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I hate myself… How can I find comfort in God when I feel so unworthy?

July 12, 2011 by  
Filed under Divine Mercy, Fr. Bartunek, Guilt, Self Knowledge

Dear Father John, I thought I once heard you mention that quite often a hatred of oneself runs parallel with a hatred of God. My problem is similar, but while I hate myself quite a bit I do not in any way hate God. God is, in fact, my longest and most faithful friend, always at the back of my mind. And I know it probably hurts Him to see me revile myself the way I do, but I feel unable to improve the situation. I compare it sometimes to my relationship with my husband. He understands that I earnestly believe myself selfish, evil and ugly, but his patience runs thin the more times I mention it. I find myself asking for God’s patience more than any other thing, and I do want to please Him, but I’m not sure if I’m able. My question is how to best be pleasing to God when I foster a deep-seeded belief that I am unworthy of any sort of salvation or comfort?

First, make sure you cement into the very foundation of your understanding of the universe one extremely important truth that God has revealed to us so frequently and so forcibly that he has removed any room for doubt: “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). I would highly recommend that you memorize that verse of inspired Scripture, and that you repeat it to yourself, using it as a prayer, throughout the day. God’s love for his – his personal, all-knowing, passionate, tender, and determined love for each one of us – does not depend on our being worthy of it, being perfect, being selfless, being a model Christian… On the contrary, it is only as we continue discovering God’s love for us that we open our hearts to be touched by his transforming grace so that we can actually love him in return and begin to experience life as he calls us to live it – selflessly, generously, joyfully, humbly. Our journey through this Valley of Tears that we call earth is not primarily about what we can do for God, but about what God has done (and still wants to do for us): “This is real love–not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins” (1 John 4:10). So, keep reminding yourself of this, over and over again. Make it the theme of your daily prayer. Ask God to convince you of this more and more every day.

From that perspective, I think you can answer your own question. How best to please God, even though you know that you are unworthy? Throw yourself into his arms. Dive into his mercy. Trust him when he tells you that he loves you just as you are, and maybe even MORE because you are so much in need of his grace. Remember the parable of the Good Shepherd, who left the 99 sheep who were in good shape in order to go after the one sheep that was lost and in need. And he rejoiced when he found it. Your mere desire to follow God, to know him and love him better, gives him immense pleasure. Every time you turn back to him after a fall or a failure, you fill his heart with joy. He longs not for our self-perfection, but for our presence, our friendship, our desire to walk with him. This is what pleases him.

You may be confusing God’s being “pleased” with his being “satisfied.” God loves us so much that he is never satisfied. He knows we can grow, and so, like a good coach how really cares about his players, he never gets tired of demanding more from us and inviting us to give more. He loves us too much to let us vegetate in our personal comfort zone, spiritually speaking. But even though he is hard to satisfy, he is extremely easy to please. The slightest effort delights him! He knows better than we do how hard it is for us to live a truly spiritual, truly Christ-like life. So, he is like the dad witnessing his little baby take her first steps. The steps are clumsy, jerky, and unsteady. But how the dad rejoices over them!

Okay, now for a hard truth. Whenever you get drawn into a personal pity party and find yourself discouraged or tense or preoccupied about your own weakness and spiritual neediness (selfishness), you are actually falling into dangerous territory. Discouragement is not something that comes from the Holy Spirit – not ever. Discouragement is a subtle, very subtle, form of spiritual pride, which is one of the seven capital sins. Discouragement, when we give into it and revel in it instead of turning it immediately into a prayer and throwing ourselves into God’s loving arms, says to God: “O Lord, look at how evil I am; I am so selfish that not even you can love me or help me…” Oh what a nasty trick of the Devil that thought is! Oh how it hurts our Lord when we say that to him! His mercy, his love, his goodness, his power – they are IMMENSELY greater than our misery! Our Lord revealed to St Margaret Mary that even if all the sins of the world were on her soul, compared to his burning love for her, they would be like a drop of water thrown into a blazing furnace. So, whenever you feel like turning in on yourself and being drawn into the pit of self-deprecation, simply make an act of humility and then turn your attention back to whatever it is God wants you to be doing at that moment, even if it’s something as simple as washing the dishes, “Lord, you know what a mess I am, but you love me. Give me the strength to forget about myself and do what you want me to do. I am in your hands, and they are Very Good Hands…”

