For most people, the old adage “you are your own worst enemy” is all too true, and “I hate myself” is a common and recurring personal anthem. It’s a harsh and painful reality that our own feelings of self-hatred and unworthiness place unnecessary and imagined limits on our lives.
But where do self-hatred and the other disparaging feelings come from? How significant is their influence on us? Can we release ourselves from them and live free of the harshness of our inner critics?
The Inner Critic
The most frequent self-critical thought people have is “You’re different from everybody else.” Most people perceive themselves as different in a negative sense, not in a special or positive way. Even people who appear well-liked in their social circles and otherwise seem well-adjusted have deep-rooted feelings of being a fake or an outsider.
Such feelings about ourselves are common because every person is conflicted between their “true self”—that part of us that’s life-affirming, goal-directed, and self-accepting, , and an “anti-self”—an internal enemy that’s suspicious, paranoid, cynical, and self-hating. The anti-self expresses itself in our inner critic, that constant internal negative commentary on our lives. It influences how we feel about ourselves and how we behave.
- It undermines our goals, saying things like, “What do you think you’re doing? You won’t ever succeed!”
- It undercuts our efforts, saying things like, “This can’t possibly end well. You’ll mess up sooner or later.”
- It sabotages our relationships, saying things like, “Your partner doesn’t truly love you. How could anyone love you?”
- It’s hostile toward our loved ones, saying things like, “There’s something wrong with your friends. Why would they ever choose to hang out with someone like you?”
- Finally, it can encourage us to act self-destructively, It starts out saying things like, “Go ahead, eat another helping of dessert. You had a tough day. If anyone deserves it, you do.” Then it turns on us for screwing up, I firing off commentary like, “You’re just a big, fat loser. How could you mess up your diet again?”
It may seem bizarre that we view ourselves this way. But all of us have this inner critic. The thought patterns are so ingrained that some of us barely notice it. Instead of recognizing it for the hurtful and harmful enemy it is, we accept the critic’s voice as our genuine perceptions and we believe the lies it tells about us.
Sadly, “I hate myself” is a common inner mantra that many people struggle with. Such thoughts generally have their origins in negative experiences in our early lives. The way we perceive ourselves is shaped by the way were viewed when growing up, along with the attitudes directed toward us during that time. Harmful views by our parents or other significant caregivers become internalized and form our self-image. Just as parent’s positive attitudes toward us may lead to confidence and self-esteem, criticism and resentment promote the opposite.
As an adult, your inner critic can impact you in many different ways. You may adapt to it by treating it like a coach and following its destructive advice. When it tells you that you’re worthless, you choose friends and partners who treat you as if you’re worthless. If it tells you that you’re stupid, you lack confidence and make mistakes you wouldn’t otherwise make. If it tells you that you aren’t attractive, you resist putting yourself out there and seeking a romantic relationship.
When you listen to your inner critic, you empower it. You may even start projecting its critical thoughts onto others. You risk starting to see the world through its negative filter. Suspicious and paranoid thoughts can even enter in, as you question and criticize people who perceive you differently from the way your inner critic views us.
Conquering Your Inner Critic
To end your cycle of self-hatred, and to live free from imagined limitations, you must challenge your inner critic and learn to overcome it. Here is a four-step process you can follow.1. Break free of your internalized destructive attitudes and thoughts toward yourself. To help identify and challenge your inner critic and develop insight into the sources of your critical thoughts, answer to the negative attacks with a compassionate and more realistic point of view toward yourself. Challenge the destructive behaviors that your inner critic encourages you to engage in.
- Challenge negative traits in yourself that imitate your parents or the other important figures from your childhood. For example, if you had an overly demanding or bossy parent, you should challenge ways that you are controlling in your own life.
- Give up the defensive patterns you formed to adapt to the pain you felt as a child. As a child, you formed these defenses as a form of protection. But these behaviors and thought patterns harm you as an adult. Holding on to destructive adaptations from your past causes lower self-esteem. You struggle to feel like your true self when your actions are so heavily influenced by your history.
- Figure out your own ideals, values, and beliefs. When you break free from your inner critic, you’re far better prepared to get to know your real self and to live your life with integrity. You can take steps and actions that reflect your desires and wants. This gives your life its unique meaning.
If you continue challenging this internal enemy, it will become weaker and weaker. Then you can completely free yourself from your former feelings of self-hatred, and begin living the most fulfilling existence possible.