9 Distressing Signs Of Self-Loathing And How To Overcome It
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Are you guilty of self-loathing behavior?
Have you caught yourself using any of the tactics described in this article to punish yourself? And if so, do you know what beliefs and habits of thinking are at the root of it?
It’s not wrong to acknowledge that there are things we don’t love about ourselves.
But when we focus only on those things and act as though they outweigh anything lovable in us, we’re in self-loathing territory.
Because the stuff in us that “needs work” doesn’t outweigh the good.
It might make relationships difficult (with some people), but it doesn’t mean we can never be part of a loving relationship.
It doesn’t mean we’re doomed to remain alone — discarded by society and avoided by all decent people.
Even if someone has made you feel as though you deserve only rejection and pain, you don’t have to accept their opinion of you as the truth.
Because it isn’t.
And it’s time you took a hard look at your thoughts and resulting behavior, so you can begin to make improvements.
Let’s start with a clear definition of self-loathing.
What is self-loathing?
Any self-loathing meaning will draw from the word itself.
Someone filled with self-loathing, then — by definition — is filled with self-hate. Think of all the synonyms for hate (revulsion, abhorrence, contempt, etc.) and imagine them directed at yourself.
This may look different in people of different dispositions, but there are some habits they all share, to varying degrees:
- Habitual self-criticism (open or internal)
- Withdrawal and isolation
- Avoiding risk
- Low expectations
Aside from defining self-loathing and recognizing its usual manifestations, it’s essential to understand what causes it.
What causes self-loathing?
While the origin story of each person’s self-loathing is different, the following are some of the most common causes:
- Childhood abuse (verbal/emotional, etc.)
- Abusive relationships
- Survival guilt
- Guilt and shame over past mistakes and failures
You know better than most what’s at the root of your own self-loathing behavior.
And once you acknowledge it, you’re in a better position to recognize the signs of self-loathing in yourself.
9 Self-Loathing Symptoms and How to Stop It
In order to effectively deal with self-loathing, you need to identify your self-loathing behaviors, recognize them for what they are, and take steps to replace them with behaviors that help you see more of the good in yourself.
1. You set your goals low to protect yourself from failure.
Since you expect yourself to fail or to make a costly mistake, you don’t set your sights higher than what you perceive as easily attainable — preferably with minimal visible effort.
You don’t want to give the impression that you’re working toward something, because if anyone notices, they’ll also notice the outcome.
So, if you ever do start working on something “big,” you’re likely to be secretive about it. If you fail, you want no one other than yourself to know about it.
And if you fail, you’ll more than make up for the lack of criticism and shaming from others.
Setting bigger goals and telling others about them can be scary, but when you continue to strive for something better, learn from your mistakes, and keep picking yourself back up, you also continue to grow.
2. You blame yourself for everything that goes wrong.
When anything goes wrong — or when something doesn’t go the way you want it to — you blame yourself, even when you’re not the only contributing factor.
In fact, you’re likely to blame yourself even when there’s no apparent connection between the failure and yourself.
“It must be” your fault, because you’re bad luck, or because you poison everything you touch.
Even if someone else was directly responsible, you see what no one else sees; it wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t been there.
Take a step back and remind yourself that not every failure you witness is your fault.
And even those for which you’re at least partly responsible don’t define you for life.
3. You think you deserve every bad thing that happens to you.
Because you see yourself as the one most to blame, you also believe you deserve any punishment that comes to you.
Whatever happens to you that causes pain or suffering, you see as something you deserve — or something God or the universe considers you worthy of.
And even if part of you resents the universe for those sufferings, you’re likely to persist in seeing them as proof of what you deserve.
If good things happen, on the other hand, you’re likely to think they won’t last, or that they’re meant for someone else to enjoy.
You’re not allowed to enjoy any of it.
But when you allow yourself to feel gratitude for those good things and to express that gratitude, you can begin to change the way you see yourself and your place in the world.
It’s no accident when you’re able to experience something good, and you owe it to yourself to be grateful for it while it lasts.
4. You keep people at arm’s length.
Since you only see what’s repellent in yourself, you keep people at arm’s length.
You don’t want anyone to know you, because once they do, they’ll see what you see. And they’ll leave.
They’ll leave because (unlike you) they’re not stuck with you.
They can reject you and find someone more lovable to spend time with. And you expect them to do so as soon as they see what you see.
So, you don’t let anyone get close. Maybe you do this thinking you’re protecting them from yourself — someone who will only disappoint or hurt them.
They’re better off not getting attached, because people like you don’t deserve to be happy.
And you don’t want to take anyone else down with you.
