Self-loathing describes a constant belief or feeling of worthlessness, failure, inadequacy, and incompetence. People may feel they are not good enough and undeserving of anything good in life.

Having feelings of self-doubt now and then is often not a cause of concern.

For some people, though, these feelings and negative thoughts can affect all areas of a person’s life, including how they behave and live.

It can lead to self-punishment, isolation, and even more severe health conditions like depression and anxiety disorder.

This article explores self-loathing, its symptoms, and how a person can take positive steps to break through the cycle of self-hatred and extreme self-criticism.

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Self-loathing is a pattern of thoughts or feelings of self-hatred and extreme criticism of oneself. It involves a negative internal narrative that continuously shames, judges, demeans, and finds fault in the self.

Each person has an inherent worth and value. Yet a person with self-loathing tends to have a strong, critical inner voice that constantly shames and berates them for every flaw they have or mistake they make.

This constant negativity may influence how a person views the world.

They may not even be aware of their unhealthy thought patterns. People with self-loathing tend to minimize or ignore the positive and recognize only the negative things in their lives.

Self-loathing tends to stem from childhood. A person may have internalized adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that continue to affect them in adulthood.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these experiences may include:

  • childhood trauma
  • domestic violence
  • sexual, physical, or emotional abuse
  • poor family environment
  • low self-esteem

Events like self-harm are more common in children exposed to trauma than in those who have not experienced trauma.

A 2022 study had similar findings. Researchers suggested that children who experience maltreatment and emotional abuse reported self-hatred and deliberate self-harm.

According to Mental Health America (MHA), feelings of self-hatred may also result from:

  • comparisons of oneself and others
  • unrealistic high expectations of oneself
  • extreme self-criticism
  • inability to let go of past mistakes
  • feelings of isolation or a desire to belong
  • force of habit

A 2022 study found that children with insecure attachments during early childhood developed maladaptive perfectionism in order to feel worthy. This resulted in a cycle of high standards, self-sabotage, self-loathing, and shame.

Learn more about the effects of perfectionism on a person’s mental health.

Self-loathing is not a condition in and of itself. It can take many forms, but it typically involves a lack of trust in oneself, a lack of self-compassion, and a critical voice toward oneself.

Behaviors or belief patterns commonly shown by people who self-loathe include:

  • not feeling good enough
  • having eating concerns or disorders
  • feeling overwhelmed or highly stressed
  • showing a lack of self-care or chronic self-neglect
  • being in toxic relationships
  • having co-dependency
  • having drug or alcohol dependency

It is common for people who self-loathe to experience ruminating thinking. This involves having negative thought patterns that repeatedly loop inside their minds.

Examples of common self-hatred thoughts are:

  • “I am worthless.”
  • “I won’t amount to anything in life.”
  • “I don’t deserve to be happy.”
  • “I am so ugly.”

Cognitive distortions in a person’s thought patterns are telltale signs of self-loathing. These may include the following thought patterns:

All-or-nothing (black-and-white) thinking

This thinking involves using absolutes or extremes. People who think this way see life as either good or bad and do not give room for nuances.

Example: “If I am not successful in this, I am a complete failure.”

Jumping to conclusions

This involves a person making assumptions that they do not have any actual evidence for.

Example: A person has an upcoming date. Even before the date happens, they already assume that it will go badly.

Negative mental filter

This involves a person focusing on the negative aspects of a situation and disregarding the positive.

Example: A person gets a good performance review but focuses on a single negative comment from their boss.


This thinking involves a person making a conclusion based on a single event.

Example: A student gets a poor grade on a quiz and believes that they will never pass college.


Catastrophizing involves people assuming the worst or unfavorable outcome of an event. This involves magnifying specific thoughts until they escalate and expecting the worst to happen.

Example: A person’s date is running late. They quickly assume that they are unlikeable and that their date will no longer come.

Disqualifying the positive

This involves a person invalidating or ignoring the positives in a situation. Instead, they look for excuses to view them negatively.

Example: A person received a promotion. Instead of accepting that they did well and are deserving of the promotion, they may assume that it was just random or that the leadership took pity on them.

Learn more about reframing unhelpful beliefs.

Self-loathing affects how a person lives their life, including their decisions and how they connect and interact with others.

Effect on the person

A person with self-hatred may experience low self-esteem and self-worth. Their inner critic may put them under constant pressure.

