Those who have studied with me know that I tend to illustrate key points during my training and presentations with cultural references of varying kinds, and in particular, I make reference to one of my all-time favourite TV shows Red Dwarf. In it, there is a character called Arnold Rimmer who is made complex and quirky as a result of his self-loathing and disappointment with himself. It is the topic of self-loathing that I am referring to here today.

I assure you there is richer, thicker, cozier blanket (than self-acceptance) to carry through the world. There is a realm infinitely more mind-blowing. It is called radical self-love” – Sonya Renee Taylor.

 

Self-Loathing is the act of disliking oneself intensely. This includes hating the way one looks and is as a person. There could be various reasons for self-loathing ranging from an overly critical parent who never made us feel like we belong or are good enough, a huge failure in life that we were not able to come to terms with or a side-effect of social and performance and anxiety. While self-loathing especially in the current times we live in with the Generation Z normalising self-deprecating humour and culturally transitioning into a space where they “appear” to take themselves less seriously, there is also a serious epidemic of people experiencing extreme body dysmorphia, a rise in cosmetic surgery, and intense mental health issues.

People are today most vocal about the fragmented relationship they share with themselves which is often based on self-disgust and perpetually comparing oneself to other people on social media. Self-loathing is not simply disliking oneself and if not dealt with at time can become a grave mental health concern leading to depression and anxiety disorders. The bright side to this problem is that with consistent inner work and self-awareness, one can undo this psychological pattern and can reach a more neutral relationship with themselves.

Why Do We Get Trapped in Vicious Cycles of Self-Loathing

 

1.     Childhood

According to Research, the relationship that we grow up to have with ourselves is determined by the kind of relationship our primary caregiver (traditionally, our parents) had with us. If we as children were in a secure relationship with our parents where we felt wanted and loved, this has a substantial impact on how we feel about ourselves when we grow up. On the contrary, if due to whatever reasons, our parents were unable to make us feel loved and safe when we were younger, our nervous system internalises that and can perceive the self from a place of contempt and thinks- of oneself as a burden, even leading to self-hate. Therefore, a primary reason of why some people who might be conventionally gifted individuals, they might internally have a very hard time accepting themselves because they are still wounded.

2.     Past Traumas

A person can also experience feeling unloved and unwanted during teen years or adult life. If one has a huge fight with a friend or a partner or has to leave the relationship due to some unpleasant event, this might trigger them into thinking that the reason behind the relationship ending was them and had something to do with how they look or how they are as people. These feelings of insecurity rise especially after romantic relationships, or a close friendship breaks off. These unpleasant relationships become the center of how people begin to perceive themselves and they carry these intrusive thoughts with them into other relationships as well which might make their lives and relationships even more miserable.

3.     Social Media

One of the most crucial reasons for rising dissatisfaction with oneself is people’s relationship with social media. The power of images is profound. It extends beyond things we are struck a sense of awe in us in daily life. For instance, in everyday life, if we stop to look at someone who might be objectively more attractive or successful than us, we might sulk over that for a couple of days due to the transitory nature of our interaction with this person and also the lack of knowledge about the details of this person’s life.

However, when we constantly come across images of people who seem to be in a better place than us, we can hold on to these images and make our own stories about them. In addition to this, on social media, these images of beauty and splendour are exaggerated and only show the best parts of people’s lives. When people compare their seemingly mundane, boring lives to images on social media, they can begin to detest their lives and start losing a sense of purpose in the millions of images they consume every day. 

4.     Environmental Triggers

Self-Loathing can also be intensified when someone around us constantly reminds us of our insecurities. For instance, if a person is suffering with acne or has put on some weight and someone makes it a point to pass a comment of some kind, this may trigger an insecurity that a person might not even have in the first place. Hence, people’s comments whether they are based upon reality or are projections of their own, can have a huge impact on the relationship people have with themselves.

5.     Negative Inner Critic

Many of us, in order to avoid failure or achieve something or adjust in social settings, become hypervigilant about how they are being perceived. This gives rise to a haunting inner voice that can put us down and makes us feel like we are the center of everyone’s universe and our failures are catastrophically big; this leads to extreme self-loathing. 

6.     Unrealistic Standards

In the times we live in, with commercialism on the rise, many of us have very unrealistic standards of how beautiful, rich, and successful one must be. Hence, the standards that aspects of modern capitalism sets, inherently have no regard for people’s sense of self which can givie rise to self-hate. 

7.     Unhealthy Relationships

Apart from the inner critic, there are also real-life critics in the form of other people; our parents, spouses, and friends who want us to be perfect. While some of their comments where they seemingly want to push us to be better might be coming from a place of wanting the best of us, they can sometimes backfire turning us into perfectionists always wanting their validation. When we fail to receive their praise and validation, we fall into spirals of self-doubt and abhorrence.

