A meditation for self-hatred

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

There were times years ago when it was simply painful to sit with myself in meditation because I disliked myself so strongly. And that self-hatred would also spill out into my relations with others in the form of intolerance, ill-will, and a preoccupation with judging. Someone who had been practicing quite a lot longer than I had been (I was a relative beginner at the time) suggested that I do a lot more lovingkindness meditation.

So for quite a long time I did the metta bhavana meditation on a daily basis. But somehow even that wasn’t enough, and so I came up with a way of doing the practice that helped me with my self hatred (or low self-esteem, as people call it nowadays).

What I did was to take the first four stages of the practice and apply them to myself. That may seem at first glance like a selfish act, but it wasn’t really. In order to become a more compassionate being I had to learn to live with myself first, and so the question of selfishness doesn’t really arise — in helping myself I was helping everyone around me.

The first stage I did in the normal way — I just wished myself well.

In the second stage of the meditation practice, where we normally cultivate lovingkindness for a friend, I called to mind all the qualities I liked in myself. These were the parts of myself that I was friendly towards. And I’d name these qualities and wish them well.

For example, I respected my own intelligence and so I’d repeat: “May my intelligence be well. May my intelligence be happy. May my intelligence be free from suffering.” I’d do that for the whole of the second stage of the practice, sometimes spending the whole stage on one quality that I appreciated in myself, but more often calling to mind a few different qualities. That seemed to be the most useful way to do the practice — calling to mind as many positive qualities as came to mind. But if I could only think of one thing then I’d wish that part of myself well for the whole 10 minutes or so.

In the third stage, which is generally where we wish a neutral person well, I’d think about qualities that I hadn’t yet developed, and I’d wish those parts of myself well. Those qualities were neutral in the same way as people I haven’t yet met are neutral — they were parts of myself that I hadn’t yet developed a relationship with, just as neutral people are simply people that you haven’t yet established a relationship with. So I might repeat something like, “May my confidence be well. May my confidence be happy. May my confidence be free from suffering.” This stage was pretty easy — there were plenty of qualities that I wanted to develop but didn’t think I had in any great degree. It didn’t matter if I already had the quality to some degree — as long as I felt I needed to develop that part of myself much more than it was developed already then it was suitable for inclusion in this stage.

Sometimes I’d include in the “neutral person” stage qualities of mine that other people had expressed appreciation of but which I didn’t really appreciate much myself. I can’t remember what those were in any great detail, but sometimes someone would tell me that I was friendly, for example, while that wasn’t the way I thought of myself.

In the fourth stage — the stage where we usually cultivate lovingkindness for someone we have difficulty with — I’d call to mind those parts of myself that I didn’t like. I’d say things like “May my ill-will be well. May my ill-will be happy. May my ill-will be free from suffering.” Those qualities were my inner “difficult people.” There was no shortage of these! I found it very beneficial indeed to wish these troublesome parts of myself well. In this stage of the practice some genuine compassion for myself would often emerge.

Lastly, I’d conclude the meditation in the usual way by spreading my well-wishing into the world in wider and wider circles.

So in the middle three stages I was relating to different parts of myself as if they were other people — people I liked, people that were strangers to me, and people I was in conflict with. This seemed to offer a deeper way of working with the practice than the normal first stage, which involved a more general sense of cultivating lovingkindness towards “myself.” It takes that idea of “myself” and deals with it in more detail and deals with it in, I found, a more useful way.

I’ve sometimes suggested when others are afflicted with self-hatred that they take the same approach I did, and so I’m offering up this modified approach to the metta bhavana meditation in the hope that some will find it useful.

49 Comments. Leave new

  • I see that this article was written a while ago but I just wanted to say thank you- this version of metta is a wonderful idea!! Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  • This is beautiful, and so helpful. I thought I knew the Dhamma so well, and I now see I’ve overlooked the most essential foundation.

    Peace be with you.

  • Hello Bodhipaksa.

    Your comment of July 25, 2013 was spot on for me. I’m an older adult, on the threshold of retirement, and I have become aware that I am increasingly anxious, fearful and self-loathing. My monkey mind chatters almost constantly about all the mistakes and bad decisions I’ve made throughout my life. Seldom do I hear encouragement or praise. I have spent a lifetime listening to and believing the voice of my inner critic.

