Self-Loathing: Definition, Signs, & How to Stop
What is self-loathing and what can you to to stop. Read the article below to learn the signs and tips on how to reframe your thoughts.
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What Is Self-Loathing? (A Definition)
Self-loathing refers to the underlying belief or feeling that one is simply not good enough. This comes hand in hand with having low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness. Self-loathing can influence how you view the world. You may ruminate on the negative things and minimize the positive in your life. However, it’s important to remember that every person, including you, is worthy and brings value to the world. Keep reading below to understand the signs of self-loathing and how to break the cycle.
Opposite of self-loathing
As you may have guessed, the opposite of self-loathing is self-love or self-compassion. This involves reframing your inner voice to have more positive, instead of negative, self-talk. This can help you forgive yourself and be less harsh in your self-criticism. Self-love comes from a place of acceptance and being gentle with yourself when you make mistakes.
Self-Loathing Symptoms & Signs
Whether you want to be able to recognize it in yourself or a close friend, it can be helpful to learn how to pick up on the telltale signs of self-loathing. Keep reading below to learn about these.
1. All-or-nothing thinking: This type of thinking often involves the use of absolutes or extremes. You see your life as good or bad, without any nuances or shades of gray in between. This can be problematic because it makes it difficult to find alternative solutions or ways of coping.
2. Negativity bias: You put too much focus on the negative aspects of a situation and don’t consider the positives. Even if you experience something positive, you may discount it and find some way to view it negatively.
3. Low self-esteem: Self-esteem can also be thought of as how much you like, approve of, or value yourself. Having low self-esteem corresponds to negative evaluations of yourself. Put differently, if you have low self-esteem, you generally don’t hold yourself in a positive light.
You tend to be hard on yourself and the people in your life. You might get stuck in loops of negative self-talk, telling yourself things like, “I’m worthless”, “I could never succeed at this”, or “I’m not smart enough”.
4. Emotional reasoning: You take your feelings as facts. For instance, if you’re experiencing anxiety or distress, you assume that your emotions must reflect the reality of a situation and that there must be something wrong with you.
5. Difficulty accepting compliments: This ties in with the second point above on ‘negativity bias’. When someone says something positive about you through a compliment, you discount what they said or think that they’re just being nice. Instead of accepting them graciously, you brush them off and question them.
6. Sensitive to criticism: Not only is it hard to accept compliments, but you may also be extremely sensitive to criticism (i.e., taking it as a personal attack or ruminating about it).
7. Overly critical of yourself: If you make a mistake, you are overly critical of yourself and attack your own character (“e.g., “I’m a failure who will never amount to anything”). You may also have many regrets from your past that you have trouble letting go of. It can be hard for you to forgive yourself, even if others have already done so.
Ted Talk: Years of Self-Loathing Led Me in the Path of Self Love
What Is a Self-Loathing Narcissist?
Narcissists are arrogant, self-absorbed, and unpleasant to be around. Do you think narcissists love or hate themselves? From this definition, it may seem like narcissists are in love with themselves. It’s also possible that narcissism is a mask that covers up deep-rooted self-loathing.
Before getting into the research, it’s good to define a few terms that may be new to you. How exactly do psychologists measure how people feel about themselves deep down inside? The simplest option would be to pose the question to the person. For instance, if you wanted to know whether someone has low or high self-esteem, you could ask them “how would you rate your self-esteem?” on a scale from very low to very high, for example. This gets at explicit self-esteem.
But can you trust what people say to this question? If you’re thinking that it’s easy to lie and say you have high self-esteem, you’re right. This is why researchers have come up with creative ways to measure what people “really” think of themselves. One promising method to measure implicit self-esteem is the Implicit Associations Test (IAT; Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998).
An implicit measure of self-loathing
The IAT works by assessing how fast you can categorize things. For instance, if someone asked you whether the word ‘traffic’ was good or bad, you would most likely categorize this as bad. Now, you can also use this measure to examine how people feel about themselves implicitly. Instead of categorizing something as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, you would be asked to pick whether it is ‘like me’ or ‘not like me’. For example, if you saw the word ‘smart’, you may select ‘like me’.
The IAT works by telling people to answer as quickly as possible so that there is little time to think about what may be the socially desirable answer, and so responses instead reflect people’s true beliefs about themselves.
