When you look in the mirror, it might be easy to think, “I look great today” or “Wow, I’m an amazing person. I’m goin’ for it today.”
Or maybe the self-loathing voice dominates, telling you how fat, ugly or worthless you are. Maybe you just want to fade into the woodwork because you don’t think you’re worthy of other people’s attention. Perhaps you think it’s just another day to suffer through, when you’re going to do more stupid things, be embarrassed, and fail one more time, because you’re always going to be a loser.
Choosing to have good self-esteem, so you can accept genuine love and admiration from friends, family and co-workers, and live up to your potential, may not be as easy as flicking a switch. But with self-reflection and guidance from those who have made progress, it is possible to take one small step at a time and replace self-loathing with a more balanced self-love.
Journalist Anneli Rufus documents this personal change in her book, Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself. Her goal, she said, is to help others find a way out of what she believes is often needless suffering.
In an interview on WAMC Northeast Public Radio in May 2014, Rufus said people suffer daily if their view of life is from the “low self-esteem spectrum,” which can run from just being a little self-critical to a deep and profound self-loathing.
These are “… people who apologize for so many things, who cannot accept a compliment, who can’t decide even what to order in a restaurant because they’re afraid they’re going to make the wrong decision and regret it,” said Rufus.
“I see that as a tragedy, a self-loathing epidemic,” she said.
“You were not born hating yourself,” Rufus said. “Let’s go back and try to figure out when and why it started, and let’s try to dismantle it.”
She speaks from a lifetime of watching her mother, who never felt good enough. Rufus experienced her own decades of never feeling at ease in the world, but finally found ways to raise her self-esteem and be more comfortable in the routines of daily life.
Rufus’ path to increasing her self-love is also documented in the article, “Have Compassion for Yourself,” in the May 8, 2014 issue of The Atlantic. The subtitle, “How One Author Breaks the Cycle of Self-Loathing,” grew from Rufus’ personal experiences, which are the foundation of these suggestions:
- Find whatever works for you that helps break the habit of negative thinking about yourself. Negative thought cycles keep you rooted in self-loathing and can cause others to feed that negative image back to you. Take a chance. Get out of your comfort zone. Join a book club. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Take a painting class. Help children learn to read. Each new skill or interest expands your comfort zone.
- Stop apologizing for everything. Understand that you probably don’t really feel sorry for all the things you do. Every human being makes mistakes now and then. When you’re truthful with yourself, you’ll realize that you’re doing many things right.
- Stop asking permission for everything. Look at what you’re going to do as if it’s on a movie screen. Look at the options objectively. Realize it’s not all about you, but about the choices and the results. Just do your best, in that moment. That’s all anyone can do.
- Consider learning to meditate. Self-loathing is a replaying of negative thoughts. Meditation is a release from thought. Meditation can help stop the negative cycle, even just for one minute, and can be increased if you find it helpful.
- Forget affirmations. Studies have found they don’t work very well for people with low self-esteem. Affirmations work better for those with medium-to-high self-esteem, because it’s saying something they already believe. A person with low self-esteem trying affirmations like “I’m so wonderful” may just get angry and frustrated.
- Consider therapy. Yes, it can be confusing, time-consuming and expensive to find the right therapist, one who matches your style and your needs. However, keeping secrets about yourself is isolating. It’s important to have someone you can trust to reassure you that you are really not a bad person, and that you are not alone.
- Understand that people don’t get it. Don’t take it too personally when people say, “Just snap out of it” or “Get over yourself.” People with low self-esteem hear that all the time. You’re not the first to hear it and you won’t be the last.
- Realize that people with very high self-esteem have their own issues. They may not listen to others, may not communicate well or may not be able to understand another’s perspective. They may be dictatorial. Aim for a middle ground of balanced self-appreciation and self-respect.
- Listen for and appreciate humor. Laughter can help you get out of yourself and connect with others.
- Be thankful for what low self-esteem has taught you. You may tend to respect and appreciate others. That can make you a more compassionate person. On the spirituality scale, compassion is a quality to honor in yourself. Truly honoring yourself for your good qualities can – you guessed it – raise your self-esteem. That puts you farther along the path to a balanced and sincere self-love.
Overall, Rufus said it’s important to learn what you can from reflecting on when your self-esteem began to go downhill, then begin to shift that current into a more positive direction.
“I’m not looking in the mirror, or complimenting myself, or thinking about myself very much. I’ll walk through the day just thinking, ‘Oh, there’s a crow,’ and I’m so grateful for that,” said Rufus. “For me, I’m in a state of acceptance, and that is a huge, huge difference.”
Related Resources on the BETA Site:
Ohikuare, Judith, “Have Compassion for Yourself,” The Atlantic, May 8, 2014,
Donahue, Joe, “Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself by Anneli Rufus,” WAMC Northeast Public Radio, May 19, 2014.