Anneli Rufus illuminates a problem many have witnessed but few have publicly acknowledged: The world is full of good, honest, hardworking people who nevertheless hate themselves; it is also full of cruel and petty scoundrels with sky-high self-regard. Unlike most books on self-esteem (written from the lofty perches of confident experts), Unworthy tackles the problem of self-loathing from an insider’s perspective. As Rufus unflinchingly tells her own story, elegantly weaving it with current research, she provides a light to guide fellow sufferers out of the dark. Sara Eckel, reviewing Anneli Rufus’s Unworthy
- Studies show that students hold themselves in higher regard than students in decades past. But to the shock and horror of the self-esteem movement’s boosters, soaring self-esteem has done nothing to stem crime, addiction and those other ills the boosters claimed high self-esteem would stem.
- Researchers have found that high self-esteem does not guarantee happiness and is often linked with depression because those whose self-esteem is elevated on false or flimsy pretexts – e.g., being told that everyone adores you or being told you’re perfect just for existing – are highly susceptible to all perceived slights.
- Psychologists call that kind of sky-high but baseless self-esteem “fragile self-esteem.” Its healthy opposite is achievement-based “secure self-esteem” – otherwise known as earned self-respect – which is not necessarily sky-high, but less likely to leave its possessors sulking and raging when the real world delivers its usual harsh doses of reality.
- … (F)eeling good should stem from doing good.
- Is low self-esteem all that bad? Self-loathing is. But between self-loathing and narcissism is a vast spectrum comprising infinitely various degrees of self-regard. Neither extreme is good. If only we could just reach medium.
- …(L)ow self-esteem makes us contemplative and introspective. Our perfectionism makes us diligent. We celebrate small pleasures – albeit because we believe ourselves unworthy of big ones. We try hard. We aim to please. Low self-esteem makes some of us creative – as we seek meaning in pain. Low self-esteem makes some of us respectful – because we assume everyone is better than us. Low self-esteem makes some of us gentle – because we are not strong. Low self-esteem makes some of us hilarious – because self-deprecating humor is humor indeed. Low self-esteem makes some of us good listeners – because we do not want to listen to ourselves. Low self-esteem makes some of us empathic – because we have suffered, so we know.
From an interview with Rufus conducted by Judith Ohikuare (The Atlantic):
- There’s a certain negative narcissism aspect to having low self-esteem. People who totally adore themselves are hard to love because they only see themselves and it’s hard for them to care about you. But people who hate themselves are also hard to love because they, too, are so self-absorbed that their own needs and miseries obstruct their view of another person.
- Complimenting people with low self-esteem often doesn’t work because it’s very difficult for them to accept simple praise. Humor often makes a difference because people with low self-esteem are so down on themselves and so depressed that if you make them laugh, you’re bringing them out of themselves.
- Look at the things you do as if they were on a movie screen and take away the I did it because I’m an idiot. The more you become aware of that thinking and those habits, the easier it becomes to shift them.