I don't know if I'll ever be able to break out of the rut of self loathing ... I always think of myself as physically and mentally inferior to everyone else ... I look at everyone else around me and I honestly can't think of one positive or useful item that I can contribute ... There's always someone stronger,smarter,etc. Maybe I'll get there someday. I'm still trying to figure everything out and how to rationalize to myself that I have some worth (I am entirely internally motivated, and if I can't rationalize something then no amount of external influence/people telling me things will make a difference)
This is where the distinction between self-esteem and self-compassion is important.
Esteem is essentially about how highly you regard yourself. If you have a lot of some positive quality, you regard yourself highly for having it and feel a positive emotion: high self-esteem. If you lack some positive quality, you regard yourself poorly for lacking it and feel a negative emotion: low self-esteem. This is how culture raises all people to manage their self-esteem. Everyone lacking positive traits automatically feels poorly about themselves. This feeling of low self-worth is the "engine" that is supposed to drive people to improve themselves. But, ofc, you can't be good at something without being better than somebody else, so as you get better at things and feel better about yourself, other people feel worse about themselves by comparison. That's why there will always be low self-esteem people. Other people, in their effort to feel better about themselves, drive other people down by improving their own lives.
Typically, people are advised to work on themselves, to make themselves better; and this does work to improve your self-esteem, assuming you can improve yourself in some way so much that you really start to see that you're superior to other people. But that, imo, is not the best way to go about trying to solve feelings of self-loathing. It's something you can do in addition
to self-compassion, but it is fundamentally inferior
Compassion is about unconditional love and acceptance. It's about feeling a positive emotion (love), regardless of a person's traits. The correct response to a person (yourself or someone else) who lacks some positive trait is compassion. You feel compassion for people who are poor or sick or unattractive, etc., because you know that their lack of that positive trait makes their life more difficult. Our culture's training when it comes to compassion is very spotty. Many people (though nowhere near all) do feel compassion for other people wrt to the lack of positive traits. They offer sympathy and advice and sometimes even try to help in some way. That's normal, healthy behavior. But what our culture doesn't
teach you, and what it seems almost opposed to, is the idea of people treating themselves
with the same compassion they show other people. Instead of people feeling sympathy for themselves, people are taught to hate themselves, to regard self-compassion as suspicious, like self-pity, that it will erode their will to improve themselves.
The two processes (self-esteem and self-compassion) work in opposition, in a way. On the one hand, esteem teaches people to strive to better themselves by hating what is inferior about themselves; and on the other, compassion teaches people to feel sympathy for people who are inferior in some way. But the esteem training is so strong that many people learn to despise other
people for being inferior, which is why we have bullying. When people are despised (bullied) by other people, they learn to hate themselves even more and it becomes very difficult for them to feel any compassion toward themselves.
The people with the fewest positive traits, then, are not only taught to despise their negative traits, but learn from other people to reject and despise themselves entirely, as people. The conditioning is so strong that they essentially lose the ability to feel any compassion for themselves, though they may (and often do) feel a lot of compassion for other people. What people with low self-esteem need to do, then, is re-train themselves to feel compassion for themselves. (What they should avoid doing is finding ways to despise people who have things that they lack, since that merely reinforces the entire destructive cycle. If you despise a person for having friends, for example, you're going to be motivated to not have any friends yourself so that you can avoid despising yourself further.)
So look at some trait that you lack: let's say the ability to socialize easily with other people. You're shy, you never know what to say, you feel anxious, you make other people uncomfortable, etc. Look at that and instead of going directly to self-harm, instead of thinking "I'm a pathetic loser" think: "SA makes lovetrance's life difficult; it must be hard being lovetrance and never knowing what to say or how to act around other people; s/he must feel miserable a lot of the time". Acknowledge this as if you were acknowledging that it were someone else's
problem, as if it were your friend who suffered from SA, not yourself; or your partner, or your child. You have to put yourself into someone else's shoes and look at yourself from outside because your ability to feel true compassion for yourself has been almost completely destroyed by cultural conditioning regarding esteem. You should feel compassion
for yourself for having SA, the way you feel compassion for someone else for being ill or poor. You should feel like hugging yourself, not cutting yourself. Because SA does
make your life difficult, and it is absolutely not
your fault that you have it. You didn't choose to be this way, and it's not fair to punish yourself for being a victim of circumstance.
When you feel genuine compassion for yourself, it's okay to not have some positive trait. It's okay not in the sense that you no longer need it or want it, or that it's absence isn't painful, but okay in the sense that even in its absence you don't hate and despise yourself for not having it. Instead of a painful experience of self-loathing, you have a positive experience of self-compassion. It won't make being lonely less painful, but it will stop you from adding self-hatred to your feeling of loneliness and your loneliness will be easier to bear because the loneliness itself will be a source of self-compassion.
With healthy, functional self-compassion, no matter what your life is like, you always feel self-loving and self-affirming. For those traits that you do excel at, you feel the positive pleasure of high self-esteem; for those traits that you lack, you feel the positive emotion of self-compassion. So you always feel good about yourself, no matter what part of yourself you're thinking about, even when you're miserable about all the negative things that you have in your life. You may still be poor, lonely, etc., but you won't feel self-hatred; you'll feel compassion for yourself for being poor and lonely. And that self-compassion is what makes life bearable; it's what gives you the will and determination to improve your life instead of giving up on it. When you feel compassion for yourself, you give yourself permission to be imperfect and make mistakes and strive for things anyway, whether things go your way or not. It gives you permission to be on your own side, to support and encourage yourself, and to be a good friend to yourself. Without self-compassion, you act against yourself. You're like a bully inside your own head, punishing yourself for every failing. You've taken all the negative, hateful things that others have said to you over the years and internalized it, continuing the work of every person who's ever bullied you long after they've disappeared from your life.
Some people have a great deal of difficultly overcoming their negative self-talk -- the internal bully -- because bullying themselves is as enjoyable, in a way, as bullying other people is for bullies. You can't defend yourself from yourself, so you can just keep being cruel to yourself and reaping all the satisfaction that any bully would take from being cruel to you. This is why people get stuck in self-loathing and self-pity; because without the ability to feel real compassion for themselves, and without self-esteem, the pleasure of self-cruelty is the only pleasure available to them. Self-harm becomes a means to feel pleasure in the absence of any means to feel self-compassion or self-esteem. And this self-harming pleasure can be very addictive; people get addicted to cutting themselves, or starving themselves, or sabotaging their own lives in other ways because it's the only way they can take any kind of pleasure in their own existence.
Self-compassion is the only way to get over an addiction to self-cruelty. Self-compassion is unconditional
. It's giving yourself permission to be the completely f***ed up, messed up, pathetic, inadequate person you are. To say to yourself: "It's okay if you suck, I love you anyway." (Note that self-love is NOT the same as self-like
-- you have no obligation to like things about yourself that you don't, eg. your appearance; it's not about conning yourself into thinking something's good when it's bad; it's about saying "it's okay if it's bad; it's okay to be miserable about it". In fact, self-compassion is the very basis of self-improvement; when you feel genuine compassion for yourself, you give yourself permission to try to change your life for the better instead of wallowing in self-pity. Because "it's okay to want to change it, too". Genuine self-compassion is unconditional
With genuine self-compassion, any person, regardless of circumstance, can feel good about themselves
, even if they hate everything else about their life.