What Is Self-Loathing?

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What Is Self-Loathing?

Self-loathing, or self-hatred, is extreme criticism of oneself. It may feel as though nothing you do is good enough or that you are unworthy or undeserving of good things in life. Self-hate can feel like having a person following you around, all day every day, criticizing you and pointing out every flaw, or shaming you for every mistake.

Typical self-hatred thoughts may include:

  • "I knew I would fail."
  • "Why do I even try?"
  • "I'm a loser."
  • "No one wants to be around me."
  • "Look at me screwing up again."
  • "Can't I just be normal?"
  • "I hate myself."

What Causes Self-Hate?

Self-hatred develops over time. It's typically triggered by more than one factor, including past trauma, perfectionism, false expectations, social comparisons, and several learned behaviors.


Many people with extreme self-hatred have been through traumatic and emotionally challenging experiences in their past. These experiences often include sexual, physical, or emotional abuse and neglect.

When children experience trauma, they begin to view the world as unsafe and the people around them as dangerous. In an effort to make sense of their world, they may develop a narrative that makes them feel as if they are not worth loving and have no value. These hateful statements may have been said directly to them by a parent or other loved one, and they soon become an all too familiar part of their inner critic.

Getting Help

If trauma is behind your self-hatred, consider seeking professional help. Whether a therapist, minister, or spiritual counselor, professional support can enable you to understand the root of your self-loathing and take steps toward self-compassion.

False Expectations

It is normal to want to belong, be accepted, or perform a task well. However, sometimes our expectations of self can be so high that they are unattainable by any human. These extraordinary expectations often lead to us falling short and feeling as if we have failed.

In these moments, our inner critic shows up to shame us and remind us how disappointing we have been. Even if our rational side recognizes that the expectations are unreasonable, our inner critic continues to drive home statements of self-hate.

Attempts to Please Others

In an effort to be connected to others, we may have learned over time that meeting the expectations of others works well. We might learn through social experiences that when other people are happy with us, we can feel happy with ourselves. This unhealthy way of thinking about relationships may even lead to significant patterns of dependent behavior.

Nonetheless, some people feel devastated when they are not able to meet the needs of others or they feel they have disappointed someone. Statements of self-hatred suggest that when we don't meet the expectations of others something is wrong with us; we have failed or we are not worthy of being loved or valued by others.


A perfectionist is often viewed as someone who allows themselves no margin of error, no wiggle room for human mistakes or limitations. They expect perfection of themselves (and possibly others) at all times and in all situations.

It is important to note that we often develop a perfectionist mindset in an effort to protect ourselves from pain and feelings of disconnection. The belief is that when you perform perfectly, you are somehow preventing yourself from feeling pain. This pain may include feelings of shame, embarrassment, loneliness, abandonment, ridicule, judgment, and more.

Social Comparison

While it is normal to look around and notice what others are doing, it can become painful when you place value on that observation. If you experience self-hatred, it is common to have what is referred to as upward comparison. This simply means having a tendency to only notice and give value to people who are performing "better" and, in turn, devaluing yourself with statements of self-hatred.

The Tolls of Self-Hatred

Self-hatred affects and influences many aspects of daily living. Self-hatred can prevent you from making important decisions, taking risks, connecting with others, and achieving goals. If you struggle with self-hatred, you may experience its consequences in many areas and ways.

Relationship With Self

Not surprisingly, self-hatred as a negative impact on self-concept (the image you have of yourself) as well as self-esteem (how you feel about yourself). When your inner critic is constantly putting yourself down, it's nearly impossible to view yourself in a positive light.

The Workplace

Since work is often performance-based (behaving a certain way, meeting job expectations, interacting with others), it is not surprising that self-hatred can impact your work life. When you feel worthless or incapable, you may be less likely to take on projects or find it difficult to work collaboratively with others. You may feel resentment toward coworkers or put yourself down for lack of performance.

Social Situations

It can be extremely difficult to make and maintain friendships when you are burdened with constant and relentless negative self-talk and self-loathing. To avoid the pain of criticism, judgment, or abandonment, you may even resist meeting new people. Or you may come off as cold or uncaring, which can prevent you from getting close to others.

