A Discussion Of Self Hatred

In my work as a psychotherapist over more than thirty years, and, in my role here, at Mental Help.Net, I have come across countless numbers of people who are extremely unhappy with themselves. The reasons for their dissatisfaction vary greatly but the overall impact is that they feel depressed.

Theodore Isaac Rubin, MD and Psychoanalyst addressed this self dissatisfaction in a book entitled, Compassion and Self Hate. If you do not know who Dr. Rubin was, he wrote the classic true story, Lisa and David. This was made into a Hollywood movie during the 1960's called David and Lisa. It remains a movie worth renting and watching.

What Dr. Rubin points out, in his book. Dr. Rubin borrows from a great psychoanalyst of the mid twentieth century, Karen Horney. Horney asserts that we have three selves:

1. Actual Self: Who we are with our physical and emotional abilities and disabilities or limitations.
2. Real Self: Who we could be if we freed ourselves from our self dislike and unrealistic fears.
3. Despised Self: Self Effacing and very neurotic.
4. Idealized Self: The illusion of glorious goals that are impossible to achieve but that we believe we should achieve.

Dr. Rubin reduces this formula down to two selves, the Actual Self and the Real Self.

Actual Self: Who we are with all of our talents, limitations and illnesses, both physical and psychological.

Real Self: The illusions we believe in about who we should be, in terms of being wealthy, powerful, lovable, independent, etc.

To the extent that we hold onto illusions about our Real Self is the extent to which we reject our Actual Self and feel self hate.

For example: An individual may cherish the belief that they should be happy. After all, the pursuit of happiness is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. But, what is happiness? As Dr. Rubin states, "For me, happiness is feeling good, nothing more...that is, feeling fairly comfortable and relatively tension free." (p. 103). The then goes on to say that happiness can be sustained only for a limited time. Life is not perfect and moods change. However, the illusion that one should be happy all the time creates self hate. In other words, if someone clings to the illusion that they should be happy all of the time, and they are not, they will condemn their self for not achieving this goal. The problem is that the goal, feeling happy all the time, is not achievable.

Perhaps the fact that people hold onto unrealistic illusions about themselves explains the reason for the epidemic of addiction. Substances offer a temporary that causes a person to feel joyful and omnipotent. When the drug wears out and reality sets in, the self hate reasserts itself.

To continue the analogy of the drug abuser, the sense of self hate and wish for joy that propels the addiction also serves as a powerful source of self punishment. Drug addiction carries with it lots of physical and emotional abuse.

Looking at the dynamic of self hate in another way, Dr. Rubin talks about illusions we have about money. There is a commonly held illusion that money can solve all problems. Many patients have told me that, if they had enough money, they would feel free of their problems and suffering. However, real life tells us a different story.

Lots of people love to play the lottery in hopes of becoming millionaires. We read about poor or working people winning the lottery and going home fabulously wealthy. Oh, how many of wish for the same fate. Well, you know the old saying, "Be careful of what you wish for, it may come true." The fact is that the lives of many people who won the lottery ended in tragedy. Some of them spent every dollar they won and became bankrupt. Others committed suicide, became addicted to drugs or suffered some abysmal fate. Money did not solve their problems. Yet, we convince ourselves that it will solve our problems and beat ourselves for not earning or winning a fortune.

The same phenomenon occurs with marriages. Many people enter into marriage with illusionary expectations. These expectations often have to do with perfect bliss, constant sexual fulfillment and a regular flow of nurturing and love. However, actual life is not this way. Yes, marriage can bring lots of satisfaction, but, it also brings lots of problems and difficulties. Married couples disagree and quarrel, deal with difficult children and have problems with work, family and friends.

The greater the gap between expectations and reality, the greater sense of disappointment, bitterness and failure we will experience.

Dr. Rubin states that, in order to be compassionate to others, we must learn to be compassionate to ourselves. The way to be self compassionate is to learn to accept the Real Self, with its limitations. Accepting who we are instead of wishing to something or someone else, this is the road to compassion. It means ending self hatred. Part of the way to end self hatred is to identify the illusions that you cling to. This could be having the idea that you should be a generous and benevolent person who is generous and never gets angry. There are many other possible illusions. What your your's?

