THE BLOG
10/27/2014 04:21 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How to Tell If You're Self-Loathing and What to Do About It

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Many of us subject ourselves to self-loathing thoughts on a regular basis.

However, self-loathing isn't something that we are born with. As Anneli Rufus says in this Psychology Today article: "We aren't born with low self-esteem. It is not possible. The newborn brain lacks this capacity."

Yet as we grow up, many of us tend to develop self-loathing thoughts, if for no other reason than as coping mechanisms.

Sometimes we self-loath strategically as a way of motivating ourselves (albeit it's not the healthiest or best from of motivation). For example, you might tell yourself things like "You're being a baby -- get over it," or "You're never going to get anywhere if you don't learn this." These statements, despite being quite negative, may push some individuals to try harder.

We may also use self-loathing thoughts as a way to protect ourselves against disappointment. For example, if you and a coworker are competing for the same promotion, you might tell yourself that she'll get it, just so you won't be as disappointed if she does.

However, we can get so used to self-loathing thoughts that they become the normal way in which we think about ourselves. And that's not healthy.

Here are a few key signs of a self-loathing mindset, and what you can do to love yourself more.

You set your hopes low to decrease the chances of failing

Nobody likes to fail, but setting your hopes and goals at easily achievable levels doesn't do much for your self-esteem when you fulfill them. Furthermore, by forcing yourself to set your goals low, you're subconsciously telling yourself that you're not good enough to reach higher ones.

While it may be somewhat daunting to go after the big dreams and goals you have, doing so can also be very motivating.

What to do about it: Go after the things you really want, even if it means there's a good chance you'll fail

Learning to be comfortable with failure is very difficult, and I don't know anyone who's perfectly mastered it. But fear of failure is no reason not to try.

Besides, even if you don't reach your goal or dream, you'll have reached something much closer to it than if you hadn't tried at all.

You apologize for every little thing

If you feel the need to say you're sorry for very minor mistakes or things that are completely outside of your control, you may be reinforcing self-loathing thoughts. Apologizing for every little thing that goes wrong in your day subtlety reiterates that you are always at fault, which isn't true.

Apologizing for someone else's bad mood may seem courteous or polite to you, but what it really says is "that person's bad mood is my fault," which it likely isn't.

What to do about it: Offer a comment or explanation instead

Save your apologies for when you really mean them. Apologizing all the time can demean the value of your apologies in and of themselves. Instead of apologizing for every little thing, offer a comment or explanation.

For example, your coworker says to you, "Wow, Steve is being a real jerk today." Rather than apologizing for Steve's apparent mistreatment of your coworker, make a simple comment about the situation instead.

Something like, "Maybe he just hasn't had his coffee yet," can lighten the mood, give your coworker a laugh, and help both of you get on with your day.

You try to motivate your work using tough love

As mentioned earlier in this article, I think many of us resort to self-loathing as a way to find motivation. In fact, some studies even support the notion that we can doubt ourselves into trying harder. Whether it's wanting to lose weight, get a promotion, or accomplish something else, we seem to think that we can hate ourselves into doing it.

Kristin Neff points out that one of the main reasons people choose to be hard on themselves is because they fear that they won't motivate themselves enough if they don't. But that fear, and the tough-love self-doubt that comes with it, is unhealthy.

Trying to get motivated with self-loathing can cause needless anxiety and worrying, and can even sabotage your actions and motivation.

What to do about it: Motivate yourself with positive thoughts instead of negative ones

While you may fear that you'll be "too soft" on yourself without your constant criticisms and doubts, you need to learn to relax and find your motivation through positive thoughts and outlets. Neff points out, "There is an ever-increasing body of research that attests to the motivational power of self-compassion."

People who are self-compassionate set higher goals for themselves, aren't afraid to set goals when they fail, are motivated by the desire to learn and grow, and are able to stick to goal specific behaviors like exercising or eating less junk food. And all that motivation happens without the crushing self-doubts that tough love imposes on us.

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You place emphasis on the times you are wrong

If you have a healthy understanding of what it means to be right and wrong, you should understand that you can't be right all the time.

However, when you have a self-loathing personality, you tend to remember the times when you were wrong much more easily than you remember the times when you were right. This is because your self-constructed idea of normalcy supposes that you will be wrong, and brushes off the times when you succeed or are praised as exceptions to that norm.

Over time, this could cause you to have a distorted view of yourself, your intelligence and your value to others because you're only paying attention to the moments when you view yourself negatively.

What to do about it: Stop keeping track of how often you're right or wrong

In my opinion, being right or wrong doesn't matter so much as how genuinely you try. But if you want another reason to stop caring so much about the times you fail or are wrong, check out the results from this study, which says that being right is less important than being confident when it comes to achieving your goals.

According to the research, how you feel is more important to your successes than how accurate those feelings are. If you're confident in your abilities, you have a decent chance of succeeding, regardless of whether or not how you perceive your skills is accurate.

While the study does suggest that being overly confident could get you into trouble in a life-or-death situation, there's likely little harm in using this tactic if you're just trying to get through the day with minimal self-loathing.

You're often envious of others

If you're always mourning how you measure up to others who are "better" than you, you're 1.) being unrealistic and 2.) putting yourself down for no reason.

Everyone has positive and negative qualities, and choosing to see only your negative qualities and other peoples' positive ones is pointless.

What to do about it: Compare yourself to yourself

Stop focusing so much on how you measure up to other people. Instead, consider how you measure up to your own goals and how you've grown as a person throughout your life.

Of course, you've learned many new things and you've likely had your fair share of accomplishments. Focus on how you can keep improving you and leave everyone else out of it.

How do you deal with self-loathing? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

Images by Alejandro Escamilla and RyanMcGuire