The antidote to Self-hate and Self-criticism is Self-compassion

By Nelson Vinod Moses


Constantly criticising, putting us down, cursing, self-sabotaging, prepping us for failure, overly negative, spewing messages of self-hate and deflating our spirits.

Psychologist Dr. Robert Firestone refers to this as the critical inner voice. This self-critical inner voice of self-hate is forged during our childhood by being constantly judged, bullied, criticized, abused and shamed. This can be done by our parents, siblings, friends teachers, and other primary caretakers. Self-hate also manifests itself if the individual suffers from depression, seeks perfectionism or was abused.

Seraniti’s in-house expert, Integrative Therapist, Krishna Sharma says that self-hate is developed over a period of time, and that we may notice that self hate comes automatically, without even having to think about it, making it tough to control. “The negative thought just pops up in the mind. Someone making us feel inadequate or unacknowledged or abandoned, leads to a negative core belief about our self. We mostly form faulty belief systems due to events,  situations, and people which has impacted our life negatively. We may be aware about it consciously or we may not be aware of it,” says Krishna.

This inner voice appears as powerful thoughts and imagery, repeating itself, blighting out reason and logic, till we succumb. These voices call out: “Loser,” “Fatty,” “Nobody will love you,” “You will amount to nothing,” “You are stupid,” “Your friends exploit you,” “All men are cheats,” “Don’t trust women too much,” “You are a bad person,” “You will never get promoted,” “Everybody laughs behind your back,” “Don’t bother trying you don’t have it in you to succeed,” “Men will love you and leave you,” “You are a fraud and everybody will know soon,” and “If you are not thin your boyfriend will leave you.”

Unfortunately, most of us will be aware the damage that is being done by this self-hate. It can mean bad physical and mental health, broken relationships, professional failures, personal struggles and raging self-doubt. Most of us will think of self-hate as something that we need to learn to live with: like it were an extra toe, paying taxes, aging of one’s parents or pollution.

“Self hate can be pervasive, governing our self worth and deciding what we feel we deserve and expect from the world around us. When we feel we are unworthy, we feel that we deserve less, settling for less from the world around us,” says Parth Kalia, Associate Integrative Therapist, at Seraniti.

The truth is that self-hate can be addressed and the antidote to self-hate is self-compassion.

Self-compassion involves three components: being kind and caring toward yourself rather than harshly self-critical; framing imperfection in terms of the shared human experience; and seeing things clearly without ignoring or exaggerating problems.”

Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the area of self-compassion explains self-compassion through the example of a mother berating her son for failing an exam by calling him stupid and lazy, and telling him that he won’t amount to anything. Neff says while this might be a temporary motivator, it will lead to depression, and ultimately lead him to lose faith in his abilities. Neff suggests that the mother support her son emotionally, be understanding, believing in his abilities and encourage him to perform better. This, she says, will lead to long-term efficacy.

“Self-compassion is the ability to care for oneself, the ability to be compassionate to others while also maintaining personal boundaries and engaging in self care. It is beneficial for us because subconsciously, the ways in which we see self are self fulfilling to some degree. If we feel we are deserving of loving relationships and a good life, we become more resilient to adversity and more aware of toxic relationships, recognizing then and taking the appropriate steps. Positive thinking doesn’t change the world around you, but it does change your interaction with it,” says Parth.

If self-compassion is a better way to deal with ourselves leading to better emotional, psychological, personal and professional outcomes why don’t most of us adopt it? Neff says, confuse self-compassion for self-indulgence. In other words, we are scared that being kind on ourselves is allowing us to do whatever we want, without wanting to change ourselves for the better. Therefore we choose self-criticism and self-hate. The big difference between being hard on ourselves and being kind is that one is driven by fear (of failure) and the other is based on love (of ourselves and wanting to become better).

Let’s say we don’t exercise for two weeks, and our inner voice says, “This is not done! You are lazy and you look fat. Exercise or nobody will fall in love with you.” This is based on fear. A voice that says, “I know you didn’t exercise for two weeks, it is fine. How about you start from today? It will put you in a better mood,” is based on love. Self-compassion is also a better motivator. Self-criticism might help highlight the problem but do little to provide the motivation to make the required change.

There is plenty of evidence to prove that self-compassion can alleviate depression and help those are suffering from serious illnesses. Self-compassion is a protective factor against depression, particularly among individuals who experience high self-coldness (self-judgment, isolation, and over-identification).

One particular study revealed that even diabetics might benefit from being self-compassionate: “…intervening to increase self-compassion, …may have quantifiable physiological, psychological, and behavioral effects that may help diabetes patients cope better with their condition and enjoy improved quality of life.”

A meta-analysis of more than 20 studies, called ‘Exploring compassion: a meta-analysis

of the association between self-compassion and psychopathology.’ by MacBeth, A., and Gumley, A from the University of Glasgow concluded that practising self-compassion indeed leads to better mental health outcomes. The authors wrote: “Specifically, we observed … higher levels of compassion were associated with lower levels of mental health symptoms. The reported association provides empirical evidence for the relevance of theoretical

models of compassion that emphasize the importance of self compassion for developing well-being, reducing depression and anxiety, and increasing resilience to stress.” Neff and colleagues have also found that increasing self-compassion over a one month interval was associated with a decrease in rumination and depressive symptoms.

Recognising self-hate in ourselves and being aware that self-hate exists is the first step to eradicating it. Seraniti’s in-house expert, Integrative Therapist, Krishna Sharma suggests a simple, yet effective exercise to recognize signs of self-hate. “To understand self-hate better we can do one simple exercise. It includes writing down one adjective which defines you in an alphabetical order. For instance. ‘A- I am aggressive’ B- and so on. Now here we have to notice if the adjectives are mostly negative or positive. Having a negative self definition is an attribute to self hate,” says Krishna.

Now the final question,  what can we do about it?

Krishna recommends the following:

      1.First of all the most important factor is recognizing the self hate. Only when we know that it is there, we can do   something about it.

  1. Next step is to accept that it is there.
  2. Understanding it. What is it,  where is it coming from and how is it affecting me. (Above mentioned points)
  3. Discussing what’s happening and exploring the roots (cause) (therapy sessions)
  4. Discussing steps to come out of it and converting it into actionable item step by step (therapy)
  5. Developing compassion
  6. Exploring the self and understanding it.

So this might sound a bit of a task and far fetched, but these are practically oriented, doable things. The most difficult part is the first step, once that is taken the rest will follow.

Go on, start the journey to self-compassion today.