Although the book was written during the mid 1980's, Dr. Rubin is describing a process of Cognitive Behavioral methods to learn self acceptance. CBT is available through the many books and manuals available in the book stores, or, by seeing a psychotherapist trained in the method.

I urge all of you to read this book that, in my opinion, is enlightening.

Do you hate yourself? What are your illusions?

Your comments and questions are strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

  • Benjamin

    I could definitely identify with this article.I`ve had a major issue with self-hate for a long time.I`ve felt I was socially inept,awkward,boring,lacking in personality,clumsy,etc.and often gone around sighing and saying out loud "why the hell couldnt i have been born someone else?" And I`ve spent years in social isolation because of it.But I recently began attending a support group,and it has helped me.These people have been so supportive and concerned for me.They have seen qualities in me that I was unable to recognize for myself.They have made me feel valued,accepted and loved,and I`ve tried to give them the same in return.I feel much better about myself now,although I still have some insecurities and occasionally compare myself to others who I perceive to be better.

  • Cathy

    I was actually surprised to learn that people hate themselves. Frankly, I have been shocked about what I have learned in looking at the mental health field - that's an understatement. Everything to me just keeps going back to my upbringing in an area where traditional religion with a strong Mennonite (many different sects) was evident. I have known God for as long as I can remember and in serving God and trying to follow his laws - while I am not perfect, I can see that I have many small achievements that make me pleased with myself. I strive for perfection but don't expect it and am most definitely not a perfectionist - I believe in doing something just for the fun of it and just see how it comes out - I can laugh at myself. I am never short of people seeking my companionship - that doesn't necessarily equal a good thing but everyone counts and deserves to be heard and cared for. I have great compassion for others and freely give of myself. I try to see all the shortfalls in my life, of which there have many, as tests of my faith. I do go through periods of frustration mostly related to the condition of the world but I understand too how that all relates to my faith in God. I see a lot of hostility about the mention of God by those experiencing mental health issues and I can't help but wonder if.............God in my life. Priceless. ***I know God, God, God.............but I didn't say "religion", "Christian", "born again" "church" - God without the frills!

  • comment 3

    I can't remember not hating myself. I hate my name and the sound of my voice, and it's been like this for a long time. I think that we all come from such widely different upbringings, beliefs, circumstances and experiences that our expectations, not the surface face we show the world, but our real "imprinted" expectations are very narrow and specific,and can cause excruciating pain when we consistently instead get whatever society dishes up. Even tempering expectations doesn't really matter because all you're doing is revising expectations to match outcomes, supposedly to narrow the gap and feel better, which doesn't work.

  • caring sister

    I actually looked into this field because my brother has been diagnosed as bi-polar axxis 2 with homicidal and suicidal tendencies with slight signs of szisphrenia I am worried about him and reading this artical I know he suffers with self hate he has done alot of wrong towards other because of his illnesses and I believe is unable to forgive himself he has suffered with many addictions to drugs and alcohol over the years almost 20 to be exact. This puts alot of strain on my relationships with my close family and my home-life and caused some struggles with addiction as well. We live in Southeast Texas I amlooking for places that could possibly help or heck even someone. Is it possibly to late for him he is 31? What do I do where do I turn?

  • MB

    Great article! fits my issues .

  • Kaycee

    Only recently in a therapy session did I realize and talk about how I don't feel as if I can be angry/have the right to be angry, because I assume that that means I don't have an understanding of the situation and the people involved. If only realizing it were to solve the problem! I'm so afraid of anger. Honestly, it seems like any time I find myself on the verge of being angry, I stuff it away because I convince myself that I must be wrong, that I must be doing something to make myself wrongfully angry and that everyone else has a better grasp of the situation than I do if I am feeling anger from it.

    Of course, I have no problem being angry with myself and unleashing torrent after torrent of hatred upon myself for various reasons. And the cycle only perpetuates itself when I keep repeating the behaviors that are a prime cause for my hatred at this point, and it constantly makes me wonder why I do this to myself... I'm at a point in my therapy where I am too ashamed of myself and my behaviors (not life-threatening, but not healthy) to tell my therapist about the real, root causes of my self-hatred.

