Imagine you’ve just finished an important job interview. As you leave the room, the a storm of self-doubt grows. You think of better answers, and regret things you said. Waves of self-loathing crash through you and you’re wondering how to stop hating yourself.
You beat yourself up with negative thoughts for a while. If you can relate to this way of talking to yourself, you’re not alone. We all have moments of deep regret and shame. Yet we can overcome self-hatred.
Painful thoughts might be all we have at the moment. But we are not our thoughts.
Overwhelming self-doubt, self-hatred and shame are signs that a person needs healthy self-compassion.
What Is Self-Compassion?
Researchers and psychologists have found a powerful tool to help people deal with self-doubt. You can learn how to stop hating yourself and resolve the self-doubt that you don’t know how to overcome (yet). It’s self-compassion.
Self-compassion is the thoughtful kindness you extend toward yourself as you would a valued friend. Author Kristin Neff outlined 3 steps to develop self-compassion.
How to battle self-hatred with self-compassion in 3 steps.
This is a self-compassion break, based on one of Neff’s self-compassion exercises:
- Acknowledge suffering. Notice signs of pain such as self-hatred or shame. Gently be present with the hurt you feel. “This is a moment of suffering.” Or “This is painful.”
- Know that everyone hurts sometimes. Emotional pain makes us human. We all feel pain. Neff suggests comforting yourself with a gesture, like a hand on your heart.
- Offer kindness and care rather than judgment. Put your kindness into words. Ask yourself: What does the hurt part need to hear right now? Try phrases like: “May I accept myself; May I be gentle with myself; I forgive me.”
The first step in learning how to stop self-doubt — or even hating yourself — is to know why you learned to do it.
We all want to belong. We learn along the way that sometimes, to be accepted, we have to change how we do some things. Some experiences can instill shame and trauma.
But we don’t need to be hard on ourselves to improve. Contrary to common belief, punishment isn’t required to “make us better.” We actually help ourselves grow and become our best selves by honoring and accepting our imperfections. It’s possible to even gently learn from mistakes and missteps.
Dr. Kristin Neff looks closely self-compassion in her research and her book Self-Compassion. Evidence shows that being kind to one’s self helps us reduce emotional pain, balance good points with shortcomings, and respond to life’s challenges in healthier ways.
3 Practices for Self-Compassion
Self-compassion combines 3 practices:
Awareness of inner experience
A sense of our common humanity
These skills help us heal the pain that self-doubt inflicts. We notice when we are suffering, and how this joins us with everyone else. We are not alone in the experience of suffering.
Self-compassion helps people feel less isolated; they understand people can’t always have the things they want right away. It reduces self-pity, and helps people face adversity with kindness and sympathy instead of becoming frustrated and stressed.
Why Self-Esteem is Not Self-Compassion
Self-esteem is the way you think about yourself. It’s based on your internal sense of worth. Self-esteem is also commonly referred to as:
If you think poorly about yourself often, you may suffer from low self-esteem. Common signs of struggles with low self-esteem include:
- Saying negative things to yourself (berating yourself)
- Believing others are better than you
- Feeling unable to accept compliments from others
- Thinking your failures outweigh your accomplishments
- Having trouble asking for help
If self-doubt feels hard to shake, you might experience sad, depressed, angry, and anxious emotions. You may feel embarrassed or ashamed more than you need to. If it’s hard for you to take criticism, you may struggle to take part fully in activities and interactions with people the way you want to.
You may even think to yourself you’re not good enough for a loving relationship.
None of this is true. No matter what thoughts or feelings you have now, they are not the whole story. That is because as a human being, you are wired to grow, heal and thrive with friendship, and you can start by being a good friend to yourself.
Learning to Use Self-Compassion
Becoming your own friend is a learnable skill. Self-compassion turns our own friendship into a vital resource when we need it most — when we struggle, make mistakes, or experience failure.
To practice self-compassion, think of yourself as you would a cherished friend or family member. Notice if you criticize yourself for overeating, skipping a gym session, or making a mistake at work.
Would you pour hateful words on a loved one for committing one of these mistakes? You would not do that to a friend, and you don’t have to do that to yourself. Meditation can help you sympathize, instead of condemn the suffering inside.
Another self-compassion skill is to advocate for yourself. Allow yourself to ask others for what you want or need.
Practicing self-compassion shifts our thinking. It helps us see our strengths and shortcomings with more acceptance and a more balanced perspective.
How Can a Therapist Help?
Learning how to stop hating yourself or feeling down about yourself is a healing journey. It takes work. Shifting out of old habits of mind takes time and practice.
Lifelong patterns can be hard to change by yourself. A professional counselor can introduce you to self-compassionate ways to view your inner experience.
You will discover new ways to respond to suffering and negative experiences you notice in yourself.
Having low self-esteem can make you feel isolated from others and make it harder to feel like a normal part of the human race. But by exploring self-compassion and working with a therapist, you can see that suffering is the very thing that makes you perfectly and completely human. We all fail, struggle, and feel pain in life. This can get you down, but it doesn’t have to keep you there. You can take good care of yourself, be there for yourself, and live life as fully and freely as you want to when you are ready.