Ingratitude Is Way Too EasyBy:
Are you often accused of being a complainer? Whiner? Pessimist? An ingrate too intent on inspecting your own alleged flaws to celebrate a candy-colored sunset or your health?
Do such accusations make you accuse yourself? Do they make you complain about complaining?
Whining is a standard side effect of low self-esteem: an occupational hazard, just as drummers risk deafness and pearl divers are likelier than most to drown or be consumed by sharks.
Consider: Which skills does low self-esteem require, then hone?
Finding fault. With our minds, bodies, behaviors, inabilities and histories. Also: elucidating those alleged faults, expressing our horror and shame about them to whomever possible, providing constant commentary about how incompetent, unlovable and/or ugly we are.
But fixating on what we think are the worst parts of ourselves trains us to fixate on ... worst-ness. We become experts at finding fault.
I had a relative who often said Whatever I touch turns to crap.
Those words—said more frequently than you can imagine—made my mind's eye see her orange satin dress, her sky-blue Rambler, that hot tub and dinner rendered feculent.
But this is what we do. Self-hatred is self-centered, so it radiates beyond the borders of our bodies into every element of every scene involving us. It becomes hatred-by-association.
So, since we suck, surely our clothes also suck. Our jobs and cars and tastes in food and films and even friends, since they are ours, must also suck. Our accomplishments—degrees, travels, skills—wither into nothingness just by being ours.
And this is why they say we whine. This is how we have earned our reputation as relentless belly-achers blind to our own enviable aspects and to the shimmering beauty of each passing moment in the world.
We don't do this on purpose. We do it almost by accident. And it's so easy.
Hating our AP scores or inability to execute a perfect Compass Pose, we forget that at least we are pursuing education or engaging in a practice. Chastising ourselves for playing hockey, guitar or chess less now than before, we forget that at least we learned to play these things, can play and might play once again. Few are so fortunate as this.
Try meeting each self-hating statement with at least, even if it feels ludicrous or harsh. You hate your hair, ears and failure to make use of your Danish-literature degree? A least you have hair and ears and a Danish-literature degree. At least you are alive.
I hate the paralytic fears that hold me hostage. At least none of them have yet come true. I hate my inability to speak up for myself in arguments. At least I can speak -- English, a fantastic language. Also (rudimentarily) Spanish and Chinese, which I studied instead of lazing out and watching Friends.
I hate how I turn tiny worries into epic fears: For instance, fretting about sleep keeps me awake. At least while lying here I can toss and turn freely, which I could not do if I were intubated in a hospital or hogtied, as so many others are. At least I can see the night sky. At least I can see.
Everything feels softer for a moment, easier. As if by magic, I stop thinking of myself.
Stars are so nice and sparkly! Where might that airplane be going? How calmly my significant other sleeps.
Then, because years of (mal)practice have (mis)aligned it, my mind veers back to catastrophizing, whining, forgetting that life is even slightly good.
Then I am tempted to despise myself for that, for having so much trouble staying positive, seeing the bright side, not complaining, managing my thoughts.
This mandates steering hard back into At-Least Land: At least I have thoughts. At least I think this.
Going wild with it sometimes helps. At least I am not nude in church right now. At least marauders are not besieging my house. At least I have never been charged with any crimes. At least my hair is not on fire. At least this breeze is balmy, and music exists.
Anneli Rufus’ latest work, Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself, was released by Tarcher Penguin in May 2014 and continues this path, addressing self-esteem.