    And in response to the comments about God...I am religious, I grew up in a religious household, I went to church, I've attempted to let myself love God and feel loved by Him. But I don't feel worthy of it. Right now, I have to believe that God's love will still be there for me if and when I work through this, because that kind of love and devotion is just way beyond what I feel capable of. Simply attempting to embrace the teachings of the Bible just doesn't cut it, no matter how much it seems 'wrong' to say. There are certain parts and times in people's lives where God can and often is THE answer, but there are many, many times when He isn't the only thing needed. If you are religious, I think that you have to keep thinking that he's working through things in your life. I try to think of Him as working through my therapist, because that's as close as my comprehension can get right now.

    Dr. Dombeck's Note: This comment is wonderful shows a lot of insight into a complex interpersonal pattern of negativity towards self that is making your life sub-optimal. Insight is not enough however. Insight is not curative. You have to combine insight with motivation to act differently. Insight is the "map" of what you need to do to fix things, but the map doesn't get you to your destination. It is merely a guide. Use your insight to formulate a plan for self-change and then put it into motion.

  • Josephine

    Self hatred is right now one of my struggles which then leads to being self destructive. It seems to start when I have flashbacks of things that happened a long time ago. After that all of these feelings come up, and seem overwhelming to me. Then the self hatred follows, and the self destructiveness. It is like some kind of loop that I seem locked into, and we are working in therapy to disrupt this loop. Sometimes I am afraid of myself because at times I am impulsive in doing self harm such as mixing pills and alcohol or other risk taking behaviors.

    As my therapist says acting out is not therapy, so we are working on all of this, and it seems to be taking a long time. I stopped mixing pills and alcohol, but then I bought a box cutter to put in my car. However I decided that that was not a good decision so I removed it from my car and put it into my husband's tool box instead. Pretty soon in therapy we will be visiting my feelings around these flashbacks which I am afraid to do. But since I trust my therapist and feel safe with him, I wll tackle these feeling monsters with his help and support. I am guessing that this is the way through to disrupt the loop I am in, so I am hopeful that in time I will be able to accept who I am, what I have been through, and where I am going. The most helpful part of this has been the relationship my therapist and I have developed over the past 14 months because it helps me to feel safe, and I am able to trust him most of the time. I also feel that at times my therapist helps to hold my feelings, and hence then I feel held by strong arms, and thus safe. I can tell that he cares about me and for some reason that means so much to me right now. Thank you for the article on such a painful topic that can also be so destructive if you act impulsively on those feelings of self hatred.

  • Ryan

    Self-hate. It's "nice" to know that I'm not alone in dealing with this so I'll add my comment.

    It's practically my earliest memory. Embedded in stone on my conscious/sub-concious mind and throbbing with it's power. I really have little to go on besides this memory so on paper I've decided that it is my root problem. I was 4 and I had done something wrong. I have no recollection of what the deed was, but I knew I had done wrong. That was irrefutable. I was going to be punished by my parents. They were mad with me. How do I get out of this? How do I appease them? How do I make things go back to normal? They asked me how they could trust me again. I didn't have an answer.

    After lying in my bed and wracking my bed trying to think of an answer, a solution, anything to help them know that I knew I was in the wrong, I didn't need to be punished, I wouldn't do it again, they could trust me, and that everything could go back to normal, I only had one answer. I wouldn't let it happen again. I told them "My conscience won't let me". My critic was born. He took his throne firmly in my sub-concious and has never left.

    To this scenario, add the teachings of religion. The meek shall inherit the earth. You must be perfect. Repent all sins (mistakes). God loves the righteous, the martyr. The more like Jesus you are, the better. This acted like glue to my self-critic. My self hate had another reason to live pride. The harder on myself I was, the better.

    And the final contributing factors are don't show your emotions (from my dad) and don't complain (from my mom).

    That's my grand story my fabulous drama. I could write down the diatribe I'm thinking of right now....how "proud" I am of my story how I'm so amazingly self-centered and pompous for even sharing it. But....who wants to read that negativity?

