Wednesday, May 21, 2014

How to Stop Hating and Start Loving Yourself

A number of people have told me that they do not like or feel good about themselves; some, even hate themselves. Many of us struggle with this issue. If you do, consider the following: You are going to live with yourself for the rest of your life, so take the time now to develop a loving relationship.

To start, complete the following sentence: “I dislike/hate (or do not feel good about) myself because I am _____.”

Most likely, you gave one or more of the following reasons: Unpopular and have few friends, not athletic or fit, overweight, unattractive, socially awkward, not smart, have psychological or medical issues, disabled, single, childless, broke, in a dead-end job, or out of work.

Those are superficial reasons. There are people who fit those categories who do not hate themselves; in fact, they love themselves. The question is why do those things bother you more than them?

Self-hatred is not caused by the circumstances of your life; it is caused by your thoughts about your life. Here are five unhealthy thought patterns which can lead to self-hatred and what to do about them.

1. You define yourself by external and temporary characteristics. Most of the qualities mentioned above define your current abilities or situation and change over time. (For example, a person may have few friends while in school but have a wider circle of friends later in life. Or, they may be unemployed for a while but then find a fulfilling job.) None of those qualities define who you are – your essence.

Your soul is your essence; the part of you that never changes, never ages and never leaves you. Your soul is with you in this world and will be with you in the World to Come.

Because you are your soul, it is a misnomer to say, “I hate myself,” as there is nothing about a spiritual soul to hate. What you might hate or dislike are aspects of your material life which you think are bad.

With our limited perception, it is understandable to wish things were different than they are. At the same time, you can learn to be more accepting of your difficulties by acknowledging that God, in His infinite wisdom, created every aspect of your life for your benefit.

2. You think others are better than you. Maybe in certain areas they are. So what? Your worth is not tied to what you can do; it is tied to who you are – one of God’s children, created in His image. As one of His children, you have intrinsic value and no one is “better” or more worthy than you. We all deserve respect, kindness and love.

The Talmud teaches (Sanhedrin 37a) that each individual is obligated to say, “For me, the world was created.” The spiritual power you possess is so awesome that it would be worthwhile for God to create the entire world just so you could live an elevated life in it. Ignore anyone – including the critical voice in your head – who tells you you’re not good enough. God thinks you are and that’s all that matters.

Feel good about yourself and what you have achieved. For the area of your life in which you want to improve, make a plan on how you will do so. But at the same time, feel proud about what you have accomplished amidst many challenges.

Sometimes, people who think others are better than them had someone hypercritical in their lives, and/or they did not receive enough positive reinforcement growing up. Speaking to a mentor or a recommended therapist can be beneficial. They will help you realize that with hypercritical people, it was their issue not yours. You have done much to deserve praise, even if others never acknowledged your efforts and achievements. Going forward, it is important to avoid or at least minimize contact with those who are hypercritical, and to spend time with those who value you and are complimentary. For other suggestions, see, “6 Ways to Deal with Critical Family Members.”

3. You blame yourself for your mistakes. Have you ever done the following? You made a mistake and got so upset with yourself that you mentally screamed out, “I’m such an idiot! I hate myself!”

If yes, then you took credit for something that is not yours. Unless you willfully did what you knew was wrong or negligent, your mistakes come from God for your highest good. God is guiding your life; do not take your mistakes personally. What you thought was a blunder was just one step along a path leading to where you need to go.

Even as you accept that whatever happened was God’s will, take responsibility for your actions, repair the damage as best you can, repent when necessary, and learn for the future. For details, see “Discover Your Inner Peace.”

4. You have not accepted your flaws. Many of us feel deep shame over our weaknesses as if we are personally to blame for them. But are we? Since those weaknesses where given to us by God for our benefit, what are we ashamed of?

If one thinks, “I’m to blame for all my weaknesses. I should be able to do better,” that may be a sign of hidden arrogance. When we are humble, we realize that everything comes from God, both our strengths and our weaknesses. By learning how to deepen your humility, you can become more patient and accepting of yourself. See, “You’re Not Arrogant, But Are You Truly Humble?

When we do not accept our weaknesses, we set unrealistic expectations for ourselves, often leading to failure. We may set the bar too high because we are trying to outdo others. But life is not about competing against others, it is about doing the best we can. In God’s eyes, the playing field is level; everyone has equal access to their highest potential.

To help you accept your flaws, try the following exercise. Each time you think about a weakness, say to yourself:

This is from God for my eternal benefit. Part of fulfilling my life’s purpose is doing what I can to overcome and grow from this challenge. This will work out in the end; either in this world or in the next. God is with me, giving me the strength and courage I need to triumph.

5. You ignore your good points.
One of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov’s most transformative teachings is his emphasis on finding the good in others and in ourselves (Likutey Moharan I, 282). Make a list of your admirable qualities, your life struggles and how far you have come under very challenging circumstances. Preferably, ask your family and/or friends to help you compile your list. Daily, or when feelings of self-loathing erupt, look over your list: Appreciate your positive qualities and talents, feel compassion for your struggles and be proud of your accomplishments.

Use your good points to be more accepting of your weaknesses. The next time you are bothered by a weakness, read over your list of good points and say to yourself, “Well, I can’t have everything.”

For more on acceptance and self-compassion, both key to feeling good about yourself, see, “6 Tools to Enhance Your Mood.”

Our life’s journey is about accumulating good points, e.g., helping others, and living an ethical, moral and meaningful life, as outlined in the Torah. Combine living an elevated life with praising yourself for your achievements and the difficult choices you make to uphold your values; this will enhance your self-esteem and self-love.

If you find it hard to compliment yourself, try this exercise: At the end of each day, think of something praiseworthy you did that day and while smiling at a mirror, compliment yourself out loud. Start by picking anything, even that you got out of bed and did your best to get through the day. If it feels fake to praise yourself, remember the advice, “Fake it, til you make it.” As you get into the habit of acknowledging your achievements, you will feel better about yourself.

To summarize, and phrase them in the positive, five healthy thought patterns characterize people who feel good about themselves.

(1) They realize that a temporary characteristic can improve overtime and even if it doesn’t, that quality is only part of the overall tapestry that is their life; it does not represent their essence.

(2) They realize they have innate value; no one is “better” or more worthy.

(3) They do the best they can and when they make a mistake, they accept responsibility and clean up after themselves. But they do not take their failings personally; they acknowledge that their mistakes are part of God’s overall plan.

(4) They strive for goals appropriate for their current abilities. They focus on developing their strengths, shoring up key weaknesses which get in the way, and accepting the rest.

(5) They compliment themselves for each challenge they overcome. When they have to correct themselves, instead of hurling insults, they use soft words of understanding and encouragement. They are hardworking, good and kind people, and they know it. 

Follow their example and over time, you will discover that you too are a likable person; in fact, you’re downright lovable.
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