Self-Hatred and Self-Criticism


[I expand upon the themes expressed below in two later posts, one about shyness and self-hatred as defenses against vulnerability, and another concerning the role of unconscious anger and refusal in self-loathing.]

Browse the self-help aisle at the bookstore, or comb through the online material about self-esteem, and you’ll mostly find advice on how to take “conscious control of your self-talk,” to stop negative self-statements and replace them with affirmations, to love yourself, to conquer this or that experience, etc.  In an earlier post, I discussed why such verbal techniques don’t work, but even for those people who do find them valuable, I’d like to suggest a different way of approaching this issue.

These other techniques tend to view “negative self-statements” as if they were something almost alien to the person:  internalized parental criticism we must identify and reject; perfectionistic standards imposed upon us by advertising, our peer group, society at large; mental tape loops that reflexively repeat horrible things about us, almost like a critic-virus implanted in our brains.  Instead, you may find it more useful to “own” the critic and  take a look at what it is that you (and not somebody else) actually expect.

Let me give a personal example.  I play the piano, and sometimes when I’m confronting a new technical challenge and get frustrated, I can come down hard on myself.  If I listen closely, I’ll be saying things like, “You’re a lousy player.  What’s wrong with you?  You should have mastered this piece already!  You’ll never be any good.”  Those thoughts aren’t merely critical.  They reflect attitudes and expectations I’ve struggled with my entire life:  1.  I should be able to master things quickly and easily.  2.  Learning should not involve frustration.  3.  I want to be the best at what I do; anything less is without value.

I am not the victim of these perfectionistic expectations; a part of me demands that my life conform to the way I expect it to be.  When those demands aren’t met, it usually stirs up anger that I “can’t have my way”:  on some level, it makes me furious that life and my experience don’t unfold exactly the way I want them to, and in this particular example, that I’m not the brilliant musician (a true genius!) that I long to be.

Self-criticism and self-hatred thereby transform into anger — my anger, and not a “negative self-statement” I’ve internalized from the outside.   Knowing myself well, having been over this ground many times, I think:  “Oh that again.  Now be quiet and breathe.”  I turn myself back to the long patient work of practicing and accept that, as much as I might hate the fact, I will never play Carnegie Hall.

Finding Your Own Way:

What are your usual complaints about yourself?  Weight?  Lack of self-discipline?  Chronic lateness?  That grade on your paper?  Go through the process I outlined above.  Chances are, you’ll find an angry and demanding person behind your “negative self-statements.”  Here are some of the things he or she might be saying:

Why can’t I eat whatever I want,  whenever I want it?  It’s not fair that I have to exercise to lose weight!

I don’t want to have to choose between checking Facebook and sitting down to do homework!

Even though I know it takes 20 minutes to get to work from home, I refuse to leave right now.  I’m going to answer this e-mail first!

Of course, coming into contact with your angry and demanding self poses other challenges … but that’s a post for another day.

By Joseph Burgo

Joe is the author and the owner of, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.


  1. I have been raised to be successful and this last three years where I lost everything, I feel like a low life and do not want to be around people who have money and affluence. I feel safe at home with my dog. I have no extra money to buy stuff to do art so I am a movie buff. My immediate family does not understand. I do not want to go to family gatherings, Christmas and all. I was the one who had those parties and gave. Now I can not give.

    I know that I am fighting vanity and grief as my husband, not my children’s father, was the love of my life and he just bailed on me three years ago. I have meds for high blood pressure, insomnia, pain, anxiety and more. I just want to stay in my little apt. as I can not contribute to help my children. My 2 sisters are successful and I feel like a huge loser. I am not suicidal but I do not see any future right now. I am thankful that I have housing and all the help that I can get as a poor little church mouse. I am ashamed and embarrassed.

    1. “I am not a worthy human being unless I have extra money to buy stuff and do art.”

      “Giving is good, taking is bad.”

      “My happiness depends on other people’s validation: relatives, husband, etc.”

      “I’m not worthy unless I’m successful.”

      Can you identify with these thoughts? My guess is that you do. These are the thoughts that make you feel sad. Maybe you adopted them from your parents and peers, but now they have become your own.

      Don’t beat yourself up for having such thoughts. Don’t even fight the thoughts.

      Just let them be there and observe them. Become aware of what they are and how they feellike. Allow the feelings to be there. Let them pass through your body and allow yourself to cry if you have to.

      It’s not weak to cry. It’s not selfish or wrong. Accept your feelings.

      Then you can realize that you don’t need to take those thoughts seriously. Even though you can expect them to continue coming to you often for a while, you don’t need to engage them in any way.

      Allow them to be there and observe them. Name them for what they are – thoughts.

      This is my non-professional suggestion.