    So the point of all this. I've done therapy in the past to try and identify why I'm not a happy guy. It was talk therapy with a few techniques thrown in. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy was tried but nothing came of it. I've tried meditation, EFT, focusing, journalling, and tracking of negative thoughts. I could go into more detail of why they didn't work for me, but the binding reason was that: they didn't do anything. I didn't feel anything different, I didn't break open emotionally, nothing happened. My self-hate is immune to logic and I need to find something that punches deep and hard enough through my layers to touch it.

    Now I see hypnotherapy and Electroconvulsive Therapy (if I can get past the shame of not feeling worthy enough for the treatment) as the last available options. (Unless there IS actually something physically something wrong with me, in which case meds would be an option. But my critic tells me that I'm not that lucky. I'm just a whining, pathetic man who won't take responsibility for his life)

    What other therapies are out there for self-hate?

  • mimi

    I am 53. Diagnosed bipolar 1 for many years. I am Christian -- I believe that just the process of diligently seeking after God and trying hard to understand what it means to be a Christian and then trying to live that out has brought great healing into my life. The power of God's grace and mercy and His Spirit has done things in my life I would never have imagined.


    I still have these dramatic and intense highs and lows which are not well controlled. This is the scenario: I'll be doing very well -- mood very high and very creative and able to be compassionate with myself and others, very loving with my husband and family. Then, in the period of a few hours, I will begin to experience a desperate feeling of grief. The best I can explain it is, imagine if someone came to you and told you your entire family was just killed in a car accident. That's how it feels. Uncontrollable crying, grief, despair. For days on end. Then the self-hatred sets in. Eventually, I begin to recover physically and mentally but it is exhausting and traumatic... and the scenario repeats itself. Over and over.

    I know that God has held me up through this. In the last 3 years I've become involved with a healthy church and have made friends and feel very loved there. I have made commitments that keep me involved there -- no matter how bad I feel -- I keep my commitments at church. This requires fierce effort when I am in a valley, but it has made a huge difference in my level of functioning.

    BUT. When I go through these valleys every couple of months I truly go right to the end of the rope -- suicidal every time.

    I am on medication, have been for years, but it always seems to lose efficacy. I have had 100+ ECTs.

    I'm sorry if I'm venting here. I'm in a valley and it is a desperate place. I so need to know WHY? Why is it that 3 days ago I was "happy," able to pray, be with others, able to eat, able to show love and accept it back... and now, I want nothing more than to be left completely alone and die a very ugly death. It is unbelievably difficult to be around other people. I actually feel HATRED not only toward myself but toward just about everyone I come in contact with. There are 2 different people in me!

    Thanks for even reading this... I know it's not pleasant.


  • chels

    My mom says it all the time even as a baby, when I was nice I was REALLY nice and when I was mad or bad, I was REALLY bad. I have never had a problem expressing my anger and I seem to get angry a lot. Suprisingly though, on the other end of that I am a quiet and shy person. I never felt like I fit in and standing back and watching other beautiful people was easier than trying to interact with someone who is so much better than me. I thought that I had accepted my limited looks and personality but I don't think that I have or should even think so lowly of myself. I look in the mirror, at my body, my clothes and I am consumed with disgust. This I can handle it's my destructive anger that I cannot live with anymore. I don't feel like I deserve love and I lash out at the people who say they love me...their obviously lying. I have noticed lately though I get mad about EVERYTHING!! People driving too slow or standing too close to me in a check out line, you name it, it pisses me off. Despite all my problems I am usually a happy person but every day I hate life more and more and that scares the shit out of me. I have good people in my life and they don't deserve what I am putting them through. I am reading a lot about people not being able to express their anger is there anyone else out there with the self-hate and anger issues? Has anything helped you?

  • Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

    Hi Chels,

    Thank you for your comment. If you keep track of our main page you will see an article I plan to write with your comment in mind.

    Dr. Schwartz

  • April

    I am a 19 year old female, enrolled in my second year in college, studying photojournalism.

    Ive been diagnosed with bipolar and manicdepression at the age of 14-and have never been right since.

