How To Stop Hating Yourself For Things You Can't Control

Love, Self

Self-hatred is like a cactus in my hands, its sharp spines ripping my skin open. And while white cells rush to the wound, intending to heal, it’s useless; because when they get there, the needles will block their way. 

I don’t know why I came up with this metaphor… Maybe to demonstrate the absurdity of self-inflicted harm, be it verbal (“You’re stupid, you should know better by now, what’s wrong with you?”) or physical (overeating, drinking, shopping). It would seem too obvious and easy to just let go of the cactus and end the pain of self-hatred. But easy doesn’t always mean simple, even for someone who does it for a living, like me. 

I am a medical hypnotherapist who’s been studying psychology and self-help for over a decade. In my mind, this means I should know how to hold my emotional balance, even when life yanks the blanket of control from beneath my feet. And yet, I fall right on that darn cactus every time. And I know why. Because humans are creatures of habit, and for most of us, feeling disempowered over things beyond our control is the norm. It’s a learned behavior we carry with us from childhood, and it becomes an established way of feeling. 

I remember when I was eight years old, my mom and I lived in my home town of Minsk, the capital of Belarus, in a cozy, apple-cinnamon scented apartment, together with my beloved grandparents. My best friend, Tanya, lived on the floor above, and we were inseparable. My dad was a pilot stationed on a remote airbase in a northern province of Russia. One summer, my mom told me that we would go visit Dad for a month and come back before school began. But we didn’t. We came back eight years later, after Dad’s working contract was over. 

Now, what happens in the mind of a young child when his or her world turns upside down, like mine did? The child forms perceptions about him- or herself which are negative and demeaning. And since the rational mind of the child is not fully developed enough to counter these perceptions with reasoning, cognitive distortions form, such as “I am not good enough. I’m unworthy and not in control.” Like a prickly cactus poking at the nervous system, these become the basis of negative mental programming, the foundation of self-hatred. 

So how do we wean ourselves from the self-hatred habit? By updating this negative mental programming, just like you’d do with an app on your smart phone. Follow me through an easy, four-step process that will help you loosen your grip on that painful cactus, and in time you’ll let go, finally allowing your bleeding hands to heal. 

1. Identify where your mind goes when you’re faced with things you can’t control.

Find a comfortable position, grab a pillow for emotional support, and snuggle up with a notebook and pen. Now ask: When was the last time things exploded beyond your control? That should be easy, considering the crisis we’re all facing now: COVID-19. However, each of us has a unique, mental interpretation of the chaos unfolding around us. What is yours?

What do you say in your mind when faced with a situation or person you can’t control? Write it down. Here are some examples of prickly thoughts that I and most of my clients have: “I am unworthy and not good enough.” “No one cares.” “I am stupid.” “It’s hopeless.” “It’s all my fault.” “I can’t do anything right.” “I don’t deserve happiness.” “I am a failure.” “Life is against me”… blah…blah…blah. 

Congratulations! That was the hardest step, and you conquered it. I want you to acknowledge yourself for your willingness and bravery to look within and dissect that poisonous cactus of self-hatred. 

2. Remove the painful mindset created in the mind of your emotionally-driven inner child.

You are an adult now, and you look at things differently. You are wiser, more mature, and  you realize that the circumstances of your life do not define your personal sense of worthiness and enough-ness – the very foundation of your self-esteem. They don’t because it’s not possible. Your worthiness and enough-ness are your innate state, which is fundamental, solid and unconditional, even when things don’t go your way. 

So what if we delete the negative assumptions responsible for your emotional pain from your mind? I think you deserve to feel the lightness of letting them go. 

I assume you have a smart phone, iPad or computer. Imagine (knowing that whatever you imagine, your mind accepts as real and true) that among your apps or files, there is one called Self-Hatred. You can see it or sense it right away because it’s old, outdated, and dull. This gray file holds all the negative statements (sub-files) you wrote down in your notebook. It stands out from the bright and healthy, glowing apps that make you a good person, and which you want to keep. 

I want you to delete this app or file from your imaginary electronic device: just choose it, highlight it, and move it to the trash. It’s easy, and you know how to do it. Done! Now empty the trash and reboot your device. In your mind’s eye, see the file gone. Success! Next, get off the couch and get rid of that page where you wrote all the false statements about yourself. You can crumple it, rip it to pieces, or burn it – the choice is yours. 

3. Install a new app or file – the truth about who you are. 

Ready to replace that old app with a new one? Settle back, plump up your pillow, and start writing about who you really are. Let your mind guide you through the process, and allow your pen to fly freely across the paper. Write statements like “I am good enough, because it’s my nature.” “I am capable and strong, and I am constantly evolving and becoming better.” “Life’s got my back, and I‘m willing to trust that.” “I approve of myself, even when I make mistakes.” “I understand that failing means growth and progressing forward.” “I focus on what’s good about me and my life.” “I am blessed in so many ways” I am proud of how I’m learning to be kind to myself.” “There is no such thing as perfection – in fact, perfection means death.” 

As you’re writing these statements of healthy self-esteem, your old, deleted programming may still be echoing through your mind – an old habit. Good to know. If negative thoughts show up, move them to the trash file, then delete it. You are in control over what stays in your mind and what goes. Now, give a name to this new file, which encompasses all the awesome statements about who you are. You can call it Love, Happiness, Self-Esteem, Power, Control – whatever feels right to you. Then, click on an imaginary ‘Get’ or ‘Install’ and watch it download and show up in the software of your mind. Does this new app have a color? Notice it. From now on, every time you see this color anywhere in your life, it will immediately reinforce all the positive suggestions you’ve just introduced into your mind. 

4. Practice feeling good about yourself. 

The only reason feeling good about yourself may feel awkward at first is because it’s not yet habitual. The brain is still developing new pathways to accommodate your updated mindset. So the next time you’re faced with circumstances you can’t control, watch where your mind goes and stop yourself from self-hatred by reminding yourself that you don’t do that anymore; that you are in complete control over your perception of the unwanted circumstance. How about that! Also, remind yourself that now you have this new app in your mind that has replaced the old one called Self-Hatred with a name like Self-Love and Approval. 

When you consciously remind yourself of this update you’ve made, your mind unlocks the positive thoughts from the ‘good’ list you wrote, and as you think them, they flood your brain with happy chemicals, creating the habit of feeling good. Sound simple? It is. However, be patient with yourself through this process of inner transformation and be your own loving parent, gentle and kind. Help your brain to rewire faster by reinforcing good affirmations first thing in the morning. When you just open your eyes, read your page filled with positive statements, letting your mind receive them in a state of drowsy non-resistance. 

Give it a try! What begins to happen is that the seeds you planted by writing down your positive mental statements, then watering them with your daily attention, will gradually replace the nasty cactus of self-hatred with self-acceptance and love. 

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Katherine Agranovich, Ph.D., is a medical hypnotherapist, holistic consultant, and author of Tales of My Large, Loud, Spiritual Family. As the founder of the Achieve Health Center, she helps men and women attain mental-emotional alignment and close the gap between where they are and where they want to be.