I suggest that you take for a personal motto what St Paul said about this very struggle, and follow his example of rejoicing in your weaknesses because they force you to depend more and more on God, which is what it’s all about: “I am well content with these humiliations of mine, with the insults, the hardships, the persecutions, the times of difficulty I undergo for Christ; when I am weakest, then I am strongest of all” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". He has also published two other titles: "Meditations for Mothers" and "A Guide to Christian Meditation". Fr. John currently splits his time between Rome and Rhode Island, where he teaches theology as an adjunct professor at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum and at Mater Ecclesia College. He is also continuing his writing apostolate with online retreats at www.RCSpirituality.org and questions and answers on the spiritual life at www.RCSpiritualDirection.com. FATHER JOHN'S BOOKS include: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer", Inside the Passion--The Only Authorized Insiders View of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, Meditations for Mothers, and A Guide to Christian Meditation.

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  • Anonymous

    Wonderful Advice!!

    In addition to what Fr. John has mentioned, I offer two things that have helped me with these same issues.

    1- “It’s NOT of God!!”  I use this, supplied by a friend, whenever I encounter those ‘automatic negative thoughts”.  And I imagine myself slamming a door shut on them.

    2- The part of this post that refers to Jesus, the Good Shepherd, searching for the lost sheep………I once received an image of Jesus rescuing a little white lamb from some briars, pulling it close to His heart for a hug, and laughing gently as it stumbled off to find it’s friends.  With the image came the knowledge that the lamb was me……..and I truly feel His love when I remember this. I like to call this to mind whenever I become worried or feel I am being ‘caught’ with too many worldly cares.

  • Cfsczepans

    I think everyone has been “in your shoes” at one time or another, and knows exactly what you mean. You are not alone. We understand…and more importantly, so does God!  I am remembering you in prayer. Trust God’s lavish love for you.

  • Sandy

    It is easy to fall into the trap of self pity because of self love.  I naturally want to protect myself, even when I have sinned.  This is when I used to be tempted to turn inward, but through the grace of God I have rediscovered the grace from the sacraments of frequent Reconciliation and daily Eucharist, I have come to realize that life is about God’s great love for each one of us and our returning that love back to him by serving others.  To understand why Jesus came to earth is the beginning of wisdom.   He loves each one of us as though we are the only person in the world because he died for us.  His mercy is greater than any wrong we may have done.  Furthermore, how can we love others if we don’t love ourselves?  As John the Evangelist said, “God is love, and he who abides in love, abides in God and God in him.”

  • Graciela

    Excelent reflexion, how a wonderful loving Father we all have. Let’s make our best effort to let Him be the center of our mission. Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    Amen

  • Anonymous

    Amen

  • Dismas

    From the Exultet in the Roman Missal:

    O happy fault,

    O necessary sin of Adam,

    which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

    And where sin abounded, grace did more abound. Rom 5:20

  • Canefan007

    This is an excellent article. When I went thru the R.C.I.A program,I went thru the same feelings before my rite of acceptance into the Catholic church.I felt I was so unworthy and evil for the way I had conducted myself in my past.I felt I was unworthy to even go thru the rite that Sunday.I had such an emotional breakdown that I spoke to my priest about my issues.He pretty much said to me what Father John has said.I came to realize a past is a past and you cannot change it. But you can ask God for his forgivness and contine the rest of your life living thru Christ and doing his will.  Kelly

  • Anonymous

    I love how in his counsel here, Father takes this soul to the Scripture to weave deep into the suffering heart, the immutable Word of God- to teach us to speak Truth to ourselves; to open and hopefully transform our minds and subsequently our hearts, and to lead us to become conformed to the image of Christ. And I very much appreciate his gentleness in this guidance! ;o)
    I am pretty familiar with some of the sentiments in this questioner’s dilemma. Some of the harder lessons I have learned in this place are that we are not free to reject the one Jesus chooses to accept, to love, and for whom He suffered and died. (I think it offends Him- in that hurt, exasperated way- but still, if you know what I mean.) We are not free to negate His grace by declaring anyone unworthy, or to pass judgement on His sovereignty by despising the process by which He allows Himself to be glorified in any life (I personally often stumble- ok, if I am honest, actually more like pitch my version of a hyperzealous hissy fit in taking issue with His means in the chaos of my defects-”..this is so NOT a viable marketing version Lord! Why, oh why, don’t You just fix x,y, or z instead?! * dramatic heavy sigh*…” Sorry, I hope that does not give scandal.)