    As a new student, I understand that most of my pain and suffering is self-inflicted by my thought process – another reason to beat myself up – and that only I have control over my thoughts (just the idea of challenging the monkey mind makes me feel tired and overwhelmed).

    “My mind is a garden. My thoughts are the seeds. My harvest will be either flower or weeds.” Well, I’ve spent a lifetime mastering the art of growing big, nasty weeds of self-doubt, self-loathing, unworthiness, hopelessness, and feelings of having little to offer others. It time to stop attacking myself. I want to like me. I want to feel worthy of success and abundance in all aspects of my life. I want to stop shutting people out – after all, you wouldn’t like me if you really knew me – and, instead, feel safe at letting others in. I wish to love and be loved.

    Your articles and practices on maitrī towards ourselves and others has been a helpful reminder to me that I can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. Although being part of the solution requires time and effort, learning to relate to myself on an entirely different level, and to detached from the outcomes, it has to be healthier, more peaceful way to live.

    Thank you for all the love and kindness you extend.


    • I’m glad you find this helpful, Alice. If you’d like to help Wildmind expand, so that I can do more, please consider making a contribution to our Free Bodhi project, which aims to provide more office support so that I can spend less time on admin and more on teaching. You can read about the project and give a donation here.

  • I’ve been searching all night for ways to help reduce self-loathing… and this is the first bit of instruction I’ve seen that isn’t like “Stop being hard on yourself.”, and other things that are so much easier said than done. Thank you. I am going to try this out.

  • I’ve been experiencing challenging states frequently lately.. a lot of anxiety, depression, and sheer misery. My feelings became so acute this morning that instead of trying to numb out by web surfing I typed in “meditation self-hatred” and came across this post. Reading it has been helpful.. now if only I can get myself to do it! Even though you posted it awhile back, I wanted you to know it’s still relevant, and I’m very, very grateful you wrote about it. I also appreciate your honesty about your own internal experience. Reading your post and the comments on it make me realize I’m not alone in experiencing self-hatred, and this helps alleviate some of the pain. Many, many thanks.

    • You’re welcome.

      It’s always a relief to know we’re not alone. One of the aspects of self-hatred is that we assume we’re worse than others — surely no one could hate themselves as much as we do :)

      Knowing that others share our problems takes away that sense that we’re uniquely cursed.

  • Hi there :)

    I just posted on my young sangha wall a suggestion that I have been given to put myself in every stage of loving kindness meditation if you are some who suffers with alot of self hatred/very low self esteem.. I had thought of this before for myself , but maybe thought I was wrong or selfish to do it ….

    I spoke with valarie mason john who has had similar background to myself and she siad same thing to me … put myself in every stage every day for 1 month … I add…. with support of course..
    Your interpretation is helpful thank you – I started with , first stage as normal… and or mayb my hear be well..

    Then 2nd stage – the parts of myself I can connect with as loving , the friend in myself.. 3rd stage the parts of myself I ignore, abandon etc….. 4th stage the angry very fearful self distructive mentally /emotionally disabled unwell part of myself …

    I did this again on retreat and was powerful and I am so glad to have reassurance from you that its not selfish… I kinda knew that …. but I lack Alot of confidence in my self so Thank you .

    Maybe you can come to Brighton Buddhist centre one day and help us more with this :) ;)

    Much appreciation

    Danielle ( Brighton Mitra )

    • Hi, Danielle.

      I’m glad to hear that this is helping you. Remember that the Buddha said:

      “Looking after oneself, one looks after others.
      Looking after others, one looks after oneself.”

      (Attānaṃ rakkhanto paraṃ rakkhati.
      Paraṃ rakkhanto attānaṃ rakkhati.)

      I’d love to come to the Brighton center some day. I haven’t been to Brighton for many years.


  • Thank you for offering this approach. I think it’s brilliant. Although I can imagine myself feeling awkward with it at times, I can also imagine its benefit to myself and others, which feels energizing. It’s another tool for me during the 100 Day MB Challenge. Thank you again.

