In sync with our modern culture, many people obsess about self-esteem, not really knowing what it means. Giving up self-loathing seems to them an impossible task. And indeed, how does one reach self-respect? Instead of a straightforward answer, here are some insightful questions to prove that you are worthy and that you can trust yourself.
Why is lack of self-respect destructive? What is so important about self-respect, and how can you achieve it? American journalist Anneli Rufus thought a lot about these questions and came up with some very convincing insights. She collected all of them in her book Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself, which was the subject of an intense interview in The Atlantic.
Many of us are already familiar with what it means to lack self-esteem. Rufus also had some experience with the issue. In the Atlantic interview she says it took her a long time to learn to accept the compliments of her husband, after having spent her whole life thinking herself unworthy of any praise for her physical appearance.
Quite unexpectedly, what made her change her mind was attending her mother’s funeral. Overwhelmed by the large number of participants and the kind words said about her mother, Rufus realized that had she been alive, her mother would surely have fiercely resisted the compliments: “Well, they don’t know me as I really am.” But Rufus knew her mother and knew that people were right. So, realizing how much her mother had suffered because of her distorted perception of herself, Rufus decided to write her book. Her ideas in it are a reflection of the deep sense of responsibility with which she undertook the task.
How to build self-confidence
1. “People who don’t trust themselves are difficult to love,” Rufus says. And that’s not because they have an intrinsic flaw adding to their feeling of not being enough, but because lack of self-esteem is a kind of negative narcissism. Just as people who self-worship are hard to love because they see only themselves, only caring about their own needs, a person who hates herself is hard to love because she is so absorbed by her own needs and flaws that she can’t see anyone else clearly. From the perspective of the person involved in a relationship with someone who despises herself, a lack of self-esteem is a barrier: the self-loathing person is not receptive to the other’s needs and rejects their compliments, care or even love.
2. People who lack self-esteem are, in fact, very brave people, Rufus adds. Going through life thinking you deserve nothing is a huge act of courage. Such people get dressed and go out the door, go to work, stay with family or go to a party, all while believing that they do not deserve any of the good things that happen to them.
3. People who do not have respect for themselves will not be healed by positive statements about themselves, says the author. Studies have shown that affirmations do not work for people with some degree of self-loathing, Rufus added. These affirmations work instead for people who already have respect for themselves, or for those who suffer from a minor form of low self-esteem.
These three statements refer to the toxic nature of self-loathing, highlighting the need to get rid of it for three reasons:
1. Self-loathing is not modesty; on the contrary, it is selfishness (negative narcissism).
2. Self-contempt is deceptive (a brave person is a valuable person).
3. Self-contempt is not healed by compliments, therefore it will selfishly deplete the emotional energy of those around who will try to respond to self-loathing by overcomplimenting.
It takes a lot of work to build a healthy self-esteem, because self-confidence is a process. Psychologists at the American Center for Clinical Interventions documented this process in a 9-module course that is very easy for English speakers to follow.
In the end, however, pursuing self-respect as an end in itself can be like searching for utopia. Self-confidence is a means to an end. It is the feeling that helps us maintain our emotional balance in the face of risk, having the confidence that whatever bad things happen to us, we will cope. It is a mindset that the Bible seeks to inspire in believers through statements that assure us of God’s care for us and that nothing that can happen to us in life is more than we can bear.