There are quite a few things we can learn from the media about how to feel better – such as exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, getting regular sleep, having supportive friends, and pursuing valued interests.
But there is much that the popular media does not touch on, such as our relationship to our thoughts.
Most people are not aware of their thoughts, (and provided a person doesn’t have a chronic illness) our thoughts control how we feel moment by moment.
Many people have areas of their lives they don’t feel good about, and sometimes having a bit of an “inferiority complex” in certain areas can spur achievement to higher levels. But there is a serious downside to low self-esteem.
Are you Being Hard on Yourself?
Many of us are hard on ourselves, the justification being that by not letting ourselves “off the hook”, we can improve and do better. But at the heart of it, is lack of self acceptance.
Frequently this goes back to childhood, when we might have been criticised a lot. This may have been well-intentioned, with parents wanting us to do our best, but as children we internalise the exterior critical voices of adults and their voices become our own critical internal dialogue, often called “ the critic” by psychologists. This voice harasses us at every step, picking away at what we do and making us feel miserable and lacking in confidence. Not only can it affect our mood, leaving us vulnerable to depression, but also how confident we feel socially, and whether we feel we are worthy enough to take advantage of work and life opportunities as they arise.
How Self-Hatred Starts
In some cases, when our parents have not received us as we are (in the sense that we don’t fit in or feel like we belong in the family), or we feel invalidated in some way, thoughts can become self-destructive, and we can turn on ourselves with real self loathing. After all, if the people who gave birth to us don’t seem to be there for us, the reason must surely be that we are unlovable or unacceptable as we are. At least this is how the child’s mind thinks, although not consciously and deliberately.
Of course if there is neglect (and it may be caused unintentionally by parents who both had to work for financial reasons, or parents who had too many problems of their own like mental health issues, addiction problems, or chronic illness), things can get a lot worse. In circumstances such as these, self hatred can result and you might find yourself wanting to self harm, and feeling depressed.
People who are perfectionists constantly raise the bar on their expectations and what they can do. Often it is competent people who are perfectionists, as they have had the experience of getting it just right, and being the best does feel good. However perfectionism predicts depression, as the bar is often set so high it cannot be reached, leading to an unrealistic sense of not doing right, and a low self-esteem.
In addition, if the end goal is what is most important, we can completely miss out on noticing the pleasures of the journey, as a new goal immediately supplants the old one.
Creating a False Persona
If we don’t like who we are, then we won’t want anyone to see inside us, and we will have trouble letting people in and being close.
Consequently, we may erect an external person that is brighter, funnier, and cleverer than we feel deep down, someone we think that people may actually like! But in the end it becomes impossible to maintain an infrastructure that feels inauthentic, and besides it takes so much effort. We starve for nourishment in our emotional isolation. Thus it can all come crashing down, leading to meltdown or breakdown. Rather than a debacle, if a meltdown does occur (and it doesn’t in everybody), it is a fantastic opportunity for reorganisation of one’s personality at a higher and more authentic level.
If our thinking is significantly self negative, we probably also feel negatively towards others at times, with the consequent destruction of relationships. Unconscious destructive patterns may make us feel like we’re in a state of distress or emotional upheaval for much of the time, and life may become so difficult it may not seem worth living.
From Self Hatred to Self Esteem: Therapies that Work
The best sort of treatment encompasses a multimodal approach.
In the first instance, we have to be aware and get to know our thoughts, and see how they are creating our emotional reality.
It’s also important to develop strategies for overcoming the “critic”. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is a good therapy to do this. This may be enough for some to get back to normal life, without the lack of confidence, and depression.
If our thoughts consist of chronic patterns and beliefs developed in childhood, reflecting for example abandonment, distrust, feelings of being defective, or enmeshed with a parent, Young’s schema therapy (a form of CBT with an emphasis on childhood experiences) works well.
For those that cannot feel anything (kind) toward themselves, it is important to work at the emotional level as well, and to get some feeling of what it is like to have compassion towards oneself. Mindfulness and compassion-focused therapies are very helpful in this case.
In addition, mindfulness is very helpful if we are suffering extremely distressful emotions a lot of the time, as it can help us open up a gap between ourselves and our thoughts, so that we don’t feel so stuck to them. If we can “de-clutch” from thinking, we get a chance to examine our thinking, spot patterns, and change them so we react to situations in way that produces wellbeing.
Author: Paul Carver, B Sc, M Sc, PG Dip Health Psych.
Paul Carver is a Psychologist with a very wide range of experience, and is focused on bringing the very best evidence-based treatments to his clients – such as CBT, DBT, compassion-focused and mindfulness-based approaches.
To arrange an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Paul Carver at Vision Psychology Wishart, call (07) 3088 5422 or you can book MMH online
- Fanning, P., McKay, M. (2005), Self-esteem: a proven program of cognitive techniques for assessing, improving and maintaining your self-esteem (3rd Ed.). New Harbinger Publications, CA.
- Kolts, R.L., Hayes, S.C. (2016). CFT Made Simple: A Clinicians’s Guide To Practising Compassion-Focused Therapy. New Harbinger Publications, CA.
- Linehan, M.M. (2014). DBT Skills Training Manual (2nd Ed.). Guilford Press, NY.
- Young, J., Bernstein, D.P. (2011). Schema Therapy: Distinctive Features. Routledge, NY.