In fact, there has been research using the IAT to examine what narcissists implicitly think of themselves. Prior research suggests that narcissists report high explicit self-esteem (i.e., what they report about themselves), but lower implicit self-esteem (i.e., how they respond to a subtle measure of self-esteem). This supports the idea that although narcissists may report having high self-esteem, there may be a different story going on if you look deeper.
However, the IAT used in these prior studies included many items that were social in nature (e.g., “smile”). Given that narcissists are not quite socially oriented (i.e., they care more about themselves), the items used in the IAT may not have been most relevant. As such, Campbell and colleagues (2007) conducted a study with less social items in their IAT, and contrary to prior findings, found that narcissists have high implicit self-esteem.
Although more research needs to be conducted, it seems like narcissists may have some self-loathing—they just put on a strong exterior for everyone else.
Ted Talk: Self-Love, Be Intentional
Self-Loathing in Depression
Although self-loathing is not its own diagnostic disorder, it can become a concern when the feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy become chronic and disrupt daily functioning in life. This may be a sign of a deeper issue, such as depression.
Self-loathing is one of the several possible symptoms of depression as outlined in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5; American Psychiatric Association, 2013). The DSM-5 states that the depression symptom of self-loathing involves “feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt (which may be delusional) nearly every day (not merely self-reproach or guilt about being sick).”
In these situations, it is incredibly useful to seek help, whether it’s through a crisis hotline in the short term or therapy in the long term. Therapy can provide insights into one’s thought patterns and behaviors that can be restructured to combat self-loathing (e.g., such as in cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT).
How to Stop Self-Loathing
1. Journaling: Journaling can be a useful way to unravel all of the thoughts in your head by getting them on paper. When you have an overwhelming number of thoughts in your head, it can contribute to feelings of anxiety and self-loathing. By reflecting on your day, you can examine how certain situations or people may have triggered your emotions, and get at the root of self-loathing thoughts.
In order for journaling to be effective, it’s important to stay consistent with it. Only then will you be able to sense a pattern emerging and gain awareness about how your emotions shift over time. Plus, research shows that expressing your feelings through writing can be helpful in reducing psychological distress (Marković, Bjekić, & Priebe, 2020).
2. Talk back to your inner critic: In addition to becoming more aware of your emotions, it can be useful to look at your thoughts when in a negative situation. Question your thoughts. Are they realistic? Are you engaging in all-or-nothing thinking? Think of your inner critic as a bully and try to stand up to them. Counter your negative thoughts and criticisms with an argument supporting the opposite side. If you find it hard to do this, imagine what a friend might say to the critical voice in your head and embody this. Practice this regularly.
3. Practice self-compassion and self-acceptance: At the start of this article, you read that the opposite of self-loathing is self-compassion or self-acceptance. How can you cultivate these skills? It begins with shifting your mindset. Is it really the end of the world because of that small mistake? Can you be a bit more gentle with yourself? When you begin to accept and love yourself unconditionally and cultivate positive self-talk, you will slowly make it a habit. Research suggests that compassion-focused therapy can help improve self-esteem, which, in turn, can reduce self-loathing (Thomason & Moghaddam, 2020).
4. Consider the people in your inner circle: Who are you hanging out with most? Are your friends contributing to your negative self-talk? It’s important to spend time with people who uplift you, not those who bring you down. It may be hard to end certain relationships, but at the very least it may be helpful to distance yourself from these toxic relationships while you work on strengthening the relationship you have with yourself and other healthy relationships with others.
5. Practice mediation: If it’s difficult for you to detach yourself from your negative thoughts, it can be useful to start meditating. This can help separate your identity from your negative thoughts. It may be difficult at first, but even five minutes daily can be helpful.
6. Seek therapy: While it’s possible to put in the work to shift your mindset on your own, a therapist can be incredibly helpful if you are looking for guidance in your healing journey. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a mental health professional.
Quotes About Self-Loathing
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Books About Self-Loathing
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Final Thoughts on Self-Loathing
Self-loathing can be a difficult thing to deal with. Luckily, there are things you can do to feel a bit better. Hopefully, this article offered some strategies that help you feel better about yourself.