Many of us have high expectations of ourselves and can get stuck in the trap of self criticism. However, it can turn into a vicious and damaging cycle of self loathing. Once in the cycle, it is difficult for some to pull out. Self loathing involves narrative that is destructive and damaging to well being and often comes from a place of fear.
By placing our expectations low, we are less likely to feel disappointed, which can be utilized as a coping mechanism. Yet, self loathing is self sabotage. We can mistakenly think tough love will motivate us, yet we will not bring our best selves.
There is hope. Neuroscience research supports that we can actually change the neurostructure of our brain by engaging in new behavior and thought patterns. By reinforcing a healthier story and interpretation of events, new neural pathways will develop and will become reinforced. Subsequently, the negative narrative that reinforces the story that we are less-than becomes replaced.
Also, self loathers often evaluate themselves against external criteria. If you compare, you despair. The arbitrary measuring stick of comparing oneself at any random point in time is a set up for failure. We will always see people who are taller, smarter, richer, more fit, etc., therefore, leaving us feeling “lesser than.”
According to researcher Kristin Neff, enhancing self compassion is essential. She suggests detaching from the scenario and consider, what would you tell a friend about this situation?
Consider going to the “emotional gym” to build up positive practice muscles. The more consistent we are, the stronger we will get at building these skills.
- Shine the flashlight on what is going well. If we focus on what is negative, it will consume us, because with that lens, we will always see negativity. Practice recognizing the positives, fostering gratitude, and savoring good experiences in our lives.
- Identify and celebrate your strengths. What comes easily to you? Ask loved ones what they see are your strengths.
- Start a gratitude practice. Every night, identify 3 things that went well today and/or what you are grateful for.
- Recognize the positives in others. Find strengths or behaviors to reinforce and communicate these affirmations for them.
- Express gratitude to others. Write a thank you note telling them why you appreciate them.
- Challenge your mental models. We have a lens in which we interpret events that feels real to us, yet is incomplete. Expand your perspective, challenge your assumptions, and be open to alternative interpretations.
- Get away from categorical, all or nothing, catastrophic thinking. “I made a mistake so therefore, I’m an idiot.” We are not black and white beings that are put into one simplistic category. I made a mistake is different than I am a mistake.
- Break the cycle of the default negative interpretation when anything goes wrong.
- Ask more resourceful questions – what is going right rather than what is going wrong? What is an unexpected surprise rather than an obstacle? What is an opportunity instead of a setback? What solutions can we explore vs what is the problem?
There is a self centered element of self loathing, one thinking that many elements of the world revolve around their worth. Self loathing people can become inwardly oriented, and exceptionally focused on their internal needs and struggles. It can be a challenge to have a relationship with a self-loather, since their pain can get in the way of their ability to love others and be loved.
While fostering humility may sound paradoxical, according to CS Lewis, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”
Karen Doll, Psy.D., L.P
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