Why you don’t really hate yourself


woman standing against a wall divided into contrasting colors

Lots of people struggle with self-hatred. They find they constantly judge themselves, talk to themselves harshly, and even do things to themselves that are harmful. It’s very painful to be this way.

But I want to tell you: you don’t really hate yourself.

In the deepest core of your being you love yourself. In the deepest core of your being you want everything for yourself that you want for those you hold most dear. In the deepest core of your being you want to be happy, to be well, and to be at peace.

And everything you do — everything — is a strategic attempt to find happiness, wellness, and peace. That’s the motivation behind every action you take, including your acts of self-hatred.

If you hate someone else, your motivation is usually something like this: by being unpleasant to them they’ll go away and not bother you any more, and then you’ll be at peace, and you can get on with being happy. Or they’ll stop doing that thing that annoys you, and then you can go back to being happy.

Those motivations of ours aren’t usually very conscious, because conscious self-examination is a relatively recent arrival in our being, evolutionarily speaking, and so many of our strategies are not clearly thought out, but are automatic and habitual. And so we often use strategies that just don’t work. The person you’re unpleasant to often can’t or won’t go away. They may be unpleasant back at you. And so your strategy to find peace and happiness ends up destroying your peace and your happiness even further.

If you hate some aspect of yourself, then usually the motivation is similar to those above. Maybe you messed up: “Oh god, what an idiot I am!” you yell at yourself, in the privacy of your own head. You treat yourself like a child who needs to be punished so that it won’t repeat an error. You do something good but you tell yourself it wasn’t “good enough.” If you can just be unpleasant enough to yourself, then maybe you’ll stop making mistakes. You’ll do better. Then you’ll be happy.

This is also a strategy that doesn’t work. You can’t find happiness through being harsh on yourself. You can’t create a sense of inner peace through setting up a conflict with yourself. But we get stuck with our failed strategies of self-hating behaviors — repeating them over and over. Hating yourself didn’t work that time? Try a bit harder at hating yourself next time!

But the key thing is that self-hatred is a strategy. And it’s a strategy for meeting a deeper desire for well-being, peace, and happiness. And that deeper desire for well-being, peace, and happiness is the love you have for yourself.

Self-hatred is self-love gone wrong. Self-hatred is your natural desire for happiness expressing itself in a strategy that can never work.

This is, I hope, encouraging. Because it’s not you, in your core, that’s the problem. It’s your strategies. And you can change your strategies. Strategies, in the great scheme of things, are relatively superficial. When you mess up, you can learn accept that you messed up without recrimination. You can learn that you don’t need to be harsh on yourself to prevent yourself making mistakes. You can learn, as animal trainers well know, that rewards are more important motivators than punishments like harsh self-talk. You can learn to be kind to yourself. You can practice lovingkindness, and learn the arts of being patient, accepting, and kind toward yourself. You can learn to be compassionate to yourself when you’re suffering.

It’s not necessarily easy to do all this. In fact it’s not easy. It even can be very painful in the short-term (we’ll often give ourselves a hard time for giving ourselves a hard time), although in the long-term learning to be kind to ourselves brings great happiness. You can expect a bumpy ride at first. But the only thing more painful than learning new strategies for finding happiness is to keep going with strategies that never have worked and never can.

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15 Comments. Leave new

  • Thank you- When I read the above post, it instantly clicked in my mind and soul. I really dont hate myself.
    I want good things for myself and the ones I hold dear. I have considered meditation. I am a Christian and dont know if that matters or not. I am going to try and apply some of these techniques. Thank you again for your kind and gentle post. I really needed it.

  • I am pretty sure I hate myself. I do not even want to “do better” anymore because I know I cannot do better, be better, and even when I do succeed at some task, it does not make me happy. It benefits whomever I am doing it for, and I obviously care very much for those people….which is why I am still here, but if they were not here, and the moment they do not need me any more, I am sure I will go away and end myself.
    I am alone–not “different” or “excluded” or “isolated” but just “alone” within a midst of people. To leave those people with whom I am alone would hurt them because they do not know that I am alone. They think I am with them. I do not understand how I can hate myself as much as I do, and still love other people so much that I fear hurting them. I think I might enjoy being alone if I were physically alone, if I could leave these people without hurting them, but to be physically present, and so alone is dreadful.
    I wasn’t always like this. I was happy once. In my ignorance, I loved myself and was happy that I had my life. Then I realized what I am, and I began to hate myself.

