
What scares me? I have always been able to see the light even during a negative challenge. And in 50 years, I have had plenty,
I don’t allow myself to “talk about it” no matter what I have been through, I don’t want it to sound like a “excuse”. And, that’s what it sounds like to me.
There is no excuse for bad behavior, so, …..
Don’t get me wrong, I have tried and tried to “get out of it” and have been successful at it throughout my lifetime. Now, it’s different. Unexplaineable really. Dark, Deep, IDK.
LoserMay 15th, 2014 at 5:39 PM
I really wish I could like myself. I don’t think its possible. I am very useless, lack confidence. I have hated myself since I was a little boy. Everyone I know is perfect and I’m garbage. I’m currently unemployed. I constantly relive the mistakes of my life. I have so much compassion for others. I can read and go to therapy forever it won’t work
work in progressMay 24th, 2014 at 2:52 AM
I would like to reply to the last person to let you know that I was convinced I was bad, useless, not worth love or attention or to be alive and felt sure that I couldnt change or be healed. So I plodded along, continued to read self help books, articles, worked on my connection with my higher power and one day recently I felt I could challege the belief that I was worthless. Some days are better than others. I think I will always be a work in progress. I just wanted to say dont give up..as you are changing even by reading this site. I believe in you. If I can push through, and I have alot of baggage I know you can too. Thanks for the opportunity to share this hear and for the information that was important for me to hear right now.
My Name Is StressOctober 9th, 2014 at 4:09 PM
I’m just a teenager. My name… Is Stress. The cold, hard fact is that if I’m not perfect, I won’t get into the best college. Some times it feels like everyone else is getting in my way, and sometimes I just know that no matter how much I love other people, none of them love me the same. At first, maybe I was too compassionate. But after a while, when no one returned love, something changed for the worse. Suddenly the school work wasn’t even my biggest issue. I was still stressed over it, but now,I was hating people. Who? Well… Everyone. Fir me, life has always been sticking to one decision and not letting go. Logically, I should be able to just, decide, to not hate myself anymore. But for some reason I just can’t. And my family… They’ll be the last ones to know. My friends are never serious.
Some days I’m rude, antisocial, and just try to do my work. On days like these I hate everyone. Other days I feel live again, and that results in guilt and the ever repeating question of “why don’t they give it back?!” Most days now, it’s just hate. More so for myself than for anyone else.
I may be smart enough to get good grades, and to not cut myself, but in the end I’m not smart enough to get the BEST grades, or to change the way I feel about myself and others. And not being perfect… it’s like perfection is being dangled in front of my face, but I can’t reach it! I’m smart, but I can’t even manage to care for myself! I fail where others succeed. In the end, the only thing I can come down to is that in the endless battle of stress, and trying to be a nice person, but hating myself and knowing that if I accept “good enough” I’ll never be great… It just makes me feel all the more hopeless. And in the end all I can do is love others and hate myself. That way, at least I won’t blame them for not loving me right. The only person I can blame is me for not being even “good enough.” Not for them, not for anyone, and least if all for myself.
I don’t have a single clue of what to do with all that.
LaurenOctober 12th, 2014 at 8:52 PM
I have been there and it is very difficult as your self-esteem and confidence builts up during your childhood.My life was miserable as well.We live once and die at the end if we do not take good care of ourselves,nobody will.Jesus loves you just the way you are and I regained my confidence back after getting out of my comfortzone and prayed and sang and danced.Lower expectation from people and focus on your life.You will meet people who appreciates you but you have to make the setp first not being shaken by your feelings as feelings change and take good care of yourself love the way you are.We all are precious in God’s eyes.
CatharineOctober 15th, 2014 at 7:53 AM
I go through periods when I want to change my self-hatred. I was all excited when I bought Loving Kindness by Sharon Salzberg, and enjoyed it @ first. But it infuriates me that I should have to read it or anything else that would help me ” love myself.” It’s ridiculous that I should have to learn to love myself. I’ve tried for so long, and my therapist is good, but it’s embarrassing that I still need to do this. I don’t want to talk to my inner child, or speak to myself lovingly like I’m a child. That’s bizarre & I feel foolish. So it makes me hate myself more that I even have to do it. Like I’m some loser that can’t even take care of myself.