8.     Internalised Stigma

Sometimes, it is highly possible that we might have had a healthy childhood and fulfilling relationships through our adulthood coupled with success in other aspects our lives and we still might not be at peace with ourselves. For this, one must check in with their own internalise biases and extremely high expectations from oneself. For instance, if it is believed that to be happy, one must be extremely attractive and successful and anyone who does not check these boxes are a waste of space, one might have to re-evaluate their ideas of what a worthy human being comprises of.

9.     Co-Dependency

Self-Loathing is extremely common in people who are in co-dependent relationships. Codependency means that one is excessively reliant on another person. This is especially common in co-dependent children who grow up to become immature adults because they are reliant on their parents for most things in life. When they have to grow up and make decisions on their own without anyone’s help, failure to do so might lead to feelings of low self-love.
 

10.Taking Life Too Seriously

A huge part of hating oneself a little less and sailing smoothly through life is to cultivate a sense of humour about things. A lot of people, when experiencing something unpleasant in life that makes them feel low about themselves, often resort to statements like “I am too sensitive”, “This is how I am”, this might become a huge hindrance for them in terms of being at peace with themselves and with other people as they would then take everything too seriously and personally in life.

 

How To Overcome Self-Loathing

 

1.     Identifying Self-Hate

Often times, people fail to identify that the kind of statements they use for themselves are extremely dangerous. Not liking oneself becomes a default aspect of their life and they think it is okay to continue like that. The simplest example of this is that they start using sentences like “I am so stupid” rather than “I feel so stupid, or I acted so stupidly” which reflects that the negative things they believe about themselves to them are “facts” rather than beliefs. A good starting point to be self-aware that these psychological patterns are unhealthy and do not serve you in any way.

2.     Reflecting On Your Triggers

The next step is to figure out when, why, and around whom do you feel like your worst self. When do the thoughts creep in and when do they get unbearable are also good points for reflection.

3.     Figuring Out The Source Of Your Self-Loathing

This includes exploring one’s life, past experiences, and relationships and assessing the contribution of any unpleasant events and how they altered how one sees themselves. 

4.     Prioritising Change and Self-Improvement

It is our responsibility as adults to realise that it is unfair to ourselves to live in constant cycles of self-hate which hinder us from living to the fullest. Hence, it is vital to understand that one has to create a relationship with themselves that allows them to live life confidently and build a life of joy. This calls for time, attention, and the determination to get better.

5.     Read Up

One crucial step towards getting better is reading up on what we are feeling and how one can overcome it. For instance research shows, as backed by famous psychological experts like Albert Ellis that self-esteem is a myth, and one does not have to constantly hold oneself in high esteem to live life happily. Rather, the cleverer way to get through life is to have more neutral approach towards both and successes and failures and life and not assign too much importance to either; instead prioritising action over what we feel or think about ourselves.

6.     Reframe Your Thoughts

Reframing thoughts primarily challenging the validity of what we feel about ourselves. For instance, if one thinks that “I am stupid”, one can tell themselves that they only feel stupid and there is no objective truth to their stupidity.

7.     Exercise

A more practical approach to healing the relationship we have with ourselves is to engage in physical exercise. Exercising releases happy hormones in the body and creates a sense of balance in life which helps us regain perspective and help the brain function better.

8.     Journal And Meditate

Journaling and documenting our journeys as we become better is also a great pragmatic step towards getting better. This helps us in reframing our thoughts and in a time of crisis truly reflect on what is at the root of our struggle with self-loathing. 

9.     Seek Professional Help

Lastly, if one is unable to practice self-compassion by following the afore-mentioned steps or might want external help during the process, therapy might be a great way to heal oneself.

10. Look At The Larger Picture

It is important to look at the larger picture and realise our overall insignificance. People are not focused on us all the time, and this is a liberating idea for anyone who is pre-occupied with what people think of them all the time.

 

Radical acceptance is the willingness to accept ourselves and our lives as it is. A moment of radical acceptance is a moment of genuine freedom” – Tara Brach.

 

Final Word

Self-Loathing can be a very difficult psychological pattern to break; however, with the right kind of attitude and seeking help, one can overcome self-loathing. The emphasis however, should not be on constantly having an elated sense of self but having a balanced sense of self which is not shaken down easily by a bad experience or by any external trigger. To overcome self-loathing, one needs to offer oneself radical compassion and love which means that the self-love we offer ourselves is unconditional and does not fluctuate depending on an external success of fear. It requires us to be kind ourselves no matter how low we feel.

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