But not everyone will hate what you hate about yourself (at least not intensely as you do).
And if they see more reasons to stick around than to leave, give them the chance to show you what they see.
5. You use abuse to motivate yourself.
No one treats you more harshly than you treat yourself — physically, verbally, or both.
Because no one sees and hates the darkness in you more than you do.
Maybe you think that by torturing yourself, you’ll motivate yourself to improve.
But the abusive tactics, if they have any effect at all (considering you’re probably used to them), are more likely to backfire.
You might even borrow abusive tactics from those who’ve hurt you in the past:
- Telling yourself, “Don’t be a fatty,” because that’s what you heard growing up.
- Avoiding foods you enjoy and only allowing yourself to eat “punishment food.”
- Avoiding anything you enjoy, because it’s “vanity,” or it makes you “soft.”
- Dressing in clothes that make you feel invisible or ugly
Whatever tactics you use to habitually remind yourself of your own unworthiness, the more aware you are of them, the more you can question whether they serve the person you want to be.
6. You envy others their success and consider it beyond your reach.
If you don’t expect much good of yourself, you’re more likely to envy the success and happiness of others.
You’re also more likely to resent them for it (secretly or otherwise).
Even when outwardly, you tell yourself, “I’ll never be as successful as so-and-so,” and pretend to be chill about it, the disparity between so-and-so’s life and yours deeply bothers you.
Related: How To Get Out of Your Head
You want what they have, but you also see it as hopelessly beyond your reach.
Maybe you allow yourself to consider the possibility that you could enjoy some success in your life — though nothing on the same level — but as soon as something goes wrong, you fold.
Instead of envying others their successes, why not take advantage of what they know. Learn from them how they succeeded and implement what you learn.
Even if success doesn’t come to you as quickly or in the same way, you’ll still be taking positive action and turning something potentially negative into an opportunity for growth.
7. You’re on a non-stop hunt for validation from others.
If you can’t find validation in your closest family members and other close connections, you’ll look for it anywhere — including social media.
When you post something new, you can’t help checking frequently throughout the day to see how people have responded to it.
It’s normal to want others to respond positively (rather than the opposite). But when you become obsessed with the overall flavor and intensity of that response, it blinds you to more important things.
And you let your self-worth depend too much on how other people (including strangers) respond to something you created.
If you already dislike yourself, you’ll see every negative response as confirmation that you’re right to.
If instead, you act as if you know you’re making a meaningful contribution, it won’t matter as much what other people think of it.
8. You have difficulty accepting compliments.
Since you’re more likely to take negative feedback to heart as something you deserve, you’re unlikely to take even sincere compliments seriously.
So, when someone acknowledges something they like about you, you find it hard to believe them.
Words of praise bounce off you, while words of criticism and condemnation go straight to your core.
Because the latter are more familiar, they feel truer and more deserving of acceptance.
And one negative statement easily wipes out a hundred positive ones.
Try being genuinely grateful for every compliment you receive, even if you doubt its truthfulness.
Allow yourself to believe that other people see that good in you. And allow yourself to feel grateful for what they see.
9. You refuse to forgive yourself (or others) for past mistakes.
It’s easy to hate yourself when you’re hanging onto a past mistake or failure as proof of your unworthiness.
And it’s easy to withhold forgiveness from yourself when the offense justifies your continued self-loathing.
Forgiveness brings change, and if you’re not ready for that, you’ll hold onto what’s familiar — even if it’s making you miserable.
The moment you decide to forgive yourself and move beyond your past mistakes and failures, you also have to accept personal responsibility for your present behavior and the choices you make for the future.
You can’t tune out with the excuse that nothing better than your past failures can be expected of you.
By forgiving yourself, you’re admitting that your life isn’t defined by those failures or by any of your past mistakes.
So, whatever you do now and in the future, you’re just as capable of doing something different as you are of doing the same things that kept you stuck.
Whether you forgive yourself or someone else, the act of forgiveness can change everything.
Isn't it time to put a stop to self-loathing?
You are not the slave of the things you don’t like about yourself. And while you might get some perverse satisfaction from being regarded as a “tortured soul,” you’re under no obligation to live up to that name. And we recommend you strive for the opposite.
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You were not born to self-loathe or to be punished without reprieve. You were born to get better acquainted with love and to experience it more fully. Because at your core, that is who you are.
Self-hate keeps you isolated from that truth. You experience only what self-hate allows. And every thought that contradicts the voice of self-loathing is rejected as heresy.
Better to burn than to cling to what is false.
May your courage and love of truth influence everything you do today.