CatharineOctober 15th, 2014 at 7:55 AM
I hear ya.
FranOctober 15th, 2014 at 12:30 PM
Wow I feel the same!
Pat A.October 15th, 2014 at 1:43 PM
I found this very interesting. I must admit I see another aspect. As a Christian I know each of us is called for God’s purpose. I know we will experience strong opposition which is fully intended to prevent us from fulfilling the calling on our lives. It very frequently comes from the ones closest to us who are unbelievably cutting and cruel at moments when we most need their support. If we focus on doing what God has called us to do, despite all opposition, we will weather the storms and become victorious.
Laura FrizelleOctober 16th, 2014 at 3:31 AM
Good enough is just fine. You don’t have to be the best or go to the best college. Just do YOUR best. The world needs all of us to develop and share the unique gifts and talents that that we have been given…some will be on a large scale most of us will serve on a small scale. Love and healing are what this world needs most. I am a Christian and I find that I need God’s love so that I can become a more loving person and heal. You are young and have time to search and wrestle and struggle like I did. You can do it!!! Search til you find what your heart needs. Life is worth it!
CarolineOctober 22nd, 2014 at 10:19 PM
Remember, beliefs aren’t always true. But by all means you just keep “knowing” what “God” has planned for everyone, including people who want nothing to do with “him”.
D.October 24th, 2014 at 10:24 AM
I grew up with a strict mom, she fought hard to get where she is against the odds of her familiy background( five girls in rural china, education not very much valued). I played piano when i was 6 and i got slapped on the face if i got one note wrong. i understand she was doing her best and that’s probably the only way she knows how to love me, but until now , whenever i call her about the problems i have in my life, she still opens with the line: i knew that, you always have the problem of being too naive, emotional…i have a very loving and understanding father so it makes things a lot better, however once every couple months, i will feel extremly bad, like i dont deserve to be alive and that i am ugly that nobody should love me at all. i am getting my phd and when i dont get much done, i feel stupid. my friends advice me not to call my mom whetehr i am in such a state and only tell her the good news, maybe they are right. i feel so worthless, lonely and a completely failure that can not bring happiness to people around me…sorry about the negativilties, ever since i noticed i have the problem, i have tried to steer my moods to the other directions by excercising and it helps.
KristinNovember 8th, 2014 at 12:46 PM
This is an excellent article, I’ll be sharing it & posting a link to it onto SANE.org’s forum in Australia.
I find great irony in your location. My own self-hatred was very much fanned (tho’ not started) by multiple experiences of childhood sexual abuse. The most painful occurred in Denver General Hospital. Many others happened in Boulder, where I lived for several years as a child. I’m now in my 50s so it has taken decades for me to see and understand this.
The more I’ve understood the source of the self-hatred the more I’ve been able to find self-compassion, and the less I’m inclined to judge others for their struggles. Those of us who survive multiple traumas often lose or misunderstand much of the narrative of our own journey, and only when we have sufficient support are we able to gather the pieces of our life-puzzle and begin to rejoin our fragmented self.
samNovember 8th, 2014 at 12:49 PM
I think that I’m fine but when I anylise my patterns I know that I deal with extreme self loathing. Many times a day if I do somthing slightly wrong or embarrassing I chant to myself over and over in my head “I hate myself I hate myself I hate myself” since I was little I have felt like I was bad, that even when I do somthing right, I’m just a bad person. That No mater what I do right, I’m just bad. I hate my looks and I hate my own presence in a room and yet I feel happy, I’m confident in life but underneath I feel so self loathing. I avoid places or thoughts that trigger my self hate so that I don’t have to think about it. I just honestly don’t know what to do
ManekNovember 30th, 2014 at 4:22 PM
I’m amazed to hear this sort of thing works for some people. Two years of constant attempts did nothing for this one.
