During times of distress, it might feel like it’s impossible to change oneself and how one relates to others but with awareness, insight, and dedication, it is possible to change. In order to address emotional reasoning about yourself and the world, you will need to rectify three areas: how you view yourself, how you view others in relation to yourself, and how you view Allah in relation to yourself.
I. Transforming how you see yourself
If you feel empty, lonely, and negative about who you are, this may not just stem from lack of self-esteem but could also be from a lack of a sense of self. When someone knows who they are as a person, has strong connections to others, has passion, drive, and purpose, then life feels full and worth living. A lack of sense of self leads to the opposite—when a person doesn’t really know who they are as an individual, their mood, purpose, and goals can drastically fluctuate with their changing circumstances.
Our sense of self develops during childhood when there is a heavy dependence on our parents to take care of us and help us navigate the world. In healthy homes, a parent’s love, time, and attention goes to nurturing a child. Nurturing involves not just providing food and a roof over the child’s head, but also emotional, psychological, and spiritual sustenance. When the child is ready for separation-individuation, a normal developmental stage in adolescence, the teenager healthily begins to separate themselves from their parents; the teenager will still rely on their parents for help but begins to emerge as his or her own individual.
When a child from a home with inadequate nurturing hits adolescence, they also begin to separate but find themselves lost. This is because their parents did not bolster them with the adequate nourishment and care to know who they are as an individual apart from their caregivers. If you have ever planted a sapling or young plant in a pot in your home to make it stronger before planting outside, the concept is the same for children. The sapling will not survive outside because it has to grow in a safe environment first to be made strong enough to withstand the harsh elements to come. Teenagers from unhealthy homes oftentimes have inadequate strength to successfully navigate stressors outside the home, making them much more prone to anxiety, depression, and unhealthy relationships.
Developing a strong sense of self and self-esteem can take a lot of work but it ultimately starts with many intentional and incremental steps in recognizing yourself as a person worthy of respect, dignity, and love. Sometimes Muslims shy away from self-esteem work because they feel it will breed arrogance; however, healthy self-esteem is not about putting oneself on a pedestal and glorifying oneself—it’s about acknowledging blessings Allah has given you and striving to be the best version of yourself.
Start this invaluable work by doing an honest but kind inventory of your positive and negative attributes. Reflect on unique gifts, talents, and strengths that Allah has blessed you with. If you struggle with finding good personal attributes, ask a trusted friend, teacher, or family member to assist you. Making a list of negative qualities sounds counterintuitive to working on your self-esteem, but this is only true if you have no intention of working on those qualities. Taking your negative qualities and turning them into goals for change can be a great way to improve yourself, which will not only make you a better person but increase your self-esteem in the long-term. Allah has created you individually and put you on earth for a reason which means you have a purpose. Take your qualities and fine-tune them to create a life both you and Allah can be pleased with and make the world a better place.
II. Transforming how you relate to others
The weaker the sense of self is, the more likely an individual will cling to relationships and find little meaning outside them because the connection to others makes them feel complete and whole. It’s completely healthy, natural, and necessary to our existence and wellbeing to be connected to others, but when a person can’t function or find meaning in life outside of relationships this can be problematic. You can see this in people who jump from marriage to marriage because they can’t tolerate the idea of being alone, a woman who completely puts her life on hold while she searches for a husband or a person who completely falls apart whenever they have a spat with friends or family members. When a person with no sense of self latches onto someone who appears to have the characteristics they lack (like bravery, intellect, spiritual devotion, etc.), that gives them a false sense of security; however, once that person leaves, the emptiness returns with a vengeance because now the hollowness is magnified by feelings of abandonment.
Unhealthy dependence for adults can also be troublesome from a spiritual standpoint as ideally complete dependence should only be on Allah, not other human beings. When one seeks to have their needs to be met by people, they will inevitably be disappointed because human beings are fallible and can be undependable. Our purpose in life is to worship Allah and get to jannah; therefore, completely falling apart and finding no meaning in life after one’s children leave home, or after divorce, or in the absence of a best friend might suggest that one’s overall purpose in life may need to be reexamined. Life is more joyful and comfortable with relationships, and even Prophet Muhammad ﷺ grieved after losing loved ones, but that is not to say that life is not worth living outside relationships.
Insight is the first step to understanding unhealthy views about depending on others. Reflect and analyze on how much you might rely on others:
Are you dependent on others for your happiness?
Do you rely on others to make decisions for you?
Are you dependent on others’ validation to feel good about yourself?
