I can't recall at what age the words "I hate myself" first crossed my lips, but by the time I was old enough to express these sentiments, my self-loathing burned with a fire and passion so intense it was almost scary.
I couldn't stand to stay in my own skin, and the more I thought of myself, the sicker inside I felt. Filled with inner contempt, I wanted to hurt myself in the worst possible way or to simply end a life I believed had no value. Convinced that I was unworthy of being part of the human race, I felt it was sinful to stay alive and suck up air better reserved for a more deserving individual.
As it was, however, I rarely paused to think of myself, and I certainly never slowed down long enough to actually be with myself. In my youth, I blocked out the pain of feeling unloved by functioning on a numb autopilot. But by the time I was a teenager, these early protective mechanisms no longer did the trick. The pain of knowing I was innately and hopelessly flawed from birth with no possibility of redemption was too much to bear, so I spent my days (and many years to come) caught up in a perpetual whirlwind of anxiety-reducing and addictive behaviors. I did whatever I could to block out the dark abyss that cut through my heart, unable to cope with the unspeakable misery that comes from deep-rooted self-hatred.
Where do feelings of such intense antipathy come from? How does self-hatred develop to the point where you have suicidal ideations or at the very least feel so depressed and unhappy that you don't know where to turn or how to cope?
Many people who have these intense feelings were brought up in a loveless home or by parents who were incapable of treating them with respect and care. Perhaps they were shamed or rejected by members of their own family or shunned and ostracized by their peers. They may have been victims of some kind of abuse – physical, emotional, or psychological. No matter what the precursor, one thing is certain: A strong sense of "I hate myself" makes one feel like life isn't worth living at all.
Those who are afflicted with a severe case of low self-esteem sometimes turn to drugs, alcohol, excessive dieting, exercise, gambling, or other forms of mood-altering substance or behavior to dull their pain. They may find themselves working overtime to block out the horrible pit that never seems to leave their stomach. Perhaps they have found a way to function and carry on with life but find it hard to achieve closeness or intimacy in relationships. They may feel so unworthy of achieving success and happiness that they derive little satisfaction from life's simplest and greatest pleasures.
The thought of being created in God's image only reinforced my feelings of being an unfixable failure.
If you can relate to any of the above, you may feel as unaffected as I was when people told me that I was born b'tzelem Elokim, in the image of God, or that all babies are born good. These notions were rejected outright. If there was any truth to these ideas, clearly God must have made a mistake when He created me. There wasn't – and there could never be – anything Godly or holy about me. In fact, the thought of being created in God's image only reinforced my feelings of being an unfixable failure.
Fast-forward about 30 years, and I now work as a therapist helping others overcome struggles similar to those which plagued me for so long. Had you had asked me growing up if my negative self-image could ever change, I would have answered unequivocally "no" – that it was set in stone and well deserved. However with the relentless support and expertise of my own first-rate therapist, I have discovered that even the most inflexible feelings can change over time. Deep-seated self-hatred can be resolved, healed, and put to rest.
How does one go from a profound sense of "I hate myself" to a place of genuine self-care, self-worth – and yes, even self-love?
Unfortunately, there is no magic wand. If you are starting from a place of antipathy, the road to self-love, self-respect, and a belief that you really do matter is long and arduous. The good news is that with the right tools and the right person by your side, you can indeed achieve inner peace and happiness. You can "get by with a little bit of help from your friends" and ultimately become friends with the one person who you hang out with the most: yourself.
If you are battling with feelings of worthlessness, inferiority, or self-loathing, I'd like to suggest a short exercise which was pivotal in my own journey. It didn't change my life overnight, but it shifted my existing paradigm and perspective in a revolutionary way. It is a tool I use frequently to help others on their path towards self-acceptance and growth.
If you try this technique and it doesn't work for you, or if you struggle to even begin this exercise – please don't give up! Making a dent in long-held beliefs and shifting deep-rooted emotions is no easy feat. Be patient with yourself and take a stab at it another time. Better yet, enlist the help of a therapist or counselor who can help you work through your issues and arrive at a healthier and more peaceful place inside.
The human personality can be said to consist of several "parts" – child parts, adult parts, parent parts, protector parts, critic parts, and more. We all have parts, and consciously or unconsciously, they are the inner voices which guide our thoughts and actions in any given situation.
Going back to the sentiment "I hate myself" – note that this is actually a reflexive statement, meaning one part is performing an action on another part. A similar example would be the statement "I see myself," wherein "I see" is an action performed on the object "myself."
The next time you experience that all-consuming feeling of "I hate myself," imagine two chairs in front of you. In one chair sits the hater, the perpetrator, or the part of you which is spewing the self-deprecating messages. In the other chair sits the object, or the part of you on the receiving end of the blows, feeling hated, rejected, mistreated, or unloved.
Someone in your life treated you in manner that makes you feel the way you do right now.
The fact is that you were not born hating yourself or feeling unlovable! Someone in your life treated you in manner that makes you feel the way you do right now. The separation of my inner hatred into two parts – into a perpetrator and a victim – was eye-opening. Until this point, I suffered an all-consuming hatred that I assumed was self-directed. For the first time I became aware that these sentiments were actually learned, and that my critic part was mimicking messages that originated from an earlier source. Whether you know who the perpetrator is or not, this change in perspective may be a major milestone on your road to recovery as well.
By identifying yourself as the victim of someone else's hatred, of someone else's distorted view of reality, you can begin to offer your wounded parts compassion, understanding, comfort, and ultimately unconditional love and acceptance. The next time your inner 'hater' appears, let them know that they are no longer welcome and that you are not listening to them anymore. Instead, find another part (or even another person in your life today) to put in their chair – a part or person who sends you warm, loving thoughts and feelings, who speaks to you kindly and respectfully, and who can give your hurting parts whatever it is they need to heal or feel better.
Since there is no 'one-size-fits-all' solution when it comes to effective therapeutic and self-help techniques, here are a few other strategies you might want to explore as you search for ways to dissolve your negative self-thoughts and get rid of those self-effacing beliefs forever.
Pick up a copy of Let Us Make Man: Self Esteem through Jewishness, by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, where Rabbi Twerski explains the importance of a healthy self-esteem from a Jewish perspective and explores the difference between unhealthy low self-esteem and the lofty goal of humility
Surround yourself with people (even one person) who care about you, respect you, listen to you, and love you unconditionally. You are worth it and deserve nothing less!
Do something nice for someone else: Nothing beats the good feeling that envelops you after lending a helping hand or being kind to someone else. Whether you send a friend a get-well card, push a child on a swing, do volunteer work, or buy your partner some flowers, being helpful to others is one way to build your self-esteem and take advantage of the good feelings generated.
Join a support group: Talking to people who have been through similar experiences can do wonders if you are lonely, depressed, or feeling down about yourself. Group feedback can provide a more realistic appraisal of yourself. We can all use a group of people cheering us on and supporting us through good and bad times.
Work and Hobbies: Engaging in meaningful work is not only a source of income and steady routine, but can provide identity, friendship, confidence, and positive self-esteem. Similarly, hobbies are a great way to get in touch with your natural abilities and find activities that you enjoy and that make you feel good about yourself.
Finally, remember that the best and most effective way to remove darkness is to bring in light.