If we were all being honest, we’d admit we hate ourselves sometimes. We hate the parts of ourselves that we don’t tell anyone else about. We hate our shadow. Even for people who often feel good about themselves, you can’t avoid hating yourself at least some of the time at least a teeny tiny bit.
The question is, how do you learn how to stop hating yourself as much as you do? Can you reach a level of self-confidence, self-esteem, and contentment that you never have negative feelings about yourself? Ask Tonny Robbins, because I don’t think so. The best we can hope for is using our negative feelings to our advantage, integrating the shadow instead of ignoring it, and become a whole person instead of a puzzle of compartmentalized self-beliefs.
Let me explain.
The problem with being you is that you have to be you all the time. Identities and personalities are nothing more than the calibrated view of your world based on your past.
If good things happen to you, they go in the win column and fuel future confidence. When bad things happen to you, or you’re the one who does the bad thing, it leaves a negative imprint that your inner-critic feasts on.
You live your life like this, experiencing and storing all of these memories into win-loss columns. Unfortunately, your brain is wired to be more negative than positive. The negative memories and scars carry more weight. At best, you’re a productive and mostly happy person who still feels doubt and tinges of self-hatred from time to time.
At worst, you hate yourself. You don’t like who you see when you look in the mirror. You find yourself thinking, “What the hell is the point?”
After this, you have a few options:
So let’ say you do want to stop hating yourself. Let’s say you do want to love the person you see in the mirror. What should you do?
Have you ever considered that you hate yourself for good reason?
Often, when people get down about themselves, they probably should feel that way.
If you have a shit job, bad relationships, are out of shape, lack purpose, take poor care of your home, etc., why in the hell would you feel good about your life? You’d be irrational to feel good about yourself.
You can change the way you feel about yourself by working from the outside in. Even better, you don’t need to have a happy go lucky mindset to do some of these things. You can force yourself into the action while having a negative mindset. But if you get it done, your mindset itself will change.
What are some examples of this?
Easy enough for me to tell you what to do right?
I don’t know you. Who the hell am I to give advice? I’m just some millennial with no life-experience preaching the gospel, right? You have real problems.
Trust me. I know what hell feels like. I’ve sat in a jail cell. I’ve worked the soul-sucking job. At one point in my life, I was so depressed I smoked weed all day, every day, and never left the house. I dropped out of college after flunking out multiple semesters.
I know what it feels like to live in a pit of laziness. Even taking the teeniest tiniest step feels like moving a mountain. The more indecisive you are, the more difficult it is to change. It’s like mental negative compound interest. Your life is like a credit card bill accruing interest while you make no payments.
I get how hard it is. And unlike your typical guru, I’m not going to tell you it’s all going to be okay. I don’t know you. It might not end well at all. But I can tell you this.
You’re the person who’ll determine how this ends.
I know you’re capable. How? Because of the countless stories of human beings who walk through the fire. If Victor Frankyl can draw meaning from the Holocaust, you can draw meaning from your life. If Helen Keller could avoid a justified resentment toward life, so can you. Mandela sat in prison for 27 years before justice prevailed.
You are more powerful than you know. Understanding this is the key to stop hating yourself.
So first, you focus on the tangible things outside of your mind, fix your surroundings, and stop doing the dumb shit that makes you hate yourself in the first place.
Next, you focus on training your mind to see the positive in life and love yourself more. Here’s how I trained my mind to help me live the life I have today.
The world is growing more outraged, pretentious, angry, combative. You have to block out the noise and submerge yourself in positivity. You don’t want to stay in this learning and consumption phases forever, but to undo all your negative programming, you need a lot of positive programming.
I read the self-improvement books, listened to the tapes, watched the TED talks, watched the interviews of successful people, listened to the podcasts over and over and over and over and over again. I was the Pavlov’s dog of self-improvement. If you have deep-seated negativity it sometimes takes, for lack of a better word, conditioning yourself to think another way.
If you’ve spent years or decades mentally highlighting your flaws, why wouldn’t it take a comparable or equal amount of time or effort to start loving yourself.
It took me about five years before I no longer needed to consume positive material. It’d finally become second-nature. Most self-improvement is the same. But you do find little wrinkles from different sources and they overlap with one another until you have a latticework of mental models you can use for different situations.
We’re often strangers to ourselves. Often, we don’t even know exactly why we feel bad. We feel a dull pain, a general malaise, a sense that somethings just not right.
Because of this, we beat ourselves up. We hate ourselves because we’re too dumb to figure out our own problems, even though we’ve been ourselves for our entire lives. It’s like failing an open book test over and over again.
So, on top of building better habits and bathing in positivity, there is an element of self-exploration you can use to stop hating yourself as much by figuring out what the hell is going on in the first place.
This is where journaling comes in. There’s something about taking the time to articulate your thinking that goes a step above thinking itself. See, thoughts are just random manifestations of your subconscious. They’re not very useful. Instead, taking the time to parse out what those thoughts actually mean can help you get to the root of your problems.
Maybe your journaling will help you discover that you sought praise and validation from your parents that you didn’t get, which you can then forgive them for and move on from. Or you’ll find that you’ve carried negative scripts of the world because of traumas you experienced as a child — bullying, abuse, whatever.
You want to pinpoint the cause. You might not be able to cure the diagnosis right away, but at least knowing what’s actually wrong is a step in the right direction. A step not all people take.
In my post about How to Stop Being a Self-Help Junkie, I talk about the process of active learning:
The next time you read a personal development book, spend a week doing what the book told you to do.
Read the time management book and attempt to manage your time better.
Read the book about goal setting and then set and follow through with a goal. Be an active learner.
Don’t skip to the next book. Don’t read more articles. Practice what you’ve read and document what you’ve done after each day.
Active learning gives you more points in the “I did something good for myself” column. Learning, along with turning the learning into a tangible achievement, expands the scope of your mind. When you hate yourself or lack self-confidence, you’re thinking about yourself way too much.
When you take the focus off of yourself and direct that energy into activity, you create a positive feedback loop to inspire good feelings about yourself, which leads to more energy to direct into activity.
Your goal is to create a flywheel that feeds energy into a state of momentum. When you have so much inertia you don’t have mental space to wallow, you’ll stop wallowing so much. Negative feelings and depression have more to do with being idle than they do with being said. Learning, coupled with activity, can be your best friend.
As far as those dark feelings go, though, they may never go away. But there is something you can do with them.
I learned about the concept of integrating your shadow from people like Dr. Jordan Peterson, who talks about dealing with the tragedy of being human and Tim Grover who trained elite level athletes that taught themselves how to use their dark side to provide the effort needed to go through grueling practice.
Throughout existence, we’ve created symbols about the duality of human nature. The yin and yang. The angel and demon perched on your shoulders. You have both in you. You know this, and it’s part of the reason you hate yourself from time to time.
We all have that deep dark and twisted thoughts we’d never tell another soul. We all have a demon we try to bury. But burying that demon doesn’t solve your problem.
Instead, integrate it. See, when you realize you’re part monster and just accept it, you’ll focus more on making positive contributions. People who don’t honor their demon can’t control it. It will come out of nowhere to blindside them.
Not you. You’ll direct that darkness into fuel and energy. You’ll turn pain to art. And you’ll realize that you love yourself more because you know your dual nature and still do good in the world.
Why waste negativity when it’s so useful? Fully understanding yourself, good and bad, leads to real acceptance and motivation to change. Ironically, trying to deny your self-hatred can make you hate yourself more.
Maybe you are a wretched human being, but you can live an amazing life by simply combatting it with the good you do for yourself, your family, your friends, and the world as a whole.
Love yourself. Your whole self.