Most of us have experienced that pivotal peak of pain, anger or frustration in which we want to scream “I hate my life.” Yet, the feeling that a dark cloud has specifically settled over us and our experiences can feel pretty isolating. The truth is, no matter how singled out or overwhelmed we feel, and no matter what area we are struggling in, we are not alone. More than half of U.S. workers are unhappy with their job. One in 10 Americans struggles with depression. All of us have moments of utter despair. Escaping from this hopeless-seeming state may feel impossible. Yet, in reality, we are not doomed, and we are not powerless. No matter what our circumstances, we can all learn tools to help us emerge from the darkest moments in our lives.
In his 35 years of research, Dr. Salvatore Maddi of The Hardiness Institute has discovered that what predicts how well we will do in life, our relationships, careers, and so on is NOT how much money we have or even how many struggles we face. It’s a matter of how hardy or emotionally resilient we are. We can all learn to become more resilient. We can implement tools that help shape how we see and experience the world around us. We can uncover what’s at the root of our unhappiness and create a life that has personal meaning to us, a life that reflects our unique goals and desires.
This process starts with asking ourselves a few questions, starting with:
Whose life are you really living?
One of the reasons we have the feeling of “I hate my life” is because we aren’t really following our own path. Instead, we are, often subconsciously, carrying out someone else’s idea of how we should live. In order to have the life we say we want, we have to separate our real point of view from negative influences from our past, from people around us or from society at large. To do this, we can engage in a process known as differentiation, which can help us to distinguish our real wants, goals and desires from undesirable outside influences. As Dr. Robert Firestone wrote in his book The Self Under Siege, “Differentiation is a universal struggle that all human beings face if they wish to fully develop themselves as individuals.” Firestone outlines four essential steps to the process of differentiation that can help individuals live free of imagined limitations.
According to Firestone, in order for our real, authentic self to emerge, we have to identify and separate from destructive programming we received very early in our lives, primarily from our parents or other influential caretakers. “Differentiating from parental interjects and psychological defenses based on the emotional pain of childhood is a central developmental issue in every person’s life,” wrote Firestone. “To the extent that we retain the critical attitudes and destructive elements we have incorporated into our own personalities, we remain undifferentiated from our parents throughout our lifetime.”
The point of differentiation isn’t to blame parents for all our problems but rather to help explain the elements that lay the foundation for the self-limiting or self-destructive behavior we engage in that leads to our unhappiness. Naturally, no parent is perfect. We are all human and full of flaws. Parents may have critical attitudes toward themselves that extend to their children. As people grow up, they tend to incorporate these attitudes and engage in a process of self-parenting. They may start to imitate their parents’ less favorable traits, take on hurtful attitudes toward themselves or retaliate against these parental influences. All of these actions are a reaction to our upbringing and don’t necessarily reflect our true unique identity and point of view.
For example, if we had a parent who couldn’t hold a job, perhaps we will find ourselves sabotaging our own success. If we had a parent who believed they were unintelligent, we may feel this way toward ourselves. As adults, we tend to be drawn toward relationships and circumstances that recreate the emotional environment from our past. Differentiation means interrupting this cycle and truly living our own life. If you feel like you hate your life, it’s beneficial to ask whose life are you really living? Are you reliving someone else’s idea of who you should be or what you should want? What truly has meaning to you?
Are you looking at your life through a negative filter?
The second question to consider when we feel like we hate our lives is “are we listening to our “critical inner voice?” As Maddi discovered in his research, it isn’t just our circumstances that determine our life satisfaction and success. In fact, it’s what we are telling ourselves about our circumstances that often makes us miserable. Our critical inner voice describes a cruel, internal enemy we all have inside us that comments on our every move and criticizes us at every turn.
This critical inner voice is there to undermine and sabotage us in every area of our lives, our careers, relationships and personal goals. When we experience a setback, this voice will tear us apart and remind us that we’ll never succeed. It’s often the sneaky internal entity responsible for fueling the flames that lead us to hate ourselves or resent our circumstances.
One of the biggest steps we can take to change our lives involves identifying and challenging this inner critic. It’s important to separate this alien coach from our true point of view. We can all learn effective methods to overcome our critical inner voice and achieve a more self-compassionate attitude toward ourselves. As we engage in this transformative and enlightening process, it’s valuable to remind ourselves that as long as we are independent and differentiated adults, we can pretty much change any part of our lives… as long as we change this negative filter.
Although our critical inner voice has built up over a long time and is based on destructive past experiences and early childhood influences, as adults, these “voices” are just thoughts. No matter how anxious it makes us, we can counteract this inner critic and grow stronger in the process. For example, if our voice tells us we are incompetent or incapable of change, we can remind ourselves that this is just a thought driven by a deep, unconscious “anti-self” whose only mission is to sabotage us.
Then, we can consciously take the actions that go against the directives of this anti-self. We can go out for that job interview, knowing we can handle not getting it. We can stick to an exercise plan even when our inner critic lures us to indulge. We can stay close to our partner despite the anxious thoughts our critical inner voice shouts at us.
How resilient are you?
Resilience or “hardiness” is something we can all foster and develop within ourselves. The more we can stick through hard times without expecting the road to be easy, the better we can handle what life throws at us. Hardiness involves accepting that we have some control over our situation, and that there are always steps we can take to improve our circumstances. Obstacles can be seen as challenges from which we can grow. We can learn more about Maddi’s research and the steps to become more psychologically resilient here.
Actions to take when we think “I hate my life:”
There are many actions we can take when we feel turned against ourselves and our lives.
Practice mindfulness – Mindfulness is a practice that teaches us how to let go of thoughts that are destructive or undesirable. It has been proven to reduce stress, fight depression and lead to overall benefits in health and well-being. Mindfulness meditation can help us to acknowledge these thoughts as momentary feelings that will pass like clouds over a mountain. Learn more about mindfulness.
Conquer your critical inner voice – Voice Therapy is a method developed by Dr. Robert Firestone. The five steps of this therapeutic process allow people to identify, respond to and challenge their critical inner voice, while recognizing where this inner enemy comes from. Learn more about Voice Therapy.
Spend time with a family of choice – Oftentimes, people feel obligated to spend time with the family they were born into, but old dynamics and remnants of past hurts can cause “family time” to be times of pain or stress. It’s important to create for yourself a “family of choice.” Of course, this may include people you’re related to. What’s most important is choosing to be around people who support you and the things that light you up and make you who you are.
Realize your personal power – No matter what life throws at us, taking a victim mentality only makes us suffer more. By realizing the ways we have power over our lives, we can feel stronger and more resilient in any obstacle we face.
Seek help – Going to therapy is an action that would benefit everyone. There is no shame in seeking help. In fact, it is an act of bravery and strength. No matter where you are in the world or what your economic status is, help is available. Samaritans.org is a great international resource to find help. If you or someone you know is in crisis in the United States, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1 (800) 273-8255 or visit them online.
No matter where we’re at in our lives, it’s important to remember that we can handle loss or change. Human beings are incredibly adaptive. We may struggle at first, but we can get through the toughest of times. Things will get better. Even those who experience thoughts of suicide must know that the suicidal state is almost always transient and temporary. Help is available. You can feel better. You can conquer whatever internal forces are telling you to give up, and you can go on to have a uniquely meaningful life.
Need help? If you or someone you know is in crisis or in need of immediate help in the United States, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This is a free hotline available 24 hours a day to anyone in emotional distress or suicidal crisis. Visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.