    • You’re obviously depressed, Tank, and I hope you’re seeking help.

      You say you hate yourself, but I suspect you’ve slipped into not acknowledging the love that every person has for themselves. Your worth as a person has nothing to do with “succeeding at tasks” or “being needed” or even “benefiting others.” The very fact that you are a living, conscious being is miraculous.

      Take a close look at one of those unpleasant feelings inside of you, or one of the self-critical thoughts that pass through your mind. What substantiality do those feelings and thoughts have? What is it, really, that they are passing through?

  • I found this page by searching ” What to do when you hate yourself”. To an outsider or family member, they see something positive in me that I don’t see. I’m 32 so I figured I would have figured out what they were talking about by now. I do know that I have achieved many goals of mine including my latest dream, a commercial pilots license. Make no mistake though, during every phase of succeeding in my goals, my mind would run it’s favorite script on repeat, ” You can’t do it, your a joke!, move aside and let the real people do it, you don’t know what your talking about, your a loser!, you deserve a shitty job and nothing more, you’ll never achieve this dream, your a dreamer…nothing but a stupid little dreamer, go back to living your life online etc.” That is a brief preview of what I tell myself on a daily basis, its exhausting. I have only been to a few different states, never out of the country. I even have my damn pilots license and I still hardly leave my town. Women show interest in me, but I never pursue them because I have nothing to offer. I’m like a cardboard box. No, more like a piece of paper, because at least a box has some dimension to it. I purposely talk myself out of social events, even though I know I might have had fun. I do most things alone, fly, jog, Jet Ski etc. I am terrified of looking stupid because I lived a childhood of getting laughed at every damn day. Now it bites me in the butt because I avoid situations where I don’t know what I am doing, I.E. traveling. It blows my mind how people can just pack some bags and visit another country and make it just fine. I give it 15 minutes of trying to put a plan in order before my negative mind soundtrack kicks in and shuts me down, just to end up surfing the web like a mad man for the next 8 hours, looking at who knows what. I care about other people, but I generally just don’t like my myself, especially seeing myself in a mirror. I am trying to forgive my dad, but he never taught me anything. My entire childhood was spent doing yard work while the other kids were playing. He used to make me mow the yard twice in a row because the first time was not good enough, meanwhile he is doing speed and other drugs behind our backs. It was a real mess. So here I am at age 32 with nothing. I know it’s my fault. I wish more than anything that I could change my negative nature toward myself, but I highly doubt it.

    • We all have those doubts about whether we can change. What I’d suggest, Mike, is starting with your painful memories of childhood, noticing where you feel the pain in your body, and sending that pain your compassion. You might want to read some of the article on this blog about self-compassion, and also start working on lovingkindness meditation, which teaches the key skill of cultivating love and compassion.

  • Thanks for your fast response. I will read those links you sent. Thanks again, Mike