BooDecember 18th, 2014 at 1:51 AM
I’m in such a sad place I don’t know where to start, I listen to everyone else’s problems and feel so alone, I have a husband and kids and a job, yet feel feel worthless ugly fat, I do like a drink yet it always gets me in a mess or trouble, I’m bored I think , hardly go out socialising with friends husband always critical , then says he’s joking , same stuff different day
CocoJanuary 10th, 2015 at 3:23 PM
You need to be good to yourself. I find that when I’m care taking there is usually a pay off for me somewhere it helps me feel worthwhile but then I feel resentful cause others don’t be there for me when I need it. I have same problem with husband I go to a 12 step group and find it really helpful in working ways of not reacting and taking on partners stuff. It can only begin with me. You are a mighty woman don’t ever forget it x
MaryFebruary 10th, 2015 at 5:17 AM
I understand. I was reading this article and your comment stuck out. I have issues that stem from my childhood from my mom being manipulative of me. My dad was the kind and compassionate parent. Unfortunately, he committed suicide 2.5 years ago. I find therapy very helpful with handling my mom. You are valued and loved. It sounds like you have been very successful. Sometimes our parents don’t understand the harm their words and actions have.
MuhlenradFebruary 11th, 2015 at 12:29 AM
I already do everything under “the antidote” and it doesn’t work. Instead I just feel worse and worse about myself (probably partly because that sort of thing work for everyone else and I am apparently the only person in the world who struggles with it). But thank you for acknowledging that not everyone who struggles with self-loathing was abused as a child! Every single other website reduces it down to “mummy didn’t hug you enough” which is absolutely ludicrious, so it’s nice to see an article which says “uh, actually, a lot of the time, that’s not the case.”
mayFebruary 15th, 2015 at 6:07 PM
I’ve been dealing with dissociation and depression, due to a mental breakdown after some painful events last year. Its hard for me to feel anything now, and I can feel myself becoming an old grumpy lady at the age of 21 and I don’t know how to heal. I used to be so awesome. And now I hate myself. And I don’t feel connected to anyone, and I just don’t see a lot of hope.
NoMarch 8th, 2015 at 12:54 AM
“Recognise…” does nothing for me. I already logically realise that my self-hatred is not logically sound. That doesn’t make me like myself, it just makes me feel bad for hating myself (especially since other people can apparently just logic their way out of self-loathing), which makes me hate myself even more. And I realise that that’s illogical (and that others can just logic their way out of it), which just makes me feel bad, and then—
AtoZMarch 18th, 2015 at 6:05 AM
The hardest thing for me about dealing with self-hatred is that it seems cyclical. I’ll go through a period of it, come out (maybe through meditation or something, but it’s a painful period trying to figure out how to feel better), and think that that’s an issue that’s licked. Then after a time it’s back again–I don’t know why and I blame myself for feeling so awful. So it’s the same struggle again and again and again…
ShaniMarch 25th, 2015 at 7:35 AM
I was one of those children with a parent (Mom) that was verbally abusive. At some point I did start to realize that she was wrong for what she was saying, but the damage was done. “Look at you, who would want to be friends with you?” “You’re going to amount to nothing” “Who would want to be around you?” these statements have always been in the back of my mind regardless of how wrong they are and how wrong I know them to be. To this day, at 41 yrs of age, I still have a hard time with female friendships and trust. I was also punished for trying to make my own decisions. If I showed any independance my Mom would mope, sometimes staying in her room for days until I did things the way she wanted. This has also affected my decision making skills which with the help of my Husband have gotten better over time.
I’m not writing this for sympothy or for others to feel bad for me….but to put it out there that some of the suggestions in this article do work. It takes time….but you can start to drown out the negative thoughts with more positive ones. Practice makes perfect!!
ShrutiMay 16th, 2015 at 11:00 PM
I was the first person in my grade to begin puberty, and then I moved away as soon as I had found some good, reliable friends that wouldn’t judge me. I just happened to move to a school where everyone in my class was Caucasian and had a perfect body and no acne. I was the one non-white with a face that had been smattered with acne since the third grade, was slightly more plump than the other students, and had a developed body. My mom has always been obsessed with looking ‘ladylike,’ and apparently that involved wearing leggings and shorts and tank tops. Naturally, I didn’t want to do this.
