Few things are more painful to parenting ears than when a kid declares that she hates herself. Why would a kid hate herself, and what should we say or do when it happens?
The first thing we need to ask ourselves is if we, maybe secretly or maybe overtly, hate our own selves? It's really hard for a kid to be happier than her parents, so if you are struggling with self esteem, depression or anxiety that's probably something to work on as a way to help your child.
But let's say you are doing alright but your child feels inadequate anyway. Just like you, if your kid says that they feel stupid, ugly, scared, depressed or like a loser the last thing they truly want is a pep talk. To feel loved is to feel understood—so really listening and empathizing with just how painful, and particularly lonely, it feels when we find ourselves hating ourselves is a kind way to play this awful moment.
When our kid says mean things about herself, do we dare to look at her as if she were a mirror of our own worst pain and anxiety? Don't we all, somewhere in our hearts, at least on our worst days, fear that we have no place in the group and will inevitably end up alone and unloved? Maybe that very fear is what drives us to attach, to bond, to put our own selfish needs behind the good of the child, the family, the group and thus form relationships and communities.
So… when kids, with or without words, tell us that they hate themselves we need to let it break our hearts—let it break our hearts wide open so that we can compassionately scoop that child up and hold her safely in our hearts. We probably don't need to say anything if our eyes can transmit that we actually see and feel the pain; if our attitude can affirm that these horrid feelings are part of being human—that the need to be witnessed and accepted is how we break and heal and form something bigger and more loving than our lonely little selves—we're halfway home.
If we must speak, empathic curiosity sets a healing tone: "I get it that you just hate yourself right now, and I see and feel how much that hurts, and how alone you must feel when nobody really understands and there's nothing anyone can say to make you feel better."
Remember, if our kid is telling us how terrible they are or feel, they are begging for us to understand and connect with them, in their pain. Pulling her out of her pain misses the point, saying it's all ok misses the point, but climbing down into the well of her despair shows her that she is not alone, and it models a way out as we demonstrate brave willingness and skillful means of finding a way in.
You're smart, you're beautiful (if you'll only discover so) and you have a loving heart, but it's probably your own pain that kept you reading to here. I'm sorry it hurts to live in all too often brutal and stupid times, but maybe neither of us, nor our children, is so unworthy or alone as we might fear on our darkest and most drizzly days.
When in doubt let's go with the idea that it's cool to be kind—and that it's kind to understand rather than to "fix."