    2. Hi there, I do know exactly how you feel, being in similar circumstances we cannot stop the storm, but we can learn to sing in the rain. What do you need to learn? ……its so tough but not as tough as prolonged misery and loss of love. Starting to love your wounded self is a good beginning. You have been successful and you can be again. Its like a muscle! Use it to improve it. May you find love for your soul and self …….. hugs from Rosa


  2. Interesting. So what is it that works for you? How do you address the brat? I believe that you are right; that some of this could be ego (or brat, demanding baby inside that wants what he wants) – but that part of us, call it whatever you want, gets in the way, right? I mean we waste energy and time dealing with these emotional thoughts – – – -however we get past them and onto the tasks at hand (practicing music, exercising, whatever) is the important thing. What do you think about a regular meditative exercise that trains the brain to ‘start over’ – – – – – – in other words as soon as you become aware that there are thoughts distracting you from the tasks that need to be done, you ‘start over’ and begin again by leaving them alone, to be just that, thoughts that are from past experience, messages from our parents or raising up, programs written by our lives so far, or our internal brat. . . . . . doesn’t matter where they come from just that we realize that they are sucking the time and life away from us, right? Looking forward to what works better for you than . . . . stopping, breathing, and starting over. Love the topic!

    1. Kim, sorry I didn’t respond earlier to your comment. Yes, I do think a regular meditative practice can help; even more, incorporating its precepts into your minute-by-minute experience so that, in some way, you are always “meditating” — always striving to be quiet and aware, seeing the old messages, thoughts and “programs” rise up, then letting them pass through.

  3. Oh, and one more comment. . . . when you start over, and get good at it, and get good at not wasting so much time dealing with the thoughts that distract, and you just do. . . . . . . . (practice piano, resist cookies, exercise, put away money, clean your house, do your job better, whatever) – – — – how do you know if you’ll never play Carnegie? That’s just another thought distracting you. SEE – – – – where you will go if you control the mind. It’s just the mind after all that prevents reality from revealing herself.

  4. With all due respect, I believe that you are over simplifying Cognitive Behavior Therapy. While books are not replacements for therapy, often they are written by experienced clinicians trained in CBT techniques. The techniques they offer are usually sound, scientifically validated, and very user friendly. They are especially useful for overcoming phobias such as fear of heights or driving phobias. CBT techniques are also especially useful in reducing panic attacks.

  5. Tikun,
    I think what you have to say is true but those techniques seem more geared towards helping people in the moment (as you say, panic attacks). However they fail to address the underlying problem… they’re only a temporary fix. I think Joe’s approach is more geared towards gaining insight about what your self-criticisms actually tell you about yourself; that way you can cope with them on a deeper level rather than simply shoving them out of your head.

  6. Another fascinating blog post! As a therapist with a core model of TA, I am particularly intrigued by the thought that it may well be the Child Ego State, rather than the Parent in the executive! Ultimately though, training oneself to be an outside observer, learning to let go of any emotional charge to the messages is very liberating…
    Thank you for sharing.

  7. I agree that examining your self critic is important but I feel this article is incomplete, how do you deal with your self loathing to create a positive outcome? Verbal positive affirmation seems to be central to many of the most successful individuals and teams there have ever been. From Phil Jackson’s Bulls and Lakers, Ali, Nicklaus, Woods to the Carnegies, Bransons and Rockefeller’s of this world positive affirmation seems to be key to forward momentum and action overcoming the over-analytical mind-set. Perfectionism is a useful trait but must be matched with patience to recognise and prevent the self-hatred kicking in, I am also a pianist (a terrible one).
    Keep up the writing, some of your statements seem a bit stubborn for me but they are incredibly thought provoking, and a great read.

    1. I’ve discussed affirmations elsewhere and why I think they are generally part of the problem rather than the solution, but other people will surely have experiences different from mine.

    2. I think there’s a distinction between using an affirmation to tell yourself you can become the world’s greatest golfer or make all your free throws and using one to actually change your self-image. What you resist persists.

  8. “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” —Henry Ford

    I know it sounds cheesy but I firmly believe that thoughts manifest. It’s a constant struggle and there’s probably plenty of “hooey” out there but there has to be some truth to the Law of Attraction.

    And… go easy on yourself!! You’re probably already a musical genius as stated but don’t have the skills to give yourself credit for this.

    And no, I don’t run a self-help site.

    Peace and love… I’ll send you some good vibes (or something hippie dippy like that).


  9. This is great. What you’re getting at is LIVING with these voices. I do believe there is some rewiring that we can do around the worst inner critics but they are not going anywhere. Noticing them, acknowledging how they may have protected you and, then telling them thanks for sharing now sit down and cork it is the key. Looking deeper to uncover what the voices are really saying and why is rich stuff too. Thanks for posting! I’ll be back. Im doing a lot of work on this myself these days. Aubrey

  10. Brian Larson/Henry Ford do have a point worth listening to. A couple of days ago I was visiting a site with several readable essays, in one of them he talks of how youth often succeed beacause there is no experience to tell how green and “foolish” you are. With increased age and experience we start seeing our short comings and become afraid to try. Certainly, what we believe has huge impact on the outcome.

  11. Self criticism indeed is a measurement by which we so highly identify. It’s about some imaginary standard like you have stated coming from peers, siblings, culture, society, parents and other well meaning adults. All of that stuff is stored in the subconscious. Many times it unconsciously comes into the present based on those learnings. In my journey of discovery. I literally had to look at the patterns where these limitations were showing up, like a broken record . Once I discovered there was only me as the common denominator in all the self- limitations, self criticism and how I attracted circumstances and relationships based on these critiques., then I could begin to address them. For me it began with breaking the cycle. Taking a look at where I may have come to these conclusions about myself. So until you really look, affirmations just don’t seem natural. Forgiveness of self for our silly interpretations of the learnings and the ones who may have taught us to be self critical is a really big step. Once forgiven, then you can really look at yourself with new eyes, heal and create the kind of life that you really deserve.