  • Many thanks for offering up this technique. I’ve been saddened and appalled to discover how hard it is to feel lovingkindness for myself during my practice of metta. So I did what you do in this day and age of marvels: I googled my question. And one of the first hits was this very page. I read it, then sat for 30 minutes and practiced. A breakthrough!

  • Thanks. I’ll use this on bad days when self-metta is hard to come by.

  • Thank you Bodhipaksa for your generosity in responding.
    Is so easy to forget that our experiences our not unique!
    While I practice loving-kindness for all sentient beings, it brings tranquility to remember that I am not alone feeling what I feel.
    Mind aspects are difficult to understand . Perhaps we have the added believe of “Losing our minds” and that the diversity of mind leads to madness. I truly believe this is a subject that needs a lot of exploration and explanation to help students.
    With Metta,

  • Blessing Bodhipaksa,

    I have returned to this site inspired by what I first read here a while ago.
    I am in a state of confusion that often leads to self-hatred and anxiety. I have stopped reading a lot of Buddhist tests becuase the mind reacts as a judge when I am not following what the authors says. How many minds do we have? If there are several parts of me (the aze that is critical, the aze that is generous, ect) is there a aze mind that is accepting and at ease and another that is terribly demanding of perfection? I wish I had access to a teacher but I don;t so my learning is by reading and listening. Lately my mind is like a watch dog looking for anything I do wrong (who is that I?). The pain is the confusion that leads to fear and anxiety and the exhaustion of attending a mind that behaves like a unruly child. There is judgment to everything I do or don’t . During that time my mind “rebels and says: “don’t dare to pretend to be friendly to me because I know you don’t mean it “( mind as if I was trying to fool it)
    Forgive if I am not clear but I am not. I am trying to untangle this mind process that makes me suffer a lot. How can I love my mind(s)
    Thank you so much for reading.
    with metta

    • Hi, Aze.

      The confusion you describe is unfortunately very common.

      You’ve correctly spotted that our brains, and therefore our minds, are modular. And not all parts of the brain/mind play well together. And sometimes parts of the brain/mind that are critical/defensive are most evident. It is possible to train the mind to be more appreciative and less critical. This takes time, of course, but it’s well worth doing, because of the sense of peace and wholeness it brings. So you might want to start with lovingkindness meditation, and you might also find some of Rick Hanson‘s articles useful.

      The repeated question you ask — “who is that I?” — is a very valuable one. You can realize that you don’t have to identify with those critical parts of yourself. When these parts of yourself are “observed” then there is another less critical “you” who is doing the observing. That in itself is a huge step forward. You can notice the critical thoughts and recognize that they are just thoughts, not facts. And you don’t have to take them seriously.

  • You’re welcome, R. Ted. You might want to start with cultivating lovingkindness for the pain that you feel around this topic. I wrote a couple of posts that touch on how this works. This one’s about anger, but it’s applicable. I also touch on it in this post on anxiety.

    You also might want to look for a mindfulness-based eating program, which can help you with your issues around food. Many hospitals are now offering these.

  • Hello Bodhipaksa,

    Thank you so much for sharing this. It was one of the first results of my google search “Buddhism and self hatred,” which I typed in after an extremely painful session on the cushion this morning (not unlike as you describe).

    I’ve been binge eating and over-eating to numb my feelings just about every day for about a year and a half now and would like to confess that is the #1 reason why I practice some form of meditation daily at present– I’ve heard it can help. I wish I could say my practice were more admirably motivated and feel ashamed/inferior in the meditating community, like an approval-seeking liar, untruthful about why I’m here (“maybe I’m just selfish”). Not loving myself, feeling betrayed and disgusted by my own body, it is hard and at times downright impossible to be kind to myself, others, or to my innocent (however freaking annoying) cat… and when I sat for twenty minutes today I felt like I was holding on for dear life.

    I’ve tried metta before but it hasn’t seemed to break down the walls of ill-will. I don’t know that it will. But, I will give your approach a shot.

    Sincere thanks and best wishes,
    R. Ted

  • I think you’re right about being gentle but firm. But sometimes the “voice” is right. It might say, “my mind is not steady on the breath” or “I am clumsy”. And it’s right! And sometimes it says, “I am going to die today”, or, “I deserve to be used”, and it’s wrong. So I can see that in the first case I should say, “Thanks, Solrac, you are right.” But in the second case, what should I say? “Thanks for your input, Solrac”?