Learn more about low-self esteem and how to boost confidence.

Self-loathing can also put them at risk of other conditions. A 2019 study found that self-disgust and loneliness predict depressive symptoms. Self-hatred is also a factor in attempted suicide in males, according to research from 2022.

Effect on relationships

A person who self-loathes may find it challenging to maintain friendships. They may withdraw and avoid socializing altogether to prevent rejection, abandonment, or criticism.

Self-loathing makes a person more lonely, socially inhibited, and reluctant to connect with other people, 2018 research suggests.

Learn more about coping with social anxiety.

Romantic relationships can be complicated. A person may desire belonging and love but may fear opening themselves up because they do not want their partner to see their perceived imperfections and flaws.

Effect on goal-setting and planning

People with self-hatred do not trust themselves and may not want to set plans and goals. They may compare themselves with others who do well and view their own goals and dreams are impossible to attain.

Self-loathing affects self-confidence and may prevent a person from taking new opportunities, getting in the way of their potential to excel. This may also prevent them from advocating for themselves, such as negotiating for a much-deserved raise.

Seeking professional help can aid a person in exploring the root of their self-hatred and what commonly triggers them.

Professionals like counselors and therapists may also provide the person with different coping techniques and interventions that can help them challenge their negative thoughts and foster self-compassion.

Treatments that can help include:

Learn more about types of therapy.


A person can use these general guidelines to stop the cycle of self-loathing:

  • Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques like meditation, deep breathing, and grounding can help redirect a person’s thoughts to the present moment and help them identify self-loathing thoughts.
  • Make a list of strengths: A person can start small and find some things they like about themselves.
  • Practice positive self-talk: Saying positive things to oneself out loud can help improve one’s feelings and tune out negative self-talk.
  • Develop self-compassion: To build self-compassion, people can talk with and treat themselves as they would a loved one.
  • Accept other people’s compliments: People can practice saying thank you every time they receive praise and trying to believe that the other person means it.
  • Lower expectations: Setting overly high expectations can lead to disappointments. Setting realistic and achievable goals can help people learn to trust in themselves and their capabilities.
  • Learn to forgive: Many people get stuck in painful moments in the past. Forgiving oneself and focusing on what one can do in the present can give a person power over their circumstances and reduce their self-loathing.

Learn more about how to let go of the past.

There is no single sign that it is time to consult with a doctor or a therapist for one’s self-loathing.

A person may need professional help if they:

  • cannot control self-loathing thoughts
  • begin to withdraw and self-isolate
  • self-harm
  • have suicidal ideations

If a person thinks someone they know is considering suicide, encourage them to call a suicide hotline number, like 998 lifeline, so they can talk with a trained crisis worker.

People outside the United States may visit Befrienders Worldwide to find a helpline in their country.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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Self-loathing can be a symptom of underlying mental health conditions, according to MHA.

People with self-loathing related to their body image may develop eating disorders from restricting food intake. Distorted thinking around body image can also negatively affect a person’s physical and psychological health and lead to body dysmorphia.

People who blame themselves for failure are more prone to develop major depressive disorder.

In a 2020 study on war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, researchers found a link between self-disgust and loneliness with mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.

A 2021 study found that narcissistic personality disorder, in which a person has high levels of grandiosity and self-love, is really just self-loathing in disguise. Extreme insecurity manifests outwardly as self-love and bragging behavior.

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about self-loathing.

Is self-loathing a personality disorder?

Self-loathing is not a mental health condition. However, it can be a symptom of an underlying mental health condition. A 2021 study also found that narcissistic personality disorder may mask underlying self-loathing.

What do you say to someone who is self-loathing?

A person with self-loathing may not be aware of their negative internal narrative and how it affects their lives. A person can encourage someone experiencing a cycle of self-loathing to seek professional help.

Self-loathing or self-hatred is a continuous negative internal voice that shames, demeans, and excessively criticizes the self. This can cause a person to feel hopeless and worthless.

While a person may find it difficult to break out of this pattern, there is hope. With awareness and help, a person can learn how to combat these negative behavior and thought patterns.

Becoming aware of one’s negative thought tendencies, practicing self-compassion, setting realistic expectations, and learning to accept other people’s compliments are some of the ways a person can slowly break the cycle of self-hate in their lives.