    1. Hi Sue, I really like your comment. You are saying that our self-critical thoughts are incorrect interpretations of what we have “learned” from past experiences – like a constant that keeps showing up in life? For example, my parent tends to come home and open conversation with immediate criticism. I would interpret this as I always have to keep busy or doing something they want me to be doing, or not even be home to avoid this criticism. I don’t know… I am struggling with a lot of self-critiquing and I’m just trying to figure it out. I believe in the power of forgiveness. Maybe I’m just not in that stage of life to understand

  12. Hi im very glad to have found this site. I think you provide reasoned advice thats much more realistic than some other self help sources. I think that when i read self help books during my first onset of depression they created the false impression in my mind that there was a perfect mental state of mind attainable where one should be free from self doubt and any negative self talk. I therefore interpreted any low moods as evidence of my defectiveness, and distance from the serene mental experiences of those without problems.

    Anyhow with regard to self criticism, it has been one of the key problems for me over the years. I would say i have experienced recurring bouts of uncontrollable and irrational self criticism beginning in my first year of college aged 18 which have persisted to the present (24). I seem to have two sets of mind. I can be relatively untroubled while experiencing regular self criticsm born out of self awareness. Such criticisms are fairly regular (i guess im quite harsh with myself) but im able to remain fairly objective with them, and they do hold an element of truth to them.

    Sometimes when my self esteem gets rocked for whatever reason I have a proclivity to enter into moods where depressive black and white thinking and outright self hatred come to the fore. The things i say to myself in this state of mind are often grossly unfair and their frequency is hard to control. I will criticise myself for everything using the harshest terms possible. Dropping a pencil on the floor will be an example of my complete idiocy. Thinking of something i could have said after the moment passes is evidence of my social retardedness. Theres no reasoning with this savage voice. Its these depressive moods that i would like to eliminate since the self criticism during these times fails to serve much purpose. Its during these modes of thinking that being able to step back from the thoughts becomes difficult since their relentlessness provokes my emotional involvement. My anxiety raises, my attention to the thoughts is complete. I start to believe them.

    I hope you can get some grasp of what im going through from what ive written. How do you defeat such irrational self criticism.

    1. I most relate to your statement that “there’s no reasoning with this savage voice.” Absolutely true, and the best thing you can do is to give up trying. I touch on this issue in an early post about cultivating mental silence. The goal is to deprive the savage voice of access to mental words since that’s the avenue it uses to attack you. Once you engage in the word flow, you’ve more or less lost the battle.

  13. Thank you for this alternative approach. It resonates with me.
    I, too, experience these thoughts as part OF me rather than alien TO me. In fact, I often don’t know how harsh these thoughts are until I tell another person what I’m thinking. Without exception, their response is along the lines of “wow”; “oooo; you shouldn’t DO that to yourself”; “that’s self ABUSE”; “maybe you need to look at what you GET out of that.”

    A friend had just asked me that last question last evening: what do you get out of such self-critical talk? I didn’t know, and frankly I was amazed by this, commenting to my friend: “And you know me: I ALWAYS know why…or can quickly dig a little and figure it out!” Now, based on this information, I know. Or I have at least an idea or two. Maybe those thoughts are a way of voicing my frustration over not meeting my own expectations. And, yes, maybe at that moment I’m in a child ego state: I hate hearing that I never grew up, but if you watch my emotions, you might think this is true.

    Back to my relief over hearing a possible solution. I find that defining the problem almost always points to a solution. And here’s one I’m thinking about trying: find a different way to voice my frustration. I like the ideas of accepting the thoughts and moving past them, DOING something instead of stewing in self-loathing thoughts. But sometimes I need to VENT the frustration. So maybe if I give the angry and demanding person inside two minutes to vent–and I don’t have to take anything she says seriously because I know she’s just upset–she’ll feel she has a voice; she’ll feel heard. I read in customer service training materials that angry customers want to be heard first. Let them vent and then they’ll be calm enough to engage in some joint problem solving.

    So this may work. Thank you again: I was beginning to think there was something really “off” about me because the affirmations and replacing-positive-thoughts approaches were NOT working.

    1. Patty, I think that actually saying them aloud is a good idea; sometimes we have to hear them quite literally in order to see how insane they are. After that, I think it’s important to try to silence them, as I mentioned in my response to Anonymous above.

      1. something found (find) helpful is to write myself a letter from my “compassionate self” when I get into these situations. I start with Dear … and end with “with you every step of the way with love, x” and I write as if I was my own best friend – as if I was responding to a rant by someone else. It sounds ridiculous but its quite carthic, because it takes you out of the emotion itself, and forces you to look at it objectively. and as Joe says, sometimes the thoughts / criticisms are simply insane, or at the very least groundless. Also it allows you to reframe the problem or issue, which changes how you feel / respond to it.

        If your best friend didn’t deal with you sensitively and supportively, you’d drop her as a friend (I hope!), so be your own best friend when you need her … but I do urge you to write it down – getting it out of your head is key!

        good luck!