  • To say I merely hate myself would be a vast and monumental understatement. It’s humiliating to admit but I am married to a psychologically abusive and neglectful madman. Too much to tell in an online comment, but he has purposely and systematically removed everything that means anything to me from my life. (Both tangible and intangible) leaving me completely alone, isolated and desperate. He is a professional in the luxury resort development field so everyone we know thinks I am well cared for and have no idea how he actually treats and forces me to live. (He lives in another state.) Recently my dear, dear father passed away, my two beloved dogs died, my mother had colon cancer, I discovered a friend dead from hanging them self, and my husband only belittled and mocked the trauma and pain of each incident. He is a monster. I spent 2012 in hospital w/ AML in a city 4 hours from my home and recently had a series of unexplained seizures which left me with hearing and vision loss and about 98% long term memory loss. It is in a word, unbearable, yet he refuses to pay for a neurologist. I have no transportation to oncologist appts to ensure the AML hasn’t returned as he has taken away my car and sold it. Broken things he refuses to repair: I have no heat/ac, an electrician found signs of smoldering wires at several electrical outlets that were wired wrong so I can’t use my kitchen or l.r., the washer/dryer are broken, as are the stove, dishwasher, disposal, toilets, there are major roof leaks, black mold, locks are broken on several windows and back door, broken exterior walls (I live in an upscale neighborhood, it is such an embarrassment and extreme eyesore my estranged neighbors leave notes on my door begging me to fix them (because none of them actually speak to me any longer)), the sprinklers are broken, which resulted in a dead lawn and caused several magnificent 100 plus y.o. trees to die, I desperately need a dentist (issues caused by chemotherapy) but he refuses to let me see one, I’d go on but you get the idea. I barely feel human anymore. The irony is what he does for a living and that he lives extremely comfortably in a small ski resort town that many call “the closest thing to paradise”.
    I am not attractive, smart, funny, talented, skilled or special in any conceivable way, (I am not just being self deprecating, I have lived with myself a long time and I know this to be true.) This knowledge is why I married an abusive man in the first place.) We’ve been married over 20 years, have lived apart for about 18 of them and he has coerced, blackmailed, and “ultimatumed” me into signing over to him every single thing we’ve ever owned. The times I have begged for a divorce he has laughed and hurled insults such as, “who do you think would bother feeding you then?”. This week I finally contacted some attorney’s, they all insist on a $5000 retainer fee up front. I have no money and have never seen a bank statement, paycheck, tax return or financial or legal document of any kind (aside from the one’s I’ve been forced to sign). I have one credit card (in his name) with which I am only allowed to buy the most basic of groceries. (Which I have to have delivered because of no car, which only adds to my isolation. It’s very difficult having to buy food this way being vegan and not having a working stove. I recently charged a blanket online as I have no heat and it is cold here and he is threatening to cancel the credit card because of it. I am filled with shame for allowing all of this to happen, and If I knew 50% of what is owned belonged to me I’d be able to finally leave, but he swears I have rights to Nothing.
    I have been kind, loving and compassionate (almost to a fault ) my entire life, I’m a a human and animal rights activist, (I can’t even get another dog so there would at least be another gentle heart beating in my house because I’ve been informed he will pay no vet bills). I consider myself an environmentalist and live as green and organically as possible. I have always tried to follow a path of ahimsa and I have never asked anyone for anything but basic human kindness in return. I have no one to help me and no one to talk to about my abject despair. My mother is equally abusive, my brother is in the final stages of Parkinson’s, my friends were apparently only fair weather and abandoned me when my life and my home fell apart, my glorious only child is in grad school out of state and I can’t bear to bother him with my issues. (He’s seen much too much already and it is a miracle he is even functioning.) I’ve thought it would be nice to get some Buddhist counseling but the closet temple is an hour away from me, and I have no transportation. I’ve tried so, so hard to stay strong, but I honestly feel the universe does not want me here. If it did, why won’t Anyone help me? Everything is so broken and hopeless, I see no path back to even moderate happiness, much less joy. I look at myself and understand why I am unloved and treated the way I am. There are very few people as utterly useless and worthless as I.
    I am filled with such sadness and deep despair that I literally can barely breathe.

    • Hi, Katie.

      Apologies for the delayed reply. Life has been a bit crazy recently and I got behind in checking the comments on the blog.

      I’m sorry to hear about your suffering, and about the abuse you’re receiving at the hands of your husband. You talk about being self-loathing, but underneath that is something that doesn’t want to suffer. You clearly are deeply unhappy with your situation. That’s your expression of self-love and self-caring. There’s probably also a lot of fear keeping you from changing, but that’s also not self-hatred, but self-protection. Some part of you thinks you’re safer where you are, rather than leaving, moving to a shelter for abused families (and you are experiencing domestic abuse), and initiating a divorce.

      Personally, I think you should do all those things. I’m sure your fear will come up with a hundred reasons why you “can’t,” but I think you need to take a deeper view. Change will be painful, but it will also open up the way to a better life. I’ve been through divorce (from a situation that I would characterize as being at times emotionally abusive) and although the path has been rough at times it’s also been a huge relief and has freed me up to find a more nourishing, loving, and supportive relationship. And you know you want that too, even if part of you thinks (falsely) that you’re not worthy of it.

