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Self-loathing: why do I hate myself?
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Self-loathing: why do I hate myself?

Self-loathing is the state of feeling bad about oneself all the time — that of not being good enough, a failure and incompetent. You may believe you do not deserve anything good in life.
self-loathing: how to stop hating yourself
Representational image | Shutterstock

Self-loathing is that mean voice inside your head that keeps saying you are not good enough and points out only mistakes. Sadly, this negativity does not just stay in your head but affects how you see the world around you.

People having an ‘I hate myself’ mindset often focus on perceived inadequacies, comparing themselves with others and dismissing their own achievements. This can result in feelings of being unworthy of love, friendship and success. Overcoming this self-sabotage behaviour involves recognising the distinction between feelings and facts, practising self-compassion, and challenging negative thoughts with positive self-talk.

The self-loathing behaviour

Yudhajit Roychowdhury, a counselling psychologist from Kolkata, says, “Self-loathing behaviours are any actions which arise out of hatred for oneself.” These might include — but are not limited to — self-harming, deliberate sabotaging of close relationships, constantly putting oneself in harm’s way, and persistent harsh criticism of self.”

Findings of a recent study led by Magnus Nilsson, a postdoctoral fellow at Lund University, Sweden, indicate that children subjected to maltreatment and emotional abuse often express feelings of self-hatred and engage in deliberate self-harm.

Factors that cause it

Anisha Basu Choudhury, psychologist at YourDOST, an online counselling and emotional wellness coach in Bengaluru, says self-loathing often stems from absorbing critical statements from our environment, consciously or subconsciously. “Imagine human beings like a sponge and absorbing everything from childhood. For instance, phrases like ‘You did not do your best this time’ might translate into a belief of ‘I am never good enough’,” she explains.

Further, she suggests that family members and carers can be key causes of self-loathing. This is because they may constantly compare their child with other children, they may have irrational expectations and fail to acknowledge or validate their efforts or behaviour.

She further explains that negative thinking is another crucial aspect wherein individuals struggle to separate themselves from feedback. While constructive feedback such as `This is not your best work; you can improve in ABC aspect’ is intended to be helpful, someone having cognitive distortions, such as magnification or all-or-nothing thinking, may magnify and internalise the observation personally.

Telltale behaviour

  • Such people are found constantly re-checking their work.
  • They seek constant validation and asking if their work is good.
  • They look for approval of even minor tasks.
  • They often use words such as `should’, `must’ in their statements.
  • They do not express their opinions as they do not think they are good enough to be heard.
  • They offer constant justification for their actions.
  • They show overcompensating behaviour: it involves putting extra efforts to make up for perceived insecurities.
  • They tend to apologise excessively for most actions.

Negative consequences

  • If not kept in check, self-hatred can snowball into NAT (negative automatic thoughts).
  • NAT are some of the root causes of anxiety or depression.
  • Self-loathing creates a sense of a perfect image in our mind that we are constantly trying to achieve. And if we are not able to do that, it can make us feel hopeless and helpless and further slip into self-destructive behaviour – addiction, substance abuse, self-harm, suicidal thoughts and death wishes.

According to a 2019 study led by Dr Antonia Ypsilanti, associate professor in cognitive psychology at Hallam University, UK, feeling lonely and having a strong dislike for oneself can lead to depression.

In a 2018 study, researchers found that self-loathing can lead to increased loneliness, social inhibition and a reluctance to connect with others.

Coping mechanism

Anisha Basu Choudhury suggests a few ways to manage self-loathing behaviour:

  • Gratitude journal – Jot down all nice things that you have and are happy and thankful about. Have a section for yourself, too: ‘I would like to thank myself for…’
  • Happiness jar – Acknowledge the small moments. Keep a jar on your desk, and write on chits of paper what made you smile today and put them in the jar. It could include a good cup of coffee you had or getting to watch your favourite film.
  • Positive affirmations – Write encouraging lines, wishes, quotes or thoughts and stick in places that are easily seen or on your phones as widgets.
  • Challenging that thought: Write down the negative statements that you keep telling yourself. Keep them intact if they have any evidence; if they do not, then scratch those out and write a neutral or positive statement.

For example – `I am not good enough to get into an Ivy League college’: There is no basis for this statement as you have to sit for the exam first. So, strike out the statement and change it to: `I am going to apply to Oxford, work hard and prepare well because that is all that is in my control!.’

Roychcowdhury says that self-loathing is best combatted through therapy – it focuses on exploring the causes for such a mindset and aims to create a functional and worthy sense of self.

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