        1. oh, and if the thoughts aren’t groundless, then it can also help you find a solution to the problem and make a decision about how to move forward…

  14. so what do you do after acknowledging how angry you are ? im not just angry at me but at my upbringing (neglectful and harsh) as well. I dont ever really talk about how angry i am at myself and my family. But i want to build myself up and feel like im crawling out of a trench sometimes

    please lemme know
    i have gotten WAY better
    but part of me wonders if im avoiding problems now, which makes it seem better
    i am getting tired of asking for help on my self critical attitude. that always comes back when i start writing or painting. or doing anything i care about. i have read SO MUCH self-help stuff.

    1. I think there are several different issues here. First, I find that anger, like all emotions, will pass with time, as long as I’m not “talking it up” in my head, fueling the emotion with a kind of verbal mental rant. Then there’s the way in which persistent anger can ward off other painful emotions we don’t want to feel — such as grief and sadness about the mess of our childhood. As for the critical voice, I think you might find the post I wrote on coping with your savage inner voice to be helpful.

  15. I have bruises and scars all over my body from the punishment I have inflicted on myself for not being successful enough. The thing is, though, my standards are reasonable. I’m not a perfectionist, but I demand excellence, especially if I have crucified myself to succeed at something I care about. The truth is, I am not only not perfect (which is perfectly fine), and I am not only not excellent (which is a viscious slap in the face considering the amount of effort I expend on self-improvement), but I am not even good, and that’s the most agonizing and humiliating thing of all. I keep a bloody hammer in my room so that I can pound myself in the head like I deserve. I HATE myself. I struggled for 15 years to earn a doctoral degree and I haven’t been able to finish the dissertation. But I REFUSE to throw in the towel and say I just not smart enough to finish it. FUCK YOU. I’ll never stop crucifying myself, and if I never succeed, then at least I’ll have successfully destroyed myself and hopefully others as well. In a past life I must have been Hitler. My will to power is indomitable, but I have no talent. This excruciatingly humiliating and infuriating contradiction has turned me into a viscious enemy of society. Success emanates from other people like the holy spirit from the essence of god. Successful people merely have to be what they are, and the reward follows them like their shadow. For me, PRACTICE MAKES WORSE. Everything I do is unnatural and self-defeating. So I hate myself. But I also hate society. If there were no one else in the world, I wouldn’t give shit whether I was excellent or even good at anything, but society DEMANDS it: OR ELSE YOU HAVE TO WORK IN A SHOE STORE, OR A FACTORY, OR DRIVE A CAB. Well, if that’s how it’s going to be, then I”LL NEVER WORK!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’ll just suck of the system and give it the finger while I live with my dad. I’m 35 and I’ve been climbing a mountain my whole life, and my reward is PRECISELY nothing. The only future for me is either some depressing, excruciatingly humiliating, dull, pointless, ignoble, exploitative JOB, or–what seems far more attractive–a sadistically self-mutilating suicide. What is the point of society if life is THAT terrible? Why did we ever leave the jungle? And don’t say it isn’t THAT terrible. Have you ever seen a tree that grew straight through a fence? I’m like that tree. My personality has become catastrophically warped and tortured and disfigured by having to grow through unnatural obstructive obstacles. I need to be shot. I am ingrown from strife and toil and disillusionment and a million pounding spasms of extentially paradoxical frustration. If this sounds like the ravings of a lunatic, it’s because there are no words to express the depths my despair. If I simply “go easy” on myself and “accept myself,” the consequence is get a “jab,” just like all those other stupid, ignorant, shallow, well-adjusted, reptiles. I am not one of them. I’m not a reptile like everyone else: I have real feelings, whereas everyone else has only sham feelings and superficial hints of feeling. I wanted to be something, I wanted to do something meaningful, something that emanates from my being like the holy spirit from the esssence of god. I really, really want to be better than everyone else, but I’m not, and I won’t stand for it. I just wanted to live in accordance with my values and ideals. But this society of unthinking, unfeeling, unreflective, unimaginative reptiles has made life impossible for a extreme, idealistic, useless self-sacrificing dreamer like myself. I hate humanity. Don’t get me wrong, I blame myself, but I blame humanity too, because the very construct of selfhood is contingent on social feedback. One’s sense of self is merely an image of society’s judgments and expectations. If I could, I would forget about oppressing myself and pour all my effort and hatred into oppressing others for a change. I wish I were Hiter. Psychologically, we have a lot in common.

    1. You say you have no talent, but you are a genius as destruction. I’ve met with this phenomenon before, where it’s so excruciating to feel small, inferior and envious that we take flight into the enormous power of destruction. It feels very big, very potent, and so much better than feeling like a “loser”. We may not be able to achieve what we want but look at how powerful we are in our destruction! I am omnipotent in my destructivenesss!

  16. I apologize for being an internet troll. The other day, I came across a caricature of a low-class, self-important, unkempt internet troll on Google Images and found it revolting.

    There is some truth to what you say, but the fact is that I am not “omnipotent” in destructiveness. I am actually capable of extremely little destruction and my awareness of this fact makes me feel weak and powerless. And I don’t just feel like a loser: I am a loser. I face that reality about myself in the face and destructiveness is no mere attempt to mask feelings of inadequacy and helplessness. My motive is probably something closer to revenge.