    Jesus really wants us to be patient and nobly respectful with ourselves and with His work in us, (and as the first corollary to this rule, those of our neighbors.) He would also really appreciate, I am sure, a vote of confidence in His ability to save us, (even from ourselves or inspite of ourselves!)- and in Him knowing what He is about. I know sometimes that takes heroic faith just inside the echo chamber of our own minds- but how about that for a magnificent upward calling ala Philippians 3:12-14?

    Here is that passage, in case it is helpful:

    Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

  • Richard5374

    Very helpful advice.

  • Stephen

    “For God so loved the world (that means you and me),that He gave His only begotten Son,that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world,but that the world through Him might be saved.He who believes in Him is not condemned;but he who does not believe is condemned already,because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.And this is the condemnation,that light is come into the world,and men loved darkness because their deeds were evil.For everyone practicing evil hates the light,and does not come to the light,lest his deeds should be exposed.But he who does the truth comes to the light,that his deeds may be clearly seen,that they have been done in God.”–Jn.3:16-21

    We all sin and fall short of what God would have us be,but when we come to Him with a humble heart confessing our sins with confidence in His mercy,we are coming to the light,and our deeds are done in God.He loves you with an everlasting love,and chose you from before the foundation of the world. He has your name written on the palm of His hands,and if you had been the only one on the earth,Christ would have died just for you alone. Not because you deserve it,but because He is God, and God is Love.

    “But God,who is rich in mercy,because of His great love with which He loved us,even when we were dead in trespasses,made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),and raised us up together,and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”–Ep.2:4-7

    There is a bad fear of God and a good fear of God;the first makes us run from God,and blindly into sin,the second makes us run from sin into the hands of our loving Father,Who corrects us because He loves us.Just so,there is a bad hatred of ourselves and a good hatred of ourselves;the first makes us feel condemned and unforgivable and unlovable,the second makes us come humbly before our God Who remembers our frame,that we are dust”.

    Self-consciousness comes from pride and the evil one–shun it. Christ-consciousness comes from the Holy Spirit and a sincere heart.Keep your eyes on the prize (Jesus and His love),and keep them off self.God is good and His loving kindness and His tender mercies toward us who believe endure forever.When you feel like you are worthless,imitate St.Mary Magdalen,who washed Christ’s feet with her tears and wiped them off with her hair,vile sinner that she was–Jesus loved her for it.Kiss the feet of Jesus on the cross and say;I am not worthy of You,O Lord,but I know you love me anyway,and I love you too.Rest yourself in His loving embrace,you are His fair one and He is calling you to abide with Him in the secret place of His holy presence and His everlasting love.

    • Anonymous

      Stephen,

      Isn’t the ‘bad’ (servile) fear of God that which causes us to do what He asks in fear of His just punishment, and ‘good’ (filial) fear that which causes us to avoid sin and/or offending him in the first place out of love?

      Wouldn’t it be ‘no fear’ of God ~ no true understanding of, or belief in, Him or our relationship to Him as creatures ~ that causes us to run from him and ‘blindly’ into sin?

      My understanding of both of these fears is that God has given them to us and they are both gifts!   We begin on this journey doing ‘what we must’ out of fear of punishment.  As we grow, our relationship with God changes and we hopefully begin doing things out of love. 

      • Anonymous

        Upon further reflection I believe that both servile and filial fear are ‘good’ because they lead us to God.

        That leaves your ‘bad’ fear Stephen as that which is induced by the evil one………..(how many forms does that take in today’s world?)

        I was over-thinking this one!

        • Anonymous

          Doctrinally sound acts of contrition often reflect this reality – “O MY GOD, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell; but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.” The fear of hell is a good motivation, but not the best – the best and highest is love.