Do you need to take care of other people's needs for your own wellbeing?
If you find in your assessment that you rely on others too much, consider going a step further and writing down all the different ways you depend on others—socially, financially, emotionally, and/or spiritually. Once you have identified the different areas that need improvement, you can begin to use cognitive restructuring (identifying irrational thoughts and replacing them with healthier thoughts) and affirmations (positive statements affirming the opposite of your negative thoughts) to correct views about your ability to do things independently.
For example, if you feel dependent on others to make decisions for you, step one would be to write out your initial unhealthy thoughts as to how this dynamic is playing out in your life. Once you have the irrational or unhealthy thought, then step two would be to write the opposite, in a way someone who cared about you would if they heard the negative thought. Lastly, take the corrected thought and turn it into an affirmation that you can repeat to yourself on a regular basis to reinforce the positive attributes you have or are trying to achieve.
Dependency: I feel that others need to make decisions for me because I always make mistakes and don’t know what I’m doing.
Cognitive Restructuring: Everyone errs, not just me—and it’s not like I make mistakes often. Besides, how will I learn if I don’t make mistakes?
Independence Affirmation: I’m capable of making good decisions on my own.
If you would like to take this process one step further, follow the affirmation with real-life evidence to support your statement. This may not be possible in all scenarios, but it is good practice when applicable.
Example: I once bought a laptop on my own that I really liked. I read reviews online, did istikhara prayer and bought it with nobody helping me—and it turned out to be a good laptop and decision.
For individuals who are highly dependent on others, psychotherapy is usually the best course of action but if you just have dependency tendencies, assessing how you rely on others too much and shifting your thoughts might be enough to empower yourself to a healthier way of thinking.
III. Transforming your relationship with Allah
The long-term effects of assuming that Allah doesn’t like you can be dire. Thinking that Allah hates you creates a barrier between having love for Him, wanting to do good deeds, seeking repentance, and having overall positive feelings about Islam. It’s almost impossible for one to have feelings of love towards Allah, His Messenger, and the religion if hate, the complete opposite, is what is filling one’s heart. Shaytan loves for people to assume that Allah hates them because this makes it easier for him to lead them astray.
If you are feeling that Allah hates you, it’s not too late to change that. Know that He has never abandoned you and has always been there, although perhaps you may have distanced yourself from Him. Begin by spending time with yourself and reflecting on how you got to this point in the first place. Thoughts often don’t happen spontaneously—most of the time they are planted and become stronger over time. Go back in time and think about when you first started to feel this way:
- Did someone (perhaps an adult or authority figure) say Allah hated you?
- Are you taking characteristics or assumptions about your parents as providers and unintentionally superimposing them on Allah as your Provider?
- Did someone make duaa for Allah to curse you, in which you assumed that all bad things happened after that was a result of the bad duaa against you?
- Did something catastrophic happen that made you think Allah hates you?
- Did you feel that you are so unworthy of love that nobody, including Allah, loves you?
Once you have identified the origin of the thought, you can begin to deconstruct the unhealthy parts of it and change it. Look objectively at the circumstances of your situation using facts. Emotions are your feelings about what happened, whereas facts simply describe what happened. This sounds very simplistic but oftentimes people don’t realize they are getting the two mixed up.
If all your thoughts seem jumbled up, try writing them down. Write a narrative of what led you to feel that Allah hates you. Highlight your feelings in red and then the facts in green. Is your narrative mostly emotion or facts? Are there parts of your story you thought were true but were based on emotion? Remember, just because you feel something doesn’t make it true.
Another exercise to help identify where your feeling that Allah hates you came from is a free association technique. Write on top of a piece of paper: “I think Allah hates me because…..” followed by all the reasons you can think of. Write as many reasons as you can. Once you have identified all the reasons you feel that Allah hates you, begin to replace the emotional reasoning with facts. Cross out the unhealthy thoughts and rewrite them with healthy ones.
Example: I think Allah hates me because my duaas are never answered.
Allah answers all duaas but the response might not be immediate or might take a different form.
If you happen to notice any parallels between how you view Allah and other authority figures, like your parents or teachers, be sure to deconstruct and disassociate the two in your mind. Cross out characteristics you inadvertently transferred from the authority figure to Allah in red. Look up the 99 names of Allah and write the opposite or more fitting characteristic in green instead.
Example: I think Allah hates me because everyone in my life, including my parents, think I’m useless.