Family Relationships

Since a significant influence on self-hatred comes from past social experiences like abuse and trauma, family dynamics can feel very complicated for someone struggling with self-hatred. You may be in a situation that requires you to be in contact with someone from your painful past, causing distress and a tendency to withdraw in an effort to avoid experiencing painful memories and emotions.

Even if you are not dealing with a traumatic family history, your perfectionist mindset and unrealistic expectations of self can get in the way of being able to enjoy family interactions. The pressure to "performing perfectly" in those settings can become too much and prevent you from forming and/or enjoying family connections.

Romantic Relationships

Romantic relationships can feel complicated and confusing for someone who experiences self-hatred. You may fight the idea of closeness and intimacy.

Even if you long to feel close, the fear of someone seeing your perceived imperfections, limitations, or lack of value can be overwhelming and stand in the way of a meaningful relationship. The inner critic is painful enough, but the thought of someone close to you seeing or thinking those things about you can feel devastating.


Self-hatred tells us that we are not capable and will likely fail or fall short—and this type of thinking can make goals, desires, and dreams feel distant and impossible. You may look at others and think they are getting it right, while you suffer from constant self-critical statements. Living this way is emotionally exhausting and can result in a lack of desire to set goals at all.


Negative self-talk and self-loathing can hijack or paralyze decision-making abilities. When you see yourself in such a negative way, you may feel less willing to take risks that will help you grow. You may pull away from opportunities to connect with others and find yourself stuck in a pattern of self-doubt.

How to Stop the Cycle of Self-Loathing

Living with self-hatred is overwhelming, exhausting, and isolating. Luckily, there are steps we can take to quiet that inner critic, calm the negative storm, and move forward in positive ways.

Tame Your Inner Critic

If you struggle with self-hatred, your inner critic might feel relentless and you may begin believing your inner dialogue's hateful narrative. When this happens, it is helpful to try to slow yourself down and distinguish feelings from fact.

Inventory Your Strengths

Identifying your strengths can help quiet self-hatred. If you find it difficult to come up with some on your own, consider asking others for help. It is almost always easier to recognize someone else's strengths rather than our own.

Learn to Accept Compliments

If you view yourself in a hateful way, it's hard to take a compliment. It may even feel foreign and uncomfortable and so you'll dismiss it or minimize to avoid feeling vulnerable.

Learning how to accept a compliment will take practice, but it is possible. The next time someone compliments you, try saying "thank you"—and stop there. Resist the urge to follow it up with a self-critical or dismissive response.

Develop Self-Compassion

People who struggle with self-hatred often have little or no compassion toward themselves. In fact, the idea of having self-compassion can feel impossible or confusing. A great way to think of self-compassion is to think about how you would treat a friend or loved one. Would you beat them up for making a mistake or remind them that no one is perfect?

Psychologist and self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff, PhD, explains: "Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings. After all, whoever said you were supposed to be perfect?"

Press Play for Advice on Building Self-Compassion

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares strategies for building self-compassion, featuring bestselling author Kristin Neff. Click below to listen now.

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Practice Forgiveness 

Self-hatred is often focused on the past—a painful moment or emotion like shame or guilt, anger or embarrassment, or a sense of powerlessness. In that space, there is no room to forgive ourselves or embrace who we are.

Do your best to stay in the present and focus on how far you have come. This may feel uncomfortable or different, but over time, it will help you to decrease self-hatred and gain self-compassion.

A Word From Verywell

Remember that stopping self-hatred takes time. It might feel challenging and impossible at times. You may even find yourself grieving this all too familiar part of you, which is okay. When you allow yourself to let go of the negative critic, you make room for more joy, peace, and connection in your life.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lewis SJ, Arseneault L, Caspi A, et al. The epidemiology of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder in a representative cohort of young people in England and Wales. Lancet Psychiatry. 2019;6(3):247-256. doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(19)30031-8

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Dependent personality disorder.

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. What creates perfectionism.

  4. Brown University Counseling and Psychological Services. Perfectionism.

Additional Reading
  • Neff KD, Knox M. Self-compassion. In: Ziegler-Hill V, Shackelford TK, eds. Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences. Springer, Cham, 2017. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-28099-8_1159-1

By Jodi Clarke, MA, LPC/MHSP
Jodi Clarke, LPC/MHSP is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice. She specializes in relationships, anxiety, trauma and grief.