Perception is individualized, subjective, and varies from person to person. When you look in a mirror, what do you see? Do you see an accurate reflection of yourself, or is it skewed? Does the image you see match what others see? Most of the time, our self-esteem, self-confidence, and body image develop from our perceptions, from our successes and failures, and from messages from the outside world. A child who is consistently praised during their formidable years is likely to develop a positive self-image and healthy confidence levels. But what about a child who is neglected, or who constantly receives negative messages about themselves from the outside world? Without proper guidance, nurturing, and intervention, this child may grow up to think poorly of themselves, or can potentially develop into a self-loather.
A self-loather is a person who truly dislikes or hates themselves. They have deep feelings of inadequacy and are resistant to any evidence suggesting the contrary. They feel as if they are a failure, not good at anything, and are constantly comparing themselves to others. A self-loather lacks awareness that their perceptions are inaccurate and instead, maintains focus on their negative internal voice that constantly berates and puts them down.
A self-loather ignores success, praise, or validation suggesting they have value. A self-loather will ignore high academic grades, successful business proposals, or compliments from others. Self-loathing entails a self-deprecating factor, where one constantly criticizes, ridicules, and scorns themselves. Self-loathing and shame can be linked to various mental health conditions, especially those connected with faulty self perception. Self-loathing may also be indicative of a personality disorder, or can potentially arise from past abuse, neglect, and trauma. In essence, a self-loather looks in the mirror and hates everything about what they see.
But how do others see them? It is most often the case that a self-loather is perceived very differently from the way they perceive themselves. A self-loather is usually very resistant and unwilling to admit that the perceptions of others could be more accurate than their own. They find excuses and contend that others are wrong. Ironically, sometimes an outsider can view us more objectively than we view ourselves. They can make an honest assessment based on experience and fact, without being subjected to negative and critical inner voices.
In order to overcome self-loathing, a person needs to change their faulty perceptions about themselves. They need to listen to others and believe that they have worth and value. They can learn to accept praise and compliments from the outside world without immediately rejecting or negating them. A self-loather can learn to trust and believe the opinions of others who can see them more clearly than they can see themselves. They can accept that their successes are linked to their intelligence, character, and actions and learn how to quiet the negative and berating voices in their heads. A self-loather may learn how to trust the perceptions of others, while accepting the fact that their own perceptions are faulty and skewed. In this case, a self-loather can look in the mirror and put aside their disdain for what they see by trusting in the more positive reflection that everyone else sees.
Self-loathers may always have an innate sense of inadequacy, but can learn to ignore their Achilles’ heals by trusting that they are only seeing a miniscule part of the full picture. A self-loather has the potential to realize that they are focusing on small and meaningless things, in lieu of the most important aspects of themselves. A self-loather can grow and develop by watching and listening to how others view and react to them, especially when it contradicts what they see in themselves. And with any luck, at some point they may be able to look in the mirror and actually see what everyone else sees.
Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.