Allah is Al Latif - The Kind
Allah is Ash Shakur - The Grateful
Allah is Al Wudud - The Loving
Sometimes it’s painful to look at past events objectively because when you realize that Allah doesn’t hate you, accountability for the traumatic incident might fall on someone else. This person could be you, a family member, or a friend. For example, you might have attributed failing out of college to Allah’s hating you, when really it was because you didn’t go to class or study. Or perhaps you might have thought Allah did want good for you when in fact it was that your beloved parents were feeding you misinformation about Him. The end goal of this process is not to transfer blame but to increase insight and accountability so positive changes can be made for the future.
Lastly, in addition to examining the origins of why you think Allah hates you, it is also important to reflect on how your interpretation of your life events might be reinforcing your existing thoughts. For example, it is an Islamic concept that humans are punished for their sins in this life and the next, but this does not mean that a Muslim can attribute everything that doesn’t go his or her way to punishment from Allah or that Allah hates them. Let’s deconstruct some common beliefs about the link between “bad” things happening to a person and that Allah hates them.
I think Allah hates me because bad things always happen to me
Our definitions of what is “bad” are not always true. Just because something doesn’t go as planned or makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean that it is bad. You not getting that job you wanted might be because Allah has a better one in store for you. That fight you had with your spouse might because Allah wanted to teach you an important lesson through it. You getting into a car accident may be because Allah wanted to prevent you from more harm than what was waiting for you at your destination.
I think Allah just wants bad for me through these trials
Sometimes bad things happen to us because of the evil things we have done, but bad things can also happen to us because they are trials and Allah wants to increase us in our rank. We know that the Prophets faced huge difficulties, but we do not attribute those difficulties to their sins. If every difficulty truly translated to a punishment, why would Allah have punished the best of humanity (the Prophets) so harshly? There is no way for us to know what bad things happen to us because of our own doing, and while it’s essential to contemplate about this and make istighfar, it’s fruitless to ruminate (keep thinking about something over and over) if (i) you don’t know and can’t know why that bad thing happened to you; and (ii) you did sincere tawbah—in which case, Allah may have already forgiven you.
I think Allah just wants to punish me and make me feel bad
If Allah is punishing you for something, it doesn’t mean that He hates you. One of the benefits of punishment in this dunya (if you are in fact being punished) is so you can feel distress enough to change a wrong you are committing and be expiated for that sin. The end goal is not for Allah to make you feel bad; it’s for you to feel bad enough to change. This is because Allah actually wants what is best for you. If you are engaging or persisting in a sin, Allah may be trying to correct you to ward off future pain, as usually there is no incentive to change without distress.
Anas (May Allah be pleased with him) reported that: The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “When Allah intends good for His slave, He punishes him in this world, but when He intends an evil for His slave, He does not hasten to take him to task but calls him to account on the Day of Resurrection.”7
If you’ve made mistakes in assuming that Allah hates you in the past, ask Him to forgive you and try to start over on a new page. Don’t let guilt cloud the newfound hope that you now know the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth doesn’t hate you. Feel how liberating it is to understand that The One Who has power over all things wants what is best for you.
Instead of focusing on weaknesses in your relationship with Allah in the past, refocus your energy on doing things that Allah loves in the present. How wonderful is it that Allah tells us directly in the Qur’an how to seek closeness to Him so that He loves us more:
...Indeed, Allah loves those who are constantly repentant and loves those who purify themselves. (Qur’an, 2:222)
And spend in the way of Allah and do not throw [yourselves] with your [own] hands into destruction [by refraining]. And do good; indeed, Allah loves the doers of good. (Qur’an 2:195)
[They are] avid listeners to falsehood, devourers of [what is] unlawful. So if they come to you, [O Muhammad], judge between them or turn away from them. And if you turn away from them—never will they harm you at all. And if you judge, judge between them with justice. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly. (Qur’an 5:42)
So by mercy from Allah, [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in the matter. And when you have decided, then rely upon Allah. Indeed, Allah loves those who rely [upon Him]. (Qur’an 3:159)
Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Allah the Exalted has said: ‘I will declare war against him who shows hostility to a pious worshipper of Mine. And the most beloved thing with which My slave comes nearer to Me is what I have enjoined upon him, and My slave keeps on coming closer to Me through performing nawafil (prayer or doing extra deeds besides what is obligatory) till I love him. When I love him I become his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes, and his leg with which he walks; and if he asks (something) from Me, I give him, and if he asks My Protection (refuge), I protect him.’” (Al-Bukhari)