    I probably have some level of antisocial personality disorder, but I wasn’t always this way. I have developed into a sick creep because all of my ideals and values have been shattered by the so called reality principle, and I see nothing left but a meaningless, empty, exploitative, corrupt, and corrosive world in which success is a matter of survival by the law of club and fang. Can you blame me for wanting to destroy such a world? I was raised to be a utopian idealist with a spiritual view of human life, but I have long since realized that we live in a Darwinian world in which the rich trample the poor, and the poor compete to the death in order to scrounge a living. I didn’t sign up for such a life and I blame everyone except myself and other idealists for making the world in a dystopic hell far worse then the jungle we left behind aeons ago. I am not responsible for the hell we live in, and I have tried in my necessarily limited way to make the world a better place. I realize, however, that you can’t accomplish this by contributing to the system, any more than a Roman could have made Rome a less brutal and destructive society by joining the army. I say that destructiveness is a prelude to rebuilding. Don’t contribute to the cycle of evil. This shit has gotta go. If there were a God, I would say I long to see the day when pours his cup of wrath upon humanity. That’s it, what I feel is righteous anger.

    Am I still being a troll? I eliminated the capitals and the profanity. I suppose I am a little off topic.

    1. I did not mean to suggest you were being an Internet troll; you weren’t. You expressed yourself very clearly and honestly and I didn’t find it abusive. I have a lot of sympathy with what you’re saying. Perhaps “omnipotent” is the wrong word as I tend to use it in a professional sense not everyone understands. There is a grandiosity about your destructiveness, your rage and your contempt; you feel that all of those emotions are justified by the world you live in. I don’t. It sounds to me as if you have swung from one extreme of the pendulum (Utopian idealism) to another — nihilistic disillusionment and loathing for a world without value. I hope you can find some middle ground. The Dystopian view is no more based upon the “reality principle” than the Utopian one. They both reflect an expectation, even a demand that the world be different from what it is.

  17. I do demand that the world be different from what it is, and the reason why the world is a dystopic hell is because people simply accept it and selfishly try to get on with their narrow lives instead of doing something to change it. The real source of global misery is not oppression and exploitation but the unfortunate fact that most people find it psychologically easier to adapt to hardship than to resist it. This acceptance-oriented morality is to blame for the holocaust. It was within the power of the citizens of Germany at that time to resist Hitler, but they found it easier to trust authority and go along with the movement. The people in the areas surrounding the death camps suspected what was going on, but they didn’t do anything because it seemed impossible and they had their own selfish lives to live.

    I also don’t understand the acceptance-oriented logic behind arguments like “life is not black or white, but grey,” and “reality is somewhere in between extremes.” Couldn’t you say the same about Ted Bundy? Sure, he brutally murdered thirty-nine women, but he also worked for a suicide hotline and probably saved many lives. If we ought to condemn men like Bundy for their heinous crimes despite their redeeming qualities, then we also ought to condemn society for its atrocities against the human spirit despite its redeeming qualites. We do live in a black and white world: there is lots of black and lots of white, but the black completely undermines the white. A dinner plate filled with roast chicken, potatoes, and excrement is completely inedible and should be thrown in the trash. Do you see my point? And what kind of person would sit down to dinner and pick out the chicken and potatoes amidst the smell of excrement, and utter platitudes about the meal being what you make of it? I am outraged that I am forced to eat from such a plate because nobody else minds it enough to do something about it and are able to adapt and get on with their lives.

    1. If you were my client, I would know how to take this up in session. It would be the work of many, many hours. I don’t think that my engaging with you in a logical/philosophical discussion here on my website would be helpful. This feels like a fixed idea that no one can challenge, so maybe we should just leave it there. I’m truly sorry your experience of the world is such a nightmare and I hope that somehow you can either make your peace with it, or find a way to go out and change it to the extent you’re able.

  18. Perhaps, I feel very similar to tneveca.I feel that my life is going to end with a disappointing finish. I feel if I lower my standards about myself, that I’m simply not be harsh enough in comparison of society expectations. I have already made mistakes that I regret in life; thus contributing towards my self hatred. I’m always thinking what if? What if I have done things differently and not have acted so selfish in order to satisfy my own needs. I’m not looking for sympathy from anyone, I do not write to gain attention from other people.
    However, I’m not seeking revenge. I do not blame my problems on other people but myself. I choose to hide my problems, and think to myself well if I haven’t done this, then I wouldn’t have these problems.
    I used to think I could be author. I’m positive that anyone who reads this article can identify that this person writing this has no talent. I do not want to be like a contestant on Canadian Idol hoping they will make it to the finales when really they can’t sing a tune on key.

