From No Self-Esteem to Low Self-Esteem: Advice from So Sad Today

I’ve found that the less pressure I place on myself to love myself—at least the way the self-care industrial complex peddles that concept—the better I feel.

by So Sad Today; illustrated by Lia Kantrowitz
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Apr 12 2019, 2:10pm

Dear So Sad Today,

I know that one of the symptoms of depression is low self-esteem, thinking you are a piece of shit and whatnot. But I feel like I’ve done so much work on this part of myself with daily affirmations and reiki I just don’t know if I will ever be fixed. It can really feel like an uphill battle. Also it seems so weird to me that I’ve done all this healing stuff on myself and I still kind of hate myself a lot and it feels like it’s not even in my control, you know? Do you know of any solutions for this that work?

Thanks,

The Hater

Dear The Hater,

I wish I could say that I have found the answer, the cure-all, the panacea. But anytime I think I’ve found “the thing,” it’s usually something that feels good in the moment but will inevitably hurt me. What I mean by that is life is long and progress is gradual; while depression is a disease, we are who we are and anything that promises to render us miraculously impervious to feelings (including self-doubt) is likely to be short-lived and have a major downside—at least in my experience. Some examples of “miracle cures” like this that I have tried, and ultimately bottomed out on, include: self-prescribed drugs, sex and love, the perfect purse, external validation and achievement, and new age snake oil peddled by various salesmen.

This is not to say that real help isn’t available or that progress can’t be made. I’d like to think of myself as a person who has gone from no self-esteem to low self-esteem. But I’ve found that the less pressure I place on myself to love myself—at least the way the self-care industrial complex peddles that concept—the better I feel.

We live in a society where everything is commodified, including healing modalities and the concept of self-love. When self-love is marketed as a product, it becomes another thing to achieve—something we are missing. This is the principle behind everything that is sold to us, whether through advertising, online shopping, or as clickable media headlines. In these instances, I think the pressure to love ourselves—to be some fictionalized whole person—can make us feel even worse about ourselves. It’s like: great, now not only do I hate myself, but I now have to feel bad about hating myself.

I personally loathe positive affirmations. When I do an affirmation, I usually feel like an even bigger loser than I did before I said the mantra—in part because I’m made painfully aware of the discrepancy between the image of perfect confidence I am describing vs. the way I actually feel. Also, the person being described in most positive affirmations seems to be superhuman. Would I really want to hang out with such an insanely confident person? To me it seems like a lot of the world’s problems stem from people who believe in themselves just a little too much.

I don’t see myself willing myself into loving myself.

But you shouldn’t have to suffer in an eternal abyss of self-torture. The areas where I’ve found some relief from the deluge of self-torment are through cognitive behavioral therapy, proper medication administered by a psychiatrist, sobriety for my alcoholism and addiction, the people and practices that keep me sober, a meditation practice, the creative outlet of writing, and maybe most importantly, laughter. I’d much rather make fun of the voices that tell me I’m a piece of shit than pretend they aren’t there by way of faux-positive affirmations. I don’t see myself willing myself into loving myself.

I also have a few other tools that I can share with you. One tool is to write down what’s going on in my mind, and write it frequently. When I feel like I’m under attack by my mind, it’s helpful for me to write down what’s going on up there, because it helps me to see exactly what I’m telling myself, how many of the same negative thoughts are being repeated, and maybe even which ones are false.

Another tool I use is to put all this writing in a box. I call the box a god box, but I think you can be an atheist and still use this technique. All you have to do is write down your fears as best you can, stick them in a box, and think of the box as a sort of “universe stew” where you are no longer in control. While this technique might not totally stop you from worrying or being preoccupied with how fucked you think you are, it can be helpful to rifle through the box from time to time and see how many of those negative thoughts were actually false prophesies. It’s also a relief to take a break from the need to try to control everything. In actuality, we control very little.

Another tool that I use is to simply call another person and ask them how they are doing. My mind is not the greatest place for me to hang out. If I spend a lot of time thinking about myself, it’s usually going to go negative. But when I’m helping another person, engaged in their story, I’m able to abandon my own narrative of hell for a few moments.

Lastly, try to remind yourself that objective perfection doesn’t exist. Your ideas of who or what you lack are not based on some cosmic arbiter’s idea of the superior human. Ultimately, we really know very little about who we should be—and this is a good thing.

xo

So Sad Today

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