What Is Self-Loathing?

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on June 24, 2024
4 min read

Self-loathing is constantly feeling hate for yourself, which can lead to severe conditions like depression and substance abuse. But with therapy and different exercises, you can change the way you look at yourself. Here’s everything you need to know.

Self-loathing is a feeling that resembles self-hate, as it constantly pushes the idea that you’re not good enough. As a consequence, you might feel like you don’t deserve love or that bad things happen to you for a reason. 

Self-loathing manifests itself through consistent negative thoughts which are closely tied to excessive self-criticism. While self-criticism is a healthy aspect of life, it can start to overshadow other thought patterns when you're going through a self-loathing phase.

If self-loathing goes on for too long, it can lead to more severe conditions, like depression or substance abuse. Similarly, to a lesser degree, it can lead to violence toward others or feelings of inferiority.

There are many patterns that could be classified as self-loathing behavior — but they all start from excessive self-criticism. Identifying these is crucial for getting better, as it will allow you to stop these thought patterns in time the next time they come up.

Common self-loathing thought patterns include feeling that you’re a failure, that you can’t do things right, or that you’re not good enough. Similarly, you might apply the same attitude to your well-being, thinking that you’re never going to get better.

Self-loathing thoughts can also come regarding specific situations, like overeating or staying up too late. They may even appear after social interactions, like reckoning that you were too aggressive or shy. Other common recurring self-loathing behaviors include holding a grudge against yourself for a past mistake and setting unrealistic expectations. 

Often, these patterns are related to unfair comparisons we make between ourselves and other people. Due to self-loathing, you might end up feeling inferior to others by ignoring their mistakes and only recognizing their virtues.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact symptoms of self-loathing, as it isn’t a medical condition on its own. But there are a few general signs that a person might be feeling self-loathing and self-hatred:

There are a few other signs as well — but these don’t always point to self-loathing. Rather, they are more related to an excess of self-criticism, which can eventually lead to self-hate.

Self-loathing usually stems from the past, as most self-hating tendencies develop during childhood. Specifically, they're rooted in the relationship you had with your parents or caregivers.

Because these are the earliest bonds we develop in our lives, they can have a great impact on how we perceive and act in future relationships. This naturally includes our relationship with ourselves — meaning that authoritarian or abusive caregivers can lead to self-loathing.

Experts argue that parents who encourage autonomy and allow their children to make mistakes will lead to more self-confidence. On the contrary, a parent that’s overly controlling will create a lack of self-esteem that can eventually grow into self-loathing.

Particularly, research suggests that, as children, we identify with the angry caregiver instead of with ourselves. This leads to children taking on anger, fear, and other negative emotions that the parent is going through in moments of stress. As a result, we are subjected to situations that make us feel bad and inadequate.

Lastly, it’s important to take into account that children can also learn self-loathing patterns from their caregivers — even if they're not involved in the situation. This makes a child very prone to self-loathing if they notice their parents going through self-hating phases.

While you can work on self-loathing on your own, it’s always best to seek out professional help. Getting therapy will allow you to explore different coping techniques to make your self-loathing patterns go away. But there is more than one type of therapy, and choosing only one can be challenging.

For example, some people advocate for mindfulness interventions, which will teach you to be aware of your feelings from the outside. Through different techniques, the therapist will teach you how to challenge your negative views of yourself through meditation.

Others instead recommend traditional therapy, as it can teach you values like self-compassion and kindness. Plus, it will also teach you to appreciate self-criticism when it’s not excessive.

There are some general concepts that can help anyone going through a phase of self-loathing. Even if you don’t go to therapy, these key guidelines can help you stay on track — and stop the recurring, self-hating patterns.

Try to observe your thoughts from the outside. As we’ve already mentioned, mindfulness exercises can help you be aware of your thoughts in a nonjudgmental way. This will allow you to recognize and rationalize self-loathing patterns so you can stop them in time.

Change the way you talk to yourself. Often, we talk to ourselves in a negative way, pushing ideas of not being good enough or insulting ourselves. Instead, try imagining you’re speaking to an old friend that’s going through the same things as you.

Lower your expectations. A big aspect of self-loathing is that it makes you set unrealistic expectations and goals — usually due to unfair comparisons with others. By setting realistic, easily achievable goals, you’ll boost your self-esteem and reduce hate-related thoughts.

Try to accept being good enough. Society often pushes us to believe that we should be perfect — but it’s OK to be critical, angry, and wrong at times. Instead of despising these emotions, try to embrace them and accept that sometimes it’s okay to be just good enough.

Say something positive to yourself. A great way of quickly boosting your self-esteem is saying something nice to yourself on a daily basis. For example, congratulate yourself for doing the dishes, or give yourself a pat on the back for completing that tedious homework.