  19. The exercise you suggest is something that I’ve been actually learning to do recently, just under a different name. We can call it identifying and working with the image of perfection: each time the inner Judge in our head says we should or shouldn’t do something, and each time the inner Victim agrees with the Judge (or we might also just put it simply by saying that each time we expect from ourselves something and judge ourselves for not getting it), we feel emotional pain. Just like the example of your playing the piano and becoming frustrated for not doing it good enough. So, there are many “not good enough” messages in our mind. What we might do is then to make a list of what we should or shouldn’t have done instead. So, if we are in a situation where we feel frustration, and given we have some awareness of our thought processes and core beliefs, we might try to identify what had to happen so that the Judge would be satisfied. If I go to a social gathering and feel frustration—just like it happened yesterday—I can try and see what had to happen for me to be satisfied. And then I start seeing such things as “Everybody should like me,” “People must pay attention to me and admire me,” “I must make friends easily,” “I must be totally satisfied with myself, accept and love myself, feel comfortable with myself,” “I must not care what others think of me,” and so on. And then I see the reasonableness or unreasonableness of these demands. Most of the time, they will be totally unreasonable, and seeing their unreasonableness might help me to deal with them more effectively by simply not believing them.

    1. Well said. I’d just add that it’s an ongoing process — the Judge never goes away, we just get better at intercepting and challenging the messages.

  20. I’m 22 and I’m at the point where I’ve never hated myself as I do at the moment. I am miserable and I don’t see a future. I hate myself because I iq is too low my brain can’t function normal to achieve basic simple thing like driving a car. I’ve tried 2 years now to get my license and I can’t handle my failure anymore. I don’t know how to accept my short coming. I’ve given up on everything all my plans goals dreams and hopes to start a life. I get miserable when I dream of getting married and having kids. I don’t social anymore. I get panic attacks at night can’t breath can’t sleep and can’t get into a car I go insane because I can’t live with the fact that I’m too stupid to live my own live. I sometimes wish someone would shoot me in the head the part that’s keeping me away from everything.

    1. Reading your comment, you don’t sound at all like someone with a below average IQ. My guess is that your issues have more to do with vicious self-hatred that sabotages every sub-perfect effort you make, rather than your intelligence.

  21. Speaking of “internalized parental criticism” and harsh self-judgement, I wonder if you think it’s possible that self-criticism or self-hatred can actually be the result of a parent dumping their own self-hatred onto their child instead of having to acknowledge and experience it themselves, and that child unwittingly “agreeing” to take on this pain at some point in their upbringing.

    The result might be someone literally carrying around the self-hatred of their parent and inflicting it upon themselves, then being puzzled as to “why am I so harsh on myself? Where does this come from?”

    1. Ugh, that description is so accurate. I think that children are often forced to accept the split-off, disowned aspects of their parents’ psyches. Unfortunately, it then becomes integrated into the child’s psyche: it’s no longer someone else’s self-hatred but their own.

      1. This is something my therapist brought up to me and I’ve been very resistant to it because it was hard to understand and – honestly – hard to believe, at least for myself.

        He used Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” as an example of this very thing, saying Gregor Samsa turns himself into a giant cockroach because he’s “agreed” to take on – and actually become – his father’s self-hatred and despair.

        I’ve started to read Kafka’s “Letter to my Father,” and this idea is slowly starting to make more sense.

        Thanks again for the reply.

  22. Here are some of the statements on my tape, don’t know what my expectations are, all though I know I can’t seem to accept failure very well. Whenever I see myself mess up in my mind, sometimes I visualize myself on the ground and me with a belt viscously beating me. I don’t know what is wrong with me.

    What the [expletative] is wrong with you?

    You’re such an idiot

    I don’t deserve to eat

    I’m such a loser

    1. The superior, contemptuous and vicious person with the whip is also you; I’d be trying to find a way to get in touch with the power and pleasure you take in cruelty.

  23. What happens if you think that you’re so ugly that no one will ever like or love you? When you cover all the mirrors in your house to avoid having to see youself? (not a weight issue)
    But everyone still tells you that you’re beautiful. I don’t believe a single one of them. The only person who made me ever feel good about myself doesn’t see me anymore, he’s long gone. I don’t even want to face my friends or anyone.

    Help. I’m worried.

    1. This is definitely something you need to work out in the context of psychotherapy. Nothing I could say would be of lasting use to you, but your feelings definitely have to do with the kind of shame and sense of INNER deformity that I write so much about on this site.

  24. At most times I feel as though I am not doing enough, but everyone says I spread myself too thin. There are so many things, and responsibilities I have to assume but I do not want to stop working, when I do relax I feel so, very guilty. I get consumed by the fact that I am worthless. I know it’s bad but it is hard to feel otherwise. But most importantly I feel as though I could do so much better, its just that I am so filled with the fact that I have to work I never do what I want to. I set out at the start of the day with so many expectations that I never achieve and feel so defeated. I feel as though my Life has been wasted, because I do not truly LIVE I just work, and repent.

    1. Have you ever gone for psychotherapy? A qualified professional might be able to help you with this, and help you find the space to simply live rather than do.

  25. That comment about inheriting one’s parent’s tropes of self-loathing really struck a chord with me. Wow. My poor Mum, who loved me and couldn’t help handing me down her own sense of uselessness and ignorance. The upshot is I have grandiose self-belief (often supported by actual measurable achievements!) and also grotesque and deep episodes of self-hatred. Occasionally during my morning shower I will be washed over with positive and energizing thoughts and plans, other times—this morning being a case in point, hence my arrival on this site—I spit out repeated mantras like “you are so fucking useless, fucking useless, so fucking useless” to myself.

    I have a proposal overdue, I am broke, my marriage is hanging by a thread, I don’t want to bring myself to consider the things that need to be done.