    And what should I do with feelings that are not voices, like addictive cravings, irrational fears, feelings of ill will? Where do you draw the line and say, “sorry, this is not allowed”? I could say, “thanks but no thanks” or “Desire, may you be happy”, but desire has a way of tricking us. It presents us with mental advertisements of what we think will happen if and when we give into it. It then says, “see how good this is? you will do this ASAP”. Can we use metta to accept and pacify these urges?

    Thanks again. I think this knowledge can really free and empower some of us who struggle with self-hate.

    • I wasn’t saying that you should treat every thought as if it’s a self-critical thought. Treat self-critical thoughts as self-critical thoughts.

      Where do you draw the line and say, “sorry, this is not allowed”? We can learn which thoughts are supportive of wellbeing and which aren’t. Traditionally this is described as “right view” (samma ditthi), and it requires mindfulness (samma sati).

      Desire and other emotional states do have a way of tricking us, and there’s no way to instantly prevent them from fooling us. But you can also use mindfulness and metta to deal with them. Over time they become less active. You can notice them, but not act them out (at least sometimes). These emotions aren’t separate from your thoughts, though. They manifest as thoughts: “Oh, what I really need is … just one more … what’s the harm … I’ll stop tomorrow.”

  • Thanks for the tip. I agree that I can’t win in fighting myself, because fighting strengthens fighting, which is what I am trying to end.

    But as for calling the voice a name, I think I’ll try calling it “solraC” because this is really “me” criticizing myself, but a different “me”. And when you say “tolerantly amused”, is that like belittling the voice, honouring it, or just openly accepting it as it is?

    I tried this morning doing the 5 phase lovingkindness meditation, towards others and not myself. But every time I found myself distracted (often by thoughts that were criticizing or doubting myself, others, the practice, and my teachers), I said to the “voice”, “May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be peaceful, may you live with ease.” This is the opposite of how I usually react when I realize I have been distracted for a whole minute, which is basically to start ranting even more about how I can’t concentrate or what to do about it until I realize again I’m not focused on the object. I think it sort of worked, because I felt more peaceful and happier than usual after the meditation. Is this the sort of attitude we should have towards our voice when we find ourselves distracted? Or should it be more neutral?

    Thanks for your help.

    • Solrac sounds like a good name.

      I think we need to be gentle but firm with these voices. They lie to us. But they’re not really malicious — they actually come from parts of ourselves that believe we’ll be safer and happier if we never succeed at anything. In a way they want us to be happy, but are clueless. So they’re misguided, and not very smart. But I don’t think in terms of belittling, and certainly not honoring. Yes, we have to accept that this inner voice is there, and that it’s not helpful, and that arguing with it isn’t going to get us anywhere. It’s like the drunk uncle who shows up at family gatherings and sits in a corner making racist comments — you just say, “Oh, yeah, it’s him,” but the kindest thing is otherwise to ignore him. Be kind, but don’t engage.

      I think the metta practice you did towards your inner critic is good. I’ve done that kind of thing myself. The practice above is more for when you’re in the middle of daily activities and thoughts pop up. You can stop them from gaining a foothold just bay saying, “Hi, Solrac. Thanks for your input!”

  • Okay, here is a direct answer:

    “I believe that I am incapable of practising meditation and self-control because I believe I am too stupid to do so and this gives me a sense of comfort.”

    Honesty: 90%

    • Notice that inner voice that says, or implies, that you’re stupid and incapable, and give it a name. I call mine “Heinrich.” When I become aware that my inner critic is talking, I just say “Thanks, Heinrich” in a friendly, tolerantly amused manner. I’d suggest you do the same. There’s no point setting up a fight with yourself. If you fight with yourself, how can you win?

  • To be very direct, Carlos, why don’t you stop finding excuses not to practice, and just practice?

