We’re all prone to a little self-loathing now and again, and sometimes that’s a dark road that can only get worse. Thankfully, it’s not too difficult to fight back if you can get yourself in the right mindset.
Confidence is important, but it’s sometimes easier to wallow in a pool of self-doubt so deep that being confident seems like a far-off goal. Hating yourself is a different game where you’re so obsessed with your failings that you refuse to accept the good. You’re sitting in front of an audience applauding you, but it’s not like you’re saving the world. You have the perfect job at the perfect company, but you’re not managing the people you want to. You finished a 10K, but you can’t complete a marathon. It can go on and on. No matter how much you accomplish, you still hate yourself. Let’s fix that.
Find a Place to Reset Your Mind
These moments of self-hatred are often fleeting, spurned by a rough day at the office or a particularly nasty breakup. In those types of cases, you can approach it like you would any other mental hiccup: find a quick solution. Using an example culled from Anneli Rufus’ book Unworthy, Psych Central suggests finding the place where you hate yourself less:
For starters, Rufus found a place where she hated herself less: by the seashore … a wild, rolling, splashing sea. “The sea expects nothing from me,” she explains. “I cannot disappoint the sea. It does not care. It does not hate me, does not love me, does not wonder who I am or what I wear, because it does not care whether I am or am not there. The sea roars, either way.”
Your place could be anywhere. It might be the local coffee shop, the hackerspace in your city, a particular park or whatever. The point is to find that place where you can go where you’re reminded that the world is a lot bigger than just you. If you’re anything like me, it means getting as far away from your work or house as possible. I’ve taken to a weird spot on the beach along the bike path where few people tend to hang out. It’s quiet, remote, and a great place to reset everything stupid in my head.
Identify Your Niche
Similarly, find your own niche in the world. Once you identify the traits that make you awesome, it’s a lot easier to concentrate on them and feel better about yourself. Instead of feeling bad about what you can’t do, you can think about all the things you can.
There’s a mind trap that easy to fall into when you hate yourself, where your accomplishments don’t feel like much. Chances are that’s at least partially because you’re concentrating on the wrong things. I may not be a the greatest at small talk, but that doesn’t mean I suck at conversation. It’s easier to beat yourself up for what you can’t do instead of figuring out what you’re best at.
Finding your niche works on a lot of levels too. Your niche might be a character trait (you’re kind, you’re a good problem solver, whatever) or it might be a skillset. It doesn’t really matter what it is, what’s important is to find a focus on your strengths instead of your weaknesses.
You have a lot of tools to really figure out what you’re best at. The most obvious is to simply write out a list of your traits, but if you’re not sure what your niche is, it’s time to think more like an explorer. Try new things, find that one thing that you’re better at than most people, and run with it. It’s amazing what having “one good thing” can do your overall self-respect.
Practice a Little Self-Knowledge
One of the problems with self-loathing often stems from an overabundance of humility. On its own, humility isn’t a bad trait to have. Taken too far it becomes a hindrance that prevents you from acknowledging your accomplishments and accepting compliments.
The trick is to make some attempts to get to know yourself better. A self-loather doesn’t see themselves as other people see them. In turn, it’s easy to disregard someone’s compliment because it doesn’t feel genuine. Psychology Today breaks it down like so:
But there is no right or wrong way to see yourself, no Archimedean point of reference around which others’ perceptions must rotate. Another person’s assessment of you is just as valid as yours — and possibly more so with respect to how you relate to other people, whether these relationships are familial, friendly, or romantic. In simple terms, people who think of themselves as nice may come off as obnoxious jerks to others, and people who think they have nothing to offer other people may be seen by others as very interesting. The point is that you don’t know as much about yourself as you think…
This is one of those cognitive truths that’s hard to correct for. If you’re a self-loather, that feeling of inadequacy is around no matter what you do. The trick, according to Psychology Today, is to do your best to remember that your self-perception isn’t complete, nor is it any more “right” than someone elses. You can learn a lot from how other people see you, but you’ll need to accept what you learn and try to integrate that into your own views.
Attack Your Preconceptions
Once you have a little bit more of that self-knowledge built up, it’s time to attack those preconceptions you have about yourself to see how many of those are true.
When you’re busy hating yourself, you tend to concentrate on your failures and ignore what you’re actually like. We’ve seen time and time again how wrong these preconceptions about ourselves are. Being shy is nothing more than a habit, you can completely change your worldview with a little effort, and when you expect failure, it’s a lot easier to deal with. We think we know ourselves well, but that’s often not the case.
Dealing with this takes a bit of work, but a big part is breaking outside of your comfort zone and challenging your own “default view” of the world. In David Foster Wallace’s “This is Water” commencement speech above, he reminds us that we tend to automatically think in a way that leaves us closed-minded. Wallace is talking about the views we tend to oppose on others, but his point is just as valid for the self-hatred we all tend to do to ourselves. Take a step back from your default view and you’ll likely see just how wrong your preconceptions of yourself are. If you feel like a failure, ask yourself how bad you’ve really failed. If you feel ugly, remind yourself of everything you’re great at. If your default view is that you’re the worst person out there, think about how much harm you’ve actually caused to the world.
Stop Caring About What Others Think
While there’s a lot of mental backflips you have to do to get over hating yourself, one of the biggest causes of self-hate comes from what you think other people expect of you. The trick then, is to truly stop giving a f**k what other people think. Author Julien Smith says it better than most:
If you dismiss the things that do not matter; if you remove those things from your mind and focus on what must be done; if you understand that your time is limited and decide to work now; only then will you be able to get to the finish line. Otherwise, you will be dissuaded into living a life you aren’t interested in.
Side note: You need to handle failure and obscurity better. You may be in a tough place right now where you feel lonely or like a loser. No worries, we’ve all been there. But it’s time for you to realise how common these things are, and that they’re experienced by even the most successful and happiest people in the world. Those people get past them, and you will too.
Once you accept all those awkward moments, failures, screwups and poisoned social encounters as the norm, it’s a lot easier to pull back that inward looking eye and see yourself for who you are: just another person trying to not screw things up more that someone else.