    I read a lot about Morita therapy a while ago which seems to share some similarities to your approach. Again I will try to develop a meditation practice. How the brat in me smirks and sneers at that prospect.

    1. I don’t know anything about Morita therapy. I’ll have to look into it. Good luck with the meditation and taming the brat!

  26. This article helped me a lot, I always used to hate on myself when I supposedly did something wrong, and ‘changing the voice inside to be positive’ sounded silly, fake and selfish (yay! you did so good on that test! you’re amazing! *barf*). Now that I know to look at what I’m thinking and see what’s impractical about it, I’m not overblowing my criticism to ridiculous proportions, which I had been without realizing it. I can’t be perfect… after all these years, you’d think I would have understood that, but your article finally made me realize that I can’t do everything according to everyone’s expectations… I’ll shut up now 🙂

    1. I’m glad this helped. And I know what you mean about those silly affirmations. Do they really work for anyone?

  27. A number of these comments allude to meditative techniques as a way to disarm the components of self hatred. The paradox I find, is that, certainly in my own experience, the up side to anger and self hatred is often the propulsion to excel. I certainly am guilty of over identification with negative self talk, but to disarm it, would also disarm the propulsion to think critically i.e. write, and at one point learn the Rach 2 piano concerto. In my experience, the baby is thrown out with the bath water.

    At the risk of romanticizing, history reveals that some our greatest creators did so in the face of terrible mental torment. I don’t agree with Freud that, the torment itself is the propulsion ergo pathological. But, that part of us, that entropic inheritance, always sings most loudly when we harness our will to self discipline and demand of ourselves sustained, effort-full activity.

    At the age of 21 I went to see an old psychiatrist nearing the end of his career. He said ‘in theory we could iron you out, but you’d loose more than you expected to. What would’ve happened, I wonder, if we ironed out Einstein or Van Gogh’ he posited rhetorically. Ok, that’s all very Jungian, but in my experience, there is something in it; those who are the greatest creators are often equally as great at destruction.

    But there’s also room for some self management. For example, after I’d spent a month writing an article or a chapter; the charge that brought that discipline into focus converged with the same intensity upon destruction. Usually, a week in the pub, arseholed from opening time until I was thrown out. Now, when that sensibility demands dominance, I take a tent out into the country side and spend a week in the dirt living off the land. It works, the intellectual is cast out of it’s hierarchy, and the visceral is permitted precedence for a while.

    1. I’ve never known a truly accomplished person who didn’t have a savage superego. You don’t achieve great things with an attitude of gentle self-acceptance.

  28. Enjoyed reading this particular post about self hatred. I also find it interesting that you would carelessly remove the attempts of others who might be using positive affirmations, along with other activities and exercises to alter their perspective on life.

    As you know, the power of internal conversation is unmatched, though it does run deep. And I would agree that positive affirmations alone are not going to necessarily work. But I would applaud a person’s attempt to change their self talk from negative to positive.

    Either way, I am going to refer to this particular post at the Letting Go Cafe dot com.
    Thanks for sharing your perspective.

    1. Not sure what you mean by “carelessly remove.” Based on my thirty years of experience as a therapist, I find that affirmations have little lasting value. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to change your self-talk from negative to positive, but I don’t think it actually addresses the problem.

  29. We are in agreement, actually. I was feeling as if you had simply dismissed one’s attempt to affect negative internal dialog by claiming it is a worthless process. But after re-reading your original comment, coupled with your response, I can see what you were trying to express.

    Not trying to be combative, but I do feel that it is important to “acknowledge” one’s efforts, even if you don’t agree with the outcome. For some, positive affirmations might work just fine. For others, not so well. It depends.

    BUT, as I shared before, that exercise of creating positive affirmations “must” be partnered with other activities that will help to identify the source of the problem. Therapy is NOT always the answer to finding that source of negative self talk. There are many other ways that can help drill down to and identify that source.

    PS – I totally respect the years you have in the “therapy” business . I too have many years in my field, but am simply sharing an opinion. Let’s keep the egocentric comments to a minimum. The conversation is better without it :-). Take care.

  30. I found out couple of days ago that i had some narcissistic traits i don’t brag a lot but experience envy when others are mentioned feeling entitled most of the time
    i don’t remember abuse as a child i know my mom was rarely empathetic with us but all around did everything also i was a bit bullied in elementary and middle school i really liked to impress my dad he was on and off one day he would praise me the other he just gt angry real fast i was defentily i really hate crisitsm and i have no idea what to do what really trigged this was me getting into a lot of arguments with friends please advise me

  31. I recently have been finding myself searching for google all the time for all the problems I have:Letting go of past, overcoming depression, self hatred, …
    After my boyfriend dumped me just because i was emotional, I feel like a looser and I hate my self for all that I am. I feel like a person that can not do anything but studying. I recently got into UCI and UCSB but all my achievements means nothing to me because my social and romantic relationships turn out to be a mess.I keep screwing up my life over and and over. I have problem at my job because of my attitude and It seems like I’m in the loop of making the same mistake over and over. how can I get out of this? I just hate myself for everything I am. I am over-sharing, emotional, my emotions sometimes take a toll on me and It seems like i don’t know the borderline between overreacting and normal reaction. Can you help me please on this

