What is Self-Loathing?
Self-Loathing (Autophobia) is an intense hatred of yourself or your actions. Self-loathing is an extreme self-esteem issue. Self-loathing can lead to someone becoming self-defeating or self-sabotaging, where their hatred of themselves leads them to sabotage their own plans and actions, thus reinforcing their own negative self-image.
Self-loathing is one of the key symptoms of Avoidant Personality Disorder. It can also be a hallmark of depression and other mood disorders.
Feelings of worthlessness and self-hatred are common during periods of depression. Those experiencing depression frequently feel like they are a failure or that they are of no value. They can have great difficulty recognizing their accomplishments and positive qualities.
The emotional detachment resulting from this combination of low self-esteem and negative world-view can affect a person's willingness to recognize and treat their depressive or anxiety disorders. Over time, a person may get so accustomed to experiencing the negative feelings that accompany low self-esteem or self-loathing that they feel worthless and unimportant. They may also have difficulty accepting praise or compliments due to their own warped perception of themselves.
Self-loathing, guilt, and shame can all tend to arise from this pervasive feeling of worthlessness.
Origins of Self-Loathing:
As children, the sense of self is formed (in large part) by the way a child is treated while growing up. As children make judgments about the way they are treated, they can be affected both emotionally by how they feel during or after childhood events and intellectually as they are being taught about right and wrong or how to make value judgements.
Whether judgments about the way they are treated come from other people's expressed or implicit opinions or from the child themselves, they are contributing factors.
During an experience where a person is hurt, their needs are overlooked, or their emotions are invalidated, they become angry. In a person with normal self-esteem, under normal circumstances, they will typically realize the hurt is unfair and not their fault. It is normal for a person to wonder things like "Why did this happen?" or "Why did they hurt me?"
When a person is faced with a traumatic experience like abuse, in addition to hurt and anger, the victim has their sense of right and wrong challenged. Judgements on how one should be treated vs. how one is treated can become confused. Whether the abuse is psychological, physical, sexual, or emotional, the victim can begin to believe that they deserve whatever they are going through. This type of judgement confusion is what causes low self-esteem, low valuation of self, and self-loathing.
When their feelings and needs are consistently invalidated, when they are repeatedly hurt by people whom they love and trust, judgments about who is good and who is bad become very confused in the victim. If others are not ridiculed and rejected while they are, then obviously other people are good or right, while they are bad or wrong.
Once they accept the faulty value judgment, they search internally instead of externally when trying to explain their feelings; their anger points inward. Thoughts such as, "I deserve this, it must be my fault" become commonplace. Their anger at having been hurt is no longer pointed outward at the source - it is now being misdirected internally.
The moral part of the self, discerning right from wrong, blames the self for the problems they are having and the unpleasant feelings that result.
The anger at the person that hurt them has instead been twisted into self-loathing.
The second contributing factor in feelings of self-loathing is shame. Shame is the emotion a person experiences when they have failed to meet standards of behavior or action, whether their own standards or those imposed upon them by others. Parents, teachers, family members, and friends all have different expected standards of behavior and failing each or any of them can cause feelings of shame.
Symptoms of Self-Loathing:
Outward and noticeable symptoms of self-loathing may include drug and/or alcohol abuse, emotional detachment, unexplained rage, self-harm behaviors such as cutting, or excessive promiscuity. Self-loathing may not be a constant state, and recurrences may be triggered by periods of discouragement, anxiety, or emotional distress.
People who struggle with depression or anxiety can often have a running internal monologue of self-loathing thoughts. Some of the following may be typical:
- I am worthless.
- I deserve the pain from my mistakes.
- I deserve to be treated poorly.
- I feel things differently than other people - they are better than I am.
- I am weak, pathetic, and too sensitive.
- I am stupid for being hurt by this, and people will laugh at me if I admit that I am hurting.
- I don't deserve to be comforted.
- People just put up with me.
- I hurt everyone; people should stay away from me.
- People expect the worst of me; why bother trying?
- Everything I do is a disaster.
- I can't live up to anyone's expectations.
- I'm a failure at everything.
How To Interrupt Negative Self-Talk:
Dilectic Behavioral Therapy is designed to help you learn how to cope with and counter negative thoughts that may seem uninterruptable in your mind. If you struggle with depression or self-loathing, it is important to see a therapist so that you can work together to find a combination of therapy and medication that can assist you. The following things are commonly used to interrupt negative self-talk and thoughts of despair and worthlessness:
- Treat yourself the way you treat your friends. You deserve better than hating yourself.
- Do something different - stand up, take a walk, sing - to interrupt the negative self-talk.
- Take a few moments and breathe deeply, breathing in your surroundings.
- Talk back to the negative self-talk. If it's saying, "I'm worthless," say "I'm awesome."
- Talk with it; exaggerate whatever the negative self-talk. Either it'll make you cry or laugh.
- Visualize yourself as a worthy person.
- Question the validity of the negative self-talk.
- Identify the reasons for the negative self-talk, write them down, then come up with reasons that the negative self-talk is wrong.
If Someone You Love Struggles with Self-Loathing:
Understand that to come out of the hurricane of depression, shame, and self-loathing takes heroic effort on their behalf.
If someone you know is depressed or self-loathing, please reach out to them. The chances are very good that they are not going to be able to reach out to you.
If you call them or make time to visit them, they know that you care enough to call and want to listen to them. Listen non-judgmentally if they want to talk.
Offer to spend time with them, if they let you talk, if they don't reject everything you have to say, take the opportunity to tell them that they are not worthless.
Do try to build them up, tell them you love them and care for them, but don't expect it to make a difference right away. Be persistent, but patient. Self-loathing, like all self-esteem issues takes time to correct and get out of. It may seem to you like it is taking a long time, but it feels longer to them.
Be there for them when they have come back up out of the deep, dark cavern.
Additional Resources for Self-Hate:
Our Pathway Home- Tips, tricks and tools all about self-loathing.
Self-Loathing & Self Esteem & Hung Up, Can't Change - excellent article full of useful tips and tricks to battle the self-loathing demons.