How To Turn Self-Loathing Into Self-Love
Six behavioral changes to discover your greatness
It wasn’t until recently that I realized something disturbing. For most of my life, I hated myself.
I despised my personality, character, and physical endowments. I was always quiet, reserved, fearful, not tall enough, and scrawny. I wanted to change all of it, but could not change any of it.
And so I trash-talked myself, not to the outside world, but inwardly. I’d call myself an idiot, a loser, a born failure. As I transitioned into adulthood, my attitude shifted to resignation. This is who I am, and I’ll just have to suffer through life this way.
In my mid-thirties, I changed tactics. I learned to compensate for what I thought were my deficiencies. This approach made life better, but I still resented who I was. I resented life, burdening me with such underwhelming character traits.
It wasn’t until a few years ago (my mid-forties) that my self-loathing transformed into self-love. It took twenty years of personal growth work and two years of daily writing. The change was gradual, but I eventually reached a tipping point.
The epiphany struck.
All of my undesirable traits and features were neither positive or negative. It was only my interpretation of my personality, intelligence, and features that caused me strife.
My self-image transformed, and so did the way I project myself to the outside world. I’m the same person I was five years ago, but I see myself in a different light, and I think the rest of the world does too.
So, how do you get from that point of cursing who you are to embracing your true self?
Your self-image influences your self-worth
Your self-image is the net sum of everything you believe about yourself. Changing those beliefs will challenge your patience and strength. It’s not as simple as an affirmation. You start by changing your behaviors.
Stop blaming, resenting and hating others
When you silently blame, hate, or resent others, it harms you more than the other person. The energy required to sustain the negative emotion crowds out mental space better directed towards creative efforts, the pursuit of goals, or the building of relationships.
Sometimes your wrath is warranted, but often it’s misplaced anger, an attempt to deflect blame to someone or something else. Whether your anger is justified or not, the better path lies in forgiveness. People who hold grudges against others create toxic environments. Forgive and move on with your life. Be the example you want others to emulate.
We’re often harder on ourselves than we are on others. We’ll give others leeway. We’ll look past the insignificant flaws of others. We might bitch and complain, but then reason other people can’t be held to such a high standard.
In some ways, it’s admirable to hold yourself to a higher standard than everyone else. But not at the cost of attacking yourself relentlessly. We expect perfection from ourselves, even though we know that expectation is ludicrous.
The inability to forgive yourself leads to negative self-talk. This behavior was my kryptonite as a teenager — always attacking myself for lack of popularity, desirability, or athletic prowess.
“You loser. No wonder you have no friends.”
“No wonder you eat lunch alone every day.”
That toxic self-talk ravages you from the inside out. Give yourself a break. You’ll screw up at times. Everyone does. Forgive yourself, smile, and try again.
See yourself at your best
Self-loathers nitpick the worst features about themselves and present it as the full picture. It’s the old politician’s trick of telling half-truths. It’s surprisingly persuasive.
Make a list of your best traits and create a picture, painting yourself at your best. That picture becomes your self-image.
It’s not about ignoring your flaws or pretending you’re perfect. We’re all flawed in different ways. But the image you present to the world depends on how you see yourself.
People pick up on your low esteem, and you can’t expect anyone to admire you when you undervalue yourself.
Don’t compare yourself to others
The self-loather only recognizes where they lag and never where they lead. You’ll excel in some areas of life and struggle in others. The self-loather always compares themself to those in front, no matter where they sit on the continuum of success.
As a former self-loather, I always battled (in my mind) a frenemy or semi-nemesis. These were friends or acquaintances that always bested me in areas I strove to achieve. I was never able to recognize the smallest success.
There will always be someone who has more money, stronger relationships, a bigger house, a cooler job, or whatever prize you feel you lack. It’s a game you can’t win.
A mentor once gave me advice that changed my way of thinking. He said, “Whenever you feel the urge to compare yourself to others, compare yourself to how far you’ve come and the challenges you’ve vanquished to get where you are today.”
Focus on your strengths
Self-loathing, at least mine, came from a feeling of inadequacy. I was never the most popular kid (or adult). I was never the super-fun one everyone wanted to hang around. I have no charisma. I could go on, but you get the picture.
But I do possess a creative mind. I’m insatiably curious and have found success “experimenting in life” and writing about it. On occasion, I’ve helped people. I’m proud of that.
It took me several decades to discover my strengths; that was because I spent my youth denying my advantages. I constantly bad mouthed myself for being quiet and introverted, for daydreaming and imagining. It was an innate strength that I’ve only recently allowed to emerge.
If you haven’t discovered your strengths, think about your perceived weaknesses or deficiencies. Through another lens, those weaknesses might be your strengths.
CLAD — Compliment, lead, admire and dare
I can trace the seed of my transformation to a former sales manager. He was the one who started me on the personal development path. His signature exercise was the CLAD method — compliment, lead, admire, and dare.
Each Friday, every salesperson on our team sat on a hot seat and recounted their CLAD progress. Try this exercise yourself. Do it once a week with an accountability partner.
- Give a sincere compliment. A compliment benefits the giver as much as the receiver. It feels good to make someone’s day with a compliment.
- Volunteer to lead. It could be anything — a committee at work, a community event, or a social gathering. When you volunteer to lead, you empower yourself. People look to you for guidance and leadership. It builds your self-esteem.
- Tell someone you admire them for a trait, skill, or behavior. Few things will brighten a person’s day like telling them you admire them. Be specific with your praise. I admire your continued passion in the face of financial struggle.
- Take action in spite of your fear. When you do something you fear, you feel good about yourself, regardless of the outcome.
Pulling it all together
The transition from self-loathing to self-love happens slowly, but you’ll experience progress along the way.
One day, you’ll wake up and realize you’re pretty cool just the way you are. In time, you’ll kind of like who you are. And with continued practice of these ideals, you’ll love who you are.