  32. I can agree with allowing the judge, ego, to dialogue in my head, thought after thought. If I just let the thoughts go by, like I’m sitting at the bus stop and watching them pass like cars. The problem and the emotional pain comes when I berate myself for these thoughts. And I have, and I do, often. But not nearly as much as i used to. when I acknowledge they are merely thoughts, the ego always looking for something that’s threatening, or wrong, or doesn’t measure up to an imaginary standard. My human ego cannot be satisfied, no way. It’s fear based and not real. The more I realize this the less these thoughts have any power to ruin my emotional state in the “right now”. One thing though, if I repeatedly have circular thoughts of judgement toward someone else, or myself, that I can’t let go, the root usually lies with me resenting someone else for a word, an act or perceived harm I think they have done to me. I can’t afford resentment, it’s a spiritual stronghold. The solution for me is to go to that person, not discussing the perceived harm but generally let them know I’ve created a wrong attitude toward them, express my regret, and ask forgiveness. Not for them but for my own spirit, sanity. It may sound silly to some, but it has worked for me. It defuses my insane, irrational ego, crumbles it. The obsessive self judgement for me, was and still can be, rooted in early childhood and current blame of others. Forgiveness is the antidote. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

  33. I recognised myself in your perfectionism….except when you say you could not play Carnegie Hall, I’m more likely to believe that I can, eventually: I can learn it.

    I seem to have extraordinary confidence in my self efficacy. I can’t imagine there being something I cannot learn to do. This makes me feel great when I think about it. Presumably it’s an overstatement, as there is probably SOMETHING I can’t learn….but nah, I don’t believe it. I can do anything.

    Despite all that, I struggle with self-hatred. It’s difficult to put my finger on where it is coming from, as I can’t think of anything I dislike about myself, but I really hate myself a lot of the time. The main problem for me is how exhausting it is. I sleep a lot, get ill a lot, feel demotivated.

    The closest I can put my finger on is simply that I “should be better than this”, which isn’t the same as saying I am “inferior” (I don’t believe so), but more that I should be “exceptionally good”, “exceptionally strong”, and “exceptionally independent/self-sufficient”. I can never really be independent, clever and strong enough for me. I excelled back in my school days and I think I got used to it being so easy. As an adult, I have a lot of success in my dayjob, but in my creative pursuits (which I view as my “real career”), entrepreneurial skill (largely confidence….) is needed, and I often feel I am holding myself back. I didn’t fit in too well at school and developed the excellent defense of indifference at the time (really works, totally grateful for it as it saved me any pain at the time), but now if I fail to achieve indifference to rejection I beat myself to a pulp, really just increasing the pain. I find that I now hold myself back from things such as intimacy because I fear I will experience emotion, and I guess because of those rules I set up for myself as a kid it’s so incredibly shameful to be the “weak, dependent, pathetic little worm….” that would be anything more than indifferent about others that I would far rather be alone than experience it. I do not yet feel any pain from being alone, but I do wonder if I will regret it in my older years and so it nags at me now and again.

    At the end of the day, I can see how the shame I carry around has affected my career, my social life, and my physical health and I want to shake it off but I keep feeling powerless against it….which in turn, makes me feel ashamed….what kind of loser can’t be happy? Why am I so weak? Why do I keep hitting myself? That’s stupid! Etc.

    I’m trying to find the anger statement here….the expectations you’re talking about…and kind of can’t?

    (Had and still having loads of therapy btw!!)

    1. It sounds to me like you hate yourself for being human. Feeling vulnerable and needy = being a weak and pathetic worm. The “you” who can learn everything/do everything sounds like a defense against a “you” who is imperfect and frail (i.e., human).

      1. Thank you for your reply. I had a little think about it, and I thought that maybe being vulnerable is ok if you believe there’s someone there to catch you. But if you believe there is no one there, then being vulnerable is incredibly dangerous. Perhaps I need to believe that someone will catch me if I fall/fail….or trust that I will always be able to catch myself? I think I have already betrayed myself that way by not being able to help myself when vulnerable in the past, so I have lost a lot of trust in my capacity to do so. I do not trust others to do it for me, but then as an adult I’m not sure it would be reasonable anyway.

  34. At the same time, a certain emotional numbness may set in, if we continue plodding on a path with no sense of progress, improvement, or escape. What good comes from railing against an inescapable situation, with no perceived possibility of change? In the face of such a perceived situation, what is the preferred response? Simple desperation gets me out of bed, but does it really matter. Sharing my desperation and vulnerability with others gets blank stares or bemused reactions; so these feelings stay mostly hidden. What should I do instead?

  35. “Self-criticism and self-hatred thereby transform into anger — my anger, and not a “negative self-statement” I’ve internalized from the outside. Knowing myself well, having been over this ground many times, I think: “Oh that again. Now be quiet and breathe.””
    -But what is the original cause of this instinctual nature to lash out at oneself, to the point where you are perceptive enough to know exactly the emotional process you’re going through (emotional outburst –> so you tell yourself to calm down and breathe), but yet, you are still unable to stop the backlash in the first place. Is this due to temperament? Internal conflicts developed at a young age that one never dealt with? Biological predispositions? Early childhood development and experiences? A combination of these and more? Perhaps this varies from person to person like most things in psychology tend to do.

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