I resorted to wearing the most modest, dark clothes possible- black sweatpants, long navy shirts. People at school began to ask me, “Shruti, how come we have never seen you in shorts?” and I could only ignore them. My mom tried to make me do things that she said ‘most girls didn’t do until around age 16 but since your body is so mature, we might as well do it now,’ and I didn’t know why she wanted me to do that. I started hiding in my room, avoiding going outside, avoiding society. And it didn’t help at all. I had wanted to be an average kid, but instead I had started my teenage years several years too early.
My friends were no help; with their perfect hair and perfect clothes and perfect bodies, they didn’t understand a thing about this- in fact, they mocked it. They called me fat and useless, and whenever gym class came, I was always hiding in the bathroom, trying to eliminate myself in the best way possible. And when I told the guidance counselor, they said I was ‘pretending to be sad in order to get attention.’ This made me feel horrible, fake; I continued hiding in my room.
NatashaMay 20th, 2015 at 6:41 PM
Really Caroline? REALLY? You were so absolutely compelled to try to bring her down for her belief in God that you tried to destroy her belief even though she says it helps her battle the issue of self hate. Better she should
forget all that God business and fully loathe herself. Why? Because that will make YOU feel better.
KellieJune 5th, 2015 at 1:08 PM
Great read. I plan on saving the articles for the future. I really needed this today and I fell so fortunate to have stumbled across this. Reading the comments always helps, too. It puts things in perspective for me and let’s me know I am truly not the only one with these types of struggles. Thank you for just existing.
gail harrisonJune 6th, 2015 at 1:17 AM
Hi shruti I think 11 to16 years are the hardest. I was a very shy insecure young girl, I believe a lot of people are weather they are boy or girl. My not liking my self continued till I was 26. I do hope youre stronger now and know that you are amazing and wonderfully made and that you are loved. Gail;-)
BeewitchmeJune 6th, 2015 at 2:34 AM
At last I seemed to have found my thought twin. The arguement never ends. I usr the distraction technique, live music, festivals, and art. Take care.
AnonymousJune 14th, 2015 at 2:48 PM
I’m 38 years old, and sick of never being good enough for anyone. No matter how much I do or how hard I work—I’m called incompetent and useless. Fuck everybody.
ArthurJune 15th, 2015 at 1:17 PM
I have moments when I have real self loathing, and they are HORRIBLE. Truly awful, though I don’t think dangerous, I may say to myself that perhaps I should disappear or end it all, but I don’t mean it. And I think it would be putting an awful burden on my children. Sometimes it comes from being overweight, especially when doctor or gym nurse or so forth has asked me if I need help planning meals or adding calories. Dolts! Do they think I like walking around with a spare tire around the middle?
GoodTherapy AdminJune 15th, 2015 at 3:20 PM
Thank you for your comment, Arthur. We wanted to provide links to some resources that may be relevant to you here. We have more information about what to do in a crisis at http://www.goodtherapy.org/in-crisis.html
The GoodTherapy.org Team
joy89June 22nd, 2015 at 6:31 PM
Self hatred is really tough to deal with but when I turn to God and tell him how much I hate myself and my life He puts things in my life to remind me just how much He loves me. He has a plan for me. He has a plan for us. Keep your head up, He’ll help us through!There is always hope!
Poet and I know itJune 22nd, 2015 at 6:39 PM
Have nothing new to say because you have said it well already. But I know what that is like
Poet and I know itJune 22nd, 2015 at 6:41 PM
Have nothing new to say because you have said it well already. But I know what that is like, especially when it’s family. I don’t know either what to do.
FranJuly 3rd, 2015 at 5:12 PM
I think I suffer more from self-blame as a cause for my self-hatred than shame, although that has happened in my life as well in the past. If something goes wrong, I will blame my inaction or procrastination and sometimes my lack of common sense for being so stupid; and at the same time, my procrastination grows, and so does my self-hate. I find it easier to love other people instead of myself, and would never consider doing harm to them, nor to myself, for that matter. I just don’t like me.
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