    My mother is an alcoholic, bi polar, manic depressive. Throughout my life I have seen her at her best, and at her very, very worse ultimately taking a toll on my mind and emotions.

    I'll describe a good day for me, for you. If I wake up earlier than 10 am and the sun is shining through my windows and I had a dream prior about something, anything (since I never dream, and realized its because of my mental illnesses)-I feel normal. If on that same day coincidentally I have things to do that to me would make me feel like if I accomplished them fully I would regain my self confidence and prove to others the best of my abilities.

    That is a good day.

    But those days never really happen. I stay up until 6 in the morning on Facebook, sleepless from the overpowering thoughts of others opinions of me. I put photographs up in hopes of comments and receive some, but can never feel fully accomplished. I feel so high about my photographs. I honor myself with compliments and happy warm feelings until I post them and receive zero comments on any. If that happens, I start believing im a wack job who thought wrong about how talented she was, once again. I also feel like my closest friends talk about how crazy I am, or friends on facebook gather with each other and laugh about how ridiculous I am to even try and poke fun at the individual photographs I put up.
    I am becoming paranoid-and it terrifies me.

    One of my friends the other day said, "You know, you aren't as crazy as you think you are." and that about did it for me. I cried, and said "No one has ever told me that." Because it's true. In my mind, I feel like everyone is constantly talking about just that, and laughing at me behind my back. I feel like no one tells the truth, even though i am constantly in search of it. I feel like I should be important to everyones lives, that I am a important person and should be a famous photojournalist and the best god damn singer to come out of Michigan.


    I need help, psychologically. Which I know, and that reassures me that I am probably not all that crazy.

    But see, throughout this comment-I am expressing complete bi polar-back and fourth with what im trying to say.

    I make no sense.
    I need help.

    I hate this.

  • J.

    I abhor myself 24/7. i hate my life, every facet of it. i seem to sabotage anything good that comes along in my life because i feel that i dont deserve anything good to happen to me. my favorite saying is "i was born to suffer", and may very well become my first tattoo.

    last few months ive been involved in a relationship with a beautiful loving woman and just like all the times before, im trying to end it because i dont know how someone can like a person like me.she's probably all that i could ever ask for, yet i dont understand how she could want someone to poison her life... and i care too much for her for me to do so.

    life is like a joke without the punch-line. for whose cosmic entertainment is my life for? God is very limited in His ability to touch us, and i don't believe He would do anything for me anyway.

    waking up to another day of futility and insanity...J.

  • steve

    Well reading similar experiences of other people makes me realize I do not suffer alone. I too despise myself. i have been divorced nearly 3 years now. And i can't blame my ex for leaving. Granted she has her own faults but it is my deficiences that made her leave. peole have told me that it takes two yet I probally would have agreed if I know I tried everything that I could do to keep our marriage together because then I could walk away satified that I tried as hard as I could. My marriage revealed how pathetic a man I really am. I am a gutless coward, I just could not reveal to her my inner self. I hate myself for even thinking I could be a husband to someone. How could I be so selfish. I know she hurts because of me, and there is nothing I can do. Waking up to that awful fact everyday has hollowed me out. I have prayed many times for God to take me home as I cannot see how I am useful in anyway. I know I can't commit suicide, so I feel like I am living a constant death. To look at myself even for a moment disgusts me.

  • Moose

    In your article, at the top, you say:

    "2. Real Self: Who we could be if we freed ourselves from our self dislike and unrealistic fears."

    But then just below it you say:

    "Real Self: The illusions we believe in about who we should be, in terms of being wealthy, powerful, lovable, independent, etc."

    In the second instance, did you mean to describe the Idealized self?

  • Dr. Allan N. Schwartz

    Alsas, although I understand your question and your confusion, this is the way Dr. Rubin phrased it. The idea is to dismiss the woding and center on the concept.

    Dr. Schwartz

  • RC

    "The problem is that the goal, feeling happy all the time, is not achievable."

    And this is the cause of self-hatred and depression? This seems incredibly simplistic. I think there are many causes for self-hatred and depression, some of which are totally unconscious.