On Self-Loathing


We are all our own worst critics.

Truly, we beat ourselves up for things that others would never even think about, let alone berate us for, and we often hold ourselves up to damned near impossible standards.

That’s all pretty normal.

What can be a cause for concern is when several contributing factors all team up to make us truly despise ourselves… which can have some pretty devastating results if not sorted out sooner rather than later. It can leak out into daily life and wreak havoc on our relationships, work, and overall wellbeing.

Awareness is power. Ask yourself if any of the following apply to you. They are key symptoms of a self-loathing mindset.

1. Under- or Over-Eating
Many people who struggle with self-loathing punish themselves with food: either by not eating enough of it, or binging. Those who deny themselves food often feel like they don’t deserve the nourishment, or they’ll deny themselves everything except foods they dislike as a sort of punishment for even existing. Those who overeat do so in order to feel shame later: it’s a solid excuse for despising themselves.

2. Physical Neglect
People may stop bathing regularly, stop brushing their hair or teeth, wear the same clothes to sleep in that they wore during the day, etc. They stop caring about their physical appearance, and neglect even the basics of personal hygiene… not necessarily because they truly don’t care, but because they may feel like they don’t deserve to look or feel “good.” They punish themselves with neglect, and then feel validated in hating themselves more and more.

3. Defeatism
“Why bother trying, I’m just going to suck at it anyway.”

“I’m going to fail at this.”

“This isn’t going to work.”

Negative self-talk like that sets a person up for failure, which reinforces their sense of self-loathing and shame. It also prevents them from taking part in anything that might bring them joy or fulfillment, since they’ve convinced themselves ahead of time that they’ll suck at anything they try.

4. Self-Sacrifice
Either in an attempt to punish themselves for various reasons, or in a feeble attempt to gain worth in other people’s eyes, people who suffer with self-loathing will often sacrifice themselves in any number of different ways.

Since they can’t drum up any feelings of pride for themselves, they try to appear noble in action so others will take pity on them and value them for their martyrdom. In their suffering, they gain a measure of self-worth, even if the actions they take are destroying them and everyone around them.

5. Acquiescence
The person who despises themselves and their life circumstances may just “lie back and take it” instead of doing anything about it. They may complain bitterly about the hand they’ve been dealt, but if given the chance to actually ameliorate their circumstances, they choose to be passive and just keep taking it instead.

This kind of behavior is comparable to gripping a burning coal tightly in one’s fist, crying about how badly it burns, but refusing to open one’s fingers to let it go. As soon as that happened, they would begin to heal… but instead, they cling.

6. Hostility Towards Perceived “Threats”
They might decide to dislike a peer at work because they think the other person is valued more highly than they are, or more likely to receive the promotion they want. They may lash out at a romantic partner for talking to another person because they think the other is “better,” more attractive, or more successful than they are, and that their partner will leave them for the other.

Everything is a threat to the small piece of comfort they may have dug for themselves, and they’ll freak out if anything threatens that, even in theory.

7. Unnecessary Spending
When one hates oneself for a number of different reasons, happiness and fulfillment are often gained via material possessions. A person might have a collection that they add to whenever they have cash to play with, or they’ll go on shopping sprees in the hope that maybe, just maybe, this new stuff will be the magical key to making them feel fulfilled instead of hollow and full of shame and self-hatred.

Some people even choose to spend great gobs of money on other people to try to prove that they’re worth being liked. This can alienate the very people they’re trying to get close to, as there aren’t many who feel comfortable being barraged with “stuff,” especially if it’s expensive.

8. Isolation
A lot of people who wallow in self-loathing tend to isolate themselves. Sometimes it’s because they feel like they don’t truly belong in any social group and everyone around them hates them anyway, so instead of feeling like a stranger, alienated and alone even in a group, they’ll hide away alone instead. If invited out, they’ll consider it to be pity, and may convince themselves that nobody else understands them, and they’ll just spend time alone, at home, wishing things were different, but not doing anything to make that a reality.

9. Drug and/or Alcohol Abuse
Intoxicants can work wonders to numb uncomfortable or unwanted emotions, and they have the added benefit of making the user feel absolutely horrible the next day.

When people suffer from self-loathing, they tend to feel that they deserve the hangovers and fallout from their drug abuse: they feed off their own shame, and end up getting drunk or high all over again to escape the shameful, hurting feelings. It’s a vicious cycle that’s difficult to break free from, especially if a person has been stuck in that rut for many years. There’s a certain comfort to be found in self-cruelty, alas.

10. Relationship Sabotage
Since a lot of self-loathing people feel that they don’t deserve love, or beauty, or kindness, or anything other than a kick to the stomach when they’re already down, many of them will sabotage their relationships in order to keep others from getting too close to them.

They might neglect or be physically abusive toward their partners, or cheat on them, or just mistreat them in general… and then when the partner leaves, they feel justified in their behavior because hell, they left, didn’t they?

Some self-loathers will even go so far as to abandon and ghost their partners, even if they really love them and want to be with them; the rationale being that they’d rather take charge and hurt on their own terms, than risk being surprised and hurt when their loved ones eventually left them.

Some even consider that kind of abandonment to be a noble gesture: they feel that since they will inevitably end up hurting those they love, it’s somehow better for them to set their loved ones “free.” Free from the hurt they might, possibly inflict.

11. Refusal To Get Help
Sadly, one of the greatest hallmarks of self-loathing is the refusal to get any kind of help. A person who is mired in this kind of mindset has a tendency to brush off any suggestion of the sort, because they “know” that it won’t help. That nothing will help. That any attempt they make will fail, and all therapists and counselors will just put them on meds (which they feel won’t help) or pretend to listen to their problems, so there’s just no point.

It may almost seem like they enjoy their misery on some level: they find a type of comfort in self-pity and self-hatred, and wouldn’t know who they would be without all of that negativity. They might even be afraid that if they free themselves from it, it would just be a temporary fix and would then come back again with a vengeance, so it’s better to just keep plodding on while it’s at a level they consider to be manageable, regardless of how devastating it is.

This refusal to get help is one of the very reasons why those close to the self-loather end up frustrated, and eventually defeated by their behavior: you can’t help a person who isn’t willing to help themselves, and no amount of reassurance or unconditional love will force a person to get the help they need.

If you can relate to many/most of these, then you may wish to contemplate where all of this self-loathing comes from, and how you’d like to handle it, moving forward. When you’re stuck in a rut, it’s often very difficult to free yourself without help, especially if those around you are enabling your behavior.

It can be difficult to extricate yourself from a situation that’s causing you to hate yourself, but the long-term benefits far outweigh the short-term discomfort.


Besma (Bess) Benali, Clinical Social Work/Therapist, MSW, RSW, Counselling Ottawa Nepean. I am trained in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Brief Psychodynamic Therapy, ACT, and mindfulness. Clients come to me because they are struggling and feel like they are trapped in a darkness that no matter what they have tried (and many have tried therapy before) they can’t pull themselves out. I help my clients understand themselves in ways no one has ever taught them before allowing them to see positive changes.