        • Stephen

          The “bad” fear that I was speaking of is neither a servile,nor a filial fear, but a paralyzing fear that leads to unbelief. There are some who won’t come to God simply because they’re afraid of Him; they feel that God is unfair, or unjust in His judgments. Some of these fall into the clutches of “new age” type of cults, and will claim to be “spiritual” but not “religious”, rejecting all organized religion because they have a misunderstanding of the fear of God as is taught by the Scriptures,saints,an spiritual masters of the Church.They grow tired of their inordinate fear, so end up rejecting true Christianity altogether.

          I hope that clears us up on any misunderstanding, I apologize for using my own words,it only leads to confusion and argumentation. In the future I’ll go back to only posting direct quotes from the saints and spiritual masters of the Church,and try not to quote them out of context. I wish I had room to type in that whole chapter on the fear of God in the Manual for Interior Souls by Fr.Grou,it gives such a clear and proper understanding of the subject,unlike anything I can do with my own words.

          God bless and peace to you my dear sister in Christ,Stephen

          • Anonymous

            Hey Stephen – no worries. It would be best to keep comments brief though – makes it easier to moderate. “;-) You are a good man. Keep seeking Christ.

          • StrongerinHim

            I see your point Stephen. A bad fear of God is a fear of having to give up something within ourselves that we enjoy. That part of us is stronger in our growing years than God is. “Better the devil we know” goes the adage.

            Folks fall in line with cult practices because they want God but on their terms.

            The gift of fear given by the Holy Spirit is more a gift of awe and reverence, as it was explained to me by a priest. Not unlike a tiny toddler looking up at his dad and realizing how big he is in comparison to tiny him and yet this giant person treats him so gently…it’s awing.

          • Anonymous

            From your post…………..”St.John says:’Perfect love casts out all fear.’ ”

            One of my most favorite quotes!!

            Blessings……………

      • Stephen

        “St.John says:’Perfect love casts out all fear.’ ”

        There is no doubt that God wishes to be feared; and it is not in vain that holy Scripture declares in many places that He is terrible in His judgments,and that St.Paul says that it is dreadful to fall into the hands of the living God: it is quite true that fear is the ‘beginning of wisdom’; but it is only the beginning of it: love is it’s progress and it’s consummation. Fear is a gift of the Holy Ghost: but it is a gift by which He wishes to prepare us for more excellent gifts. It is useful and even necessary to have this feeling of fear, and to be penetrated by it, not only in our soul, but in our flesh. But we must not stop there: we must aspire to that perfect love which casts out fear, or rather, which so purifies and ennobles it, that it is changed into quite another sort of fear, the daughter of pure love.”

        From: On the Fear of God, in the Manual for Interior Souls, by Fr. Jean Grou S.J.

  • Barbara

    I would also suggest that for each thought of self hatred this woman immediately offer a prayer of thanksgiving for a gift given by God i.e. her spouse, health, family, each breath God gives her each moment of the day, the weather, a beautiful flower, the opportunity to serve other by her hands or by her prayers.  Counter each self-hurtful thought with a gift of gratitude to God for His blessings.  Over time gratitude will replace discouragement.

    • Canefan007

      Great advice .  I had a self–hate issue going on with myself as well.I strayed away from the Lord for a number of years and when I came back to him, I found that serving others helped me heal and move on from my past.Of course,I asked of his forgiveness also,but I now enjoy doing his will by chairty and volunteering. I give now instead of take and I help instead of hurt.I used to emotionally beat myself up to like this woman.I started looking at my 3 beautiful childern,fantastic husband and that I am healthy to enjoy it all.

  • Claire from DE

    It must sometimes frustrate your husband that the person he loves and married sees herself as unlovable.  He sees her good qualities but she thinks he doesn’t really know what she is like. 

    But God DOES know what you are really like.  He can see under the selfishness, evil and ugliness that you see in yourself, or have been told by someone in your past.   He sees the unselfishness, goodness, and beauty that is really there, that He put there.  He sees what you were, what you are, and what you can be.  He loves you, and He likes you.  That’s reality, not something impossible.  It’s not too good to be true; it IS true.  The Father’s patience doesn’t wear thin.  He sees you as His beloved daughter.