  • hi im pankaj ialways think im a loser because i dont have any desire. i have no desire of being rich or achieving something i want nothing from life yet i live in pain . i feel unimportant several times. i m at the age of marriage but do not want to do. my parents are forcing me to do but i feel my partner would know what a loser i am as i feel no joy in doing anything . even when other ppl are laughing i feel they are faking.and i dont share my thoughts with anyone even not with my parents because i dont trust anyone . i truly feel what i am doing right now which is sales job im going to fail in that eventually and if i marry that will end up in divorce and my parents are loving and caring but i think im hypocrite and dont really love them or actually i dont feel anything for anyone but yes i feel bad for poor little beggars and feel only for them and want to do something for them who are homeless and having a very hard life. now even in writing all this u messed up everything. pls help me i dont know what to do with my life

    • Hi, Pankaj.

      I’m sorry to hear that you’re suffering like this. You sound very depressed, and possibly in need of therapy. Do you meditate? You didn’t say. This site is about meditation, mainly, and it may be that meditating could be helpful for you, but I don’t generally advise people to learn meditation when they’re actively depressed.

      I wonder though if you suggest your own solution? Depression is a very self-absorbed state, where we’re constantly ruminating on how we’re feeling, and why we’re feeling it, and what’s wrong with us. Doing something for other people could be very helpful for you — as long as you keep coming back to the effect that the work is having on others rather than whether it’s benefiting you. Perhaps there’s some voluntary agency you could get involved with?

  • Thank you for your words.

    I feel alone. I do not feel connected to anybody. Even when I was married to a good man (and later in a subsequent relationship), I felt alone. I am so terrified of rejection that I keep everyone at arm’s length. This fear stems from being surrendered into adoption at birth. But it really took a turn for the worse when my birth mother rejected me about a year into our reunion (two years ago at the age of 33). This problem is so deeply rooted that I even had a difficult time bonding with both of my children when they were born because I automatically assumed they would reject me. (I am aware of this now, but was unconscious of it at the time.) I have a very difficult time letting anybody get to know me and love me. I’m afraid to be loved and then have that love taken away. Even when I am getting along well with a friend/acquaintance, I tell myself, “Nothing is permanent, this is temporary.” That way I won’t be so let down and hurt when they walk away from me. I am fully aware that I am the sole cause of my pain. It is frustrating to know the logic behind my actions, yet still feel helpless to change. I feel hatred toward myself for allowing my fragile, selfish ego to control me in this way. Then, I feel horribly ashamed when I realize it’s my ego doing the hating in the first place!! I go back and forth in a vicious cycle. How do I change my thoughts and actions to see BEYOND my ego and become more open? I began meditating about three months ago, which helps. (Reading this post makes me cringe at the “I” statements, but it’s the only way for me to describe my feelings.)

    • Hi, Lonely. Sometimes we need to make “I” statements :)

      I’d suggest that the primary problem might be a distrust of others — you think you know their intentions, and that those intentions are to abandon you. And because you think others will abandon you, a secondary conclusion is that you are unworthy, so that it’s not surprising that people abandon you since you’re the kind of person who gets abandoned.

      So I’d suggest working on developing a more positive emotional connection with others, through lovingkindness, or metta, practice. Keep dropping the thoughts and stories in which you make assumptions about other people — that they don’t care about you or aren’t or won’t be interested in you. It’s not a quick fix; in fact it takes years. But it does work.

      Focusing on others by cultivating a kindly attitude towards them, takes your attention away from yourself, which is helpful since you’ve slipped into the habit of judging yourself.

      I’m not suggesting that you don’t cultivate metta toward yourself. We should always do that. But it’s the move toward cultivating a more empathetic and loving attitude toward others that I think will help you become more open to others.

  • Thank you for your kind and helpful response, Bodhipaksa.

    You’ve made an observation that my fear of rejection/abandonment can be further stripped down into two issues: distrust of others and a lack of self-worth. This makes total sense to me; I do have a distrust of others as well as feelings of worthlessness. I wonder how many people have intuited my distrust and hesitated as a result, giving me yet more (perceived, not actual) reasons not to trust. It’s obvious how the cycle can go on and on. In your words, to become more open, it is necessary to cultivate an “empathetic and loving attitude toward others.” In reading the pages of the link you have provided, I see this can be practiced through lovingkindness meditation. If practiced enough through meditation and in daily living, does lovingkindness become (or return to) our natural state of being?

    This site is a treasure filled with inspiration! I am actively looking for a Buddhist center nearby that offers classes on Buddhism and meditation. Don’t be surprised if I check in from time to time!


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