I’m a big contender in the self hatred stakes. So what do you do when you don’t like yourself? I think my feelings of self loathing originated in my childhood. My parents were very critical of me and there were rarely any kind words. This early ‘programming’ has certainly made liking and accepting myself much harder. I mean, if your own parents don’t seem to love you then who else will? When you don’t like yourself, life becomes more complicated. Every action is loaded with self doubt and an underlying critical voice telling me that I am not good enough. Sound familiar?
Yep, it’s one of the most common things I hear in my sessions with clients too. They don’t feel they are good enough. We all seem to have an ‘internal bully’ that constantly berates us and tells us regularly how we lack in so many ways. This inner bully seems able to drown out all the softer voices that try to tell us that actually, we are okay and that we are enough.
So why do we even entertain any notions of self hatred? It certainly isn’t helpful and if anything, it leaves us feeling miserable and disillusioned. Perhaps the inner bully is connected somehow to our instinctual need to survive and be accepted into society. Evolutionary Psychologists propose that we are by default programmed to be negative and watch out for danger or threat as this was how we survived in the early cave man days. Perhaps this inner bully is still wearing loin cloths and carrying spears?
Whatever the reason for self hatred, I can’t see any clear positive purpose for it. Apart from possibly motivating us to better ourselves I can’t fathom why we would want to hate ourselves out of choice. Although I do believe in some ways it is a choice. It may not be a conscious choice to think negatively about ourselves but how long we focus on self hatred is:
What to do when you don’t like yourself
Be aware of your inner bully
So, we all have an inner bully. That’s a fact. The bully tells us we aren’t clever enough, tall enough or worthy enough. It’s always there in the background but you can get better at tuning it out. Imagine someone buying you a parrot as a gift. You put this parrot in your home and every so often it shouts out, “You’re ugly and fat” or :You’re useless, just give up now”. What would you do with that parrot? I know I wouldn’t keep it around and the same principle applies to your inner bully. Unfortunately, it’s more difficult to get rid of the parrot but when you are more aware of the negative inner dialogue, you can step back and almost smile about it. The inner bully is going to try to distract you and make you feel bad about yourself but you don’t have to focus on it. When you catch yourself being self critical, just say, “There it goes again” and distract yourself. It’s when we pay the bully attention that we feed the neuroses. Accept that it will always be there but learn to ignore it. It is only powerful if you believe what it tells you.
Focus on your positive characteristics
What do you like about yourself? There will be some things that you feel good about. I like to think that I am kind and tolerant (mostly) and get on with most people. When I ask clients to name 5 things that they like about themselves, I rarely get a client who can rattle of 5 things in quick succession. This tells me a lot about the inner ‘landscape’ of a person. For many of us it isn’t natural or automatic to think of ourselves in a positive way. This can be changed though. Some clients like to write in a diary. They make a special effort to write three things every day that they feel they did well. This is known as ‘priming’ and sets up a different neural pathway relating to more positive inner dialogue. It can also serve as a useful reminder to you when you do feel low and filled with self doubt.
Challenge the self doubt
Self doubt makes me cringe. It stops me from moving forward and can lead me into a self loathing crisis. My self doubt is usually triggered by failure, rejection or some other negative life experience. Unfortunately, self doubt is thriving around the world and won’t be stopped in a hurry. Accepting self doubt is part of loosening it’s grip on me. I accept self doubt as part of life’s recipe but I won’t allow it to stop me from doing things. Self doubt can only win if it prevents you from doing what you want to do. Often, those with self doubt procrastinate or avoid altogether. Try not to fall into that trap. It only serves to empower your fears.
When you feel like giving up because the self doubt is overwhelming, remind yourself of past triumphs and of how far you have come. You will see that you are more resilient than you give yourself credit for. Keep on trucking, and don’t allow self doubt to get in the way. Do whatever you want to in spite of the fear and self doubt.
Surround yourself with good people
It always helps to have people around you who love and support you. This energy is irreplaceable. Self love and acceptance comes from within you but having external validation has it’s merits. We are naturally social creatures and want to fit in. Spend time with those that accept you unconditionally and who inspire you to be your best possible version. If you don’t have anyone like that in your life – join a support group online or find a group with simlar interests that you could join. Being around like-minded people can be a wonderful pick-me-up.
Revise your version of failure
Think about failure for a moment. What does failure mean to you? Some of my clients tell me that failure is being single or not having enough money. Yet, when we create two groups – one being failure and the other success, most clients say they wouldn’t necessarily see someone else as a failure if they were single or didn’t have much money. We tend to judge ourselves more harshly than we judge others. Many clients then go on to say that to them a failure is someone who is mean and has no ambition and is selfish. They then often find that their failures aren’t failures at all. To me, failure is giving up. When I give up hope and stop trying I will feel I have failed. But if I keep trying, dusting myself and having another go, even if I have failed 10 times previously, I don’t seem myself as a failure. I may temporarily see myself as a failure but then I use the above strategies to remind myself that failure isn’t doing something wrong, it’s never trying in the first place. When I reframe failure in this way, I actually feel quite good about all the different things I have tried that didn’t work! See how powerful your perception of reality can be?
Don’t beat yourself up about things that go wrong, and definitely don’t turn that negativity inwards. Use that energy to propel you forward but never ever direct that negative energy towards yourself in the form of self hatred. It’s not helpful.
Treat yourself with kindness and compassion. Look after yourself as you would a dear friend or family member. We are all dealing with our inner bully on a daily basis, don’t allow it to have power over you. Acknowledge it’s presence but don’t let it rule you.