    When you have those thoughts it would indeed be good to fight back and say, “It’s NOT of God!”  These thoughts, these desolations, are temptations.  Slam the door on them.  Trust in God, trust in His mercy, and trust that His plan is for your good and for you to be a blessing to others.

    Everything Fr. John has said is true and his suggestions are good ones.

  • Mary@42

    Here is one Prayer you need to learn by heart and pray it often. “O my God you created me and Your Intimacy with me astounds me. That You love me so much and accept me just as I am is wondrous to me. I put all my trust in You my God, knowing that You love me with a personal, determined Love as only God can love and so long as I keep on striving every day to do Your Will, you will never allow me to lose my soul.” 

    These feelings of self-hate and unworthiness crippling you are from Satan who is dragging you down to make you give up on trusting God by convincing you that you are unworthy of His Love.  Remind yourself often that  God knows you as only God can and He is pleased with your efforts to do His Will.

  • Mdigioia1

    There is so much good advice here from Fr. John and the other readers who have taken the time to post their suggestions. I was moved to recite the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for you so that you might experience the peace of knowing that Jesus is our merciful savior.

    I was introduced to the Chaplet and the Diary of St. Faustina during a period when I was experiencing doubt (and probably despair) from having fallen away from the Church and her teachings. I remember feeling totally unworthy of God’s love. These brought (and continue to bring) me great comfort in diminishing my fear that God might be more like an angry judge than a loving Father.

    I hope this helps, and I pray that you find the peace that you are seeking.

  • patriciagonzalez

    Thank you, Father, from one who has battled this kind of thinking throughout life.   As we get older, we tend to look back on life and wonder how it all fits together.  This post is very helpful. Definitely worth printing and keeping on the fridge door.  God bless you!

  • Eskor25

    The question didn’t say when these feelings started and what could have prompted them. Often feelings like these – especially when persistent – are caused by deep seated issues of conscience coupled with self-unforgiveness and pride. In such a case – while Fr John’s advice are excellent – some deep spiritual counseling with an experienced spiritual director may be required to uncover what is knowing at the conscience so as to bring about total healing. I know of a fine lady that used to struggle with such feelings, which were later uncovered to be as a result of deep shame from two abortions committed before she got married.

  • Ana

    It is true that we sometimes feel so miserable that the distance between us and God seems ( and is) insurmountable, but  Christ became a man and suffered like no one else has suffered or ever will to make that distance disappear if only we want it to ( no one said it would be easy) in Christ our Lord.
    There is a
    A prayer of surrender
    posted  on June 25th by Anonymouse.
    “I surrender Lord ” is all I need most of the time.

  • Cludwick

    Such wonderful words to ponder and the comments here are so helpful.  I have suffered many years over past sins – self-loathing, fear of punishment (whether it be hell or Purgatory), lack of self-forgiveness plague me but I am learning to rely on God through Our Blessed Mother, the Divine Mercy chaplet and the knowledge that my God does not want to lose me.  However, I still shudder in terror over death so I know this is much more deep seeded than I even realized. 

    Fr. John, your site has been a port in my otherwise stormy spitirual existence.  With your encouragement (and the words of our Pope) I have finally found a wonderful diocesan priest (actually one I have known many years) who is able to give me some of his time to be my spiritual director and really lead me to Christ.  Thank you.  

    • Anonymous

      Dear Friend – Father John is away on vacation but I know that he would be blessed to hear about your progress in the spiritual life and that the site has been helpful to you. May you continue to journey ever deeper into His love.

  • Anonymous

    SO helpful…thank you very much for this.

  • Maria

    I learned of this song yesterday and thought it would be inspirational for people struggling with this. I have been struggling with self-hate for years. But this song struck a chord with me and hope it can help others too! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUNcAtoANEg&feature=youtube_gdata_player

    • Anonymous

      Maria, this is beautiful!  Thank you for sharing, it’s just what I needed to hear today.

  • Kissypaws

    Thank You
    Exactly what I needed! What I will cherish in my heart, the promise of my Father will never change! How could I forget this? But your response that was meant to comfort and guide someone else has been used by God to comfort so many more. Thank You for your faithfulness, for sharing Gods voice.