  • First of all, thank you for this idea. Poke me to try it. This may be useful for me, since my feelings of self-aggression directly affect my meditation, since I take joy in making myself unhappy. The mindfulness meditation can serve as fodder for my self-aggressive ego to attack myself, pointing out how bad I am when I become mindful of my flaws. The daily meditation is just time to sit and criticize how bad at concentrating or how bad at being compassionate I am. It feels good to do this, or I wouldn’t do it.

    Should I show lovingkindness to this inner abuser? Hope that it gets happy? It already is! Who should I wish happy?? The victim, the very person doing the abusing? Maybe to other people who made me this way, where the root of the problem occurred when I was not mindful. And what is the distinction between mindfulness and lovingkindness, in essence? Can you be kind to someone without being mindful? Can you be mindful of your inner state without being kind to yourself? This may be why some people practice metta before practicing mindfulness meditation?

    Also, the distinction between self and other is not so solid. States of attachment and aversion can arise for people “outside” of yourself as well as for “beings” or personalities within. In general I have difficulty maintaining a friendly while neutral attitude, which, in daily life and in meditation, is the preferred way of dealing with obstacles to attaining stillness. Maybe you have to start somewhere. If you just show unconditional peaceful kindness to your breath, to your anger, to sounds in the environment, and to other living beings you appreciate or resent, then you are on the way to equanimity and peace? Or is there more to it than that?

    I hope you see how confused I am. If I weren’t confused, I wouldn’t need to ask for advice. Or maybe the problem is I am not confused enough. Can someone please unlearn me? Sorry, I was holding all of this in. Here goes, “Submit”. (If any of this is divisive: please don’t believe a word I say!!)

  • Hi Bodhipaksa / Daisy

    Yeah, it’s really hard to get the balance between acceptance of what is, and acceptance that something has to change! Reminds me of that saying that all humans are perfect just as they are but could do with some polishing. i’m paraphrasing there but you get the idea :-)

  • Thanks Bodhipaksa, it’s funny, I spend most of my day thinking really carefully about how I speak to others as part of my job (I work with Offenders with Learning Disabilities), but I don’t always give the same level of consideration to how I talk to and about myself.
    Thanks also Katy, for your comments. I think what I mean by blocks is really an unwillingness that I have felt to open myself to the experience of lovingkindness or to have the equanimity to accept how I am feeling at the particular moment, rather than grasping at an ideal of how it should feel.

  • This is very traditional language, Katy. The Buddha talked of certain mental states as being fetters (samyojanas) and hindrances (nivaranas). Fetters and hindrances are mental habits, and I don’t think there’s anything particularly unhelpful, at least initially, and for most people, in talking about “breaking habits” or “breaking fetters.” Sometimes we even have to use a degree of force to overcome a particular mental state. But that doesn’t necessarily imply unkindness toward ourselves, or suggest that ill will toward our blocks is useful. We have to learn patience and equanimity for them even as we dismantle them.

  • Another thing I would say to Daisy. you talk about “breaking blocks”. What are those blocks but parts of your psyche and mind at that moment? So why are you trying to break them?

  • In my opinion, there is no concrete thing or emotion called loving kindness that we are supposed to find and then direct towards ourselves. When I sit in meditation and aim to resist as little as possible and let things come and go, this, to me, is more loving and kind than anything. it is full acceptance of the thoughts, emotions and sensations that make up “myself” rather than pushing parts of myself away or trying to change something.

    • You’re right; metta isn’t a thing. It’s a quality of relationship. But its much more than simple acceptance or non-resistance. It’s an active emotion of well-wishing towards oneself and others.

  • This is a really useful article. I’ve been following a Path with Heart by Jack Kornfield, which I find very insightful, but I’ve been finding that I just can’t connect with loving kindness meditation. I don’t have a problem feeling positive towards others, but find judgement and negativity creeping in when I try to apply loving kindness to myself, or sometimes not even that, just blankness and disconnectedness from what the meditation is asking me to wish and feel for myself. I will try your approach, it seems like it might be useful for breaking through these blocks.
    Many thanks,

    • Hi, Daisy.

      I hope you find this approach helpful.

      One language thing I try to watch out for: instead of saying “I can’t connect with lovingkindness meditation,” try saying “I haven’t yet found a way to connect with lovingkindness meditation.” It’s a much less limiting way of talking, that implicitly recognizes the possibility of change, while “I can’t” represent a very tight and limited form of self view.

  • William Brownings
    March 13, 2011 11:06 am

    Thank you for this article. I arrived at your page because I have recently had the realisation of my own self hatred. It’s always been there of course but now I’m staring it right in the face and of course it has really disturbed me, and yes I have been having a negative reaction to ths negativity.

    But today I feel a sense of relief that I have arrived at this place and I am now beginning to explore the ideas that lay behind this self-hatred.

    I do the metta bhavana about every other day but recently it simply has stopped working, so I am going to try your suggestion here. Thank you once again for your practicle advice.

  • this is really nice :-)

  • I found this a very useful,helpful article.Much appreciation,from the bottom of my heart
    Thankyou !

  • Thank you …… its very helpful how you suggest using metta bhavana meditation .. also the comment on fear as well …. just today precisely this insight comes in at right moment ……



  • Thank you so much for this meditation! I have come to the point in my meditation where it is painful to meditate and after attending a gnostic class I’m involved with tonight, I knew I had to take a more pro-active approach to see what others have done in this situation.
    I will try this approach. It’s nice to know that others have faced this obstacle and overcome it.
    Thank you!

  • Thankyou for this, I will try working with it.

  • Today, 8/21/09 I was looking in the web for some thoughts about meditation and self hatred.
    I am having a hard time meditating because the monster of hate – towards myself- is always there. I am greatful to whom ever wrote the article. I will try to put into practice. There is no reference as to whom the author is or when it was written. I would like to know if possible.
    Thank you….. is very painful the war against oneself

    • Hi Aze,

      I’m glad you found the article helpful, and I hope you take up the metta bhavana practice. Unless otherwise indicated all the articles on this site are my work.

      All the best,

  • This is a really nice technique, and I appreciate it a lot. Thanx a lot your ways for lovingkindness
    is really helpful.

  • Hello, I’ ve got a small question about the method that is described in this section. I was wondering if instead of using this meditation for self-hatred, do you think I could also use it for fears that I have? So for example in the 4th stage I would then recall my fear for ghosts (i know, this might sound silly, but it’s an actual fear that I have) to mind and wish my fear well. Any help is very much appreciated.

  • First, Many many many thanks for this insightful adaptation… I practiced it this morning and it felt quite powerful and am intending to continue with this practice.

    I’d like to share some ideas that came up:

    1. I have adapted the phrasing to “May … enjoy peace of mind and the root of peace-of-mind.”…
    Also… for qualities I that are difficult in me, I phrased it as “May the part of me that suffers from … (say compulsiveness) enjoy peace of mind and the root of peace-of-mind” to disticnt
    a. its a part of me, not all of me, and
    b.it is not the compulsiveness that needs peace of mind but the “suffering from compulsiveness” that needs it. A small, but important shift in my humble opinion…

    2. as an aikido practitioner, I’ve been experimenting with uttering the aspiration both in seated and bowing position (bowing is a part of aikido training), as an act of humility and surrender. it was very grounding for me. But I am unsure if the aspiration is meant to be uttered loudly at all?

    3. I found that once I sincerely aspire, the intention cannot be “held” to long or really meditated about but rather a spaciousness or sense of relief enter and I simply abide in them.

    4. How structured vs. spontaneous should one be, in terms of practising by yourself? I simply let the qualities arise by themselves for each phase (good, neutral, bad). But my tendency to be comprehensive made this meditation very long. When to switch pahses? So, what could I do about this?

    5. I added two more phases-
    an aspiration for “this very observing, meditating mind”;
    followed by an aspiration for “this peaceful mind” to enjoy peace of mind :) (if I was aspiring for happiness I would phrase it as “may this happiness itself enjoy happiness and the root of happiness”). This kind of self reference is common in nondual practices…
    and a final aspiration for my “complete being”, equivalent to “all sentient beings”.

    anyways, much gratitude for this.

  • Most useful powerfull stuff Buddha ever gave us..think its the greatest need of majority people and all the hatred in the world

  • […] kindness meditation could be a great place to start for people who suffer from self-hatred, as this practitioner describes. Filed under: Paths and Methods, Emily’s Posts […]


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.